The Department of Transportation (DOT) is making it harder and harder for the public to make oral comments at the virtual toll road meetings. Also, the meetings are starting earlier (9 am) and ending later (not too far from 6 pm), but now public comment has been pushed to 5 pm. Earlier meetings began the public comment around 10:30 or 11 am. This schedule also makes participation difficult if not impossible for those who have to work for a living.
The longer meetings include lunch and other breaks. Attendees have also dropped off, from somewhere around 160 to now 130 at the beginning. By the time public comment arrives, it is down to about 90. The first of the virtual meetings had about 168 speakers signed up, but less than half of those were able to negotiate the phone/computer hoops and were able to speak. Speakers still have no way to know how many Task Force members may be listening to them, but Task Force member Charles Shinn has assured us he or his rep stays until the bitter end. At the in-person meetings we attended before pre-COVID we remember most stayed, and we believe Mr. Shinn.
Yesterday had 16 speakers, including OSFR board member Kristin Rubin and your historian, a good percentage for OSFR out of 16. Sierra Club had even more, including faithful Herman Younger of Gainesville, and members Mike McGrath and Adriene Barmann. Thanks to Sierra Club and all the others who had the patience to speak against the boondoggle, including repeat contributors such as Lindsay Cross of Florida Conservation Voters.
One speaker, Ginny Welch of Old Town, made the point that of all the public comment (almost totally negative) none was seen reflected in the detailed DOT projections.
One new thing, at least to your writer who may have missed it before, was the mention of “NO BUILD” as one alternative. It appeared in Guiding Principal #8, surprisingly, as below: (bottom of first column).
Keep in mind that these are Task Force requests and the fact that they appear here does not constitute a promise from DOT to observe them. As we have written before, the DOT policy is “to avoid if at all possible, but if you can’t,……………….” Yesterday it was said: “avoid but if you can’t, enhance, then finally mitigate.” For what that is worth.
We might pessimistically add, when have you ever seen a Springs Priority Focus Area actually protect anything? Nice sounding terms but does this designation protect a river in recovery and help it get restored?
No matter the plans and promises, if these roads are built wetlands will be destroyed, wildlife killed, farms decimated, sprawl will happen and a few people will get rich(er). And all for naught because we don’t need this road that connects to nothing.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum