CFX board approves conservation funding and other measures for a toll road through Split Oak Forest
The Central Florida Expressway Authority on Thursday committed to a conservation effort costing about $13 million over 30 years in connection with its controversial plan for a toll road through the Split Oak Forest.
CFX board member and Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine presented the resolution, which passed without opposition.
The Osceola Parkway Extension will impact 160 acres as it swerves for 1.35 miles through the southern end of Split Oak Forest in Osceola County. The toll road will improve east-west travel from State 417 near Lake Nona to Cyrils Drive.
The CFX plan includes additional land nearby being donated for conservation.
Scores of people, including environmentalists and members of the Friends of Split Oak Forest have opposed putting a toll road through the forest -- and gopher tortoise habitat -- which was set aside for conservation in 1994. A vote last month by the governing board of the Florida Communities Trust permitted the 330-foot-wide easement through the forest.
Constantine said the resolution addresses immediate concerns for Split Oak and broader environmental concerns about land promised for conservation being developed anyway.
"It is doing everything we can," he said, "to protect Split Oak and the 1,550 acres that will be dedicated to us and its wildlife and its habit while also setting a precedent for future road builders to match."
The resolution makes the following promises:
• CFX will not request a widening of the easement;
• Will support granting a conservation and preservation easement for Split Oak and the donated land to a qualified land conservancy organization;
• Agrees to fund restoration and maintenance for 30 years on the donated land at an estimated $13 million;
• Supports replacement acres somewhere nearby for gopher tortoise mitigation areas impacted by the expressway project;
• Supports granting an easement to the Florida Trail Association to promote, develop and maintain a network of dog-friendly hiking trails;
• Agrees to provide substantial wildlife crossings -- including bridges -- through Split Oak, using the Wekiva Parkway wildlife crossings as a model;
• Will advocate for the expansion of wildlife corridors based on the 2021 Florida Ecological Greenways Network; and
• Will erect appropriate signage and warning signals along the expressway for the periodic prescribed burns.