Mon, 23 Nov 2020

Collier moves forward with purchase of environmentally sensitive ranch land


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For 10 months, a camera trap has been watching the wildlife at Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. Panthers, bobcats and other critters stroll through trails throughout the watershed.

Naples Daily News

More than 900 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch land in rural Collier County could soon be in the county’s hands, but what it would do with the property is not yet decided.

Collier commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to move forward with steps to potentially buy a 967-acre property, known as HHH Ranch, located east of Collier Boulevard and just north of the cross-state Alligator Alley stretch of Interstate 75. The land is owned by Dr. Francis Hussey Jr. and his wife, Mary Pat.

Previous coverage: Collier County takes steps that could lead to purchase of environmentally sensitive ranch land

Commissioners directed county staff to negotiate terms with the property owners and signaled they were willing to pay the $10 million asking price, despite two recent appraisals commissioned by the county showing the average value for the land to be $8.55 million.

“I think the ecological value alone for our community is far in excess of what the sellers are asking for this piece of property,” said Commissioner Bill McDaniel, whose district includes the property. 

Read this: Commissioners to consider environmentally sensitive ranch land in east Collier

The parcel, once the subject of legal battles with the county over property rights, was initially offered to the county earlier this year for $11 million.

And in 2017, the board rejected an offer to buy it for $75 million. The average of two appraisals that year valued the property at $8.2 million.

Commission Chairman Burt Saunders and other commissioners agreed that the land would be an important get for the county. Saunders said he didn’t have a problem with the $10 million asking price and that he worried about waiting too long.

“I certainly don’t have a problem with a lower price,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m concerned that if we continue this conversation concerning price, we may lose this opportunity to buy this.”

Environmental groups had urged commissioners to buy the land, pointing to the role it plays as habitat for endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Florida panther. A radio-collared panther, they said, has raised at least two litters of kittens on the ranch land.

Aerials of HHH Ranch. (Photo: Provided by Land Solutions)

The HHH Ranch property, environmentalists said, also could provide an opportunity for future wildlife crossings along I-75 to allow panthers to safely travel north from Picayune Strand State Forest. And 670 acres of wetlands may provide water quality protection benefits.

“It has incredible environmental value,” Meredith Budd, Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, told commissioners Tuesday.

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patrick.riley@naplesnews.com or on Twitter @PatJRiley.

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