UPDATED July 25, 2013
By Julie Montanaro
The Jefferson County Commission has called an emergency hearing Monday.
Commissioners will vote on a resolution they hope will keep a local creek open to the public.
The Jefferson County Commission is set to vote on a resolution Monday which indicates the county cannot afford to buy Wards Creek and would like an opportunity to lease it instead.
July 23, 2013
By Julie Montanaro
A town hall meeting in Monticello tonight is bringing hunters and fishermen out of the woodwork.
The state intends to sell a local creek as surplus property and that could soon make it off limits to the public.
Cody Reese's family has lived on Lake Miccosukkee for five generations. He has hunted nearby Ward's Creek since he was a boy.
The state has informed Jefferson County that it intends to sell the 37-hundred 50 acre wetlands and surrounding woods as surplus property. That could mean Reese and other outdoorsmen would no longer be able to hunt, fish or hike there.
"There are endangered species and threatened species that migrate through here and stop there and I don't think that a private landowner should be in charge or responsible for something that important," Reese said.
A spokesman for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection says the creek can either be leased to another state agency or sold to Jefferson County for fair market value. If that doesn't happen, it will be put up for bid and sold to a private property owner.
DEP spokesman Pat Gillespie says whoever winds up with Wards Creek will have to place a conservation easement on the property to protect it from development, drilling, timber harvesting and more.
"I doesn't make sense to me why you're alienating and negatively affecting hundreds of people to sell wetlands for pennies on the dollar," Jefferson County native Steve Cleckner said.
Cleckner grew up exploring Wards Creek and comes back from his home in Sarasota each year to hunt and fish here. He hopes he won't be greeted by no trespassing signs come fall.
"It's a little muddy, but it's amazing. It's amazing." he said. "I want to see the public enjoy that. I want my children to enjoy that."
Jefferson County Coordinator Parish Barwick says the county has first right of refusal, but he says the question is can the small, rural county afford the price tag?
A DEP spokesman says the state hasn't appraised the land yet and cannot estimate the purchase price.
The Jefferson County Commission could vote on a resolution to buy the property at a meeting this Thursday.