Category Archives: Threatened

STEPS TO ACQUISITION – Part VI of 9 parts

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

The actual acquisition process occurs in several discrete steps spelled out in detail in Chapter 259, Florida Statues, and by administrative rule.

After a project is approved by the Governor and Cabinet, and if it is deemed to be sufficiently important for acquisition to begin on at least one of the ownerships within the project, it is given to our Bureau of Survey and Mapping for title research and preparation of an appraisal map.  The appraisal map is not a survey, but rather is based on plats, aerial phointerpretation and other information available from public records.  It typically delineates wetland and upland acreages, known easements on the property, and any other features that might affect the value of the land.

The complete appraisal map is then given to the Bureau of Appraisal.   Appraisals are conducted by private-sector professionally-licensed property appraisers under contract to the state.  For parcels whose value is estimated to be $1,000,000 or less, one appraiser is used.   For parcels values above $1,000,000, two independent appraisers are used.  Their appraisals are then submitted to a third review appraiser, also under contract to the state, who evaluated the work to ensure compliance with statutory and rule requirements and to make a professional judgment as to suitability of comparable sales and other factors.  The review appraiser then submits the finished report to the Bureau.  If the higher of two appraisals exceeds the lower by more than 20 percent, a third appraiser may be asked to provide another opinion.   The higher of the two appraisals or the higher of the two closest appraisals in the event of a third appraisal becomes the maximum price that we are allowed to pay for the property unless a majority of the Governor and Cabinet votes to exceed that maximum.   Under Florida law, the results of the appraisals and the establishment of the maximum price we can pay are not revealed to the potential seller until two weeks prior to the meeting of the Governor and Cabinet at which approval of the purchase will be considered.

The appraisal results are given to an acquisition agent in our Bureau of Land Acquisition.  The agent then develops a negotiation strategy that must be approved by management. This strategy spells out the opening offer and the maximum that we will offer.  The Governor and Cabinet typically do not like to pay the full appraisal value of property, so the Bureau must balance the importance of the resources we wish to protect with the insistence by our elected officials that we negotiate a good deal for the State.  Each step in the negotiation itself (initial offer, counteroffers and final agreed upon price) is done in writing.   When the negotiations are complete, the acquisition agent, with our legal staff, prepares a contract for sale that must be agreed to by both parties.

We must emphasize that Florida’s acquisition program depend on willing sellers.  Although we have the statutory authority to use the power of eminent domain to acquire conservation land under certain circumstances, we have only done so very rarely, and then very reluctantly.   In the vast majority of cases, if an owner is unwilling to sell his or her land, we will not pursue it.

If the final negotiated purchase price exceeds $250,000, the acquisition must be approved by the Governor and Cabinet at one of their biweekly public meetings.   The Cabinet and their staff receive agenda packages with details of the property being acquired, assignment of a manger, negotiation steps, final price, and the results of the appraisals.  It is at this time that the maximum price the state could pay is revealed publicly.

When the Cabinet approves the purchase, the acquisition package then goes to our closing agents.  It is at this time that a final survey is done, any title problems are resolved, and an environmental site assessment is performed to identify and remove any potential hazardous substances on site.   The survey determines the final acreage, and the purchase price is adjusted to reflect deviation from the acreage estimated from the original appraisal map.  Finally, the state pays the landowner and takes title to the property.

The final step in the acquisition process is to lease the property to the designed manager of the property.  This is done by the Bureau of Public Land Administration, which oversees all property the state owns, including conservation lands, submerged lands, and any other land owned by the state for other purposes (schools, prisons, state office buildings, etc.)

