Hillsborough's environmental lands acquisition program celebrates silver anniversary

04/14/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: ELAPP, Hillsborough County, environment, Jan Platt, Frank Chillura, Temple Terrace, Mark Sharpe, Sandra Murman


Former Florida Governor Bob Martinez was in office when ELAPP was first approved.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Supporters are celebrating the silver anniversary of a program to protect environmentally sensitive lands in Hillsborough County. 25 years ago under the leadership of former county commissioner Jan Platt, the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program started buying up properties in Hillsborough.

“More voters voted for this than they did for anything else on the ballot and it also passed by the greatest margin. That ought to tell the politicians something when they sit and vote on zonings and they let these compromises go along the way. The public is not dumb. They know what’s going on and that’s why they’re willing to tax themselves. They’re not usually willing to tax themselves, but they are for this program.”

Voters have twice approved extending the program, authorizing $100 million in bonds over a 20-year period in 1990 and then doubling that in 2008. The agency, called ELAPP for short, has purchased nearly 250 properties throughout the county, making it one of the state’s largest land acquisition programs. Platt says she wanted to get the ball rolling to preserve the beauty she saw in one of her favorite spots to fish with her dad.

“Back in those days, it was crystal clear. We’d catch bass. We could see the bass and Sweetwater Creek had otter. It was the only place that I’ve ever seen otter in this whole area.”

ELAPP partners with other government agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local governments. There are three parks in Temple Terrace that sit on ELAPP property. Mayor Frank Chillura applauded the program’s success in his city during a celebration at the Lake Frances Nature Preserve in Odessa last week.

“In 1994, Temple Terrace had the good fortune to obtain 100 acres of wetlands and uplands habitat on the East shore of the Hillsborough River. Before being transformed into [a] riverfront park, the site was used for cattle ranching and as a construction landfill.”

He said parks like that have become treasures within the city.

“In 2000, funding intervention by ELAPP and the Florida Communities Trust diverted 42 acres approved for private, residential development to what has become known as Scout Park. Located in South Temple Terrace, it too overlooks the Hillsborough River and consists of vegetative shoreline, wetlands and heavily wooded uplands. It has remained essentially undeveloped with the exception of unimproved trails and a primitive camping area open only to scout groups.”

ELAPP has enjoyed bi-partisan support. Former Florida Governor Bob Martinez, a Republican, was at the helm when the program was first approved.

“We need to make sure that it continues until all lands worth saving have been saved.”

It’s also supported by Republican County Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Sandra Murman.

“If you don’t have a place where people want to live and parks where people can enjoy themselves and their children can walk and land like this, it’s difficult to attract citizens.”

“I think that’s the quality of life, the quality of water, enhances our aquifer recharge, reduces our stormwater runoff which we know from all the rain we’ve had, causes a lot of issues.”

Some popular lands owned by ELAPP are the Cypress Creek Preserve, Cockroach Bay and Cone Ranch. But with hundreds of them, even local elected officials -- like Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern -- are still finding new spots.

“I just found out when I looked up yesterday that I have an ELAPP property called South MacDill 48. I live right by MacDill. I could get on my bike or drive down there in 5 minutes and it’s 48 acres of ELAPP property in South Tampa that I haven’t even been to. So, I’m looking forward to that.”

All of the elected officials at the anniversary celebration pledged their support to continuing ELAPP for years to come. The agency relies on funding not just from the county, but from the state and other local governments.

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