May 09, 2018

Florida Turnpike’s Coastal Connector Highway Project Threatens Ocala Equestrian Community

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Map of the proposed routes for the Coastal Connector highway project. Image courtesy of NoCoastalConnector.com.

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s proposed Coastal Connector highway project has several possible routes, one of which would bring a new interchange at Interstate 75 and threatens numerous equestrian facilities in north Marion County. The Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) is a private company operating under the umbrella of the Florida Department of Transportation and is responsible for the project.

Five proposed routes were unveiled two weeks ago that would connect north Central Florida with the Tampa area and run through Citrus and Marion counties. All begin at the end of State Road 589 and ultimately end at U.S. Highway 301 north of Ocala using one of two routes. While the southern route would follow the existing State Road 326, the proposed northern route does not mirror an existing road and would require a new interchange at Interstate 75.

The northern route would cut Live Oak Plantation in half while the southern route would affect the Longwood Farm, the Ocala Jockey Club, Mardanza Farms, and Meredyth South. Many of the area’s private farms would be affected as well. The proposed routes also pose a threat to vital conservation lands and agricultural areas, not to mention the private homes and historic landmarks that would be affected.

A 2014 study of the economic impact of equestrian industry in Ocala and Marion County revealed that the industry contributes more than $2.6 billion dollars, accounting for 15-20 percent of the local economy, and provides nearly 27,000 jobs. The proposed turnpike’s effect on the equestrian properties in Ocala and the surrounding area would be a detriment to the industry, which is vital to Marion County.

Still in the early planning stages, the project is currently gathering feedback from the public. Two public meetings were held by the Coastal Connector Alternative Corridor Evaluation Study in Citrus and Marion Counties, and while more than 400 members of the area’s equestrian community attended the Marion County meeting, there was no opportunity for attendees to raise concerns or ask questions. The FTE has set a deadline of May 15 for responses, which can be left on the official Florida Department of Transportation’s project website. Click on the “Stay Connected” tab on the left-hand menu to access the comment form.

An online petition has been established for members of the equestrian community in Ocala in the surrounding area to raise their objections to the proposed Coastal Connector highway project. You can sign the petition by clicking here. Comments can also be submitted to Project Engineer Rebecca Bolan and Project Engineer Rax Jung.

Finally, you can reach out to the Florida State Representatives to express your concern. Contact information for these representatives can be found below.

Penelope Kojima, who is one of the members of the Ocala equestrian community leading the charge against the Coastal Connector highway project, said, “I know that the equestrian community is engaged in a constant struggle to maintain the farmland our horses need to thrive and live healthy and happy lives. We prize our land dearly - and will fight to preserve it, because once it is gone, we’ll never get it back. That is precisely what will happen if we do not stop this Highway.”

More information about how you can help oppose the project can be found at nocoastalconnector.org.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Phone: (850) 717-9337
Email: https://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson
Washington D.C. Phone: (202) 224-5274 
Orlando Phone: (407) 872-7161
Email: https://www.billnelson.senate.gov/contact-bill

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Washington D.C. Phone: (202) 224-3041
Orlando Phone: (407) 254-2573
Email: https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

U.S. Representative Ted Yoho (Florida District 3)
Washington D.C. Phone: (202) 225-5744
Gainesville Phone: (352) 505-0838  
Email: https://yoho.house.gov/contact/email-me (Use zip code 34482)

Florida State House Chairman Stan McClain (Florida District 23)
Phone: (352) 732-1313
Email: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/emailrepresentative.aspx?MemberId=4658&SessionId=86 (Please request that he move up the Marion County legislative delegation annual meeting immediately and that the Coastal Connector Highway be the main topic.)

Florida State Senator Keith Perry (Florida District 8)
Phone: (352) 264-4040  
Email: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s8 (Click on the "Email this Senator" button on the left)

Florida State House Representative Charlie Stone (Florida District 22)
Phone: (352) 291-4436
Email: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/emailrepresentative.aspx?MemberId=4537&SessionId=86

Florida State House Representative Clovis Watson, Jr. (Florida District 20)
Phone: (352) 264-4001   
Email: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/emailrepresentative.aspx?MemberId=4541&SessionId=86

Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley (Florida District 12)
Phone: (352) 789-6720  
Email: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s12 (Click on the "Email this Senator" button on the left)

Florida State Senator Rob Bradley (Florida District 5)
Phone: (904) 278-2085
Email: https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s5 (Click on the "Email this Senator" button on the left)

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