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.