Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

DEP drops 1,000 acres from list of surplus land

About 2,600 acres in Central Florida’s Green Swamp is on the state’s list of about 160 properties that could be sold.

Times (2007)

About 2,600 acres in Central Florida’s Green Swamp is on the state’s list of about 160 properties that could be sold.

Some of it was underwater. Some of it had title problems. For one reason or another, Florida officials have now taken more than 1,000 acres off their controversial list of 5,000 acres of possible surplus park land to sell.

The state's ultimate goal: raise $50 million by selling lower-value land and then use that money to buy land that is more important to save. However, according to Department of Environmental Protection state lands division director Susan Grandin, they are likely to fall short.

"The goal of getting to $50 million is great," Grandin said in a news conference Thursday. "But I don't think that's going to be the case."

Grandin announced that analysis of the list's first draft had resulted in the removal of about 1,000 acres, leaving about 4,000 still under consideration for sale. Among the parcels saved from the auction block are 15 acres of tropical hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys.

Still on the list, though, is the largest piece, 2,600 acres of the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in Polk County. The Hilochee land, which was purchased to protect the aquifer, lies in the Green Swamp, which forms the headwaters of four Florida rivers, including the Hillsborough and Withlacoochee. That 2,600-acre section has other importance, too.

"The only potential crossing of Interstate 4 for black bear and Florida panther populations has been identified … where these properties intersect the I-4 right of way," Audubon Florida noted in a letter this week to the DEP.

The Keys property was removed for one major reason, Grandin said. Since 1975, the Keys have been what is formally known as an "Area of Critical State Concern," which means the state is keeping a tight rein on growth due to concerns about hurricane evacuation. DEP officials and their contractors missed that when they drew up the initial list, Grandin said.

However, the Green Swamp is also an Area of Critical State Concern, dating back to the days after Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and there was pressure to fill in the swamp for development. Asked why the Green Swamp land remained on the list while the Keys parcels were taken off, Grandin said, "We are looking at all of that."

Other land was knocked off because the state didn't have sole title or other reasons. Several parcels in Cayo Costa State Park in Boca Grande were dry land when purchased, she said, but beach erosion has now put them underwater.

She said there would be a public discussion of the list today at the DEP's Acquisition and Restoration Council meeting in Tallahassee, and then public hearings in Naples, Melbourne, Orlando and Pensacola this month and in October. Any sales must be approved by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, most likely sometime next year.

Grandin promised greater access to the information behind the decisions, such as posting on the DEP website the analysis of each beach, forest and swamp being considered for sale.

Last month, when the DEP released its initial list of about 160 parcels that might be sold, it sparked questions, protests and some outrage.

"I was very heartened to see people actually care about our conservation lands in Florida," Grandin said. She also praised media coverage of the controversy as "wonderful."

For decades, Florida set the national standard for acquiring conservation land. The Legislature created programs with names like Florida Forever and invested $300 million a year in them, allowing the state to assemble about 3 million acres. But during the economic meltdown, funding dried up.

This year, according to Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper, environmental advocates tried to persuade Scott administration officials to budget $100 million to revive Florida Forever. Instead, Scott's DEP proposed — and the Legislature approved — $20 million in cash and up to $50 million funded by the sale of state-owned lands.

The rules say that any new land that is bought should be for springs protection, water quality or buffering a military base, and not for saving habitat for panthers or other endangered species.

Craig Pittman can be reached at

What's available?

To see the DEP's list of potential surplus park land, click on Land listed in red has already been removed from the list.

DEP drops 1,000 acres from list of surplus land 09/12/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 12, 2013 11:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii


    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan


    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville


    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that "both sides” bear blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.