Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Corps Wants City to Protect Birds at Huguenot Park

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Corps Wants City to Protect Birds at Huguenot Park

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

Before Jacksonville can renew its lease of Huguenot Park north of the St. Johns River jetties, it must provide federal officials with a better plan to protect the piping plover and other migratory birds that live there.

The city has leased the beach park, popular with anglers and surfers, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades. But a new lease is on hold while city officials write a new wildlife management plan. The corps owns the property but leases it to the city for use as a public park on a 25-year basis.

The most recent lease expired in May, but the corps has granted two extensions; the latest began Dec. 1.

"Wildlife management issues are a huge issue," said Marie Burns, chief of the environmental branch planning division for the Jacksonville Army Corps district. "The plan has to fulfill all the requirements of the other [regulatory] agencies and all our requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the other acts that we have to operate under. It's not there yet."

While the city leases the land that runs about 1 1/2 miles along the beach on Fort George Island, it's responsible for managing the area, and a wildlife management plan is part of the terms of the lease.

Burns said last week many issues are at stake with the city's submitted wildlife management plan. Specifically, she said not enough is being proposed to protect migratory birds, in particular the piping plover, which was added to the federal endangered species list in the past few years and can often be seen at Huguenot.

Pam Wilson, spokeswoman for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said the city takes the lease renewal seriously and is working to resolve the regulatory snag to ensure continued public use of the facility. It remains one of the few First Coast beachfront parks where motorists can drive on the shoreline.

"We are working with several groups who are involved and have been all along in the management process," Wilson said. "The reason we've been asked to look at the conservation areas is because of the [federal] Endangered Species Act."

That will involve a survey of the land to determine the impact the park management will have on the environment. …

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