State bill would allow conservation land sell-off…for golf courses

by 1000 Friends of Florida/Photo copyright Deborah Nelson

Florida’s protected state lands, purchased over the past three decades via the wildly popular Florida Forever and its predecessor programs, are under attack.

The Governor and Legislature are planning to sell conservation lands, divert Florida Forever funding and promote changes in land management that are detrimental to wildlife, waters and public access.

As Florida faces increasing development threats, the acquisition of conservation lands and development rights is our best tool to protect natural Florida and the quality of life of Floridians.

The following provisions in HB 1075/SB 1290 threaten Florida’s natural lands:

• Section 5 and Section 6 allow the State to surplus and sell state lands when it determines that the land’s short-term management goals are not being met. Failure to meet short-term management goals may be a direct result of inadequate land management funding by the Legislature, or other temporary or avoidable situations, and should not be used as an excuse to dispose of valuable conservation lands. Instead, the Legislature should ensure adequate funding for the management of Florida’s conservation lands.

• Section 8 allows private land owners who own land contiguous to state-owned lands to exchange it for the state-owned land, including state park land, if the state is given a permanent conservation easement over both parcels in the exchange.  Conservation easements are often less protective of the environment than the management plans for state-owned land, resulting in practices that diminish the conservation values of the lands and reduce public access. This daunting prospect could significantly impact such beloved places as Paynes Prairie State Park and Myakka River State Park.

• Section 14 allows money from Florida Forever, the state’s premiere land acquisition program, to be used to fund all water resource development infrastructure, including the construction of treatment, transmission, and distribution facilities. Utilizing Florida Forever funds for the construction of water supply infrastructure is currently prohibited under state law. This change comes on the heels of Floridians overwhelmingly approving Amendment 1 in an effort to restore funding for land acquisition. With billions of dollars needed for local water infrastructure projects around the state, this provision could readily exhaust the funds set aside in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, leaving inadequate funding available for acquiring conservation land, and negating the benefits of Amendment 1.

• Sections 15, 17, 21 and 22 allow state lands to be managed for conservation OR recreational purposes, deleting the requirement that state lands be managed in accordance with the purpose for which they were acquired. This could result in conservation lands being managed solely for recreational purposes, which might include converting natural lands into golf courses and other such inappropriate uses, harming the conservation value of the lands and betraying the original intent of acquiring the lands.

If you love Florida’s state lands, speak up for them today:

• Call or e-mail the members of the House State Affairs Committee (see phone numbers here) and ask them to oppose HB 1075!

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• Then call or e-mail the Chair of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, Senator Charles Dean (District Office 352-860-5175, Tallahassee Office 850-487-5005, email, and urge him not to agenda SB 1290.

Visit 1000 Friends’ 2016 Florida Legislature webpage for information on other legislation under consideration.

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