By Nicole Johnson
Director Government Relations | Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Conservation 20/20 supporters are breathing a sigh of relief after the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (Commission) put an end to speculation that the new Bonita Springs high school could potentially be located on Pine Lakes Preserve in Bonita Springs’ Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area (DRGR). This 174 acre site was purchased by the County for conservation and restoration purposes, costing just over $2.3 million to acquire and another $700,000+ for restoration.
Pine Lake Preserve’s potential for hydrologic restoration has been a long-established goal of both the City and the County. As the most proximate public conservation parcel upstream from where the Kehl Canal enters the Imperial River, Pine Lake Preserve provides an important opportunity for additional water quality treatment and groundwater infiltration through intercepting water from the canal before it enters the river.
In addition, Pine Lake Preserve is a haven for wildlife, with over 150 species documents on-site, including 9 species listed as endangered, threatened or species of special concern.
From a school-siting perspective, locating a new high school on a site like Pine Lake Preserve was counterintuitive. From a Conservation 20/20 perspective, consideration of allowing non-environmental uses, including a school, on 20/20 lands would have constituted a devastating breach of public trust.
Therefore, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida extends our sincere thanks to the Commission for their recognition that a school on Pine Lake Preserve is not an appropriate use of the land. In addition, their direction to staff to inform the School Board and Bonita City Council that Lee County does not have any properties in Bonita available for a school decisively removes all 20/20 parcels from further consideration.
We applaud Lee County’s commitment to their fiduciary and civic responsibility to protect the $3 million+ of taxpayer investment expended for acquisition and management of Pine Lake Preserve by ensuring the Preserve is used consistent with the Conservation 20/20 Ordinance in place at the time of acquisition.
With Pine Lake Preserve off the table, the School Board, the City of Bonita Springs and the community can come together to find the most compatible location for the new Bonita Springs high school.
To learn more about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s work to protect the water, land, wildlife and future of our region visit www.conservancy.org.