MARCO ISLAND — The future of Marco Island’s Tract K remains uncertain.
On Monday at Marco Island’s city council meeting, Carl Way, chairman of the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, spoke passionately about preserving the 11-acre tract. The land houses a federally registered American Bald Eagle nesting site.
His offer to City Council was tempting.
His organization would spearhead and pay for a referendum creating an ordinance to buy Tract K for an eco-park. With the ordinance in place, his group would donate the necessary funds to the city to purchase the land from Collier County’s school board. The sanctuary foundation also offered to raise some funds for maintaining the newly created park.
Once made into law, the ordinance would specifically identify Tract K as publicly protected land and no other use would be allowed. That would prelude any development and obliterate aspirations of Marco Island’s charter high school organizers to locate there.
On Monday, that proved to be a stumbling block for Council Chairman Frank Recker.
“Why couldn’t we circumvent the process by adopting an ordinance that would allow us to use it (Tract K) for anything?” Recker asked, suggesting Way’s ordinance would bind councilors’ hands.
“I’d like to see more options plus price tags,” Recker said.
The city had considered a $100 option with the school board to hold the property for two years while council sought community feedback on Tract K’s use. Later Monday night, Recker’s renewed the motion to spend the $100 for the two-year option, but his motion was not seconded.
Way disagreed that public opinions were not known.
“People come as seasonal residents and are not here for beautiful buildings but for the natural environment,” he said. “Traffic viewing the eagles is steady during the year but increases 10-fold during season.”
The sanctuary foundation has collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of the eco-park, Way said. If the group moves toward a petition for referendum, he felt certain it could obtain the necessary 10-percent of voters required to place the referendum on the 2012 ballot.
In addition to eagle protection, Way envisioned an eco-park with native gardens, walking paths and preservation of other natural wildlife.
Amber Crooks of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida spoke in favor of protecting the eagles.
“The Conservancy has concerns about placing a school in the buffer on or near the nest,” she said, asking council to permanently protect the land.
Crooks pointed to the buffer and to eagle flight paths as areas of concern and suggested only “controlled activities” be allowed on the property.
Marco’s charter high school spokeswoman, Jane Watt, was unable to attend Monday’s council meeting but sent the Marco Eagle a statement regarding eagle protection on Tract K.
“The academy is supportive of protecting the eagles as well,” she wrote. “Thankfully, State and Federal laws protect the bald eagles. Based on information provided by the head of bald eagle permitting for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there is enough land to support a small school and allow plenty of buffers for the eagle on Tract K.”
The sanctuary foundation said it will continue its efforts to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot for voters to decide. The city’s attorney confirmed he had reviewed the petition filing and determined it was technically proficient. That review was required by the city’s charter before the referendum process could move forward.
No action by City Council was required.