BY JACK SHORT – An item stricken from the 2015-2016 Florida budget that would have sent $1 million to the Gasparilla Island State Park contained little information about how the money would have been used, other than that it was marked for “the assessment and evaluation” of lands for purchase inside the optimum park boundary.
No one else is saying much about it either, as it turns out.
A representative of the Senate Budget Committee responded to requests for more information but was unable, in a week, to discover anything.
The office of State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, who touted the item before it was vetoed, along with others earmarked for projects in Lee and Charlotte Counties, in an email to constituents, has not returned repeated requests for information or comments.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who would have received the entirety of the $1 million from Florida’s general fund, was unable to comment on the appropriation because, according to a representative, it was not part of their legislative budget requests.
In his veto message, Scott said he did struck the item because “ … existing resources are available to determine the feasibility of purchasing additional lands.”
Generally, the optimum boundary, according to the GISP 10-year management plan, depends in part on public or private land that may, if acquired, improve the continuity of or access to the park itself, provide for expansion of recreational activities or additional resource protection.
GISP’s optimum boundary includes three major areas it does not currently own: the parcel of land south of the Sandspur use area including the Rear Range Light, the 10-acre parcel at the south end of the island owned by FPL, and submerged lands 25 seaward from the mean high waterline along the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Grande Pass.
That 10-year management plan was approved in July, 2014, and the DEP has since abandoned plans to annex the land surrounding the Range Light, including the structure itself. Instead, its citizen support organization, the Barrier Island Parks Society, will lease the structure from the United States Coast Guard.
The FPL parcel, according to the plan, is considered a brownfield because of oil silos that once stood on it, and may require restoration prior to use.
The DEP was not able to comment as of press time on common costs associated with assessment and evaluation of lands for purchase, for state parks.