Will this eagle's nest survive development in St. Johns County?
The potential fate of a bald eagle nest near proposed developments in St. Johns County will be decided Tuesday.
The Board of County Commissioners is holding a public hearing and vote Tuesday morning on whether the county should waive its own rules to let one approved and one proposed development move forward despite the presence of a successful nest.
While federal guidelines require only a 330-foot buffer zone around a nest, county ordinances mandate at least 1,500 feet of protection around the base of the nest tree. That includes a primary zone of undisturbed space within the first 750 feet and a secondary monitored zone for another 750 feet.
The ordinance allows for an alternate management plan to be proposed by the developer, as long as it is equal to or better than the standard protection.
Real estate law firm Sodl and Ingram — on behalf of the developers of the Norwood Planned Unit Development, where the nest is situated, and the Grand Oaks Planned Unit Development, which is within the nest's protection zone — have submitted an alternative plan to the county commission. In it, they argue the federal guidelines are sufficient to protect the eagle, as long as the developments use special restrictions like height limits on buildings, ban fireworks and monitor the communities during nesting season from September through May.
The vote is opposed by naturalists and residents in the area who feel the developments as-is place the birds at unnecessary risk.
"Approval of this current plan would be extremely irresponsible, gross negligence against our local code that is intended to protect the vulnerable species that live here," Jennie Flinn, a two-year resident who sent county leaders a letter to reject the plan, said in an interview Monday. "Essentially, we're not asking the commissioners to do anything special, just follow your own laws."
Flinn says she fell in love with the natural wonders of St. Johns County shortly after moving to the area. She took naturalist courses offered by the University of Florida to learn about conservation. It was through that course she met like-minded residents, some of whom have been monitoring eagles nests in the areas for years and plan to speak against the plan at Tuesday's meeting.
"I do feel like the majority of people want to continue to enjoy wildlife. Our county is so special; we have so many beautiful plants and animals that live here and thrive here, and we just want to keep it that way for future generations," Flinn said.
The Grand Oaks PUD had already been approved, and the proposed Norfolk PUD passed an environmental inspection last May. Birders from the Audubon Society alerted the county to the nest in December, placing the future of both in possible jeopardy.
It's the first nest to be recorded in the area, according to county environmental officials.