The city of Sanford has swamp land it wants to sell you.

No, it’s not some huckster scheme trying to separate out-of-state investors from their money. Instead, the city wants to sell conservation easements to developers on wetlands it owns near Lake Jesup.

Sunrise over Lake Jesup conservation area. Photo by Jeff Stamer. For more information about the photo go to Jeff's website at www.FirefallPhotography.com
Sunrise over Lake Jesup conservation area. Photo by Jeff Stamer. For more information about the photo go to Jeff’s website at FirefallPhotography.com

The city plans to sell easements on 20 to 30 acres of wetlands to Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) for about $250,000. Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA is expanding its medical facility in Oviedo near the intersection of Red Bug Lake Road and State Road 417.

Monday night, the Sanford City Commission authorized the mayor, city manager, city clerk and city attorney to negotiate and execute a deal with HCA.

In addition, the commission directed staff to determine how many acres of wetlands the city owns and to pursue a program to sell additional wetland easements.

Where are these wetlands?

The city owns 1,800 acres of property east of town near Geneva. Known as Site 10, the city sprays overflow reclaimed water – treated wastewater – from its sewage plant on a portion of the property, as allowed by permit from the  Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The city also leases portions of the property to a cattle rancher,  and another 900 acres to an orange grove operator.

A sizable portion of the property along Lake Jesup – how much exactly city officials are trying to determine – is classified as wetlands and is not useable for farming or cattle grazing. However, developers will pay good money to use the land.

Why is the city selling wetlands to developers?

The city is not selling the land, it is only selling an easement on the land. An easement is a legal right to use someone else’s land for a specific, limited purpose. Most commonly, easements are granted to utility companies which allows them to install power lines, sewer pipes, etc. on your property, and it allows them to go onto your property to repair those items.

Is any of this legal?

Absolutely. The city is selling conservation easements, which limit the use of the land to conservation purposes. In fact, the St. Johns River Water Management District is encouraging the city to sell the easement to HCA  and to establish a wetland mitigation bank.

What the heck is a wetland mitigation bank?

It’s a track of environmentally sensitive land in one location that is used to offset wetland losses from development or other land-use activities in another location.

Those who own wetland mitigation banks voluntarily agree to permanently preserve the land. In return mitigation bank owners can then sell conservation easements, referred to as “credits,” to public or private developers whose projects encroach upon wetlands. The credits are sold on an acre-to-acre exchange – if a development encroaches on 5 acres of wetlands, it must be offset with 5 acres from a mitigation bank.

The banks are certified by the state of Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and credits must be purchased in the same drainage basin where the development occurs. So, for instance, a development in Miami could not buy credits from a wetland mitigation bank in Tallahassee.

– by Dan Ping

Special thanks to Jeff Stamer (Website | Facebook) for the use of his photo.

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