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FL Public Land Up For Grabs?

February 13, 2012

Pending Florida legislation could convert some 500,000 acres of publicly owned shoreline into private ownership. Opponents, including Audubon Florida Director Eric Draper, warn that it's a land grab move backed by Florida agribusiness interests.

"One bill I'm very concerned about sets the ordinary high water line at an extraordinary low level. It would basically take away our right to have access to those shorelines and river banks throughout the state of Florida."

It would mean a person could be arrested for getting out of a boat and stepping on the shore, according to the Florida Audubon Society.

Growers claim they need the land in order to expand to meet increasing demands for their crops. They propose to change the public-private boundary lines of lakes, rivers and streams from the "ordinary high-water line" to the "low-water line." That shift would affect about a half-million acres around the state.

Draper says every Florida governor in the past 30 years has stopped similar efforts to give away the state's shorelines. In 2000, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth called such legislation an attempt to create "one of the greatest land giveaways" in state history, Draper adds.

"Floridians are used to fishing, canoeing and swimming in these areas. We need to continue to have access to them."

HB 1103 passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 17. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1362, has not been heard yet. It has been referred to the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, as well as the Budget Committee.

More information on land-privatization legislation is available at http://fl.audubonaction.org.

Les Coleman, Public News Service - FL