Tribute to Phil Buchanan

Attorney Phil Buchanan, who died in 2016, was perhaps Pine Island’s biggest champion. As a pro bono legal consultant to the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, Phil helped lead the way in protecting the Island from over-development.

Tribute from Roger Wood, GPICA President

Phil Buchanan — Man of Impact
Pine Island has a rich history of people who love this

Photo by Michael Fidler

natural paradise. Since 1976 hundreds of them have worked hard and given of their time and money to preserve our coastal rural environment.

Looking back through the history of this golden era of preservation, Phil Buchanan has been in the thick of it for the last 14 years. He has tramped through the pine flatwoods, hiked the salt flats, paddled the mangroves and waded in the swamps.

He was editor of the 3/4-inch thick treasure of Pine Island information, “The Nature Lover’s Guide to Pine Island.” He has used his talents as an attorney, orator and writer in many capacities. He has been in many leadership positions of the Calusa Land Trust, in land acquisition and serving as past President. He has served on the Lee County, Conservation 20/20 Management Subcommittee and most recently on the Density Reduction/Groundwater Recharge Committee. He was a pro bono legal advisor to the Greater Pine Island Civic Association. He was a respected member of the Responsible Growth Management Coalition. He has been a spokesman for the GPICA-sponsored Pine Island Plan. He has championed smart growth to promote development that preserves the natural environment and rural character of Pine Island. He was involved in the fight to renew the quality of our surrounding waters. Phil has been a pivotal point in the network of people involved in these causes. When the call comes from concerned citizens over issues of destroying the environment or excessive growth, Phil has responded. He has given his time and contacted County, State and Federal agencies to plead the public’s interest. He has spoken at public hearings, written articles and given interviews without receiving personal gain for the benefit of those who asked him.

People will continue to come to this unique area because it is NOT the typical tract house suburban sprawl. The beauty and character of Pine Island has been saved and our land values have been increased, thanks to people like Dr. Phillip G. Buchanan.

From The News-Press:

It wasn’t just Pine Island that lost a champion when Phil Buchanan died. So did the Caloosahatchee, firefighters and the feral cats of the Stringfellow Road Winn-Dixie.

“Such a tragic loss,” said longtime Southwest Florida environmental educator Bill Hammond. “He’s always been an inspiration to me, with his passion and commitment.”

Buchanan, 72, was found dead in his Saint James City home Thursday. A cause of death has not yet been released.

A major lesson of Buchanan’s life, Hammond says, is how much one motivated person can accomplish. Buchanan helped defend and revise Pine Island’s original land use plan, written by Gene and Ellie Boyd in the 1980s. Thanks in large part to Buchanan’s efforts, Pine Island retains much of its laid-back, low-rise rural character.

But Buchanan also kept his eye on the whole region. He’d send out email blasts (or “Phil-o-grams,” as Hammond calls them) to a large list of like-minded people. From a recent one: “Pine Islanders are, for good reasons, sick of governmental authorities — federal, state and local. But don’t let that attitude carry over to our own fire department, which needs help.”

Caustic as his criticism of wanton development could be, Buchanan was disarmingly genial — almost courtly — to others. With his broad grin and tropical print shirts, he didn’t quite look the part of a high-powered lawyer with a deep well of environmental knowledge, but woe to anyone who challenged him on estuarine hydrology.

The health of the Caloosahatchee and its watershed was another of Buchanan’s passions, and he was active in its nonprofit Riverwatch group. Founding member John Capece called his death “a shock and great loss to the group and to each individual who knew him and called him friend.”

A prolific contributor of News-Press guest opinions, Buchanan also penned editorials about the health of the Gulf, Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 program and growth management, all in his characteristically direct, persuasive voice, honed during his career as a federal attorney.

Deft as his use of English was, Cherokee was Buchanan’s first language. Born and raised on a North Carolina reservation, he graduated from high school in Lincolnton, North Carolina, , then from the University of Maryland with a bachelor of law and juris doctor degree.

After retiring to St. James City on Pine Island, he embarked on a second career as environmental advocate, becoming a certified master naturalist and writing a book: “A Nature Lover’s Guide to Pine Island,” the proceeds from which he donated to the land trust.

Buchanan’s affection for wildlife included the semi-wild cats who live near the island’s Winn-Dixie. A few years ago, when there was talk of getting rid of them, he wrote one of his trademark letters-to-the-editor of thee Pine Island Eagle. “I’m continually amazed how one individual that does not get the Pine Island life-style of ‘live and let live’ can ruin things for everybody else. … We have a part-time resident that doesn’t like cats sleeping in the Winn-Dixie parking lot. Why is it that one crabby individual can so often trump our rural island culture? … Sleeping cats in the parking lot are part of the charm of Pine Island — they don’t hurt anything, everybody (except one guy) likes them—so just leave them alone.”

In the end, the cats stayed.

It was all about future generations for Buchanan. One of his last “Phil-o-grams,” sent last month, was an email urging islanders to sign a memo he’d written for a time capsule to be opened in 50 years. It read, in part: “Please believe we did what we could-we hope it worked. In the year 2016, the principal players in trying to protect and preserve Pine Island are the Greater Pine Island Civic Association and the Calusa Land Trust (the) Pine Island Garden Club, Florida Native Plant Society, fisher-folk groups, churches, and dozens of other civic and homeowner organizations — we all work for the same goal of preserving Pine Island so it will still be here for you. … If our worst fears are realized, keep it to yourself — you couldn’t tell us anyway, but that’s OK — we don’t want to know. Our most heartfelt hope is that Pine Island is still here for you to enjoy as much as we have.”

Here’s the complete time capsule memo from Phil Buchanan:

Memorandum to Greater Pine Island residents and friends in the Year 2066

From: Greater Pine Island residents and friends in the Year 2016

Subject: Please believe we did what we could — we hope it worked

In the year 2016, the principal players in trying to protect and preserve Pine Island are the Greater Pine Island Civic Association and the Calusa Land Trust. We also have numerous supporting players such as the Pine Island Garden Club, Florida Native Plant Society, fisher-folk groups, churches, and dozens of other civic and homeowner organizations — we all work for the same goal of preserving Pine Island so it will still be here for you.

We all love Pine Island and call it paradise. The fishing is still good, the bald eagles, ospreys, wading and other birds are still plentiful, the weather fantastic, and the coastal rural community atmosphere is incredible. It’s a caring community — we all know each other, support each other in time of need, and we party a lot.

The water, nice and clear not many years ago, is getting brown and filthy. We have hopes of fixing that problem, but political problems (including corruption) have to first be addressed. If we didn’t succeed in fixing that, we sure hope you have.

Sea level rise threatens to drown much or all of Pine Island. The solutions are long term, but we have to start somewhere. Greed and government corruption again stand in our way. We apologize if we did not do all we could.

Right now, the only way in and out of Greater Pine Island is through the two-land road through Matlacha. It’s congested, but we fear that if another bridge to Pine Island is built, development will quickly take over our island. The alternative, restricting development, is not well supported by Lee County and is vigorously opposed by the state government. The Pine Island Land Use Plan, although constantly under attack, still works to protect much of our culture.

We also fear that Cape Coral will annex parts or all of Greater Pine Island. The Cape Coral Government is gung-ho intensive development crazy — the exact opposite of the coastal rural environmental-sensitive culture of Pine Island.

If our worse fears are realized, keep it to yourself — you couldn’t tell us anyway, but that’s OK — we don’t want to know.

Our most heartfelt hope is that Pine Island is still here for you to enjoy as much as we have.

—  Drafted by Phil Buchanan

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