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Message from the President
A wonderful friend used to tell me, "The difference between development and exploitation is this: development enhances the value of its surroundings. Exploitation detracts from it"
The economy of southwest Florida is starting to grow. And that’s good news for a community which suffered during the Great Recession. Although good-faith efforts have been made to diversify our economy away from the cyclical nature of home building, mining and row crop agriculture, not enough has been accomplished. Instead, as Yogi Berra once said, "it’s déjà vu all over again."
Growth in our region is inevitable, but the question is how. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida wants to see growth in locations where roads and infrastructure are available to support it, while avoiding sprawling growth in wetlands and wildlife habitat.
To that end, the Conservancy and other organizations recently settled a long running dispute over the Mirasol development in northern Collier County. And while we can take some satisfaction that 1,100 acres of wetlands are being preserved, and still more restored off site, the agreement still allows hundreds of acres to be destroyed for new homes. Much as we wish we could, we cannot save them all At times we have to make difficult compromises or risk losing everything if a judge rules against us.
At the same time, a plethora of proposed rock and sand mining is yet another sign of economic return, but an economy of exploitation, not development. These mines provide material for roadbed and fill. With limited opportunity for new mining in Miami’s Lake Belt District, miners have been coming to Collier and Lee with a vengeance. Two mines have been proposed in the immediate vicinity of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, in the middle of habitat for numerous endangered species. Still others are seeking to mine next to the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem and Watershed (CREW) preserve in southeast Lee County. With both these preserves dependent on a reliable flow of clean water, these mines threaten environmental havoc.
In Lee County, the Conservancy has partnered with local government and civic organizations to create defined locations for new mines. In this way, mining ventures still have access to rock and sand and natural resources can be protected. Unfortunately in Collier County, landowners and developers have successfully prevented any such limitation in its rural lands and mining can take place almost anywhere. That struggle will continue.
Southwest Florida deserves better. Without a diverse economy we are at the mercy of highly cyclical, low wage and often environmentally-destructive businesses. The region should look to value added strategies that emphasize "eds and meds," meaning universities such as FGCU and medical businesses such as Arthrex and others. That way we can have development, not exploitation.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
President & CEO