NFLT, 1000 Friends of Florida and Matanzas Riverkeeper were joined by local government officials for the Florida Forever Days of Action event
Jacksonville, Fla., Dec. 13, 2019 – North Florida Land Trust joined 1000 Friends of Florida, the Matanzas Riverkeeper and St. Augustine government officials to urge Florida’s legislature to fully fund the Florida Forever program. The event was one of seven held in the state over a two-day period as part of the Florida Forever Days of Action. Last month, more than 120 organizations and businesses sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and budget leaders to demand action to save the real Florida.
Florida Forever funding was historically at the $300-million level but in recent years the funding levels have been much lower allowing some preservation priority properties to be lost to development. One piece of land that was preserved using Florida Forever funding served as the backdrop for the event. NFLT served as a facilitator to acquire Fish Island, a 57-acre property located on the Intracoastal waterway immediately adjacent to the 312 bridge onto Anastasia Island. In partnership with the State of Florida, NFLT negotiated to purchase the property from the owners for a price of $6.5 million. It was a project important to the City of St. Augustine and the many citizens who supported preservation. The State of Florida now owns the property and the City will manage it.
“One of the tricks to what we do is to try and find the funding and the only funding available for the purchase of Fish Island was Florida Forever,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “It was a very different kind of purchase and an expensive proposition. We made all the arguments for preservation and Fish Island stands now. It is an example of what the people can do when they come out and really express their viewpoints. Thank you also to Sen. Bradley and Rep. Cummings, whose offices are a stone’s throw away from Fish Island, for their support and leadership in acquiring this particular property. They too helped make this happen.”
The two lawmakers were instrumental in making sure Florida Forever was funded in 2019 but environmental groups are asking for Florida lawmakers to go a step further and fully fund Florida Forever at the $300-million level. In 2014, 75 percent of Florida voters approved the Florida Water and Land Acquisition Amendment which mandated funding for land conservation programs. The groups are now urging lawmakers to allocate money to save Florida’s natural spaces.
“The only way we are going to save Florida is if we buy land,” said Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida. “It is the sure-fire way to get it done but we have got to have money to do it and it is expensive and those prices keep going up. So it is really important that we get back to some of the historic funding levels for Florida Forever.”
Matanzas Riverkeeper Jen Lomberk added, “Right here in our backyard, we have over 30,000 acres both on the banks of the St. Johns River and the Matanzas River that are undeveloped and have already been identified as priority areas under the Florida Forever program. But without funding that program, they are still very much on the chopping block for development.”
Lomberk said Floridian’s health, economy and quality of life depend on clean water and the best way to protect it is to protect the land. She said that is why the Florida Forever program needs to be funded to at least the historic level of 300 million dollars. Lomberk, McCarthy and West are all urging citizens to contact their legislators and ask them to fully support Florida Forever.
“We need action now to protect our lands because we are falling behind,” said McCarthy. “Projections show Duval County will be built out in 2030 or 2040. St. Johns County is also a rapidly growing community and Flagler County is now catching up on the other side. If we don’t act soon, the property is going to become more and more expensive and could be lost.”
The preservation of Fish Island using Florida Forever funding is considered a huge win by all involved including NFLT, the City of St. Augustine, Matanzas Riverkeeper and the community group Save Fish Island. On Saturday, Jan. 11, the Matanzas Riverkeeper in coordination with the City will be hosting a volunteer event to clean up the property. Those interested in helping are asked to sign up at matanzasriverkeeper.org. The cleanup will be followed by a public closing celebration expected to be held at the end of January 2020.
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.