County, water management district still at odds over Ag Reserve land

Palm Beach County and the South Florida Water Management District remain at odds over a 571-acre tract of land in the Agricultural Reserve, and the district’s governing board has not accepted the county’s invitation to have a meeting to hash things out.

At issue is whether the county will agree to the district’s request to sell the jointly-owned land in the reserve, a 22,000-acre farming zone located west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

The county, using money from a bond issuance approved by voters, purchased the 571 acres in 2000 with the intent to keep it in preservation or agriculture.

The district later bought a 61 percent stake in it with plans to use the site for a reservoir. But the district has shelved those plans and wants to sell the land.

Some residents, however, are concerned that selling the land to a private party could one day lead to its residential or commercial development. Those residents are not mollified by plans to expand conservation easements aimed at preventing development.

Several commissioners share those concerns and rejected a staff recommendation that they join the district in a sale.

Instead, commissioners directed staff to arrange a meeting with the governing board of the district, which has indicated it will sue the county to force a sale if one isn’t mutually agreed upon.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker reported back to commissioners that the district’s governing board “essentially felt that a meeting would be premature.”

Baker said the district directed its staff to work with their counterparts at the county on three issues: ability to obtain state funding the county would use to buy out the district; identifying a third party/environmental groups to hold the conservation easements and evaluate potential projects on which the district would use proceeds from the sale of the 571 acres.

“Unless we receive objections from the BCC, County Staff intends to work with District Staff to explore these three(3) issues and report back to the Board for further direction at either the February or March meeting,” Baker wrote to commissioners.

Verdenia Baker

Verdenia Baker