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Meaningful Conservation - The gist: St. Johns water managers should resist Orange County's threats PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Tuesday, November 10 2009

orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-easements-111009-20091109,0,6033720.story

OrlandoSentinel.com
Meaningful conservation
The gist: St. Johns water managers should resist Orange County's threats on easements
November 10, 2009

In Orange County, as in other counties throughout Central Florida, all's not necessarily lost when the regional water management authority issues a permit to a developer or local government.

That's because the permit issued by the St. Johns River Water Management District often comes with sensible strings attached that require lands of environmental value to be placed under a protective environmental easement, which the district will enforce.

 

The easements are not intended to stretch over a month or a year but often indefinitely, giving the public lasting benefits. For example, they'll likely get access to the property to use it for recreation.

The easement also might prohibit building new roads or allowing commercial or industrial activity. It might ban activities harmful to water conservation and flood control. It might conserve fish and wildlife habitat. And it might prohibit building trailer parks and billboards.

It also gives people living near the easements peace of mind, knowing the nearby lands won't give way to the next subdivision, shopping mall or super-store. And it enhances the value of their property, giving prospective homebuyers confidence about the staying power of a neighboring river, lake or forest.

It does all of this, and should continue to do so, unless Orange County bullies the district into submission today at its monthly board of directors meeting in Palatka.

Governments like Orange County routinely approach districts like the St. Johns, requesting that they give up the easements so they can build roads or utility lines across them. Districts occasionally allow it, but on the condition that the government replace the easement with another of similar environmental and monetary value.

Orange County and other governments would trifle or mess with the easements a lot less, however, if board members of the St. Johns made it harder to change them. That's what the district is looking to do in Palatka today, despite threats by Orange to take them to court if the district follows through.

The district's current practice, when asked to give up easement rights for a new road or power line, is to ask the developer or government to replace the easement with another easement of equal or greater ecological value. And of equal or greater monetary value.

Now, though, it's looking to turn that practice into a written rule that would hold up better in the face of the very kind of legal challenge Orange is waving around. Orange not only wants to block the rule; it wants the district to get rid of the requirement that governments like Orange replace a conservation easement with one of equal or greater monetary value. And, it wants to end the requirement that the replacement easement be located within the same drainage basin.

This debate flared up when the district recently released a portion of an easement to the county so it could build a road extension south of the University of Central Florida. But it did so only after insisting the county replace the easement with one of comparable value, ecologically and monetarily. That set the county off, leading to today's expected confrontation.

But the matter could become far worse if the district doesn't impose its rule. Without it, a district official notes that a county like Orange could lay waste to preserved land by sticking a landfill in the center of it. Orange could then attempt to replace the land with a cheaper tract in some faraway basin.

And with this result: a winner for county officials, but at the expense of residents and their environment.

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

Last Updated ( Tuesday, November 10 2009 )
 
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