xml version 1.0
record xmlns http:www.loc.govMARC21slim xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.loc.govstandardsmarcxmlschemaMARC21slim.xsd leader ntm 22 Ka 4500controlfield tag 008 s flunnn| ||||ineng datafield ind1 8 ind2 024
subfield code a E21-000102 USFLDC DOI0 245 Peter Fowler oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Joe J. Guidry.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.1 600 Fowler, Peter7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local700 Guidry, Joe J.710 University of South Florida.b Library.Digital Scholarship Services Digital Collections.Oral History Program.773 t Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program Oral History Project4 856 u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?e21.10
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Joe Guidry (JD): This is Joe Guidry on August fifteenth. Im interviewing Pete Fowler at the All Peoples Life Center. Okay, lets start. Like, when and where were you born and raised?
Pete Fowler (PF): I was born and raised in the Finger Lakes area of New York state.
JG: Wow. Well uh, how did you come down here?
PF: (PF laughs) Oddly enough, I used to watch all the football games, the bowl games and see people in T-shirts and shorts, and I said, I need to move to Florida. Because I enjoyed sports, outdoors sports, fishing, canoeing, hiking, sailing. And you can do it year round down here (PF laughs). So, as I sat in the cold winter
JG: For you, it would be an argument for the economic impact of sports (PF laughing) for people who say theres no economic return on them. When you first moved here, where did you live?
PF: Well, I lived on Davis Island in an apartment that was month-to-month because I didnt know where I was going to end up, but um first actual place was an apartment complex on Waters Avenue called Waterford Village. And then I moved to River Del Rey where I was the recreation director there for the apartment complex as well as working for Hillsborough County.
JG: Did you come to Hillsborough to go to work for Hillsborough County?
PF: No, I uh, I had graduated from the University of Florida and went up to Springfield College in Massachusetts to get my graduate degree, and after one more winter, I came back to Florida just looking for a job. And Ed Radice was looking for somebody to enter into the department, and he offered me a job so I said, Ill be there. (PF laughs) I love it.
JG: So what was it like working for the parks department at that time?
PF: It was like I was on vacation because, you know, I just said in high school, Im not going to do something I dont enjoy. And I enjoyed all types of team sports and lifetime sports and well, hiking, fishing, tennis, golf. You know, always being active. It was just a blessing to be able to work in a business that promoted sports and
JG: And Ed Radice was something of a legend in terms
JG: of his concern for serving the public.
PF: Well Ed, Ed wasand he would tell you, his first love was baseball. But, actually, Jan Platt came to Ed at one point and said, Id like to have an environmental land program in Hillsborough County, and Ed embraced it. And he really coordinated the beginnings of the program with Commissioner Platt.
JG: The ELAPP program.
PF: The ELAPP program, yes.
JG: Well, prior to that did thewould the parks department have any kind of conservation effort? Was there any element of
PF: They did. They have the regional parks. The department hadtalk to people about whats a park, and youre going to get 10 different descriptions of what they think a park should be. But you have your neighborhood little playground areas, and then you have your sports complex. And then there is the large, regional parks, where theyre usually resource oriented, and the activities are camping, fishing, hiking, bird watching, that nature. And we had, at the time, I believe, nine parks. And Ed was instrumental in establishing a referendum that put, at the time, 10 million dollars into the regional parks. And thats when we built upper Tampa Bay, Lettuce Lake, E.G. Simmons, and a number of other parks that were renovated. Old parks had been there forever like Alderman Ford and Lithia Springs, so.
JG: And they all had high environmental value.
PF: Yes. Yeah.
JG: Joel Jackson was involved.
PF: Yes, Joel was very much involved. He was the assistant manager of the bond program, the construction and development of the parks, and eventually became the director for that program.
JG: Do you think that effort on those regional parks kind of helped when yall started ELAPP? That created a foundation?
PF: Absolutely. Yeah. One of the things that kind of prompted the ELAPP program was the state had the conservation and lands program, CARL program. And one of the first purchases, which Joel was actively involved with, as [was] Rob Heath and some of the other people in the department, we purchased the Bower Tract, which is next to Upper Tampa Bay and the state provided at least half of the funding for that, I believe. And thats when people started realizing that you had to have matching funds to leverage the state grants.
