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Cabinet aides tee up land deals for Tuesday vote

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A plan for the state of Florida to buy $6.6 million in new state land easements took another step toward approval this week.

Aides to Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet officers heard plans to buy two huge swaths of land in Osceola County, south of St. Cloud, for conservation purposes. Such land is set aside to help stave off development and preserve biodiversity.

John Brown of the Florida Forest Service presented the plan at the Wednesday morning meeting, held in the Capitol’s Lower Level.

Under the proposal the state would buy land within Adams Ranch, a fourth-generation cattle operation, and Camp Lonesome, another massive ranching area owned by Osceola County, as “perpetual conservation easements” whereby the land would come under state management.

The land would be overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Forest Service Rural and Family Lands Protection Program — “We should work on shortening that,” Brown quipped — and would see the state spend $5.4 million for an 3,245-acre plot and nearly $1.2 million for another 528 acres.

Under the terms of the deal, active ranches can continue to operate on their land.

An affirmative vote on Tuesday would create the 23rd and 24th perpetual conservation easements acquired by the program. If approved, the deal would expand its purview to some 18,000 acres overall.

The Department of Environmental Protection already monitors thousands of nearby acres through the Adams Ranch Florida Forever project. New state-managed land in Camp Lonesome would neighbor federal- and county-owned easements already extant in the region.

Both tracts, Brown said Wednesday, scored in the most favorable tier in a 2015 Rural and Family Lands study which ranked prospective targets for state acquisition.

The unusual composition of Florida’s four-member Cabinet — last altered by voters in 1998 elections — means the deal will need any trio among Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to secure passage.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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