Road through Split Oak to be considered April 20 at the FCT Board meeting

Clip of the April 20, 2022 Florida Communities Trust Board Meeting Agenda with the Split Oak item circled in red

The agenda for the upcoming Florida Communities Trust meeting on April 20 has been released and allowing the Osceola Parkway Extension to be built in Split Oak will be considered. Please call in or attend in person in Tallahassee to voice your opposition.

Call in instructions are in the Agenda.

Your emails are needed immediately!

IMMEDIATE CALL TO ACTION!

The CFX board is having their virtual June meeting tomorrow morning at 9. They are proposing appointing Charles Lee to the Environmental Stewardship Committee. THIS IS NOT GOOD.

Sacrificing the Osceola portion of Split Oak Forest to appease the developers in return for other, inferior land has been his pet project for the past three years. It is the opposite of environmental stewardship.

WE NEED as many of you as possible to DO THE FOLLOWING by 5PM TODAY:

Please post the following or similar comment by emailing to Public.Comment@CFXway.com or by visiting the

Friends of Split Oak strongly object to the appointment of Charles Lee because of his history of supporting compromise with developers rather than supporting policies that prevent environmental exploitation. He firmly advocates sacrificing a portion of meticulously-conserved preserve for 1500 acres of degraded, unsuitable or detached land, which is a numbers game to appease the developers of this project. For this reason he is deeply distrusted by many in the environmental community. The links below illustrate that this distrust dates back at least 31 years. Appointing him to the Environmental Stewardship Committee would in effect be “putting the fox in charge of the guarding the hen house.”

https://www.csmonitor.com/1989/0412/arift.html

https://www.palmbeachpost.com/article/20151005/BUSINESS/812025431

ACTION ALERT – Orange County Charter Review Meeting Today

Our Split Oak Charter Amendment is likely going to pass another significant hurdle tonight @ 5:30pm 💚
Want to do a public comment in support? Please consider it! You must email katie.smith@occompt.com and jessica.vaupel@occompt.com with a request to speak, they'll respond with an invite to the WebEx meeting.
Your concise and well-articulated public comment could provide the impetus an undecided CRC member needs to pass our resolution. Please consider making a 15 second to three minute comment in support. I will be available for tech support. My number is 386.852.2539.
You're also welcome to just watch the meeting on Orange TV using this link.

Comment Suggestions

  • I support this Amendment because the voters have a right to decide what happens to their public land.
  • This Amendment is very well written and would allow Orange County to protect this Orange County public park currently under threat of development.
  • I visit Split Oak and the impact of construction anywhere within the park would reduce the currently very high conservation and recreational value the park has.
  • Split Oak Forest was supposed to be protected 'in perpetuity'. Those protections are still in place and do not have to be removed. State-level loopholes that were added to statute after Split Oak was purchased and restored are being used to justify an unnecessary road to service new suburban sprawl. Our public land should not be targeted in this way.

Press Release – Voluntary lawsuit dismissal by Friends of Split Oak Forest

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, valerie@friendsofsplitoak.org, 386.852.2539

Discover Split Oak © Dante Dancel

Press Release: Lawsuit Challenges Osceola’s Support of Road Through Split Oak Forest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE [PDF]

Lawsuit claims that the decision was made in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law

KISSIMMEE-  The first hearing for this lawsuit is scheduled for January 2, 2019, 2:00 pm in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, Osceola County Courthouse, Room 6A in Kissimmee, Florida.

In their most recent filings with the court, Friends of Split Oak Forest, Speak Up Wekiva and Valerie Anderson (Plaintiffs) allege that the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners (Defendant) violated “Florida’s Sunshine Law” when they issued official support for a major expressway route through Split Oak Forest at the request of Tavistock Development Company last April.

Plaintiffs contend that Osceola County officials took action on a proposition before the Board without allowing the public a fair opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, in violation of Florida Statutes Chapter 286.0114(2). Plaintiffs assert that the Board Chairman, Fred Hawkins, Jr., intentionally took steps to prevent the public from knowing that the proposition would be considered for approval at the April 16 meeting.

Gopher tortoise, a threatened species. Gopher tortoises were relocated to Split Oak from development sites. Photo: Robert Sena / Split Oak Forest.

The Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted in 1967 and is designed to protect the public’s ability to access governmental meetings and be heard before decisions are made by elected officials. “It is important that local governments follow the law so that citizens can effectively engage with their government,” said Valerie Anderson, President of Friends of Split Oak Forest and one of the plaintiffs. The Friends of Split Oak Forest and Speak Up Wekiva have come forward to fight for the public’s right to be heard.

Background: Osceola County partnered with Orange County to purchase Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area in 1994 using public funding. Use of this type of funding required that the Counties agree to protect the lands forever (“in perpetuity”) for mitigation and conservation. The Deed Restrictions pursuant to the Grant Award Agreement, recorded in April of 1994, state:

“The Project Site shall be managed only for the conservation, protection and enhancement of natural and historical resources and for passive, natural resource-based public outdoor recreation which is compatible with the conservation, protection and enhancement of the Project Site.”

The original Deed Restrictions over this property are still in full force and effect. This property is also protected by various Conservation Easements which have their own set of legal conditions and limitations according to Florida Statutes.

During the past ten years, Osceola County, through the Osceola County Expressway Authority, has consistently favored and approved proposed Osceola Parkway Extension routes that would slash through Split Oak Forest in violation of the explicit Deed Restrictions, the clear intent of the original agreements and the public trust.

On April 16, 2018, the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners voiced their support of an alignment of the Osceola Parkway Extension through Split Oak Forest. The roadway project is currently in the process of a Project Development & Engineering Study by the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

Contact: Valerie Anderson, (386) 852-2539, valerie@friendsofsplitoak.org, website: friendsofsplitoak.org

Updated Burn Map from FWC

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission updated their burn map for Split Oak Forest to correspond with their two June burns from this year that resulted in the well-documented profusion of ground orchids.

Many-Flowered Grass Pink (Calopogon multiflorus) by Craig Duddles

These orchids depend on fire to flower, and are so rare that the State of Florida has them listed as Threatened.

Our excellent local managers of Split Oak Forest got in two burns this year before a FWC put a moratorium in place. Hopefully this moratorium will be lifted for the upcoming fire season.

Action Alert: Brevard County Landfill to pollute the St. John’s River

Indicative of the political and environmental climate in Central Florida, Brevard County wants to put a dump on the Osceola County line directly feeding into the headwaters of the St. John's River. The public notice states that water flows directly into the St. Johns River and Lake Washington from the site.  Lake Washington is where the City of Melbourne gets its drinking water.

Please email your objections to Jeffrey.S.Collins@usace.army.mil.

You may model your comments on The Central Florida Sierra Club Group's comments here.

While the entirety of Split Oak Forest in the Kissimmee River Basin it is adjacent to lands that feed into the St. Johns River and the quality of the St. Johns River is within the purview of Friend's of Split Oak Forest's mission.