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Date of Issue: December 03, 2008

State may transfer responsibility of Egmont to Feds

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Visitors to Egmont Key walk along a path. The state parks division is proposing to transfer its responsibilities at Egmont to the federal government. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

To save money, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is proposing the transfer of its management on Egmont Key to the federal government.

Currently the site at the mouth of Tampa Bay, visible from the north end of Anna Maria Island, has a state park operated under the jurisdiction of DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks and a National Wildlife Refuge under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Egmont, according to the DEP, is owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and it is not known how much of the key would be kept open if the transfer takes place.

The current agreement between the state and the federal government provides for a small staff on Egmont Key that welcomes about 170,000 visitors a year — all of them arriving by boat.

The DEP proposed the transfer of its responsibility on Egmont to deal with a request from Gov. Charlie Crist, who wants all state agencies to submit plans to reduce their operating budgets by 10 percent in fiscal 2009-10.

Each division of the DEP has proposed budget cuts.

The Division of Recreation and Parks proposed the transfer of Egmont Key and Three Rivers State Park to the federal government and Forest Capital Museum State Park to Taylor County. Three Rivers in Jackson County is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Forest Capital in Taylor County is owned by the county.

Additionally, the division proposed temporarily closing public access to 19 state parks, selecting the sites based on low visits and revenue compared to relatively high operating budgets, according to a statement from the state.

The 19 parks are Terra Ceia Preserve State Park in Manatee County, Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa County, St. Marks River State Park in Leon County, Lake June-In-Winter Scrub State Park in Highlands County, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park in Nassau County, Constitution Convention Museum State Park in Gulf County, John Gorrie Museum State Park in Franklin County, Deer Lake State Park in Walton County, Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park in Polk County, Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park in Escambia County, Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park in Jefferson County, Dunns Creek in Putnum County San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in Wakulla County, Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park in Monroe County, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park in Monroe County, Dudley Farm Historic State Park in Gilchrist County, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee County, Nature and Heritage Tourism Center in Hamilton County, Cedar Key Museum State Park in Levy County.

The Florida Audubon Society released a statement of concern about the DEP proposal: “Some of these closures could have grave implications for Florida’s rarest natural communities and wildlife. Florida’s parks and other conservation lands are held in trust for the people of Florida. Holding land in trust means a commitment to good management and responsibility for stewardship of vulnerable natural resources.

“Audubon is calling on Gov. Crist to give substantial consideration to the impacts of these reductions on the state’s ability to adequately manage these sensitive resources.”

Egmont Key, for example, is an important resource for imperiled beach-dependent birds in Tampa Bay.

Audubon said reversion of the property to the National Wildlife Refuge system might provide some cost-savings, but the short timeframe proposed would not give the federal cooperating agency sufficient time to find the resources to replace the functions the state provides.

The result, according to Audubon, could be “the park’s sensitive resources would be left without on-site, round-the-clock management, and the island would be vulnerable to trespass and resource abuse.”

Representatives with the Egmont Key Alliance that recently hosted a Discover Egmont Days that included a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the key’s lighthouse, said they hoped to lobby for Egmont in Tallahassee during the 2009 legislative session.