Now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed the toll road bill, SB 7068, Suwannee Riverkeeper — which was among the 90 organizations throughout Florida that asked him to veto it — continues to oppose that boondoggle and propose actual benefits to Florida’s economy and waters.
Google map of one likely route of the Suncoast Connector.
One of these three unneeded turnpikes would have to cross the Suwannee River, plowing through counties where we have many members. All this very poorly written bill says about its route is: “Suncoast Connector, extending from Citrus County to 164 Jefferson County.” Apparently that means from Crystal River to Monticello, and on to Thomasville, Georgia, through farms, forests and swamps. If this toll road builds its bypasses, bye-bye local businesses in Chiefland, Fanning Springs, Old Town and Cross City.
Yes, the turnpike bill has a “project development phase” for $45 million and increasing each year, with a “local government official from each local government within a proposed corridor.” But the Legislature also passed HB 7103, which would limit local government comprehensive planning, which is the real local government counter to encroaching construction projects. The governor should veto HB 7103.
Yet another local government preemption bill, HB 829, titled “Attorney Fees and Costs,” would also make local government participation in any vetting of new roads difficult. The governor should veto HB 829 as well.
The same Florida legislative session passed no water conservation laws at all, not even Sen. Bill Montford’s SB 1100 for testing water wells.
For $45 million I bet Florida could do weekly water quality testing for sewage bacteria and fertilizer nitrates up and down every river in Florida. Knowing when the rivers and springs are clean and when to stay off the water would contribute to rural river ecotourism much more than would four-lane highways.
As 90 organizations, including Suwannee Riverkeeper, pointed out in a letter to the governor, the Florida Department of Transportation I-75 Relief Task Force in 2016 concluded expanding existing highways makes more sense than building new ones. The letter also notes that more shelters are a better method of hurricane preparedness than more evacuation roads.
Floridians often suffer weeks without power after a hurricane, because of the state’s dependence on centralized natural gas power plants. Florida needs local solar power so its people will have electricity as soon as the sun shines. Even better, solar and batteries at sewage lift stations would prevent spills. Solar power would also bring more rural jobs more places than toll road construction.
Next year the Legislature should pass state renewable energy goals and explicitly legalize third-party power purchase agreements to facilitate rooftop solar power financing. These measures would do far more for rural economies than toll roads.
On behalf of our board of directors and our members, I urge Florida Gov. DeSantis to veto HB 7103 and HB 829. I also urge continued opposition to the counterproductive toll roads.
John S. Quarterman is the Suwannee Riverkeeper, a staff position and a project of WWALS Watershed Coalition Inc.
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