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KEY ACQUISITION: Town seeks to annex historic island

August 21, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The island in Estero Bay that is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians when the Spaniards first attempted to colonize Southwest Florida in 1566 is being sought for reasons pertaining to the community rating system.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach is looking into a voluntary annexation process to include additional property within town boundary regarding the 100-acre island that is approximately one mile from the south end of the Beach. Other smaller islands in between Estero Island and Mound Key are also involved.

While one or two of the council members questioned the desired intent to annex this particular island other than sentimentality reasons at a town hall meeting on Aug. 5, clarity for the reason was uncovered at a later day workshop session.

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Mound Key is a traversable island in the middle of Estero Bay. The Town of Fort Myers Beach is looking into annexation.

"We heard that, if nothing else, all that extra territory could help lower our FEMA rating," said Beach Mayor Alan Mandel. "The way they calculate the formula for FEMA, the extra territory (open space) is beneficial."

"The better rating we get from FEMA will keep all of our proerty owners on this island from paying not as high a price on their insurances and so forth," added Councilwoman Jo List.

On Monday evening, Town Attorney Marilyn Miller, who was asked to look closer into the matter, recommended a voluntary annexation process instead of a involuntary one that would require a hearing and an urban services plan that needs to be filed with the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

"Voluntary annexation is a different section of the (Florida) Statute. In order to do a voluntary annexation, all the owners of the property have to consent," she said.

Mound Key, which boasts an archaeological state park and has 10 parcels on the island, has two property owners. The state of Florida owns nine parcels, while the remaining parcel has been owned by the McGee family since 1914.

Mandel spoke to Diane McGee, who stated that her husband, Todd, prefers that the Town of Fort Myers Beach vie for annexation other than another municipality. The couple resides on Fort Myers Beach.

The unincorporated area of Estero may also have a say in including Mound Key. Koreshan State Park, which is closely linked to Mound Key, is in that area's boundary. Estero is looking at incorporating at this time and has included the McGee family in their incorporation papers.

"Apparently, Mound Key is included in the efforts of a group in Estero to incorporate," said Miller earlier in the month. "That process will take some time since incorporation takes longer than annexation. It has to be a special act of the legislature during the upcoming legislative session. If that passes, then there will be a referendum election of the residents of the proposed Estero. So, I think we have some time to attempt to annex Mound Key to resolve some of the legal issues."

In the meantime, Miller stated she has asked a fellow Fowler White Boggs attorney in the Tallahassee office to contact the Division of State Lands to aid in the process.

"She in the process of trying to contact the correct people," the Town attorney said. "It's in the best interest in the Town because it will increase our open space."

After hearing about the process, Council unanimously approved to direct Town staff to determine whether the State is agreeable to a voluntary annexation.

More information about the annexation process will be forthcoming at the Sept. 2 Council meeting.

Stewart explained the historical link between the township and the island.

"There is a historical connection between our island and Mound Key due to the Calusa Indians and Mound House," said Stewart. "The way that the state handles these things is there has to be some physical connection, and it can be over a body of water."

"The distances between our boundaries and the Mound Key site is slightly closer to the Town of Fort Myers Beach than it is to the nearest land side of the potential area that is attempting incorporation by the Estero group. So, there is a geographical connection."


Mound Key is comprised of 100 acres. It can only be accessed by boat or paddle craft. The majority of that acreage was donated to the state by the Koreshan Unity in 1961. The state managed to purchase all but the McGee parcel in the 1990s.

There are no facilities on Mound Key. The island park does offers interpretive displays in the form of kiosks along the northern portion of a trail that spans the width of the island.

In 2008, the McGees put up fencing on the perimeter of their property and later brought over Spanish goats to inhabit the parcel. Spanish goats are known to be brush-clearing meat goats that are able to survive under adverse aggro-climatic conditions, but are typically not considered suitable for milk or mohair production.

"We are farming our property," Todd McGee said in January of 2009. A recent trip to Mound Key showed signage stating the sale of that 9.6-acre parcel of land there.

According to the Florida state parks website, Mound Key is known as the location of the first Jesuit mission of North America between 1567 and 1569. The site likely began as a flat, mangrove-lined oyster bar that barely rose above the shallow waters of the Estero Bay. Located in the center of an estuary, food was easy to find. As the native population grew, the remains of their food were collected and heaped into middens.

Mound Key is believed to have been the cultural center for the Calusa, who had their first encounters with Europeans in the early 1500s when the Spaniards were exploring the Caribbean and peninsula of Florida. With the Spaniards came diseases for which the natives had no immunity. Disease and warfare eventually brought an end to the Calusa around 1750.

As early as the 1700s, Spanish fisherman from Cuba had a small settlement on Mound Key. They used cisterns to collect rainwater for drinking and cooking as there was no fresh water available on the island. The remains of two cisterns are still found on the island. The Spanish settlers were displaced by American homesteaders who began inhabiting the island as early as 1866.

A half-mile trail traverses the island across several mounds and through mangroves and tropical hardwood hammock. There are two boat landings, one at each end of the trail. The main landing on the northwest side of the island is most suitable for powered watercraft. Both the main landing and the alternate landing on the southeast side of the island are suitable for canoes and kayaks. The estuarine waters surrounding the island are within the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and are an excellent place to catch both fresh and saltwater fish.

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