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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

D.O.T delivers dirt to restricted Wetlands

Berner Home in Buckingham
LEE COUNTY - New information tonight about an investigation into Lee County's troubled transportation department. The state says county workers committed a major violation on protected wetlands. Our investigation already showed you how D.O.T. supervisors ordered workers to deliver hundreds of truckloads of *free* dirt to the Berner family in Buckingham.

Many D.O.T. workers became suspicious because hardly anyone gets that much dirt delivered to their home. That's when we exposed how the Berners are actually related to a D.O.T. supervisor and workers claimed D.O.T. was doing them special favors. Because of what we found state officials launched an investigation, The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took this aerial photo of the Berner home and found the Lee County D.O.T. delivered more than 12,000 square feet of fill material to a protected wetland.

Rae Anne Wessel has been an environmental expert for 27 years. She says wetlands affect the entire ecosystem; everything from endangered species to you and I, “ It’s a big deal and it affects everything going on up the food chain and it affects mammals not enough good quality water and the presence of water."
Rae Anne Wessel

The state determined the dirt delivered by D.O.T. is a *major* violation. Berner told them he added the fill he got from D.O.T. to the side of the pond so he could fish there. That area along the pond was historically open and feeding into a marsh system off the property into another wetland.

A photograph taken by D.E.P investigators shows the Eastern part of the pond in 2009 and compares it to how the pond looks after the Berners filled it in. Wessel says, "People feel like if they own property they should be able to do anything they want with it, the problem is this is a water supply we all share."

Documents show Berner filled approximately 12, 312 square feet of wetlands without authorization from the D.E.P. and the material all came from Lee County D.O.T. The Berners have been ordered to remove all of the dirt from the wetlands themselves and they can't count on D.O.T. digging them out of this one. Wessel says, "The fact of the matter is here's an individual for whatever reason didn't understand the importance of wetlands."

Florida's d-e-p is continuing to investigate. Code enforcement also launched an investigation into this and this issue will likely be reviewed as the clerk of court conducts his audit into D.O.T. Officials at D.O.T. say they are not liable for this and it's the homeowner's responsibility. D.O.T will continue delivering dirt to anyone who requests it whether they're in a restricted wetland or not. We will let you know how things turn out.
To view Fox 4 report click here:

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