Gov. Rick Scott's scheme to sell so-called surplus land that is not really surplus to raise money to buy more environmentally valuable property has been a charade from the start. It's time the governor and Legislature dropped the games and start protecting Florida's natural resources.
The governor proposed and the Legislature approved an ill-conceived plan last year to spend just $20 million on the popular land preservation program Florida Forever while offering another $50 million generated from the sale of property already in public hands but deemed to be less valuable. But the process for determining what to sell has been fatally compromised, with many worthy parcels added to the sale list. The Department of Environmental Protection still hasn't settled on what properties to sell and hasn't generated a dime for buying land. This lack of urgency and thoughtfulness speaks to the governor's lack of regard for conservation.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which owns the largest parcel remaining on the list, asked two months ago that the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area be removed. The Hilochee, in Polk County, is located in the Green Swamp. It is the headwater of four Florida rivers, including the Hillsborough River, the main drinking water source for the city of Tampa. Its value as a recharge area for the aquifer is a reason that Polk County also asked that the property be taken off the sale list.
But doing the right thing would cause the entire foolish idea to collapse. The Hilochee land accounts for all but about 800 acres of the 3,400 acres still under consideration. Removing this land would expose this paper environmentalism for what it is and blow out of the water the DEP's intention to keep pulling this con game.
Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater rightly blasted the program last month during a meeting over the DEP's legislative agenda. He called the initiative a "disaster" and a "charade" and promised to keep it on his radar in the legislative session that begins next week. Rather than rely on shell games and ghost money, Scott and the Legislature should start putting real money into buying and managing the state's environmental lands. The preservation program is one that the public and previous Republican governors have supported for decades. The DEP needs to quit wasting its time drawing up phony lists of land to sell and start refocusing on its job of preserving Florida's most precious resources.