Manatee officials acquire land for expansion of Robinson Preserve

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 28, 2012 

MANATEE -- Officials on Thursday concluded a deal to add 150 acres to the popular Robinson Preserve.

The Mosaic Company Foundation donated about $3.2 million to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which bought the land and then conveyed it to the county, according to Charlie Hunsicker, the county director of natural resources.

The Mosaic Company Foundation, which is affiliated with the fertilizer company, will also have its name on an educational center planned for the expansion area, Hunsicker said.

The new area will enlarge Robinson Preserve, located in northwest Bradenton on the shores of Tampa Bay, to 637 areas.

"We are ecstatic the Robinson Preserve expansion transaction is closed," said Will Robinson, a member of the Robinson family and an attorney who worked on the deal. "My family is extremely proud of the Robinson Preserve, and look forward to its expansion, and permanent conservation of this beautiful property."

Added Hunsicker: "It's been a banner day for Manatee County's efforts to extend protection to our coastal environments and open up new opportunities for passive pursuit of recreation out at Robinson Preserve."

With Mosaic's donation came naming rights. An educational center on the property will be named: "The Mosaic Center for Nature Exploration, Science & Technology," Hunsicker said.

The land for the expansion sits just south of the preserve, which is along Bradenton's northwest edge. Both the preserve's original land and that devoted to its expansion will carry the name: "Robinson Preserve," county commissioners have previously decided.

Environmentalist Sandra Ripberger was glad the whole property was not renamed for Mosaic, a company that operates phosphate mines in east Manatee County.

"We did not really want them to accept this money for the land, and name it after Mosaic because, at this point, they'll be looking for

approval to mine Wingate (for phosphate)," said Ripberger, chair of the Manatee County Conservation Committee for the Sierra Club of Manatee/Sarasota.

"And it does put the county in a compromised position if they've accepted the funds for the expansion," she said.

Asked if the phosphate company-affiliated donor bothered him, Hunsicker replied, "It doesn't bother me that the foundation was the principal contributor for acquisition of this property, for their mission as a foundation worldwide in part is protecting critical water resources, and certainly we in the community agree that lower Tampa Bay and the Manatee River are critical water resources to be supported by our stewardship at Robinson Preserve."

The Mosaic Company Foundation's donation will kick off the first phase of an $8.9 million capital campaign to enhance the preserve, according to the conservation foundation.

The deal already had the blessing of the Manatee County Commission, which recently OK'd legal documents to make the acquisition possible, Robinson said.

"Words cannot express how truly grateful my family and I are to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and the people at the county who worked so hard to get this done," said Bill Robinson, president of Robinson Farms, and Will Robinson's father. "It is because of the foundation and the county's commitment to the environment that the residents of Manatee County will have a community gem to enjoy and enrich our lives for years and years to come."

Land once destined to become a subdivision of luxury homes and a golf course now will be restored to coastal habitat, county officials have said.

"The Mosaic Company Foundation is pleased to support Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast in their meaningful habitat conservation work," said its board president, Mark Kaplan, in a statement. "We share this priority of conservation, and we're proud to support the opportunity to expand Robinson Preserve."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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