Lessons Learned and Shared
It’s worth noting that as early as 1990 the proposal to use the Halpatiokee area for a bridge was uniformly denounced by all federal, state, and local agencies. The CTP bridge route was the worse possible route due to the extent of ecological degradation and destruction it would cause.. The agencies insisted the city choose one of the other alternative routes which were far less damaging to wetlands and species habitats., as well as take no state parklands.
In the end those strong objections did not matter. After many years of political maneuvering the “powers that be” agreed that our “ecological gem” could be negotiated away.
The controversy of using our Preserve State Parklands and our State Aquatic Preserves for the city of Port St. Lucie’s Crosstown Parkway (CTP) began heating up in the mid-1990s. The City envisioned a parkway extending from I95 all the way east to South Hutchinson Island. Members of the Alliance coordinated with citizens and civic groups and enabled folks to participate in truly open discussion. As a result the proposed eastern most leg of the Crosstown Parkway, through the SPSP marshlands and the Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve, was defeated in 2000.
The next strategy was to begin the Parkway from the west and work east. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection called for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be performed for the entire proposed route – from I-95 east to Hutchinson Island on the Atlantic Ocean. This comprehensive EIS would have more accurately reflected parkland and ecological consequences of the CTP. It was never done.
Rather, it was agreed that the CTP project would be “de-federalized” in order to segment the different phases and thus achieve easier approval from the regulatory agencies. The political commitment to the conservation mission of our state parks began to waiver.
The biggest and last hurdle for the CTP to reach US1 was to devise the means by which the Halpatiokee Buffer State Preserve could be appropriated for a bridge nearly ¾ of a mile long over the North Fork of the St. Lucie River Aquatic Preserve..
In 2017 we lost the legal battle with the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Our co-plaintiff, the Indian Riverkeeper, fought valiantly alongside us. The Alliance provided two expert witnesses for the State Administrative Hearing that Audubon of St. Lucie County initiated in another unsuccessful effort to protect Halpatiokee.
It was a noble fight. We made videos, held protests, got lots of media coverage, wrote op-eds, created online petitions sought support from environmental organizations, filed lawsuits, and scoured through tens of thousands of pages of documents for our attorneys and wrote summary reports.
Our fight has also been a labor of love. The Halpatiokee Buffer Preserve was a place of natural beauty, an awe-inspiring “ecological gem” that hosted an unexpected diversity of habitats and species. It inspired a deep emotional bond in us.
But the fight is not over! Not if we care about our state parks and other environmentally special areas. We have learned much in our decades-long fight. We hope that in sharing our story we can together make sure this tragedy never befalls another state park.