At least $100 million a year would be set aside for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund, under a measure filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
Bradley’s proposal (SB 370) would annually designate a portion of the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the Florida Forever program, which in the past received as much as $300 million a year but for nearly a decade has fallen out of favor among lawmakers.
Bradley, who chairs the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, said in prepared statement the bill meets the demand of the “overwhelming majority of Floridians.”
“Floridians are blessed with some of the most unique ecosystems in the world, from springs to the Everglades to coral reefs to world class beaches and rivers,” Bradley said. “As our population continues to explode, we have an obligation to preserve these unique ecosystems for our children and grandchildren. The Florida Forever program helps us fulfill this obligation.”
The bill doesn’t have a House version but drew praise Monday from environmentalists.
“Florida voters have made it clear they want more funding for parks, wildlife corridors, and environmentally important natural areas like wetlands,” said Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director of Florida Conservation Voters. “I hope that SB 370 is the first sign of the Senate’s renewed commitment to continuing Florida’s legacy of acquiring critical natural areas before they are lost forever.”
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a prominent environmental lobbyist, called the proposal a “major commitment” and the first seen in years from legislative leaders.
Bradley’s proposal would be added to a law known as “Legacy Florida,” which dedicates up to $200 million a year toward Everglades and Lake Okeechobee projects out of money put into the trust fund. The law also directs $50 million a year for the state’s natural springs and $5 million each year for Lake Apopka.
Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that requires a portion of documentary-stamp tax revenues go to land and water conservation. That money goes into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
The Department of Environmental Protection has estimated that the real estate documentary taxes used to fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund will generate $862.2 million next fiscal year. The agency has recommended Gov. Rick Scott include $50 million for Florida Forever in his budget proposal for the 2018 session.
Since 2001, Florida Forever has been used to purchase more than 718,000 acres for $2.9 billion. But the program has languished since the recession and as some key legislators have questioned the need for Florida to buy more land while struggling to manage the land it already owns.
Meanwhile, environmental groups continue to pursue a lawsuit that argues lawmakers have not properly carried out the 2014 constitutional amendment because of a limited amount of spending on land buying and preservation. The case is expected to go to trial next summer.
The environmental groups — the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the Sierra Club — contend the money was improperly diverted from conservation purposes to agency staffing and operational expenses.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
All of this land grabbing by Florida government smacks of the same type of land acquisition the United nations is doing through agenda 21 and that is not option America can live with.
Stranger in a strange land says
Contact your state senator to support this bill which tries to fulfill the will of Florida voters. It is a shame that our Florida politicians hijacked funds that voters wanted used for land preservation. I guess it is hard to get political contributions from birds and deer versus contractors who build water treatment plants and other big projects.
Kudos to Senator Rob Bradley for the political courage to advocate for this common sense action. The people of Florida have spoken through the ballot box and expressed their desire to protect and conserve Florida’s natural resources yet thus far the legislature and the Governor have been tone-deaf to the voice of their constituency. Now is the time to acquire and conserve those natural lands that not only preserve the ecological beauty of Florida but also have ancillary benefits to the citizens of Florida in dealing with natural challenges of droughts and floods and storms and sea rise and inundation which will only be exacerbated by an ever changing dynamic climate.
Concerned Observer says
Well, the idea is great but the practice often does not live up to the ideal. I have many years of experience in Palm Beach County prior to relocating to Palm Coast with such plans. In 1992, Palm Beach land along Highway 441 (AKA State Road-7) north from Boca Raton all the way to Wellington was protected from development by the designation “Agra Reserve. The land was restricted for agricultural uses purposes only. That restriction stood until enough influential developers with deep pockets wanted to build yet more subdivisions and shopping centers there. Voilà ! The roadway was widened from a two-lane to a 4 to 6–lane highway, a enormous shopping mall, countless strip malls and several huge gated communities now line both sides of the highway. The only thing growing there now is the personal portfolio of developers, land speculators and politicians. Money talks and S#&t walks. I sincerely hope things will be different here, but my experience indicates otherwise. Good Luck.
Be sure to read all the way to the bottom of this article. The voters have demanded more protections for our natural resources, land, environment. . . but, our legislature has been squandering the money building bureaucratic corruption! I am not confident that anything will change even if we do get more Federal money.
VOTE THEM OUT!
What “Concerned Observer” recounts happened in Palm Beach with the Agra Reserve program sounds like a weak and short term effort to offer land owners reduced property taxes for keeping their land from being developed for a short period of time. The approach of Florida Forever and the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund is conserving the land in perpetuity which means forever. Working with legitimate land conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy (Nature.org) or accredited local land trusts (lta.org) who properly record conservation easements that will stand the test of time are the only method or approach to take. Perpetuity is a long time, so vigilance to defend the public trust of these conserved properties will always be necessary to keep greedy people from using eminent domain to alter what was done for the benefit of future generations but that vigilance should not mean we don’t do now what is necessary to protect the future of Florida!