Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dr. Earl Starnes - Environmental Lands Should Not Be Surplused

Earl Starnes is an historic figure in Florida’s evolution from having no awareness or concern for the impacts of unrestrained growth, to a state where its growth management laws were recognized nation-wide.  He served under Governor Reuben Askew as the Director of State Planning, became the director of the University of Florida’s new urban and regional planning program in the mid-1970s, and joined with other leading planning practitioner/academics such as Carl Feiss and Earnest Bartley at UF, John DeGrove at Florida Atlantic University, and later Richard Rubino at Florida State University to advance the cause of growth management and planning in the state.

As Department of Urban and Regional Planning Professor Emeritus Professor, Starnes co-authored with Florida State University Professor Emeritus Richard Rubino the book, Lessons Learned? The History of Planning in Florida

U.S. Senator and former Governor Bob Graham has described Lesson Learned?  as “a significant contribution to our understanding of the politics and economics of land and water use planning in Florida.”  

Recently, Starnes spoke from his residence in Cedar Key by letter to register his concerns over the Scott administration’s move to surplus environmental lands purchased over the last two decades at the request of Florida’s voting public. 

CEO Scott and his minions at DEP and the water management districts would do well to pay close attention. 

3 July 2012 

Subject: Water Management Districts and Proposed Land Sales 

I do not think the proposed “excess land” sales proposed by the Suwannee River and St. Johns River Water Management Districts is sound public policy. I do understand the fiscal problems of the districts simply because they have been stripped of historic state funding and further restricted in taxing millage rates. However, selling public assets is not wise. It is not wise for those assets were acquired with funds authorized by the majority of Floridians. Such constitutional authorizations, first approved in 1973, and then down through the years in a succession of similar programs. These lands have all been purchased with funds derived from taxes collected across the state from all taxpayers. This writer believes that this alone is sufficient to protect these lands in perpetuity. It is my opinion that the districts and the state of Florida have a fiduciary responsibility to preserve and protect public lands that have been so authorized and purchased by means of these environmental and public lands programs. 

In addition, these lands are protected from future developments which surely could and would have impacts upon the environmental quality of adjacent lands set aside for environmental preservation. Undeveloped lands will continue to serve as unsoiled hydrologic recharge areas as is necessary to maintain a viable and productive Floridan aquifer. We are witnesses to the consequences of losing the recharge capacity of our natural lands by development, including paving, building, and intense agricultural operations all as evidenced by salt water intrusion along Florida’s coastal communities and the steady decline of water flows in our wonderful Florida springs.

Finally, to consider open public lands of minimal capital value set aside for preservation and conservation as wasteland harkens historically to the days of the 1880s.  Those were the days when Hamilton Disston bailed the State of Florida out of bankruptcy by buying 4 million acres of central and south Florida for $1 million. In addition, he gained a bonus of one acre of land for every acre drained above and around Lake Okeechobee. It was bad public policy then and today it is compounded by the fact that we “know better”.  The combined consequence of those policies of the 1880s have cost billions of public dollars in the twentieth and twenty first centuries; and continue to this day.

Floridians must rise to the responsibility for conservative management of the future our resources, land, water, flora, fauna, and quality of both urban and non-urban life. Short term policies derived from politically popular fiscal tightfistedness provides no rationale for selling our public lands or withdrawing from half century of environmental protections.   

Earl Starnes, Cedar Key

1 comment:

  1. I whole heartily agree with Dr Starnes comments. The shortsightedness of the current administration is bound to do harm to the state's environmental and quality of life