Orange County's Split Oak Forest could be saved by the coronavirus pandemic

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PHOTO BY DAVE PLOTKIN
  • Photo by Dave Plotkin

The fate of the Split Oak Forest has for the last couple of years been a heartbreaking struggle by local environmental advocates against Central Florida's self-destructive instinct to give developers whatever they want, whenever they want it.

Late last year, it looked like that battle was lost when the Central Florida Expressway Authority and local governments in Orange and Osceola County voted to extend the Osceola Parkway toll road right through the wildlife preserve. But now, in a strange twist of fate, it seems the coronavirus might save Split Oak from that fate.

The Osceola Parkway extension, pushed hard by the developers Tavistock, looked to be a done deal, meaning the effective ruin of an untouched area of wild Florida purchased by local governments more than two decades ago to offset wetlands impact by developers.

PHOTO BY DAVE PLOTKIN
  • Photo by Dave Plotkin

But here's the twist: Despite the best-laid plains, this highway extension project might be delayed for a very long time, and maybe even shelved. Local governments are taking massive revenue hits because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a lot of projects big and small are being slashed. Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel reports that next week,  officials are expected to vote on a delay of the Osceola Parkway extension to 2034.

Maxwell went on to urge local leaders to abandon the project altogether:

"But I’ll go a step further and say members — which include Mayors Buddy Dyer and Jerry Demings, along with gubernatorial appointees and county commissioners from Seminole, Lake, Osceola and Brevard — should use this time to re-evaluate this project’s route altogether … because it is a betrayal."

Seconded. Check out this gallery of shots of the pristine beauty of Split Oak, a natural treasure in our own backyard.
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