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County seals deal for Conservation 20/20 purchase of Edison Farms

By Staff | Oct 4, 2017

Something extraordinary happened last week! Lee County BoCC is soon to be the proud owner of Conservation 20/20 property Edison Farms. This will undoubtedly go down in history as an example of Lee County’s commitment to the preservation of our natural resources.

Edison Farms is not a new interest for Lee County. Edison Farms first came before the BoCC in 2010, with a hefty $180 million purchase price. At least one county commissioner pushed hard for the purchase at that time, but the county simply could not make such a large financial commitment to one property so the project stalled.

During the downturn, the 20/20 program became stagnant with rules that were almost detrimental to the welfare of the program itself. It successfully did the job of gathering approximately 20,000 acres. However, the current BoCC alongside the Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee (CLASAC) changed the criteria to allow Lee County to pursue purchasing strategic properties that would serve the purposes of water quality, wild life protection, water retention, hydrology, recreation and storm water management. This effort was followed by a successful 2016 referendum (as promised) that was approved by 84 percent of the electorate to continue the program.

This past year, Edison Farms listed for sale to the public. The BoCC instructed staff to obtain three appraisals, one of which became the basis of an offer to the owner. Long story short, the property will be purchased for $42.4 million by the end of the year.

Chairman John Manning and Commissioner Frank Mann both publicly stated their total support for this purchase followed by Commissioner Brian Hamman and Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass.

“This is money that the taxpayers taxed themselves for – this type of purchase is exactly what it’s supposed to be used for,” Commissioner Hamman remarked during the meeting. “This is a historic purchase, and is something that – as a father and native of Lee County, I’m really proud of. We’re going to leave this as a legacy to our grandchildren.”

Commissioner Pendergrass echoed those sentiments in his support for the purchase, saying he is looking forward to the creation of a master plan for the property.

“Looking ahead 50 years from now, I want someone to look back and say, ‘Thank God we did this!'”

Two things to keep in mind going forward. First, this should be considered an initial investment considering that changing the names on the deed does not restore natural flow ways or fix other issues. Next comes a Land Stewardship Plan that considers criteria for improving the property, which takes time and money to create what we want the property to become.

Second, this purchase brings the county to the brink of fulfilling many of the goals of the DRGR. With the purchase of Edison Farms and the pending approval of Verdana’s development proposal, Lee County will have ensured the preservation of approximately 80 percent of designated Tier 1 environmentally sensitive lands in the Southeast Lee County Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area. Edison Farms preserves almost 4,000 acres through the Conservation 20/20 Program, and the Verdana project joins two other real estate developments in the Environmental Enhancement & Preservation Communities Overlay with Tier 1 lands that will be required to restore and maintain almost 60 percent of their total land area.

We should be proud of the efforts by so many these past two decades. Special thanks for the cooperation and leadership of Land Solution’s CEO Randy Thibaut, Assistant County Manager Glen Salyer, and this seated Board of County Commissioners -Honorable John Manning, Cecil Pendergrass, Larry Kiker, Brian Hamman, and Frank Mann to bring this all to fruition. Because of the support from the citizens and taxpayers of Lee County, working together can pay dividends and this is one of the best examples.

Commissioner Larry Kiker represents District 3 on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.