FWC meets to discuss proposed toll road project through protected Split Oak Forest

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed they need more details before voting on whether to give up 160 acres of conservation land in Split Oak Forest.


They requested that their Executive Director collects more details from Osceola County and Central Florida Expressway Authority.

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Central Florida Expressway Authority and Osceola County are pushing to build a toll road that would cut through the southwest corner of the forest.

The forest has been conserved since the 1990s because of its wetlands and endangered species like gopher tortoises.

Just last week, Orange County commissioners voted against supporting the project, a complete U-turn from the commission’s 2019 vote. However, it’s in line with what Orange County voters decided in 2020. 86 percent voted to preserve the forest. Orange and Osceola counties purchased the property as a mitigation bank against wetland impacts in the 1990s.

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Roughly 70 people spoke against the proposal to release conservation land Tuesday. They emphasized that the land was put in conservation for perpetuity so forever.

But Osceola County Commissioner and the Incoming Chair of the Central Florida Expressway Authority Brandon Airington says the road is needed to help with traffic congestion. He argued the project could only impact 3 percent of the Split Oak Forest’s more than 1600 acres.

The FWC asked their Executive Director to get more details from Osceola County and the Central Florida Expressway Authority on a “mitigation package”.

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The Authority plans to expand the forest by 1550 acres and commit at least $13 million for preservation and restoration of the land.  Osceola County plans to put 100 acres of the 160 acres proposed to be released back into conservation.

Several residents argue the land Osceola and the Authority are offering is not a fair trade. Many say the proposed donated land is of less ecological quality than Split Oak Forest.

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