STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of July 12, 2012)
Governor Rick Scott has ordered the St. Johns River Water Management District to review all of its conservation lands and make recommendations about which lands should be sold or traded away by the end of the year.
“Everything is on the table,” says Robert Christianson, director of operations and land resources for the agency.
That includes state parks, land bought with money approved by voters specifically for land conservation, and lands bought under the Florida Forever program – which may not be forever, after all.
Over the past 30 years, St. Johns has accumulated 600,000 acres of wetlands and other environmentally critical property to preserve waterways and manage the water supply in the 16 Florida counties it serves.
Indian River County has the second-largest amount of St. Johns owned land – 90,000 acres – and all of it is being considered for possible disposal, including pristine wetlands around Blue Cypress Lake and other ecologically irreplaceable parcels most people assumed would be protected forever.
Christianson says environmentalists and other district residents should not be alarmed by the review. As he explains it, the process is science-based and only marginal conservation lands no longer needed for water management purposes will be recommended for sale or alternative uses.
But he admits that, regardless of the results of the scientific review of land importance, disposal decisions will be policy driven.