PHOTOS: Bald eagles on Tract K leads group to push for November referendum

A no trespassing sign marks an area named Tract K off Tigertail Court on Marco Island. Two bald eagles have made the area their home and while the land is being considered for a new school, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has formed a political committee, named the Marco Eagle Sanctuary, to try an stop development of the area. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

A no trespassing sign marks an area named Tract K off Tigertail Court on Marco Island. Two bald eagles have made the area their home and while the land is being considered for a new school, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has formed a political committee, named the Marco Eagle Sanctuary, to try an stop development of the area. Greg Kahn/Staff

— Fear for Marco Island’s American Bald Eagles is soaring to new heights.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and a newly formed political committee want to bring bald eagles under their wings following an announcement in late May that charter high school proponents changed their preferred venue from the Marco YMCA to the property known as Tract K, where eagles reside.

The Conservancy is urging the Marco Island City Council to approve a bald eagle protection ordinance.

Meanwhile, citizens are banding together to try to get voters to decide the future of Tract K on Nov. 2.

If all else fails, they will buy the land and protect it without government help, residents said.

State and federal protection weakened when the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2008.

“It’s still a fragile population. We want to ensure it doesn’t become imperiled again,” said Amber Crooks of the Conservancy.

Marco has two active nests, one of which is on Tract K, city environmental specialist Nancy Richie said.

Statewide, that might not be of much concern, Crooks said, but on Marco, if you lose one, that’s a big difference.

The proposed school could bring 300 to 600 students to Tract K, estimated Jane Watt, president of the Marco Island Discovery Center.

School activity likely would cause the eagles to abandon their nests, Crooks said.

Gerald Swiacki and Carl Way, as well as other Marco residents, created a political committee and separate foundation, Marco Eagle Sanctuary, to put the fate of the vacant 11.6-acre Tract K in the hands of voters.

They’ll have to scramble to get it on the ballot by the Aug. 24 deadline, however.

Tract K was deeded to the Collier County School District by the island developers, Deltona Corp., at a cost of $10.

Many Marco residents and city leaders believe that the developers intended to set the land aside for a school. There are no deed restrictions, however.

The land is too small and of little use to the district, Collier schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson said.

Watt requested the land at no cost.

“I can tell you that will not happen,” Thompson said.

When Crooks and dozens of residents descended on a council meeting in July to plead for eagle protection, council members said they were in the wrong place. They should talk to the School Board, council members Jerry Gibson and Frank Recker said.

“A school does involve the consideration of every council member,” Marco resident Frances Enman said. “Free speech belongs to all of us.”

School Board member Pat Carroll, who once opposed selling Tract K, said at a recent candidates’ forum that it belongs under city ownership.

Regardless of who owns it, Crooks said council has a right and responsibility to protect the eagles.

Citing Bonita Springs and Lee County bald eagle protection ordinances, Crooks said an ordinance gives the city a say over project design and mitigation.

“Local governments have a nexus now to review these projects,” she said.

If the Collier School Board approves the charter application this fall, the planning board and council will review any residential zoning change. State laws prohibit construction or disturbance within 330 feet of a bald eagle’s nest.

Initially, Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s bald eagle coordinator, maintained that regulations would prevent the school from building near Marco’s nest for five consecutive seasons.

However, in an e-mail to the Daily News on Wednesday, Kirkpatrick said an eagle disturbance permit could allow building the school closer if mitigation and other conditions are met.

“Each application is reviewed on an individual basis,” she said.

That concerns Crooks and others.

Watt has said the charter school leaders would protect the eagles to enhance the school’s eco-friendly curriculum.

Cheryl Brownstein, who lives near Tract K, is among those calling for protection of the land by creating a passive park without play areas.

“It would be a place for quiet reflection or meditation,” Brownstein said.

Portions would be closed during nesting season, proponents said.

The political committee is seeking approval from voters for the city to purchase the property for up to $3.5 million and create the sanctuary.

They will be hard-pressed to meet the city’s criteria, City Clerk Laura Litzan said.

The city must hold two advertised hearings of the ordinance, but currently there is only one Aug. 16 council meeting scheduled. There are 1,500 signatures needed on the petition that the city has yet to approve, and an Aug. 24 deadline with the Collier County Supervisor of Elections for submittal.

Way is concerned whether the city staff is stalling.

