Osceola County battles Orange County over new plan for Split Oak toll road

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A years-long quarrel about whether a toll road will divide the Split Oak Forest just got even more complicated.


A 25-page memo written for Mayor Jerry Demings, commissioners and staff in mid-December outlines a new plan from Osceola County officials. This plan could cut Orange County’s voice from the equation.

According to the memo, Osceola informed Orange County staff it wants to own and manage all of 1,550 acres Osceola previously said it would donate. This would be in exchange for the approval of the toll road’s proposed route. It would stretch over a mile through the protected Split Oak Forest.

Osceola’s proposal was days after a majority of Orange County commissioners voted to no longer support the project.

Read: Dozens voice concerns over proposed Split Oak Forest development plan

“In essence, this proposal by Osceola County, if approved by their board, would remove Orange County from any decisions or direct involvement in any future action … involving the proposed donated land and the remainder of the process,” Renee Parker, manager of Orange County’s Environmental Protection Division stated in the memo.

This proposal is despite the fact both counties have a hand in the forest. Split Oak Forest was put into conservation in the 1990s by both Boards of County Commissioners and other state partners. It’s something forest defenders are stressing.

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

“I mean, the contract is still in existence,” said Valerie Anderson, president of the Friends of Split Oak Forest. “So that contract can’t be changed without all parties agreeing.”

Commissioner Emily Bonilla said she wants Orange County commissioners to discuss how they can protect the previous agreement.

“If those parties want to violate the contract that we have, “ Bonilla told Eyewitness News. “And that’s a concern that the commissioner should have and need to stand by our contract, and take legal action if we need to, to protect those contracts. These are agreements that we all signed on to and you can’t just break an agreement without all parties agreeing to it.”

Read: Orange County leaders reverse decision on plan to build toll road through protected forest

Osceola County did not comment on Orange County’s staff memo or the proposed plan.

Orange County said simply it’s monitoring the situation.

Bonilla said commissioners are set to discuss Split Oak Forest further in February.

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