By Mike Phillips

Nassau County has a reputation for disliking bond issues, but it also has a reputation, going way back, for protecting natural resources.

Consider the story of Kate Bailey, who looked out her window at 8th and Ash back in the early 1890s and saw a road crew preparing to cut down a live oak that the crew thought might get in the way of fire trucks. She stormed out to her front porch with a shotgun and told them they’d better not touch that tree. Then she sat down with the shotgun in her lap. There was a standoff, but by and by the road crew gave up and went away. We have that from one of her direct descendants.

Later on, the oyster shell road was paved, and the second road crew made an elegant split around the tree and then joined the intersection with 8th Street. The tree stands to this day, and whenever my dog and I take a morning walk past it, I salute the memory of that incident.

But now we have an opportunity to leave our shotguns locked up and vote Nov. 8 to protect a multitude of trees, along with marshes, woodlands, shorelines, open spaces and rivers. Instead of buckshot, we can use 30-year bonds at an annual cost of about $35 per household. Here’s the background of this proposal:

Faced with rapid growth that was eating up this beautiful place where we live, the county conducted in 2018 a year-long study of conservation needs. Then in 2019 the Trust for Public Lands — a well-known national organization that seeks to preserve important lands, not through regulation, but by paying a fair price to willing sellers – made a study to estimate conservation costs. The study was updated in 2021.

Then the county created a public oversight committee of people with professional credentials and gave it the awkward name of Conservation Land Acquisition and Management Program, which quickly was shortened to the CLAM Committee. The CLAM Committee asked the public to nominate potential conservation projects and got about 750 by the deadline.

The CLAM Committee and staffers researched and prioritized all the nominations, and the county put a bond issue proposal on this year’s November ballot. Based on all the previous studies, the proposal is to authorize a general obligation bond issue, not to exceed $30 million. (If passed, the bond money could be leveraged, as they say, to bring in additional grants and donations.)

This is a collaborative effort of many organizations, local, regional and national. The members of those organizations believe this might be our last, best chance to preserve our pristine and beautiful abode. And what will we get for doing so?

Well, this story started out with a tree. So let’s start with trees. They aren’t just beautiful to look at. Trees keep us cool in hot weather, clean our air and water, prevent erosion, prevent flooding by absorbing storm water, protect us against storm surges — and yes, their beauty heartens our spirits, strengthens our very souls.

Now let’s talk about land conservation. That includes open spaces, wetlands and forests. Some of the benefits are like tree benefits: preventing erosion, flooding and dangerous storm surges. But it also creates a land-use balance as the area develops. It preserves our quality of life. It helps our economy, too. We’d be paying a lot more in taxes if tourists attracted to our natural beauty didn’t come here and spend a lot of money. And if you think flood insurance is expensive, think what it would cost if we weren’t enlisting our natural resources to help keep us safe.

Now let me say something about this issue and the Observer. The Observer is staunchly nonpartisan. And I am an editor who positively does not believe in telling people how to vote. But I do believe in asking my readers to learn about critical issues like this referendum. I ask you to balance what conservation of our natural resources can do against that 35 bucks a year.

And if you are one of our many readers who likes to dig into technical details, I’m the wrong guy to ask. Instead, go to the CLAM website at https://www.nassaucountyfl.com/1283/Conservation-Land-Acquisition-Management.

And whichever way you lean on this issue, please do vote. That matters.

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Dickie Anderson
Dickie Anderson(@dickie-andersongmail-com)
13 days ago

Well done…..hope people read and support.

Drew Skonberg
Drew Skonberg (@guest_66059)
13 days ago

Thank you Mr Phillips for bringing this to our attention. Popularity can ruin a place that was popular, in fact, due to its natural beauty. Amelia Island certainly qualifies as being potentially such a place. We all have witnessed what short term interests and thinking can do to a place if allowed to proceed. Anyone who has visited a state or national park has a perfect example of this in comparison to high density, urban sprawl and beachfront high rises. To resist forces that prefer personal profit to preservation of nature’s bounty found in abundance here is a no-brainer at $35 per year.

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
13 days ago

Thank you for posting this important information. Our County Commissioners need to know how we feel. Let’s save our island and county before it’s too late.

