On Tuesday, Aug. 27, I attended the first M-CORES Toll Roads Task Force meeting in Tampa. It was a day full of contrasts, beginning with the high-energy tone and music-backed presentations by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and ending with the somber pleas by citizens to protect our water, wildlife and way of life.
The FDOT set the stage with opening remarks by Secretary Kevin Thibault and Senate President Bill Galvano. As the day progressed, I had the chance to listen to and speak with numerous concerned task force members and citizens. I know now, more than ever, that this fight for Florida is not over.
The public comment period began at 4:45 p.m. and, as chairs began to empty, I thanked those who stayed to the bitter end. My testimony (lightly edited below), which I delivered to the members of the task force, addressed the contrasts and the hard choices that need to be made, with specific references to the Suncoast Connector area.
Here’s what I urged them to consider:
“Members of the task force: If it feels like a heavy, gray cloud is hanging over your heads, that’s because it is.
The future of the state that we love and the legacy we leave will be influenced by your decisions and recommendations, your bravery, and which colors you choose: the gray of pavement and decay, or the lush colors of Florida we are trying to protect.
In my observation, the task force has been presented with the promise of economic opportunity and protection of our natural resources, wrapped in a beautiful shiny package. But what is inside looks more like the contents of a cement mixer- a mix of once solid, colorful pieces – shades of blues, browns, and greens – now gray, uninspiring muck.
Those colorful pieces and the vibrancy we stand to lose include:
The bombay sapphire blue of Fanning Springs and other first magnitude springs that are a direct connection to our primary drinking water source- the Floridan aquifer.
The dusty brown snout of the Florida black bear that is becoming increasingly isolated into smaller subpopulations due to fragmentation of its swamp and pine forest habitats.
And the vibrant green of cypress trees in spring that line the banks of the iconic rivers like Apalachicola.
In contrast, the proposed M-CORES toll roads will only bring shades of gray:
The gray of up to 330 unnecessary, new miles of cement and asphalt.
The gray of new rooftops in sprawling, cookie-cutter subdivisions named after former ranches and farms and old Florida families.
The gray of mud used to fill wetlands and the gray of polluted stormwater that will wash nutrients, chemicals, and dirt into our remaining water resources, including springs and rivers.
The gray of air pollution from vehicle exhaust that will threaten human health in nearby towns and will further pollute the water we need to survive as it falls to earth as dust or rain.
The gray of shuttered up small-town businesses, bypassed as travelers stop someplace newer and shinier.
And the dull gray-green dollars in the billions that could be used to fix our existing infrastructure, like crumbling roads and bridges, and leaky sewers and septic systems, that will be misspent on roads to nowhere.
At this first toll roads task force meeting, we are only just entering the on-ramp. There is time to pump the brakes and take a different route. We can upgrade and utilize our existing infrastructure first and protect our water, wild areas, and rural communities.”
Just as I urged the task force to not be misled by the shiny wrapping paper, I am asking you, Conservation Voter, to join us in our continued opposition to this short-sighted, dangerous toll road plan. Together, we can protect the beautiful blues, browns, and greens and say “NO” to more gray in the Sunshine State!