To the editor:
I realize that criticizing Conservation 20/20 is in the same category as criticizing motherhood, the American flag and apple pie. As one who frequently rushes in where angels fear to tread, and gets his nose bloodied, I am about to do just that.
The original goal, or at least the stated goal of Conservation 20/20, was to protect environmentally sensitive land which, almost by definition, means wetlands which are crucial in filtering runoff and removing nutrients which would end up in larger bodies of water. There were already many ways to accomplish that, including the need for an environmental impact assessment, compliance with the Lee Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the Metropolitan Planning Agency, which has jurisdiction over developments with a regional impact, the hearing examiner who has almost unchallenged authority in certain projects, and, in the case of Pine Island, the draconian Pine Island Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which essentially made it impossible to rezone land from agricultural to residential.
Human nature being what it is, there were still those who were able to manipulate the system and develop environmentally sensitive land, The solution was Conservation 20/20, an idea so simple and so reasonable that when citizens were asked to tax themselves a pittance to purchase land and put it in trust so that it could not be developed, it passed. I voted for it.
Sadly, the program was take over by people whose agenda was to prohibit growth, in ignorance of the fact that everyone has to be some place, and that those who got here first had no right to keep it as it was when they arrived. The list of such properties is long and need not be listed here.
The decision to use surplus 20/20 funds to reduce the Lee County budget shortfall was clearly the proper choice, but it didn't go far enough. At the risk of one more bloody nose, I humbly suggest a recess which includes a moratorium on further purchases, and a thorough review of past purchases, to determine which are clearly environmentally sensitive. Keep them, sell the rest and put the monies into to the operating fund.
Last, but certainly not least, rewrite the guidelines so that only environmentally sensitive lands are purchased, and purchase them at a price which reflects their value to the environment, not their current market value.