COLLIER COUNTY — Collier County commissioners voted Tuesday to sue the South Florida Water Management District over its failure to find an ATV riding site.
Under a 2003 agreement, water managers pledged to find 640 acres for ATV riders in return for the county vacating 287 miles of roads in Southern Golden Gate Estates for an Everglades restoration project.
A plan to put an ATV park at the Lake Trafford dredge disposal site in Immokalee is caught up in concerns about arsenic and selenium contamination in the muck, and environmental permitting hurdles have stymied efforts to open an interim site in Hendry County.
Commissioner Jim Coletta said the county had no choice but to move forward with the lawsuit before the county’s legal rights under the agreement run out Oct. 1.
“We just don’t have a willing partner in this dance is how I see it,” Coletta said.
He said he hoped the lawsuit wouldn’t stop the water management district from trying to find an acceptable site.
The district has been working hard to resolve the ATV dispute, the district’s Everglades program manager John Dunnuck told commissioners.
He said the district has fulfilled part of a 2007 follow-up agreement by giving the county more than $500,000 for a boat ramp.
The district has received verbal approval from the Department of Interior to use 200 acres of a reservoir site in Hendry County as an interim site called for in the 2007 deal, Dunnuck said.
He said the district will not move forward with that plan without Collier County’s concurrence.
“We are disappointed with the county’s action and hope they would reconsider,” district spokesman Gabe Margasak said in a written statement released after Tuesday’s vote.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Dunnuck said he had hoped to be able to announce a deal to put a permanent ATV riding site in Hendry County.
The landowner, though, had not responded to the district’s offer, Dunnuck said.
He did not identify the landowner and it wasn’t clear whether the site would satisfy Collier County.
Collier County sportsmen’s advocate Brian McMahon called on commissioners to back up their repeated objections with legal action.
“It’s time we resolve it one way or the other,” he said.
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Follow environment reporter Eric Staats on Twitter at twitter.com/NDN_EStaats.