And some of the other counties, like Volusia County, had initiated a local land program, acquisition program. And thats about the time that Commissioner Platt said Hillsborough County needs one, so we did. We were one of the pioneers, I think, statewide. There were a few counties that had them, but we were right on their coattails. The first referendum was just a straw poll saying, would you like to do this? And it was approved overwhelmingly: 70 to 30 percent by the voters. And that a funding source to leverage state funds that we utilized probably as much as, if not [more than] any other county or municipality in the State of Florida.
JG: Well you hadby the time that ELAPP was approved, you lived in Hillsborough county for quite a while.
JG: Had you seen a dramatic change in the landscape? And then, you know, the need for saving what was left, was that apparent to you?
PF: Oh, yeah. Yeah. The regional parks, some peopleI remember we did a brochure and it was called The Hidden Gems. Somebody said, They shouldnt be hidden gems. People should know about these, because so many times people would go and theyd say, I didnt know this existed in Hillsborough. Theyd go up to Lettuce Lake Park and see the Hillsborough River flowing through it and the wildlife thats there and [say], I didnt know this was here, you know.
And its not only there, but its at E.G. Simmons, and Lithia, and the ten regional parks that we have. So weve expanded the natural areas of preservation through the ELAPP program. And now there are a number of preserves where theyre open to the public. And I think one of the reasons it was so important was that we had, not just conservationists or preservationists, we had the fishing people that enjoyed fishing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, off-road biking, and weve partnered with those groups to come in and create trails and maintain them, whereby saving the taxpayers some money. These special groups would say, you know, If you allow us to come in and build the trails. We go, Well, if you do that will you maintain them as well? (PF and JG laugh) You know, take out the trash, you know, keep them up.
JG: And they did do that.
PF: Yeah, they did do that, and they saw the value to it. I think that, you know, the county needs to realize that. I read when I was doing some research for the most recent referendum, some economist said that the economic value of eco-tourism is the equivalent to holding two Super Bowls. (PF laughs) So uh theres a return on that investment as well.
JG: Well, when ELAPP passed, you were over ELAPPs staff that had to implement. Correct? You had to see
JG: that ELAPP got off to a solid start. Did you face any real challenges, certain challenges on?
PF: Well, it wasnt that difficult because ELAPP was based on a citizens advisory group thats always been very strong. And they set the tone for how the program should be run, and they set goals, objectives, and suggestedand they met at least four times a year probably. And they have very definite ideas on how the program should work. It worksbasically, people, anybody, can nominate a piece of land. It goes through a process. Theres an application form that you fill out. It has certain criteria, which were developed by that citizens advisory group, a list of like 14 criteria. And then there are a number of subcommittees from the general committee. Some of them go out and analyze it, based on the application, and another group will review it from a scientific standpoint. And then, a site selection committee gets together, and they actually rank it.
And then, based on the ranking, that sets thewell, I dont want to say priority because any site, once it was approved, was available to purchase once the board, the reportthe committee would submit an annual report to the board of county commissioners. And once that was approved, the resolution stated that the county could then seek acquisition of any one of these sites. But they were all categorized and ranked. The higher rankthe first year that it was approved, there were, I believe, 16 sites, and the number three site came into our hands at a good value. But people said, Well, why arent you buying the number one site first? Because there are a number of factors. You know, number one is the willingness of the seller to sell to the county, so. The person who owns the top ranked site might not be willing to sell, or he might want too much money.
So theres yet another committee that was made up of people from the real estate community and finance; they scrutinized every proposed acquisition. And they might say, Well, they cant sell that for this. So they were very important too. They saved the county a lot of money, and they would actually review each site before we submitted it to the board of county commissioners for approval. But, with the citizen involvement, it really wasnt that difficult to coordinate with them. The board of county commissioners always asked, you know, what does the committee say?
JG: Well, I mean, so by time it was submitted to the county commissioner, it had been thoroughly scrutinized on financial level, environmental level. I mean, you never experienced any case of the commissioners trying to push one site
JG: because of some political influence.
