State files for summary judgment in Critical Wildlife Area case | News, Sports, Jobs – FORT MYERS


The Florida Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund has filed a motion for summary judgment in the case filed by Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer challenging state ownership of the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area. Kroemer and Rood have been seeking to build a 298-feet lagoon walkover. / File photo by Nathan Mayberg

The Florida Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund filed a motion for summary judgment in the case filed by Ed Rood and Kurt Kroemer through their limited liability companies contesting the state’s ownership of land in Fort Myers Beach within the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area .

The motion, filed June 6, seeks to dismiss the case in the 20th Judicial Circuit Court of Lee County over the lawsuit filed by Texas Hold’em LLC and Squeeze Me Inn LLC.

The property owners have been in a longstanding court battle to gain rights to build a 298-foot boardwalk over a lagoon adjacent to the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area. The town council has blocked the boardwalk for not complying with town code and for its potential harm to the critical wildlife area, which includes vegetation, salt marsh lands and breeding grounds for threatening birds.

In its court filing, the state rejected the quiet title complaint from the property owners by citing decades of aerial maps which it says shows the wildlife area as submerged land lying within the Gulf of Mexico and therefore subject to state ownership.

In 1981, the state filed a notice of ownership to an emergent island, known as Little Estero Island. While the island and the wildlife area has undergone significant changes and has migrated over the years, the state considers its ownership a settled question.

“While the lagoon is currently enclosed, the lagoon could become open and connected to the Gulf of Mexico in the near future due to the dynamic shifts in this area that could cause a breach at any time. A breach has been observed as recently as November 2021,” according to the state’s court filing.

“This board holds title to lands under navigable water, not otherwise alienated or conveyed, in trust for all people of the State of Florida.” the court filing declared.

The state, in a motion filed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), rejected the ownership claims of the property owners to the adjacent lands within the wildlife area.

“These lands were sovereign lands in the Gulf of Mexico and remain sovereign lands owned by the board on behalf of the State of Florida. They are not the result of accretion emanating from plaintiffs’ uplands and there is no legal authority to divest the State of sovereignty submerged lands once enclosed as a lagoon,” DEP Senior Assistant General Counsel Staci Kichler stated in the motion seeking summary judgment from the court.

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