Florida Governor Backs Highway Extension Through Everglades Region

Image: Riccardo Maria Mantero/Flickr

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and part of the state Cabinet have approved a highway extension spanning a portion of the Everglades.

  • The move rejects a 2020 recommended order from Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk, claiming that the project was incompatible with continued efforts to establish protections in the region.
  • Legal challenges are expected to follow the decision, and even DeSantis has acknowledged that the permitting process may not be successful.
  • Experts and advocates say the decision is a drastically unequal trade-off between urban growth and environmental health.

Why This Matters: The Everglades is one of the most biodiverse regions of the United States., but it’s quickly losing its species. About 25% of 1,200 Florida species could dwindle by 50% in the next 40 years.

Urban sprawl has been a primary culprit in this phenomenon; Florida panthers were driven to near extinction when increasing human development isolated populations from one another. Despite these woes, the state government has launched several attacks on the region, including allowing oil and gas drilling permits and granting legal protections for harmful sugarcane agriculture in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Advocates say that to protect Florida’s biodiversity, protections must take priority before it’s too late.

Paving Paradise: Proponents of the project say that it will alleviate traffic along Kendall Parkway, but environmental advocates say that the ecological consequences far outweigh the extension’s benefits.

The project aims to shorten commutes by two to five hours per week and provide an alternate hurricane evacuation route. Still, opponents say that those numbers are exaggerated and that drivers’ commutes would be shortened by only a few minutes each day.

Additionally, Miami-Dade County has pledged to reduce reliance on cars, but this project would be in opposition to that, said Paul Schwiep of the Tropical Audubon Society. “The county’s own experts said, and this is a quote, that the plan amendment will not shift travel mode from single-occupancy vehicles to mass transit. It does not reduce dependence on the use of personal automobiles.”

Taking a Stand: Dissenting Cabinet Member and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the project “will harm Everglades restoration and risk wildlife, agricultural lands, and Miami-Dade’s water supply, while not adequately reducing urban sprawl.” She is joined by Diana Umpierre of the Sierra Club, who called the decision a political favor and accused DeSantis and his Cabinet of ignoring and disregarding the evidence presented by experts. Advocates are particularly disappointed because DeSantis ran on a platform of restoring the Everglades. For many critics, this is just one more broken promise to the people of Florida.

But proponents say that the plan doesn’t interfere with the restoration mission. “It’s not in the Everglades. This is miles away from Everglades National Park. It does run through wetlands that have been identified as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan,” said Assistant County Attorney Dennis Kerbel. “The data showed that the road could be built in a manner that is consistent with a canal, and so, therefore, would preserve the existing project.” Advocates say it’s not worth the risk. “You can’t get these lands back,'” said Anna Upton of the Everglades Foundation. “They are strategically located near Everglades National Park and intended for Everglades restoration project that will benefit the Everglades and Miami-Dade County’s water supply.”

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