Parcels of state-owned lands - some in Lee County - are being assessed for their conservation value to determine if they can be sold to help fund the purchase of additional lands that have a higher value.
The 2013 Florida Legislature allocated $20 million for Florida Forever, the state's conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. State lawmakers also appropriated up to an additional $50 million in spending, to be funded with the sale of state-owned lands no longer needed for conservation purposes.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now conducting the State Conversation Land Assessment. The assessment enables the DEP to score land based on conservation value in order to buy land that protects springs, water resources and military installations, according to the agency Web site.
"It's an opportunity to do an assessment of all the conservation land the state has purchased," DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie said Thursday. "In order to buy more valuable conservation land."
"We can, essentially, trade up," he said.
Criteria was created and a scientific and environmentally based process used to determine which land has the lowest conservation resources. An inventory of about 3 million acres has been whittled down to 169 sites, or about 5,300 acres. Nearly two dozen parcels in Cayo Costa State Park remain on the list.
"Anything from hunting and fishing opportunities, beach recreation opportunities," Gillespie said of the criteria used to evaluate the sites. "Protections of rivers, lakes and streams - affects on aquifers."
The sites are also examined for any possible title or legal issues.
He noted that the current list makes up less than 0.2 percent of the starting 3 million acres.
"I think that shows the vetting we've done so far is a good job," Gillespie said.
In many cases, the state park parcels still being considered for sale may be geographically separated by the park by a road, or they may be bumped up against or bordered by homes or other development.
"Those are parcels that we can sell that won't take away from the park," he said.
In the case of Cayo Costa, a lot of the parcels on the list are located adjacent to residential lots.
"This is a preliminary list and we want that public comment," Gillespie said.
In September and October, public meetings will be held around the state so residents can provide feedback to the DEP. As of Thursday, the meeting dates and locations had not been decided.
"We don't want to sell a land that should not be sold," he said, adding that the DEP wants to ensure everyone has an opportunity to comment, hear about what is going on and see the list of sites.
The list will change upon further evaluation.
"We're doing some additional vetting right now," Gillespie said.
Parcels recommended for sale will be offered to other state managing agencies, universities and local governments, which have an option to lease. Properties could be available in October or November.
If there is no interest, the land is put up for bid. Secured bids must go before the governor and Cabinet, which must determine that the land is no longer needed for conservation purposes and approve the sale.
"There are some steps in place before we can actually get to selling," he said.
"The goal is whatever we sell, we put back into buying other conservation lands," Gillespie said.
For more information, visit: www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/assessment/default.htm.