FGCU began clearing a 12-acre parcel in late April without having the proper paperwork filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This could subject the university to fines, a request for restoration or a request to apply for a permit for work done after the fact.
That’s what David Ruderman of the Army Corps communications office told Gulfshore Business, which helped FGCU realize this week it had not filed the proper paperwork for clearing the land. FGCU bought it in 2011 from Miromar Development Corporation. FGCU paid $3.8 million for the land, which is at the southeast corner of Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and FGCU Lake Parkway West – the school’s northern access road.
When asked by Gulfshore Business for future plans of the land and the required permit to clear it from the Army Corps of Engineers, FGCU’s legal department realized the university had failed to notify the Army Corps that it had taken ownership of the parcel back in 2011.
“We failed to submit the proper documentation to the Army Corps of Engineers saying, ‘This land is now ours,’” said Pam McCabe, FGCU’s communications coordinator. “We are now correcting that oversite. We’ve realized the error. We’re taking the action to correct it.”
FGCU shared with Gulfshore Business the Army Corps permit, which was obtained by Miromar Development in 2018, seven years after the land sale.
FGCU could not explain when and how it was able to obtain the land clearing permit from Miromar or when Miromar applied for the permit—whether the application began before or after FGCU bought the parcel in 2011.
The Army Corps issued the first permit to Miromar in July of 2000. That permit was then modified in 2007, 2012, 2014 and again in 2017, which gave a December 20, 2022 deadline for clearing the land.
“The regulatory databases contain no indication that the section of land in question was transferred to FGCU by Miromar,” Ruderman said. “We should point out that anyone can apply for a permit anywhere. The Corps does not involve itself in property rights issues and does not ask for ownership documents.”
Miromar was emailed questions by Gulfshore Business on Tuesday but has yet to respond.
FGCU President Mike Martin, who did not have time for an interview, notified faculty and students of the land clearing during a May 10 email. He also spoke about it Tuesday at a FGCU Board of Trustees meeting.
“I think I have shared with you the fact that that’s been on the strategic plan as a community-university shared kind of presence, and we’re looking into some of those,” Martin said at the meeting. The parcel has been in FGCU’s strategic plan since 2015. “But we had to clear it now before the permit to clear ran out. It is one of the last pieces of upland property on the campus proper, and we will seed it and make it look like green space until we find out what to do with it. But we wanted not to run out of our permit.”
The late Ben Hill Griffin III, who retired as CEO of Alico Inc. in 2004 and died in 2020, donated 1,000 acres to the state of Florida for what became FGCU. The creation of the university boosted the value of the surrounding lands. Some of those lands were owned by Alico Inc., including the recently cleared parcel by FGCU.
Miromar Development bought 189 acres from Alico in 1999 for $16.45 million, including the 12-acre site recently cleared.
Miromar Development received the most recent permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2018. The permit shows Miromar’s remaining 48 acres, just south and east of the recently cleared lot, will remain undeveloped as wetland mitigation. The permit showed the 12-acre portion of the land as Cypress invaded by exotics and Pine Flatwood invaded by exotics and hydric melaleuca, therefore allowing the land to be cleared in Miromar’s permit.
FGCU notified Miromar as a courtesy in February that it would be clearing the parcel adjacent to Miromar’s remaining 48 acres. FGCU began clearing the 12 acres last month.
Miromar’s permit to clear all of the allowed land expires Dec. 20. The permit says that if Miromar sold any of the land, it must obtain the signature and address of the new owner and forward to the Army Corps.
FGCU, which is opening its new Water School facility later this year, prides itself in preserving 400 acres of wetlands on campus. Martin said these 12 acres were not part of the 400 being preserved.
Ecology professors Kara Lefevre and Win Everham explained the cleared land had invasive melaleuca trees on it. These non-native trees were planted or seeded decades ago by developers hoping to dry up the surrounding swampland to accelerate growth.
Everham, who specializes in studying water systems, said there would be environmental repercussions of clearing that land, but that it would not impede the surrounding water ecosystem.
FGCU conducted a wildlife survey of that land, but Everham said such surveys often do not tell the full story.
“Everything that was living there has been run over by a bulldozer,” Everham said. “Clearing land is disruptive. But I don’t know of any road, parking lot or university that hasn’t involved land clearing. That particular site, I would not say it’s currently part of significant flow that would disrupt any kind of significant flow. It’s not going to have a negative impact downstream. And it’s pretty small.”
Removing the melaleuca trees also might bring some positives for the surrounding mitigation area, he said.
“When they become dominate, then they start to squeeze out native plants and animals,” Everham said. “They’ll squeeze out the things that were natural. And the things that would eat the things that were natural end up getting squeezed. Less diversity means more fragility.
“Less resilience means less ability to respond to change.”