A controversial proposal to let private contractors build and operate campgrounds at Florida state parks is drawing fire from fresh quarters this week reported the St. Petersburg Times.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, sent letters Tuesday to both Gov. Rick Scott and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard expressing his “adamant opposition.”
He said the DEP should halt its plan until the Legislature can study the proposal, noting that “allowing a for-profit enterprise to run a high-impact campground on such a sensitive and important environmental treasure as Honeymoon Island is a major policy change that needs more review than it has been given.”
And officials from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Florida ARVC) met with the head of the Florida Park Service to share their concerns. The 380-member association is also opposed to the DEP’s plan.
“It’s something we oppose because of the negative effects it could have on private businesses,” said Bobby Cornwell, the association’s executive director.
A lot of privately owned RV campgrounds are near state parks, Cornwell explained, and because of the economy demand is down. Putting new campgrounds, including spaces for RVs, into those state parks will hurt those private campgrounds, he said.
“The camping facilities are not needed,” he said. “We don’t need the state stepping in where they don’t belong.”
Critics of the Honeymoon Island plan are already organizing a large turnout for the July 5 public hearing at the Dunedin Public Library, which starts at 7 p.m.
Honeymoon Island, which could get up to 45 campsites on 17.5 acres east of the southern beach parking lot, is one of 56 state parks where DEP officials say they may allow private companies to build new camp sites.
About two-thirds of Florida’s 160 award-winning state parks have no camping. The 53 state parks that do allow camping offer 3,501 family campsites, and they are usually booked solid, according to the DEP. More than 2 million people camped in state parks last year, generating more than $15.5 million for the DEP — but the state wants to boost those revenues even higher.
Such groups as Audubon of Florida and the Florida Native Plant Society have already criticized the plan, especially the part about turning over the job of designing, building and operating the campgrounds to a private contractor.
Fasano said he too had concerns about that aspect of the plan because private contractors may not care as much about a park as park rangers and biologists do, “especially if their prime goal is to make money running a campground that caters primarily to high-impact camping.”