Residents upset after trees, tortoises removed for road widening project

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

People in an east Orange County neighborhood are upset that the Department of Transportation is clearing nearby land to make room for a retention pond.

The rentention pond is part of a widening project for State Road 50, FDOT officials said. But the residents aren't just concerned about the removal of trees -- several gopher tortoises had to be moved, too.

On Thursday, the residents had wildlife inching up to their homes. But now when they look out the window they see the beginning of a construction project.

"They would always be out in this area. They were quite fun to have around," homeowner Brian McClymont said of the gopher tortoises.

Most of the tortoises are gone after FDOT paid thousands to have them removed from the area so their work could continue. A spokesman said a biologist came and picked up the tortoises within the last few days.

McClymont fears they might have missed some of the animals.

"There's been times I've been out here there's been three, four, five of them at a time," McClymont said.

Crews subsquently found evidence of more tortoises in the area and work on a second retention pond was halted. The ponds are part of a $68 million widening project on State Road 50 from Dean Road to Avalon Park Boulevard. The retention ponds will hold runoff water from the new traffic lanes, according to officials.

Neighbors said they aren't happy that the wooded land they had will soon be gone, just like the tortoises.

"It's not nice for the future," another resident, Ana Perez, said.

Officials said the tortoises are being relocated to a site that's approved by the Florida Wildlife Commission.