Community, business and environmental leaders from across Lee County gathered Thursday, Sept. 29, at San Carlos Bay – Bunche Beach Preserve to highlight the launch of the campaign to continue the highly successful, 20-year-old Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program. Conservation 20/20 has bought, restored and protected nearly 25,000 acres of conservation and water resource lands throughout Lee County since it was originally passed by referendum in 1996. Now, Lee County voters are being asked to decide on Nov. 8 whether to continue this important conservation land protection program. Supporters have established the Yes on Conservation 20/20 Coalition and Political Committee to advance the campaign of support for renewing this vital and popular Lee County program, chaired by former Parks and Recreation head, Barbara Manzo, and backed by leading conservation, community and business groups.
“As Lee County continues to grow in leaps and bounds, Conservation 20/20 is essential to maintaining that quality of life balance between nature, water and all the roads and concrete,” Manzo said.
Always a willing seller program, Conservation 20/20 was passed in 1996 as a non-binding referendum, just like this year’s referendum. While originally funded by a 0.5 mil ad valorem tax, it is currently funded by general revenues in the budget, with almost $90 million in a dedicated account. Voting for continuing Conservation 20/20 will not raise taxes, and voting against it will not lower taxes. However, as Lee County continues to grow, with planning studies predicting 1.3 million people at build-out, more needs be done to preserve critical natural areas that protect drinking water supplies, wildlife habitat and Lee County’s quality of life for future generations.
Conservation 20/20 is currently negotiating to purchase important lands in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project, North Fort Myers and Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods, and the Buckingham and Alva areas. Additional priorities include coastal and island properties, Edison Farms, Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource (DR/GR) lands, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs area resources.
Conservation 20/20 has received the support of many local officials, including the councils of the City of Cape Coral, City of Bonita Springs, Village of Estero, Town of Fort Myers Beach and City of Sanibel. With the City of Fort Myers’ City Council’s announcement of support on Sept. 19, all six municipalities within Lee County have passed resolutions unanimously supporting the Conservation 20/20 program and a “Yes” vote on Nov. 8.
“We are pleased to have received support from all six Lee County municipalities, a factor that will play an influential role in the passage of Conservation 20/20” said Marisa Carrozzo, natural resource specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and member of Yes on Conservation 20/20. “We are happy to see that the importance of conserving and protecting land, water and wildlife is being recognized across Lee County jurisdictions.”
Benefits of public conservation lands are many and well documented. From increased property values to flood protection, preserving drinking water supplies and resource-based recreation and quality of life, these benefits underpin the strong support Conservation 20/20 has enjoyed for 20 years. The best way to understand the importance of this program is to visit a preserve, and that is made even easier by a series of naturalist-led walks through October. A schedule of upcoming walks can be found at www.facebook.com/LeeCountyFlConservation2020/events. The Yes on Conservation 20/20 campaign is also sharing information, brochures and soliciting volunteer help at its website at www.YesOnConservation2020.org, and on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/yesonconservation2020.
Conservation 20/20 is overseen by an appointed advisory committee, the Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee (CLASAC), with ultimate decisions on purchases and management made by the Board of County Commissioners. There is a recently updated Conservation 20/20 Ordinance, adopted in April 2015, that dictates how the program operates. There are dedicated land management staff, many preserves open to public recreation and partnerships between Lee County and other agencies to achieve efficient and effective management and restoration outcomes.
About Yes on Conservation 20/20
Yes on Conservation 20/20 is a coalition of local citizens and organizations working to support the passage of the Lee County Conservation 20/20 referendum on Nov. 8, 2016. For more information and ways to get involved, please visit www.yesonconservation2020.org.