Staff at the Southwest Florida Water Management District looked at 10 parks and preserves, mostly in Manatee County, with the idea of selling any land that did not meet the district’s core mission of flood control and water supply.
But according to a review that took three months and more that 750 hours of staff time, the district needs most of the land it owns.
“We never really anticipated it would be large sections of property,” said Michael Molligan, communications bureau chief for the water district. “We reviewed 10 parcels and only two of them had surplus land potential on them.”
The only two parcels that have potential surplus land were the Flatford Swamp, near the headwaters of the Myakka River, and the Frog Creek tract that borders Interstate 275 near Terra Ceia State Park. Both are in Manatee County.
At the 2,357-acre Flatford Swamp, district staff identified about 30 acres the agency does not need. The land is elevated and along Wauchula Road at the site’s southeast corner.
The 127-acre Frog Creek tract sits at U.S. 41 and I-275 and borders a creek that flows to Terra Ceia. A 6-acre portion of the land was identified as a candidate for surplus.
No parcels are being recommended now for surplus in Sarasota or Charlotte counties.
The district staff first reviewed land owned outright, not in partnership with the state or counties, in the southern portion of the 16-county district.
On March 7, a subcommittee of the governing board will meet in Sarasota to vote on whether to recommend selling the land staff identified. The committee’s recommendation will later go to the full board for a vote.
The water district staff was directed by their governor-appointed board last year to review every piece of land it owns, with a eye toward getting rid of non-essential parcels.
The move to sell was largely driven by budget cuts and the state’s eagerness to trim government. Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature directed state agencies last year to get rid of nonessential land, primarily to save on maintenance costs.
The water district is facing tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts imposed by the state to help lower property taxes.
Other government agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and two other water districts — Suwannee River and South Florida — are also making plans to sell conservation land.