County officials concered about SFWMD plans; Payment in lieu of taxes inadequate and short lived

Pete Quasius, Audubon Society, addressed the Glades County Board of County Commissiones at the Nov. 26 meeting.

He informed the county about the continuing progress of the
Kissimmee project and the Caloosahatchee River basin pollution treatment plans. He noted that the University of Florida plans to study the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Delta for possible causes of contamination along the Lee County coast.

Mr. Quasius commented that he conversed with state Senator Dave Aronbeg, and that the senator is interested in the needs of
Glades County.

Agnes Ramsey and Bonita Whalen, SFWMD, presented the board with updates on projects that will affect
Glades County. The agency has acquired approximately 1,800 acres of prime real estate with the Caloosahatchee River as a northern boundary and S.R. 80 as a southern boundary. The cost of the acreage was more than $37 million, and Lee County contributed $10 million towards its purchase.

Ms. Ramsey told the commissioners that a 1,000-foot deep strip of riverfront would be set aside for public use, and that concerns for commercial frontage on S.R. 80 would be taken into consider      ation.

“Do you know how much land water management intends to own in Glades County?” asked Commissioner Paul Beck.

Ms. Ramsey did not know the details as of yet.

Mr. Beck had obtained documents from the property appraiser’s office which listed deeds that showed SFWMD as landowner. Commissioner Donna Storter Long mentioned that since the land was no longer taxed and she wanted to know how much the land had been worth. It amounted to more than $61 million.

PILT, or Payment In Lieu of Taxes from the state was discussed as inadequate, short lived or easily terminated.The board was eager to participate in the decision making with regards to further acquisition of property, riverfront and commercial frontage.

“When do we get a chance to speak to you about this?” said Wendell Taylor, county manager.

Ms. Ramsey replied that she would be back in February with more information.

Paul Beck announced to his fellow commissioners and Lakeport property owners that there are proposed plans for 8,000 acres to be acquired as a stormwater treatment area (STA). It runs along S.R. 78 with
Harney Pond Canal and Indian Prairie Canal as boundaries. He explained how this would be an unbelievable impact on Glades County and businesses.

According to Mr. Beck, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has gained further permission to expand gaming entertainment, and it plans to construct a water plant in
Brighton capable of producing 1.9 million gallons of water a day. That would allow for 10 times the amount of people living in Brighton and Lakeport. Tribe projects are expected to need 5,000 or more employees who will require housing, and tourists will need lodging or RV parks.

Proposed STA land is adjacent to the anticipated businesses that the tribe will create, and there is the possibility of this land in Lakeport become very valuable.

If it is possessed by a government agency the promise of prosperity for its land owners, businesses, eco-tourism and tax revenue will be lost, according to commissioner Beck.

He further reminded the board that zero taxes would be paid if this happens, and that PILT money may be zero after only 10 years. Mr. Beck then called on the board to create a resolution that would oppose the acquisition, or at least have it under direction of the board to allow input in the decision making.

“This is very alarming to us and the board should support Mr. Beck,” said Butch Jones.

When the resolution is composed and approved it will be sent to the appropriate agency, and to the state legislation delegation which Mr. Beck addressed on this subject Nov. 19. U.S. Senator Tim Mahoney will also be sent a copy to keep him informed about his constituents

It was noted by Ms. Long that there are various landowners of the proposed STA and that imminent domain may play a part if the owners are unwilling to sell. Mr. Jones added that this acquisition may be one of many to come.

County manager Wendell Taylor, and County Attorney Richard Pringle will compose the resolution which will be brought to the Dec. 11 meeting.