Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Help protect county nature preserves and ELAPP

Mariella Smith <> wrote:
Please ask our County Commissioners to support our county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) — our nature preserve program. Tell them to call off Pat Bean's attack of this program, and let the citizens decide whether or not to continue ELAPP.

E-mail your County Commissioners:
Or call them: 272-5660

Or mail a hard-copy letter to each (this has a lot of impact): P.O. Box 1110, Tampa, FL 33601

Sample letter + reference material below:

Dear Commissioner,

ELAPP is set to expire in 2011 unless we vote to extend the program again. Citizens have begun raising money to poll county residents to see if they want to put the issue on the ballot this year, or whether they'd rather consider other options (like waiting until the 2010 election). But even though we have not asked the county to fund the poll, the county administrator, Pat Bean, has already come out against it in The Tampa Tribune (March 31)*.

The county administrator's role is not to set policy, but to carry out policy that has been publicly set by our elected officials. As you know, our county's strategic plan supports ELAPP. Please direct Pat Bean to refrain from expressing any position on behalf of the county, other than the board's public position.

Several of Pat Bean's remarks about ELAPP were incorrect. The Tampa Bay Conservancy has put together a fact sheet which responds to the points she raised, and refutes them. Wildlife Fellowship, Inc., has compiled facts & figures concerning the economic value of ELAPP. Please see both papers (links below my signature)*.

Without ELAPP we would lose the state funding which has matched ELAPP so far to the tune of $75 million. Although we are all facing tight budgets at the moment, it is important to take the long view as we consider whether to renew this program into the decades ahead. Today's economy provides excellent opportunities to acquire environmentally valuable land at bargain prices, and there is still a lot of ecologically significant land in this county that we need to protect while we still can — for the sake of our natural resources, our water quality, our quality of life, and for future generations. 

Before you take a position against ELAPP, please allow the citizens to conduct a privately-funded poll, and please listen to the public with an open mind. I hope you will all support ELAPP, today and into the future, and I thank commissioners Ferlita & Sharpe for their assurances of support.

Mariella Smith

* References:

Tampa Tribune article with Pat Bean's attack on ELAPP:

The Case for ELAPP, as presented by the Tampa Bay Conservancy:

Some notes on the economic value of conservation lands, prepared by Rob Heath, Wildlife Fellowship, Inc:


Pat Bean: no more nature preserves

County administrator Pat Bean has decided we don't need any more nature preserves.

Oh, did you want to vote on that? Me too. After all, we always have held a vote to decide whether or not to continue our county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP), and the voters have always passed ELAPP by an overwhelming majority.

ELAPP is set to expire in 2011 unless we vote to extend the program again. Citizens have begun raising money to poll county residents to see if they want to put the issue on the ballot this year, or possibly wait until the 2010 election. The Trust for Public Lands has offered to conduct the poll, Tampa Audubon and The Tampa Bay Conservancy have offered to help pay for it, and more offers of help are rolling in.

But even though we have not asked the county to fund the poll, the county administrator is against it. Pat Bean has decided — with no poll and no vote — that we don't need to continue this wildly popular, successful program.

She says the land-buying program has largely fulfilled its purpose by preserving the most valuable natural areas in the county.

Nonsense! We are nowhere near done protecting this county's environmentally valuable lands.

I myself have recently nominated large tracts of pristine wildlife habitat, with ecologically sensitive riverine wetlands and tributaries whose protection is critical for healthy rivers and clean water resources. There is plenty of still-pristine land worth protecting, and we also need to protect some less-than-pristine land, in order to make connections between the pristine areas for water flow and wildlife corridors.

Continuing this program's current budget doesn't require a tax increase, and the economic climate is opening up a window of opportunity to acquire undeveloped land at bargain prices. Without a local conservation program we would lose the state funding which has so far matched ELAPP to the tune of $75 million.

Publicly, politicians are generally supportive of our hugely popular environmental land-buying program, which is win-win for the environment as well as the landowners who sell their property to the county for fair market value.

So what's got into Bean? Are her bosses, the county commissioners, eyeing our ELAPP money for their own pet projects? Are they using her, again, to take an unpopular stand for them, so they don't have to take the heat?

Commissioner Rose Ferlita has assured me that she remains a staunch supporter of ELAPP, and said the county administrator was not speaking for her. Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he'd ask today to agenda this item for public discussion on April 16. So who was Pat Bean speaking for?

Hillsborough county's Strategic Plan, set on March 7, supports ELAPP with this objective on p.10:

Hillsborough County will pursue the acquisition of environmentally sensitive and significant resources by leveraging ELAPP funding with 40% noncounty funding on an average gross annual basis.

It is not Pat Bean's place to push an agenda that is contrary to the county's management strategy, set publicly by our elected officials. Her job is to carry out policy, not set policy. As I've said here before,

We don't elect Pat Bean, and she has no authority to act independently of our elected officials.

