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The Villages
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Florida Turnpike extension opponents ratchet up pressure on Sumter Commission

Opponents of a proposed extension of the Florida Turnpike ratcheted up pressure on Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night to support a no-build resolution.

Although commissioners did not act on the resolution, two commissioners said they support building an extension only within existing right of way.

Wearing green T-shirts with “No Build” printed on the back, the opponents packed the meeting room at the Everglades Recreation Center and pleaded with commissioners to pass the resolution. Other counties including Citrus and Levy and several communities have approved no-build resolutions.

Besides county residents, speakers during the public forum came from Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Tampa and Fort Meyers.

Commissioners Doug Gilpin and Roberta Ulrich said they prefer working within existing right-of-way, which means no additional property would be acquired for an extension. One proposal is for the extension to co-exist with Interstate 75 until it leaves Sumter County.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said no-build remains an option and that a decision will be made next year. He said an extension is not included in a recent revision of the county’s comprehensive plan and its inclusion will be required before it is built.

He said the state ignored strong public sentiment against building additional highways during an earlier study and state law now authorizes planning for the extension.

“Simply putting no-build in a resolution does not stop the state from moving forward,” he said, adding that turnpike officials did not seem to be aware of another study under way to widen I-75.

Last February, Arnold and Wildwood City Manager Jason McHugh wrote a letter to turnpike officials suggesting locating the extension along I-75 or west of County Road 475 to protect the historic black community of Royal.

One proposed route would go through Royal, which was divided once when I-75 was built.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Rick Stagg of Oxford offered another petition asking the commissioners to act.

“Please listen to us,” he said. “None of us want the turnpike.”

Stagg also said he reserved a room at the recreation center for a press conference, but later was told that the room wasn’t available. He called on the county to hold its meetings on public property, not in private recreation centers.

Charlie Jacobs said protecting Royal is a top priority.

Charlie Jacobs speaks out before the Sumter County Commission
speaks out before the Sumter County Commission.

“We don’t want to be annihilated because we were overlooked,” he said.

Maria Dempsey of Oxford asked extension opponents to stand and nearly everyone in the room stood up.

Maria Dempsey opposes the Florida Turnpike extension
Maria Dempsey opposes the Florida Turnpike extension.

“All we’re asking is for you all to listen to us and be for us, not against us,” she told commissioners.

Although Arnold said the no-build option won’t be considered until next year, wildlife biologist Tom Weber called upon extension opponents to remain vigilant. He said a turnpike extension would be devastating to wildlife.

“FDOT has a tendency of running out the clock,” he said. “They just want to put a road through.”

Fourth-generation county resident Michael Brooks said the state needs to stop “paving places we do not need.”

“It terrifies me what we’re going to be leaving to our grandchildren,” he said.

Galen Wright described a turnpike extension as “expensive, destructive and totally useless” while Casey Walker asked commissioners how many people are in favor of the extension.

 

 

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