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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Children, the elderly and the enviornment, where will Scott stop


Florida's premier land acquisition and conservation program — Florida Forever — is facing an uncertain future.

Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget contains no funding for the program. Additionally, Scott has proposed major changes to the distribution of Documentary Stamp Tax revenue — the backbone of Florida Forever — and the elimination of dozens of trust funds intended to protect Florida Forever funds.

This is a travesty.

It also causes informed Floridians to wonder if our new governor is aware of Florida Forever's enormous success in preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of sensitive environmental land.

Or if he even cares.

Florida Forever was authorized by the 2000 Legislature for a period of 10 years and invested $300 million of taxpayers' money each year to acquire preservation land. The program's predecessor, Preservation 2000, was created in 1990 and funded at the same level. Incredibly, these two programs are responsible for the permanent acquisition of 2.4 million acres statewide.

To date, Florida Forever has protected:

• 53,600 acres of springs and spring sheds

• 5,190 acres of fragile coastline

• 300,000 acres of sustainable forest land

• 158,700 acres of working agricultural land

The Treasure Coast has benefited greatly from these programs. More than 23,300 acres have been purchased and set aside by Florida Forever in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Included in these purchases are 15,436 acres in Pal-Mar in Martin County, 996 acres in Ranch Reserve in Indian River County, and 354 acres in the Indian River Lagoon Blueway in St. Lucie County.

More than 21,000 acres of additional land on the Treasure Coast is slated for acquisition by the Florida Forever board of trustees. However, the completion of these projects depends on the continuation of the program.

Conservation-minded Floridians were relieved to learn Scott's budget did not included closing 53 state parks — as initially reported. But this relief has been tempered by grave concerns about the future of Florida Forever.

Scott, for the sake of Florida's environment and future generations, must continue funding this valuable program.

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