The nonprofit organization was able to save the islands and marshlands that were in danger of development
North Florida Land Trust has acquired more than 252 acres on nine islands in the Intracoastal Waterway just north of J. Turner Butler Blvd. in Jacksonville Beach which has been named the River Branch Islands Preserve. The River Branch Foundation donated the money to allow the nonprofit land conservation organization to purchase the remaining lands in Phase II of the project to conserve the islands that were in danger of development. In July of this year, NFLT purchased 28 acres in Phase I of the project.
NFLT entered into an agreement with the former landowner in December of last year to purchase all of the lands that made up the nine islands. The nonprofit was given one year to raise the money and perform the due diligence necessary to conserve the lands. However, the owner sold off a small portion of the property before the deadline. NFLT determined that two areas were sold with a collective value of $15K, so the price paid was reduced accordingly.
“We are glad we were able to save these islands and marshlands from development but are disappointed we were not able to conserve the entirety of these environmentally important lands,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “The marshlands that we were able to save will provide an important buffer to protect surrounding coastlines from flooding, erosion, and storm surge. These marshlands are also an important habitat for wildlife, and we are concerned the portion of the islands that were sold off to private entities will harm the remaining conservation lands. So, we will remain vigilant.”
The islands are made up of salt marsh and tidal creeks that are home to rare species including the federally endangered West Indian manatee and the federally threatened wood stork both of which have been seen within the property boundaries. The wetland habitats are vital to the survival of many species of birds including plovers, warblers, and waterfowl. The use of the property that was split from the original acreage could affect the vegetation that is crucial to these habitats.
NFLT became involved with the project after the Small Group, LLC announced plans to sell the marshlands for $3.9 million to build luxury homes. This led to a significant public outcry to preserve the islands to protect the wildlife and recreational opportunities that they provide. The company and the nonprofit agreed to a lower sale price to allow NFLT to conserve the lands instead.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to protect the natural resources, historic places and working lands (farms and ranches) throughout north Florida. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations.