WETLANDS PRESERVATION SURVEY
SOUTHWEST ESCAMBIA COUNTY
A REPORT TO ESCAMBIA COUNTY
NEIGHBORHOOD AND ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT
SUBMITTED MARCH 31, 1999
THE ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT
UNIVERSITY OF WEST FLORIDA
DR. MEL DROUBAY, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
Mr. Jonathan Lewis, Researcher
Mr. Joshua House, Researcher
1. Summary and Recommendations
The Southwestern portion of Escambia County, an area roughly between Naval Air Station Pensacola and Perdido Bay (not including Perdido Key) has been the subject of environmental controversy for a number of years. The perception is that the area should be largely preserved because of its wetlands and the endangered species which grow in it. At the same time, this area has been for several years the focal point of a major building boom, one of the last places in the County where waterfront lots and/or large homesites are still available close to the City of Pensacola and Pensacola Naval Air Station. A major controversy over protection of some 7,000 acres to preserve the listed White Tipped Pitcher Plant has occupied a great deal of news media space and time, while land prices rise as developments occupy more and more of the area.
Whereas in the past some of these developments were mobile home parks and individual property owners selling a few lots, now the area is the focus of high-end projects with lots going for fifty to eighty thousand dollars, the houses built on them at times surpassing the half-million dollar mark. A rule of this kind of development is simple: one attracts another, and that is what is happening in the area.
A general perception has been that every development must set land aside for conservation purposes, especially since they are all supposedly built on wetlands. The developers must have, therefore, either purchased land in other nearby wetlands as mitigation or left some land within their own developments as Conservation Easements. A growing realization by environmental professionals and concerned citizens is that the presumed easements are not working either because of their patchwork nature or because of encroachment, and that most certainly there has been no enforcement of the existing easements. Simple observation has shown that wet areas between rows of houses are being filled in with grass clippings and other debris, that fence lines are slowly encroaching on these areas, and that they are obviously not functioning well.
This study set out to identify the current Conservation Easements, a task which at first seemed simple assuming that all such easements must be registered somewhere. The purpose was to photograph the easements and make an assessment of their viability. If it could be shown that the easement system was not working in this area, then the study was to propose a system that would either allow the Conservation Easement system to be truly effective or
propose an action of some other type which would preserve at least some of the integrity of this rich natural area in the face of development pressure. This project was originally contracted to the Escambia County Neighborhood and Environmental Services, and was to utilize spatial data systems and mapping in accord with that being used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Environmental Protection. It was assumed at the time that the Escambia County Geographic Information Systems (GIS) section would be fully staffed and have all the necessary equipment. When it became obvious that their staffing and equipment would not arrive on time, NESD, with permission from the Grantor, sub-contracted the work to the Environmental Studies Department of the University of West Florida.
It was first determined by the UWF team that finding existing Conservation Easements would be a task much more difficult than anticipated. The DEP, which grants such easements, could find only four within Escambia County. Records had been kept, of course, but had been routed to a host of offices within DEP and had not returned to any sort of final archive that was searchable. The UWF Research Team did eventually find four easements for the study area after going through nearly 600 easements of all kinds at the Circuit Court for Escambia County. The data base at the Courthouse is only searchable for those years after 1994. Clearly, either that final source (reached after many others were exhausted), is either not complete or there is a real problem with the easement process. Given the difficulties in finding the easements, the UWF team decided to divide its efforts (and this report) into two parts: the first deals with the Conservation Easement process, and the second with a proposed Wetland Conservation Bank as an alternative to the present easement problem.
In order to develop a realistic proposal for a Wetland Conservation Bank which would be owned and operated much like the Jones Swamp area close by, the UWF Research Team narrowed its original Area of Interest to a smaller Secondary Area of Interest, one in which contiguous properties which high percentages of wetlands, endangered habitats and other characteristics were found. A series of maps and data tables were created to both analyze and demonstrate the characteristics and eventually propose a plan of purchase for part of this area. The idea is that as new development wishes to be permitted in the Southwestern part of the County (or perhaps other areas ), as part of the mitigation procedure the developers be urged to comply by purchasing properties within the proposed Wetland Conservation Bank area and deeding these over to the County. This study has produced a purchase plan which identifies those properties of highest priority and those of lesser priority. Those of highest priority not only preserve land of extremely delicate habitat, but also protect the headwaters and drainage basin to Bayou Grande, a waterway under process of clean-up. Those of less priority blend into and in some cases actually form part of the proposed Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve, an area being purchased by the State of Florida under the Preservation 2000 program. Some of the lands proposed for purchase for Escambia County form what the research team considers to be the last purchases that will be made in that program and thus those which will be under the most threat of development.A number of recommendations are made in each of the two sections. Summarizing these recommendations the UWF team proposes that Escambia County:
1. Work out an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) section or department responsible for wetland permitting to make sure that copies of all Conservation Easements and other mitigation agreements granted are sent to the appropriate office at the County (NESD, Code Enforcement, Planning and Zoning, or other) for information purposes, so that a record can be kept. A similar agreement should be made with the Corps of Engineers. Finding all existing Conservation Easements might be a good project, but it will be long, expensive and tedious, and for the most part useless until the question of enforcement is resolved. At the moment, no one enforces Conservation Easements, so why find them? If enforcement could be ceded to the County, then there would be a reason to locate every easement and then deal with developers and homeowner associations to stimulate care or even further mitigation into a more formal conservation bank as is proposed below. The question remains, however, of whether the County could possibly take on this added duty.
