Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Gov. Rick Scott gets out-voted as Cabinet approves ranch preservation plan

Published Sep. 29, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott was handed a rare setback Tuesday as Cabinet members overruled him and voted to preserve one of the last surviving ranches in central Florida.

Scott said the lowest appraised value of the property was too high. But his three fellow Republicans on the Cabinet disagreed, including Scott's strongest ally, Attorney General Pam Bondi, who switched her vote after an explanation of the arcane appraisal system and a forceful plea from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The Cabinet voted to spend $4.1 million to protect 1,300 acres under a conservation easement in which agricultural lands are protected through payments to landowners and restrictions on commercial development.

The Kilbee Ranch, in a rural enclave of Seminole County north of Orlando, was acquired by E.H. Kilbee in the 1880s. Vestiges of a hunting camp and a century-old sawmill remain on the property, along with 350 head of cattle. Deer, turkey, coyotes and black bears inhabit the ranch, which borders a state forest and is near two rivers.

With the ranch increasingly hemmed in by subdivisions and shopping centers, Kilbee's family wanted to honor his wish to save the ranch and prevent commercial development.

Kilbee's great-granddaughter, Diane Gaff, a school reading specialist from Cross City, said the family could have made a lot more money by selling the ranch to a developer.

"I was surprised," Gaff said after the vote. "I just thought the governor was more for this program, for preserving what we have, so I was shocked."

The state usually seeks two appraisals on easements.

Scott opposes paying more than 90 percent of the lowest of the two appraisals.

"If we don't live up to some standard, we're just going to keep paying more and more money," Scott said. "I'm okay with 90 percent of the lowest appraisal. That's as high as I'll go."

Putnam said the state's own policy is to pay 90 percent or less of the highest appraisal, not the lowest, which in the Kilbee case fell about midway between the two figures. The two appraisals for the Kilbee Ranch were for $4.755 million and $4.5 million, and the negotiated price was $4.095 million.

"I personally think that we're not going to able to accomplish all the things we want to accomplish if we're going to pay people less money than the lowest appraisal," Putnam said.

Putnam called Scott's view "unrealistic" and could make it harder to protect shrinking agricultural lands in Florida.

The gap between what the Cabinet approved and what Scott wanted was about $50,000. The federal government will pay $1 million of the $4 million, which equates to about $3,100 per acre.

Audubon Florida pushed for the ranch easement. Its lobbyist, Eric Draper, said it was "unbelievable" that Putnam persuaded Bondi to change her vote, after a private talk between Bondi and her Cabinet aide.

Draper said Scott's views about appraisals are wrong.

"Trying to squeeze a ranch family doesn't make any sense at all," Draper said. "The ranchers were in the room. Can you imagine how they felt, seeing the governor vote down their issue?"

With little debate, Scott and the Cabinet also approved a second easement for $3.8 million to protect the JB Ranch tract in east Collier County, a panther habitat north of the Big Cypress National Preserve. The appraised value in that case met Scott's goal of 90 percent of the lowest appraisal figure.

The ranch's owner and operator, Aliese Priddy of Immokalee, is a Scott appointee to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Priddy personally donated $500 to Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, in 2013.

They are the 19th and 20th conservation easements since Florida created the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in 2001. The program is part of the forestry services unit in Putnam's Department of Agriculture.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel appears before the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    After an emotional four hours of debate, the same Senate that 20 months ago rejected calls for an assault weapons ban after the Parkland shooting, voted 25-15 largely along party lines to remove Scott...
  2. From left to right: Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party; Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Steve Contorno; and State Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Times Files
    Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters and Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo will join Times Political Editor Steve Contorno for a Nov. 6 event.
  3. Lev Parnas, center, leaves federal court following his arraignment, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. Parnas and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country's ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    Appearing with their attorneys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman said they will fight allegations in a grand jury indictment that they used a shell company to secretly steer hundreds of thousands of dollars...
  4. -
    A report presented to the Senate panel showed a variety of causes of deaths, including inmate-on-inmate assaults and suicides.
  5. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  6. Herman Lindsey, a former death row inmate who was exonerated, holds a letter that he and other wrongfully convicted men delivered Tuesday to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking him to stop the execution of James Dailey. Witness to Innocence
    Former death row inmates delivered a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday asking him to stay the execution of James Dailey over questions of innocence. DeSantis won’t budge.
  7. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  8. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  9. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  10. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement