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Planning a sustainable community: infrastructure development and natural areas management

  • Author(s): Swanson, Sherri R.
  • Kurz, Raymond C.
  • et al.
Abstract

Sarasota County is a Florida gulf-coast community working to alleviate growth and development pressures and provide a balanced community of citizen amenities, economic growth, and a healthy natural environment. To meet this end, county government has been pursuing two main objectives: the acquisition and protection of ecologically significant lands and the minimization of roadway impacts in ecologically valuable areas. In 1992, a committee of citizens was appointed to evaluate the ecological value of undeveloped lands and facilitate a land-acquisition program. Subsequently in 1999, Sarasota voters approved a referendum to fund the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP). This program has since enabled the acquisition of over 15,000 acres of environmentally sensitive habitat for a total of nearly 105,000 acres of protected land throughout the county. In 2003, the land-acquisition agenda was expanded through the development of the Regional Environmental Mitigation Program, which was designed to facilitate the purchase and restoration of natural lands as compensation for unavoidable environmental impacts associated with county infrastructure projects. Despite protections afforded lands acquired by these landprotection programs, fragmentation continues to threaten ecologically intact landscapes in the county. To address this matter, the Board of County Commissioners initiated an investigation of the habitats and wildlife fragmented by transportation infrastructure. Field-investigation methods have involved reviews of aerial photography with local data overlays (e.g. Florida scrub-jay habitat, panther sightings, etc.), evaluation of significant habitats and protected wildlife, use of motion-sensory cameras, creation of animal-track sand pits, and incorporation of mortality surveys. Data collected continue to be used to identify and recommend promising areas for innovative design of infrastructure, land-acquisition priorities, and habitat-restoration measures. As a result of the current initiative, road projects are increasingly scrutinized for alternative alignments, sound ecological improvements, and defragmentation opportunities. Sustainable design is now a bona fide consideration of Sarasota County road-design teams.

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