The following editorial under the headline “Bulldozing Our Parks” appeared in the Tampa Tribune.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, which thought it a grand idea to build golf courses in state parks, now wants to transform parks into RV lots. Florida residents should be appalled by this threat to a parks system that has consistently been recognized as one of the best in the nation.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been quietly preparing a plan to develop privately run campsites at 50 parks or more. It is moving rapidly ahead to build four, including one at Dunedin’s Honeymoon Island State Park, a slender barrier island that allows visitors to experience pristine beachfront flora and fauna.
The DEP will hold a town hall meeting on the Honeymoon Island proposal Tuesday (July 5) at 7 p.m. at the Dunedin Hale Senior Center.
But it is obvious the skids have been greased for this scheme. Scott has made no secret of his desire to privatize and monetize every state operation possible. The DEP’s advisory Acquisition and Restoration Council already has given its approval, and parks director Donald Forgione is justifying this as a way to get more people outdoors.
Baloney. This is clearly a backdoor attempt to generate revenues from the parks, regardless of the harm to nature or the devaluation of visitors’ experience.
We don’t necessarily object to the state allowing private vendors to develop and run campgrounds at parks — if the parks are carefully selected and state’s priority remains preserving Florida natural heritage for all residents.
But no one who gives a hoot about Florida’s natural wonders would consider building a campground on 17 acres of Honeymoon Island. While the park is listed as 2,800 acres, most of that is submerged. It only has about 380 acres of uplands, yet the development proposal would require trees to be cut, a stormwater system to be built, an RV dump station to be maintained and even gopher tortoises to be removed.
The park does not lack for use. It is Florida’s most popular state park, attracting 1 million visitors last year. Moreover, the area has plenty of private RV parks. Indeed, it is curious that Scott, the private-sector cheerleader, would pursue an arrangement that would undermine existing businesses.
The governor’s motives would not be suspect if he had demonstrated the slightest regard for natural Florida. He has not. He killed Florida Forever, the effort to buy and preserve natural lands, a program started by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and championed by every subsequent governor until Scott. Since arriving in Tallahassee, Scott has gutted environmental regulations, water conservation efforts and funding for Everglades restoration and other projects.
He even looked favorably on an outrageous scheme to develop a Jack Nicklaus “golf trail” at a number of state parks, though there is no shortage of existing courses or suitable private land that could be developed into new courses. Public opposition put a stop to that ploy, as it should to this one.
Florida may need to add campgrounds, even privately run campgrounds, to some parks, but the sad truth is this administration has done nothing to show it can be trusted to do so in a responsible manner.
If Scott wants to gain a little environmental credibility, he could start by pulling the plug on the Honeymoon Island plan and then begin listening to the public. He could even visit parks before pursuing a plan that could damage the beauty and serenity that make our state parks so alluring.