|Parterning to Preserve Florida|
|Written by Marjorie Holt|
|Tuesday, May 18 2010|
Partnering to preserve Florida
After neglecting to fund Florida Forever for the first time in its 20-year history last year, the Legislature wised up this past session and provided $15 million for the state's land preservation program.
Although that's a drop in the bucket compared to the $300 million that previously had been appropriated every year, it still will give the state and willing local partners the ability to preserve some significant lands during a time of declining property values.
A perfect example of how smaller sums of money can still make an impact is Pasco County's purchase of 115 acres of sensitive coastal habitat in the densely populated southwestern part of the county
Last week, the Florida Communities Trust awarded Pasco officials $358,063 in Florida Forever funds toward the $700,000-plus purchase. Pasco's five-year-old environmental lands program already had paid an equal amount, plus the costs for appraisals and other preliminary work.
If the county hadn't been willing to pay at least half the price, it's highly unlikely it would have qualified for the state funds. Pasco's decision to purchase the land shows how much county officials, some of whom made poor growth-management decisions in the past, recognize the value of saving environmentally fragile areas, especially in crowded urban areas.
The Pasco Palms property, as it's called, is along a picturesque section of coast in the Holiday and Bailey's Bluff areas. At its closest point, the land - which could have been developed - is a half mile from the mayhem of U.S. 19, making its preservation more important.
The state doesn't automatically award this money. The application process is tedious, and officials have to prove a tract is valuable and the county is committed to protecting it.
"You really aren't competitive if you're not providing matching funds," says Rene Wiesner Brown, Pasco's environmental lands program manager.
The site, the fifth purchased under the county's program, which is funded by part of the county's one-cent sales tax, is very sensitive, says Brown. Wood storks, spoon bills, white ibis and other coastal birds inhabit land that is considered an important feeding ground.
Pasco Palms, which also includes forested wetlands, tidal flats and mangroves, is across the road from Eagle Point Park, a 600-acre tract also owned by the county. These tracts provide residents recreational opportunities - and a refreshing respite from the congestion plaguing west Pasco for decades.
Of the $15 million in Florida Forever funds allocated this year, the Florida Communities Trust will get about $3 million - a considerable decline from the $60 million the trust normally receives. But as the Pasco Palms purchase shows, those dollars can be stretched when local governments partner with the state to preserve Florida's treasures.
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