Friends of Split Oak Forest, Inc. on Friday February 28, 2020 filed a notice of voluntary dismissal “without prejudice" of their ongoing Sunshine Law lawsuit (Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Case No. 2018-CA-00152) against Osceola County in order to utilize their resources to oppose any changes to Split Oak Forest’s protections at the state level. “Without prejudice” means the suit could be refiled in the future if necessary.
In 1998, an amendment to Florida’s Constitution to expressly protect conservation lands was approved by 72 percent of the voters and became enforceable. Article X, Section 18 of the Florida Constitution prohibits the disposition of conservation lands unless there has been a determination that the property is no longer needed for that purpose.
“There is a feasible alternate alignment of the Osceola Parkway Extension that has been optioned by the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) that would completely avoid Split Oak Forest. However, this route is more expensive and CFX has begun to pursue using Split Oak Forest, a public park, for the toll highway,” says Valerie Anderson, President.
The Split Oak Forest was purchased with state funding and is subject to the Florida Constitution. In a 2015 report, the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission, the Forest’s managing agency since its creation, stated that none of Split Oak Forest should be disposed of. The land’s high value has not changed and all of it is needed for the reasons for which it was originally acquired, which include wetland and Gopher Tortoise mitigation. The Wildlife and Environmental Area is also protected by a number of additional conservation easements held by various governmental agencies. They have not been released and remain in place protecting the property, as stated in the original documents, in perpetuity.
The Friends of Spit Oak Forest will continue to fight to preserve these lands that were acquired for conservation and mitigation purposes and have been expertly managed for endangered species and as a public park for twenty-six years.
For additional information contact: Valerie Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 386.852.2539