At a time when overeager developers see dollar signs on every piece of vacant property in Hillsborough County, it's refreshing to know that the county is making an effort to preserve our most environmentally sensitive properties, thus protecting precious water resources, bird habitats and threatened wildlife.
On March 3, 1987, Hillsborough County voters wisely approved a referendum allowing the county to collect a .25 mill tax for four years for the purchase or protection of environmentally sensitive lands, establishing the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.
Another favorable referendum in 1990 extended this tax for 20 years. Then on Nov. 4, 2008, voters approved a third referendum to issue up to $200 million in bonds to purchase lands.
The result is thousands of acres of pristine woodlands, scrubs and shorelines that might have been bulldozed for shopping centers or subdivisions have been preserved and protected.
Since its inception, ELAPP teams have completed 344 reviews and identified 126 sites to be considered for purchase. Fifty-one sites encompassing more than 61,000 acres of environmentally sensitive wildlife habitat and corridors have been acquired at a cost of $251,639.512. Other entities, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the city of Tampa also have kicked in $83,643,299.
During the 15 years since its inception, ELAPP has preserved:
- 2,700 acres along the south prong of the Alafia River and 4,400 acres along the north prong
- 2,450 acres around Aldermans Ford Park
- The Balm-Boyette Scrub consisting of 5,835 acres on both sides of Balm-Boyette and Balm-Riverview roads
- The Balm Scrub of 5,945 acres south of Balm Road and east of U.S. 301
- 4,500 acres south of the Alafia River and north of Boyette-Bell Shoals roads
- 1,236 acres north of Big Bend Road and west of I-75
- The Triple Creek Ranch consisting of 2,000 acres along Bell Creek between FishHawk Ranch and the Balm-Boyette Scrub
- 12,605 acres between the eastern edge of the Little Manatee River corridor and the Alafia River South Prong site
- 4,600 acres in the Blackwater Creek area in northeast Hillsborough
- 5,400 acres on both sides of Cypress Creek east of Livingston Road and west of I-75
- The Cone Ranch consisting of 3,600 acres in northeast Hillsborough
- The Varn/Cone Ranch Greenway including 1,470 acres in northeast Hillsborough
- The Lower Green Swamp Preserve consisting of 12,800 acres in northeast Hillsborough
- The Brooker Creek Headwaters including 1,730 acres north of Van Dyke Road and south of Lutz-Lake Fern Road
- The Ecopalms site consisting of 1,036 acres between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and I-75
- Lake Dan encompassing 1,219 acres in northwest Hillsborough
In addition, the county has purchased a number of smaller sites as additions to already acquired sites or to stand on their own, such as the 13-acre Sulphur Springs Park site with its historic tower.
Those interested in finding out what environmentally sensitive lands are under consideration for preservation in this year are invited to attend a public meeting of the ELAPP Site Assessment and Review Team Monday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Planning Commission Conference Room, 18th floor of Frederick B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
The team will review and rank properties that have been nominated to become part of ELAPP. Property owners, nominators, concerned groups and interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the nominations.
Those unable to attend the meeting can view the report online and submit written comments prior to the meeting to be entered into the public record. Comments should be sent to the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, 10119 Windhorst Road, Tampa, Fl. 33619.
For additional information, contact Forest Turbiville, Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department at 813-987-6230.