Eco-friendly Marco charter school site teeming with gopher tortoises POLL

A gopher tortoise is released after three months of treatment. The tortoise suffered severe damage to its shell, possible the result of a dog attack. The epoxy used to repair the shell is visible on the side and top of the carapace.

Photo by Jessica Bender

A gopher tortoise is released after three months of treatment. The tortoise suffered severe damage to its shell, possible the result of a dog attack. The epoxy used to repair the shell is visible on the side and top of the carapace. Photo by Jessica Bender

Do you support a charter school at the proposed site on Marco Island?

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— Although Marco Island charter high school recently obtained land for its campus, reports of more than 60 protected gopher tortoises on that site may keep the school’s already arduous start-up on the slow track.

Gopher tortoise relocation permits likely will be necessary to prepare the property on San Marco Road adjacent to Key Marco. The permanent site could involve disturbance permits for protected American Bald Eagles.

Environmentalists say they are scratching their heads regarding the school’s proposed eco-friendly curriculum focus on a site that likely involves disturbing protected species.

“I hope it doesn’t happen for the protected species’ sake and our kids’ sake,” Naples resident Julie Ross said of the school’s proposed location.

Ross, co-founder of a fledgling wildlife conservation group on Marco Island, is in the process of completing her Florida Gulf Coast University master’s thesis on the genetics of Marco Island’s gopher tortoises.

Jane Watt, chairwoman of the Marco Island Discovery Center and Academy, couldn’t be reached for comment despite repeated attempts to reach her by phone, e-mail and at the charter school’s office or her Marco Island home.

Ross said it doesn’t make sense to permanently disturb the tortoises just for the school to end up using the land for a couple of years and then moving.

“Knowing it’s temporary ... it’s frustrating. It really is,” Ross said.

Using portable classrooms, the school is to open to about 150 freshmen in August. The lease is for three years, with the possibility for a two-year extension, Watt wrote in a previous e-mail to local journalists.

The Collier County School District declined to allow the charter school to use Tract K, an 11.6-acre site with protected American Bald Eagles nesting on it, for its permanent building.

Watt asked Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith to intervene because the district was thwarting the charter school’s progress, she wrote in a letter to the education department in early December.

More information was requested from the school and the district to determine if or how the education department would respond to Watt’s request, agency spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

Meanwhile, gopher tortoise experts say the 5.88-acre lot on San Marco Road rented from Ed Cleland has too many tortoises for the portable classrooms to be placed among the burrows.

Ross, as part of her research, had documented 63 burrows on the site as of Wednesday, she said.

The approximate 10 burrows per acre means relocation permits will be necessary because Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations require permits for any development activity within 25 feet from a burrow’s entrance, Ross said.

“If a property is made permanently unsuitable for tortoises for only temporary use, hopefully all other reasonable options were explored before the site was selected,” said Dave Steen, co-chairman of the Gopher Tortoise Council, a nonprofit working to conserve the ever-declining gopher tortoise population of the southeastern U.S.

Land, the American Bald Eagles, political opponents, finances and working with the Collier County School District, which did approve the school’s charter application, all have presented challenges to the project.

Time and expense for moving the tortoises could be substantial depending on the school’s development plans, which city and state officials said haven’t been received yet.

There isn’t any place within Collier County permitted to accept so many tortoises because the state requires no more than two tortoises per acre, Ross said.

Obtaining a Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission relocation permit likely will take somewhere between 45 and 90 days. Then the city will need to approve the plan under its protected species ordinance, officials said.

It’s possible, Ross said, for the school to request an on-site relocation permit. That is more expensive and will “squish” the unusually large population into a small space, Ross said.

The cost, therefore, could be anywhere from a total of a couple thousand dollars to six-figures. The 60-plus tortoises must be captured by waiting for each of them to leave their burrow and go into a shaded-trap, Steen said.

“Marco has a genetically distinct population and it’s healthy and it’s viable and it’s large. Unfortunately, we’re looking at losing it due to development,” Ross said.

