Saturday, February 17, 2018
News Roundup

Whatever the motivation, protection of coastal land near Aripeka is worthwhile

ARIPEKA

I have no illusions about the reasons this lovely piece of land might be preserved.

I know it's not just because it contains two good-sized springs that feed a robust estuary.

I'm aware that the unusual spine of oak-covered hammock running through this chunk of coastal lowland probably has little to do with the Southwest Florida Water Management District's sudden interest in it.

I don't think any of the Tallahassee people who got the district moving on this parcel give a flip about connectivity, or that this land helps fill in a wildlife corridor that stretches over several counties.

And I would not be surprised if the clear spring runs flowing by cabbage palms on these 90 acres end up in an election-year photo demonstrating Gov. Rick Scott's profound desire to preserve Florida's springs.

Really, I'm fine with that. I don't care if this is all being done for politics. I'm just glad it's being done.

• • •

You may remember when acquiring natural land in coastal Hernando and Pasco counties was a top priority for Swiftmud. Its scientists talked about the need to protect water quality and the habitat of one the country's smallest and most vulnerable populations of black bears.

There was the purchase of the original 6,000 acres of the Weekiwachee Preserve in 1994 and the acquisitions of many other nearby properties, including ones that expanded the preserve to more than 11,000 acres.

In the past few years, however, nothing much has happened in this part of Florida, and nothing at all since the district pulled off a 2010 land swap that allowed the massive SunWest Harbourtowne development to turn bear habitat into a golf course.

But today, Swiftmud's governing board will discuss adding not just one but two pieces of natural land to the south of the Weekiwachee Preserve.

One is a complicated deal that, for little or no cash, would give the district the development rights to a 407-acre tree farm. The other is the purchase of the 90-acre jewel near Aripeka named after its most outstanding feature, Boat Springs.

Both Hernando and Pasco tried to buy their portions of this land three years ago.

The deals fell through because the owner, Andrew Steele of Fort Myers, demanded more than the counties' appraised value of $1.4 million.

• • •

Swiftmud is talking — yes, just talking at this point — about making another offer with Hernando and Pasco. All three parties are willing, and all of them have some money set aside.

Why did this come up now? Why are Florida's cool springs suddenly a hot topic for the governor, who just a few weeks ago set aside $37 million for spring protection?

I suspect his concern has something to do with the articles by the Times' Craig Pittman documenting Scott's sorry record on this front. And, of course, maybe Scott is not really concerned about the environment. Maybe he's just pretending to be.

But for this governor, even pretending is progress.

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