Despite opposition, Florida board OKs Split Oak Forest road project

The plan would run a toll road extension through part of the forest

The road would be an extension of Osceola Parkway.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Environmental advocates are furious after a Florida board approved a project to extend a toll road through a protected forest in Orange and Osceola counties.

After more than four hours of public comments, the Florida Communities Trust Board Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to extend Osceola Parkway through part of Split Oak Forest.

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“Split Oak has certain protections and these protections are held by different people in order to protect Split Oak further,” said Valerie Anderson, president of Friends of Split Oak. “This is an agency that holds one of the protections for Split Oak and this agency just said we’re not going to protect it.”

Split Oak, which spans over 1,700 acres, was originally set aside for conservation. In December 2019, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and four Orange County commissioners approved an $800 million toll road through it.

“People were so outraged at what happened, there that this conservation land that was bought and paid for by the public, was so easily dismantled even though there were 60-something people there objecting it,” said Commissioner Nicole Wilson, one of the commissioners who voted against the plan in 2019.

In 2020, Orange County voters passed a referendum opposing the road.

“We’re furious,” Anderson said. “These are supposed to be the people protecting our public lands and they didn’t seem to care. Orange County voters said we don’t want a road through any part of Split Oak.”

One woman commenting during Wednesday’s meeting asked why citizens must beg governments to follow what the people want.

“It was protected, as you know, lots of lands for endangered species and a wildlife corridor, and lots of really high-quality habitat by both counties,” Anderson said. “Both agreed to protect it forever back in 1994 and now they’re going back on their promises.”

Anderson said the Friends of Split Oak Forest are now going to have to go back to the county governments and fight the road there, since the state board’s decision throws the decision back to Orange and Osceola counties.

“What happens in this particular vote is that Orange County, Osceola County sent an application to this agency to get rid of this protection and so that application will come back through to the counties, so now we go back to fight this at the county level,” Anderson said.

About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.