DEP cancels deal after NY company fails to deliver state trails sponsors

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A year after signing a concession agreement with a New York company to deliver state bike trail sponsorships with advertising signs, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has canceled the deal.

The reason: Bikepath Country of Mahopac, N.Y., did not deliver any sponsors or money to the state after lobbying for legislation in 2012 to provide sponsorships.

SB 268 in 2012 authorized DEP to seek sponsorship agreements at seven paved trails. The bill faced opposition from some trail users who said the commercial signs would intrude on the outdoors experience.

But bill sponsors said they expected the legislation to result in big bucks — perhaps in the millions of dollars — to provide needed maintenance for state trails.

But those expectations began fading in 2013 after a DEP request for trail sponsorships resulted in no sponsorship offers.

Instead, Bikepath Country Florida LLC provided the only response, offering to take over the program and pay the state 30 percent of revenue after expenses. The projected payment would be $28,305 the first year and $32,040 the following year.

Bikepath Country never provided any of the quarterly payments required for in the contract since it was signed on April 1, 2014, a DEP spokeswoman said Tuesday. In March, less than a year after DEP issued a press release announcing the contract, the department informed the company that it was canceling the agreement.

“The contract was not renewed because it was not successful,” DEP spokeswoman Mara Burger said. “We do not know why the contractor was not successful in securing sponsorships.”

Ivan Bellotto, president of Bikepath Country in New York state, on Wednesday declined to comment in response to questions that he requested in writing. Bikepath Country Florida still has four lobbyists registered with the Legislature.

State Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton, sponsored the House version of the bill named in honor of a 50-year-old Boca Raton firefighter, John Anthony Wilson, who was killed while bicycle riding. Slosberg said Tuesday he still thinks trail sponsorship is a great program.

“How come you can’t get sponsorships to sponsor rails to trails?” he said. “It just sounds like someone to me isn’t doing their job.”

Asked whether he was blaming the company or DEP, Slosberg responded, “It’s the state of Florida’s money.”

“Why shouldn’t someone go and try to get sponsorships?” he said. “I made it the law.”

Sponsorship signs for the trails in the legislation were limited to 16 square feet in size. The legislation faced opposition from Citizens for Scenic Florida and the Florida Trail Association, said the signs would intrude upon the outdoors experience.

The seven trails made available for sponsorship by DEP were Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, Blackwater Heritage Trail, Tallahassee-St. Marks State Trail, Nature Coast State Trail, Withlacoochee State Trail, General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail.

DEP will wait until the 2015 legislative session is over to determine how to proceed with the sponsorship program, Burger said.

Those seven state trails would be transferred from DEP to the Florida Department of Transportation under SB 918, a comprehensive water bill that also creates the SunTrail non-motorized trail network at DOT. DEP still would have authority to enter into sponsorship agreements at other trails.

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