Approval Of Hendry Panther Dispersal Zone Nets Land Owner Possibility Of Millions
LABELLE, FL. -- Last month the federal government gave approval to create the 4,000-acre "Panther Passage Conservation Bank" in rural western Hendry County. The 4000 acre parcel is mostly wetlands 30 miles west of Lake Okeechobee and just south of the Caloosahatchee River.
The action may mean millions of dollars can be earned by the land owners by selling "credits" to developers and government agencies to gain development rights in other areas of South Florida in return for payments to the Panther Conservation Bank.
Originally purchased by Yugoslavian immigrant George Milicevic in the 1940s, a Hendry county parcel of 4,000 acres is part of several land holdings the family still owns in Florida, including property in Lake Wales and LaBelle. Milicevic's heirs recently decided to honor the elder Milicevic's wishes to preserve the Hendry County land by creating a conservation area, which will be supported through the sale of habitat credits to developers and others who need to compensate for the environmental impacts of a project.
Conservation "banks" are typically used when it makes more sense for a developer to purchase conservation credits than to protect part of the area being developed (for example, when on-site conservation would result in small, isolated sites).
Money Now Pouring In To The Milicevic Family?
The land is worth $713,760, according to Hendry county tax records, but according to a story this week by the St. Petersburg Times, The Florida Department of Transportation paid more than $2 million to the family for credits to build future roadways in the primary Panther habits in the Collier county area.
The Times say average price per credit "is about $1,500, according to Desmond Duke, whose company is marketing the credits for Milicevic's heirs. Because they have been granted 96,000 of what are officially known as "panther habitat units" to sell, that means the panther business could be worth about $144 million to the family."
The Times says Brett DuBois of Panthercredits.com helped the Milicevic family convert their ranch into a conservation bank and now his company gets a percentage of every credit that's sold.
Some observers are asking why the state can't just step in and buy the 4000 acres to use as a mitigation area park, at probably a cost around $1 million dollars, instead of having state agencies buy "credits" from the Milicevic heirs for multiple millions of dollars.