Speak up for preservation of Cone Ranch
ELAPP (the county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition & Protection Program) is re-evaluating Cone Ranch for preservation. It was approved for conservation long ago, but was not ranked among the “class A” priorities for acquisition, largely because it was thought to be already protected in county ownership.
The re-ranking of Cone Ranch is now pivotal to the county’s current deliberations about whether to sell the environmentally sensitive land to a group of private investors (calling themselves FCEG), or preserve it under ELAPP. This site will be considered, along with other potential preservation sites nominated this year, at this public meeting:
ELAPP’s annual public meeting to review & rank sites nominated for preservation
Sept. 15, 6:00 p.m.
County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., 18th floor
(see Public Notice below)
It is important to show public support for any site under consideration, including Cone Ranch, because public interest is one of the categories that figure into the ranking point system. Unless Cone Ranch comes out of this process with an “A” grade, it is unlikely to be preserved within ELAPP.
You can support the preservation of Cone Ranch by e-mail.
You can start your message with, “I support the acquisition of Cone Ranch by ELAPP.” You can end there, or add more.
Send e-mail to ELAPP:
CC County Commissioners:
You can also speak in person at the Sept. 15 meeting.
The ELAPP site Selection Team is composed of citizens (including myself) who volunteer for this job because of their concern for our natural resources, and the ELAPP staff involved also has the best interests of the environment at heart, so this is not a meeting where a packed house is necessary to influence politicians. However, if you have anything to say about the prioritizing of Cone Ranch for purchase & protection under ELAPP, this is your chance.
The Cone Ranch Advisory Panel is waiting to hear how ELAPP ranks the site before making a recommendation to the county commission on whether to sell the site to the private interests, or preserve it in public ownership.
Importance of Cone Ranch:
* Critical connection for water between Green Swamp & Hillsborough River. Much of Tampa’s drinking water flows through Cone Ranch.
* Critical wildlife habitat and wildlife corridor connecting habitat
* Valuable public asset for passive recreation
* Extraordinary natural beauty. Rare chance to preserve such a large piece (12,800 acres!) of natural Florida in this county.
Photos of Cone Ranch (taken by me on a recent tour):
In ELAPP’s original assessment, done in the 1990’s, the site was ranked high in environmental categories, but lower in the overall priority list for acquisition, mainly because it drew a low score (1 out of 10) under the category of “Degree of endangerment of the site due to development,” since it was owned by the county, purchased as a water resource. Indeed previous county commissions resolved, in 1999 and again in 2000, to preserve Cone Ranch in public ownership; and in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the site’s land use has been designated as Natural Preservation.
Nonetheless, it has recently become vulnerable to all manner of cockamamie schemes like Commissioner Jim Norman’s failed push to build a sports park on the site. Incredibly, the current board of county commissioners is considering a deal to sell the land to private investors with a vague proposal to subdivide the land for re-sale, promising some loosely sketched caveats for protection of the natural resources, while skimming off millions of dollars in brokerage fees.
The land is held by the county water utility, where it is regarded, not as a nature preserve but as a financial asset. As such, the utility does not allow restoration of the site’s wetlands, because enlarging the wetlands would lower the land’s development potential, thus lowering its monetary value. Also, as a water utility asset, the land is up for grabs to monied interests, but off-limits to the general public. It is currently being leased to an influential cattleman for his own personal use as pasture and sod farm.
If FCEG buys Cone Ranch, it is still — after months of meetings — unclear exactly what will happen to the site. If ELAPP acquires Cone Ranch, it will all be publicly accessible for passive recreation, preserved & protected forever.
ELAPP Site Ranking & Site Acquisition Policy
Cone Ranch Advisory Panel site: Documents, meeting agendas, captioning, etc
St. Pete Times on Cone Ranch + editorials opposing sale to private interests:
Activist Kelly Cornelius on Cone Ranch, opposes sale to private interests
Tampa City Council letter opposing sale to private interests
Washington Post on problems, issues with conservation easements
Join “Protect Cone Ranch” group on Facebook
Public Notice of ELAPP meeting:
ELAPP Public Meeting
A public meeting to review nominated environmental sites for addition to Hillsborough County’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 15, 6 p.m. at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa. The meeting will be held at the Planning Commission Conference Room on the 18th floor.
Results from both the Site Assessment Team and the Review Team will be announced. These teams analyze publically nominated sites to determine if they meet ELAPP selection criteria for inclusion in the program.
Property owners, nominators, concerned groups and individuals will have an opportunity to express their opinions and provide information related to these specific nominations. If you can not attend the meeting written comments are acceptable and will be entered into the record. Written comments should be sent to the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department at 10119 Windhorst Rd., Tampa, Fl. 33619.
All approved sites are then ranked based on environmental qualities, degree of endangerment for development, ease of acquisition, cost/size of site and amount of public interest. The ranking process will also be conducted at this meeting after the current properties are discussed.
Contact Forest Turbiville with questions concerning ELAPP at (813) 987-6230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please forward to anyone interested in preserving Cone Ranch.