Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Seeing the Light on Ranch Preservation

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Seeing the Light on Ranch Preservation

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

If the stars align and an incredible terrestrial asset is preserved in perpetuity, the North Port commissioners will, among others, deserve substantial credit.

Commissioners Cheryl Cook, Rhonda DiFranco, Tom Jones, Jacqueline Moore and Linda Yates each voted earlier this month to support preservation of the Orange Hammock Ranch through the purchase of a lifetime conservation easement. The commission's unanimous endorsement of public acquisition reversed a long-held position of opposition at City Hall and among some economic-development interests.

But the five commissioners recognized that development of even part of the property was a pipe dream; after all, during attempts to auction the tract in 2014, developers -- including some of our region's best -- took a pass on buying the land. Most important, the commissioners came to see that the land -- part of which is an active ranch -- is most valuable as an environmental resource that could further promote eco-tourism.

The owners of the 5,774-acre tract don't want to develop the land. They want to continue ranching in appropriate areas and preserve the rest by granting the public a conservation easement, for which the owners would deserve financial compensation.

Fortunately, funds are available. The Orange Hammock Ranch is of such high environmental value that it is high on the state's priority list for acquisition through the Florida Forever program. The ranking was conferred upon the property following years of assessment and vetting in a highly competitive process. Florida Forever funding for at least half, if not more, of the $22 million cost would be warranted.

Contributions from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Sarasota County, which has revenue available in a voter- approved land-acquisition fund, would represent welcome and justifiable investments as well. Assuming a fair price is negotiated, arranging the financing and purchase should not be that difficult, especially since there is a willing seller. …

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