Construction disruption starts at Calusa after court invalidates zoning change

Developers are making noise and moving earth at start of nesting season

Developing story: What the hell do they think they are doing at the abandoned Calusa golf course turned natural preserve? Trucks are rumbling through. Heavy earthmoving equipment are parked at the perimeter of the lake.

Development should be halted completely. A court ruled, and the Third District Court of Appeals agreed, that the zoning approval was invalid because the county had not provide the required pubic notice.

Even before that, state agencies found proof that protected tri-colored herons nest and breed on an island in the middle of the property. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava put a condition on the green light to develop 550 homes on 168 acres. If there’s proof of a protected species’ rookery — a breeding colony or collection of nests in a cluster of trees — then the plans that were approved for development have to change to protect it.

Well, on February 22, heavy equipment showed up on the golf course to do work on FPL easements, which are along the fence on the property of the ring owners, which are the homeowners who abut the golf course. They removed the fence to bring equipment into a backyard.

Read related: Calusa development on hold as appeals court upholds overturn of zoning vote

On February 23, they came back with more equipment, said Amanda Prieto, founder of the Save Calusa group that is fighting the development in court. She takes copious notes.

Prieto called the county’s Department of Environment and Resource Management to report the construction activity and the active nesting.

A few days later, she spoke with the Mastec project manager on site. “He said he’s contracted through FPL and they approve of the work and timeline,” Prieto told Ladra. Utilities, apparently, have special powers.

That was on Feb. 27. On March 3, Prieto said, more equipment showed up. She sent a letter to Levine Cava. DERM went to the site and agreed that no equipment should be within 330 feet of the rookery.

Ten days later, on Monday, another mini excavator turns up in the backyard of another ring home — within 100 feet of the rookery.

So what the hell do they think they are doing? They are trying to scare the birds away with their loud and earthmoving equipment, that’s what. They know they can’t build 550 expensive luxury homes if those endangered and protected birds stay there. They know that nesting season starts March 1.

“Come on,” Prieto said. “If this had happened in November, I’d say okay.”

Right now, there are six Anhinga nests and at least four Great Egret nests. Most of them have eggs already. The trick-colored heron — which has nested there for two years in a row — usually starts building nexts at the end of March or beginning of April.

FPL is there because a survey of the golf course to do the water and soil testing found that there were underground power lines that shouldn’t be on the golf course. They’ve been there, six feet away from the ring homeowners’ property line since the community was built 40 years ago.

The developers don’t want those lines there. They can’t have those lines there. That disrupts the construction plans. So it looks like FPL is going to dig a trench and lay new lines inside the homeowners’ fence.

“The question is why right now? They don’t have approval to build anything,” Prieto said. “There are major power problems in Calusa.”

There are only five homes that are within that 330 foot barrier from the island where the rookery is. “And that’s where they started,” Prieto said. “If they need to do it all the way around, why did they start there?”

Oh, c’mon Amanda, who is trying to be all diplomatic now. They started there at those five homes for the same reason they started right before the March 1 nesting season begins. Developers obviously want to disrupt the rookery and make the tri-colored herons think twice about nesting there.

More details will be added as Ladra continues to report. A call to FPL is pending.