Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Florida Forever ... sort of"

PNJ.com. published an editorial today, 10.01.11, which reflects legitimate concern about the current move to surplus and sell environmental lands bought through the historic and unprecedented programs voted for and paid for by Florida residents over the last 40 years.


With the exception of one statement, which is misleading in my opinion, it represents a true concern, that Florida Forever lands were funded and purchased at the acquiescence of Florida’s voting public and should not be sold to fund water management district operations. 

Coopers Hawk
Spring Lake, Florida
(Vergara Photo Art)
In one sentence, the editorial suggests SWFWMD could possibly determine its entire ownership of 450,000 acres of environmental lands are surplus and sell them all.  I seriously doubt the governing board of SWFWMD will do that, but there is still lots of room for it to do mischief by misidentifying what is “non-essential.”

The operative mandate from CEO-governor Scott is to identify “non-essential” lands for surplus and sell them.  This would be fundamentally good business practice in most cases but the devil here is in how “non-essential” is defined and when the land is offered for sale.

Naiveté, ignorance or even malicious intent can come into play, intentionally or otherwise, with this board which is now completely under the control of CEO-governor Scott and Herschel “water-management-expert-by-virtue-of-appointment” Vinyard.

What’s worse is that the list of “surplus” lands is going to be developed by a “committee” of governing board members which is supposed to float about the district listening carefully for any “stakeholder” input.  That’s after they figure what a “stakeholder” is.  Sounds a bit like a snipe hunt to me.

I’d be willing to bet ten dollars against a Rick Scott doughnut that we will not see a “final” list of proposed properties to be surplussed until it is presented and recommended for final action by the governing board.  Less public angst, that way. Angst they want to avoid because it could be upsetting to the CEO-governor’s tea-party sling blade agenda.

The SWFWMD governing board demonstrated it is capable of this kind of shenanigan when it disbanded eight basin boards and fired all their 40 members without it even being on a published agenda, which I believe is blatantly illegal.

Great Egret
Florida wetlands
(Vergara Photo Art)
There is also a very valid question as to whether we should even be considering selling land while the market is as dead as Osama Bin Laden.  The amount of money to be developed is dromedary dust compared to what could likely be generated in a few years ... assuming they actually identify some truly non-essential properties.

Another concern is who will be buying these lands?  Most likely it will be well situated profiteers who will just sell them back to the state when the economy turns around and a now silent but more rational public realizes what a horrible tea-party mistake it was to spin them off in the first place.

We need to be watching to see if the land is truly “non-essential,” whether the land is sold using a legitimate bid-solicitation process, whether it is sold to the actual high bidder, and whether the bid reflects actual market value. 

We do not need more of what we learned from Harmon Shields and Elton Gissendanner … Herschel.

Here’s the editorial

Editorial: Florida Forever ... sort of
Environmentalists in Florida probably never thought they would look back with fondness on the days of Jeb Bush, but the conservative former Florida governor is looking greener and greener compared to the current administration.

Bush, never a friend of environmental regulation, was nonetheless an enthusiastic proponent of Florida Forever, the multibillion-dollar, decades-long state program to buy and preserve critical state lands forever. He and other Republicans saw it as a conservative, non-regulatory approach to environmental protection: If forests, wetlands and other habitat needed protecting, they reasoned, the best way to do it was buy them from their owners and let the state manage them.

Bush was such an advocate that in 2001 he called a legislative effort to redirect Florida Forever money into other projects "bad policy," and vetoed it.

The program purchases, dating back to the 1980s, were aimed at flood control, preserving aquifer recharge areas, protecting surface water quality, and saving critical wildlife habitat and prime
recreational and hunting lands for future generations.

Today, budget cuts and an active disinterest in not just regulation, but also preservation, in Tallahassee are putting momentum behind a very bad idea: selling large parcels of those lands to raise money for water management districts strapped for cash by reductions in their taxing authority.

No doubt there is some land that the state or its agencies can sell with little impact. Such house cleaning should be routine.

But the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported this week that at least three water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection are looking into selling state lands, including lands in state
forests, parks and preserves. In the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the newspaper reported, 450,000 acres are being considered for possible sale.

Yes, state agencies have been told to sell off "non-essential" lands, but that definition is big enough to sail a cruise ship through. To paraphrase a now-famous saying, it depends on what the definition of "non-essential" is.

Fiscally, it would be bad enough to sell land now just because of low property values. But to sell land bought in the name of all Floridians to protect their state's natural resources, forever, is an intrinsically bad idea.

2 comments:

  1. The surplus(ing) of District lands has always been, I believe, the ultimate goal of the current occupant of the governor’s office. I believe that he wants those lands to come under his control and that of those individuals who are part of the governor’s “inner circle."

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  2. J. William McCartney, Ph.D., Former Exec. Director NWFWMDOctober 10, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Sonny,
    as you know I wrote my Dissertation on Save Our Rivers. There are not many stronger advocates for public land acquisition than I am.

    That being said, I do know that every Save our Rivers, Preservation 2000, or Florida Forever Purchase cannot be defended as 100% critical.

    When we bought the 76,000 acres along the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers not all of it was flood plain or contained unique water management properties. It was part of the deal, take it or leave it. We took it.

    So, yes there are some lands that were part of purchases which do not contribute to the purpose for which they were purchased. BUT, who has the expertise to sort them out?

    What we need to do is to have the Water Management Institute, or similar group, evaluate significant purchases and send a proposal to the Legislature to recommend those WMD Lands which could be surplused. This could be done using a GIS Multi-overlay Composite Scoring technique.

    The question is who determines which lands to surplus, who buys them and for what purpose. This is a major deal which represents over $10 Billion in lands since 1980.

    J. William McCartney, Ph.D.
    Former Exec. Dir., Northwest Florida Water Management District

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