At a public workshop Wednesday evening in Tallahassee, environmentalists expressed serious doubts about a list of conservation lands the state of Florida proposes to sell. The state is seeking public input as it looks to unload up to $50 million dollars’ worth of land.
The state proposes selling more than 5,300 acres, with parcels from the Keys to the Western Panhandle. That’s less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the state’s total conservation land. The land sales are a response to the Legislature's mandating that most money for conservation land purchasing will come from selling other lands first.
The Florida Wildlife Federation’s Preston Robertson, One Thousand Friends of Florida’s Dan Pennington and Leigh Brooks, a concerned citizen, were among a chorus of those protesting the sales.
Pointing to one site, Robertson said, “This is where all of the drinking water for Panama City comes from. This needs to be protected.”
Referring to proposed parcel sales in Torreya State Park, Brooks said, “Several years ago, a parcel there was sold and it totally changed the atmosphere of the entrance to this park.”
And Pennington expressed concern over areas along the Interstate-4 corridor where panthers and bears live. “I think these parcels need to be removed,” he said.
Office of Environmental Services Administrator Marianne Gengenbach says public input is an important part of the process.
“So the list that you have in front of you simply shows where we are in our assessment right now, and these parcels are a long way from being sold,” she says.
She says all the state lands were assessed using a model that assigned conservation value based on criteria including wildlife habitat and water protection.
“What’s come out at the end of this filter is really something that is remarkably modest, and I think together we can get through this process,” she said.
After seeing the proposed list of 169 sellable sites, Charles Lee with Audubon Florida says he’s worried.
“We have some serious concerns about the output of this process so far,” he told the state officials. “We particularly urge you to get the Green Swamp and Wekiwa properties off of this list.”
Lee also says he’s puzzled how some wetland areas his group considers very important landed on the list, including more than a hundred acres of mangrove swamps bordering Miami’s Biscayne Bay.
State officials will take more input at online workshops Thursday and Friday. They will also hold regional workshops across the state.