Talks will continue over a proposal to expand a highway through part of the Split Oak Forest in Osceola County

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Highway construction. By Andrey Grigoriev via iStock for WMNF News.

©2023 The News Service of Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Tuesday approved continued talks over a proposed land swap that could lead to a highway extension through part of the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area in Osceola County.

But commissioners said any final plan negotiated by agency Executive Director Roger Young about the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s Osceola Parkway Extension must return to the state panel for a vote.

“If we have an opportunity to greatly expand conservation in the state, we have a duty to look at that,” Commissioner Gary Lester said during a meeting in Orlando.

The proposed highway extension could go across 1.3 miles of Split Oak Forest, directly affecting 60 acres and indirectly affecting 100 acres.

The expressway authority has proposed a land swap that would include about 1,550 acres next to Split Oak and management funding of about $13 million.

Questions were raised about the land being offered to the commission containing former orange groves.

Split Oak Forest is a 1,689-acre conservation area in Orange and Osceola counties and provides habitat for such things as gopher tortoises.

It abuts other public and privately owned conservation lands and two lakes.

The commission has managed the area since 1994 through an agreement with Orange and Osceola counties, which had acquired the land.

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