ECWCD Rolls Out New Plan to Protect Local Environment
East County Water Control District (ECWCD) is strengthening its efforts to improve water conservation and water quality in Lehigh Acres by implementing stricter measures to protect its preserves, lands and waterways.
ECWCD has formed a partnership with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office East District Patrol and Agriculture Unit, Florida Fish and Wild Life agents and several private property owners to roll out an enforcement effort that will result in penalties for individuals found trespassing on District lands; using recreational vehicles –such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and sports utility vehicles— on canal rights-of-ways, ECWCD property and other lands throughout Lehigh Acres; as well as for those found littering, dumping and destroying lands or infrastructure; and other such activities which are punishable by law.
“The District has been working on this joint enforcement plan for the last several months to limit trespassing, littering and property destruction—particularly those which are environmentally sensitive and crucial to our water management system,” said David E. Lindsay, ECWCD District Manager. “The District has always enforced consequences for illegal actions, but this April, the jointly partnered entities will be increasing both our education initiatives and enforcement efforts in the community.”
According to Lindsay, April was selected as the beginning of this new enforcement measure because it is designated water conservation month, is home to Earth day and marks the start of southwest Florida’s rainy season – all factors that the District hopes will help to make environmental concerns top of mind for residents.
ECWCD preserves and protects water reserves through drainage, conservation, mitigation, navigational and water management practices in Lehigh Acres and the western portion of Hendry County. The District maintains 311 miles of canals, 20 lakes, 1298 preserves acres, several parks and a variety of infrastructure such as 70 culvert crossings, 22 bridges, and 66 water control structures within 70,000 acres of land.
“The illegal actions by individuals have been on the rise, despite previous efforts to enforce Florida Statutes and ordinances on trespassing, littering, and destruction of both infrastructure and property,” said Lindsay. “These actions negatively impact our community, can present safety issues and are a cost to taxpayers.”
The unified enforcement effort between these Lehigh Acres agencies and property owners will sweep all of Lehigh Acres and will be an ongoing process. However, the main area of focus will be the District-owned Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes) and privately owned Savanna Lakes – which together form an area that is roughly bounded by Milwaukee Blvd. on the north, State Road 82 on the south, Homestead Road on the east and Grant Blvd. on the west. This has become a popular destination, known as the 82 Mudhole, amongst ATV and mudding clubs – this unauthorized use is illegal.
“The developers, deputies and ECWCD are committed to curbing illegal activities and are doing our best effort to make sure residents aware that these are punishable offenses,” said Lindsay.
Florida Statute 298.66 provides for the prosecution of individuals causing damage to infrastructure while Florida Statute 375.314 provides for penalties and prosecution for the destruction of natural resources.
According to Florida Statutes 316.2074, ATVs cannot be operated on public streets, roadways, highways, road shoulders, or ditches. ATVs may only be operated on private property, with the permission of the private property owner. Violation of this statute may result in a traffic ticket and/or towing the ATV at the owner’s expense.
According to Lindsay, not all riders leave a negative impact, but these unauthorized actions are simply not allowed on private lands. However, there are several locations where individuals can go to ride ATVs in southwest Florida such as the Lazy Springs ATV Park located at 7350 State Road 82, Lehigh Acres – just minutes away from the Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes) area, the Redneck Yacht Club located at 44570 Bermont Road, Punta Gorda, Fl 33982 941-505-8465, the Devils Garden Mud Club located at 23515 County Road 835, Clewiston, Fl 33440 and the Big Cypress National Preserve located just east of Naples off US 41/CR 94, 239-695-1201.
ECWCD owns 550 acres of land at Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes)- an area that is crucial to recharging aquifers and continuing water storage efforts in Lehigh Acres. Damage caused to the property includes illegal dumping, trespassing, littering, theft of District fencing materials, and the destruction of habitat; these destructive actions spreads across to adjacent parcels owned by private developers.
According to Lindsay, nearly 1,000 acres of land owned by Lennar Homes, V Ventures and ECWCD has been severely impacted.
In an effort to help reduce these negative environmental impacts, ECWCD’s Board of Commissioners entered into an agreement with two developers also affected to help implement tactics to secure the property. As part of the agreement, the developers have paid for construction materials for 1.25 miles of fence and signage along Milwaukee Blvd. and ECWCD’s staff will complete the installation. The second phase will include digging a deep drainage ditch with a high berm on the south side of the property to prevent access by unauthorized individuals.
In the last year ECWCD, the Sheriff’s Office, Lehigh Acres Community Initiative, developers, and community volunteers have hosted clean-up efforts in the Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes) area removing approximately 30,000 pounds of waste – including tires, sofas, and trash.
There are agencies in Lee County designated to handle the disposal of the materials we commonly see being improperly disposed of on our lands, said Lindsay.
Lee County Solid Waste provides a complete list of the necessary disposal information on their website athttp://www3.leegov.com/solidwaste/ or contact by phone at 239-533-8000. Horticultural waste can be picked up curbside is bagged or bundled in units under 50lbs; contact Lee County Solid Waste for disposal criteria.
To arrange a pickup of refrigerators, washer/dryer units, heaters, stoves, dishwashers, etc. contact Waste Management at 239-334-4115. Large furniture items, televisions, computers microwaves me be left curbside, will be tagged and picked up. The Household Chemical Waste Facility Topaz on Metro Parkway accepts ammunition; antifreeze; auto, boat, and motorcycle batteries; paint cans partially emptied; propane tanks; cell phones, both florescent and compact florescent bulbs; and motor oil.
Lindsay explained the urgency of this enforcement effort comes as southwest Florida is approaching its wettest season of the year which pushes ECWCD’s need to reduce these negative environmental impacts for good of the community and the integrity of its water system.