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Opposition group gains support against Mosquito Control’s proposed airport

March 7, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

To the editor:

Thank you to the Greater Pine Island Civic Association and Matlacha Civic Association for generous donations made to the legal fund established to block Lee County Mosquito Control District from locating and expanding their helicopter operation to the residential neighborhood at the end of Woodstock Road, in Saint James City.

It started out as a handful of neighbors who, in spring of last year, learned of LCMD's plans to purchase and rezone approximately 39 acres of coastal rural high hazard land, located two miles south of the town center. Their plan was to rezone from AG to CF, which would allow for an almost unmonitored use. Their mandatory informational meeting revealed information so disturbing, that neighbors immediately organized and at their own expense retained Matt Uhle, one of the area's top attorneys.

The rezoning hearing took place last year and was a success for Pine Island. Residents lined up to testify, and presented compelling evidence validating their many concerns. St. James City resident Carol Crane, the environmental liaison for the GPICA, spoke brilliantly on several aspects of potential negative impact. Others cited safety issues, while substantive cases were made for the eventual release from 4,000 gallon compressed chemical and fuel tanks which are planned for the location.

Fuel tankers would use privately owned roads which provide the only access to the site, and would travel through Matlacha and over bridges providing frequent refills. Helicopter noise levels were proven to greatly exceed that which is allowable, and would begin during pre-dawn hours when people are still trying to sleep and extend into the early evening. Gasses from hundreds of takeoffs and landings would affect mangroves; property values would severely decline as this airport is not part of, nor is it similar to a planned "flyers community." The operation would be a huge expansion over the smaller heliports most are familiar with on the island.

St. James City resident Shari Perkins was the first to recognize and testify to the life and death consequences that could result when both the York Road and industrial park locations are closed due to the proposed consolidation. Others, including John and Rachi Farrow of St. James City, agreed and publicly stated concerns. LCMD's public information liaison has confirmed that EMS will not operate from Woodstock.

In light of the strong testimony, and concerns raised by the county's own hearing examiner, LCMD withdrew their application. Residents celebrated a short lived victory, learning less than two weeks later, on Nov. 8, that the Division of Community Development had granted permission to use the land without rezoning it, nor getting permits, nor having public hearings, or conducting any traffic or environmental impact studies. The county requires permits and plans for projects much smaller, such as tike huts or decks. It raises questions as to why LCMD has so hastily been given permission to move forward without requiring the same compliance that all citizens must abide by. (Particularly since this affects the safety of the community, property values of hundreds of surrounding residents, and has the potential for severe environmental damage. )

In December, residents responded by filing a lawsuit for injunctive protection. In January, LCMD entered into a lease with the property owners paying $10,000 a month, at taxpayers' expense, while waiting for the final disposition of the trial which could take 18 months. They also are attempting to have the case dismissed, which will be determined at a March 19 hearing.

LCMD has suggested that neighbors knew there was an existing airport prior to buying or building homes and should therefore be expected to suffer the consequences. The facts prove otherwise and that the permit for the so-called "existing airport" was never for an airport, but only for a "Private Airstrip." It was granted in 1975 with specific conditions for its use. One such condition was that its use be restricted to "Personal friends of Mr. and Mrs. Traverese" and another condition states "No Commercial Use." The former owners are deceased and the original Crystal River Corporation, to whom the permit was granted, was dissolved a decade ago. The property is used as a palm tree farm and private residence. Residents contend that no valid permit has existed for decades and that even if one did, it never allowed for a fleet of helicopters, Jet Rangers, drones and an industrial maintenance and repair shop. The permit was never issued to the current property owner and therefore cannot legally be transferred. LCMD has already begun using the property, presumably under the guise of "personal friends of the deceased original owners?"

Birdi Smock, current board member and former president of the Matlacha Civic Association, surprised the opposition group with an unsolicited donation to the legal fund that their board had approved. At January's Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting, another surprise came when concerned resident Barbara Grimm motioned for financial support. The motion was placed on February's agenda and approved by an almost unanimous vote. Those who voted were required to have been members for at least 60 days, and all membership statuses were verified at the door prior to the vote. The $2,000 check was processed by GPICA Vice President Scott Wilkinson, who has personally been supportive of the initiative.

LCMD has provided excellent service to Pine Island for many years without the Woodstock location. They are required to continue to do so as they are a tax mandated service regardless of their home base location. This expansion offers no benefit to Pine Island whatsoever and will likely generate another increase in their portion of our property tax bills.

Thank you again to the GPICA, MCA and all of the residents who have donated time and money. Anyone that would like to get involved please contact me at or on Facebook by private message. Donations can be mailed to 4625 Woodstock Road, St .James City, FL 33956, with checks made payable to Attorney Matt Uhle and noted "Airport."

Results of the March 19 dismissal hearing and a brief presentation will take place at the next Matlacha Civic Association meeting on March 21 at 6 p.m.

Ndakhte Ndiaye

St. James City



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