2. What most observers think are Conservation Easements are probably Drainage Easements. These are the responsibility of the County, for flooding occurs when neighbors fill them with debris. Since it is the County Public Works Department that has to resolve the flooding when it occurs; that Department should know about all easements granted before the problems occur. If a system does not exist of notifying Public Works of all issued drainage easements, then one should be put in place to prevent floods from occurring.
3. Establish a Wetlands Conservation Bank as proposed in this study. Work out an agreement with the DEP and the Corps of Engineers to guide property owners/developers who must mitigate into purchasing property in the proposed area, then deeding it to the County. The DEP is very short-handed in its wetlands permitting section at this time: this is a good time to make an agreement which will assist them while benefitting the County. Same for the Corps of Engineers.
4. For purposes of avoiding liability on those lands deeded to the County after purchase as part of a mitigation program, agreement must be reached with DEP concerning the long-term management of the proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank. The County already has experience with this in creating the Jones Swamp Preserve. Although some of that land was County land to begin with, parcels have been added through mitigation processes as well as through the CARL programs and others. More importantly, the Jones Swamp Preserve shows that Escambia County can gain the cooperation of other agencies to manage land for conservation purposes. Building on that experience, there should be no problem creating the proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank.
Wetlands Preservation Study
Southwest Escambia County
Table of Contents
1. Summary and Recommendations
2. Work Performed
Appendix 2.1 - Maps 1, 2, 3
Appendix 2.2 - Sources for Map Data
3. Investigation into Conservation Easements
Appendix 3.1 - Sample of Conservation Easement Agreement
Appendix 3.2 - Samples of Currently Filed Conservation Easements
Appendix 3.3 - List of Sources in various state, federal and county offices
4. The Proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank
Appendix 4 - Map Series: Secondary Area of Interest
4.1 Satellite Image
4.3 Extent of Development
4.4 Property Lines over Aerial Photograph
4.5 Section, Township and Range (STR) and Property Numbers
4.6 Percentage Wetlands by Property
4.7 National Wetlands Inventory
4.8 Wetland Types by Property
4.9 Assessed Value per Acre, by Property
4.10 Recommended Phases of Acquisition - Wetlands Conservation Bank
5. Recommendations and Strategies for the Wetlands Conservation Bank
Appendix 5.1 - Property Information Tables - Proposed Conservation Bank
- Property Data by Recommended Purchases
- Property Information from County Tax Collelctor's Database- List of Contacts
2. Work Performed
The Escambia County Neighborhood and Environmental Services Department (NESD) received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to perform research on the Southwest part of Escambia County. This research was to consist of two objectives: 1.) locate and assess the status of existing Conservation Easements in this area to enable NESD to design (if necessary) an effective management system; and 2.) explore and assess the possibility of creating an informal mitigation system whereby developers in the area could contribute to a functional Conservation Bank in lieu of setting aside small parcels of unconnected land that form no viable whole.
The idea of an "informal" or "quasi-mitigation bank" is based on the perception that the Conservation Easement system in this area is not working. The term "Conservation Bank" was substituted for the previous terms based on the fact that in DEP terminology, "mitigation" usually refers to wetland creation more than to preservation. In this case the intention is to explore the preservation of a large area of functioning wetlands and associated uplands in lieu of continuing the present process of requiring small, unconnected and potentially less-functional areas to be set aside as the larger area continues to develop.
The work was contracted to the University of West Florida's Environmental Studies Department and performed by a Research Team under the supervision of Dr. Mel Droubay. The research team divided the project into four phases: assessment, data collection, database construction, and analysis.
Due to the fact that the University was taking over an incomplete project from the County, the Assessment Phase involved an evaluation of work accomplished to that point. The research team visited with Ms. Tanya Mackay who had been hired by NESD to work on this project, and Mr. Phil Veazey, the head of the GIS section of the County. Ms. Mackay had gathered some amount of base data but was largely unable to analyze or represent it due to the fact that the County's new GIS equipment had not arrived and there was no way to perform the necessary analysis in the existing AutoCad systems. The team received from her a valuable list of contacts with whom she had worked and several data sets she had obtained from Federal and State agencies. She had not as yet done any fieldwork regarding Conservation Easements. Given this fact, the UWF Research Team opted to create a new project rather than carry on Ms. Mackay's format.