PRESERVATION 2000 (P-2000) – 1991-2000 Part III of 9

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

In 1989, Governor Bob Martinez appointed a Commission on the Future of Florida’s Environment to examine threats to Florida’s environmental health and suggest portential solutions.   The Commission realized that Florida’s then-current pace of acquiring conservation lands was not occurring fast enough to keep up with our rapid population increase and concomitant development pressure.   There were already more projects on state and regional acquisition priority lists than could be purchased under existing funding levels, and there were many more areas of the state with significant natural communities and listed species that had not yet been proposed for acquisition.  Commission staff estimated that there was an unmet acquisition need of more than $5 billion.   The Commission also recognized that land prices were escalating faster than the rate of inflation and that it would be advantageous to sell long-term bonds to fund land acquisition rather than to rely on the year-to-year collection of documentary stamp taxes.   They recommended that the state begin a much more aggressive program of land acquisition to protect more of the state’s natural environment before it was lost to development.

With the support of the Governor, the Florida Legislature responded in 1990, with passage of the landmark Preservation 2000 Act.   This act anticipated the sale of $3 billion in bonds over a 10-year period, $300 million per year, from 1991-2000.   The funds were to be given to the CARL program (50%), the Save Our Rivers program of the five water management districts (30 percent), a newly-created Florida Communities Trust aimed at helped local governments (10 percent), 2.9 percent each to the Division of Recreation and Parks, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission, and the Division of Forestry to purchase inholdings and additions to State Parks, Wildlife Management Areas and State Forests, respectively, and finally 1.3 percent for recreational trails.   The CARL and SOR programs continued to operate essentially as they had in the past, only with a substantially larger budget.  The Rails to Trails Program and the three Inholdings and Additions Program established their own internal agency procedures for selecting lands to be purchased.   The Florida Communities trust, however, was an entirely new program that needs a bit of explanation.

Florida Communities Trust (FCT)

In 1985, the Florida Legislature enacted a significant Growth Management Act that required all local governments in Florida (counties and incorporated municipalities) to prepare a detailed Comprehensive Plan, backed by extensive data and analysis, with goals, objectives and policies to guide development, provide infrastructure, protect natural resources, and provide resource-based recreation for their citizens.   The statewide oversight and approval of these comprehensive plans is a function of the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

The Florida Communities Trust (FCT) was actually established in 1989, but it did not receive funding until passage of the Preservation 2000 Act.   The program is housed in the Department of Community Affirs and was designed to assist local governments in implementing the conservation, recreation and open space, and coastal elements of their comprehensive plans.  Although the enabling legislation contemplates a broader function, funds from P-2000 were restricted to acquisition of lands in furtherance of outdoor, recreation and conservation, and not other activities related to local government assistance not directly related to land acquisition.

FCT has a governing board consisting of the Secretaries of the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Environmental Protection, plus four members appointed by the Governor.   Application for projects may come only from local governments or non-profit organizations, and they are scored using a numerical scoring system that evaluates not only the quality of the natural resources on sites, but also how well the projects satisfy requirements of the local governments’ comprehensive plans.  Local governments are expected to provide matching funds for land acquisition, although smaller governments are exempt from this requirement.  Title to lands purchased through FCT is held by the local government with a reverter clause in the deed that gives title to the state if the local government does not manage the land for the purpose for which it was acquired.

Gopher Tortoise in Tate’s Hell photo by Marylyn Feaver

P1020412“Gopher tortoises are long-lived reptiles that occupy upland habitat throughout Florida including forests, pastures, and yards.   They dig deep burrows for shelter and forage on low-growing plants.   Gopher tortoises share these burrows with more than 350 other species, and are therefore referred to as a keystone species.  Conservation of gopher tortoises depends not only on the efforts of FWC and other conservation groups, but also on Florida’s citizens.  There are many ways to co-exist with these gentle land tortoises…..

In Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as Threatened.  Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law.  Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the FWC before capturing and relocating tortoises.  Applications for permits are available on the FWC gopher tortoise online permitting site.  Oneline applications are preferred to facilitate a fast review process.   Before applying for a permit, please review the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines or visit the individual permit webpages by following the links on the right side of your computer screen.”  (From Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site, Gopher Tortoises.”)