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Amended state lands bill passes committee, heads to House floor

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A bill that would allow the Cabinet to give away state land passed its only committee stop on Tuesday with changes requested by environmental groups.

HB 7135 would establish “low impact agriculture” as a management goal for state lands. The bill also would allow the Cabinet to give away state parks and other state lands to adjacent landowners under an agreement to conserve both properties.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican from Fort Myers, said the bill would allow the state to expand conservation without having to buy more land. He said giving away the land would allow others to pay property taxes, which the state does not pay, and pay for maintaining the property

“I would reiterate that is an option, not an obligation,” Caldwell told the House Appropriations Committee. “It merely gives the (Cabinet) an opportunity to evaluate all the decisions they could possibly make in looking to expand our conservation profile.”

Last month when the bill was filed, environmental groups raised concerns about the state giving away land without proper reviews and creating water pollution from the undefined “low-impact agriculture.”

Over the weekend, Eric Draper of Audubon Florida told a television audience the bill showed how legislators are “out of synch” with voters who supported Amendment 1, the water and land conservation funding initiative.

Caldwell, chairman of the House State Affairs committee, said Tuesday he filed the amendments at the request of environmental groups that opposed the bill.

The bill was amended to require the Department of Environmental Protection to submit a request for state land to the state Acquisition and Restoration Council for review.

Another amendment defined low-impact agriculture as being consistent with the adopted land management plan of the conservation area and not adversely impacting the land’s conservation purpose.

Stephanie Kunkel, representing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, thanked Caldwell for the amendments. She said the group still had concerns that it would take up with Caldwell.

“We look forward to continuing to work with him on this,” she said.

State Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic leader from West Palm Beach, said he would vote against the bill because of the concerns raised by Kunkel.

“But I look forward to joining you on the floor if we can get some resolution to that,” Pafford told Caldwell.

The next stop for HB 7135 is the House floor. A proposed Senate committee bill, SPB 7086, is on the agenda Wednesday for the Senate Committee for Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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