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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A victory for nature, for the ages

Published Dec. 27, 2006
It was just a year ago last week that executives and engineers for Avatar Properties unveiled plans for an 11,000-home development, complete with three shopping centers, more than a million square feet of commercial space and a golf course, to be built just a mile or two north of Silver Springs. The development was called Ocala Springs and would undoubtedly alter the landscape of Marion County forever

On Saturday, the state of Florida, the non-profit Nature Conservancy and Marion County quietly finalized their joint purchase of 4,471 acres from Avatar Properties. The land will now be set aside for conservation and recreational use by future generations of Floridians. It is a victory of immeasurable environmental proportions, especially for Marion Countians, because the land serves as a prime and immediate watershed to our precious and irreplaceable Silver Springs. What a virtual city of 20,000 people would have done to the springs is, well, unthinkable.

At $76 million, the price of the Avatar tract places it among the five largest land acquisitions ever under the 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program that is earmarked to preserve environmentally sensitive lands. Yes, it's a steep financial price to pay. But the payback has been tabulated time and again and, frankly, there is no price that can be put on preserving Silver Springs and, in turn, our water supply.

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