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Canal bill might earn $30-million for state

JACKSONVILLE - The state of Florida stands to gain a $20-million to $30-million windfall if a bill to deauthorize the Cross Florida Barge Canal is approved by Congress, U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett said Monday. Bennett, D-Fla., introduced legislation Jan. 29 deauthorizing the canal and substituting a state park or conservation area in the lands and waterways of the canal route.

The legislation would let the state sell all non-contiguous tracts of land to raise money to reimburse counties along the route for the $32-million in local funds they put into the project.

Bennett, long a supporter of the decades-old effort to complete the canal, estimated that the land that would be available to the state to sell would total $50-million to $60-million, giving Florida a windfall of $20-million to $30-million after it paid back the counties.

One of the key provisions of Bennett's bill would give the state control over canal lands and waterways with the provision that they revert to the federal government if the state fails to use them for a park or conservation area.

Fred Ayer, assistant executive director of the state Canal Authority, said the state has always wanted to use most of the land for park purposes but wants to be able to say which parcels should be retained.

Ayer said he didn't believe the state could go along with the current language of Bennett's bill because it requires that all the land be turned over to the federal government, which would return it to the state with the reverter clause.

Ayer also said that any money in excess of that owed to the counties would go into the Conservation and Recreation Lands fund for the purchase of environmentally sensitive land elsewhere.

"I think we will be lucky to generate enough money to pay back the counties," Ayer added.