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Judge: Lee Mosquito Control District can purchase Woodstock Airport on Pine Island

New facility would allow district to service islands, Cape

June 6, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

A Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Lee County Mosquito Control District in a lawsuit filed by island homeowners to stop the sale of Woodstock Airport.

The lawsuit, filed by William S. Peratino, Jamie M. Saunders, Debbie Memoli, Claudia Bringe and Joseph T. Scaccio, claimed the airstrip would violate zoning restrictions for AG (agricultural) zoned districts, and violates the special conditions of the prior 1975 exception. The group, known as the Woodstock Airport Opposition Group, filed an injunction stopping LCMCD from purchasing the property.

The ruling from the judge states the airport is permitted under the definition of "aircraft landing facility, private" and that the property meets the special permit issued in 1975.

"It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that the Motion to Dismiss is Granted with prejudice," the judgement reads.

The phrase "dismissal with prejudice" indicates that the plaintiffs are barred from filing another case on the same claim.

LCMCD purchased the 35-acre property last year as a satellite facility. LCMCD states that 70 percent of its mosquito spraying operations take place in Pine Island and western portions of Cape Coral. The ability to store the helicopters conducting those missions, and, in turn, not having to ferry them from the Buckingham Airfield, will provide cost savings.

"The Woodstock Airport provides for a strategic location to begin our Pine Island area aerial inspections and larviciding missions from," LCMCD public information officer Eric Jackson said. "The 35-acre land is not only large enough to provide a sound buffer to residents (due to the dense foliage from the existing tree farm and the location of the landing area), but it is right next to prime mosquito breeding areas."

The lawsuit delayed the purchase of the property for nearly 6 months. In the interim, LCMCD leased the property for $10,000 per month.

"The district would have preferred to purchase the property once the county issued the zoning verification letter," Jackson said. "Due to a lawsuit filed regarding the zoning determination, the district opted to lease the property until a ruling was made and all legal matters were resolved. The district is currently in a six-month contract with the owners for use of the Woodstock Airport which will expire at the end of June."

"Finally, after more than a year, the judge ruled that they couldn't stop the sale of the property," airport owner Frank Valcarcel said. "Technically, they didn't approve the sale but the judge ruled on the case 'with prejudice' that means they can't resubmit the case. It's been frustrating but we're packing everything up and getting ready for the move."

Woodstock Road resident Ndakhte Ndiaye was disappointed with the ruling.

"We're surprised and very disappointed that the court made this decision," Ndiaye said. "When the airstrip was established more than 30 years ago, the Board of County Commissioners placed strict restrictions on its use. It was never intended to be used for mosquito control.

"We feel we were not allowed due process," Ndiaye said. "The Woodstock Airport Opposition Group wants our day in court and will appeal. We do want people to know we're not against mosquito control."

"The lease allows us to conduct an assessment on the infrastructure, determine any engineering requirements of the existing structures, formulate any needed LDOs (Limited Development Orders), and begin the permitting process," Jackson said.

"The lease also allows for the contract to purchase to be extended until the final purchase is made. Now that the judge has ruled, officials at Mosquito Control will meet with their legal team to determine how and when they can move forward."

 
 

 

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