Planned Toll Road Through Environmental Preserve Suffers Setback

There is sometimes not a lot of good news on the environmental front these days in Florida.

This week was different.

The Orange County Commission voted 6-1 to withdraw its support for a proposed extension of a developer-fueled extension of the Osceola Expressway through a portion of Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area.

The county officials’ earlier support played a role in a decision by a state agency last year to approve granting an easement to allow the road’s route to cut through the 1,700=acre preserve .

Orange County voters had already voted overwhelmingly against allowing the road to run through this popular outdoor recreation venue and it was that public sentiment that played a role in Orange County’s reversal, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The fact is that building roads through environmental preserves always diminishes them.

The incessant thrum of traffic drowns out natural sounds—the songs of birds, the ruffle of tree foliage in a brisk wind, the sound of our own footsteps.

It is too early to say whether Orange County’s decision will derail the toll road, given its developer support and the fact that officials in Tallahassee these days are more apt to side with developer wishes than not.

An update on the project is scheduled to occur when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is the state agency that manages the property., meets next month in Orlando.

This is worth watching because of its implications here in Polk County.

As many of you know, construction is already underway on a new toll road that will level the scenic oak hammock at the northeast corner of the Marshall Hampton Reserve across Lake Hancock from Circle B Bar Reserve.

More troubling is a plan unveiled at a County Commission retreat as an unfunded “need” a few years ago to realign Deen Still Road in the Green Swamp to create a new route that would cut through the Hampton Tract and Colt Creek State Park to create a more direct route for truck traffic between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98.

That revived a proposal briefly advanced by Florida Department of Transportation officials in the 1970s that likely stalled when the state declared a good portion of the Green Swamp as an Area of Critical State Concern because of its importance to the region’s water supplies. The Green Swamp is also the hub of a system of regional wildlife corridors and more and faster traffic is not good news for migrating wildlife.

Fortunately, there is no money at this point to build that road and there is unlikely to be enough money from local sources now that the current County Commission decided recently to reject the idea of having a sales tax referendum to fund projects like this.

What some future County Commission might decide, as the Orange County example shows, could change all of this.

The public needs to be vigilant.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.