A 2022 ELAPP map.

Development fueled by population growth has been an ongoing issue for the past few years with Hillsborough County estimated to be home to over 1.5 million residents, a head count that is higher than 12 states and the largest in Florida outside of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Lost in all this is the fact that “Hillsborough County has the largest local preservation program in the state of Florida. Other counties may have more land, but a majority of that land is federal. When it comes to local dollars, no other county comes close to Hillsborough. And that’s all thanks to our citizens voting to fund the program three times,” explained Ross B. Dickerson, division manager of Environmental Lands Management.

The program he speaks of is the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP). Beginning as a local response to rapid development and habitat loss, ELAPP continues to preserve wildlife corridors in this highly urbanized region.

ELAPP was born in 1987 as referendum county voters overwhelmingly chose to dedicate funding to purchase environmentally sensitive lands. The program acquires parcels only from willing sellers and is voluntary and nonregulatory. Anyone can nominate a property for ELAPP consideration, which triggers a review by county staff and the public ELAPP committee. Voters chose to expand the program in 1990, and again in 2008. It is a citizen-based program with volunteer committees involved in every key aspect of the program.

Officially renamed in 2014 for former county commissioner and lifelong advocate for environmental protection Jan K. Platt (1978-2002), the ELAPP history project was funded by a generous donation from Gus Muench, a commercial crabber for 25 years, driving force behind the creation of the Cockroach Bay Users Group and the president of the Little Manatee Preservation Committee.

ELAPP has protected 64,530 acres of rare and important habitat in Hillsborough County. Many of our county’s 32 nature preserves were purchased in collaboration with other agencies, leveraging nearly one-third of the funds for acquisition from non-ELAPP sources and major restoration efforts with partners such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Information on all 32 can be found by visiting www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/recreation-and-culture/parks/find-a-park.

Additionally, Dickerson explained how the ELAPP program has provided unincorporated Hillsborough County residents with a 25 percent saving on their flood insurance premiums.

“The Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program that rewards communities who implement floodplain management activities beyond the minimum federal requirements with discounts to flood insurance premiums for their residents,” said Dickerson.

Currently, unincorporated Hillsborough County is a Class 5 community, which corresponds to a 25 percent discount for all residents on their flood insurance premiums. This equates to approximately $5.9 million annually. One of the creditable activities under the CRS program is ‘Open Space Preservation.’ ELAPP and associated preserved lands are integral in obtaining meaningful credit for us in this activity and help us in achieving our overall rating of Class 5.

For additional information, you can visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/recreation-and-culture/conservation/elapp or email dickersonr@hillsboroughcounty.org.

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Brian Bokor
Brian Bokor has lived in the Valrico area since 1997 and started writing freelance for The Osprey Observer in 2019. Brian (appraiser) and his wife, Sharon (broker), run a local real estate company (Bokors Corner Realty) as well as manage the Facebook page Bokors Corner, which highlights local-area commercial and residential development.