(NSF) — Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet agreed Tuesday to spend $1.095 million for 6.4 acres along the Gulf Coast if the federal government will cover at least half the cost.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, noting the Northwest Florida land may be difficult to develop, said he had “reservations” about spending the money without a guarantee of the federal offset. “I don’t like feeding the beast, but If we’ve got the ability to ensure that the (federal Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration) dollars are there, and there is an environmental kicker to it, then we’re using the federal dollars, we’re complementing the military and at the same time protecting the environment,” said Patronis, who represented the area when he was first elected to the state House.
The land within the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve in Gulf County is subject to a 2015 agreement between the U.S. Air Force and the state Department of Environmental Protection that could result in a restrictive easement being placed over the land to protect the Air Force’s flight operations.
The agreement, which covers several Florida Forever projects, would require the federal agency to pay 50 percent or more of the purchase price if it wants to restrict the land to protect military operations. A Cabinet staff report noted that the Air Force has set aside $2 million for restrictive easements on any parcels located within a designated Special Use Airspace Area that overlaps with Florida Forever projects.
The Panhandle land is considered one of the least-disturbed coastal bay systems in Florida. Acquiring the parcel of land “will protect the basin and nearshore waters” and will prevent “further loss and degradation of these coastal wetlands through development,” according to the staff report.
Source: News Service of Florida