The second phase, Data Collection, concentrated first of all on locating existing Conservation Easements. The Research Team assumed at first that this would be an easy task, one involving a records search at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or elsewhere. This proved to be a much more complicated task, as described in Part 3 of this report. Very soon it was evident that totally different data collection efforts would be needed for the two objectives of the project, one dealing with the Conservation Easements (existence and process) and one dealing with a possible Wetlands Conservation Bank for the area. Since the success of such a preservation project would depend on a wide variety of factors, an appropriate collection of data sets was needed. Data to determine the viability and the sensitivity of any proposed land for such an area, data needed to meet requirements of the DEP for any type of mitigation project, and information that would be needed by NESD to create a purchase program and oversee the land purchased were all deemed critical.
After an initial survey of the entire area of primary interest (Southwestern Escambia County) it was decided in the interest of time and more importantly in the interest of being able to find and analyze a unified area large enough to fulfill the goal of a functioning wetland zone to be preserved, a smaller Secondary Area of Interest was outlined and a detailed study of that area carried out.
The third phase of the project was the construction of several Databases, both numeric and spatial dealing with this Secondary Area of Interest. This is the area within which purchases could be made by the County or by Developers as mitigation actions to preserve a large, functioning wetland area within the zone. Most of the data sets gathered from a number of sources needed to be created or modified in some way so they could be displayed in the same projection and viewed in ArcView GIS format. The U.S. Geological Survey's Digital Orthophoto Quadrangles (DOQ's) were used as the base upon which to build all other data sets. The U.S. Census' TIGER roads, the DEP Drainage Basin data, Tarkiln Bayou State Park data and the DEP's Protected Lands/Conservation Areas data (see source table in Appendix 2.2) were all in the correct projection and barring attribute adjustments were usable as acquired.
The wetland data acquired from the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) was re-projected and generalized from approximately 230 wetland types to eleven. The data from the Escambia County Property Appraiser was of two types: CAD drawings and property information. The CAD drawings were geo-referenced to the DOQ's by creating a world file (*.wld) for each drawing. This was performed using the ArcView CadTools extension. The property information for the 77 properties within the secondary area of interest was compiled and edited within Excel and then exported to ArcView in *.dbf format. The Extent of Development themes were developed from the DOQ's and the Street Atlas of Escambia County (private publication). As the DOQ's are from 1995 and the Street Atlas is current to 1998, two separate themes: older and recent development were created to indicate development trends. While all the data is in the Albers Equal Area Conic projection, the satellite imagery from the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission was the only data left in the Universal Transverse Mercator projection. In other words, the satellite imagery cannot easily overlay other data sets .
The fourth phase of the project was the analysis of the database created by the amalgamation of the various source materials. The Geographic Information System (GIS) is capable of answering complex questions. For example, the data set can show all properties with a habitat diversity greater than or equal to four, over fifty percent wetlands, and a property value appraised at less that five thousand dollars per acre. The research team ran a wide range of such queries and studied in detail the non-queriable data sets such as the satellite images. Appendix 4 contains a series of maps and images (Maps 4.1 - 4.10) illustrating the system's coverages and capabilities. These queries led to the formation of the recommendations made in Part 4 of this report, which are summarized in Map 4.10. as a phased plan of action for the purchase of specific lands for preservation.
Appendix 2.1 Maps of General Area
Click thumbnail for full image.
|Map 1. General Location of Area of Interest|
|Map 2. Aerial Photograph of Area of Interest|
|Map 3. Original and Secondary Areas of Interest with Local Protected Lands|
Appendix 2.2 Data Sources for Map Information
3. Conservation Easements
A development of any size which impacts a wetland or other sensitive area must set aside an area of similar land as a Conservation Easement. Given that much of the southwestern area of Escambia County is composed of "obvious" wetlands or lands containing special plants or animal life, a logical assumption is made that nearly every one of the dozens of new developments there would have such easements, either within their boundaries or within the same watershed as normally required by current regulation.
Observation by environmental professionals and interested citizens has led to the belief that whatever easements might be there are not functional. In the first place the patchwork nature of the developments in the area, mostly fenced and pseudo-gated type communities, interrupt the natural flow of the original wetlands, so those easements within developments are obviously drying up. Secondly, what appear to be Conservation Easements are definitely under siege, with fence rows creeping into them and grass clippings and other yard debris continually thrown over the fences to fill in the low, wet areas. Based on these observations, the idea of either enforcing the current easements or creating some type of alternative solution was born. In the first case, whoever is supposed to enforce the easements could possibly make sure they maintain their integrity as well as perhaps enforce some sort of continuity between developments. In the second place it might prove to be a much better strategy to preserve one large area of real, functioning wetland than a host of smaller un-connected ones. For developers, this would mean they could build on all of their development land while for conservationists a functioning wetland area could be preserved and nurtured. With cooperation from the local Home Builders Association and other developer groups, this could be accomplished in a way which would serve all interests.
