Bradley bill to boost land protection program

Jesse Hollett
Posted 10/18/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A bill filed this month in the Florida Senate would require a minimum of $100 million in Amendment One funds be used for the Florida Forever land acquisition program.

Sen. …

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Bradley bill to boost land protection program

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A bill filed this month in the Florida Senate would require a minimum of $100 million in Amendment One funds be used for the Florida Forever land acquisition program.

Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) introduced SB 370 this month to would mandate regular funding for Amendment One, which voters approved by 75 percent in 2014. The referendum intended to dedicate at least $18 billion over 20 years to Florida Forever, but the legislature has stripped the program of a large portion of its former funding year after year. Last year, the legislature dedicated $15 million to the program that at one time had a $300 million budget. This fiscal year the legislature allocated nothing to the fund.

“[SB 370 is] consistent with the 2014 constitutional amendment that was over approved by the voters of the State of Florida,” Bradley said. “The voters expect us to identify those areas of the state that need to be preserved for future generations.”

“Florida continues to grow,” he said. “We’re now the third-largest state in the union and we have some ecosystems that are unique to the world. I think it’s important that we preserve those ecosystems for our kids and grandkids.”

Conservationists have lauded the bill as a good first step to meeting guidelines outlined by voters in 2014.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Marc Hudson, land protection director for the North Florida Land Trust. “…I think what’s more important right now is that conservation programs are getting funded.”

Florida Forever is Florida’s primary land acquisition program. The state has purchased more than 718,000 acres of land using just over $2.9 billion. Land purchased through the program remains held in a trust, and is used for parks and trails, and to create wildlife management and flood control areas.

“We were very critical of Senator Bradley last year when he didn’t support funding for Florida Forever,” said Jim McCarthy, NFLT president. “We’re very happy now…we really applaud his efforts.”

As sea level rise and stronger storms threaten the state, programs that protect land from development become a critical component in flood control.

“It’s important to look at some of those lands that are adjacent to water bodies so that they can be used to accept a lot of that water during those major weather events and protect those lands from development,” Bradley said.

Bradley said, locally, the state has looked at easements along both Black Creek and Moccasin Slough for protection.

Past efforts to set aside dedicated funds for land acquisition purposes have failed. In May, Florida House Rep. Matt Caldwell proposed a bill that would eventually divert $200 million to Florida Forever by 2035. The bill eventually passed in the house but died in the senate.

Bradley’s bill has yet to receive a house companion. Bradley said he’s working on that.

“I’m in discussions with the house about potential companion bills and those discussions are ongoing, so I would anticipate that there will be a similar or same measure that will be presented at some point by the house before session,” Bradley said.

The next legislative session begins in January.

Hudson said besides land acquisition being pragmatic for thriving communities, it also enhances the quality of life for those around a protected easement.

“I don’t think we could tell the story of us without saving a few of these places,” Hudson said.

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