By Vicki Schlum-Hughes
As the business owner of Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours, a business that has thrived for more than 25 years and is dependent upon a healthy Withlacoochee River, I urge my fellow community members, our local elected representatives and local Chambers of Commerce to do everything in their power to stop the northern turnpike extension from upending our way of life and defending the economic interests of our local businesses.
My business is just one of so many that needs to be protected from the threat of either being bypassed and turned into a ghost town or being inundated by the sprawl that kills small towns and their quality of life.
Our business is in the pathway for the southernmost route of the four proposed routes (the yellow route labeled “Alternative Corridor South.”) While it would be easy for us to say “not here” and advocate for the other alternatives to save the land and building that we own for our business, we recognize that each of the proposed routes for the northern turnpike extension is bad for the home-grown businesses found within the four-county study area of Citrus, Sumter, Levy and Marion counties.
I am encouraged by the overwhelming support for the “No Build” option voiced by Citrus residents and the adoption of “No Build” resolutions in Levy, Dunnellon, Inglis, Yankeetown and Inverness.
Now it is time for Citrus County, both with the County Commission and the Chamber of Commerce, to take the same decisive action and stand up for everything we hold dear. Saying “No Build” means no new toll roads, it doesn’t mean no road improvements – something we could really use in Citrus County.
What we oppose so strongly is any new toll road originating in Wildwood and connecting with U.S. 19/Suncoast Parkway. There is no benefit to Citrus County residents or small businesses for another toll road.
We not only like the slower pace of Citrus County, but the slower, red-light-delayed traffic allows travelers to spot the recreation spots they want to explore, the mom and pop restaurants they want to eat in and the shops they want to find treasures in. The slower pace of the traffic flow brings business to Main Street. The draw here for tourists and transplants alike is that “Old Florida” charm. Let’s keep that charm. We aren’t Tampa and we don’t want to be.
Conserving the natural resources upon which my business and so many others are dependent also require the protection of our local agricultural lands. Any and all of the northern turnpike extension routes would bisect our precious remaining agricultural areas, and put an end to the farming heritage in our region. In Citrus County, the environment is the economy.
It doesn’t matter if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Tea Party, protecting our natural resources is in all of our interests. That is why so many people, of every walk of life, are working together to stop the northern turnpike extension.
Vicki Schlum-Hughes is the owner of Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours. She wrote this for the Citrus County Chronicle, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.