The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will conduct research on a portion of the District’s Deep Creek Conservation Area near Hastings as part of an agreement to temporarily house District staff while a new service center is built in Apopka.
Call it a win-win-win-win-win.
A lease agreement between the St. Johns River Water Management District and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is a boon for the District, UF/IFAS, Florida agriculture, taxpayers and the state’s water resources.
Under an agreement recently approved by the District’s Governing Board, UF/IFAS will lease District surplus land in St. Johns County to conduct agricultural research. In exchange, UF/IFAS will provide a temporary workspace at its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC) in Apopka for some of the District’s staff until construction of the agency’s Apopka Service Center is complete.
The District broke ground in January 2021 in Apopka for a permanent central Florida service center location. For 35 years, the District has leased space in the greater Orlando area to provide full service to permit applicants and the public.
While the District’s headquarters in Palatka houses about half of the agency’s staff, most regulatory staff work in service centers, which are smaller regional offices located near customers and stakeholders for easy access.
“This agreement allows UF/IFAS to utilize surplus District land to conduct research that benefits growers and, ultimately, water quality and quantity,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Assistant Executive Director Lisa Kelley. “Improved technology in nutrient reduction and water conservation fits squarely within the mission of the District.”
By using temporary workspace at the UF/IFAS-owned MREC, the District will save nearly $400,000, the cost of extending its current lease until the new service center is ready for occupancy.
“We’ve found a way that we can all remain whole by this cooperative agreement,” Kelley says. “Best of all, there is no cost to taxpayers.”
The agreement was born out of an inquiry last year by UF/IFAS officials seeking to locate District land in the Hastings area to expand its agricultural research in support of its Hastings Agricultural Extension Center (HAEC) experiments and demonstration projects. The HAEC is a resource for residents and agricultural producers in northeast Florida to ensure a sustainable agricultural industry.
Marianella Pacheco, a Business Support Specialist II in the District’s Office of Business and Administrative Services, packs materials in the copier room at the District’s Maitland Service Center.
Coincidentally, the District owns 80 acres — actually, two 40-acre tracts — in its Deep Creek Conservation Area that had been recommended as potential surplus land in the agency’s 2012 Lands Assessment Implementation Plan.
The land, located within Deep Creek’s 1,100-acre Yarborough parcel, had been purchased by the District to build a regional stormwater treatment area that was never constructed.
The property will be ideal for UF/IFAS to expand its extension and research mission, dovetailing with the District’s work in the Tri-County Agricultural Area to improve water conservation and nutrient reduction.
In addition to providing District staff with temporary housing at its Apopka facility, UF/IFAS will pay the District $6,746 for marketable timber harvested from one of the Deep Creek properties. The District will harvest and market the timber, with the proceeds used for District land management activities.
“This lease agreement is a most positive one,” says Jerry Fankhauser, assistant director of the UF/IFAS Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. “Our UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center have access to District land needed for the expansion of water quality and other research with specialty crops typically grown in northeast Florida.”
Tracy Miller, a Professional Engineer in the District’s Bureau of Environmental Resource Regulation, organizes files and prepares to box them for her move out of the current service center in Maitland.