Commissioners need to hear from you that you support their conservation efforts.
Having redrawn its “Urban Growth Boundary” to accommodate foreseeable growth out to the year 2080 in the northern tier of the county, Osceola County commissioners stepped up efforts to protect the Northern Everglades from development encroachment at their meeting on Monday, September 21st.
County Commissioners approved a new growth boundary extending east to the county line incorporating part of the Deseret Ranch property. At the same time, commissioners acknowledged that more effort was needed to acquire easements from ranchers south of the urban boundary in the Northern Everglades to keep that area in ranching in perpetuity. County staffers explained the situation and the need to the commissioners in a memo which read:
- “The County’s UGB and its potential expansion with the North Ranch Sector Plan will provide more than enough capacity to accommodate the County’s future growth and development through the year 2080. This essentially provides for 2/3 of the County to continue as agricultural and rural lands.
- There is considerable interest on the part of rural landowners to participate in programs that purchase conservation easements on their lands.
- A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its associated resources. The easement is sold by the landowner and constitutes a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands. Easements offer landowners revenue from the sale of an easement while allowing them to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land as they have traditionally. Easements may also offer landowners potential tax benefits.
- For the public, conservation easements extend conservation dollars by protecting ecologically important private lands without using fee purchase, thus freeing limited funds for other projects. They also support continuation of the County’s agricultural economy and the jobs associated with it.”
Commissioners then approved the following agenda item:
“Direct County Staff to develop and present recommendations to the Board, within 120 days, concerning establishment and funding of a County program to acquire conservation easements and agricultural easements from willing sellers of properties outside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB); establish a new Legislative Priority for Osceola County to seek additional State funding for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the Florida Forever Less Than Fee Program, for the purpose of acquiring conservation easements and agricultural easements from willing sellers of properties outside the UGB; and authorize the County Manager and the County Legislative Liaison to advocate this priority item at upcoming meetings of the Osceola Legislative Delegation.
The most certain and immediate impact of the Osceola commission’s action will be to ramp up legislative delegation support for additional funding for the Rural and Family Lands easement program of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and for easement purchases through the Florida Forever program. Only $15 million was approved for the Rural and Family Lands program in 2015, and Florida Forever appropriations were also less than $20 million statewide. The county will proceed to evaluate re-establishing a county land acquisition program to aid the state in acquiring easements with the County Manger to report back to the County Commission making recommendations in 120 days.
This is a very important step for the protection of the Northern Everglades.