Buchanan Wants Panthers Safe As Heartland Parkway Starts

Todays News


Environmentalists long sounded alarms about whether the planned Heartland Parkway puts the Florida Panther population at risk. Now, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has echoed their concerns in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The congressman called for further assurance from the state the endangered species will be considered. In doing so, he added to scrutiny for the signature achievement of state Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

“Modernizing our infrastructure to deal with continued population growth is important,” Buchanan wrote in his letter, “but so is ensuring the survival of an endangered species that also happens to be the Florida state animal. We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct. One of the best ways to protect the animal would be to create over-passes or under-passes that provide a safe way for the animals to navigate a highway.”

Construction is expected to begin on the Heartland Parkway in 2022. The 140-mile toll road will span from Polk to Collier County, spanning a pathway just east of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Galvano made the expansion of three toll roads, the Heartland Parkway the most notable in this region, a top priority of the 2019 Legislative Session. In an interview ahead of the just-started 2020 Legislative Session, Galvano said he’s confident the roadway will not destroy the environment.

“The net effect could be a more stable and more environmentally friendly infrastructure,” he asserted. “That's why the swaths where they were are large enough to allow this type of planning.” He’s also frequently noted planning for a parkway in the Wekiva Springs area of Central Florida, which has called for overpasses to keep wildlife there out of the road.

Buchanan noted a U.S. Wish and Wildlife Service biologist last year warned “this project would have very serious impacts on the Florida panther.” “That is why it is important that you take this into consideration and plan accordingly as you construct the state’s largest highway expansion in more than half a century.”

Buchanan does not call for the plan to be stopped, but stressed DeSantis must make sure panthers are not put at further risking, noting just 250 of the big cats are thought to be alive today, and that 23 of 27 known panther deaths last year were caused in vehicle collisions. 

Photo courtesy office of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

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