Escambia County is moving to preserve more wetland habitat in the southwest part of the county.
The county is offering $908,500 to purchase 337 acres of currently privately held wetlands off of U.S. 98 near Blue Angel Parkway.
Chips Kirschenfeld, the deputy county administrator and natural resources director, told the News Journal the purchase will add to the already 600 acres of county-owned preserved wetlands that is part of the Jones Swamp Wetland Preserve. It also will help with the more than 20-year effort to create a Southwest Greenway.
"We've got about seven and a half miles and boardwalks and trails already completed or under construction," Kirschenfeld said.
The property also will have the added benefit of being used for mitigation credits for much-needed road projects that can't happen without the county buying wetlands for preservation.
Two projects that the mitigation credits will be used for are the O.C. Phillips Road bridge replacement over Brushy Creek in the northern part of the county and the West Kingsfield Road extension project. The latter is a major county project that is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2022 to create a new route for the road that avoids the several 90-degree turns the road currently follows.
"Part of the 337 acres that we're going to purchase will go towards the offset mitigation credits for those two projects, and they will have some left over for future county projects," Kirschenfeld said.
The county's offer of $908,500 came in at $2,696 per acre, which was $364 more than the county's two appraisals on the property, but lower than the asking price of $3,000 per acre.
Because the offer exceeded the appraised value on the property, it required a super-majority vote of the County Commission, which wasn't an issue Thursday as the board voted 5-0 to approve the offer.
Kirschenfeld said there are about 1,300 acres of wetlands in that area and if the purchase goes through, the county will have preserved more than 900 acres of it.
"Historically, if you look back at the last 100 years here in the United States, we have lost 50% of our wetlands," Kirschenfeld said. "Because of the loss of those wetlands, we have a lot more threatened and endangered species than we used to. So many species depend on wetlands for some part of their lifecycle, whether they lay their eggs there or whether it's their nursery habitat or the juvenile habitat. So loss of wetlands has had a real detrimental effect on animal and plant species."
Kirschenfeld added that humans also benefit from the existence of wetlands to keep waterways used for recreation and fishing clean.
"Wetlands are also commonly called the kidneys of the landscape because they function like the kidneys in our bodies," he said. "The wetlands help to filter out pollutants in stormwater, and therefore they improve the water quality in Pensacola Bay and Perdido Bay."
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Tim Day, senior natural resources manager for the county, told the News Journal that the project has an added benefit of opening up nature to the public in what is an otherwise urban environment.
"It's really making sure our generation and future generations have an ability to connect back with nature," Day said. "If you've gone on any of our Jones Swamp boardwalks, you'll see there's educational signage as you go along that identifies critical plants or changes in landscapes. And in this kind of urban area that's all around it, this provides a very important linkage for people to get back to nature effectively in their neighborhood."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Escambia County wants to add 337 acres to Southwest Greenway preserve