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Scott, Cabinet move to protect rural land

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Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to make nearly $13 million in land and conservation-easement purchases, including property to help protect Silver Springs in Marion County and to provide a buffer zone for a U.S. Navy facility in Bay County.

The half-dozen agreements included a $4.5 million purchase of more than 465 acres held by the Conservation Trust of Florida near Silver Springs.

The purchase of the so-called Silver Springs Sandhill property will help improve groundwater recharging and will provide more protection for the aquifer near the springs, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Scott and the Cabinet also agreed to purchase 8.4 acres from Bay County for $1.67 million to provide a larger buffer zone for the Naval Support Activity facility in Panama City.

The facility is home to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, which conducts research on the latest ships and autonomous vehicles.

The Bay County purchase is part of a state program to provide buffer zones for key military facilities in the state, with efforts also aimed at limiting encroachment at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville and the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Scott and the Cabinet also approved four conservation easement purchases for ranch properties in Polk, Hardee, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The $6.6 million in easement purchases, which cover some 3,846 acres, are part of the state's Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

The major agreements included $3.25 million for two easements covering more than 1,800 acres of the Charlie Creek Cattle Co. property in Hardee County and $3.285 million for an easement covering 1,825 acres on the Walpole ranch property in Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam praised the conservation easements, noting Florida's continued growth "will put additional pressure to develop more and more of our world-renowned natural spaces."