Coletta: Everglades Boulevard interchange would have ‘minimal effects’ on environment

Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta

Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta

Should there be an I-75 interchange at Everglades Boulevard?

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Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta appealed to state wildlife authorities Wednesday for support for a new interchange along Alligator Alley, pointing to research and public demand for the controversial road project.

Speaking before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at its public meeting in Naples, Coletta said his constituents in Golden Gate Estates have been calling for a shortcut route to Interstate 75 for years but have faced resistance from environmental groups.

“We’ve gone through numerous studies and put a lot of money … to come to a point where we’d be able to pass muster with all the different agencies,” he said.

Coletta spoke briefly Wednesday morning about the proposed Everglades Boulevard interchange before the commission opened the floor for discussion of items not on the agenda. By the time opposition groups had a chance to respond that evening, most of the spectators who filled the large banquet room had left.

“It is a very sensitive area,” said Nancy Anne Payton, representing the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the many environmental organizations that oppose the interchange.

“(Alligator Alley) is not to serve for easy access into Naples and other parts of the coast,” Payton said.

They fear animals such as the Florida panther and black bear will suffer from the extensive infrastructure projects that go into building an interchange.

“The proposed interchange on or somewhere near Everglades Boulevard would lead to habitat segregation, habitat loss and habitat degradation,” said Laurie Macdonald, the Florida director of the Defenders of Wildlife.

But Coletta said a ramp onto I-75 from Everglades Boulevard would have “minimal effects” on the environment and offered to make a larger presentation to the Conservation Commission with evidence from impact studies.

“This is an item that’s very important,” Coletta said. “The problem is that the environmental community has taken a different issue on it.”

Coletta drew criticism for his tactics last month when his office urged 200 supporters to attend a meeting about the interchange in Golden Gate Estates, a political move his detractors called “highly inappropriate.”

Connect with Ben Wolford at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ben-wolford.

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