With more than 100 land-buying projects facing a review and ranking by the state, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is encouraging project supporters to participate in a pair of public hearings over the next four weeks.
DEP and the state Acquisition and Restoration Council have launched a new ranking process for the 109 projects on the Florida Forever purchase list. Florida Forever supporters say the new ranking system could re-energize public support for program as it occurred in the 1990s when busloads of people traveled to hearings to support their favorite projects.
Florida Forever is the largest land-buying program in the nation with 2.4 million acres conserved since 1990. The program is in jeopardy after it received no money from the Legislature last year and nothing in the House version of the 2010-11 state budget. DEP and the ARC council since 2000 placed the projects in either “A” or “B” priority groups without numerical rankings.
The Legislature in 2008 directed DEP to rank each project in one of five categories: Critical natural lands, partnerships or regional incentive lands, substantially complete projects, climate change lands and conservation easements (less-than-fee lands).
The ARC council will hold hearings on Friday in Tallahassee and May 6 in Arcadia before the council ranks the projects in June. For more information, see a DEP news release with links at http://www.floridadep.org/secretary/news/2010/04/0412_01.htm .
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