County worries owner may cut trees - Move could disrupt
bid to buy conservation land
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
Leon County, Florida - The owner of 157 acres that Leon County is
proposing to buy for conservation is planning to cut down many of
the trees on the property, according to a Leon County official.
Landowner Miley Miers plans to clear-cut 95 percent of the wetland
that covers most of what the county wants to buy to protect the St.
Marks River headwaters, according to Clay Carithers, an environmental
review supervisor in Leon County's Department of Growth and Environmental
Miers said he doesn't plan to clear-cut the land, but he doesn't
know how much he will cut. Some county officials are concerned that
the logging operation could jeopardize the county's efforts to get
a state grant to buy the land.
"It would complicate things," said Craig Diamond, environmental
planner in the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department.
County Commissioner Bob Rackleff said Miers is being "pretty
"By clear-cutting it, he would gravely hurt his chances for
a grant," Rackleff said. "So I don't understand his rationale."
Miers said he's following a "prudent" forest management
program to thin the trees from his property. His forestry consultant
said it was too early to know how many trees would be cut.
"I'm not trying to clear-cut anything," Miers said. "I
am trying to be a good steward of the land and have been for 33 years."
He also says he's a victim of the city and county because the local
governments won't buy his land or let him rezone it. Diamond said
the county told him they're applying for the grant so they can buy
Miers has twice requested to change the land-use designation on 301
acres that he owns, including the 157 acres along Black Creek that
the county would buy. He said earlier this year that he hoped to build
a 130-home "conservation subdivision." That's more than
four times the number of homes now allowed on the rural land.
The city and county never formally rejected his proposals. He withdrew
them before a formal vote after a majority on both commissions raised
concerns that the development could harm Black Creek and the St. Marks
"They got me in a Catch-22," Miers said. "They won't
buy it, and they won't let me develop it."
The county in June applied for a Florida Communities Trust matching
grant for $163,400 to buy 157 of the 301 acres Miers submitted a letter
to the county stating his willingness to sell.
He told county officials last month he will apply for a permit to
harvest timber. As long as he agrees to meet state timber harvesting
guidelines, the permit will be issued, Carithers wrote in a memo last
The property includes 145 acres of wetlands, floodplains and hardwood
swamps, Carithers wrote.
Miers and his forestry consultant indicated the entire 145 acres
of wetlands would be clear-cut except for a 35-foot buffer on each
side of Black Creek, Carithers said. He estimated that the uncut area
would be 5 percent of the 145 acres.
The logging operation likely will include access roads, cleared pathways
for removing the trees, fire lines and drainage ditches, Carithers
Miers' forestry consultant, Keith Finlayson, said he couldn't comment
on the memo because he hasn't read it. But Finlayson said the operation
will go beyond the state guidelines for environmental protection.
Even if it adheres to the state guidelines, the logging operation
"will result in both short-term and long-term impacts that adversely
affect the ecosystem," Carithers wrote. Some environmentalists
complain that the guidelines do not adequately protect wetlands.
Miers also said he doesn't know when he'll begin removing the trees
because it's been too wet in recent weeks.
"It won't be detrimental one bit to what they (county officials)
are trying to do, and that is protect Black Creek," Miers said.
Protection of natural resources, such as forests, is one of several
factors used in awarding a Florida Communities Trust grant. The trees'
removal could cause Leon County to lose the grant - or it may not
affect the application, a state official said.
"If you're on the bubble and you're cutting down the timber,
then it definitely could affect your project ranking," said Grant
Gelhardt, environmental administrator for the evaluation section of
Florida Communities Trust.
"If he's thinning the timber, it probably wouldn't affect it
at all," Gelhardt said. "If he is clear-cutting hardwood,
it would affect it."
Diamond said the county may not be interested in buying the land
if the state requires expensive restoration because of the timber
And if the county doesn't get the grant, it would have to decide
whether it can find other money to buy the land, Diamond said.
"It's an issue," Diamond said of Miers' timber harvesting
plans. "Whether it is a valid issue or a significant issue depends
ultimately on what he does."