Lee County Commissioners have no legal reason to challenge a state environmental permit for private land owners to build a dock and foot bridge on Mound Key, the county attorney said Tuesday.
The county considered filing a lawsuit to challenge a Department of Environmental Protection permit after some were concerned construction plans would damage the historic site.
County Attorney David Owen said the facts don’t support that.
“What we cannot bring to you today is a finding that there is something with the permit that would rise to the substantial adverse impacts to county property, the county’s interest that have not been addressed by the DEP,” Owen said. “I can’t recommend that you bring such a challenge.”
The McGee family has owned nine acres on the 125-acre island in the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve for nearly 100 years.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued the family a permit to build a wood dock that would allow them to walk up to their property rather than walking a half mile along state trails.
The McGees will have to get a final permit from the county, which would be done administratively.
Theresa Schober, second vice president of the Florida Anthropological Society, spoke against the building of a dock that would pass over crucial Calusa Indian artifacts as well as attract more visitors.
“It’s a significant threat to the cultural heritage of this community,” Schober said.
The 30-foot high island is built of shells, fish bones and pottery ringed by mangroves and is believed to be created by Calusa Indians and used as their capital city in the 1500s.
The foot bridges would not damage the artifacts, Ted McGee said. Decades of sediment has covered the area where the walkway would be built.
“The resources won’t be touched,” McGee said.
The state’s archaeological assessment has not been completed.
McGee showed the commissioners a 1944 aerial view of the land, which had been farmed, and current photos showing that vegetation has regrown.
“There’s really nothing we can do that hasn’t been done,” McGee said, adding that the family wants to be a steward of the land.
But some say the property owners have already degraded the lands by placing goats in the fenced-in property a couple of years ago.
The move allowed them to get a tax break for agricultural purposes, but McGee said goats also help clear exotic plant species instead of relying on herbicides. The photos show the land exposed to the goats for a year looked no different than land untouched by the goats.
Wayne Daltry, president of the Audubon of Southwest Florida said a dock and better managed trail system would be beneficial suggesting land owners and government establish a public-private partnership to manage a comprehensive plan.
The family has discussed selling the property to the county’s conservation program, but could not come to an agreement on price. The McGees have asked for upwards of $20 million, which McGee said was just a number to put on an application, not a firm request. The county’s appraisals have shown the value at $600,000, though the McGees said there is nothing else like the site to compare it to.
The county will continue talks to see if a deal, even a land swap, can be reached. For for the McGees, the agreement should include dedicating the land to their grandfather, Stanley Hanson, known to the native Americans as the white medicine man. For now, the McGees will continue down the path to having their dock approved.