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Toll road through Split Oak forest gains key approval

Gopher tortoise. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Plans for an $800 million toll road through 1,700 acres of pristine central Florida forest are getting the go-ahead from a key state agency. 

Split Oak forest is situated in southeast Orange and east Osceola counties. The forest has been protected since the 1990s and is home to imperiled species like the gopher tortoise. 

The Florida Communities Trust governing board heard hours of public testimony. Most speakers opposed the road, like Reed Noss of the Florida Institute for Conservation Science.   

“This is without a question one of the most egregious proposals for use of conservation land that I’ve ever reviewed in my 15-year career. Split Oak forest was intended to be managed in perpetuity as wildlife habitat and as mitigation for habitat loss elsewhere.” 

But supporters pointed out the plan includes a land swap that would lead to the protection of other land. Here’s Andrew Cole of the East Orlando Chamber of Commerce. 

“This means significantly impacting more land that can be preserved and protected for future generations, including wildlife, native plants and contributing to the wildlife corridor.” 

By a margin of 86%, Orange County voters in 2020 approved a charter amendment aimed at protecting the forest. The road would connect State Road 417 with the Osceola Parkway. 

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »