Commissioners: We hear you
A bunch of people showed up Tuesday night to let Citrus County commissioners know they don’t like one thing about the turnpike extension idea.
And after two hours of public comment, commissioners said the public gave them something to think about.
One commissioner went further.
“I agree with no-build,” Commissioner Scott Carnahan said. “Leave us alone. We don’t need it.”
We’ll find out in the coming months whether Carnahan sticks with that position. But one thing was certain after Tuesday: The no-build crowd has the county commission’s attention.
This wasn’t meant as an anti-turnpike rally. Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach had asked for a special 5:30 p.m. time for public comment to allow those working during the day to show up and offer commissioners their piece.
As the anti-turnpike talk revved up in recent weeks, it became apparent that the special public comment portion of Tuesday’s agenda would be the perfect time to speak with a unified voice.
And they did. Some of the people who spoke Tuesday are Citrus County residents. Some represent statewide organizations and live elsewhere.
They portrayed the turnpike extension from Wildwood to U.S. 19 as nothing but trouble. Economy, ecology, nature, lifestyle — all blown to bits if the turnpike comes through.
“I don’t even understand why we’re talking about carving up our rural lands,” one Chassahowitzka man said.
Some speakers I recognized for their decades of environmental work in Citrus County. Others are recent residents, including one man who said he moved from the Everglades to Citrus and sees more wildlife in Inverness than he did in the Big Cypress Swamp.
The newbies have an argument that many of us are quite familiar with: We’re here so now stop the growth.
I’m hearing a lot of sentences these days that start like this: “We moved here for peace and quiet…” Um…what exactly do people think will happen once they move in? More people means impacts on roads, water, government, schools — and not just in Citrus County, but throughout Florida.
To say, “I’m here now, so stop” is, of course, silly and childish.
But is the answer slashing Florida's Turnpike extension through Citrus County? Not to the folks who showed up Tuesday, armed with personal pleas to save their homes or statistics to show the project cost and uncertainty of turnpike traffic projections.
Commissioners were impressed.
Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who in a nice way repeatedly asked the audience not to hold up their no-build signs, assured those attending their voices were heard.
“This is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process,” he said. “I look forward to logical debate and discussion. I heard a lot of that tonight.”
Carnahan, who just a month ago said he supported the turnpike extension, said after hearing from residents Tuesday that the state can expand existing corridors, such as State Road 44, before building new ones.
Schlabach said growth fuels transportation needs.
“So many people are moving to Florida,” she said. “We need to figure how to move them around.”
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard reiterated this is early in the process — true and not so true. It’s true that we’re early, but the state is expected to pick a corridor by summertime, so a lot is happening in a short time.
The no-build crowd still faces an uphill climb. This county isn’t in the habit of saying no to the state highway department. Doesn’t seem likely commissioners will do that now, even with uncertainty surrounding turnpike details.
But Tuesday was a good start. Anti-turnpike voices spoke in unison, and it was county commissioners doing the listening.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.