Cone Ranch is saved!
Thanks to diligent citizens who refused to take “no” for an answer, the county has, finally, found a way to transfer Cone Ranch from the Water Dept. to ELAPP — immediately!
After months of insisting that there was NO WAY this could be accomplished without addressing an insurmountable heap of hurdles, suddenly the seas parted today. County Water Utility staff is no longer insisting that we pay $250,000 for an appraisal of this land before selling it to ourselves. They are no longer demanding that we pay “Fair Market Value,” which they estimated to be $50 Million. They are not requiring us to wait 5 years for the bonds to expire. We will have to pay book value of $12 Million, but we may not even have to use our current ELAPP bond for that, which will leave us more money to acquire and protect other properties in this buyer’s market. And no one is even thinking about selling this land to private buyers or building a sports park on it. Not anymore.
Thanks to all of you who participated in this effort.
Every e-mail helped convince our commissioners that the public would not be satisfied by excuses or delays.
We would never have saved this critical connector of wetlands and wildlife without the undying commitment of Kent Bailey who went to every meeting and talked to every citizens’ group he could — usually with Joyce Newnam‘s help. Attorney Pamela Jo Hatley was a huge asset to our team, helping to clear away the legal mumbo-jumbo that was tossed in our way. Kelly Cornelius kept the heat on with her insightful blogging, connecting the dots. Vivienne Handy & Denise Layne helped direct the Cone Ranch Advisory Panel toward their favorable recommendation. The Hillsborough County Democrats, under the leadership of their chair, Pat Kemp, remained active on this issue through all its twists & turns, and their local clubs made this a priority issue. The Tampa City Council sent a letter to the commission asking them not to sell Cone Ranch but to preserve it within ELAPP. Several citizens’ groups weighed in, including United Citizens’ Action Network (U-CAN), Rural Lithia Area Neighborhood Defense (R-LAND), Sunset Park Area Homeowners Association (SPAHA) and Tampa Bay Sierra Club. Too many citizens gave too much to list them all here by name, but you know who you are, and I know you are smiling.
County Commissioners voted 6-1 to transfer the property immediately, with Al Higginbotham (the New Brian Blair) casting the only “no” vote.
Let’s thank them (all but Higginbotham). Commissioner Kevin Beckner made the motion to transfer the property to ELAPP, which was bolstered by other Commissioners: Rose Ferlita pointed out the possibilities for using grant monies and mitigation credits to pay for restoration, maintenance & acquisition; Mark Sharpe noted the importance of restoring Cone Ranch’s wetlands as a relatively inexpensive way to improve water quality & quantity in the Hillsborough River; Ken Hagan seemed relieved that this political controversy was being settled in a way that would please the voters, since he’s the one who originally led the commissioners to consider selling the land to private interests (FCEG), and he is now being challenged in his re-election campaign by Tampa City Councilwoman, Linda Saul-Sena.
Read news reports by The St. Pete Times and the Tampa Tribune.
Listen to WMNF Radio‘s report on the Evening News.
Kelly wraps it up on Creative Loafing, in her report on today’s BOCC meeting.