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Comments » 40

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Now it is 63 gopher sites to be relocated.
Eco-friendly????

There may be more gophers than students who really want to attend "Trailer Park High".

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Maybe a new vocabulary word to be adapted to the school will be "Eco-Fiendly" said poor Mr. and Mrs. Gopher Tortoise and family. Didn't they read the deed restrictions on the property they called home for many, many years? Must be something wrong with their reading skills? Wouldn't you think?

1Paradiselost writes:

I thought this comment by "Marcomermaid" hit the bull's-eye and is worth repeating!

Marcomermaid writes:

I thought this new school would be "green" and have a "conservation" focus, but what DOES THEIR CHOICE OF LOCATIONS SAY ABOUT THEM?

MIA leaders say they will be teaching the kids conservation, however they will go to the extreme of "TEMPORARILY" removing gopher tortoises from the San Marco location until they can "PERMANENTLY" impact Bald Eagles on Tract K

marcomermaid writes:

Thank you, 1Paradiselost!

Kelly sums it up:
"Environmentalists say they are scratching their heads regarding the school’s proposed eco-friendly curriculum focus on a site that likely involves disturbing protected species."

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Marcomermaid,

The selection of this site appears to have more to do with saving a few dollars for the Academy then it did with any environmental concerns.

According to the Sun Time's article it seems that there was another site available, but, the owners did not want to negotiate any more then they already did.

This then became, a saving a few dollars issue, without the previously touted conservation or environmental concern for the Academy.

ajm3s writes:

in response to 1Paradiselost:

I thought this comment by "Marcomermaid" hit the bull's-eye and is worth repeating!

Marcomermaid writes:

I thought this new school would be "green" and have a "conservation" focus, but what DOES THEIR CHOICE OF LOCATIONS SAY ABOUT THEM?

MIA leaders say they will be teaching the kids conservation, however they will go to the extreme of "TEMPORARILY" removing gopher tortoises from the San Marco location until they can "PERMANENTLY" impact Bald Eagles on Tract K

He shoots and scores! Imagine another environmental conservancy boondoggle.

Folks, keep your ears and eyes focused because conservancy groups are not always what they claim to be. More legal beagles than environmental concerns.

I for one believe Ms. Ward (in her efforts to reclaim the vibrancy of the mangroves by clearing culverts) is more of a environmental advocate then the Conservancy and its illustrious activists hierarchy and those that purport to be so eco-friendly.

Please be vigilant and distinguish the advocate from the activist.

captnjimbo writes:

Track K might be a good alternative...we could let the eagles stay if they wanted to...if they don't want to they simply move to another of the millions of trees nearby.

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Captj:

In somwhat legal terms: The Eagles have the right of first refusal to Tract K, (for at least six more years). This supercedes anything the Academy wishes or dreams it had.

LadueVGilleo writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to MarcoIslandWoman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What part of the law don't you understand?

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to islandeye1#236971:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I thought her name was Janice?

happyhorowitz34145 writes:

I wonder what the great and powerful people of Key Marco think of the Eco school being in thier front yard?
The owner of the property thinks this is awesome, because in three to five years he ends up with a gopher free property that would have cost him (as a developer) thousands to have the gophers moved.

Fossil writes:

I wonder how many animals were disrupted by the developer when Marco Island was built? Oh, that was about money and personal property. Sorry, to have offended anyone, it's just that I remember when Marco Island really was a paradise. Today it is inahabited by a bunch of selfish shortsighted property owners. Few cared when our waterways were pollutted by the de-watering process, few cared when the beach renorishiment projects disrupted our ocean evironment. The island and it's enviornment has changed dramaticly. All those who live here and own property are responsible and continue to do damage. We can't help it. We are at the top of the food chain and that's the way it is. Today wildlife and the enviornment, take a back seat to progress. Paradise is non-existant except in the minds of those who have never seen what it once was. We made life miserable for tutles and eagles long ago when we put up the money to develop this place. Maybe, it's time we all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. The school is inevitable, it will one day be built somewhere nearby. The old men and women working against it today will soon be gone and the younger families will make it happen.

