Florida officials consider selling parts of Lake Manatee, Terra Ceia state parks

Officials consider selling parts of Lake Manatee, Terra Ceia state parks

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- Parts of Terra Ceia Preserve and Lake Manatee state parks are included on a list of 5,300 acres that Florida officials are considering selling as "surplus" land.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection list includes 19.4 acres at Lake Manatee State Park, and several parcels at Terra Ceia Preserve State Park totaling 13.1 acres, according to maps on the department website.

The land at Lake Manatee State Park in East Manatee County constitutes a strip along the far western border on the west side of Dam Road.

The land at Terra Ceia includes several parcels separated from the main body of the park by Interstate 275 and U.S. 19 at the approach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Although state officials said the list

was preliminary and would be thoroughly vetted, environmentalists expressed dismay and planned to oppose the sale of some of the lands under consideration.

Any land to be sold by the state first must be noticed to state agencies, universities and colleges, which all have the first option to lease the land. If there is no interest, cities and counties can purchase the land at appraised value, according to Patrick Gillespie, department press secretary.

If there is no interest still, it can be put up for bid. Should a bid be offered, the governor and cabinet must approve the sale and verify the land is no longer needed for conservation purposes, he said.

Director Charlie Hunsicker of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department was taken by surprise by the land possibly being made available for sale.

"We support the continued public ownership...of the land at Lake Manatee State Park, due to its proximity to our drinking water reservoir," said Hunsicker.

He said he hoped Terra Ceia Preserve officials would continue advocating for protection of the parcels.

The roughly 5,300 acres on the initial list comprises less than 0.2 percent of all Board of Trustees-owned land, which is roughly 3 million acres, state officials said.

"Ultimately, our goal is to upgrade what conservation land the state owns, and buy more valuable conservation land," said Gillespie. "Florida has the most robust conservation land-buying program in the nation, and the department intends to purchase even more valuable conservation land to protect our natural resources."

The parcels under consideration in Terra Ceia have no relation to a proposed private development called "Skyway Preserve," which envisions a land swap with the state at the south end of the Skyway Bridge, said Dee Ann Miller, deputy press secretary for the department.

The state still has not made a decision about that land-swap proposal, she said Wednesday.

State environmental advocates began voicing concerns as they learned about the tentative land sales.

"My feeling is a lot of things may end up being objected to," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, referring to the surplus land sites, which are scattered across many counties in addition to Manatee County.

"I think you will see objections from people like me, but it also will get objections from recreational users -- hunting, picnicking, bird watching. In most cases, there's people using the land," said Draper.

The department conducted a scientific environmentally based assessment of all conservation land, said Gillespie.

The department plans to focus on protecting springs, water quality and quantity sources and military buffering, he said.

A hearing was slated for Wednesday in Tallahassee, with an online version, called a webinar, set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday ; and another set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.

Following a meeting in Tallahassee in September, the department plans to host regional meetings throughout the state to gather additional comment. The meetings will be announced on a new web page.

Properties will likely start to be noticed as available in October or November, Gillespie said.

Draper said environmentalists had made a "reluctant agreement" last spring with Gov. Rick Scott, approving the sale of surplus land as a way of generating money for additional acquisitions.

"We asked for $50 million in surplus, and $50 million in general revenue for the Florida Forever program," he said, referring to the state land conservation fund. "We got $20 million in general revenue and $50 million from surplus land sales."

Experts used criteria from 65 categories to provide a scientifically valid list of possibilities for sale, officials said.

Several real estate agents and specialists in land sales contacted by the Herald said they could not even guess at the value of such lands.

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

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