Legislative scrutiny was the rally cry of the evening as Lakeland citizens met to discuss the CSX-Winter Haven ILC. At a meeting sponsored by the Downtown Lakeland Partnership, slightly less than 50 gathered to discuss key issues with each other and State Representative Dennis Ross.
DLP Executive Director Julie Townsend set the tone of the meeting with a short explanation of the CSX project in Winter Haven and how it would affect Lakeland. The DLP then listed eight issues they felt were key points in the debate. The crowd listened attentively; though most seemed to be already cognizant of the issues. That would prove true when the question and answer session started.
However, the crowd did visibly respond to the words and demeanor of State Representative Dennis Ross. He spoke about his history as a proponent of economic development, and freight rail as a viable alternative to trucking. Yet, he believed the CSX project was a statewide matter that had not been properly planned. He repeatedly called for a strategic rail plan for the state that would outline the states’ needs and build accordingly.
Ross spoke of the project’s rise without legislative oversight. He mentioned that he and others had learned of the plan through newspaper articles, rather than through legislative channels. He urged the crowd not to think of the project as an East Polk versus West Polk battle. “This impacts everybody,” he stated.
To introduce the question and answer segment, Townsend stated the DLP simply wanted legislative review of the project. “No one can argue with scrutiny.”
Unlike some previous meetings where citizens seemed unaware of the full impact of the project, the crowd last night came informed with background information and specific questions. Questions were raised about moving freight rail to travel by the Polk Parkway. There it could easily connect to the airport, the freeway, and would bypass downtown.
Another question concerned how a 491 million dollar project could be approved without legislative review. Ross explained that the money came from the Transportation Trust Fund. That the legislature funds the Florida Department of Transportation and the DOT decides how to spend it.
One person wondered if there was enough federal dollars in the project to force an environmental impact study. Other residents wondered why the regional planning council was only looking at the 318 acre project as opposed to the full build out. Another resident stood up to state that he had visited the ILC in Alliance Texas. He said the key difference between that project and this was that it lay less than a mile from the interstate. Other questions were about the ILC serving freight from a ports to the west and south, and the work of the attorney hired by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and others to look into the project.
An hour into the meeting Townsend wrapped up the questions with the DLP’s key point of the night, “This project definitely needs legislative scrutiny. We can all agree on that.”