Building Sunseeker resort and a public riverwalk will require removing about 1,090 square feet of mangroves at the mouth of the Peace River.

The county has approved the wetland plans submitted by developer Allegiant Travel Company, although the zoning of the project is not yet approved.

“We all evaluated it, and we felt they met the criteria for removing,” Charlotte County Zoning Official Shaun Cullinan said of the wetland review.

The area, which adds up to .025 of an acre, represents five isolated mangrove trees scattered along the half-mile shoreline, Cullinan said. Another .19 acre of mangroves across U.S. 41 will be preserved.

“For everything that would be involved in protecting those five clumps of trees, it seems counter intuitive,” Cullinan said.

In exchange for taking down the trees, Sunseeker will buy wetland impact credits from the Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank in Lee County. This means property owners in that location have sold the development rights for their wetlands. Cullinan said he does not know the going rate for wetland impact credits as it is a private transaction. The money goes to the county and to conservation groups, Cullinan said.

Allegiant’s consultants said the seawall allows three necessities: flood protection, the riverwalk and maximum development.

“The retaining wall allows for the maximum amount of the property to be developed, and...allows public access to the waterfront, in keeping with the intention of the (Community Redevelopment Area) code,” the consultant report states.

Allegiant/Sunseeker has yet to commit to building the riverwalk, however. Allegiant said it is waiting for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits. Sunseeker cannot have buildings 90 feet high without the riverwalk.

Wetland protection laws are aimed at preserving natural structures in wetlands, such as mangroves. Wetlands are known to be natural protection against flooding and for pollution mitigation.

The site has little natural wetlands left, however, Cullinan said. That means that storm water flows freely into the harbor with no treatment for pollutants from US-41 nearby.

In exchange for the plan to build up to 1,495 hotel units along with bars and restaurants, Sunseeker is required to build extensive storm water management systems and connections to sewage treatment. The consultant report stated that water quality in storm runoff will increase by 733 percent over the current situation.

“That will provide more of a benefit to the harbor than those five mangrove trees,” Cullinan said.

The consultant’s report also states that building the retaining wall is so costly that the developer needs to maximize the property. That means not bringing the wall inland 15-25 feet around the mangroves, as is normally required by state wetland regulations.

Also, the consultant stated, building the wall behind the trees will bring the riverwalk away from the shoreline.

“Maintaining the wetlands would not allow the Riverwalk to provide access to the waterfront.”

email:ecalvert@sun-herald.com

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