TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The state may soon be able to plant another $2 million into a trust fund for future land conservation.

But with the state having placed a cap on land purchases, the money might not go directly toward Florida Forever purchases this year.

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Gov. Rick Scott, who is touting a $1 billion environmental plan as part of his re-election campaign, and members of the Florida Cabinet are poised Tuesday to approve the sale of a 6.4-acre vacant parcel in Broward County. The land is owned by the Department of Management Services.

The money from the sale would go into the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which is used for future land purchases under the Florida Forever conservation program.

The state currently has more than $43.3 million lined up for the Florida Forever program as it awaits the closing of 10 other sales. Those sales range from $15.6 million for the shuttered A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana and $13.5 million for the closed Hillsborough Correctional Institution to the $77,455 price tag on a former Department of Highway and Safety Motor Vehicles center in Highlands County.

The money headed to the trust fund has already topped a $40 million threshold that state lawmakers determined could be used for conservation purchases from the sale of non-conservation parcels in the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

State officials said they could find other uses for the additional money.

“If we sell more than $40 million, the money will stay in the trust fund to be used for other Division of State Lands functions or we can request spending authority to increase the amount to use for purchasing conservation lands,” Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said in an email.

The spending cap demonstrates the need for Amendment 1, a ballot proposal that will go before voters in November, said Will Abberger, campaign manager of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, a group behind the land preservation and maintenance amendment.

“Amendment 1 will address a variety of needs,” Abberger said. “It will help protect our state’s drinking waters sources, the quality of our rivers and streams, and it will protect funding for restoration like Everglades restoration. We need more funding for all of those things.”

The amendment seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state’s documentary stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — for 20 years for conservation. The amendment, which requires approval from 60 percent of voters to pass, could generate $10 billion over its life, the group says.

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The use of non-conservation land to raise money for Forever Florida replaced a more controversial program — abandoned earlier this year — to raise the money by selling parcels the state has previously acquired for preservation.

Staff for the trust fund’s Board of Trustees, which is made up of Scott and the Cabinet, has recommended approval of the Broward land sale.

The sale to the real estate organization Strata Group LLC would be a little more than double what the state had set as the minimum bid for the land, which is located within the city of Plantation.

This is the state’s third attempt to sell the land.

State officials had sought at least $3.9 million for the land in 2011, but got to takers. The minimum bidding price was later lowered to $2.1 million and then $975,000.

The Strata Group plans to build 250 town homes, 380 apartments and a school for children with special needs on the parcel and an adjacent 18.34 acres, according to state records.

The Strata Group’s bid is also nearly double the proposal from R&R Plantation LLC, the only other company to bid on the parcel.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.


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