The first task of the UWF Research Team was to actually assess the existing Conservation Easements within the study area to evaluate their status. Since these are legal property restrictions, the Team considered this would be an easy task. The following pages outline the process the Research Team went through with this "easy" task, including recommendations concerning the process. Appendices 3.1 and 3.2 are the DEP's sample Conservation Easement and examples of of current easements the Research Team found. Appendix 3.3 lists the sources of information used by the Team to do this research.
Finding Existing Easements
The research team first queried the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's regional office in Pensacola, where it was assumed a record of all such easements is supposed to exist. Conservation Easements are part of the DEP's mitigation process, after all. The research team was told first of all that all easement records were sent to Tallahassee to the GIS section for registration and inclusion in their GIS and Protected Lands file. When we called the DEP's Protected Lands and GIS sections, we were told that this was not the case, such easements were normally much to small to show on maps and that since the DEP did not actually own these lands, only had the right of use, they would not appear on the state list of Protected Lands.
Returning to the DEP, the research team found through another channel that all such easements for the Northwest Florida District were on file, but not in any order except perhaps chronological. Indeed, the local DEP office was attempting to organize them, and had an OPS worker doing that. He had found four such easements in Escambia County so far, none in our area of study.
The research team then queried the Escambia County Planning and Zoning Office, the County Engineering Section, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the County Property Appraiser's Office. We had started with Neighborhood and Environmental Services, of course, which had no specific information other than the observations which led to this project. All of these agencies were aware that somewhere a list of the Conservation Easements could be found: all assumed that it would be at the DEP, while at the same time they were aware that the local DEP office's records were not in easily accessible form.
Realizing then that there was a lack of readily available information about the Conservation Easements, the Research Team began investigating the process which leads to the granting of such an easement, searching for that file source it may have missed that would list all the easements for this particular area.
The Easement Process
An easement is the limitation of usage rights on a property. These limitations can be drafted by the owner, or can be adopted from guidelines set by organizations or government agencies. The DEP has a specific contract that can be filled out which subjects the property to its regulations for a conservation easement. Indeed, all such easements are negotiated by and registered with the DEP or the Corps of Engineers, depending on the actual jurisdiction of the land.
It is the property owner or developer, however, who initiates the process when he/she submits plans for approval by the County Development Review Committee in the Planning and Zoning Department. If there is any wetland or other environmental impact, those plans will be referred to the Escambia Soil and Water Conservation District (Natural Resources Conservation Service) for review. The property will be surveyed to determine the actual extent of wetlands or other environmentally sensitive property. In some cases the development plan will be referred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which deals with specific types of wetlands (isolated) or property zones close to navigable waterways.
The property owner or developer must then obtain permits from the DEP or the Corps of Engineers if any environmentally sensitive land is to be impacted. This is normally done through hiring an environmental consulting company that specializes in this process. In all cases where wetlands are affected, some sort of mitigation will be required: either new wetlands will have to be created; current wetlands improved; or part of the area set aside. All of these become Conservation Easements. Whatever land is to be set aside may not actually be within the development boundary --it may be connected to it or it may be in a remote site from the development, although it must be of the same wetland type and in the same drainage basin, depending on the negotiation held between the DEP or the Corps of Engineers and the Developer. Whatever is negotiated, a contract is signed, and in the case of the DEP, that contract is supposed to be sent to several "appropriate offices and agencies" including several within the DEP and of course the county office where properties are registered.
With all environmental permits in hand, including the Conservation Easement or other mitigation document (and any other easement documents for utilities, right of way or drainage), the owner/developer returns to the County Development Review Committee for approval. Once approved, the plans for streets, sewers, drainage, utilities, and water are submitted for approval to the County Engineer. Conservation Easements which are within the development are drawn on the map or plat of that development. Conservation Easements which are contiguous to the development or at a remote site are not. (Only Drainage Easements allowing for the flow of surface water from a development are included if they are outside the boundaries of the proposed development).
Engineering, of course, keeps a copy of the plans, and does subsequent inspections of the streets, drainage and other issues, but does not inspect Conservation Easements per se. These are not Engineering issues. The various plans for developments are filed by date and by the name of the development: there is no way of searching for Conservation Easements without going through the entire file, and even then any easements that are not within the development would not be found.
