State Plans to Control Saint Joe Land Growth

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The state is planning to set unified environmental protection rules for thousands of acres of Saint Joe Land.

After two years of negotiations the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, has created an agreement with Saint Joe that they say could better protect our environment.

Under the Ecosystem Management Agreement, 38,000 acres of Saint Joe Land in Bay and Walton counties would be under the jurisdiction of one permit.

DEP officials say it's the only way they can fully protect the land.

"The company owns these lands, has the right the develop it, and has the intention to develop it. So it will benefit everyone to sit down and think ahead," Mary-Jean Yon of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says.

And that's just what state officials did tonight at a meeting with Saint Joe and local residents. The Ecosystem Management Agreement was presented to the public for the first time.

In it 38,000 acres of Saint Joe Land would be affected. The agreement is not a part of the west bay sector plan. The biggest selling point would be the conservation of 13,000 acres of wetlands.

Under the plan Saint Joe would be bound to one general permit, with rules concerning the protection of the environment.

But with each individual project Saint Joe would have to apply for another specific permit through the state, which has some area environmentalist worried.

"Each individual project--whether it be retail, etc--those individual projects will be determined by the applicant and agency with no further public notice," Suzannah Lindberg says.

Lindberg says certain environmental protection rules could easily change when a specific, possibly profitable project comes along--and the public wouldn't even be aware of it.

But officials with the DEP say this agreement will create a baseline for protecting the entire area and is superior to the current permitting process where rules are set up on a individual project basis with no regard to the overall environment. A final agreement should come by the end of this month.