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If the state wants to acquire natural land, it can tap into a real surplus

The state has proposed selling as “surplus” a parcel near the southern tip of the Withlacoochee State Trail near Trilby to raise money for other conservation purchases.
The state has proposed selling as “surplus” a parcel near the southern tip of the Withlacoochee State Trail near Trilby to raise money for other conservation purchases.
Published Sep. 17, 2013

The Withlacoochee State Trail almost perfectly fits its common description as a "linear state park."

It is long, straight and very narrow — at least until the very southern end, near Trilby, where a 1.7-acre parcel is attached like a feather on an arrow.

Walk the trail past this property and you see a house, a fringe of woods and a small chunk of pasture.

If the state goes through with its plan to unload this lot as part of a program to "surplus" $50 million worth of natural land, it might bring another house or two, maybe a few horses — nothing that would interfere with the experience of walking or riding on the 46-mile-long trail.

So, does the marginal environmental value of this parcel — the only candidate for surplusing in Hernando or Pasco counties — mean that the entire program is acceptable?

No, it doesn't mean that at all. In fact, this is very clearly a bad idea.

Not necessarily for Tallahassee politicians, who get to offer conservative voters tangible proof of shrinking government, while appealing to conservation-minded residents with the promise that the proceeds will be spent on acquiring other environmentally sensitive land.

And selling off these parcels wouldn't be such a bad idea on a small scale.

The Trilby lot is proof that there are a few properties that have more value on the market than as habitat or recreational land.

The problem is, there's not $50 million worth of land that fits this description. Not even close to that amount. Probably not even half that amount.

We know that because there are now a total of 4,000 acres on the list of possible surplus properties, and 2,600 of these acres are in the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in the Green Swamp in Polk County.

All in all, it's difficult to image that the state could find a more worthy chunk of environmental property to buy with the money raised from selling this one.

It provides recreation opportunities, pure water for the aquifer and the four rivers that flow out of the Green Swamp, prime wildlife habitat and an underpass that allows wildlife to cross Interstate 4, with plans to build more crossings.

"There is absolutely no justification for surplusing" this land, said Marian Ryan, the Sierra Club's Florida conservation chairwoman.

Actually, there is a justification; it just has nothing to do with environmental protection. This land has plenty frontage on I-4 and is near the U.S. 27 commercial corridor.

It's the kind of property you need to reach that dream sum of $50 million.

But the state doesn't have to pursue that dream so recklessly. Economists are projecting that in fiscal year 2014, state revenues will exceed expenses by $845 million.

Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to give most of this money back to taxpayers.

But if he or anyone else in Tallahassee has a true interest in protecting natural Florida, that's the real surplus.


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