Within the next two-week period, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is required to complete an assessment of state-owned lands in order to identify up to $50 million worth that could be sold to the public to raise money to fund the purchase up to $70 million of “conservation land”, allocated in the 2013-14 budget.
The first “coarse filter” of all eligible properties, as compiled by Fore Site Consulting Inc. in Loveland Colorado, has fallen “way short” of the goal; identifying only 319 sites totaling about 10,362 acres, which is making some environmentalist nervous.
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, doesn’t believe the state has $50 million worth of land to sell — if designated historic sites, areas outside of buffers of major lakes and rivers, restoration areas and other sites with aquifer vulnerability remain excluded. “My group wants to make sure that biologically important lands are not being sold,” Draper said.
A technical advisory group, here in Florida, is being told by the consultant to identify specific properties that would yield “200 acres, or greater, of potential surplus land”. The current screening criteria, put in place last month, may need adjustments — since it apparently selected many parcels less than one acre in size.
The state Acquisition and Restoration Council will receive a preliminary briefing on the assessment process next week, on August 21st; when the Department holds a meeting to receive public comment on the property identified thus far.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Patrick Gillespie told reporters last week that the public should be confident that a scientific and environmentally-based process of reviewing lands will allow the department to follow the Legislature’s directive to “purchase the right land that is best protective of our natural resources.”