Suncoast Parkway 2 Opponents Poised to Sue

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Robert Roscow, Guest Columnist

Agroup of people interested in the preservation of the Etna Turpentine Camp which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and located near Sugarmill Woods, has formed a Florida Not-for-Profit Corporation called Friends of Etna Turpentine Camp, Inc. whose primary mission is to preserve this local historic site that developed into a town beginning at the end of the 1800’s, lasting until 1926.  The town of Etna is a key element of Citrus County and Florida history as turpentine operations were the key industry in Citrus County after the phosphate boom and a major industry from the Carolinas to Florida after the Civil War.  The formal name of the turpentine industry was the naval stores industry which supplied pitch used as sealants, and later, turpentine and its chemical derivatives. The history of this industry, a significant part of the Post-Civil War economy of the South, has been in large part overlooked because the industry nearly led to the extinction of the virgin long leaf pine forests and utilized inhumane practices such as leased convict labor that was a de facto form of slavery.

Nonetheless, the present danger to Etna is not academic obscurity, but the construction of the Suncoast Parkway 2 into Citrus County to SR 44 that would destroy this nationally-recognized historic site as currently planned.  Back in 1998, when the Suncoast Parkway 2 impact study was initially conducted by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials, the Planning Development and Environmental Study (PD&E) never mentioned that the Suncoast Parkway 2 construction would destroy the Etna site even though local citizens told the FDOT and the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) about such a possibility. Even when an article was published by the St. Pete Times, critical of the planning behind the Suncoast Parkway 2, the participants who prepared the PD&E never mentioned the destruction of the Etna site claiming they were not informed of Etna’s existence at the time of the study.

Another study was started in 2002 after FTE officials told the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) that the first study was obsolete because of major changes and that there was a possibility of acquiring 

Federal funding for the project. Again, those preparing the second study were told about Etna by residents and state officials responded that they would take care of it but ultimately there was no mention of Etna in official reports.  Requested public records, included meeting minutes that appeared to have been doctored, showed that they had in fact considered the potential destruction of Etna on their flip sheets in meetings with state and federal agencies that were closed to the public. One alignment indicated that the historic turpentine camp would be “destroyed.” This was reflected in the minutes as “effected.”

Robert Roscow and Teddi Bierly then sued the secretary of FDOT under the Florida Sunshine Law and won.  In mediation meetings, afterwards, it was agreed that two meetings would be held in Citrus County to communicate to the public what had been done in these closed meetings. Unfortunately, state officials didn’t comply with the Mediation Agreement and were sued again. They then gave the judge a complete hand cart of documents arguing that they had sufficiently attempted to communicate with residents.  The judge in a brief decision, less than one page in length, said it seemed that they had done their best to comply although the judge identified in the decision that the plaintiffs had merit in some of their points.

FDOT then said that they were going to “dust off the first 1998 Study” that they said was obsolete and do what they called reevaluations of it as described in the PD&E Manual. A newspaper article published before the mediation in Tallahassee mentioned they were considering this action.  They never brought it up during mediation though and totally misled the attorney for Roscow and Bierly. They negotiated in bad faith.

Subsequently in 2006 they went back to the BOCC and asked if they wanted them to continue with the “state” study which is what they were calling the 1998 Study or continue with the what was now called “federal” study or the second study that they had agreed to continue by virtue of going to mediation over it.

With the exception of Commissioner Joyce Valentino, they voted to go with the “state” study.  Not only does the BOCC have no authority as to how to conduct a PD&E Study they had already been told that the study was obsolete in 2002.  FDOT then took the liberty to advance the road to the Design Phase and start spending millions of dollars on consultants and buying key parcels of land.  They went around the court’s decision on what is now called Roscow v Aubrey and now constitutes a part of the Florida Attorney General’s Manual on the Sunshine Law.

The project was halted later in 2007 for lack of funds but started back after Rick Scott became Governor.  Some surmise that Governor Scott originally sought a Northeast Highway Corridor from Tampa Bay to Jacksonville to alleviate future growth in shipping and manufacturing in the Port of Tampa area.

Robert Roscow and John and Pat Wade have now retained the legal counsel of Robert Hartsell and Ralf Brookes and hope to start a GoFundMe site once the paperwork for Friends of Etna Turpentine Camp have been finalized.  The group suffered a setback with the untimely death of Kathy Faye Chetoka who was an officer.

In the meantime, a Section 106 Historic Review is underway and the results will be available in the next several months.  Also, Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIs) have been sent out to FTE legal counsel and Governor Scott’s office.  The group is now trying to learn where Governor Scott got the $150 M that he budgeted for the $257 M road.

Additionally, DEP’s Acquisition and Restoration Council rejected a proposal by FDOT that resulted from the Section 106 meetings to go around Etna. They did this even though the new 2014 Withlacoochee State Forest Management Plan approved by them has goals to protect historic and archaeological resources and provide recreation.

One of the Friends of Etna future plans is to make Etna an interpretative park and further the archaeological research on the socio-economic layout of this industrial town. Etna had a post office, company store, some 50 primitive dwellings for workers, an artesian well for water, two stills, ironsmith ship, cooperage for barrels, and even a train depot for taking lumber from the sawmill.  Its roads are draped with live oaks.

We have shown the site to a philanthropic group and they are interested.

Finally, our legal team will be seeking a new PD&E Study since the BOCC recently rejected the 1998 Study when they made a resolution to have the Suncoast Parkway follow whatever route determined by the Governor Scott’s I-75 Reliever Task Force instead of going to US 19.  Plans for a new road west of I-75 however were not recommended first by the Task Force but to make improvements first to I-75 and have SR  44 connect traffic from I-75 in Wildwood through Inverness to the proposed new terminus of the Suncoast Parkway 2 at SR 44.  The new road west of I-75 is nothing more than a region shown on a GIS map at this stage.

The 1998 PD&E Study Area was only west of CR 491 in Citrus County. A new PD&E Study Area would need to cover all parts of Citrus County and include up to SR 44 to I-75 at Wildwood in Sumter County. The impacts to SR 44 and Inverness would be major if SR 44 serves as a connector to I-75.

We will appraise everyone on our progress but it seems that legal action will be necessary to save Etna before any plans for a park and further archaeological research are pursued. We will be seeking community support in the formation of a legal fund most likely set up on the Go Fund Me platform. A lawsuit will be brought well before the permitting process concludes and well before the Suncoast Parkway 2 is let to bid.

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