State agency takes title to Babcock Ranch
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:03 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - The state sealed the deal Monday for the purchase of 74,000 acres of Babcock Ranch, ending a six-year process that resulted in the state's largest purchase of land for environmental protection.
"I can't begin to describe how great this feels," said an emotional Eva Armstrong, the director of the Division of State Lands for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Armstrong took the deed from the hands of Syd Kitson at a news conference in the Capitol on Monday, marking the official close of the purchase. Kitson will develop nearly 15,000 acres of the property, creating a new city in Charlotte and Lee counties.
The $350 million purchase provides an almost uninterrupted corridor of protected land from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. The land, which will continue operating as a working ranch, is home to the Florida panther, the Florida black bear and Telegraph Swamp.
"Babcock Ranch is probably the most important, and certainly the largest, investment Florida's ever made to protect our environmental lands," said Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida vice president.
The road to the purchase was not smooth. Persuading the Florida Cabinet and the Legislature to spend $350 million was not an extremely hard sell. But a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club threatened the entire plan until an agreement was reached last month. The agreement requires more than 1,600 homes to be shifted toward less environmentally sensitive land, and requires all homes in the development to be 10 percent more energy efficient than ordinary houses.
Draper said it was just as important in its protection of the ranch itself, which will continue to include a working cattle operation.
He praised it as an environmentally friendly use of the land if it is well-managed, which environmentalists say it was in the past and operators promised it would continue to be.
"Today we celebrate not just the future for panthers and wood storks and spoon bills and other wildlife, but we also celebrate the future for working ranches as a part of Florida's economic future," Draper said.
Armstrong said the land would be people-friendly too, with "every type of recreation you could possibly want," and urged Floridians to visit it.
Lee County Attorney David Owen also said the purchase would benefit not just the environment - but generations of Floridians.
"This is for my children, this is for your children, this is for their children," Owen said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Kitson & Partners
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