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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Good riddance to flawed environmental lands plan

Good riddance to the state’s misguided plan to sell conservation lands under the guise of attempting to raise money to purchase better environmentally sensitive property.

The plan met with stiff resistance from environmentalists and was mercifully put to death last week in favor of a program that will sell unused buildings to benefit the state’s Florida Forever land preservation program.

We see nothing wrong with the state getting rid of suspect outparcels and other pieces that property owners sometimes require the state to accept when making deals for environmentally significant tracts. But the proposed sell-off turned into a big mistake because several sites shouldn’t have been on the list to begin with, and it was clear the evaluation process left a lot to be desired.

Rather than ginning up ways to make it appear they support environmental protections, Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers should find the money this year to adequately fund Florida Forever.

The program once had $300 million a year to spend on lands considered environmentally important and worth protecting from development. But Scott and lawmakers unveiled a plan last year that funded the program at only $20 million with a scheme to raise another $50 million by selling “surplus” public lands deemed unworthy of protection.

The state identified 169 potential sale sites that included wetlands and wildlife habitat. The outcry over some of those sites caused the list to be trimmed. But it still included 2,600 acres in the Green Swamp in Polk County, the headwaters to four rivers, and that brought a rebuke from the Polk County Commission.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, called the plan a charade and a disaster. With so few remaining lands to sell, and so many objections, the state officially put an end to the plan Friday.

Florida Forever, and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, enjoyed the full support of four governors before Scott took office. That’s because the program works. Florida is blessed with a natural beauty that is partly responsible for the state’s phenomenal growth over the past several decades. But unchecked growth threatens the environment and the state’s water supplies. Florida Forever identifies lands that need to be purchased and protected.

We understand Scott’s focus on tax breaks to stimulate that economy. But even the most conservative lawmaker has to understand that it makes good economic sense to protect the state’s natural resources.

Florida Forever doesn’t need to be fixed. It just needs to be funded.

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