Locals on Captiva Island and Cayo Costa are upset about the state's decision to put designated surplus lands up for sale.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been in the process of assessing state park land all over the state to determine whether they should be sold to purchase others deemed more valuable. The list has been revised multiple times, but since Sept. 12, it still includes 10 parcels in the Cayo Costa State Park totaling 14 acres.
On Tuesday, The Lee County Board of County Commissioners agreed to send a letter to the DEP opposing the sale of the Cayo Costa parcels.
Margi Nanney built a cabin on Cayo Costa in 1978 and worked with other islanders over the years to ensure the properties were acquired and protected by the DEP.
"For me, it's a slap in the face for so many of us who want to see our fragile barrier islands protected from further development," she said. "They are saying they want to trade up for better parcels, and I say, how you can get something better than what you've already got?"
Besides the thousands of people who visit the park on vacation, Nanney said the island is home to many fragile species. Approximately 350 sea turtles nested on Cayo Costa this season, she said, because the secluded island doesn't have excessive amounts of light pollution. Mangroves also provide habitats for fish during the breeding seasons, especially snook.
Manatees regularly travel near the island because boating traffic is low and the state park features archeological sites left by the Calusa Indians.
Nanney attended the recent meeting in Tallahassee to ask that the Cayo Costa properties be removed from the list of surplus properties.
"It is a step backwards for our state to take back what they said they would already preserve," she said.
Most of the properties removed from the list were on the beach and included segments of water.
Ralf Brookes, an attorney in Cape Coral, said some of the parcels included in the original list functioned as beach access. He was worried about the island's endemic ecosystems and the public's access to the beach.
"For decades the state has been trying to acquire lands on upper Captiva and Cayo Costa to prevent development of those parcels and provide beach access so visitors have access to the beach and state park land," said Brookes.
He said that if the parcels go up for sale, developers would be able to purchase the properties and apply for variances with Lee County to build on fragile properties.
"The only way to forever preserve the land is to have them in public ownership," he said.
Pine Island resident Phil Buchanan said the policy had been to buy as much of Cayo Costa as possible to prevent further development. Only a handful of homes currently sit on the island. He was encouraged when properties were removed from the list, but said all of them need to be withdrawn.
"I am hoping they take all of the properties off the list," he said. "You don't just destroy the land you set a house on, you're also cutting access to the beach and creating noise that disrupts the whole island."
Buchanan said houses on Cayo Costa are vacation spots and residents don't even have electricity. Most people visit the beach and those who stay overnight book cabins or tent space. The cabins are so popular, he said, they are booked years in advance.
"Most people are there for the beach, and if you sell out the lots, there is nothing to stop the buyers from putting up a fence and cutting our beach access. That would be a disaster to our tourism-based economy," he said.