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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Audubon asks state to bar Indian Street Bridge on 'conservation' land

By George Andreassi
Treasure Coast Newspapers

Audubon of Martin County wants the Florida Communities Trust Governing Board to stop the Indian Street Bridge from being built across an unspoiled peninsula in the St. Lucie River.

The six-member board, which includes former Indian River County Commissioner Ruth Stanbridge, is set to review Audubon of Martin County’s request during a meeting starting at 2 p.m. Thursday in Tallahassee.

The FCT board could create a major stumbling block for the highly anticipated project if it rules the peninsula cannot be used for the bridge supports needed to traverse the St. Lucie River between Indian Street in Stuart and 36th Street in Palm City. The FCT board has already forced the realignment of the Green River Parkway to avoid land purchased for conservation with state assistance.

Audubon of Martin County claims the peninsula property was part of the deal when Martin County and the Florida Communities Trust jointly purchased 120 acres of land along the St. Lucie River in the early 1990s. Consequently the peninsula should be subject to preservation requirements that would bar the
construction of bridge supports, Audubon of Martin County claims.

“The Audubon Board of Directors is opposed to the construction of the bridge
across those conservation lands,”
said Greg Braun, the group’s executive director.
“If the citizens of Martin County put tax money towards the acquisition of a parcel
for conservation purposes, we believe it should be preserved in perpetuity for those conservation purposes.”

But Martin County officials and FCT staff members argue the peninsula property was donated to Martin County separately from the joint state and county purchase of riverfront land for preservation to the south. Consequently, there is nothing to stop the county and the Florida Department of Transportation from constructing bridge supports on the peninsula, Martin County officials and FCT staff members

“Basically, the county owns the land,” said County Engineer Don Donaldson.

“The FCT staff is presenting the same information, with additional information
requested by the board, clearly demonstrating that the county owns those
lands and FCT does not have any interest in them.”

Kiplinger Washington Editors donated the peninsula land to Martin County with the reservation of a 200-foot wide right of way for a future bridge crossing, Donaldson said. But the land along the St. Lucie River that Kiplinger sold to Martin County and FCT is subject to preservation requirements.

The Indian Street Bridge is one of the most controversial projects in Martin County history and has been a hot topic of debate during County Commission campaign debates for at least two decades.

The controversy intensified when state officials decided to use federal stimulus money to pay for the $72 million project. Bridge critics decried the project on national television new broadcasts as a waste of tax money.

Meanwhile, the project has been held up by a federal appeal claiming the bridge violates federal environmental laws and an administrative challenge to the state water management permits needed to construct the span.

Supporters argue the bridge is needed to ease traffic congestion on the Palm City Bridge, improve responses to emergencies on both sides of the river and provide another hurricane evacuation route.

“We know that there is a lot of political will for the construction of the bridge,
so yes I expect it would be an unpopular decision by FCT if they would confirm,
as we believe, that the (peninsula) parcel should be subject to the same
preservation criteria as the land side portion,”
Braun said.

FTC Governing Board

The Florida Communities Trust has a six-member governing board that is chaired by the secretary of the Department of Community Affairs and includes the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection
and four members appointed by the governor.

Tom Pelham, secretary of the Department of Community Affairs

Mimi Drew, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection

Albert Alfonso, founder of award-winning architectural firm in Tampa

Erick Landblad, executive director of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

Ruth Stanbridge, historian and former Indian River County commissioner

Lynette Self, former Jacksonville City Council member

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