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SWIFTMUD PURCHASES 300 ACRES

A retired newspaper executive profits and preserves land near Green Swamp.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District on Tuesday approved a $1.125-million conservation purchase of 300 acres in northwestern Dade City.

The Puckett Road property on the fringes of the Green Swamp is part of a 304-acre ranch that's home to Andrew Barnes, the retired chairman, editor and chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg Times.

The conservation easement ends development prospects on the land, which was what Barnes wanted.

But it was something he could not have done before retiring in 2004, he said.

"I wouldn't do it if I were still the editor," Barnes said. "You shouldn't do business with something you cover."

Barnes pointed out it would have been uncomfortable if he had to editorialize against the agency, called Swiftmud, on other matters.

"You might have to call 'em sons o' bitches," he quipped.

He began looking into conservation about the time he retired, he said.

At $3,750 an acre, the Puckett Road purchase is dwarfed by other state conservation buys. In May 2006, Swiftmud and other agencies paid $10,588 an acre for the 5,100-acre Colt Creek, 8 miles east of Zephyrhills and 10 miles southeast of Dade City.

Not that it matters.

"The money is not the purpose," Barnes said. "We're not hurting for the money. It's a way to preserve some land."

Barnes and his wife, Marion "Molly" Barnes, still own the land. Swiftmud's purchase preserves it.

At noon Tuesday, Barnes hadn't been informed yet that Swiftmud's board approved the purchase.

Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Hanke said Tuesday's Governing Board decision completes the approval July 24 from the Withlacoochee Basin Board.

A million dollars later, what now, Mr. Barnes?

He answered with a laugh: "529s (college savings plans) for all six grandchildren."

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at (813)909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

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