Easements of all kinds (Conservation, Drainage, Utilities and Access) are recorded in "The Courthouse." Specifically, the Recording Division of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court. Here all property transfer records are recorded, as well as liens and other encumbrances. These are recorded as parts of any deed, and it is up to the interested party to make sure that such recording is actually done. The Escambia County Utilities Authority (ECUA) has a strong interest in utility easements, City, County and State road departments have a strong interest in the access or right of way easements, and certainly the County Department of Public Works has a strong interest in the drainage easements, especially when they do not work well. No agency really has an interest in the Conservation Easements, therefore their registration is not a major issue. The DEP obviously does not check back to see that they are recorded, and one might suspect that the Owner/Developer might not have a burning interest in their registration. What the Developer needs is the permit from the DEP or the Corps o Engineers to fill in and begin building. As far as the Team could ascertain, there is no requirement to show that the Conservation Easement has been recorded. The DEP, which creates the contracts sends it to the Courthouse for registration, but again, as far as the Team could ascertain, there is no follow-through to assure that such recording is actually carried out.
The Clerk's Office in Escambia County has a searchable database which includes all easements recorded since 1994 (drainage, access, utility, conservation). Prior to that date, the records are filed chronologically and by name. The Research Team reviewed 600 easements of all types and found 21 Conservation Easements for the entire county. Only four of these were in the original Area of Interest of Southwest Escambia County. Given the amount of recent development in the area, it seems obvious that many such easements are either not being required or not being recorded. Or, it might also be possible that many of the current developments, even if impacting wetlands, were sub-divided and platted many years ago before such easements were required, and have therefore been "grandfathered" into current construction.
Of the four easements found in the Court's data base, one was north of Highway 98 (Lillian Highway), a cluster of very small easements were registered for the new Heron's Forest development on Big Lagoon which is only now under construction (and advertises itself as an environmentally sound development) and two within Garcon Swamp, most probably the product of mitigations from developments that could be anywhere in the County. (They are largely illegible and the legal description does not indicate from where they are mitigated). The first two have maps showing them, the two within Garcon Swamp do not - they have only legal descriptions of their locations. (See Appendix 3.2)
The Research Team also spoke with several developers who are building in the area and are known to the researchers. When asked about Conservation Easements, they were very quick to say they had all needed permits, usually negotiated by one or another consulting firm. They knew, of course, that all such easements were registered at the Courthouse and that they had to respect them in the construction process to make sure that no clay or waste material got into the water in or around the development. What was interesting is that in every case these developers claimed they were actually not affecting wetlands at all; in fact, they were very careful to not build in or around wetlands because of the permit problems.
That most of the current and recent developments might not be constructed on wetlands is a possibility. Most certainly builders search for the least expensive property, and mitigation costs can be high. This might well explain the fact that very few Conservation Easements are registered for this area. As the developments continue to proliferate, however, the available land that is not wetland will become more scarce, therefore the proposed plan for a Wetland Conservation Bank proposed in the next section becomes more important in that case.
The conclusions of the research team concerning the Conservation Easements are:
1. The DEP, which negotiates such easements, until very recently has had a real problem keeping records in a searchable way. (This is not unknown to the host of environmental consultants in the area). So any new Conservation Easement contract should be filed in a searchable database as well as copied to whatever County agency wishes to keep track. At the same time, a method of follow through to insure that the Easements are registered at the Circuit Court is needed.
2. The problem is which County agency might want to keep track, and why? In reality Conservation Easements do not become County Land, so they are not the responsibility of the County. This land is set aside for potential use by the State, but except for very large parcels, it would appear that the State has no intention of using them and therefore has not established any real means of inspecting them.
3. What people are probably seeing as they drive through the area are drainage easements, which are the responsibility of the County. These are surface water channels, therefore it is the requirement of the County to maintain them. As drainage easements get clogged, they cause flooding, as we have seen from recent news reports. Drainage easements are listed on all plat maps as well as at the Courthouse.
4. Where the County has a real interest in the Conservation Easements is in the overall preservation of natural habitat before it becomes totally developed. Efforts to preserve the Jones Swamp area, for example, are indications of a consciousness that such preservation eventually benefits the County as a whole. By making use of the Conservation Easement situation, the County might well be able to negotiate with builders, developers and home owner groups to create a viable system of preserving wetlands in large enough parcels that truly work.
5. Close work with the Regional Office of the DEP will be necessary to accomplish the above, and there seems to be real interest at that agency in doing so. Recommended would be a system whereby any potential mitigation project would be consulted with the relevant County agency (like NESD which has developed the Jones Swamp Preserve and could be expected to develop a new area in the southwestern zone of the County), or Parks and Recreation, or whatever agency might be designated for this role. This collaboration would involve the DEP suggesting to developers in the area that they work with the County to mitigate by buying parcels in the Preserve rather than leaving space within the development or searching for other suitable property.
6. In all cases where permits involving mitigation by the DEP or the Corps are required, copies of these permits (with maps and not just legal descriptions) should be sent to NESD for distribution to Code Enforcement or other agencies which might have an interest in following through with them. A major project of searching out existing easements (prior to 1994) might be suggested, if there is the will to somehow enforce them. They would be searchable through the Court records and possibly through other means (Engineering, Soil and Water Conservation, etc.) but the search will be difficult and time consuming. Unless there is some agency ready to inspect and enforce them, there is really no need for such a search.
