"This land is critical to preserving natural spaces and wildlife in Florida, and the County agreed to conserve it in the settlement," said David Guest, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. "The school board now wants to bypass that agreement, but these protections aren't lifted just because the land changes ownership."
The land in question is a 114-acre tract protected by state conservation programs. According to the settlement reached between Walton County and Earthjustice, the land is to be used for government buildings, wetlands protection, and public recreation. The school board has already violated that agreement and now wants to make matters worse by building a stadium that will impede public access to other parts of the property. Despite the option to build the stadium while retaining public trails, the school board has been resolute in its planning meetings. The project will include eliminating greenways that allow the public to reach facilities including a library.
"The greenway also serves as an important wildlife corridor connecting two parts of state forest," said Susan Paladini, a client in the case.
Walton County acquired the land now owned by the school board as part of a much larger land purchase under Preservation 2000, a law intended to safeguard Florida's most important environmental resources from development. The County's responsibility to preserve the land for future generations was the subject of a lawsuit which led to the settlement agreement the school board is now trying to evade.
The case was filed in Walton County Circuit Court. Earthjustice represents Susan and Bruce Paladini in the suit against Walton County and Walton County School Board.