JG: There was never any incident of
PF: No. Its one of the most transparent programs that Ive ever seen in the county(PF laughs)
JG: Thats why its never
PF: unfortunately. (JG and PF laugh)
JG: Well, theres nevertheres never been a case of any scandal, any remote?
PF: No. In fact, mostI would have to check. Well, they also hired an acquisition manager in the real estate department, and I cant think of any purchase that went to the board that wasnt approved unanimously or at least, you know, by majority. There was never any, and none was ever rejected to my knowledge either. They all were approved. And theyve acquired over 65 sites now, so (PF laughs) thats pretty remarkable.
JG: It must have been pretty exciting to see all this. Was it a challenge to manage that land and make sure the public had access?
JG: When I heard the initial criticism, if I heard anything, was, Well, the public doesnt have access to this one.
PF: Yeah, well, the public has access to, I think, 100 percent of the land. The only time any parcel would be closed would be if were doing some restoration project where we have heavy machinery in there and so on. But funny story is that, this was like 87, I think, when I first went to a conference on this in Sarasota. The topic of the discussion in one of the sessions was, should you buy land if you cant manage it? And of course, the answer was yes because, if you dont buy it, you may never be able to manage it. (JG laughs) It would be gone, developed.
My last year that I was with the department, I went to another conference in Sarasota. There was a guy there, presentingthat probably wasnt even born when I startedand the topic of the discussion was, should you buy land if you cant afford to manage it? Im thinking, Ive come full circle here (PF laughs) in 25 years, well we just had the 25-year anniversary of the ELAPP program. And I love to tell that story because its like, yes, you know. What doesnt [sic] people understand about this, because?
JG: You were able though, pretty much, to manage. I mean, you know, if there was occasional backlogs on loans(??) or anything.
PF: Right. And we had some discussions with the agricultural community about land management. It took a while, but we finally got on the same page with them because they were saying, Well you know, you have all these exotic plants growing on this property that you just bought. And you know, theyre encroaching into our area, and we said, Well, we did just buy it. Its been there for the past millennium, but we will work with you to try to eliminate, you know, the exotic seed source coming over into your crop area and everything. And so, we would try to coordinate eradicating exotic plants, especially along the property lines and so on. And but, yeah the money for management was hard coming, and it still is. It still is today.
JG: So you have to make priority lists of what gets done.
PF: Exactly. And again, fortunately, there are a lot of grant programs. Our staff is very active working with the Southwest Florida Water Management district in, you know, managing, in which theyre also partners with some of the acquisition. We partner with all the municipalities: City of Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City. We have management agreements with them to assist. But theres always going to be some land that needs to be prescribe-burned or restored. And once you restore the land, its a lot easier to manage, so its always going to be a challenge. Some people, you know, dont see the value of managing land. But prescribed burn is something that, if you dont burn on a regular basis and lightning strikes, its going to uh going to be a lot bigger fire. (PF laughs)
JG: Youd have a wildfire.
PF: Yeah, youve got a wildfire. So theres a lot of benefits to burning, and Im not a biologist, but our staff can tell you extensively about what the benefits are. And theres just so many benefits. And with the acquisition, I know our flood insurance levels have gone down. The economic value of ELAPP is tremendous, more so than most people realize.
JG: Well you mentioned that, you know, there was some push back from the agricultural community. Were there any other, like, critics or opponents early on? Because, as I recall, the development community really didnt oppose it.
JG: I think they saw the value of the land of the land being preserved.
PF: Oh, yeah.
PF: Well, there was a discussion about, okay, youre taking all this land off the tax rolls and depriving us of taxes. What we found was that the adjacent property, like waterfront property, escalated. If you live next to a preserve, your value of your property goes up, which more than compensated forwe did some work with the tax office, and we found that the impact was less than like 1/10th of 1 percent on the overall tax base of the county. So that was a discussion for a while, but I think that people eventually foundyou mentioned developers. A lot of the land we bought was bought from developers, and it was during the recession, when we could get tremendousyou know, 50 cents on the dollar for some of the acquisitions. And some people said, Well, youre bailing out the developer. But that wasnt the case. It was valuable land. We got a good deal for it, and it wasnt developed. And land that isnt developed reduces your need for services to that area. And so the trade-off kind of all balanced out, I think, in the end.
