Fire station location under study

Mangrove site not ruled out yet

By RYAN HIRAKI, [email protected]

• Read the law online: FL Statutes 403.9321-403.9333

Mangroves might not stand in the way of the Bonita Fire District building a small fire station along Bonita Beach.

Fire Chief Dan Gourley has asked city officials if a site at Hickory and McLaughlin boulevards would qualify under the city’s comprehensive plan.

City Attorney Audrey Vance’s written reply, prepared Tuesday, said removing the mangrove trees is possible — if the land’s designation falls under the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource classification.

This allows for “essential services for the health, safety and general welfare of the community,” according to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Two to four minutes make a big difference (getting to the site) of an emergency, especially during the winter when traffic gets backed up real bad,” Gourley said. “And they keep building more and more out there.”

The nearest fire station is just off Bonita Beach Road, on Mango Drive, a little more than a mile from where Beach Road curves and becomes Hickory Boulevard. The site of the proposed station is 3/4 of a mile from that turn.

Gourley said the station would be something small, about 2,100 square feet, something with enough room for one firetruck. But he is still negotiating the cost of the land with The Bonita Bay Group, which owns it.

Ed Rodgers, general manager of Bonita Bay, said talks are all still tentative, but that they want the exact plot they choose to have the least impact on the environment.

Should Gourley get details worked out with Bonita Bay, he would then need to apply for a comprehensive plan amendment to make sure the land qualifies as DRGR land.

Mangrove trees, protected by state law, can be removed, said Jon Eglehart, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Fort Myers office.

Although the trees serve as a natural habitat for fish, proving that a certain development offsets such mangrove benefits could lead to their removal.

Marge Ward, president of the Citizens Association of Bonita Beach, said she is not in favor of removing mangroves, but admits a fire station would be helpful during the winter season’s heavy traffic tie-ups.

“You have to put the two things against each other to decide which one is more important.”