January 25, 2017
Lee County's Conservation 20/20 program to get help from citizens group
By Bill Smith
Fresh from getting 84 percent of the voters to back Lee County's Conservation 20/20 in a 2016 referendum, members of "Yes on 20/20" are forming a new group to work to support the program
Core leaders of a group that led supporters of Lee County's Conservation 20/20 referendum to an 84 percent majority in the November election are moving to make sure their effort continues into the next phase of the 20-year-old program's history.
Conservation 20/20 is the program that purchases conservation land, funded through property taxes.
Some of the leaders of the Yes on Conservation 20/20 group met this week and agreed to band together and create a permanent organization to advocate for acquisitions and offer input into county decision making.
"We are officially going forward as “eYes on Conservation 20/20," said Barbara Manzo, who led the group in its campaign to build public support for the non-binding ballot question endorsing the 20/20 program. ”We will incorporate as a (tax exempt) organization; a draft of our official mission statement/purpose and guidelines, which will be finalized in the next week."
The new name is a take on "Yes on 20/20,'" adding the additional letter, 'e' at the beginning, creating "eYes on Conservation 2020," or Eyes on Conservation 20/20, as the new entity.
While the group has yet to formalize its legal structure, Manzo said it will send out a "Call to Action” message to supporters and will make use of social media accounts created during the referendum campaign.
County Commissioner Frank Mann, who has called 20/20 the "most important program under the Lee County umbrella," sees the emergence of a permanent group devoted to supporting setting aside land for conservation as bringing some balance to the voices heard by the commission.
"I think it's very good, the county commission is under constant and enormous growth pressure," Mann said. "I think we can have balance from a group whose focus is on preservation."
Originally adopted in 1996, the program was to last seven years, but continued for two decades without any formal re-authorization by the public, prompting commissioners to put the non-binding referendum on the 2016 ballot. More than 25,000 acres have already been acquired through the program with other acquisitions being pursued.
The creation of a new group comes as the first steps are being taken for the potential acquisition of a 4,000-acre parcel in eastern Lee County that is prized by environmentalists and others who say it is important to preserving wetlands and endangered species.
Owners of the Edison Farm property, a real estate investment trust, issued a call recently for offers to purchase the site. The county looked into acquiring the south Lee property a few years ago, but shied away from a $170 million sticker price.
Lee County commissioners this week agreed to take a step that could result in the 20/20 fund being used in an acquisition of the Edison Farm property. Commissioners approved getting updates to two previous appraisals done on the site and authorized a third appraisal to help determine what the county could pay for the land. Other land deals are at various stages of the approval process.
Leaders of the eYes on Conservation 20/20 group will include Pete Cangialosi, leader of the Estero Council of Community Leaders environmental division; Holly Schwartz, a former Lee County assistant county manager and environmental policy director and home builder Mike Langella.
"This group is dynamic and will finalize all of our business in the next two weeks," Manzo said. "We plan to meet on a regular basis and to be present at all necessary public meetings regarding Conservation 20/20."