Budget conference: State sets aside $23M to buy Rattlesnake Key
Rattlesnake Key. Image via Fox 13 Tampa Bay.

The island south of the Sunshine Sky should soon be a state park.

A planned state park in Manatee County just got a major lift courtesy of pandemic rescue funds. The Florida Legislature’s proposed budget puts up $23 million for the purchase of Rattlesnake Key.

The funding will be contingent on the receipt of federal coronavirus state fiscal recovery funds. The money will be used to buy the island south of the Sunshine Skyway.

Sen. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, said it’s not just about setting aside a new park that right now can only be accessed by boat. It’s also a critical environmental project.

“Preserving Rattlesnake Key is instrumental to protect our waterway from commercial development, to preserve fish and wildlife, and create a park and recreation area for all Floridians to enjoy for generations to come,” he said.

“Rattlesnake Key was my number one funding priority heading into the 2022 Legislative Session. I couldn’t be happier.”

Rep. Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, carried the bill in the House, where he had requested just $2.5 million toward the project. A funding request from the Tampa Real Estate Investment Company sought the funds to use for the acquisition and suggested more money would be sought from other sources.

The money will be used to “finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality; preserve fish and wildlife; provide park and recreation for all Floridians; provide land acquisition as an alternative to commercial development.”

The island itself has been identified as a target acquisition for the Florida Forever program and has been eyed for purchase since 1996. It’s considered by officials to be a project of regional importance well beyond Manatee County. Located closest to the Terra Ceia community, it will be accessible from around Tampa Bay.

Late last year, Manatee County commissioners voted to contribute up to $3 million toward the purchase price

“The funds used for this acquisition will result in the direct preservation of sensitive environmental lands located in Manatee County,” the funding request explains. “These conservation lands could act as a recreation component for the general public with access to Tampa Bay. It will also enhance the ecology of the region to include healthy sea grass beds, fisheries and improved water quality.”

In addition to Rattlesnake Key, lawmakers set aside another $335 million for land buys using fiscal recovery funds Wednesday evening. The list also includes $200 million for a fuel tax holiday, $115 million for Capitol complex renovations and $100 million for a storage reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee.

The House and Senate also released their “sprinkle lists” Wednesday, which detail an additional $759 million for local projects, such as infrastructure, springs restoration, health care programs and pay raises.

The release of the list is a sign budget negotiations are wrapped and the Legislature will hit its new planned end date of Monday, March 14.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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