Alan Gabriel, the attorney from the Weiss-Serota law firm representing the city, denied the petition because it lacked an affidavit signed by five committee members and had imprecise ordinance language.

Aware of ongoing negotiations between the city and the superintendent for the city to purchase Tract K, including the proposal for a two-year, first-option-to-buy agreement, Way has other concerns.

“They better not purchase this just to hand it over to the school in a back-room deal,” he said.

If voters don’t get their say, Way said the foundation will seek donations from around the world to purchase Tract K.

He said he would support an appropriately sized high school, but the current proposal is grandiose for Marco’s and Collier’s needs.

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Comments » 21

jwputnam writes:

Let's try to be honest here. I suspect that the M.E.S. is comprised of neighbors of Track K. Anyone want to take a bet? If not, it would appear that we have a lot of new found Eagle lovers on Marco Island.

Brillo writes:

It would be only fair that any proposal which results or could result in the use of tax dollars and/or the right of quiet enjoyment of so many City resident's properties be allowed to be put on a public referendum. We are talking about some 1500+ families. I think that the public is getting totally disgusted with politicians doing backroom deals when it comes to our hard earned money and lives. There is a time when we have to stand up for our rights and interests.

Brillo writes:

Mr, K,

I think you misunderstood sarcasm, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm) when you saw it. I have been suggesting a referendum or popular vote since this whole discussion of Tract K began. Either way, I am glad that we are agreeing on this issue.

freedomofspeech1 writes:

I am against a High School at this site. I am against preserving it for Eagles. When the eagles leave and the land can be used for PEOPLE, it should be. The people who bought in that area assumed that it would be used in the future. They should have done their homework and found out that it was owned by the Collier County School Board....thus the potential for a SCHOOL! If you couldnt accept that than you should not have bought! Just like the people near Tommie Barfield. The best usage for this land is to make it an ACTIVE park. This is a compromise between the school and "dead land" which is what it will be as a sanctuary. The island has limited resources and a shortage of active park space. The city should buy it and preserve it as an active park...i.e. ballfields.
You can never have too many, especially as the island eventually will build out and there are more full time residents.

alanint writes:

Where do you get that anybody is advocating that the parcel of land should be left alone? Virtually everybody who is AGAINST the school is FOR and active park on Tract K. One that can be enjoyed by all the residents of Marco and beyond.
A referendum in November will decide it all, as long as the City Council stops trying to worm out of its responsibilities to represent the citizens of Marco.

deltarome writes:

I just love it how people near the land always knew it could someday become a school. Their lot prices were probably lower because of it.
This sounds similar to those who buy a lower priced home near an airport and then want it shut down as it is too noisy.....
NIMBY-Not In My Back Yard

Brillo writes:

in response to deltarome:

I just love it how people near the land always knew it could someday become a school. Their lot prices were probably lower because of it.
This sounds similar to those who buy a lower priced home near an airport and then want it shut down as it is too noisy.....
NIMBY-Not In My Back Yard

There are excellent arguments on both sides of this issue, that is why it should be put up for a referendum and not be decided by something somebody thought might be a good idea, when the Island was not built up, some 30 years ago.

Why are some of you fearful of a referendum? Do you think that your side will not win? Maybe a lesson in Democracy is something our youngsters can learn from this, first hand.

It is about time the citizens of Marco have a clear word in what is done to "their" Island.

captnjimbo writes:

Clap-trap.

Let it go to a vote...more commonsense people will vote for the school...it is destiny.

Eventually the eagles will go somewhere else to nest...they are very flexible and there are a million acres nearby. They became endangered not because of encroachment, but because of DDT in the ecosystem. Who-ever posted the not in my back yard theory is right...and it has never been a secret that there was a set aside for a school. Get over it. Move along.

alanint writes:

Really? Then why do all reliable polls on the subject favor NO school on Tract K by over 60%?
And if the vote is slam dunk for the school, why is the city council actively, (perhaps illegaly) trying to prevent its placement on a November ballot?
We want a referendum vote too. That's how we will guarrantee no school is built on Tract K.

Brillo writes:

I think if it went to a poll with all the information given in a completely transparent and thorough way, the vote would be more like 65% against and 35% pro. I think I am being generous on the pro percentage. Why, then, does the City Council appear to be ducking a referendum?

u2cane writes:

"Nobody is for another park on Marco.We have so many parks nobody used. Nice parks, expensive parks."
Klab, maybe you should get out of your cave long enough to visit one, there are plenty of people who use them. Then again your pasty skin might burn in the sunlight. Another park is better then Watt's school for the overprivilieged.

