County votes 4-1 to push conservation program to ballot

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to put the controversial Conservation 2020 program onto the fall ballot.

Voters will decide whether tax money can continue to be funneled into environmentally sensitive land that Lee County has preserved since 1996. The County has spent more than $316 million on its preservation efforts for about 25,000 acres of land.

Commissioner Frank Mann cast his lone vote to keep the program off the ballot. He said he hopes voters will consider extending the program. He said the program is tied to living expectations in the county.

“It’s a critically important program to the quality of life that we in Lee County would like to enjoy because we’re bulldozing and developing thousands of acres every year,” Mann said. “So I don’t think there will come a time when we don’t need to continue protecting the little bits of land that we’re going to have left.”

If the referendum is not passed in November, it could mean an end to Conservation 2020. Environmental advocate Bill Hammond said the public lands should be a county priority.

“Lee County has the least amount of public land of any county on the east coast or the west coast of South Florida,” Hammond said.

Many commissioners and realtors favor the push to the ballot because they want more land to be open for development, Hammond said.

“The critiques, however, come out of the special interest part of the real estate community that are speculative realtors. They buy the same kind of land 2020 buys,” he said.

The four commissioners who voted to put the issue on the ballot were contacted but did not return requests for comment.

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