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Will a resort rise on this Florida island? Or a preserve? It comes down to a $25M deal

Time may very well be working out for Florida and Manatee County officers to preserve a few of the final unspoiled wetlands in Tampa Bay.

Rattlesnake Key’s 671 acres of mangrove swamps and flatwoods are a haven for fish, manatees, birds, anglers and boaters on Tampa and Terra Ceia bays, simply south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Now it’s all on the market as a part of a $75 million, 1,000-acre actual property package deal.

The state and county beforehand deliberate to purchase the land, setting apart $26 million for the acquisition. But the trouble stalled when a state appraisal valued the island at $7.6 million, in accordance to Honey Rand, a public relations consultant for the property homeowners.

Despite the setback, state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, believes a deal will be reached.

“Overall, I’m hopeful that we can figure out a way to permanently preserve this pristine piece of property,” Robinson mentioned in an interview with the Bradenton Herald. “A lot of my constituents have reached out to me in support of this. Boaters, fishermen and those who enjoy our coastline.”

Rand says the homeowners are nonetheless keen to promote Rattlesnake Key to the state and county for $25 million.

But with $23 million in earmarked state funding set to expire on June 30, the longtime plan to flip Rattlesnake Key into a state park and environmental protect may very well be in jeopardy.

A gross sales brochure pitches the lands as a perfect location for a public park — but additionally for personal endeavors like a business marina, cruise ship terminal, resort lodge or an island property residence.

Rattlesnake Key protects fishery, shoreline

06/22/21—The State of Florida wants to preserve 2,300 acres of environmentally sensitive Terra Ceia mangrove swamps and flatwoods.06/22/21—The State of Florida wants to preserve 2,300 acres of environmentally sensitive Terra Ceia mangrove swamps and flatwoods.

06/22/21—The State of Florida desires to protect 2,300 acres of environmentally delicate Terra Ceia mangrove swamps and flatwoods.

For many years, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has included Rattlesnake Key and the encompassing islands on its checklist of fascinating conservation areas.

The state has famous it as “some of the last natural lands left on the southeast shore of Tampa Bay.”

Why flip it into a state park?

“The project will protect and restore this natural area, preserve the fishery and manatee feeding grounds in Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve and give the public an area in which to fish, boat and enjoy the original landscape of Tampa Bay,” FDEP’s 2023 Florida Forever Plan says.

The present homeowners have allowed the property to operate as a de facto public park for many years, which locals have loved for fishing and kayaking.

The land has additionally been recognized for its means to assist curb the effects of climate change.

“This category includes lands that provide opportunities to sequester carbon, provide habitat, protect coastal lands or barrier islands, and otherwise mitigate and help adapt to the effects of sea-level rise and meet other objectives of the program,” in accordance to FDEP.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program, a part of the National Estuary Program, has additionally backed the trouble to purchase Rattlesnake Key.

In a 2021 letter to state legislators, TBEP’s coverage board mentioned it strongly supported the acquisition “for the public and environmental benefit of the Tampa Bay estuary.”

“The Key contains several important estuarine and coastal upland habitats that we’re striving to expand within the watershed,” TBEP Executive Director Ed Sherwood mentioned in an e mail Wednesday.

“These marshes, mangroves, and other habitats sustain a variety of fish and wildlife species and support nature-based experiences that invite the community to build a deep connection to Tampa Bay,” TBEP assistant director Maya Burke added.

Burke pointed to a 2023 report by the TBEP and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council that estimated that coastal wetlands and mangroves in Manatee County present over $70 million in flood safety advantages over a 30-year interval.

Water high quality advocacy group Suncoast Waterkeeper echoed the significance of Rattlesnake’s mangrove habitat.

“These mangroves are the backbone of our economy as they provide a productive fish nursery that supports recreational and commercial fisheries in our region,” mentioned Suncoast Waterkeeper Executive Director Abbey Tyrna in an e mail. “The mangroves provide a buffer for storm surges that cannot be replicated or engineered.”

As we lose these vital programs, we chip away at our well-being, endlessly spoiling what makes the Suncoast so particular,” Tyrna mentioned.

Owners open to ‘fair offer’ from state

Despite $23 million from state lawmakers in 2022 and a promise from Manatee County to contribute an additional $3 million, a deal for the acquisition has not been reached.

An appraisal by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection valued the land at $7.6 million, far under what the homeowners anticipated to obtain, in accordance to Rand.

“If they can get a fair offer, they’re ready to have discussions,” Rand mentioned.

Rand mentioned the homeowners she represents would like to have the land go to conservation — however provided that the value is correct.

Rand claims that the state’s appraisal missed 30 acres of upland habitat and different components concerning the island that resulted in sharply undervaluing the property.

FDEP officers acknowledged a request for remark however didn’t reply earlier than Wednesday afternoon.

“I get what the state is doing. We’re dealing with taxpayer money,” Robinson mentioned. “And (the property owners) have to do what they have to do, and we respect that.”

These owners have a right to make money on the property,” Rand mentioned. “If you have a willing seller, why would you slow walk it? It’s just a matter of time until someone in the private sector decides they want this land.”

Manatee County says conservation funds nonetheless obtainable

Manatee County Government officers say that they nonetheless assist efforts to purchase Rattlesnake Key.

“Preserving Rattlesnake Key is a high priority of the Manatee County Commission,” a assertion offered by county spokesperson Bill Logan mentioned. “We were happy to be partners with the State of Florida in the first attempt to purchase the island and we will continue to work hard to protect the Key from potential development.

“The $3 million is in reserves and still available for any Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC) project that goes through their process of prioritization,” the assertion mentioned.

State Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, led efforts to safe funding for the land buy, with assist from Robinson. Boyd didn’t reply to the Bradenton Herald’s request for remark this week.

That funding is about to expire June 30. This 12 months’s state funds, which has but to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, allocates a decreased quantity of $8 million for the acquisition of Rattlesnake Key.

“Folks just want a place to peacefully enjoy Old Florida,” Robinson mentioned. “Every day we seemingly lose properties like this.”

Suncoast Waterkeeper inspired elected officers to “keep their sleeves rolled up” and make a deal to defend Rattlesnake Key.

Tyrna pointed to Manatee County’s current land buy to broaden the close by Emerson Point Preserve. When it appeared like negotiations have been shut to failing, Tyrna mentioned officers have been ready to get a higher appraisal that “saved the deal.”

“We believe they can do it again for Rattlesnake Key,” Tyrna mentioned.

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