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Fla. Cabinet eyeing Panhandle property to protect wildlife, military

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., (The News Service of Florida) – Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet will be asked next week to spend $1.095 million through the Florida Forever program to buy 6.4 acres, which could be part of a restrictive easement to protect U.S. Air Force airspace.

The land within the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve in Gulf County is subject to a 2015 agreement between the U.S. Air Force and the state Department of Environmental Protection that could result in a restrictive easement being placed over the land, to protect the Air Force’s flight operations.

The agreement, which covers several Florida Forever projects, would require the federal agency to pay 50 percent or more of the purchase price if it wants the state to make the land a military restrictive easement. A Cabinet staff report, which recommends approval of the deal, notes that the Air Force has set aside $2 million for restrictive easements on any parcels located within a designated Special Use Airspace Area that overlaps with Florida Forever projects.

The Panhandle land is considered one of the least disturbed coastal bay systems in Florida. The St. Andrew Bay watershed, Apalachicola River Basin, and the Money Bayou watershed all converge within the preserve. Acquiring the parcel of land “will protect the basin and nearshore waters,” and will prevent “further loss and degradation of these coastal wetlands through development,” according to the staff report.

The property is also a habitat for nine federally listed threatened or endangered animals, as well as 10 state-listed species, the report says. Four species of sea turtles inhabit the Gulf of Mexico near the property, according to the report.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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