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Elusive sand skinks raise cost of fire station

Elusive sand skinks raise cost of fire station
Undulating tracks in the sand are the most common sign that endangered sand skinks live on the land. (Teresa Burney)
The tracks of a threatened lizard that is seldom seen could cost Lake County an extra $34,560 before it can build a new fire station in Clermont.
Evidence of neoseps reynoldsi, a skink species that seldom shows its head above the sand it “swims” in, has been found on Clermont land where the county is planning a new fire station, off Hartle Road near S.R. 50.
Just the sighting of its serpentine tracks left under pieces of plywood set out for their detection triggers reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the case of the fire station site, the Fish and Wildlife agents determined that the county would need to remediate for the skinks’ presence. Sometimes the areas where the lizards are found can be preserved from disturbances, but in this case, in order to build the fire station on the land, the county is required to buy “credits”  to preserve skink-inhabited land in other parts of the state to ensure that land there will be set aside to preserve the species.
The remediation required for the fire station is to buy 2.16 credits at a cost of $16,000 per credit for a total of $34,560, according to county documents. The credits would be purchased in Sebring Scrub Conservatory in Highlands County. The Lake County Commission is scheduled to vote on the expense at their meeting on Tuesday.

When evidence of skinks are found developers are either required to avoid the area where they are assumed to live or to mitigate the "taking" of the sand skinks on the land by buying twice as much land in a sand skink preserve land bank.

The costs of mitigating skink habitat destruction seem to be climbing in Central Florida, most likely because construction has been active in the areas where sand skinks live, along Central Florida’s highland spine from Marion down to Highlands counties, an area that was a series of islands when the rest of Florida was under water.
For instance, the finding of skink evidence where Polk County planned for a new school was expected to cost between $350,000 and $400,000 extra to remediate. The bill was even higher before a U.S. Congressman from that district intervened.
“We were being held hostage by Fish and Wildlife because they had to build that school,” said U.S. Congressman Dennis Ross (R-Fla, 15th District) last spring.
The costs of mitigating skink habitat destruction seem to be climbing in Central Florida, most likely because construction has been active in the areas where sand skinks live, along Central Florida’s highland spine from Marion down to Highlands Counties, an area that was a series of islands when the rest of Florida was underwater.
For instance, the finding of skink evidence where Polk County planned for a new school was expected to cost between $350,000 and $400,000 extra to remediate. The bill was even higher before a U.S. Congressman from that district intervened.
“We were being held hostage by Fish and Wildlife because they had to build that school,” said U.S. Congressman Dennis Ross (R-Fla, 15th District) last spring.

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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