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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott outvoted by Cabinet on ranch land deal in Central Florida



A rare sight in Tallahassee: All three Cabinet members outvoted Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday and voted to spend $4 million for a permanent conservation easement on one of the oldest ranches in Central Florida.

The surprise came after Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam outmaneuvered the governor and Attorney General Pam Bondi switched her vote.

The original 12,000-acre Kilbee Ranch in Seminole County, founded by E.H. Kilbee of tiny Geneva, Fla., dates to the 1880s. Today it's surrounded on all sides by intense residential and commercial development, but Kilbee's survivors, including great-granddaughter Diane Gaff, wanted to honor his dying wish to protect the remaining 1,300 acres.

Under Florida's Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, the state and landowners agree on conversation easements that allow the land to remain a working ranch with no allowable private commercial development.

The land program is operated by Putnam's agency. Scott balked. He said the appraisals on the land were too high and that the state should not pay any more than 90 percent of the lowest of two appraisals. Bondi initially sided with Scott, but she changed her mind after Putnam said state policy is to choose a compromise figure between two appraisals.

Gaff said she was "shocked" by Scott's opposition but relieved that Putnam, Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater agreed to the deal. She said her family could have reaped millions more by selling the land to a private developer.

"That was unbelievable," Audubon of Florida's Eric Draper said after the vote. "Putnam did an amazing job of recovering that issue."

The purchase price is $4,095,000, or about $3,200 per acre, with the federal government contributing $1 million of the cost.

The four officials also unanimously approved a second conservation easement for $3.8 million for 1,600 acres on the JB Ranch in eastern Collier County.

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 3:00pm]


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