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Dunnellon City Council to chamber of commerce: We don't want northern turnpike extension

Ocala StarBanner logo Ocala StarBanner 5/24/2022 Austin L. Miller, Ocala Star-Banner
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DUNNELLON — The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to send a copy of its "no build" resolution to the city's chamber of commerce, which has expressed a desire to form a partnership with the state as the Department of Transportation mulls a possible northern extension of Florida's Turnpike. 

The special City Council meeting attracted roughly 50 people to City Hall, with many speaking out against the possible turnpike extension.

The hotly debated issue had been the third item on the agenda. Mayor Bill White moved it to first.

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Dunnellon chamber officials explains her point of view

Close to two dozen people spoke at the podium or by Zoom, all voicing their displeasure with the three chamber of commerce officials who wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) expressing the chambers' desire to enter into a working relationship.    

a tree in front of a house: Dunnellon City Hall © Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner Dunnellon City Hall

Judy Terwilliger, executive director of the Dunnellon Chamber & Business Association, was one of those three chamber officials, and she attended Monday's meeting. She told council members that her position is "no build." However, she said her desire is for the chamber to be a part of the process. That way, her members have a seat at the table and can offer opinions. 

Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, and Kevin Sheilley, president/CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, were the other two chamber officials who signed the letter.

The view from city officials

The May 6 letter, sent to FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue and FTE Executive Director/CEO Nicola Liquori, states that the three chambers "can and should be partners to help DOT through this process."

The letter also mentions that the three chambers have listened to concerns posed by business owners and residents, and are working hard "to help calm the rhetoric and correct the misinformation that has been circulated." 

a man holding a fish in the water: Dunnellon Mayor Bill White © Submitted photo Dunnellon Mayor Bill White

The chamber leaders said there are several factors they would like state officials to consider as they study the issue, according to the letter. Among them: farmland preservation, Rainbow Springs and other environmentally sensitive areas. 

At Monday's council meeting, the letter was read aloud by the city clerk.

When it was time for council members to speak, Jan Cubbage said just keeping in touch with state officials is not an acceptable posture. She said the city council has adopted a "no build" position, has expressed that to the state, and there is nothing left to discuss. 

Cubbage said the Rainbow River, businesses and residents would be directly – and negatively – affected by a northern extension, which would bring the turnpike's northern terminus from Interstate 75 in Wildwood to U.S. 19 in Levy County. Three of the four proposed routes run through Marion County. 

Cubbage said developers, bankers and commercial business interests only care about making profits rather than protecting the public.

These are the four new proposed routes for northern Florida Turnpike extension. North A and North B routes (red and blue) impact southwest Marion County more than Central and South (yellow and purple). Though these are the four proposed routes, the study areas is all of Marion, Levy, Sumter and Citrus counties (outlined in dark green). [FDOT map] © [FDOT map] These are the four new proposed routes for northern Florida Turnpike extension. North A and North B routes (red and blue) impact southwest Marion County more than Central and South (yellow and purple). Though these are the four proposed routes, the study areas is all of Marion, Levy, Sumter and Citrus counties (outlined in dark green). [FDOT map]

White said the council's position, established in December, still stands: no build.

He noted that the Marion County Commission has taken a position similar to the one the chambers have proposed. White said that is not acceptable to the public.

And, addressing a point made in the chambers' letter, the mayor said the people opposing the possible turnpike extension are informed about the project and are not relying on "misinformation."

Speakers address the possible northern extension of the turnpike

The mayor opened the meeting to the public. Speaker after speaker told city officials why they think that the chambers' letter is misguided. Those who decided to speak were local, as well as from Daytona Beach.

Bright colored signs are part of the strategy for people fighting the proposed extension of the Florida Turnpike. © Courtesy of Kris Parson Bright colored signs are part of the strategy for people fighting the proposed extension of the Florida Turnpike.

Among the points speakers made: the area should remain rural; existing roadways could be widened before new roadways are built; building the roadway would decrease the number of visitors to Dunnellon; the chambers' letter is an invitation for state officials to go ahead and build; the road would displace people and destroy families; chamber members should stay out of politics; and if residents don't like the proposal, then they should vote the governor out of office.

The Dunnellon City Council decides how to respond

Cubbage made a motion asking the local chamber to rescind the letter. Although the motion was seconded, the measure failed, as both White and council member Valerie Hanchar said the council has no authority to tell the chamber what to do.

White said he was at the chamber meeting when the letter was discussed, but he didn't interfere because he didn't think it was in his best interest to try and influence them otherwise.

He suggested the council send a copy of its "no build" resolution to the three chambers, letting them know the city's official stance. That idea was unanimously approved.

Here's where the project stands

Although the Marion County Commission and the chambers have expressed a desire to partner with the state during the turnpike study phase, the elected representatives of Dunnellon, Yankeetown, Inglis and Levy County have formally asked the state to adopt the "no build" option. The City of Inverness and Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) have formally objected to all four preliminary corridors/routes. 

The state is scheduled to file a report on the project to the governor and Florida Legislature by the end of this year. Public meetings are, and will be, scheduled into next year.

During a workshop on Tuesday, DOT officials told the Citrus County Commission that the department expects to make a corridor recommendation in the first quarter of 2023. That recommended corridor could have multiple possible alignments that would be further studied.

In early to mid 2024, the state plans to chose a build option or the no build option.

Managing editor Jim Ross contributed to this report. Contact Austin L. Miller at austin.miller@starbanner.com

This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Dunnellon City Council to chamber of commerce: We don't want northern turnpike extension

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