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Other Cities Question Funding Behind Bill Similar To Jacksonville Conservation Measure

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Lindsey Kilbride
/
WJCT News
The St. Johns River near Jacksonville's Northbank.

A Jacksonville City Council bill is asking for more environmental conservation money for North Florida. The language in the measure is based on a resolution a new group is pushing Florida city governments to adopt, and some Florida city officials are questioning the group’s motives.

If Councilman Matt Schellenberg’s resolution passes City Council, the nonbinding measure would urge the state Legislature to dedicate more conservation dollars to Northeast Florida.

Earlier this year, hundreds of millions of dollars went to South Florida.

Schellenberg’s resolution is almost exactly the same as one being pushed by a new group called Stand up for North Florida.

Schellenberg says the group reached out to him when he was already working on a similar bill, so instead of “reinventing the wheel,” he says he copied the already made resolution almost exactly.

Stand up For North Florida registered as an LLC in September. Its website attacks a proposal to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee as a water reservoir. A video on the site urges people to take action by calling their lawmakers and demanding more money be used in Central and North Florida.

Schellenberg says he doesn’t specifically oppose the Lake Okeechobee project; he just wants North Florida to get more help with environmental projects. What’s at stake is a pot of money Florida voters earmarked for land conservation a couple of years ago by approving what was called Amendment 1.

A man named Nick Loffer is behind Stand Up for North Florida and has been speaking at city government meetings asking municipalities to adopt the resolution. Loffer is the former field director for Americans for Prosperity, a small-government think tank.

As reported by Politico, some environmental groups have been critical of Loffer for not disclosing his funding. Loffer’s response to High Springs City Commissioners when they questioned him in September was, “We’d be more happy to let our donors tell you who our supporters are when they wish to be named.”

Loffer would tell them only that he’s working on behalf of North Florida.

At the same time, Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley says his association declined to partner with Stand up for North Florida after the organization refused to disclose funding. 

"Our choice is not to trust blind partnerships," he said. 

Stand up for North Florida doesn’t list contact information on its website. WJCT reached out on Facebook and emailed somebody named Jasica Spamonte, who contacted at least one Jacksonville City Council member on behalf of the group. Nobody responded by this story’s deadline.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.