Smooth terrain? Off-roaders may have new site if lawsuit settlement approved

Off-roaders would have a new 375-acre place to ride under a potential settlement of a lawsuit between Collier County and South Florida water managers.

The land, the Tri-County Mine, northwest of Immokalee along State Road 82 in Hendry County, is part of a larger settlement proposal that Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta said Tuesday he will bring to county commissioners next week.

The county sued the South Florida Water Management District last year after district officials failed to live up to part of a 2003 pledge to find 640 acres for ATV riders in return for the county turning over roads in Picayune Strand State Forest for an Everglades restoration project.

Coletta said he’s optimistic the Hendry County site could end years of fruitless searching for an off-road riding spot.

“Nothing seems to work,” he said. “Whenever you add ATVs to the mix, it seems to die along the way.”

Under Coletta’s proposal, the district also would put up money for two fishing piers under the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge to Marco Island and would remediate a muck disposal site for the Lake Trafford restoration project in Immokalee and add it to the boundaries of the county’s Pepper Ranch Preserve.

Mine owner Bill McDaniel called himself a “ready, able and willing seller” ­— if the price is right.

“I haven’t put a price on it,” said McDaniel, managing member of landowner PDJW LLC.

A spokesman for the water management district couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Tuesday, but McDaniel said the district has signaled a willingness to talk further.

“They say they think it might work,” McDaniel said.

In March, McDaniel got approval from Hendry County for “heavy recreational use” at the mine.

McDaniel said the mining business has been hurt by the recession and he has considered opening an ATV park at the mine himself.

Coletta called the mine a “moonscape with fishing lakes on it” and said it shouldn’t trigger environmental concerns that have torpedoed other potential sites.

The Hendry County mine alternative has arisen as a Miami-Dade County plan for off-road trails has hit a bumpy patch.

Miami-Dade County is petitioning Collier County to change its growth plan to clear the way for an outdoor recreation area on 1,600 acres Miami-Dade owns in the Big Cypress National Preserve near the Dade-Collier county line.

The Dade-Collier Cypress Recreation Area would include a visitors center, an 80-space parking lot, camping, an archery range, fishing piers, 10 miles of hiking and biking trails and 15 miles of off-highway vehicle trails.

Miami-Dade already operates a training airport runway at the site, once planned for a massive jetport. The fight over the jetport in the 1970s marked a seminal point for Everglades conservation and led to the creation of the Big Cypress preserve.

The recreation plans also have drawn fire from environmental advocates, including iconic South Florida nature photographer Clyde Butcher.

The county’s Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to dump the plans after casting a tie vote after a first review last year.

And the county’s Environmental Advisory Council voted 3-2 to reject the plan last month after voting 3-2 last year to back the idea.

Collier County commissioners voted in January to send the proposed growth plan change to the state Department of Community Affairs for review.

Since then, the DCA has warned the county not to amend its growth plan, citing concerns about the environment and urban sprawl.

If county commissioners adopt the amendment anyway, it could draw a lawsuit from the DCA.

Coletta said Tuesday that he’s not sure how he would vote for the recreation area plans.

“I don’t think it stands much of a chance,” Coletta said.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

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