In response to a letter endorsed by the heads of the Marion, Citrus and Dunnellon Chamber of Commerces, members of the Dunnellon City Council and nearly 20 public commentators at a Dunnellon City meeting on May 23 reiterated their strict opposition to any extension of the Northern Turnpike. The City Council unanimously passed a resolution in December staking out its position as “no build,” and all five members stated again they agreed with a “no build” stance, though the City doesn’t have a vote on whether or where the Turnpike might be extended. “No build” is one of the required options for the FDOT to consider.

A letter signed by Dunnellon Chamber & Business Association Executive Director Judy Terwilliger, Citrus County Chamber President Josh Wooten and Ocala Metro County Chamber & Economic Partnership President Kevin Sheilly was sent this month to FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue and Florida Turnpike Enterprise Executive Director Nicola Liquori. The letter requests the Chambers be included as “partners to help DOT” in the process of considering an extension of the Florida Turnpike to U.S. 19. The letter outlined concerns from the Chambers, including a corridor’s impact on sensitive lands, including Rainbow Springs, residential neighborhoods, farmland preservation arenas and local comprehensive plans.

City Council member Jan Cubbage and Mayor Bill White highlighted particular passages of the letter they saw were in contrast to a “no build” position. They argued the letter was too similar to a letter drafted by the Marion County Commission which they said was too conciliatory to a build option. The County Commission was split 3-2 on its own letter in December, with Commission Chair Carl Zalak, III and Kathy Bryant voicing their opposition to the proposed corridor alternatives, while Commissioners Michelle Stone, Jeff Gold and Craig Curry supported not taking a position on behalf of the County, arguing it could allow the County to have more of a voice in the decision.

Terwilliger attended the City Council meeting on May 23 and discussed the letter with the Council.

Cubbage singled out the final line of the letter, which states, “We seek to be your partners in assuring that if a turnpike extension is ultimately built, that it is the most beneficial to our communities.”

“It leaves the door open as an invitation for the Turnpike authority to go ahead and stay with their plan, just keep in touch,” Cubbage said to Terwilliger.

“It’s an admittance that the consideration is for a corridor, but it doesn’t spell out that one of the options is “no build,” White said. The mayor also objected to a line in the letter which stated that the Chambers “have already worked hard to help calm the rhetoric and correct the misinformation that has circulated.”

“Really, I’m wondering what the rhetoric or misinformation is,” White said. “I think most people that are all over this are very informed.”

Terwilliger said she disagreed the letter was a concession to build and said she personally was against a build.

“I believe for me, it’s stating we need to be a part of the process so we can bring our concerns to the FDOT,” the director said. “It just lists our concerns. It’s quite benign, actually.

Terwilliger said the letter was written by Wooten.

“I wanted a seat at the table, and this is a good way to get a seat at the table,” she later added.

Cubbage said she believed Terwilliger’s intentions “were probably with Dunnellon,” but that the letter “doesn’t support Dunnellon and (its) neighbors.”

Between 15 and 20 public comments were given at the meeting, including one from a woman who traveled from her residence in Daytona Beach. All of the speakers said they opposed an extension.

The State ended the M-CORES project last year but introduced a project to be headed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for studying and recommending to the Governor a potential extension of the Northern Turnpike from its terminus near Wildwood to U.S. 19. The proximity of the corridor alternatives released by FDOT late last year alarmed area residents who fear an extension would harm their way of life and the Rainbow River springshed.

The Council agreed on Monday to send its “no build” resolution letter to the Chambers to clarify its position.

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