Last night’s public hearing to discuss a proposal to privatize portions of 56 of Florida’s state parks demonstrates that the issue is of major importance to Florida citizens. The meeting was attended by around 400 people, and, because there was not enough room inside, an additional 400 people remained outside, according to estimates from those in attendance.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was the first to speak at the hearing. Fasano has been a vocal opponent of the plan in recent weeks and has penned critical letters to both gov. Rick Scott and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vineyard.
In his speech last night, Fasano again criticized the plan, saying it will “lead Florida in the wrong direction” and have an “extraordinarily negative impact on not only the treasure that is Honeymoon Island but on the way of life for so many people in this great part of Florida.” Fasano requested that, if the proposal is not rejected in full, all plans for Honeymoon Island be placed on hold until the Florida Legislature has the opportunity to review the proposal.
Citing a recent remark made by Gov. Scott, Fasano said that he, too, wishes for Florida parks to be utilized to their fullest — but argued that allowing private corporations to take over portions for RV campgrounds was not the appropriate way to do that:
The governor has stated that he wants our state parks to be utilized, a laudable goal that I agree with. However, his way to achieve that goal is something that I do not agree with. Honeymoon Island is already well-used. Just come to the park on any given sunny day and see for yourself that it does not lack tourists or local visitors who have made this a regular part of their lives. Taking a pristine piece of our natural treasure and converting it into a high- impact campground will not only do harm to the sensitive land and species that populate that area, it will also negatively impact those who already come to the park for the peaceful getaway that is Honeymoon Island.
“Allowing a private firm to come in and perform what should be a public function is putting profit before the environment and the people who wish it protected,” Fasano said. “Any time government involves itself in putting a private business into a public location such as Honeymoon Island it not only sacrifices the fragile environment, it gives a non-competitive leg-up to the business.”
According to Fasano’s chief legislative aide, Greg Giordano, the Acquisition & Restoration Council may take a vote within a month, if the recommendation to move forward with the proposal is made. Fasano ended his speech by asking that the Council protect Florida’s state parks “from the intrusion of for-profit companies.”