Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ben Rich: "Guana Is Sacred Ground," Defeats Temple-Destroyer BRUCE ARNOLD MAGUIRE's 2005 Attempt to Move A1A into GTM-NERR

County OKs legislative list -- minus one hot potato
Published Wednesday, July 27, 2005

St. Johns County's wish list for the 2006 legislative session, approved Tuesday, asks Tallahassee to help the county preserve its agricultural areas and also to fund sewer systems in Hastings, Armstrong and West Augustine.

In addition, the County Commission wants the state to pay directly for any health services it mandates and to improve affordable housing.

On top of the list is the county's wish that the Legislature allow counties to impose a "transfer tax" on real estate transactions.

Commissioner Karen Stern said that a 1-percent transfer tax would have raised $20 million in 2004. Impact fees, in contrast, generated $9.5 million.

"That would be a more equitable way to fund our infrastructure needs," Stern said.

"There is a favorable climate at the Legislature for a transfer fee."

But one or two additional suggestions struck a sour note among the commission's general chorus of approval.

The first of those was, "Work with the local delegation soliciting support to expand parking in the Guana State Park."

The second was similar: "Coordinate (with) the Florida Fish & Wildlife for possible acquisition of (right of way) allowing the widening of Mickler Road from (State Road) A1A to the Palm Valley Bridge."

Both were not included in the items approved.

The Guana is a hot topic because, in the past, mention of taking even small pieces of the preserve for public use has drawn strong opposition from environmental organizations, such as Audubon and the Sierra Club, and nearby residents.

Marcy Silkebaken, who lives on Neck Road, adjacent to the Guana, doesn't support taking preservation land.

"They haven't even defined the exact areas of land they'll need," Silkebaken said.

County Commission Chairman Bruce Maguire said both issues should be studied.

He believes the current parking lot off S.R. A1A is unsafe and not convenient for beachgoers.

"We have to address beach access," he said.

The widening issue is just as touchy. About 25 acres of the Guana is needed if Mickler Road and County Road 210 between S.R. A1A and the Palm Valley Bridge are widened to four lanes, which is desired for future traffic use and emergency evacuations.

Joe Stephenson, director of public works, said that the Palm Valley Bridge was built with four lanes, with a wider evacuation route in mind.

"It's one of only three routes off the island," Stephenson said. "But you're not going to be able to four-lane those roads without going into the Guana."

Maguire said the county must ask Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for the right of way, but it must be done at one time.

Commissioner Ben Rich said he could not support any taking of Guana property.

"As far as I am concerned, the Guana is sacred ground," Rich said.

"It was set aside in perpetuity so our grandchildren and their grandchildren can see what Florida looked like before bulldozers got to it."

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