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Neighbors concerned hurricane clean up is impacting endangered gopher tortoises

Some Osceola Drive neighbors said they're not only upset about the dust, dirt, smell, and noise from the debris field across but worried for the gopher tortoises

ENGLEWOOD, Fla. — Efforts to clean up after Hurricane Ian are bringing a new set of challenges to neighbors in Englewood and prompting concerns about an endangered species.

It's in an area near the county-owned Bucahan airfield where gopher tortoises live. 

Along with the growing heaps of vegetative debris, some neighbors there are concerned the tortoises could be at risk. Neighbors who live on Osceola Drive said they're not only upset about the dust, dirt, smell, and noise that comes from the field right across the street from them but are also worried some gopher tortoise burrows are possibly buried underneath.

"Buchan field is a gopher tortoise sanctuary and a skip jay bird sanctuary among other things," Dr. Timothy Durnin of Englewood said.


Durnin said when the county began turning the Buchan airfield into a debris field he and many of his neighbors had no idea the extent of debris that would be shipped into the airfield that faces their homes. He said several gopher tortoises are burrowed on land all around that area including on the airfield property that has been turned into a debris field.

"That's a gopher tortoises sanctuary right there and what they did was put a perimeter around it so what happens is the gopher tortoises starve and now I've got dead gopher tortoises on my land from them starving them out," Durnin said.

County officials said the conversion of the airfield was vital to manage and process vegetative debris removed from the right-of-way in hurricane-impacted areas.

Some neighbors said at first they were concerned about the site but after seeing the number of trees damaged by Hurricane Ian, the need far outweighed an individual's discomfort and some of their neighbors' complaints. 

"I'm sure if a truck driver saw one, he's going to let somebody know because they were instructed in certain areas not to park," Sherri Kebbel said.

"It's kind of aggravating to me that they're making the tortoises as an excuse to get this shut down because they don't get to fly their airplanes," said Kebbel.

A Sarasota County spokesperson said the site is  "actively monitored by the FWC certified gopher tortoise agent, and other state and federal representatives. There have been no reports of impacts to any of the tortoises or burrows."

"There's nothing we can do about it because it's a state of emergency and I guess they, you know, that trumps everything," Durnin said.

FWC is investigating the dead tortoise carcass referenced by the neighbor but a county official said after a preliminary check that it was most likely deceased long before Hurricane Ian.

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