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Navigating the Unexpected: A Hurricane and a Protected Species



Throughout its 20-year history, PREMIER has been leading design-build work in the industrial market and solving problems for clients as they arise. PREMIER’s team members are well-versed in devising creative ways to tackle unexpected challenges on projects. On one recent assignment for HSA Commercial Real Estate, the team confronted not just one but two significant hurdles: a natural disaster and a highly protected species residing on the project site.


Back in September 2022, the team was awaiting permits to start work on the Highland Commerce Center of Fort Myers. All of the necessary paperwork had been submitted for what would become the largest cross-dock facility in the market. But on September 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida’s Lee County.


A Category 4 storm, Ian caused massive damage and severe flooding throughout the region. All attention immediately shifted to hurricane relief efforts. City and county crews worked to restore power, clear debris, and assist local residents and businesses. Permit review and issuance went on hold as local officials dealt with the storm’s aftermath.


Permitting delays are by no means uncommon in commercial real estate development. But in this case, the delay in permitting pushed the Highland Commerce Center project to start right into bald eagle nesting season, which brought forth some new challenges.


When choosing a nesting site, bald eagles seek out mature canopy trees with unobstructed views of the surrounding area. Although these magnificent birds are no longer an imperiled species, they remain protected thanks to both federal and state laws. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission maintains a database of identified nests and regulates nearby activities.


One such nest was on the lone tall tree on the 33-acre Fort Myers property, and the nesting season was underway, meaning no construction activity could disturb the eagles. PREMIER’s team, led by Senior Project Manager Jeramy Mahfet, worked diligently to ensure that the nesting female and her mate were not disturbed as they waited for the eggs to hatch. They established an appropriate buffer distance from the active project site and secured the proper eagle take permit. The crews adjusted work schedules to minimize noise and other disruptions. They also tapped a specially trained nest monitoring service to observe the site each workday to ensure there was no abnormal eagle behavior.


“We took many steps to ensure that the property remained safe for the birds,” explained Richard Wyatt, PREMIER’s Project Superintendent for the Fort Myers facility. Over the course of the build, the eagle pair produced three babies. “We definitely respected the zone we had established for their protection, but we noticed that the birds were very interested in what we were doing.” When work was wrapping up, the crew captured a photo of one of the eagles perched on the corner of the building, surveying the progress.


PREMIER recently completed its work to deliver the 482,000 square-foot Highland Commerce Center, and the eagles can still be found nearby. “We went to great lengths to be good stewards and to safeguard their natural habitat,” said Mahfet. “So it was gratifying to see these iconic birds thrive and multiply as we worked to deliver this new facility right in their backyard.”





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