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SJRWMD overrides Judge’s ruling and grants Interchange Permit; Citizens plan to appeal

In a possibly never-before-seen action, the Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) heard over a dozen citizens speak out against the disastrous and costly I-95/Pioneer Trail Interchange at their monthly meeting on March 12, 2024 in Palatka, FL, and by making no motion to approve or deny it, by default allowed staff to overturn the Judge’s recommendation and grant the permit, much to everyone’s shock.

With one of the Board members recusing herself due to a conflict of interest, the rest of the Board seemed hesitant to grant the permit, and the SJRWMD Chairman insisted that the Parties (Petitioners, SJRWMD, and FDOT) sit down together to try to work it out. However, despite Petitioners making several suggestions to reduce the impact of the Project, the FDOT disappeared for two hours and came back with a wholly inadequate take-it-or-leave-it proposal to merely shorten the length of one of the road stub-outs and its adjacent retention area. They produced no actual design alternatives, only vague promises, despite having years to come up with alternatives, alternatives which could include nature over/underpasses and wildlife corridors, a smaller footprint and cost, and mitigation actually in the Spruce Creek watershed.

But FDOT’s strategy to run out the clock on the Board worked, as the Parties had to return to the meeting so the Board could vote. But perhaps out of realization that this Project was not good as is, they could not approve the draft they were given by staff (which was for overturning), and did not have time to make another proposal. With no member making a motion, Florida Statute allowed their staff to take action, so they went ahead and overturned the Judge’s recommendation, violating the public trust in institutions and the years of hard work put in by citizens to stop it.

So yes, despite a Judge ruling against the Interchange and the appointed SJRWMD Board refusing to overturn it, unelected staff (specifically, the Assistant Executive Director) did just that. This travesty of justice was covered with a couple great frontpage stories in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and they alluded to the fact that this fight is far from over. Petitioners plan to appeal, and if anyone would like to contribute to that effort, please donate or reach out to us at SaveDontPaveSpruceCreek(@)

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