St. Joe Gets Rare Approval to Avoid State Permits

The deal will give the company blanket approval to fill wetlands in accord with limits set by the plan instead of having to obtain separate permits for individual development projects.

Critics call the deal a “giveaway'' to Florida's largest private land owner and the Panhandle's biggest developer. But the St. Joe Company, some environmentalists and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection say it's a model for regional growth. They say it will preserve, rather than destroy, wetlands vital as bird and wildlife habitats.

The so-called Ecosystem Management Agreement covers more than 31,000 acres of St. Joe-owned property in Bay and Walton counties between Choctawhatchee and West bays. DEP officials say the plan will actually conserve about two-thirds of the area