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Fossil,

You may be correct in some of your points of the past. But, there are laws today that regulate situations such as we are talking about here.

I also think that your comment about old men and women who will soon be gone is not as correct as you would like. Most of these older people have a good 20 plus years of fight in them. By then who knows who will be gone.

Put your efforts into LELY and your children will benefit immediately and not have to wait all those years.

There is a saying, from whom I do not know, but it went something like this. The real value of man is how he treats the animals around him.
Another saying is the real value of a society is how it treats its seniors.

I think that the proponents have some real learning to do before they take on these issues.
As, I am sure, that they have seen.

u2cane writes:

It is a shame, as stubborn as Jane is she probably could have helped Lely out a lot.

u2cane writes:

What is funny is that this school is supposed to help educate our children. Exactly how they plan to educate them though is my question. I don't know that I would want my children at a school that is being founded by former pharmaceutical reps who say they are all about the environment, then trample all over it to build their so called eco friendly school with funds raised by holding super bowl "betting" fundraisers. Not sure I would entrust my children's educational experiences with this crowd. What is that, do as I say, not as I do?

lauralbi1 writes:

There seem to be comments and opinions that Tract K is an option for a school. That is NOT a given. The Collier County School Board owns Tract K and does not have to do anything with it for some time to come. In fact, I do not know if they ever have to do anything with Tract K. It is a valuable asset to all the Taxpayers in Collier County. Twenty years from now it may be worth a lot of money and if declared surplus 20 years from now (after the MIA is either running or failed), may bring a lot of money into CCSB funds.
By the way, in a few months, there will be a Petition circulated on Marco entitled "Residential-Public/Charter High School Buffer Zone Ordinance". Please be sure, whether you are for or against the school, to sign this Petition to get the issue in front of all the voters. This new Ordinance will provide for a 500' Buffer Zone between any Public or Charter High School and a residential (single or multi-family) lot.
Ed Issler
.....

RayPray writes:

in response to Fossil:

I wonder how many animals were disrupted by the developer when Marco Island was built? Oh, that was about money and personal property. Sorry, to have offended anyone, it's just that I remember when Marco Island really was a paradise. Today it is inahabited by a bunch of selfish shortsighted property owners. Few cared when our waterways were pollutted by the de-watering process, few cared when the beach renorishiment projects disrupted our ocean evironment. The island and it's enviornment has changed dramaticly. All those who live here and own property are responsible and continue to do damage. We can't help it. We are at the top of the food chain and that's the way it is. Today wildlife and the enviornment, take a back seat to progress. Paradise is non-existant except in the minds of those who have never seen what it once was. We made life miserable for tutles and eagles long ago when we put up the money to develop this place. Maybe, it's time we all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. The school is inevitable, it will one day be built somewhere nearby. The old men and women working against it today will soon be gone and the younger families will make it happen.

"I remember when Marco Island really was a paradise."

>>> Calusa Indian times?

"Today it is inahabited by a bunch of selfish shortsighted property owners."

>>> Not true! Property owners may make mistakes but -- unlike renters and transients -- are by definition never shortsighted about what they own.

"All those who live here and own property are responsible and continue to do damage."

>>> All?

>>> If Marco was this garden of Eden once, how then did it deteriorate into the current state you stigmatize? Why didn't it remain a paradise?

>>> Could it be that maybe it was just a bug-ridden swamp?

"Paradise is non-existant except in the minds of those who have never seen what it once was."

>>> Sound like some very deep spiritual insight?

"The school is inevitable...."

>>> No it will never happen.

"The old men and women working against it today will soon be gone and the younger families will make it happen."

>>> The old people are here to stay. Many live into their 90s. They are the ones that make things happen, good or bad, since they have $$$ and votes.

>>> The so-called young people are either transient hospitality workers or blue collar pickup truck cowboys.

>>> They may have lots of $$$ in good times, but don't have the sophistication or interest to make anything happen.