I'm asking our county commissioners to support ELAPP, now and into the future, (and I'm thanking Ferlita and Sharpe for their support). Here's some material that might help you compose your own letter of support: my letter, some bulleted points prepared by the Tampa Bay Conservancy which refute Bean's position, and some facts & figures on the economic value of ELAPP put together by Wildlife Fellowship, Inc.

I'm also asking our commissioners to rein Bean in. I hope you will, too. The voters should decide whether to continue our land preservation program, not Queen Bean.


Poll On Land Conservation Program Put On Hold

By MIKE SALINERO, The Tampa Tribune, March 31, 2008

TAMPA - County Administrator Pat Bean has stopped work on a poll about continuing a popular land-buying program, saying there are still questions about whether it should be extended.

The Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program, which has protected 48,000 acres from development since 1991, ends in 2011. The citizen committee that runs the program was planning to poll residents on their support for buying more undeveloped land. ELAPP supporters say they can raise private money to pay for the poll.

Bean challenged the poll, saying county officials and program supporters must answer questions about the county's ability to pay for managing more land. Bean also questioned whether voters would support continuing the program in the current anti-tax atmosphere.

"We've bought over 48,000 acres," Bean said. "At a time when people are struggling to put food on their tables, struggling to pay their property taxes, do we ask them for more money to keep buying land?"

Voters approved the program in a 1990 referendum, 73 percent to 27 percent. The vote allowed the county to borrow up to $100 million to buy land and to levy a property tax of up to 0.25 mills, or $25 per $100,000 of assessed value, to pay off the debt.

Last month, Commissioner Jim Norman stressed the importance of the program and said it should be continued. But the ELAPP general committee, made up of residents, is undecided about whether to schedule the referendum for November or for 2010. The county commission would make that decision after getting a recommendation from the committee.

The committee was to meet today to put the final touches on a poll. That meeting was canceled, however, when Bean and county department heads asked for more information before the poll was submitted to county commissioners.

One of the questions they wanted answered was about the county's ability to maintain newly acquired land.

"When you acquire these properties, there are added management costs and there are some concerns about that," said Kurt Gremley, who handles the program's land purchases.

The land the county has purchased is maintained at a basic level, according to Pete Fowler, division manager for the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. The department tries to fence off most of the purchased land for security, Fowler said, and underbrush is managed with controlled burns. County crews try to keep exotic plant species under control and plant some native species with the help of volunteer labor.

The department has just 25 people to maintain the land, too few to restore the parks to all-natural vegetation or to provide educational amenities, parks department director Mark Thornton said.

"When you add more land you have to absorb more maintenance and you have to reduce across the board the overall level of maintenance," Thornton said.

Bean, who is faced with the prospect of laying off dozens of employees this year, questions the need for such expenditures. She says the land-buying program has largely fulfilled its purpose by preserving the most valuable natural areas in the county.

"Most of what has been nominated and is already on the ELAPP list is not pristine land; it's land that's been disturbed in some way," Bean said.

ELAPP committee member Mariella Smith, though, argues that even land that has been disturbed, such as farmland, has value as a watershed, a buffer for more pristine land or as a wildlife corridor. The important thing, she said, is to preserve green space.

"I think most people would favor continuing using our tax dollars to save land for future generations instead of turning our county into one big parking lot," Smith said.

Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (813) 259-8303 or


The Case for ELAPP
As Presented by the Tampa Bay Conservancy

         As we, as a community, confront the programmatic sunset of  the Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program ELAPP, the citizens of Hillsborough County and our elected officials need to gain the most comprehensive set of information possible related to quality of life and the environment.
Historically the ELAPP program has had a great deal of success and public support.  It is more than fair to consider challenges and opportunities related to the continuation of ELAPP while at this programmatic crossroad.
Below are some issues that have been raised and some responses to those concerns:

Issue# 1: Public attitude during our current "anti-tax atmosphere".

·    This is the reason we need a public opinion poll!
·    IF the voting public still wants the ELAP Program to be renewed/extended even during these difficult economic times, THEN the County can be more confident than ever that continuing the program is the right thing to do.
·    This period of slow growth presents a tremendous opportunity to purchase land, with willing sellers and bargain prices.
·    Assuming the Florida Forever Program is renewed and expanded, the State will continue to spend increasing amounts of money on land acquisition, but if we don't have funds for a local match, that money will not be spent here. During the lifetime of the ELAP Program, the County has secured approximately $75 million in State matching funding for land acquisition. None of those projects were 100% State funded, and it is likely that $0.00 of those State funds would have been spent in Hillsborough County without a local match.
Issue #2: Management Expenses
·    Less than Fee/Conservation Easements- This type of land preservation may place some or all of the expenses of land management on the fee owner. The County needs to loosen the current limitations on Less than Fee transactions.
·    Cost Sharing- Currently, lands acquired through joint purchase with the Water Management District are eligible for 50% cost sharing of management expenses. In some cases (e.g. Oakridge), the District assumes 100% of management costs. Other local govt.s have also accepted ownership and management responsibility for certain parcels.
·    Some costs associated with post acquisition management, such as fencing, are eligible for funding with the bond proceeds. These "improvements" are usually contracted out, so do not require increased staffing. The County should investigate the types of expenses that could be funded more thoroughly.
·    Economic Benefits of Greenspace- A great deal of information is available documenting the contribution of naturally vegetated land to the local economy.
·    Carbon Offsets- In order to cover the costs of restoring the "less than pristine" lands that the County may acquire in the future, there is a developing market for the carbon credits created by restoration. Any entity needing to offset its carbon dioxide generation, or needing to meet a reduction goal, will be looking for eligible credits to purchase outright.
Issue #3: Mission Not Yet Accomplished in View of Projected Population Growth

