State approves land deals in Lake, Hamilton counties

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet agreed Tuesday to spend $2.54 million from the Florida Forever conservation program to preserve land in Lake and Hamilton counties.

The deals, approved with little comment, will pay $540,000 to Brian A. Richards for 83.4 acres in rapidly growing Lake County and $2 million to the owners of River Error Farms for 316 acres in rural Hamilton County. Environmentalists praised the deals.

“We know by protecting these places it’s not just an investment in the resources within the boundary of the parcels you’re acquiring, but it’s important to the health of the larger watershed that they occur within,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell. “We know from experience that buying these places helps us to protect the health of our watersheds earlier, rather than paying more to restore them later.”

The River Error Farms land in Hamilton County, known as the Hardee Spring property, is part of a broader Florida Forever project. The state had previously acquired 9,877 acres of the targeted land, and Tuesday’s deal leaves about 38 percent remaining to be acquired. The land is adjacent to Twin Rivers State Forest and includes about 1.5 miles of frontage along the Withlacoochee River, and environmental officials say preserving it will help protect springs and the Floridan Aquifer from the effects of commercial, residential and agricultural runoff.

The Lake County land, which is part of the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway Florida Forever project, includes five contiguous lakefront parcels on Lake Norris, near the small community of Paisley. The Richards property joins 58,300 acres of the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway Florida Forever project that is already in state hands or under agreement to be acquired, leaving about 28 percent of the project on an acquisition list.