State lands director quits amid questions about $500,000 parks contract

State lands director quits amid questions about $500,000 parks contract

TALLAHASSEE — For the second time in two years, the boss of Florida’s state lands division has quit amid questions about oversight of the state Department of Environmental Protection and its state parks system under Gov. Rick Scott.

Last year, the state lands director quit after a politically unpopular drive to sell off surplus state park land netted zero sales.

On Friday, state lands division director Kelley Boree quit after the Tampa Bay Times had been asking the DEP the past month about a sole-source $500,000 contract awarded to a company founded by another DEP employee and her husband. As the Times awaited answers, the DEP canceled the contract.

Boree’s resignation came the next day.

Hired last year for the $115,000 a year job after her predecessor quit in 2014, Boree gave no reason for leaving in her resignation letter. When reached Tuesday, Boree said she quit “to pursue other opportunities.” However, she said, she has nothing else lined up yet.

The contract with Forestech, also known as F4Tech, called for the company to survey the timber in state parks and evaluate what could be harvested and how much money that could earn the DEP.

Forestech’s contract was part of DEP Secretary Jon Steverson’s controversial push to make state parks pay for themselves by opening them up to timber harvesting, cattle grazing and hunting. Steverson told a legislative committee this spring that the parks can protect the environment “while still becoming self-sustaining.”

The company was one that Steverson knew already. Prior to Scott appointing him the head of DEP in December, Steverson spent two years as the executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. During his time there, the water district hired Forestech for land management services. Among the jobs it performed was a timber survey similar to the one it was hired to do for the DEP under Steverson.

According to Boree, Steverson is the one who wanted the DEP to hire an outside contractor to review the parks’ timber rather than use state employees for the task, which is how it had been done previously […]