Environmentalists fear Amendment 1 wishes will be thwarted

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – About 1.3 million more voters said yes to buying land for conservation than voted for Gov. Rick Scott in November.

Amendment 1 will set aside millions of dollars a year for conservation, but there is a growing fear among environmentalists that voters' wishes will be thwarted.

Voters mandated that $1 of every $3 raised from taxing real estate transactions go to conserving land. But the election was barely official when the Senate president started questioning how the money might be spent.

"That 33 percent is coming from somewhere," state Sen. Andy Gardiner said.

House Speaker Steve Cristifulli wants to use some of the money to fix leaking water pipes for cities.

Both remarks set off fire bells for environmentalists. This past week, Scott was the lone "no" vote on a land purchase. Scott wanted to offer just 90 percent of the lowest appraised value.

"I think we can do a better job for the taxpayers of the state," Scott said.

The fear is that the low-balling willing sellers will send them into the arms of developers.

"The governor did not want to pay the appraised value. Do you think that is a problem in the future?" News4Jax's Mike Vasilinda asked.

"It could be. I mean, we'll see. It remains to be seen," said Julie Waithmell, of Audubon Florida. "Once the funding becomes available, then we are hoping we will see more projects coming forward, too."

University of Florida environmental researcher Dr. Peter Frederick spent his last day on a little known board that will set priorities for land purchases under Amendment 1.

"I really don't think that there's anything in what we saw as voters that would lead you to use it for other purposes," Frederick said.

Environmentalists remain skeptical.

State lawmakers will have their first discussions on how to implement Amendment 1 in January.