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Matt Caldwell seeks support with amendments to state lands giveaway bill

Rep. Matt Caldwell said Tuesday he hopes a series of amendments he filed will make his HB 7135 state lands bill acceptable to environmental opponents.

The bill is scheduled to be considered at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

HB 7135 would allow the Cabinet to give away state parks and other state lands to adjacent landowners under an agreement to conserve both properties. The bill also would establish “low impact agriculture” as a management goal for state lands.

Caldwell, a Republican from North Fort Myers and chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said the bill would allow the state to expand conservation areas without having to buy more land.

But environmental group representatives raised concerns about the state giving away land without proper reviews and creating water pollution from the undefined “low-impact agriculture.”

Groups raising concerns were Sierra Club Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and The Nature Conservancy. During the weekend, Eric Draper of Audubon Florida told a television audience the bill showed how legislators are “out of synch” with voters who supported Amendment 1, the water and land conservation funding initiative.

One bill amendment filed by Caldwell would require the Department of Environmental Protection to submit a request for state land to the state Acquisition and Restoration Council for review. Another amendment would define low-impact agriculture as being consistent with the adopted land management plan of the conservation area and not adversely affecting the land’s conservation purpose.

Asked whether he was trying to gain environmental support with the amendments, Caldwell said Tuesday, “That’s absolutely the case.”

“The novel idea of giving the (Cabinet) the ability to set up an exchange is good,” Caldwell said. “I certainly would love to see their (environmental groups’) support if they find value in it.”

Representatives of Sierra Club Florida and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said the bill is more acceptable, but their groups are not supporting it yet. The Sierra Club has concerns that land could be given away if a single conservation benefit is shown rather than a “net” benefit, Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen said.

“In sum, it’s a much better bill than it was when it was a (proposed committee bill), but we can’t support it just yet,” Cullen said. “We hope to be able to (support it) in the future since, as Chair Caldwell said, it could increase the conservation footprint of the state.”

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

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