>>> Mostly, they are occupied with scheming how to overcharge their older neighbors for services not always or only partially required and, then, incompletely finished. The pickup truck cowboys always seem to be gone after a couple years.

RayPray writes:

in response to u2cane:

What is funny is that this school is supposed to help educate our children. Exactly how they plan to educate them though is my question. I don't know that I would want my children at a school that is being founded by former pharmaceutical reps who say they are all about the environment, then trample all over it to build their so called eco friendly school with funds raised by holding super bowl "betting" fundraisers. Not sure I would entrust my children's educational experiences with this crowd. What is that, do as I say, not as I do?

On the mark!

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

in response to u2cane:

It is a shame, as stubborn as Jane is she probably could have helped Lely out a lot.

"Could have" are the key words to your assumption.

Do you really think that they would anything to do with her after all of the bad mouthing that was said about Lely...and now the threat of a law suit against the Board of Ed...."Good Luck!!"

u2cane writes:

Those of you wishing to boycott any businesses supporting the charter high school, there are some listed on their website, including Mcdonalds, Sunset Grille, and Guy Harvey's.

Fossil, it is not just older men and women fighting this, those of us under 40 who don't see it as a need, just Jane's want, are fighting it as well.

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to u2cane:

Those of you wishing to boycott any businesses supporting the charter high school, there are some listed on their website, including Mcdonalds, Sunset Grille, and Guy Harvey's.

Fossil, it is not just older men and women fighting this, those of us under 40 who don't see it as a need, just Jane's want, are fighting it as well.

I don't see the SUNSET GRILLE listed as a supporter on the academy's website!

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to MarcoIslandWoman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

RayPray writes:

in response to 1Paradiselost:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"Every computer has an "IP" address. That address identifies it's owner."

>>> Never heard of TOR?

>>> Tsk. Tsk.

1Paradiselost writes:

TOR limits your total surfing experience.

Example... you have to drop your block to use Google.

TOR users have experienced "leaking their real IP address"

TOR is not 100% bullet proof and should not be relied on.

Why would someone consider using TOR unless they had something to hide? Why would you use it?

u2cane writes:

Sunset Grille is allowing them to hold their betting fundraiser at their place, so therby supporting their actions.

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to u2cane:

Sunset Grille is allowing them to hold their betting fundraiser at their place, so therby supporting their actions.

Wow! I need to talk to Keith.

I'll bet he does not even know that islanders are boycotting business that are friendly with the Academy..

Thanks for the heads up!

LadueVGilleo writes:

First we had Klabautermann, a merry and diligent water sprite who turned out to be anything but. Next we have Mary/Marianne Herzili who claims to be a long time Marco Island resident with children in local schools who wants them attending the Marco Island Academy, but in reality she only exists as a blog in the Marco Eagle. And today, readers were introduced to Ivan Dubrovnik. I imagine that by tomorrow we will have a pretty good idea what Ivan is all about.

Whoever you are, many will argue that you have succeeded in becoming the most annoying blogger anyone can remember. But it is your approach to blogging that is going to lead others to believe that you should seek professional help.

marcoeaglestaff (staff) writes:

in response to MarcoIslandWoman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

During the sign up process, you were given the option to set your public profile options. You can disallow your first and last name to be seen by other users by going here:

http://www.marconews.com/accounts/pro...

Thanks.

LadueVGilleo writes:

Interesting. Many of my comments have been removed by Marco Eagle Staff after I blogged the name from a public profile of an ficticious individual who now signs blogs with the same ficticious name.

Perhaps my comments are being considered an invasion of privacy, and in violation of the user agreement. For that, I apologize.

More likely, the individual behind these colorful characters is hounding Marco Eagle no end to have them "do unto others as you have done unto Klabautermoron". For that, I understand.

RayPray writes:

in response to 1Paradiselost:

TOR limits your total surfing experience.

Example... you have to drop your block to use Google.

TOR users have experienced "leaking their real IP address"

TOR is not 100% bullet proof and should not be relied on.

Why would someone consider using TOR unless they had something to hide? Why would you use it?

