Thursday, March 19, 2009
DEP offers mid-week closures of 58 state parks
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
By Bruce Ritchie
Visitors to 58 Florida state parks could see closed gates three days a week under a budget-cutting proposal requested by Senate leaders.
Facing possibly a $6.5 billion deficit in fiscal 2009-10, the Senate asked some state agencies to offer ways to cut their operating budgets 20 percent. That would help shield health care and education from deeper cuts, said Sen. Carey Baker, chairman of the Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed $88 million in budget cuts, including $2.2 million saved by closing from Tuesday to Thursday those parks that lack campgrounds and cabins. A list of the parks is provided below.
"I could truly see a family taking the day off to go to enjoy a state park in the middle of the week and finding it closed," DEP Secretary Michael Sole said. "That would be truly disappointing."
He said the department would work to inform the public if the reductions are approved in the 2009-10 state budget.
As part of a budget exercise last fall, DEP had proposed closing 19 state parks but faced an outcry from local communities. In his proposed budget for next year, Gov. Charlie Crist proposed an increase in entrance fees of $1 per vehicle to raise $7.2 million.
Sole and other agency representatives outlined their proposed cuts Thursday during a meeting of the Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations.
"Such a somber meeting we're having today," said the usually-witty Baker, a Republican from Eustis.
There was no reaction to the proposed park closures from committee members. But Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said the fee increase would be significant for families. Park entrance fees now range from $3 to $5.
"It is affordable, but it's not a cheap adventure," he said.
Other possible cuts also would significantly affect DEP operations, Sole said. They include eliminating all of the seasonal positions at Florida parks, effectively reducing by half the 1,063 state park employees. Another 20 permanent park positions would be cut for a combined savings of $3.7 million.
DEP, with 3,574 employees, overall would lose 213 jobs or 6 percent of its workforce to meet the 20-percent reduction, Sole said.
The department also proposes eliminating its Florida Springs Initiative to save $2.4 million, cutting nearly $10 million from two underground petroleum storage tanks cleanup programs and cutting $1.6 million from its environmental crimes investigations. And $600,000 to administer beach sand replacement projects would be cut, significantly slowing the pace of beach restoration.
Sole said Florida could lose the 50 percent federal match in beach restoration dollars if the state doesn't contribute to those projects.
Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said the beach program provides a boost to the state's tourism economy. And Sole said every dollar spent on beaches produces about $8 for the economy, as well as reducing property damage from storm waves.
But Baker, the committee chairman, said those projects had received $30 million a year from the documentary tax stamp on real estate transactions. But that revenue is estimated at $800,000 next year amid the economic slowdown.
"We built a funding source on shifting sands," Baker said. "And those sands washed away -- completely went out to sea."
Photo courtesy of the state Division of Parks and Recreation. Text copyright by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com
Here is the list of parks being considered for closing and reduced hours of operation
Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park LEON
Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park POLK
Atlantic Ridge State Park MARTIN
Avalon State Park ST LUCIE
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park MIAMI-DADE
Big Shoals State Park HAMILTON/COLUMBIA
Camp Helen State Park BAY
Cedar Key Museum State Park LEVY
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park CHARLOTTE
Colt Creek State Park POLK
Constitution Convention Museum State Park GULF
Crystal River Archaeological State Park CITRUS
Crystal River Preserve State Park CITRUS/LEVY
Dade Battlefield Historic State Park SUMTER
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park MONROE
De Leon Springs State Park VOLUSIA
Deer Lake State Park WALTON
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park COLLIER
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park ALACHUA
Dudley Farm Historic State Park ALACHUA
Dunns Creek State Park PUTNAM
Estero Bay Preserve State Park LEE
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park COLLIER
Florida Nature and Heritage Tourism Center HAMILTON
Fort Cooper State Park CITRUS
Fort Pierce Inlet State Park ST LUCIE
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park MONROE
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park CITRUS
Honeymoon Island State Park PINELLAS
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park BROWARD
Ichetucknee Springs State Park COLUMBIA/SUWANNEE
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park PALM BEACH
John Gorrie Museum State Park FRANKLIN
Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at
Gamble Plantation Historic State Park MANATEE
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park OKEECHOBEE/OSCEOLA
Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park LEON
Lake June-In-Winter Scrub State Park HIGHLANDS
Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park JEFFERSON
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park MONROE
Lovers Key State Park LEE
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park ALACHUA
Paynes Creek Historic State Park HARDEE
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park HOLMES/WALTON
Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park DUVAL
Ravine Gardens State Park PUTNAM
Rock Springs Run State Reserve ORANGE/LAKE/SEMINOLE
San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park WAKULLA
Savannas Preserve State Park MARTIN/ST LUCIE
St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park MARTIN
St. Marks River State Park JEFFERSON/LEON
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park BREVARD/INDIAN RIVER
Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park ESCAMBIA
Terra Ceia Preserve State Park MANATEE
Wacasassa Bay Preserve State Park LEVY
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park FLAGLER
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park PASCO
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park MONROE
Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park SANTA ROSA