Friday, November 14, 2008
The Florida Times-Union: CONVICTED DEVELOPER PIERRE THOMPSON CAN"T FIND TAKER FOR BALD EAGLE NESTS & 15 WETLAND PRESERVATION ACRES AT FISH ISLAND
DEVELOPER PIERRE THOMPSON, WHO ORDERED EAGLE NEST TREE CUT DOWN ON OCTOBER 8, 2001
The Florida Times-Union
November 14, 2008
Company can't get bald eagles off its hands
By DEIRDRE CONNER,
A developer convicted of harassing a mating pair of bald eagles is trying to make it right. But the St. Augustine-based company can't find a taker for the conservation land it offered as part of an agreement with the government, and it received on Thursday a one-year court reprieve to find one.
The holdup is just another twist in what has been a peculiar case of environmental crime.
In fall 2001, nearby residents accused Pierre Thompson, president of Thompson Bros. Realty, of ordering a tree chopped down on Fish Island that held the nest of a bald eagle pair, which is a federal crime.
An investigation ensued.
It wasn't until last year that federal prosecutors filed charges against Thompson Bros. Bird-watchers in the area, who thought authorities had forgotten the case, cheered.
The company pleaded guilty in federal court this year and, to satisfy the terms of its probation, promised to dedicate land to a permanent conservation easement on Fish Island.
The St. Johns River Water Management District has the rights to adjoining conservation lands.
The 15-acre wetlands site, just west of the Preserve Condominiums, is worth between around $70,000 and $140,000, according to its 2007 appraisal. The state confirmed that there is now at least one eagle's nest on the property.
Still, the water district rejected the deal. That could put Thompson Bros. in violation of its probation.
The land is a small, isolated tract that offers little in the way of resources, said Teresa Monson, a spokeswoman for the district. The agency would have had to accept monitoring responsibility for the land, which has limited access, she said.
Over the past few years, there have only been a handful of such eagle convictions, mostly on the southwest coast of Florida. The penalties have ranged from community service to fines of more than $350,000.
Thompson got a reprieve Thursday from Judge Thomas E. Morris, who extended the company's probation, allowing 12 more months to find an agency willing to take over rights.
The company is now working with the North Florida Land Trust, said David Barksdale, an attorney for Thompson Bros.
"It has been going on for a long time and they are looking forward to it coming to a conclusion," Barksdale said.
Bonnie Barnes, executive director of the trust, said she was optimistic the donation would work, and the group was excited about preserving a part of Fish Island.
So, perhaps, are the eagles.
Back in 2001, after employees of the company felled the tree that held their nest, the pair of eagles (the species typically mates for life) found another tree and built a new one, thwarting further development in the area. Their eaglets from that year have long since fledged and gained their full plumage, a process that takes five years.
But it appears the original pair of eagles might still be returning to the area year after year to raise their new young.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says a nest in the area is active this year, although it's not certain whether it belongs to the same pair.
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This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/111408/met_355756445.shtml.