Opinion: Project causes concern for supporters of Cross Florida Greenway
In September, I learned that Duke Energy is considering putting tall steel towers, connected by high-voltage electrical lines in the Cross Florida Greenway. In a world of diminishing greenspace, this cannot be good for the quality of life of Greenway visitors, our community, and the native creatures and plants that live there, some of which are threatened and endangered.
You should also know that Duke Energy is considering other routes that are existing utility/transportation corridors. The Greenway Guardians, a grassroots group, believe this is where future electrical needs can be met responsibly, not by exploiting a resource that cannot be replaced. So why would Duke Energy threaten such a precious resource? Most likely it is the cheapest route, best serving their stockholders.
The Cross Florida Greenway is a 110-mile-long linear park, about a mile wide, and was the first in the country to have a Landbridge across an expressway to serve people and wildlife. It is not Disney World, but it is the real Florida, known far and wide and a boon to the economy. In 2021, it was said to annually have 1.5 million visitors and an economic impact exceeding $100 million.
The Greenway Guardians is newly formed and has no funding. In contrast, Duke Energy is very experienced in selling its goals and has deep pockets to do so. It appears regulations required Duke Energy to notify residents who would be within 500’ of these high voltage electrical lines and provide them an “informational open house.” There, empathetic listening and glad-handing prevailed, and attendees were encouraged to submit comment forms for Duke to consider. Having first notified residents in September 2023, Duke Energy set a Nov. 17, 2023, deadline for public comment, leaving little time to form a formidable Greenway defense. Additionally, Duke has made no effort to notify the Greenway’s largest stakeholder, the visitor. Five hours of polling visitors at two trailheads (Landbridge & 49th Street) did not yield one visitor who was aware of Duke’s proposed plan. A suggestion to Duke to place an informational sign with a QR code at trailheads has been ignored.Concerned citizens are encouraged to go to the Duke Energy Ross Prairie to Shaw website (duke-energy.com/our-company/about-us/electric-transmission-projects/ross-prairie-to-shaw) and complete the comment sheet, notify elected state officials of their feelings, and sign a petition in opposition.
Here are six reasons the Greenway Guardians are opposed to compromising the Greenway:
- Greenspace is a valued commodity for any community and the Greenway is part of what makes Marion County such a desirable place to live and visit. While you may, or may not know about the Greenway, it is known by many. This is substantiated by it being the most visited state park in Florida. Visitors include people of all ages and cultures—with cyclists, hikers, backpackers, campers, equestrians, dog walkers, and families with their children in strollers—solid evidence that it serves the “greater good.”
- The habitat of the Greenway has enabled wildlife biologists to increase the numbers of the scrub jay (an endangered bird, native only to Florida) in the Greenway from eight in 2008 to 161 in 2023.
- The Greenway is a sanctuary for gopher tortoises, a threatened species that enjoys little real protection because they like to build their homes where people do. You may be told they like making their burrow homes in the barren sand beneath the proposed electrical line, but you should also know they will have a difficult time foraging because the herbicides used for vegetation control will eliminate their food source.
- You might find it interesting that currently in Florida, the government is funding a north-south wildlife corridor, known as O2O. The Cross Florida Greenway is an existing 110-mile-long, east-west wildlife corridor that the electrical lines would impede.
- The Greenway currently serves as a safe haven for three native, threatened, and endangered plant species: Robin’s mint, Britton’s beargrass, and the three birds orchid. The proposed electrical lines would disrupt this protected area.
- Disturbing reports of Duke Energy’s environmental stewardship.
Greenway Guardians accept that increasing population increases electricity demands, but increasing population also increases pressure on existing greenspace, an important component of a desirable community.
A past park manager of the Greenway is remembered as saying the Cross Florida Greenway will be to Marion County as Central Park (created in 1858) is to New York City. May we be so far-sighted.