New-Press

October 18, 2016

 

Mining, oil drilling possible on conservation land

Bill Smith

http://www.news-press.com/story/news/local/lehigh/2016/10/18/mining-oil-drilling-possible-conservation-land/92359500/

 

County commissioners seek way to buy conservation land, but keep pristine land from being marred by oil drillers and rock miners off county property.

 

Lee County commissioners want more information on joining a federal program to protect birds on islands off the county coast, and whether owners of mineral rights under conservation land can still drill for oil or mine for rock after it's sold to the county.

Commissioners batted the issues around during a workshop session Tuesday, but could make formal decisions in coming months.

New rules for acquiring land for environmental protection under the Conservation 20/20 program have raised the question of what happens if the county buys land on which the underground mineral rights are owned by a different party. Over the years, some landowners have sold parcels of land to other parties while keeping the right to the minerals below the ground.

County Attorney Richard Wesch told commissioners that the county buys land but those mineral rights owners have the right to go onto county property to drill for oil or dig for rock. But, he said, the county can buy out that right.

Commissioners asked for details to be presented at a future meeting on a proposal to require an oil, gas and mineral rights review of proposed purchases to see if the acquisition is important enough for the county to pay extra to keep oil wells and rock mines off new conservation land.

The commission also heard about a state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission consideration of designating three islands near Pine Island and three in Estero Bay as critical wildlife areas, with special restrictions on nearby sailing, fishing and other recreational activity.

If given critical wildlife designations, the islands would fall under special rules designed to protect areas with large populations of herons, egrets, and pelicans.

At most of the areas, buffer zones, most 100 to 150 feet, would be set, and marked for fishermen, boaters and other users of the coastal waters so birds aren't bothered. The FWC plans to decide on the designations in mid-November; county commissioners will give the idea formal consideration before that meeting.

Chicken impasse

The advocates of a backyard chicken program in Lehigh Acres say they won't fade into the night, despite the Lee County Commission's continued refusal to put the item on an agenda for formal consideration.

For the past few months, people that want to be able to keep hens in their backyard have stepped to the microphone during public comment periods at commission meetings to plead for legal changes to allow chickens.

They have found support only from commission chair Frank Mann, and Tuesday, even Mann threw in the towel after he asked if the commission would like to hear a formal proposal and failed to find any other commissioner interested.

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass narrowed the issue to one where one chooses to live, noting that people choose to live in residential, rather than agricultural, zones.

"You buy a residential lot, knowing it's residential, then you have that knowledge beforehand, it's the same as buying in a gated community, you know what all the regulations are," Pendergrass said. "If you have a home on a residential lot, knowing the regulations, then you have that knowledge."

But supporters of a backyard chicken program for Lehigh, which has grown to include a number of residents of Lehigh who have likened the chickens to pets, made it clear afterward they aren't going away.

Chuck Edwards, the Lehigh resident who started the latest push for a backyard chicken ordinance has found his own answer. He said he has bought a parcel just over the Hendry line, expects it to be rezoned soon and will create a not-for-private corporation to give Lee County chickens a home away from what the county refuses to make their home.

High ratings for Desjarlais, Wesch

Two of the four direct appointees of the county commission will receive the maximum pay raises allowed under their contracts.

County Manager Roger Desjarlais and County Attorney Richard Wesch were both given 6 percent pay raises, the maximum step increase allowed under their contracts.

The raises mean a pay hike of $12,240.18 for both Desjarlais and Wesch, who will now earn $216,240.18 or $4,142.53 per week in a 50.2 week year.