Former Keys sheriff, judge DeFoor to lead land-conservation campaign

February 22, 2014 

J. Allison DeFoor II, a former Monroe County sheriff and judge, and Everglades czar for then-Gov. Jeb Bush, will lead an organization's effort to get the state Constitution to require public acquisition of land for preservation.

"The retention of these kinds of lands has a lot to do with the quality of life here in Florida," DeFoor said. "Otherwise we become New Jersey."

In November, statewide voters will be asked, in Amendment 1, to dedicate money generated from land sales -- document taxes -- to acquire conservation and recreation lands. A week and a half ago, DeFoor replaced Will Abberger as campaign manager for the Trust for Public Land, which spent $3 million to get the question on the ballot.

The summary on the ballot will say: "This amendment does not increase or decrease state revenues. The state revenue restricted to the purposes specified in the amendment is estimated to be $648 million in fiscal year 2015-16 and grows to $1.268 billion by the twentieth year. Whether this results in any additional state expenditures depends upon future legislative actions and cannot be determined. Similarly, the impact on local government revenues, if any, cannot be determined. No additional local government costs are expected."

To qualify for placement on the ballot, at least 683,149 valid signatures on petitions were needed (8 percent of the voter turnout in the 2012 election). That 8 percent threshold was also needed in at least half of Florida's congressional districts, so 14 of 27 were needed.

The Trust for Public Land gathered 960,000-plus signatures. It qualified, for the ballot with 709,976 valid signatures.

The Florida Forever program, largely responsible for acquiring hardwood hammocks on North Key Largo, among other Keys projects, was virtually halted by state lawmakers five years ago because of the economic slowdown.

In some years, the state spent $300 million to buy sensitive lands threatened by development.

Three Florida Keys acquisition programs were funded by Florida Forever: The Florida Keys Ecosystem project, the Coupon Bight/Key Deer project and the North Key Largo Hammocks project. All three encompass a total of 19,961 acres, of which 10,075 now are in state ownership.

Finishing the three Keys projects listed as Florida Forever priorities would cost an estimated $57.2 million, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection report.

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