City Manager Johnson Brings Clarity to Lake DeSoto Trees and the "Jack Berry Highway"
Posted May 17, 2016 10:50 am
LAKE CITY, FL – During last night's City Council meeting, City Manager Wendell Johnson brought some clarity to two projects that involve the Lake Shore Hospital Authority and are occurring within the City limits: the clear cutting of the trees on the south side of the Lake Shore Hospital and the relationship of the proposed "Jack Berry Highway" to those trees.
Lake DeSoto Trees and the "Jack Berry Highway"
During the past few years, Hospital Authority Manager Jackson P. "Jack" Berry has been lobbying for a road that connects U.S. 90 and the emergency room at Shands at Lake Shore Hospital. The hospital is owned by the Authority and leased to CHS, the largest hospital provider in America.
Recently, both Manager Berry and Representative Elizabeth Porter have claimed responsibility for the $410,000 authorized by Governor Scott for a project called "Lake Shore Blvd. Access Road." This is purported to be an economic development project, however, no need has ever been identified by Manager Berry, the Governor's LSHA Board, the hospital, any ambulance company, Lake City, or Columbia County.
The estimated cost of the road is $2.5 mil and no funding sources, other than the Governor's contribution, have been identified. The per mile cost of this road is in the neighborhood of $7.5 mil.
Florida Tax Watch had included the road in its 2016 Budget Turkey Watch Report.
Last Night in City Hall
The hospital is on the left, the park area is next. Just past the right edge of the photo is the helipad. Governor Scott's LSHA Board has refused to cancel the clear cutting of most of the trees in the frame once the nesting Hawks leave the area.
Your reporter, who is a resident of Columbia County, addressed the City Council, "As you may know, there is a stand of trees along the south side of the Lake Shore Hospital. The City has issued a permit that allows the Hospital Authority to clearcut all those trees. The Audubon Society interviewed people; I've interviewed people; people that I've interviewed have interviewed people, and nobody can see any rational basis to cut down all those trees... It is really the only stand of trees left that offers shade and parking to residents and visitors to Lake City in the Lake De Soto area."
Your reporter asked the City to reconsider its tree cutting permit until more information is available.
The Observer continued, "I don't know. Maybe you folks know, before they rip up the swamp and the wetlands, has there ever been any study? Has the City or DOT done any traffic studies about the ambulance disruption?"
Mayor Witt responded, "I don't think that it's gotten to that point yet. I know there's been talk about different routes and all."
Your reporter volunteered, "There is a conceptual route and it's not even close to the trees. It's not close to the helipad. It's not close to anything."
City Manager Johnson addressed the issue, "There is a conceptual route. I don't know the answer to whether it has any effect on the issue of the trees. You're talking about two different issues. The route that I'm aware of has nothing to do with the stand of trees over there... The proposed road is going to be addressed by DOT... That has not occurred yet, but it will because DOT will be the pass-through for the funding appropriation from the state. They will do a joint participation agreement with the Hospital Authority to expend that money. That is my understanding. It is for the state to say."
In 2012, Manager Berry said the following about road improvements by the Authority: "The statutory enactments that created and granted power to the Authority do not permit the Authority to pay Authority money for municipal street improvements and repairs."
The Observer asked, "So there have been no studies?"
City Manager Johnson answered, "Not to my knowledge."
The Observer followed up, "And as far as we all know, that road does not affect the trees whatsoever?"
City Manager Johnson reiterated his earlier response, "Not to my knowledge."
The hawks are nesting by the lake. Once they leave, Manager Berry can give the order to cut down all the trees.
Your reporter concluded, "Once again I would ask, respectfully, that you folks consider at least putting a hold on that permit until we find out what is going on between the helipad and the road."