TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Legislative leadership is swatting down claims one of three approved toll roads would destroy the already endangered Florida panther.
Senate President Bill Galvano said Tuesday morning he felt the claim was “overstated.”
The worry spawns from recently surfaced U.S. Fish and Wildlife emails sent in March and obtained by the South Florida Wildlands Association. In them, a biologist warns superiors a section of the M-CORES roadway could “jeopardize” the panther.
The scientist’s concerns centered on vehicle collisions hurting numbers. Also, development along the route eating up panther habitat.
Galvano remained confident the Florida Department of Transportation would avoid any environmental harm as it continues to plan the official routes expected to cover more than 300 miles of Florida.
“No, we’re not going to destroy the environment for the sake of particular infrastructure,” said the Republican leader. “But, there are ways to accomplish what we need to do in order to sustain our state.”
Galvano helped champion the M-CORES project last session saying the roads would develop rural Florida and prep the state for ongoing population growth. He pointed out M-CORES is more than just toll roads. The project also plans to bring better broadband access and water and sewer service to rural areas along the routes.
Environmentalists believe the new highways aren’t worth potential harm to wildlife and the climate. Earlier this month, a coalition of more than 50 groups urged lawmakers at the capitol building to halt the project in the upcoming session.
“There’s no reason to build these roads,” said Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council Director. “What we need to do is repair existing corridors and look to high-speed rail and future transportation.”
For now, a final report on the M-CORES project is expected next October. Construction is planned for no later than 2022.