"TOR limits your total surfing experience."

>>> True

"TOR is not 100% bullet proof and should not be relied on."

>>> Disable java in the browser to prevent this.

"Why would someone consider using TOR unless they had something to hide? Why would you use it?"

Only a accomplice of our predator government -- like the TSA airport goons -- could imagine such a question!

frankie30 writes:

I am glad that you are all very concerned about the gopher tortoises on the San Marco site, but where was the uproar when the ATV's were tearing up the land and running over the tortoises? The land and animals on the site have been abused for years by rednecks and now its a concern?

ajm3s writes:

I can see my first day at the MI Charter High School where I am sitting in the principle's office for asking a philosophical question in Ecology 101:

What is man's nature: is it to displace gopher tortoises to allow for the advancement and education of its young, with more buildings, or to work within the existing developments to show as an example, the principle of environmental sensitivity and harmony. To recycle existing, vacant or abandoned developments as providing testimony to the greening of America through recycling.

Man is so fickle that he creates rationales and juicy justifications to further the cause of education? environmental awareness?

Are we just on a mission and will use whatever rationale (i.e. mission statement) which can further the cause? Was it to create a learning center for environmental awareness? Here is a snippet from their web site:

"By captivating the students’ interest, the Academy hopes to cultivate a lifelong love of learning. From the outdoor classroom with the living pond, to the rooftop organic gardens, unparalleled opportunities abound for students to investigate Southwest Florida’s unique ecosystems. Students are challenged to find answers to their questions in a hands-on learning environment."

http://www.marcoislandacademy.com/

If you want a charter high school on this island under the banner of environmentalism, may I suggest the proponents not look at raw undeveloped land. It begs the question, what is the real intent?

To the proponents of an academy, be bold and stand by your convictions, or simply die away in a field of dreams and allow gopher tortoises to survive.

Your environmental rationale is running amock, and you are starting to sound like the Marco Island Mafia of years past.

Credibility matters so please be honest. It would be a refreshing and perhaps help your cause. But if you continue on this path of environmental awareness, may I suggest you get the Conservancy to commence a lawsuit on your behalf. Both organizations send mix messages. Would I be too bold to say deceitful?

RayPray writes:

in response to frankie30:

I am glad that you are all very concerned about the gopher tortoises on the San Marco site, but where was the uproar when the ATV's were tearing up the land and running over the tortoises? The land and animals on the site have been abused for years by rednecks and now its a concern?

"...where was the uproar when the ATV's were tearing up the land and running over the tortoises?"

>>> If you followed these blogs, you would discover continual and vehement indignation against depredations of ATV cowboys.

"The land and animals...have been abused for years by rednecks"

>>> Statement clearly displays the overt and sneering classist, sexist, and racist bigotry of the Gang of Watt for the Marco Apartheid Academy!

RayPray writes:

in response to MarcoIslandWoman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"I boycott businesses they are against the school. My family and my friends do the same."

The following businesses have come out 100% against the MArco Apartheid Academy:

Publix
Winn Dixie
Walmart
SweetBay

All gas stations on the island and East Naples.

You and your friends better buy a mule and a plow to grow your own food, as well as a jack_ass for transportation.

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

in response to frankie30:

I am glad that you are all very concerned about the gopher tortoises on the San Marco site, but where was the uproar when the ATV's were tearing up the land and running over the tortoises? The land and animals on the site have been abused for years by rednecks and now its a concern?

Maybe some did not know of this abuse in the past? But do you think that teaching our kids that two wrongs make a right regarding our ecological surroundings is a lesson we wish to impart upon them? Especially when the Academy has held it self out as being Eco-Friendly as a basis for their fund raising efforts.

This is just another example of say as you wish until it comes time to prove yourself or in simpler terms, the proof is in the pudding.

ajm3s writes:

If those that support an Academy were true champions of environmental issues the Comcast facility just off island would be the least detrimental to the carbon footprint of Southwest Florida.