·    For at least the past 6 years (since Dan Kleman was County Administrator), the ELAPP General Committee has wanted to extend the program. Additional funding was not the primary objective back in the beginning.  In fact, we felt that we needed to get the voters to approve modifications to the program objectives such as: a clear endorsement of Conservation Easements; eligibility of recreational trails/greenways; agricultural lands as buffer zones for existing preserves; increased funding for land management, etc. This current situation may be an opportunity to make the program better and stronger.


Some notes on the Economic value of conservation lands
(Prepared by Rob Heath, Wildlife Fellowship, Inc.)

There is a general misconception that the only real benefits derived from the protection of natural areas are habitat for wildlife and playgrounds for outdoor enthusiasts. As a result, some taxpayers and elected officials question the need to spend millions of dollars on preservation and even more money on long term management. It has been difficult to overcome this mistaken belief due to the challenges inherent in deriving accurate estimates of the direct economic benefits that natural areas provide. Fortunately, we are beginning to see some well documented research that provides some actual dollar amounts in a format that can be applied almost anywhere to compare the cost of protecting and managing natural areas with the very real cost savings that these areas provide on an ongoing basis in perpetuity.

The World Resources Institute1 has completed a study entitled "The Value of Conservation Easements: The Importance of Protecting Nature and Open Space". This study provides a summary of annual per acre ecosystem benefits for four categories of land from a variety of independent studies. The resulting range of these economic benefits are listed by land type (see attached). By using the lowest estimates for each category, and an approximation of the acreage of each land type protected as of today (9/2003) by the ELAP Program in Hillsborough County, we are able to provide an estimate of the minimum Annual economic benefit of these lands:

Total acreage protected to date = +/- 40,000 acres

Approximate wetland acreage     = 20,000 acres @ $1,395/acre/year = $27,900,000/year
         "            forested acreage    = 15,000 acres @ $   821/acre/year = $12,315,000/year
         "            grass/rangeland     =   5,000 acres @ $   596/acre/year = $  2,980,000/year
                                                                                                   Total = $ 43,195,000/year

This estimate of annual economic benefit is based on a wide range of indices including the income derived from additional outdoor recreational opportunities; the increased value of residential properties located adjacent to conservation areas; the avoidance of infrastructure costs including stormwater facilities; reduced flooding; lower insurance costs; lower electric bills; and so on. It should be noted that, if the average benefit estimates derived by the study had been used in the above calculation, the total annual economic benefit would be $ 896,000,000!

If that figure seems astronomical, consider several recent stories in the Tampa Tribune highlighting the City of Tampa's efforts to address stormwater infrastructure costs and to promote its tree planting program. Excerpts from those articles include the fact that the city is currently budgeting $10 million dollars annually for its stormwater system, and needed an additional $8.5 million from the special sales tax increase to address existing problems with the system2. Now the new mayor is calling for a special assessment to pay for the cost of needed improvements. How much more would be needed for stormwater infrastructure in both the city and county if an additional 40,000 acres was available for development?

To quote from the article on the tree planting program3, "According to the National Arbor Day Foundation: 'One acre of forest absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and produces 4 tons of oxygen.'" And (A large city could) "…save $4 billion each year in energy costs."

The obvious conclusion to be derived from the above information is that, no matter what the actual income and cost savings, the conservation of natural areas makes good sense from an economic standpoint. Furthermore, for a minimal investment in responsible environmental stewardship of those natural lands, to maintain or enhance the habitat quality and provide compatible recreational opportunities, the level of benefits to the community can be greatly increased.

1. World Resources Institute. "The Value of Conservation Easements: The Importance of Protecting Nature and Open Space". West Hill Foundation for Nature, December, 2002.

2. Reid, Andy. "Stormwater Fee Proposal Brings Flood of Doubts". The Tampa Tribune, September 11, 2003.

3. Steele, Kathy. "Money Grows on Old Trees". The Tampa Tribune, September 10, 2003.


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