Under a directive from Republican Gov. Rick Scott to assess whether the public lands they manage are fulfilling their “core missions,” Florida state agencies are taking inventory of state-owned lands for possible sale back to the people.
Water Management District Inventory
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) launched potentially the most impactful inventory assessment, beginning a “land assessment process” that will determine the fate of the 1.5 million acres (more than 2,300 square miles) it oversees.
Accumulated over the years primarily for conservation purposes, SFWMD’s properties include wildlife habitat and vast but scattered tracts of land that front rivers, marshes, and bays. The water district’s lands stretch from the Kissimmee River in south central Florida to marshes in southernmost Miami-Dade County.
SFWMD’s holdings are as large as its mission is vast. The district is charged with providing flood protection as well as maintaining water quality, water supply, and the ecological health of South Florida’s natural areas.
Government Owns 30 Percent of Land
Federal, state, and local governments own nearly 30 percent of the land in Florida. Scott’s directive is designed to restore private property rights and reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars spent to manage so much government land.
Initially, SFWMD will assess what to do with half its holdings, or 750,000 acres. The District expects to hold on to most of its properties, but it knows certain tracts are likely to wind up for sale.
Most likely to go on the market are isolated tracts, typically a few hundred acres in size, that aren’t contiguous to larger conservation or restoration areas managed by the District.
Private Management Suggested
Bob McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute, a Florida-based public policy organization, says state officials could have more efficiently cared for government-owned lands by working more cooperatively with privately owned land management companies.
“It is commonly understood that the State of Florida lacks the time and resources to properly manage all the land in its care,” said Bob McClure. “The state uses private services in a multitude of areas. One option could be to privatize the management of its land holdings such that they are protected and preserved for effective use, while being mindful of the best interest for the short- and long-term needs of the state.”
The process of state officials deciding what lands to hold on to and what lands to dispose of will take time. Before any land is put up for bids, there will be further evaluations, appraisals, public comment, and approval from the agency’s governing board.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.