Brillo, you should never be happy you agree with Klab on something, might mean you are as crazy as Klab.

Brillo writes:

in response to u2cane:

"Nobody is for another park on Marco.We have so many parks nobody used. Nice parks, expensive parks."
Klab, maybe you should get out of your cave long enough to visit one, there are plenty of people who use them. Then again your pasty skin might burn in the sunlight. Another park is better then Watt's school for the overprivilieged.

Brillo, you should never be happy you agree with Klab on something, might mean you are as crazy as Klab.

There are moments when Klab, probably by error on his part, makes sense.

In all honesty a referendum on the Tract K issue makes more sense now than ever. By doing so we can put this issue to rest, once and for all.

Come on City Council, be responsible and do the right thing!

here_is_my2cents writes:

in response to u2cane:

"Nobody is for another park on Marco.We have so many parks nobody used. Nice parks, expensive parks."
Klab, maybe you should get out of your cave long enough to visit one, there are plenty of people who use them. Then again your pasty skin might burn in the sunlight. Another park is better then Watt's school for the overprivilieged.

Brillo, you should never be happy you agree with Klab on something, might mean you are as crazy as Klab.

I live on this island and work on this island. I would say my children are far from "over privileged" they do the dishes and mow the lawn just like I did as a child. That being said, I have worked very hard in my life to provide a good and safe place for my children to grow up. Why once they reach their teenage years should they have to endure long days and extended commutes to leave the place they call home to go to school? Our children are a valuable resource and we owe it to them to do anything we can to provide them with the foundation and education to become productive members of society. Parks are nice, but we have enough. Let's think about doing something for our children. I feel those that do not want a school on the island are either winter residents who do not want the increased tax base to support a school (and do not care about our children) or those worried about what a school in their neighborhood will do to their own land values. To the later, perhaps you should have done a bit more "homework" when looking into buying into this area. To the former, our children are as valuable to us as yours are to you back in your "true homes" help us support them as you would your own!

alanint writes:

So, do you plan for your kids to spend the rest of their life on Marco? What happens when they eventually have to leave this little cocoon you insist on keeping them in? Unless you have your own business on Marco and your kids want very much to take it over, you are doing them a great disservice. If you think you are preparing them for life by sheltering them you are sadly mistaken. Most kids I have spoken to want the excitement, challenges and opportunities that Lely, the high school off the island afford. You know, the REAL world.
That being said, what is it with you Tract K School supporters inability to understand that this is not about having NO high school on Marco. Its about where they want to put it. Were you all handed the same talking points by Jane Watt?
Every time the issue is brought up, you attempt to paint people who don't want a school on Tract K as anti kids, anti education, anti high school on Marco.
One more time. We would be happy to support a high school where you can properly shelter and insulate your kids at the YMCA, at Mackel Park or at the Barfield site which were originally proposed

here_is_my2cents writes:

in response to alanint:

So, do you plan for your kids to spend the rest of their life on Marco? What happens when they eventually have to leave this little cocoon you insist on keeping them in? Unless you have your own business on Marco and your kids want very much to take it over, you are doing them a great disservice. If you think you are preparing them for life by sheltering them you are sadly mistaken. Most kids I have spoken to want the excitement, challenges and opportunities that Lely, the high school off the island afford. You know, the REAL world.
That being said, what is it with you Tract K School supporters inability to understand that this is not about having NO high school on Marco. Its about where they want to put it. Were you all handed the same talking points by Jane Watt?
Every time the issue is brought up, you attempt to paint people who don't want a school on Tract K as anti kids, anti education, anti high school on Marco.
One more time. We would be happy to support a high school where you can properly shelter and insulate your kids at the YMCA, at Mackel Park or at the Barfield site which were originally proposed