JG: And you only bought from willing buyers.
PF: Exactly. If they didnt wantif people didnt wanttat was the first thing wed say: if you dont want to participate
JG: And your citizens committee wouldnt approve it, if it wasnt fair market value priced.
PF: Oh, yeah.
JG: They would not haveif anybodys asking too high, they dont approve.
PF: Right. And we had Will Bassett on it. And just a number of people that wereBill McClain was a local real estate attorneyabout seven and eight of them. People come and go, but they took the job seriously. Of course, they all lived in Hillsborough county and did business in Hillsborough county, and they didnt want to create any problems in the community. The biggest problem we had, I think, was the Fishhawk development. We bought a lot of land from Fishhawk. But every major business had some part ownership of Fishhawk development, so it was questionable. And then the board was like, Well, doesnt this person own? Like, everybody and his brother had some part of that Fishhawk balance.
JG: Really? So you still were able to?
PF: Oh, yeah.
JG: Without major conflict?
PF: Yeah because it was all right along the Alafia River, which isand if you look at it, most of the property that we bought is adjacent to water. And I asked our biologist one time, I said, Well, unfortunately the same property thats environmentally valuable is also attractive for development. You know, waterfront views and anything along the river, the coast. So, in a sense, we were competing with them, but we had a good relationship with them. And, as we said, it was all voluntary. If you didnt want to sell, we didnt, you know, because of the cost of condemning the land would be outrageous.
JG: Did you ever have a tract that you really wanted to get that you just couldnt work out?
PF: Yeah, yeah. Theres a couple. I cant remember specifically. Theres a couple. And those tracts are generally ones that will connect to existing preserves, and this would provide a connection, a corridor, for them. And theres been a number of them, and theres still one right now. I cant remember off-hand what it is. Kurt could tell you. But its a linkage. I think its down the south Triple Creek area.
JG: Create a corridor.
PF: Yeah, create a corridor and the owner just, he just wants too much money. In fact, theyve asked about, you know, could the general committee, which I still serve on with would Jan Smith as the chair. And she says, Dont you think we should just this one time? And were going, Jan, if you do that youre going to set a precedent, and that oversight committee was the acquisition committee. They were proud of the fact that we, for the longest time, never paid more than 80 percent of appraised value.
PF: That was their goal. In fact, I can remember one time, the Violet Curry Park tract, which is out in the Lutz area.
JG: I live next to it.
JG: I ran on it this morning. (JG laughs)
PF: We were negotiating with the Curry family, and we offered them a price. And they said, Well, thats not acceptable. And they said, Give us another offer. Well, the committee gave them a lower offer. But we were able to work with the family and eventually the site was named after Violet Curry. (PF laughs) So
JG: I had always heard, I dont want to get off track, but I had heard that it was the mother, who was Violet Curry, that actually wanted to do the deal, and it was either her son or son-in-law
JG: Who was being so difficult.
PF: He threatened to sue. (PF laughs) He came in. He met Ed and myself in the office, and hes an attorney. And he threatened to sue Ed and I because we were taking the land. And we said that was not the case. We said, no it is a voluntary program. If you dont want to sellbut it was Bruce, Bruce Curry.
JG: Bruce Curry. Yeah, I dealt with him. Hes a big railroad buff too.
PF: Yeah. (PF laughs) Well, it turned out that we eventually saw eye to eye and got together.
JG: Well, I love it. Its my, I mean a beautiful piece. But I could see too though, its not in terms of, you know, its not as big as most of your tracts. Its not necessarily connected. I do see deer in there sometimes.
PF: Oh yeah.
JG: I think they come from the Cypress Creek, which is not too far.
PF: (PF laughs) Exactly.
JG: Its not connected though.
PF: Yeah, yeah. We occasionally get some people who be upset because they would nominate sites that, you know, they just wouldnt support wildlife.
