Land Acquisition 1963-1990 – Part II of 9

This is available at http;//www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm.  Authors are James A Farr and O Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands.

Land Acquisition 1963- 1990

Although we do not wish to dwell on the history of environmental land acquisition in Florida, a brief overview is instructive.   Our programmatic history illustrates the evolution of the manner in which lands are selected for acquisition and the type of funding sources we have used over the past several decades.

Prior to 1963, Florida had no established acquisition programs.   All acquisitions were the result of either direct legislative line-item appropriations for specific parcels or donations from private individuals or the federal government.   The latter included several depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps projects that are now our oldest State Parks.  In addition, the Florida Division of Forestry purchased over 3000,000 acres that are now part of our system of State Forests, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission purchased over 120,000 acres that are now part of our system of State Wildlife management Areas.

Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF)

In l963, the Florida Legislature began the first of a series of land acquisition programs for conservation and recreation purposes, all with dedicated funding sources.   The Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) was created to fund a newly-created Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Program, designed primarily to purchase land for parks and recreation areas.   The source of funds was a five percent tax on outdoor clothing and equipment, including bathing suits, which generated approximately $1.5 million per year.  This was an attempt to fund the program through a tax by people who would use the lands after they were purchased.   Lands proposed for acquisition were selected by staff of the Division of Recreation and Parks in the Florida Department of Natural Resources (FDNR, now part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection), with a final list aproved by the Executive Director of FDNR.

The tax on outdoor clothing and equipment proved to be very unpopular, referred to derogatorily as the “bathing suit tax.”  In 1968, the Florida Legislature did away with the tax and began funding LATF through the sale of recreation bonds in the amount of $20 million.   These bonds were paid for through funds collected from documentary stamp taxes paid on real estate transactions.  Thus, the funding was switched from a tax on potential users of conservation and recreation lands to taxes on real estate transactions and financial documents (i.e. mortgages and other loans, stocks, bonds, etc.)  The development that was causing a loss of open space in Florida thus became the source of funds for conserving that open space.

Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL)

In 1972, the Florida Legislature passed the Land Conservation Act, which created the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program.  Later that year Florida voters approved a ballot referendum that authorized the sale of $200 million in EEL bonds and another $40 million in recreational bonds.  Debt service on the bonds for both programs continued to be paid from proceeds of our documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions.

The EEL program was designed specifically to protect environmentally unique and irreplaceable lands in the state and was not designed to have outdoor resource-based recreation as its primary goal.   Proposals foracquisition of specific properties could come from any source and included individual citizens, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local governments.  All projects were evaluated by staff from as many as twelve environmental departments and divisions, and, after field inspections of sites that passed an initial screening and public hearings to hear input from interested parties, department and division heads prepared a ranked list of projects based on the environmental resources.  Recommendations were made to the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, who made the final administrative decisions as to which parcels of land to purchase and how to appraise and negotiate the property, with final purchases being approved by Florida’s Governor and an independently elected Cabinet.

Conservation and Recreation Lands Program (CARL) [Some Tate’s Hell land purchase through this trust fund]

Partly in response to a major scandal in which the Executive Director of the Florida DNR was convicted of taking kickbacks from one acquisition transaction, the Florida Legislature replaced and expanded the EEL program in 1979 with the creation of the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Program.  The CARL Program and its authorizing statute (originally Chapter 253, Florida Statues, but now included in Chapter 259) called for a recurring revenue stream (instead of bond revenues) and significantly altered the administration and oversight of land acquisition activity.  From 1979 until 1987, the CARL Trust Fund received funds from an excise tax on mineral extraction (primarily phosphate, but also oil, gas and other solid minerals).  From 1987 through 1990, it also received funds from documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions.    From 1979 through 1990, the CARL Program protected approximately 181,000 of conservation and recreation lands at a cost of nearly $356 million.

The significant administrative changes in the Conservation and Recreation Lands Act persist in concept to this day.  They included the creation of the Land Acquisition Selection Committee (later renamed the Land Acquisition Advisory Council, then the Land Acquisition and Management Advisory Council when it added the role of overseeing management planning on conservation lands), consisting of six environmental agency heads, to select and rank projects, with the final lists presented directly to our Governor and Cabinet.  The Committee consisted of the Executive directors of the Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the Directors of the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Forestry, and the Secretaries of the Department of Environmental Regulation and the Department of Community Affairs, the latter being the state land planning agency and containing the Division of Emergency Management.  The Governor and Cabinet could accept or reject the entire list or vote to removed individual projects, but they could not alter the acquisition priorities recommended by the Committee.

The other significant administrative changes accompanying the CARL Program were the establishment of the Division of State Lands within the DNR and its separate bureaus for mapping, apraisal and negotiation of acquisitions.  Procedures for appraisal, negotiation, and closing were spelled out in detail, with sufficient checks and openness to ensure that there could be no further illegal activities in the acquisition process.

Save Our Coast (SOC)

There were two significant expansions to Florida’s abiity to purchase conservation lands in 1981, both at the urging of Governor Bob Graham.  The first was authorization by the Florida Legislature to sell $275 million in bonds to purchased lands along Florida’s coast, and the second was establishment of the Save Our rivers program (see below).   The debt service on the bonds for coastal land acquisition was paid from documentary stamp taxes dedicated to the LATF program.  Although known as Save Our Coast (SOC) Program, the program for purchasing coastal lands was implemented as part of the LATF Program, which had been reduced to purchasing only small parcels and inholdings and additions to State Parks after the creation of the CARL Program.  Save Our Coast as a response to the growing awareness that Florida’s  beaches are an important recreational asset vital to our tourist economy and the realization that coastal lands were being lost to development at a rate disproportional to loss of other lands.  The SOC program resulted in the purchase of more than 73 miles of coastline, a total of more than 73,000 acres, and significantly increased the number of State Parks conserving our valuable coastal resources and providing invaluable recreational opportunities for residents and tourists.

Save Our Rivers (SOR)

The State of Florida is divided into five Water Management Districts (WMD) based loosely on major river drainage basins in the state.  The Districts are agencies of the state, each overseen by an executive director who answers to a governing board appointed by the Governor.  In 1981, the Florida Legislature created the Water Management Lands Trust Fund, also funded from documentary stamp tax revenues from real estate transactions, for the acquisition and restoration of water resources.   The funds for this Save Our Rivers (SOR) Program were distributed among the five Water Management Districts based roughly on relative population within the districts: 30 percent to the South Florida WmD, 25 percent to Southwest WMD, 25% to St. Johns river WMD, 10 percent to Suwannee river WMD, and 10 percent to Northwest Florida WMD.  Funding for the SOR program has been significantly increased since 1990 (see below), with the result that the five Districts have now purchased more than 1.7 million acres of land through this program.  Land acquisition for the much-publicized restoration of the florida Everglades has been funded to a great extent from the SOR program of the South Florida WMD.  Title to lands purchased with SOR funds is held by the Districts, not the state.

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