EAST COUNTY — State environmental officials are considering selling 19.4 acres in Lake Manatee State Park as part of a program to buy property deemed to have greater conservation value.
A preliminary surplus-lands list from the State Department of Environmental Protection, presented last week, includes the land on a list of 5,300 acres in Florida that the state will potentially sell.
“A lot of the park land on this list is out-parcels that people don’t tend to visit,” said Patrick Gillespie, a DEP spokesman. “The goal is to look at land that (is over-conserved) and buy more valuable land. The goal is to trade up.”
As part of the state’s Florida Forever land-buying program, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers agreed to put up $20 million in state funding in the new budget as well as allow the DEP to generate an additional $50 million through the sale of state-owned land deemed no longer critical to the state’s conservation efforts.
The $70 million will then be used to buy conservation considered more critical to preserve.
The initial list includes 169 proposed surplus sites totaling 5,331 acres in 67 state parks, forests and wildlife areas.
The DEP directed state management agencies, including the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the Florida Forest Service, to offer parcels to be considered for the list.
During two-and-a-half days, groups such as the Florida Water Quality Association, FWC, the Florida Department of Agriculture and the Natural Conservancy reviewed the list and evaluated parcels based on specific criteria — recreation value, species protection and proximity to development, to name a few.
The public does not use the land being considered at Lake Manatee State Park — a strip along the far western border on the west side of Dam Road.
However, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s natural resources department, it does contain a septic drain field, which removes contaminates from a septic tank serving facilities in the park.
A septic tank is part of an underground wastewater treatment system that collects sewage and allows it to decompose before draining through the field.
“This property is of some value to the park,” Hunsicker said. “I hope the state recognizes that value.”
If the state were to sell the land, the park would have to find another place for the septic field, Hunsicker said. He said the current location is ideal in that it is outside the park’s drinking-water reservoir.
Gillespie says the 5,331 acres being considered for sale are less than 0.2% of the 3 million acres the state holds through its board of trustees.
Officials discussed the list at a public workshop Aug. 21, at the DEP headquarters in Tallahassee.
An online hearing, called a webinar, followed the next two days.
The surplus-lands list will now undergo more hearings and reviews, with Gov. Scott and three members of the Florida Cabinet making the final decision on whether to sell the land.
Based on public comment, the DEP will prepare a more refined list by October or November.
A list of any land the state sells first must be sent to state agencies, universities and colleges, which all have the first option to lease the land.
If there is no interest, cities and counties can purchase the land at appraised value, Gillespie said.
If there is no interest still, it can be put up for bid.
Should a bid be offered, the governor and cabinet must approve the sale and verify the land is no longer needed for conservation purposes, he said.
Although Manatee County has no control of the land at Lake Manatee State Park, everybody has a stake in it, Hunsicker says.
“To let go of less-valuable land for more valuable land seems reasonable on its face,” Hunsicker said. “But the devil is in the details. If it’s your favorite parcel that’s up for sale … there are some that are very valuable to people.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].