TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In an unprecedented land exchange by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forests in Florida recently finalized a land exchange in Columbia, Baker and Union Counties with timber and land company Plum Creek to secure permanent easements for the Florida National Scenic Trail and Florida’s Strategic Intermodal System.
The land exchange involved a 6.27 acre tract of the Osceola National Forest, in which Columbia County was granted a permanent easement to connect from the existing east-west rail line originating from the Port of Jacksonville to a proposed logistics center or intermodal park on Plum Creek land in Columbia County.
“This land exchange was very smoothly integrated with the environmental review and compliance process,” said Mike Herrin, Acting Forest Supervisor. “The partnership between government and private organizations highlights how we all can work efficiently and benefit the public good, while also, meeting all requirements, federal laws and regulations that ensure good long-term stewardship of our natural resources.”
As a result, Plum Creek exchanged and donated a total of 12.35 acres of land for an easement re-routing access to the Florida National Scenic Trail in perpetuity, adding over 10 miles to the existing trail. The National Forests in Florida and the Osceola National Forest worked with Columbia County and Plum Creek representatives, with the help and facilitation of Western Land Group, to devise a viable land exchange that would benefit the county, stakeholders and the community.
“Everyone looked at the final exchange package and was very satisfied that it would not only be in the public’s interest, but be determined to be of approximate equal value,” said Adam Poe, president of Western Land Group. “It was really a great collaborative process.”
The intermodal system proposed by Columbia County will access Interstates 10 and 75, along with U.S. Highways 90, 41, 441 and State Road 100. In addition, the exchange will provide passage to class one railroads and a local municipal airport with an 8,000 foot runway.
“North Florida is still a rural area; we want the best for our people. We’ll do everything we can to bring in projects like this that have the potential to successfully bring in new businesses to boost our local economy,” said Dale Williams, Columbia County Manager. “This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Forest Service.”
Columbia County is one of fourteen counties collaborating to build economic diversity and create new jobs as part of the North Central Florida Rural Area of Opportunity as designated by the Florida Legislature.
“We worked in concert with Columbia County. They were very much a partner with us in order to move this project forward to create jobs for the region,” said Allison Megrath, Manager of Real Estate for Plum Creek.