110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Jul 16, 2012 - 8:09:31am
Representatives from the St. Johns River Water Management District came to DeLand July 9 to get the public temperature on disposing of some of the Water Management District’s 97,262 acres of conservation lands in Volusia County.
The temperature ran hot, and they got an earful of opposition to losing any of the conservation lands.
The audience numbered around 150, and their message was, go back to the commission members at the Water Management District and tell them to keep our conservation lands in conservation.
Aiden Magee the Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler Counties told Robert Christianson, director of the district’s Division of Operations and Land Resources, and Senior Land Resource Planner J.B. Miller, “Go back to your board, give them a little shake and a nudge ... We demand our commissioners to stand our ground for us and say, ‘absolutely no!’”
Magee got an ovation, with some people standing to clap their approval of his comments. There were several other rounds of applause as people told district representatives their concerns.
Christianson and Miller explained how the district is implementing the study: It is looking at the overall conservation value of flood plains, natural communities (with developed land having the least value), wildlife corridors, and strategic habitats. Data and maps showing land values in these four categories will be used to determine which lands have the highest value and should be kept, and which lands might be “surplused.”
This is the first comprehensive study, but evaluations have been completed through the years, and some lands have been exchanged or sold, Christianson said.
As the County Council did last month, members of the audience reminded the district representatives that Florida Forever and Volusia Forever programs, voted in by 72 percent of voters, were designed to be forever.
Melinda McCurry of Orange City told them all the conservation lands have a high value. But, they could be sold to developers.
“They don’t care about our environment,” but are driven by money, she said.
McCurry and several other speakers said the term “surplus” should be stricken from the legal language and from the district’s assessment.
Arnette Sherman of DeLand, a Realtor and member of the West Volusia Audubon Society, questioned why the push to sell conservation lands comes up now — when land values are down. Charles Lee of the Florida Audubon Society noted that lands acquired in recent years were higher-priced.
Fred Peace of DeLand likened the study to the FCATs, using faulty scientific analysis to measure a child without looking at the child holistically.
Doug Weaver, who put 38,000 acres of land into conservation before retiring as Land Acquisition and Management director for the County of Volusia, told the representatives that contiguous lands the district bought in conjunction with local governments should be shown on one of the maps.
“I don’t know how you can make a decision without showing it,” he said.
The County of Volusia made a number of such strategic purchases adjacent to district lands. In addition, the county is joint owner with the district of 18,533 acres.
Carla Christianson of the League of Women Voters said she has concerns that promises made are not always promises kept, and the lands were promised to be conserved forever. Money should not be the bottom line, she added.
Central Florida conservationist Bob Stalnaker said that while the state budget has actually increased from $65 billion to $69 billion, agencies that protect the environment such as the Department of Community Affairs and the a href="http://www.dep.state.fl.us/" target="_blank">Department of Environmental Protection are being slashed and dismantled. The governor should not be allowed to dismantle what the Legislature and the voters established, he and several other speakers said.
“This is a war on nature,” Stalnaker told The Beacon after the meeting.
Charles Ferguson of Ormond Beach said there is “skulduggery” going on, and “Next election, you’re going to have a different boss.”
• This and next month, analysis will be completed.
• In September, draft results will be published.
• In October and November, more rounds of public meetings will be held. Then, district staff will prepare a final recommendation to the governing board.
• On Tuesday, Dec. 11, the governing board will take action during a meeting at district headquarters at 4049 Reid St. in Palatka. A time has not yet been published.
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