Don't be ridiculous, none of us are putting our children in a cocoon. I take offense to that statement. I have traveled and seen a good portion of this world and plan on having my children do the same. It goes to show that you aren't considering the reasons behind a school on Marco. I have noticed that the school bus to Lely stops at my corner a 5:55 am! That means these kids need to get up around 4:30-4:45am to shower, eat, and get to the bus top on time to go to school. That's crazy. Add to that extra curricular activities such as sports, homework, and the commute back. They are kids, that's a long day no matter how you put it. The least we can do is shorten the commute. Do you think kids need to go to lely to find challenge and excitement at school? I would think we can offer them that. If you think they need to leave the island to attend high school to begin understanding the complexities of the "real world" then I think you are not giving them (or their parents) enough credit. Until an alternate local is agreed upon, which is fine by me, I would like to see this left for consideration because we have not got that many options left. If this becomes another park or a bird sanctuary we have lost this piece of land as an option.

captnjimbo writes:

The great majority of pontificators on this site went to little schools in hometowns all over America. They learned diversity in college or in the work force. These mega schools, except for the big cities are a relatively newer phenom with administrations stretched thin and unions leaders calling the shots...not a good thing.

The Marco schools are darned good institutions and when everybody kind of knows each other you have more parental involvement and oversight and that is precious.

Brillo writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Those people which you say should be ignored allowed you and all of us the freedom to discuss this issue in public and not be worried there will be a "knock on the door". Do you want to discuss this matter any further?

Once again, a democratic, referendum is what is called for here, nothing less, nothing more.

floridayankeeclipper writes:

I vote for keeping Tract K green! 11 plus acres is much too small for a high school, especially one for 600. Deltona said about 12 acres is the minimum for an elementary and 23 or more for a high school, so if you are concerned about the "vison" then this is not the right place for a high school. If the school had stayed small and for our island children at the YMCA site, it seems they would have been ok. Now, all I hear is concern about the "hidden costs" that no one from the school will admit..this will cost Marco a lot of money. The compromise is to find property near the island.

Brillo writes:

K.
I have a secret to tell you old boy, nobody is following you except yourself and you are having a tough time doing that, too!

u2cane writes:

Klabautermann writes:
in response to u2cane:

"Nobody is for another park on Marco.We have so many parks nobody used. Nice parks, expensive parks."
Klab, maybe you should get out of your cave long enough to visit one, there are plenty of people who use them. Then again your pasty skin might burn in the sunlight. Another park is better then Watt's school for the overprivilieged.

Brillo, you should never be happy you agree with Klab on something, might mean you are as crazy as Klab.

Any time I left my not underprivileged nice but expensive house and drive to Stan's Sunday party I pass the North Barfield Park close to the Island Club. Nobody in. I spend one Sunday and one Wednesday to count people use this park. What do you guess you underprivileged society hater if you can guess? None on Sunday and two cars for lunch on Wednesday. But it is interesting what kind of wording you use. "Overprivilieged"! Do you not like an upper class education center on Marco? Have kids on Marco to stay on your below average education level? Be not so intolerant and self fishing. You sound like a totally frustrated life time failure. Try to be happy. It is better for your health. And be careful. Island-eye/rolokomat is watching you. He hates people left sided of his political standpoint. The majority of Marco Island will be vote for a school. For "overprivilieged" and all other kids too. I never heared that somebody is for restrictions who has to attend the school.
.

WHAT? Dude, can you please make some sense of this mismash. Yes, I must be a real failure to own a house on Marco way before retirement age. Klab, either you can't speak english very well, or you can't see the letters you are typing because you never make complete sentences. I am very happy and very laid back and stres free, but I also have no problem making my beliefs and feelings known (that is why I am stress free I don't hold stuff in). Maybe we need an adult school on Marco to help the Klab's of Marco. Our kids are in a great position with Lely which does a fantastic job of putting our kids in great colleges. Again, I don't see this school as a necessity for Marco. It is wasteful of tax payers dollars (Ms. Watt admitted there would be public money needed for the school folks, I think she mentioned for the operation of it, but there was a mention of needing public money).

lauralbi1 writes:

I do not know how this article evolved to the blogs above. From what I underestand the issue is not about the Charter High School, but more where to put it. I think everyone has lost sight of the fact that even if Tract K were a sandy, vacant lot with no houses around it, the Collier County School District (the owners of the property) would never allow a high school to be built on this property. That would be a death nail for Lely High School. Lost students, lost revenue and so on. Any other statements to the contrary is just Political BS.
Given a choice, I am certain that a majority (someone please define this for Klaubautermann) of the voters would approve a High School on Marco as long as no taxes were involved.
We are still perplexed as to why the YMCA concept was abandoned.
Ed Issler

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