Builder cited repeatedly for violating bald eagle rules

Builder Colin Flinn is smiling as he stands in the backyard of the house he’s building at Audubon Country Club.

“Lucy’s sitting on her eggs,” Flinn said, pointing to a bald eagle sitting in a nest at the top of a tall pine tree about two lots away.

An eagle flies to a nest located in conservation easement land for the state of Florida next to a new home in Audubon Country Club in Collier County on Wednesday. According to Colin Flinn, vice president of Audubon Joint Venture, the developer of Audubon Country Club and largest landholder there, the pair of birds has been building nests in the club for 16 years and started building this new nest on Oct. 25, 2005, right after Hurricane Wilma hit the area. He thinks eggs were laid a couple of weeks ago and it is possible that they already have hatched.

Photo by Tracy Boulian, Naples Daily News

An eagle flies to a nest located in conservation easement land for the state of Florida next to a new home in Audubon Country Club in Collier County on Wednesday. According to Colin Flinn, vice president of Audubon Joint Venture, the developer of Audubon Country Club and largest landholder there, the pair of birds has been building nests in the club for 16 years and started building this new nest on Oct. 25, 2005, right after Hurricane Wilma hit the area. He thinks eggs were laid a couple of weeks ago and it is possible that they already have hatched.

He recalls watching in awe as the eagle’s mate — Flinn calls it Desi — began to rebuild the nest the day after Hurricane Wilma blew it out of the tree last October.

Lucy and Desi are at the center of a different kind of storm these days.

Flinn repeatedly has violated rules aimed at making sure construction at two houses he’s building on Audubon Boulevard don’t scare off the eagles, which are considered a threatened species, Collier County code enforcers say.

In a rare move, code enforcers and county attorneys are talking about whether to take Flinn to court to force him to comply with the bald eagle rules.

Flinn said he wasn’t trying to harm the birds when he broke the rules and doesn’t intend to keep breaking the rules. He calls his run-ins with county code enforcers “very frustrating.”

Collier County commissioners adopted the rules last summer to protect the Audubon bald eagles from disturbance during nesting season, which runs from October to May.

The rules, devised especially for the Audubon eagles, were meant to ease concerns by Flinn that tighter rules were preventing him from building.

Still, though, Flinn has run afoul of rules that prohibit heavy equipment on lots within 750 feet of the nest tree during nesting season and rules that require indoor work during nesting season with doors and windows shut to minimize noise.

Community Development and Environmental Services Administrator Joe Schmitt said Flinn’s actions have been “pretty damned annoying to me and my staff.”

The first incident happened in October 2005, as Wilma was bearing down on Southwest Florida.

Code enforcers issued a stop-work order Oct. 19 after finding heavy machinery on the site. The machinery was removed, said code enforcement officer Kevin Halesworth.

The next day, Halesworth said, the stop-work order had been removed and the front-end loader was back on the site.

Besides that, Halesworth noticed a silt fence separating Flinn’s lot from a marsh had come down, and rain had washed dirt from the construction site into the marsh.

Code enforcers cited Flinn for the silt fence being down and cited him for having the equipment on the site.

Flinn said he was using the bucket on the front-end loader to hold down debris in a Dumpster that he couldn’t get anyone to pick up before Wilma’s strike.

After that, monthly checks of the site found no violations until Jan. 5, when Halesworth found heavy equipment excavating dirt that had washed into the marsh, he said.

Halesworth said he had told Flinn to remove the dirt with hand tools, but Flinn said that method was not working and so he brought in the equipment.

At the same visit, Halesworth found pallets of roof shingles in the front yard, which he said he considered more evidence of other heavy equipment having been on the site.

Flinn was cited for wetlands destruction and for having heavy equipment on the site during bald eagle nesting season.

Code enforcers said they planned to post a stop-work order today at a house Flinn is building next door after hearing what sounded like a power saw coming from inside the house with the doors open.

The citations from October and last week came with fines totaling $1,015, raising concerns that they are not substantial enough to keep Flinn from continuing to violate the bald eagle rules.

“He’s been told what the regulations are and he chooses not to follow them,” said Michelle Arnold, the county’s code enforcement director.

Flinn has a history with county code enforcers at Audubon Country Club.

In 2002, the county sent his development company a notice of violation for clearing 17 lots along Audubon Boulevard and Warwick Way without a permit.

Audubon Joint Venture agreed to reseed lots and pay almost $50,000 to the county’s parks and recreation department as mitigation.

County Attorney David Weigel received authorization Tuesday from Collier County commissioners to pursue litigation against Flinn if necessary to enforce the bald eagle rules.

Weigel did not provide details about the case and commissioners didn’t ask for them. Weigel said litigation would be a “last resort.”

The possibility of a county crackdown is not souring Flinn on the bald eagles, which have nested at Audubon every year except one for the past 16 years.

Flinn said he’s happy to see them come back every year and will wait patiently for them to leave this spring.

“I’ve been waiting long enough as it is,” he said.

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