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Florida DEP: Parts of Cayo Costa for sale as ‘surplus’

By Staff | Sep 2, 2013

Proposed surplus sites in the Cayo Costa State Park. Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Twenty-one parcels in the Cayo Costa State Park, including parts of Upper Captiva, are on a list of properties going up for sale by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Parcels from all over the state were recently assessed to determine if they could be be sold to help fund the purchase of additional lands with higher values.

“It’s an opportunity to do an assessment of all the conservation land the state has purchased,” said DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie. “In order to buy more valuable conservation land.”

“We can, essentially, trade up,” he said.

Criteria was created to assess the properties, and through scientific and environmentally based processes, used to determine which land had the lowest resources. An inventory of about 3 million acres was whittled down to 169 sites, or about 5,331 acres, including parcels in the Cayo Costa State Park.

In many cases, the parcels for sale are geographically separated by a road or they border homes and development.

“Those are parcels that we can sell that won’t take away from the park,” said Gillespie.

In the case of Cayo Costa, many of the parcels on the list are adjacent to residential lots.

“This is a preliminary list,” said Gillespie.

The DEP continues to accept public comment on proposed sites.

Last week, the DEP reduced the list even further, removing another 474 acres including a state forest near Tallahassee.

But, Cayo Costa remained on the revised list.

Ralf Brookes, an attorney in Cape Coral, opposes the plan to sell off portions of the state park.

“Gov. Scott’s administration has decided to sell lands that were purchased for conservation in order to raise money, and these lands that are on Cayo Costa and Upper Captiva should not be sold because they have a conservation value,” said Brookes.

A number of vital endemic ecosystems exist throughout the park and two of the parcels for sale function as beach access points for the public, he said.

“The public would lose access to not only Cayo Costa State Park land, but also to the beach,” said Brookes.

In the past, environmentalists have fought development on Upper Captiva to protect the ecosystem, but also because the lots are subject to coastal erosion, he said. Some developers may attempt to apply for variances with Lee County and begin developing within environmentally sensitive areas.

Brookes said the public has until Sept. 13 to send objections to the DEP’s Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC), the council which is responsible for managing acquisition projects as part of the $20 million Florida Forever program.

“I think it’s important that these lands be preserved and maintained in public ownership, so the public could use them for access,” said Brookes.

According to Gillespie, parcels recommended for sale will be offered to other state managing agencies, universities and local governments, which have an option to lease. Properties could be available as soon as October or November.

If there is no interest, the land is put up for bid. Secured bids must go before the governor and Cabinet, which must determine that the land is no longer needed for conservation purposes and approve the sale.

“There are some steps in place before we can actually get to selling,” said Gillespie. “The goal is whatever we sell, we put back into buying other conservation lands.”

State lawmakers also appropriated up to an additional $50 million in spending, to be funded with the sale of state-owned lands no longer needed for conservation purposes.