Since recycling an existing building on an existing developed lot far outweighs new construction and any fencing you can provide to prevent gophers from invading the school grounds. Or is it to prevent school employees and students from invading the gopher holes. Geez, who is keeping out whom? Remember, Ms. Watt consulted the Cousteau Ocean Society board member, who provided rebuttal that the school would only occupy one acre of land which would not impact the existing tortoises. Really? This is the response from an organization that purports to defend the environment and its native inhabitants. And then to add the fencing to secure the protection of the inhabitants.

Is it me, or did I just witness doublethink? Not from the government but from environmentalist?

My suspicion is there are some founders and supporters of the Academy that will not agree to having a school off island. In fact, Ms. Watt says that a school off island would not assure enrollment to Marco Island students since they would be open to outlying communities. And outside its control. So to whom is the school for? Is it not for the benefit of those within the vicinity?

By placing the school off island, you may in fact encourage more applicants, or are we just interested in assuring a seat for those parents that support the school and not those that could benefit most from the school. Like a child on Manatee Road whose parents may not be as vocal or active or may in fact be poorer and darker and more ethnic in their demeanor?

Common sense tells me education on Marco Island should be about educational opportunities to a more rigorous teaching program not to a diminished selection of students based on a single zip code.

Is it more about purity of student makeup than purity of higher educational opportunity for students.

And this at a Homeowners meeting after just listing to Fia-La-La telling the audience that Jackson Labs would bring in bring in highly intelligent scientists and their spouses which would lead to bright offspring to the and benefit of the county at large.

God, help me I think I just witnessed a Progressive incarnate comment on benefits in the purity of human selection or is it race. I am surprised she did not offer Planned Parenthood a government loan to expand services. Or did I see a glimpse of fascism here on Marco?

Folks, I may be over the top in my analysis, but Fiala's comments in this public forum was scary to say the least. And Ms. Watt's attempt to use environment sensitivity as a ruse for a school program does not match with the potential sites they wish to pursue.

So other factors must be in play that are not listed on their website. Or maybe I am just contributing to the misinformation on this subject.

Jojo writes:

As always there are so many different views. However, If anyone read the Naples paper on Friday, TBE may be losing a teacher next year due to the rezoning of elementary schools in Collier. Hey Jane student numbers are dropping fast. Also, please do not make a mockery of the word Eco-friendly. MIA is not even close to being Eco-friendly. How can you think moving and destroying the habitat of endangered animals is in any shape or form eco-friendly. Maybe you should get a dictionary on go on line to find the true meaning of the word. Just in case she has lost her dictionary and her computer is out of service, I will help her out.
Adjective: eco-friendly 'ee-kow,frend-lee
1.Not damaging to the environment, or directed at preventing environmental damage
"Choosing eco-friendly paint is a good first step to helping your environment";
- green, environmentally-friendly
Encyclopedia: Eco-friendly

ajm3s writes:

To Ms Jane Watt:

In an attempt to have a dialogue, can you please address those of us who happen to be environmentally sensitive as well as supporters of educational opportunities for local students.

If you wish to sustain credibility in the pursuit of an academy of high standards, you need to exercise and meet these same standards as you seek public support. I suspect, you would wish those that oppose the school to meet the same standards.

In providing a platform for a "hands-on environment" in creating an eco-friendly school, may I seriously recommend that you actually subscribe to your self-imposed mantra.

Why are you so blind to the situation you are creating? It is beyond any method of rationale thinking that you would continue to pursue development on raw land given your public statements and positions as they apply to your eco-friendly awareness.

Motivations should match rhetoric. We now find you in a state of no comment to the Eagle. Interesting!

Do your find "eagles" offensive or for that matter any protected species that claims a potential school site as home?

Help yourself and please address these issues with honesty and integrity, or you will fall victim to those that are critical of your efforts.

I beg you to speak, we will not bite. But we may have some specific questions. Care to field some? I believe it will not be in a field of gopher tortoises or where eagles nest. We are just seeking an honest understanding.

ancientmariner writes:

"Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

That includes gopher tortoises, bald eagles, and of course, the harmless albatross.

-am

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