Activists request Florida Forever funding statewide and at Sacred Lands
In his budget request for the current year, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has included funding for the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands through a program called Florida Forever.
But it is uncertain whether the stateâs legislature will resume funding the program.
Democratic state legislator Rick Kriseman, who represents parts of Pinellas County, says he hopes his colleagues will set aside money for maintenance of protected lands as well as purchase. But heâs not sure the Republican-controlled legislature will do either.
Iâve talked about this for a long time. And itâs all about priorities, and itâs all about long-term planning, and the legislature doesnât do either of those very well. And with a $3 billion budget deficit heading in, I think all of us ought to be concerned not only about funding for Florida Forever, but for a lot of other programs and opportunities when it comes to renewables and alternative energy, and funding for incentivizing those. Iâm very concerned about those issues.
Kriseman and other Florida Forever supporters gathered Saturday morning to explore Sacred Lands, a small, privately-owned property in St. Peteâs Jungle Prada neighborhood on the shore of Boca Ciega Bay. It was one of eight simultaneous âTake a Hike, Floridaâ events across the state drawing attention to the need for land protection. The Sacred Lands property includes a mound created by Tocobago Indians before the 16th century, and is part of State Rep. Janet Longâs district.
I never knew that this was here. And itâs a gem right in the middle of our very crowded and overpopulated county thatâs just so pristine and natural that it would just be a travesty if we didnât find a way to salvage it and keep it this way.
According to Long, one way to keep privately owned natural areas such as Sacred Lands in a pristine state is to use public funds - through projects like Florida Forever - to purchase and protect them.
Florida Forever funding is the last bastion of hope that we have in our state to provide some natural resources for the future generations that come behind us. So from my perspective, itâs a matter of priorities. And Iâd like to surely see that there is some funding to make sure that areas like this are able to stay the way they are.
Last Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council passed a resolution joining 100 other cities and four former governors to urge the legislature to resume Florida Forever funding. Council member Karl Nurse said he hopes the state will fund at least 10% of the amount Florida Forever got two years ago.
Thereâs no state in the country that is under more pressure for development than Florida, even though weâre in a lull right now. This is actually the time when itâs the cheapest to buy lands that otherwise we would be in danger of losing. And I think another thing that operates here is that these are often the lands that are our watersheds. And frankly, Florida is going to hit the wall on water before we hit the wall on energy. And so if we can preserve some of these lands, it greatly increases our ability to provide clean water for people. So itâs a wise investment, itâs just that obviously, itâs tough times.
State Sen. Charlie Justice hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Bill Young in November. Justice urged the dozen or so people gathered at Sacred Lands to contact state legislators and fund Florida Forever.
The importance of preserving lands like this, especially in urban areas like Pinellas County is so critical. Itâs critical because - I have young children. I want them to be able to enjoy some of the nature that we have, that-Rick and I grew up in West St. Pete - thatâs so important in urban areas.
Erik Anderson, the president of the nonprofit that owns Sacred Lands, lives in the house his father built in the 1950s. Peacocks roam the trails and shell mounds can be seen on the property. But Anderson is concerned that the land could fall into the hands of developers unless there is a public source of funding to purchase and protect it.
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Well, itâs been a concern of my father and myself how to preserve this property. Itâs a very unique part of Florida that doesnât exist in many places. And even archaeologically itâs interesting; horticulturally itâs interesting; historically itâs interesting; blah, blah, blah. Iâm 64, so I donât know whatâs gonna happen when Iâm not here. Itâs a burden to pay the taxes and to take care of this property. Itâs a burden that we have trouble meeting.