7. For all Conservation Easements issued, maps as well as legal descriptions should be required. This will allow whatever agencies take the responsibility for inspection to locate them for inspection and/or enforcement.
Appendix 3.1 Samples of Conservation Easement Agreement
Appendix 3.2 Samples of Currently Filed Conservation Easements
Appendix 3.3 List of Sources in various Federal, State and County Offices
Escambia County, Neighborhood and Environmental Services
Mr. Doyle Butler, Environmental Specialist
Provided a list of contacts in Escambia County, including the Circuit Court, also Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers.
Ms. Tanya Mackay, Contracted Person (GIS)
Provided various data bases such as the Florida Freshwater Fish and Game Commissionís GIS database.
Escambia County, Planning and Zoning Office
Mr. Steve Pitkin, Director, provided us with official access to his staff and explained the development process..
Ms. Shellie Johnson, Planner III, provided insight into the Southwest Escambia County area
through a project she has been working on, and as a member of the Development
Review Committee explained that process.
Escambia County, Engineering Section
Staff in the Engineering Section were very cooperative, but had no way of searching their
maps for Conservation Easements. The Research Team reviewed twelve plat maps of the most recent developments in the area and found no conservation easements even mentioned, much less platted.
Escambia County, Clerk of the Circuit Court
Staff of the Circuit Court were very cooperative and have constructed a searchable database for all recorded easements, liens, transfers etc. since 1994. The Research Team reviewed in that database over 600 documents, found twenty-one conservation easements in the County, eleven of which had maps. Two types of easements were found: one for mitigation projects which require maps, and another for individuals who wish to place an easement on their own property. For the latter easement, no map is required, only a legal description.
Escambia County, Soil and Water Conservation District
The Research Team met with the entire staff of the District Office, headed by Dr. Ken Collar. This office has a record of all properties surveyed as requested by the Development Review Committee, but the record is chronological rather than by geographic area. Furthermore, the data only identifies wetlands but has no coordination with later development. In essence, many of the properties surveyed may have never been approved for development or actually developed.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Mr. Paul Stevens, Environmental Specialist, had been charged with locating all the past easements throughout the District. When he left in January 1999, he was replaced by Kathleen Jones, Environmental Specialist, who was assigned part time after her primary tasks were finished.
Mr. Cliff Rohlke, Environmental Manager at DEP was the source of information on the Conservation Easement process as per the DEP
The DEPís GIS section on the Internet provided the Research Team with much of the mapping
Data bases used for the project.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Cliff Payne is the lone employee of the local field office. All wetland permits issued by the ACOE are in a database located in Jacksonville, but there is apparently no way to search that database by categories, only projects. Mr. Payne was not authorized to grant immediate access to the Jacksonville data base but did offer to provide a printout of every permit record in a few months when he was not so busy.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The National Wetlands Inventory data was downloaded from the Internet.
4. The Proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank
As the process of locating Conservation Easements in the Area of Interest proved to be more difficult than expected and it became apparent that the easement system was not functioning, the Research Team began looking at the secondary goal, which was to locate an area that could be set aside for a large, functioning wetland in lieu of many small conservation easements. This would be an area which could come under County control and be managed as a wetland large enough to actually function. The research team felt, after examination of the whole area, (some 19,000 acres) that the search could be narrowed to a smaller area, termed the Secondary Area of Interest, an area which overlaps part of the proposed Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve but which also provides protection for the headwaters of Bayou Grande, a major waterway planned for restoration. Within this area, the goal was to identify a specific area or areas which could become a viable wetlands conservation area or bank.
The Secondary Area of Interest
In order to adequately assess this Secondary Area of Interest, a list of factors was composed which would indicate the sensitivity and the viability of the zone chosen for further study. In this case, sensitivity was defined as the threat of being impacted, and viability as ecosystemic health. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and the Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Research (ICER) at the University of West Florida were consulted to aid in the development of this list of factors.
Area of accessible uplands and presence of rare habitat types were chosen as factors affecting sensitivity. Habitat diversity and proximity to existing development were chosen as factors affecting viability. The DEP requires for any kind of mitigation that the properties must be wet enough, drain into the same body of water as the impacted property, and they should be of similar wetland type as the impacted property. Data on drainage, wetland type and wetland area were therefore needed. The information needed for NESD must include location of existing protected lands, knowledge of the State of Florida's intentions and strategies regarding the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie which occupies a large part of the study area, as well as detailed property information including owner's names, appraisal values and acreage. A detailed list of sources from which all of this data was gathered is found in the Appendices 2.2 and 5.2.
