Why Florida Rejected Land for a New Park
The 4,100-acre Peaceful Horse Ranch lies along seven miles of the Peace River, its banks thick with sabal palms, cypress and live oak, its woods and wetlands full of bald eagles, gopher tortoises, wood storks, sandhill cranes and ospreys.
Three years ago, Florida officials added that land to the list of environmentally sensitive properties they wanted to acquire, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But the ranch was valued at $14 million, a steep price at a time when the state Legislature had cut back money for the state’s land-buying program. Then a phosphate mining company bought it.
Last year, the state caught a break. The phosphate company, as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups, agreed to hand it over to the state for free. Mosaic mining officials would even throw in $2 million for upkeep.
But to the surprise of both Mosaic and the environmentalists who sued it, the state has said no thanks.
“They decided they were not in a position to take it at this time,” Mosaic phosphate spokeswoman Martha Monfried said.
Why would the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) turn down free land?
“Crazy, huh?” said Beverly Griffiths, who chairs the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group, the lead plaintiff in the legal settlement with Mosaic.
She said DEP officials had told her group that they were hampered by legislative budget cuts: “They said they didn’t have the money to restore it and maintain it and build the facilities that would be needed to make it a state park.”
However, DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said it wasn’t the money. Instead, he said the agency’s own high standards convinced him to turn down the donation. The DEP’s park experts toured the ranch, he said, and “determined the property was not appropriate to take on as a state park.”
“We have very high standards for our visitors’ experience,” said Donald Forgione a 29-year DEP veteran who heads up the award-winning state park system. “While there might be a need to conserve it, it doesn’t lend itself to becoming a state park at this time.”
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