JG: Its like a good neighborhood park but not
PF: Exactly. A retention pond in the back and all the wildlife. Well, the wildlife was raccoons and (PF laughs).
JG: Well, Violet Curry is better than that they have (PF laughing; inaudible) including great horned owls, but its notits probably about, on the lower end of.
PG: Yeah, yeah.
JG: Well, you mentioned too, before I forget, that you got people to build trails and volunteers. You all also work to get volunteers to work on some of the land management, do some clearing. Do they do that? I think they do some of that now; they have work days.
PF: Yes. They have work days. Theyll schedule workdays. We work with Keep Hillsborough Beautiful, the Tampa Bay Watch, Peter Clarks group over in Pinellas. Well, theyre based in Pinellas county, but they work in Hillsborough. So they do a lot of refilling and stuff along the coast lines. Well work with boy scouts. I sometimes have an eagle scout project. They want to do something to the sites that we have, and well work with them as long as its within, you know, theevery site by the way, has a management plan as soon as its acquired. Within a year, theyre required to have a management plan that outlines what the resources are, what the goals are, what restoration needs are, and any activity on any of the sites should be covered by that, that management plan. If its not in there, they have to. And the management plans are taken to the public again and theyre reviewed. People have the opportunity to comment on, you know, what should happen on these sites. And so its a very public program still.
JG: Going forward, what do you think are the challenges for ELAPP? Or do you think the program?
PF: Well, the funding right now for acquisition isthe last referendum was approved for a certain amount of money. Of course, they have to issue bonds for it. And the current administration doesnt want to issue bonds unless we have sites lined up to acquire. And so, theres been some meetings between the chairman of our public, our citizens committee, and the county administrator. And theyve assured us that if we have somethingif somethings out there that we can getthat there will be funding available for it based on the approved wording in the referendums. And then the management. Always the funding of management activities.
JG: Is managementthe fundsdoes the management funding come from a different pot?
JG: Or does that come from just general revenue?
PF: Yeah, the differentiation there is management versus maintenance. And management, when they would talk management, were talking about capital projects. You know, putting in a fence would be a capital project. And then we could fund that through the bond revenues. Repairing the fence is maintenance, and you cant
JG: Yeah. Thats an ongoing
PF: Thats an onyeah. And so, I probably should clarify it and say maintenance of the existing facilities that we do have. And we have a number of facilities. If you go out, theres the trails the themselves, of course. And then theres the parking lots and kiosks, and we have some picnic shelters on some of the sites, and they do need to be routinely maintained. And but, thats an ongoing cost that is in the ad valorem funding for the department. But we didit was a big discussion in the legalities of, you know, bond funds and what you can spend them for and what you cant spend them for. But we finally, even restoration weve been able to set aside some bond revenue for restoration if a site has been degraded by clearing or whatever. If we can show through going back through old aerials and show that it was a forested area that was cleared, we can reforest it with bond revenue. But, as I said, the routine maintenance of the paving and everything, thats ad valorem funds.
JG: Now, so far, none of the ELAPP money has been used for lessened fee for buying development rights, or have they?
PF: There have been attempts to do conservation easements.
JG: You could do it.
PF: You could do it, yes.
JG: Later under the program.
PF: Yes, yeah, yeah. Lessened fee, where a life estate or something of a farm or a preservation area, where we say youre limited to this as far as development, but well give you so much money, which would be less than acquisition. But any other improvements would not be allowed on the sites, so. We could do it, but we havent done it yet, to my knowledge. There might bewe might have purchased a conservation easement here or there. I cant remember. Kurt Gremley would know. Hes our acquisition guy.
JG: Well, [from] what I understand, usually by the time you pay lessened fee, its almost you might as well pay for the whole
PF: Yeah. Yeah that was pretty much the
JG: They want so much for that.
PF: We had one tract of land out in the Plant City area that we were working with a family. And we never just could agree on the price. (PF laughs) But that was the stumbling block was, well, if youre paying this much money, you might as well buy it.
JG: Well, what do you think has been ELAPPs biggest accomplishment?
