DeSantis & Florida Cabinet agree to conserve 57-acre Fish Island

Govenor & Cabinet back conservation land buys, including St. Augustine property

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis and Cabinet members agreed Thursday to buy and conserve more than 900 acres of land across the state at a combined cost of just over $11 million.

The land, which will be acquired with Florida Forever conservation funds, includes 717 acres within the Wakulla Springs Protection Zone in Wakulla County, 129 acres in Charlotte County and the 57-acre Fish Island in St. Johns County.

Fish Island, the most expensive of the proposals at $6.5 million, is one of the last remaining undeveloped waterfront properties in St. Augustine.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein presented that project to the Cabinet, whose members then heard from St. Augustine Leanna Freeman Vice Mayor, who spent about 14 years working to protect Fish Island, and North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy. 

"We are so pleased that the Cabinet has agreed to move forward to purchase this property with Florida Forever funds and even more pleased that Fish Island will be preserved,” McCarthy said. “We are honored to have Vice Mayor Freeman by our side and want to also thank Senator Rob Bradley, who had planned to be there, but a change in meeting time led to a scheduling conflict. Without his leadership to fund Florida Forever in 2018, this project would not have been possible. It was also great to partner with the Division of State Lands at DEP on this significant acquisition.”

The land in Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee, would require $4.2 million from the state. The property connects Apalachicola National Forest with the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Department of Environmental Protection officials said they are seeking $2.54 million from the Federal Forest Legacy to reduce the cost.

The Charlotte County site, which would cost about $396,000, consists of a 100-foot-wide former railroad right-of-way that extends 8.2 miles and bisects the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. The cost to the state could be reduced by as much as 75 percent if the Department of Environmental Protection is successful in an application for Federal Wildlife and Sport Restoration funding.