HOA Opposes Development on Polluted Site Until Tests Show it is Safe

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submitted by Sarah C. Peck, President, Heron’s Landing HOA

On January 9, the Sanibel Planning Commission will consider a development proposal to build six homes at the intersection of Sanibel-Captiva Road and Sanibel Bayou Road (the entrance of Heron’s Landing and Sanibel Bayous). As submitted, the Coastal Creek proposal appears to comply with proper zoning, current building codes and regulations. However, the Commissioners must also consider what is not in the proposal: current soil and groundwater test results that confirm this site is safe for housing and that construction will not further compromise the already polluted lake adjoining the proposed development. The Commissioners must satisfy themselves and the public that the site meets state health and environmental standards before issuing a permit to proceed.

The proposed site is a former wastewater treatment plant that was decommissioned in 2008. Four of the six houses will be built directly on top of the former percolation pond (see overlay of the planned structures). Testing performed by Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) in 2018 found unacceptably high levels of contaminants at the site, including nitrogen and phosphorus.

Despite this troubled history, the developer did not perform soil and groundwater testing to confirm the site is no longer contaminated. We believe the site is still polluted because the adjacent Heron’s Landing lake in our community is one of the most polluted lakes in Sanibel according to Sanibel Communities for Clean Water. The SCCF report concluded contaminated groundwater from the site is the source of the problem. The city and local homeowners recently entered into a five-year agreement to share the cost of remediating our lake. Yet, the developer (who owns the land causing the problem) has not been required to contribute financially to the lake remediation project.

We are concerned that construction activities will disturb the site and could send high levels of contaminants into the lake we are trying to remediate, and possibly into Clam Bayou. Yet the proposal does not include plans to conduct testing throughout the construction process and to take appropriate corrective action if problems are detected.

The Heron’s Landing HOA, representing 43 homeowners, opposes issuing a permit until it is confirmed that the site is no longer contaminated and is not leaching contaminants into the Heron’s Landing lake. At a minimum, the Planning Commission should require the developer to: (1) conduct soil and ground water testing before breaking ground to demonstrate the contaminants found by the SCCF study have been remediated, and to share the test results with the public and prospective buyers, (2) contribute to the cost of remediating the lake, and (3) conduct testing at each phase of construction, and remediate as appropriate if contaminants are detected.

Our HOA has other concerns as well, which we provided to the Planning Commission in our letter of August 24, 2022. Our concerns include the developer’s plans for managing storm water (which could increase flooding in our neighborhood), the potential negative impact of construction on nearby rookeries, and increased traffic congestion. We have proposed ten conditions to address these concerns. As of this date, the staff of the Planning Department has not recommended soil and groundwater testing — or any conditions to address the serious concerns raised by our homeowners.

We thank the Planning Commission for continuing the Coastal Creek hearing to January 9 so that members of our community can attend and present our concerns. We will urge the Commissioners to look beyond the paperwork and consider the impact of the proposed development on nearby residents, lakes, and rookeries, as well as the future owners of the six proposed homes. If the Commissioners do that, we are confident they will order the proposed testing and impose conditions on the project to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of all concerned.

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