News / Events

Farmton management plan: Conserve 44,000 acres in Volusia, Brevard

By Dinah Voyles Pulver, Environment Writer

August 31, 2012

As final agreements are reached in the coming months, about 44,000 acres of the Miami Corp.'s 59,900 acres in Brevard and Volusia counties will be protected in conservation.

The St. Johns River Water Management District approved its role in the conservation last week and a long-term management plan for the conservation lands in Volusia is nearing completion.

"We're protecting about 80 percent of that land," Volusia County Councilwoman Pat Northey said Friday.

The Farmton Local Plan, approved by the two counties last year, required the conservation lands in exchange for allowing the eventual development of 23,000 homes and more than 4 million square feet of commercial space on the remaining 15,000 acres.

The company has owned the land, used primarily for timber and hunting, since the 1920s.

Last Tuesday, the Water Management District's governing board voted to accept conservation easements over 4,800 acres in Brevard County, to be shared with the county and Florida Audubon. The board also authorized executive director Hans Tanzler to accept easements and covenants for over 8,400 acres in Volusia County once a final agreement has been reached. In Volusia, the easements will be held jointly by the district, Volusia County and Florida Audubon.

The conservation easements require the company to reimburse the district and Audubon for the cost of annual monitoring inspections for both counties, guaranteed by a $50,000 irrevocable letter of credit.

District documents state the purpose of the easement is to assure the property "will be retained forever to provide a relatively natural habitat for fish, wildlife and plants, and to preserve the property as productive farmland and forest land that sustains for the long-term both the economic and conservation values of the property."

For about a year, the district has worked with a task force that included company representatives, Volusia County officials and other experts to write a conservation management plan.

That task force includes Clay Henderson, a former Volusia County councilman and land use attorney who helped represent the company during the comprehensive planning process with the two counties; Preston Roberts with the Florida Wildlife Federation, and Robert Christianson, director of operations and land resources for the water management district.

On Sept. 5, the task force is scheduled to review the proposed conservation management plan which has been worked out among all the parties over the past year, said Glenn Storch, the local attorney for Miami Corp.

"We've had some snags, but it looks like we've found a way to resolve them and that's what we're in the process of doing now," Storch said.

The Farmton plan originally called for 1,132 acres along Deep Creek to be deeded to a separate organization with a board including representatives of Volusia, the water district and Audubon. However, in recent months recommendations emerged from the task force that it would be better to deed the land to Volusia County.

If that change is approved, it will require a formal amendment to the Farmton plan. That amendment would have to go back to the county's planning board and could be considered by the County Council in October.

The county hopes to open the land along Deep Creek for public use, such as trails and kayaking. It's a plan that has Councilwoman Northey "very excited."

She hiked the land with company representatives recently.

"It's beautiful," Northey said.

About 31,000 acres of the company's land is conserved within the boundaries of a wetland mitigation bank, which is permitted and overseen by the water management district. The company sells credits to area developers to allow them to alter wetlands in exchange for wetland restoration and conservation the company has undertaken on its land.

The company also received final approval this summer from the Public Service Commission for a wastewater utility on its Brevard lands.

The Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development and the Volusia Flagler Sierra Club protested the commission's final order.

The groups have maintained throughout the approval process that the planned commercial and residential development is too intense for its remote, rural location and that the company should not be given conservation credit for part of the land because it was already planned for protection in the company's wetland bank.