Hillsborough County Commission Approves ELAPP Cone Ranch Purchase

02/17/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted 6-0 today to transfer Cone Ranch from the county water utility to its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP).

The purchase will take place using $11.8 million in ELAPP bond money, which Utilities and Commerce Administrator Mike Merrill said was less than what he was hoping for.

Water Utility Director Paul Vanderploog said that not transferring the land for the price of a full assessed value that may have totaled $100 million may end up hurting water consumers, given the expected costs of future capital improvement projects and coming into compliance with new EPA water pollution guidelines.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham supported the motion, but said that he’d like to see a study determining whether the land should have been sold at a higher price.

Mariella Smith of the ELAPP General Committee said that it’s about time the transfer of Cone Ranch to ELAPP happened. She said that the area is a vital water resource.

Smith said that the rain that falls on Cone Ranch’s generally turns into runoff, but that once the lands are restored – something the transfer will allow – water stores in the area will be replenished to the benefit of consumers.

Smith added that restoring wetlands is a cheaper way of coming into compliance with the EPA standards, because increasing the land’s filtering and holding capacity would prevent pollutants from entering Florida’s waterways. This, she said, is cheaper than cleaning polluted water.

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