Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday announced the state will purchase 20,000 acres spanning a 150-mile swath of Everglades between Fort Myers and Miami to ensure it is never used for oil drilling.
“This will permanently save the land from oil production,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Everglades Holiday Park near Fort Lauderdale.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein said the acquisition would be the state’s largest land purchase “in more than a decade.”
Valenstein said the state has 75 days to complete the acquisition, which will cost $16.56 million “if we’re able to secure it in a short period of time, reaching up to an option price of $18 million through the year.”
The money will come from several sources, including DEP’s Florida Forever funds, other state agencies and local governments, such as the South Florida Water Management District (SoftMud).
All 20,000 acres are held by Kanter Real Estate LLC, owned by Miami real estate developer Joseph Kanter, who originally proposed a “new town development” for the consolidated parcel, mostly in southwest Broward County.
In 2016, however, Kanter applied for a permit to drill an exploratory well 11,800 feet deep on the land to ascertain if oil could be extracted there. The DEP rejected the application.
If February 2019, a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal ruled the DEP “improperly recast factual findings to reach a desired outcome” in upholding its rejection of Kanter’s permit – essentially opening the door for drilling.
DeSantis said the ruling forced the state to consider purchasing the land.
“This is guaranteeing the heart of the Everglades is under public ownership and secure for future generations,” he said, noting the land sustains more than 60 endangered species.
DeSantis said with the state funneling $2.5 billion into Everglades restoration and water quality as part of his four-year environmental plan, and the federal government committing billions more under the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, the money is well spent.
“My thing is, we’re putting all this effort in there. I don’t want some type of accident causing all these problems and then putting us backwards,” he said.
SoftMud Board Chair Chauncey Goss, who also attended Wednesday’s conference, praised the acquisition.
“This is a great day for Florida’s Everglades,” he said. “This is a really bold action to stop oil and gas drilling in one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. This is an announcement that is going to be recognized nationally and internationally as an important step in restoring our Everglades.”
Environmental groups quickly endorsed the acquistion in statements.
“We applaud Gov. DeSantis for his swift action in protecting these lands,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said. “This is yet another demonstration of his commitment to restoring America’s Everglades and ensuring we achieve more now for Florida’s environment.”
Kanter’s project is among at least five pending oil drilling permit applications in the Everglades or nearby, including Trend Exploration’s request to drill in the Caracara Prairie Preserve in Collier County.