ENGLEWOOD, Fla. - Neighbors along Manasota Key are outraged after a property owner there clear cuts a lot full of mangroves.
It happened early Saturday morning. County officials now say that owner filled in a coastal wetland and destroyed a rare mangrove swamp.
Neighbors say it took just a few hours to destroy the natural habitat. Now they want justice.
"Heartbreaking is the first word that comes to mind." Early Saturday morning, Rick Schuesssler knew something wasn't right. "We saw a dump truck showing up, so we checked online to see if there were any new permits; there weren't."
The property next door, which has had building permits denied in the past, suddenly had trucks quickly dumping dirt and workers busily butchering dozens of mangrove trees along a lagoon.
Neighbors called the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. "They showed up but told us they didn't have the jurisdiction to do anything."
So the work continued until someone finally got a hold of the county's Natural Resources Department. "We informed the property owner on Saturday to stop any additional work," says Matt Osterhoudt, manager of the county's Conservation and Permitting Division.
When the dust settled he says the owner, Paul Maurer of Cape Coral, was documented filling in a coastal wetland and destroying a mangrove swamp. "Which are rare habitats in Sarasota County."
Those types of areas are often spawning spots for fish and other wildlife.
The county says they are in the process of finalizing compliance paperwork and outlining corrective actions for Mr. Maurer. However, so far there are no fines. "There is no initial fine in our system right now. It would be later on down the road if there is no compliance achieved."
Rick says he's worried more damage will be done. "Given the track record of repeated filling and cutting on this property without permit, we don't know if it will ever stop."
"The county says they are looking into their procedures with how they handle after-hour and weekend calls dealing with situations like this.
County officials say they were meeting with the property owner Tuesday. ABC 7’s call to him has not been returned yet.