Much of the information above is displayed in the series of maps and aerial photographs appended as Maps 4.1 through 4.9. The research team saw the necessity of including the widest range of habitats possible, therefore the satellite image was used to survey the area. Coastal salt marsh and hardwood swamp were seen as particularly scarce in the area, found largely in the headwaters of Bayou Grande, causing that area to be included in the Secondary Area of Interest. Following the example of the Jones Swamp Preserve, the entire basin for Bayou Grande was added as a natural extension of the headwaters.
The drainage in this area is not as simple as most people presume. A look at Map 4.2 shows that not only is there drainage to the west into Perdido Bay, but also to the north into the same bay and to the south into Big Lagoon. Surprisingly, there is also a large area that drains eastward into Bayou Grande. These different drainage patterns are extremely important as the DEP requires mitigated properties to lie in the same basin as the impacted properties, therefore to enable a conservation bank to be more flexible, drainage to Bayou Grande and Pensacola Bay needed to be considered as well as that into Perdido Bay and Big Lagoon.
Because of the DEP requirement, drainage patterns into Perdido Bay also needed to be included. Two options presented themselves, the basin to the north, which flows into Tarkiln Bay, and Garcon Swamp to the south. The area north of Bayou Grande's drainage was chosen over Garcon Swamp because the northern area is under greater development pressure due to the availability of accessible uplands, while the southern edge of the Swamp is already largely developed.
Based on these natural and man-made boundaries, then adding information on property lines, an ultimate area for a Proposed Wetland Conservation Bank was delineated, an area which satisfies all of the above parameters and in general includes properties with over forty percent of their area within the desired watershed and are yet free from development. At the same time, property values (assessed values) are low enough to consider purchase, and in general the properties are large. Map 4.10 displays a contiguous area of such properties and suggests phases of purchase, those properties around the headwaters of Bayou Grande being the most urgent.
The Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve
Florida's land acquisition program, with an annual budget in excess of 300 million dollars, is the most aggressive such program in the United States. The three primary components are the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), Preservation 2000, and the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF). Managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, CARL's goal is to purchase environmentally sensitive properties for conservation and preservation. In 1995, the 6,952 acre Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve was ranked 9th on the purchase list. The first portion, the 900 acre Tarkiln Bayou State Park was purchased in 1998. Presently the rest of the Pitcher Plant Preserve now ranks 5th on the list, but a great deal of negotiating remains and there is no guarantee that owners and the DEP will reach agreement on price. As a result, owner/developers are beginning to chip away at this large area.
If the County is looking to create a wetlands conservation preserve or bank in the area, integrating that project with the protection of the already well-recognized Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve is logical. As shown in Map 10.1, there are areas of more urgency to preserve, and as has been revealed from recent news articles, the price of those areas associated with the Pitcher Plant Preserve are already well above their assessed value. Therefore the recommendations of this research team are that the County concentrate on those areas which protect Bayou Grande first, then in effect move westward to join with the Pitcher Plant Prairie.
As these properties are purchased, joint management makes economic sense, if not always political. Jones Swamp, nevertheless, has shown that a host of agencies can work together to manage a wetland preserve which one agency put together.
Appendix 4 - Map Series: Secondary Area of Interest
Click thumbnail for full image.
4.1 Satellite Image
4.3 Extent of Development
|4.4 Property Lines over Aerial Photograph|
4.5 Section, Township and Range (STR) and Property Numbers
4.6 Percentage Wetlands by Property
4.7 National Wetlands Inventory
4.8 Wetland Types by Property
4.9 Assessed Value per Acre, by Property
|4.10 Recommended Phases of Acquisition - Wetlands Conservation Bank|
5. Recommendations and Strategies
For the Wetlands Conservation Bank
The final recommendations for which properties to include in the proposed wetlands conservation bank (see Map 4.10) are based on the following factors: presence of rare habitat types, habitat diversity, percentage wetlands, relation to the Perdido Pitcher Plant Preserve, drainage, property size, cost and property contiguity. The recommendations for acquiring properties for the proposed wetlands conservation bank are divided into three phases. The phases are designed so that initially the bank would focus on phase I properties, making them the highest priority for acquisition. The second and third phases would then follow. Phases I and II are broken down by watershed while phase III contains properties within both the Perdido and Pensacola Bay drainage basins. (See Tables in Appendix 5.1)
The properties within the first phase of the project make up two distinct areas, one in each watershed. These two areas contain every National Wetlands Area (NWI) habitat in the proposed wetlands conservation bank area of interest and become the two cornerstones for the rest of the phases.
The Pensacola Bay (eastward) drainage portion of Phase I is a 160-acre area made up of eleven properties and was chosen as the highest priority area for a number of reasons. It contains the rarest of habitat types and protects the headwaters to Bayou Grande, helping to improve the water quality for that body. As well, it lies outside of the boundary of the proposed Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Preserve, thereby augmenting the total amount of preserved land in the peninsula.
