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Subject: Lake Pickett properties – Why they are so different from other properties
Mayor Jacobs and Commissioner Edwards,
Commissioner Edwards says the Lake Pickett properties are the hole in the donut. He also says people who live in sub-divisions like Cypress Lakes or Corner Lakes don’t have the right to say how the Lake Pickett properties should be developed. He thinks that the Lake Pickett properties are the same as Cypress Lakes and Corner Lakes and should be developed the same way.
I don’t think he has read or has forgotten the document created by St. Johns River Water Management called the “ECONLOCKHATCHEE SANDHILLS CONSERVATION AREA” that was written when the property was purchased in 2009. (http://www.sjrwmd.com/landmanagementplans/pdfs/2009_Econlockhatchee_Sandhills.pdf). I don’t think he has seen or remembers this map from page 11 of the document. Notice the orange area and the area it covers. It covers the Lake Pickett properties. It does not cover Corner Lakes or Cypress Lakes or even the Lake Pickett Rural Settlement. This orange area is designated a “Priority 2 Strategic Habitat Conservation Area” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Priority 2 is the second highest level.
This area is very different from other areas and has to be protected. Development in this area has to be done completely different from other areas.
We have all heard of Gopher tortoises. We have all seen them crossing the roads and cars stopping and drivers getting out to carry them to the woods. But do you really know anything about them? They aren’t just cute reptiles, they are a keystone threatened species and protected by state law. In all the world they only live here in Florida and a couple of neighboring states but their numbers are declining and why? Because of exactly what is happening at Lake Pickett. By concreting over this land, you will surely be responsible for assisting in the extinction of these reptiles. By Florida law Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before they can move them (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/Gopher-tortoise/rules-and-regulations/). But moving them does not guarantee their survival and where will they be moved to?
If a tortoise burrow is not found and it is concreted over, the tortoise dies a very slow death. Many times it is the baby tortoises buried in a tomb they thought was a safe haven from predators. They didn’t count on the worst predator of all, man. They cannot dig out of the burrow with a living room on top of it. And because of their slow metabolism they can live for months before dying. Can you imagine being buried alive for months? A baby tortoise’ life that can live as long as we live cut short and sentenced to death by burial. Who is going to oversee this undertaking and ensure every one of those reptiles are found and relocated.
When the Sandhill property was purchased there were close to 400 burrows surveyed and that is only 700 acres. How many Gopher tortoises live on the Lake Pickett properties? I asked that question at the community meeting and the answer I received from Mr. Miklos was yes, they must be moved and everything will be done per state law. This answer is coming from the owner of Bio-Tech Consulting (http://bio-techconsulting.com/about-us/leadership/) who was hired by the Lake Pickett North developers. As you are well aware Mr. Miklos is also the chairman of St. Johns River Water Management board of directors (http://www.sjrwmd.com/governingboard/boardmembers.html). To a citizen like myself, this seems like a conflict of interest. How can the chairman of SJRWMD also be the environmental contractor for the developer and effectively do his job at SJRWMD with no bias? I am sure it can be rationalized but I cannot see it.
You are playing with fire when you decide to develop this area in this way. You are not being good stewards of the land. Land owners may have a deed to these properties and think they own them but no one owns any land. We are simply the stewards of the land and how we treat it determines what other generations will have to enjoy or not. It will determine if the Gopher tortoise and the other 350-400 species who depend on the tortoise for their homes survive. What is happening now is very short-sighted and irresponsible and enforces what people believe to be true regarding developers and the commission.
Please stop and consider the environment above all else. There is no need to rush this with so much at stake. If this land is to be developed then do it right and not in this crazy, haphazard and irresponsible way that I believe Commissioner Edwards is driving.
Going full circle, I believe every person wherever they live has every right to demand this area be preserved and developed in a very responsible manner considering what it means for our children and their children.