Cabinet Approves Florida Forever List, Calls For More Oversight
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet approved the state’s environmental land buying priority list on Tuesday but not before ordering agency officials to explore legislation to give the Cabinet more say over which projects get funded.
Following up on a recommendation from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson, the panel asked Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole to seek legislation Bronson said was needed to give the panel more authority in determining how to spend millions in state funds set aside for the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands. .
Bronson’s motion asked DEP “to work legislatively to make sure that the Board of Trustees has the final approval based on what the what the board feels is the (best) way to approach land acquisition.”
Specifically, Bronson said the panel may opt to choose to purchase more property at less than market value by allowing landowners continued but restricted use of their property while providing public access.
The agriculture commissioner has repeatedly raised concerns over the state’s growing environmental portfolio, which costs money to manage. Bronson has advocated for allowing farmers, ranchers and other landowners to keep working the land in a lease situation.
Under existing law, the Florida Forever list is submitted to the Cabinet, but panel approval is not necessary to implement the recommendations.
Bronson’s proposal could be construed as requiring the board to sign off on individual projects. Sole told reporters after the vote that he is not worried that the Cabinet would try to wrest control of land buying from DEP.
“I don’t interpret it that way,” Sole said of Bronson’s motives. “I think (Bronson) wanted to see the work plan and provide, as the Cabinet, any guidance specific to the priorities that we’re moving toward as we implement the Florida Forever list. I think that is reasonable.”
The Florida Forever priority list approved Tuesday includes more than 100 projects and millions of acres worth more than $20 billion. Lawmakers chose earlier this year not to fund the state's marquee land buying program for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, diverting the $300 million to other programs, including $50 million for Everglades clean up.