Loopholes In Florida’s Conservation Easement Law Offer Cautions About Hopes Of Perpetual Protection  

There have been some pieces published recently in Florida that may give some people pause when they push for buying conservation easements as a cheaper way to protect land forever while encouraging legitimate agricultural operations to continue.

As it turns out the cautions are right there in plain view in the Florida statutes.

One part of the statute reads:

  A conservation easement may be released by the holder of the easement to the holder of the fee even though the holder of the fee may not be a governmental body or a charitable corporation or trust.

That sentence is pretty open-ended in that it does not place any restrictions on the circumstances in which such a release—that means a decision by some official body to relinquish its previously agreed to conservation protection—and it doesn’t require repayment the taxpayer money used to buy the easement in the first place.

Later in the statute, it clearly states that the holder of a conservation easement can sell or sublease the property for power line and pipeline corridors or new roads, though it does require a finding by the court of whether the conservation benefit of not building the road, for instance, or the public benefit of building the road is more important.

This issue is playing out now in the controversy over where the Central Florida Expressway Authority and its developer supporters can run a new toll road through a conservation area called Split Oak Forest.

Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area straddles the Orange-Osceola county line. Osceola is pushing the road. Orange County is opposing it. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages the property and has yet to announce its position.

But this is something that could play out in Polk County if county officials are ever able to find the money to finance a plan to realign Deen Still Road through existing conservation land—including a portion of Colt Creek State Park—to build a new truck route connecting U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 through the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.

None of the public conservation lands involved in that proposal are conservation easements, but it seems the principle is at stake.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.