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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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DEP should revamp surplus lands list

The Green Swamp is one of Florida’s most valuable hydrological resources. With the highest groundwater elevation in Florida, the Green Swamp is essential to the water supply of rapidly growing Central Florida. It is the source of the Hillsborough, Oklawaha, Withlacoochee and Peace rivers.

State leaders have long recognized its importance, the reason it declared the Green Swamp an Area of Critical State Concern in 1974.

So it makes no sense for the state Department of Environmental Protection to propose to sell 2,600 acres of wetlands and uplands of the Green Swamp, which would surely be targeted for development.

This is just one of a number of dubious tracts that the DEP proposes to sell as “surplus lands.”

The effort is the result of lawmakers this year directing the DEP to sell unneeded tracts and use revenue — as much as $50 million — to fund the Florida Forever land acquisition program.

There is nothing insidious about DEP getting rid of unneeded land. Landowners often require that adjacent parcels without much environmental value be included when the state buys conservation land.

But DEP’s initial listing of surplus sites included many significant sites. Environmentalists objected, and the agency trimmed the list from about 5,300 acres to about 3,400 acres, but some important tracts remain.

The Green Swamp — which includes key wildlife, including bear, habitat as well as serving as a regional water source — is the most notable and the largest, but there are others.

Among them are waterfront lots on Cayo Costa, a barrier island where the state has no business encouraging development; land that buffers Charlotte Harbor Estuary; acreage along Wekiva State Park that serves as a corridor for black bears; wetlands in the Crystal River Preserve State Park; a 22-acre slice of land adjacent to Blue Spring State Park proposed for a “Spring to Spring Trail;” a parcel that extends from the Rainbow River State Park; and 15 acres of tropical hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys.

Granted, deciding what land should be sold is no easy task, and public comments will be considered. But the state’s five water districts, particularly the Southwest Florida Water Management District, appeared more discerning when compiling lists of surplus lands for potential sale last year.

There is still time for DEP to revise the list, and Gov. Rick Scott, whose environmental concern seems to have grown with his tenure, should make sure it does.

The governor surely will see that selling land that should be protected from development would be a bad deal for taxpayers and the environment.

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