The Perdido Bay drainage portion of Phase I focuses on the remaining habitat types in some of the most pristine wetlands within the area of interest. These four large and inexpensive properties cover a 419-acre area. They lie northeastward or the first area of purchase, and while they are within the eventual zone of purchase of the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie, it is the assumption of the research team that the State's purchase of land within that reserve will stress contiguity, (meaning they will work from west to east), therefore these properties identified for the proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank will be of the lowest priority for State purchase and therefore subject to development pressure.
Phase II lands of the Pensacola drainage bridges the gap between the Pensacola and Perdido Phase I areas. It is made up of 23 properties and covers an area of 283 acres. Ten of the twenty-three properties are smaller, lower priority properties at the headwaters of Bayou Grande.
Phase II of the Perdido Bay drainage augments the four initial properties with smaller adjacent properties, still pristine. There are fifteen properties within phase II totaling 202 acres.
Phase III fills in all the holes and rounds out the contiguous area. Several of the properties along Sorrento road which create a wider corridor may not qualify with the DEP for mitigation because of their low wetlands percentage. Nevertheless, they are critical to conserving an ecologically contiguous area. Of the three larger properties, 2100-0 (see Map 4.5 for property identification numbers) is an important connector, and 4100-0 and 4300 are additional large, wet, inexpensive properties.
Map 4.10 also shows a large number of properties "Not Recommended" for purchase under this program. The reason is that these properties do not have the required percentage of wetlands to meet DEP requirements for mitigation, plus they are within the proposed Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie purchase.
The total recommended wetlands conservation bank encompasses an area of 1357 acres in 59 properties. The bank represents some of the most diverse, pristine and threatened wetlands in Escambia County. As well, the bank is ideally situated to contribute to the state's efforts. Appendix 5.1 contains two tables: a master table outlining each property and a summary table detailing each recommended phase.
Initially, Escambia County should develop a working plan based on the recommendations set forth by the research team. The critical component of the plan is to establish the method by which the county will manage and finance the conservation bank. Also, a long-range schedule should also be developed which includes details such as the point at which owners would be contacted and who should contact them.
The second step is to work with the DEP and the Corps of Engineers to hammer out any conflicts and gain their support. At a time when both are seriously understaffed in the area of wetlands protection, now is an excellent time to work with them to relieve some of the burden.. As developers seek permits in this and even other areas of the County which might require mitigation, an agreement to work together with the County to support the purchase of properties in this proposed Wetlands Conservation Bank would satisfy all concerned. The issue of wetland conservation verses creation and enhancement will most likely need to be addressed; if this land becomes County property then it will eventually fall to the County to maintain it and make it work, executing some forms of enhancement such as hydrology restoration and removal of exotics within the newly-acquired areas. Once a working plan that meets DEP approval has been refined, it can be presented to developers for their endorsement, for ultimately, they decide whether the bank will work or not.
There are numerous advantages for the developer as well as the county and the environment. The developer stands to benefit in essentially six ways. 1) The developer has used of all of the land he is developing; those extra lots not used for conservation easements will probably pay for his purchase of land in the proposed wetlands conservation bank. 2) The proposed wetlands conservation bank area is affordable. Owners of much of this land realize that because of the presence of wetlands, they cannot develop it without permits and their own entry into the mitigation process. The acreage should therefore be offered at a reasonable rate and will eliminate the need for exploring the most cost-effective solution for mitigation. 3) The existence of a Wetlands Conservation Bank site is convenient, eliminating the process of finding a suitable property to mitigate with. 4) Due to the fact that the county will own the properties, neither the developer nor the eventual homeowners will not have to pay taxes on the area mitigated, 5) nor will they have to maintain those properties for perpetuity. Finally, 6) there is the possibility of liability elimination for the developer.
The advantages for the State, the County and the environment are numerous as well. A large contiguous preserve reduces edge effect and can carry a larger number of species than smaller unconnected parcels. The county will actually know where the conservation easements are. Further, a much more effective system of management can be employed, one which stresses collaboration with the state and other local organizations. Ultimately, the developer, the County, the State and the environment stand to benefit from the use of a county-sponsored wetlands conservation bank.
One issue which needs to be addressed, of course, is the eventual price of the land. As has been shown in the State's process of purchasing the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie land, owners of one "useless" land have raised their prices far above the assessed value in expectation that the State will buy the land. The County is a public institution and the process of moving this proposal through the Planning and Zoning Departments and other public agencies will undoubtedly alert current landowners that "government" is going to buy their land. The County has been successful in addressing this problem with the Jones Swamp acquisitions: similar success will be needed in order to purchase much of this land.
|Summary Data for Conservation Bank Recommendations|
|Southwest Escambia County Conservation Bank Property Information|
|Wetlands Grant Contacts|