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UF/IFAS in Apopka will temporarily house District staff; saves almost $400,000

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SJRWMD lease agreement and arrangement will benefit water quality researchers

From the St. Johns River Water Management District

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.

The University of Florida’s IFAS conducts experiments and demonstration projects at the Hastings Agricultural Extension Center (HAEC) in support of its extension and research mission. Located adjacent to the District’s Deep Creek Conservation Area, the HAEC is a resource for residents and agricultural producers in northeast Florida to ensure a sustainable agricultural industry.[/caption]

“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 in Apopka, 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.

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.”

St. Johns River Water Management District staff are committed to ensuring the sustainable use and protection of water resources for the benefit of the people of the District and the State of Florida. The St. Johns River Water Management District is one of five districts in Florida managing groundwater and surface water supplies in the state. The District encompasses all or part of 18 northeast and east-central Florida counties. District headquarters are in Palatka, and staff also are available to serve the public at service centers in Maitland, Jacksonville and Palm Bay. Connect on Twitter at @SJRWMD, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. For more information about the District, please visit www.sjrwmd.com.

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