Critic gives OK to Matt Caldwell's state parks bill

Critic gives OK to Matt Caldwell’s state parks bill

(Photo: File)The rewrite has silenced the critics for the time being. A bill filed by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, may have found common ground in long running dispute about the management of state lands and Florida parks.

Caldwell’s state lands bill last year got caught in a dispute between supporters of state parks and the Department of Environmental Protection Jon Steverson’s goal of having the parks system generate enough money to cover expenses.

That simmering dispute boiled over in committee meetings and in letters to the editors protesting perceived changes in how the park system is managed.

“I’m not interested as a legislator into getting into each individual park and telling them how to make management decisions,” said Caldwell. “My intent is to clean up 50 years of statutes; clarify goals of land purchases and provide the flexibility to meet those goals.”

Environmentalists and parks supporters rang alarm bells about Caldwell’s proposal last year because of a provision that would have allowed “low impact” agriculture at state parks. No one seemed to know what the word meant and opponents saw it as an example of Steverson’s bottom line approach to parks management. They rallied to fight off what they saw as a threat to Florida icons like Honeymoon Island and Wakulla Springs.

The bill died in the Senate. Caldwell claimed the narrative had been hijacked and his intent misrepresented. He rewrote the bill, leaving out any reference to low impact agriculture.

“I want to give the governor and Cabinet the flexibility to prioritize the uses of these lands and review whether they are meeting our goals,” said Caldwell. “I think there is a misunderstanding of just how diverse the park system is. Some have intense human activity and some don’t.”

Albert Gregory was among the group opposed to Caldwell’s 2015 proposal and although still concerned about how the parks system is managed says he’s OK with the latest proposal, HB 1075.

“I don’t see anything that would mandate consumptive multiple uses of state parks and I don’t see anything mandating low impact agriculture,” said Gregory who worked 30 years in the state park system.

“Those are the two things that sparked the outcry you have been hearing about state parks,” said Gregory[…]