North Naples construction site closed following removal of protected mangroves

NORTH NAPLES, Fla. — A construction site just off US 41 has temporarily closed after environmental crime allegations.

The South Florida Water Management District is actively investigating the construction site for the Perry Hotel Naples, just off US 41 in North Naples. SFWMD responded to a complaint from Collier County Waterkeeper regarding allegations that construction had illegally removed and felled mangrove trees, a protected plant.

“South Florida Water Management District staff conducted a survey last week regarding the size of the mangroves at Bay House in Collier County. Staff found that construction had started without the standard, requiring a pre-construction meeting and a picketing and stringing inspection of the conservation easement line. As a result, construction was halted at the site. SFWMD staff will verify the line of the conservation easement and confirm that there are no unauthorized impacts to the wetlands before Project construction resumes. SFWMD staff will soon re-inspect the site to assess the condition and determine if corrective action is needed. While impacts on mangroves are generally regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection, SFWMD issues ERPs for development and land use that sometimes involve incidental impacts on mangroves. — Jason Schultz, public information manager for SFWMD.

What are the charges?

The Collier County Waterkeeper visited the site on September 15 following a tip.

“It seems that the mangroves have been destroyed or cut down, and not allowed. In fact, there are no permits…there is no permission to cut mangroves,” said KC Schulberg, the Collier County Water Warden – who is responsible for defending and protecting of all water-related conservation in Collier County.

The Walkerbilt Road property borders both Bay House and the Cocohatchee River – which contains thousands of mangrove trees along it.

Mangrove trees can be pruned in specific situations, but a permit is required, the Waterkeeper told ABC7.

“They had no right to cut down the mangroves on the permit. I saw the permit. We just have to see what happens,” Schulberg said.

What could happen?

If the hotel property is deemed by the South Florida Water Management District to be in violation of environmental code, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would take over.

The repercussions could include fines, a stop work order, or even civil or criminal charges.

Why are mangroves so important?

Mangroves, although not an endangered plant, are a protected plant in the state of Florida due to their many contributions to our environment.

“Mangroves are an extremely important species here in Florida, if you think of all the mangroves do for us…they stabilize our coastline…they protect our habitat…they protect us from storms…they are habitat for birds, juvenile fish,” said Chad Evers, professor of ecology and water at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Evers tells ABC7 that plants are vital for wildlife habitats, as well as for preserving our state’s beaches, keeping our water clean and protecting the coast from hurricane damage.

“The root structure and the soil around it basically acts like a big sponge, so if we have a big storm surge, wind or wave action, what happens is that all the water hits the mangroves, and the mangroves will slow down the water, take in a lot of water, and take the energy out of the water and the wind,” Evers said.

Evers advises maintaining mangroves as much as possible. There should be no betrayal to remove them.

“In areas where you see the mangroves being removed, it usually leads to a lot of coastal erosion issues,” Evers said.

And after?

The general expectation is that the findings of the report from the South Florida Water Management District will be available by the end of the week.

It’s an ongoing story. Get more ABC7 as the latest details are released.

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