The bulldozer motors started up March 6 without warning.
The appellate judges heard a challenge several days later to the state wetlands permit, which if upheld, would advance the four-home development known as Harbor Sound, as well as the destruction of 1.05 acres of mangroves for Pat Neal of Neal Communities.
Meanwhile, neighbors watched the work.
“Workers were deep in the mangroves,” Harbour Isle resident Debbie Wilcox wrote in a March 6 email to federal regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Wilcox enclosed photos and wrote she observed “trees cut down, roots hacked at and chopped off, hauled away and now just mucky, murky, swampy low area water is left.”
The area was then covered with dirt and graded.
According to Corps public information officer Nakeir Nobles, the Corps received a report of an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act at the site.
McClash said he emailed Wilcox’s photos to the Corps, saying the developer “commenced work today without a permit in an area that contains mangroves and wetlands.”
McClash questioned why Neal began the work the week of court arguments and when a Corps wetlands permit decision is pending.
“A distraction?” McClash said while heavy equipment bulldozed what once was 200-square feet of vegetation.
Pat Neal defended the work, saying it was approved in September 2016, when the Corps determined a federal wetlands jurisdictional line.
He described the Corps jurisdictional line decision as an “unmitigated victory.”
Riprap was being placed the week of March 6 to protect the land from erosion, according to Pat Neal’s son, Michael Neal, who is overseeing the work.
Pat Neal added that dirt and construction textile will be added and a berm constructed. Work is expected to continue for two to three weeks, he said.