PF: Oh, well, the sheer volume of land thats been preserved. I talked to a few people from the general committee and, you know, when they acquired four or five thousand acres down there at Balm Boyette, that was one of the first major purchases, the Balm Boyette scrub. You know, people thought wed never be able to do that. And here, the volume of land that weve acquired is close to 70 thousand acres now. And who would have thought? And I think one of the challenges right now is, you know, how much do you buy. You know, when do you stop?
We were so close to seven, I remember the first meetings of the ELAPP general committee, and we get people go out and map, actually map Hillsborough County and what, where are the areas that could be preserved. And, oddly enough, it pretty much follows the riverine corridors, the coastal areas, and it was 70 thousand acres. That was in 1985, at the very inception of the program. So the program has pretty much
JG: Did you say 62 thousand, is that what is has?
PF: Its like 64 or 62, in that area right now. But so, were darned close to what the initial projection of the program and what could be done. And so, I think that thats a tough question because, like, Pasco county I believe has some astronomically high percentage of land thats in public ownership. But, you know, its all rural area.
JG: And water district owned.
PF: Yes, SWFWMD. And its public ownership, you know, water district, state, counties, whomever, but thats a question too that a lot people will, a lot of the critics say, well, you know, youre putting too much into public ownership. You know, if you go out and you paddle down the river, or hike across youre going to see value of it.
PF: And so manyI personally had friends who have come down, and theyve been to Disney, and theyve been to Busch Gardens and Sea World. I take them kayaking down at Cockroach Bay and, there you see the gators and the dolphins and the fish. Two weeks after they go back home, they send me a letter and say, The highlight of our trip was the canoe ride at Cockroach Bay. You know, because that was native Florida. And people dont realize the value of that. Like I said, the hidden treasure is something we need to put behind us and start showing the people. These are resources you have here, right in Hillsborough county. And theyre available to you through the ELAPP program. You can canoe, hike, bike, camp. We have camping at some of the sites. And Im glad to see our staff branching out and doing some more things, innovative. Theyre doing night hikes now. I saw that theres a night swim at Lithia Springs. (PF laughs)
JG: I may go on that. I want to go in the night time. (PF laughing) I think it sounds great.
PF: But yeah, I think its great to watch these things and watch them develop. But theyre doing more and more things like that. And I think the more they do they with it, the more support theyre going get for their management and maintenance of the facilities and everything.
JG: Do you have a favorite ELAPP site or
PF: Oh, probably Balm Boyette because I do off-road biking, and the trails down there are challenging. Some I wont go on because theyre too steep. But it was just one thatits funny, Mike Kelly was a real estate director, was a good friend and turns out that we were born like ten miles from each other in New York. But he retired a couple of years before I did, so he went around scouting out all the areas and what could be done. So we go out now and go to Cockroach and kayak and fish, or we go Balm Boyette and do off-road biking. And you know, people say, Oh, this is so great! and Oh, you guys sure know a lot about this site. (PF and JG laugh) Were like, Well, yeah. But its fun to go back and see what, you know, your career really. I spent the whole 30 years with Hillsborough County.
JG: Something to be proud of.
PF: Yeah. Its nice. Its fun to finally go out and enjoy them. (PF and JG laugh)
JG: Well, is there anything else I should have asked that I didnt?
PF: No, no, just, uh
JG: Anything you want to add about ELAPP?
PF: No, Id just like to you know. I know Ed Radice was somehow the father ofJan Platt was the mother of ELAPP, Ed was the father.
JG: As much as he loved sports and baseball.
PF: And we, oh
JG: He embraced the conservation.
PF: Yeah. He did. And it grew under Ed. In fact, one of theIll never forget, one of the articlesand you might have wrote [sic] itabout county government ought to be run like ELAPP. (PF laughs)
JG: I did write that.
PF: (PF still laughing) It was great. But no, its been a pleasure to work for the county for, you know. Like I said, I felt like I was on vacation every day. Its fun to come to work when you do fun things. So.
JG: Well, great. Well, I appreciate it.
PF: Oh, anytime.
COPYR I GHT NOT I CE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Univ ersity of South Florida. Copyright, 1995 201 7 University of South Florida. All rights, reserv ed. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the Univ ersity of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.