Lyn Pannone
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
13 days ago

This land conservation referendum could be the last chance we get to conserve land in the entire county. The slogan, PROTECT NASSAU NOW OR NEVER is so true. Please vote YES for Bonds.

Pam Hart
Pam Hart (@guest_66062)
13 days ago

Thank you so much for this wonderful article and complete explanation! This vote is so important to our quality of life. Please get out and vote Yes for this Conservation Land Bond Referendum in November.

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard (@guest_66064)
13 days ago

This is a worthwhile issue BUT each voter should read the the actual specifics of the bond referendum. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. We need to make sure that the bond monies can not be spent for anything else AND that, as a result of the bond, other monies that were intended for this purpose are not deverted to other projects. Those of us that have been around for a long time remember when we voted for the lottery. That was supposed to only add to education support but later found that it replaced the existing funding and money was diverted for other purposes. Don’t vote for it, then read it!

Margaret Kirkland
Margaret Kirkland (@guest_66067)
13 days ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

Careful is always good. Use of these funds will be overseen by the CLAM Committee, made up of county residents with relevant expertise. You can also be sure that the environmental organizations in the area will be watching carefully. We need to protect our quality of life, our way of life and the environment that protects us.

Here is the ballot language:

BALLOT TITLE: NASSAU COUNTY GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS FOR LANDS TO PROTECT WATER QUALITY, WILDLIFE HABITAT, AND RIVERS 

BALLOT QUESTION: To acquire lands that improve water quality in rivers, creeks, and drinking water sources; protect natural areas, beaches and the St. Mary’s, Nassau and Amelia Rivers; reduce flooding, conserve wildlife habitat, and provide outdoor recreation, shall Nassau County be authorized to issue General Obligation Bonds, not exceeding maximum lawful interest rates, maturing within 30 years, not exceeding 30 million dollars payable from ad valorem taxes, with citizen oversight and full public disclosure of all spending? 

Pat Kelley Gass
Pat Kelley Gass (@guest_66069)
12 days ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

Thank you Joe, that was exactly what I was thinking. Time to get out the dictionary and the bond referendum to make sure I understand what I’m voting for. I remember all too well what we were lead to believe about the lottery referendum.

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_66065)
13 days ago

Let’s save Nassau County & our island…….get out & vote!!

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66068)
13 days ago

As a general practice, the acquisition of land for conservation is done by private donations–generally the land itself in return for a tax benefit.
Public funding should not be the first option. The land is the thing–not public moneys.

Lyn Pannone
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
12 days ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Certainly private donations are preferred. However, in the absence of a donor purchasing conservation land becomes the only way to acquire it.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66071)
12 days ago
Reply to  Lyn Pannone

Perhaps, then the land should remain in private hands. There is only an issue, I suppose, if the land is put to use. Let the land be unless it is truly threatened in some way. Don’t spend public funds because of a fear. Big money ($30M) temps misuse and abuse.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66072)
12 days ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Many public agencies at all level of government purchase conservation land for the common good. The land is in use as conservation land and need not be put to some other use. Some land is on this planet just to be land.

Margaret Kirkland
Margaret Kirkland (@guest_66073)
12 days ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

That is certainly one important way that land conservation occurs. However, straight purchase from the property owner by a land trust or municipality is also quite common. Conservation easements are another way that land conservation occurs; this is an agreement between a property owner and land trust or municipality set up to conserve land in which the property owner can continue to use the land but the conservation requirements are perpetually attached to the parcel. There are even ways that people can donate land and receive a lifetime income from the sale.

There are currently grants and other types of state and federal funding that can help us conserve land, but nowadays they most frequently require matching funds. The bond funds on the ballot can help the County acquire such funding.

At the rate of development of Nassau County now, we can no longer simply wait for land donations. We need a program that ensures that in ten years, we will still have some wild areas where we can fish and hunt, hike and kayak, or simply just enjoy being in nature.

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire (@guest_66074)
12 days ago

So, residents are being asked to pay top dollar to buy land from owners who secured county approval – years ago – to knock their trees down. This is zoning clean-up as much as it is conservation. Voter picks for commissioner and their top-level staff is just as important as this referendum.

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