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Sally Swartz: Port St. Lucie ready to build bridge with court appeal undecided

Huge pipes and trusses destined to become part of Port St. Lucie’s $150 million Crosstown Parkway bridge are stacked neatly in piles beside the St. Lucie River’s North Fork.

Last week, Port St. Lucie invited the public to a workshop to check out the bridge design and vote for favorite sculptures to place on pillars at both ends of the bridge.

Residents also saw a design by aquatic artist Guy Harvey that will be transferred to tiles below the sculpture.

Considering that the bridge approval isn’t yet a done deal, stacking bridge parts at one end of the city’s favorite route and voting on bridge decorations seem overly optimistic and premature.

In February, St. Lucie Conservation Alliance and the Indian Riverkeeper will appeal U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks’ ruling against the groups. They want the bridge built in a place that won’t destroy wetlands or cross preserve land Florida bought to save forever.

Wouldn’t waiting for the outcome of the appeal be prudent? Apparently not.

In an email to residents, Port St. Lucie Mayor Greg Oravec calls the appeal “bad news” but adds the “silver lining” may be that “established law suggests that we are entitled to keep moving through the permitting and construction processes.”

The Alliance and Riverkeeper claim in their lawsuit that federal agencies violated their own rules in rejecting routes that would spare publicly owned preservation land and approving the most damaging route across the Halpatiokee Trails preserve. Judge Middlebrooks disagreed.

Port St. Lucie’s favorite route sends drivers from Interstate 95 along the Crosstown Parkway to West Virginia Drive, then across the river and the preserve. The bridge leads to Village Green Drive at U.S.1, affecting 15 acres of preserve land, including about four acres of forest and 11 acres of wetlands. It displaces 100 homes and no businesses.

The environmentalists’ favorite route to the north would displace 18 more homes and 10 businesses, but affect only about 7.7 wetlands acres and a fraction of an acre of forest and preserve land.

Allowing a bridge over a preserve the state bought to save for public use sets a bad precedent that could affect all of Florida’s preserved lands, Alliance President Shari Anker has maintained in years of fighting the city over the route.

Anker said she and others also have written Harvey asking that he “not give his blessings” to the controversial route by putting his art on the bridge. “So far, we’ve had no decision from the Guy Harvey office.”

There never has been a doubt that Port St. Lucie needs a third bridge across the St. River to handle increasing traffic as the city continues to grow. But with better routes available, city officials have insisted on the bad route from the beginning.

Some believe Port St. Lucie hopes to boost the failed downtown the city built near the U.S. 1 end of the route. Others cite the hope for an eventual second bridge leading to Hutchinson Island. That would provide a straight shot from Interstate 95 to ocean beaches.

Despite bridge website videos touting “environmental stewardship,” Port St. Lucie seems determined to set a bad precedent that endangers all other preservation lands in Florida.

Still, it’s not over until the appeal is decided. Piling bridge parts near the river at West Virginia Avenue and Coral Reef Way show Port St. Lucie believes the courts eventually will approve the route.

If courts reject the route, the city’s Crosstown Parkway is a road to nowhere. Meantime, those bridge parts, stacked outdoors in this rainy El Nino winter, get rustier during the wait.

***

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is sdswartz42@att.net  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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