For a decade, Matt and other volunteers have maintained a temporary fence along Lake Jackson that keeps thousands of turtles and other wildlife from crossing US Highway 27 near Tallahassee, directing them to large culverts that already exist beneath the road, but a permanent solution has been greatly needed, not only for the turtles but for public safety. Last November, through Matt's tireless efforts, the local regional transportation planning agency unanimously voted to prioritize the proposed Lake Jackson Ecopassage, making it eligible for Transportation Enhancement funds. Later, funds from the stimulus package were directed toward the project.
This looked like a win-win, for turtles, conservationists, motorists, and people needing work. But because it's been re-branded by its detractors as just a "13-foot turtle tunnel," it's a perfect target for politicians who care more about votes than facts. It's all over the news today. My Google search of "Aresco" and "Coburn" just turned up 162 news items, mostly neutral or unfavorable. But Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post gets it right:
So true. The column goes on describe the real problems of large turtles on a heavily traveled roadway, and then says:
"Why did the turtle cross the road?" read the pithy report Coburn issued today. "To get to the other side of the stimulus money."
The Lake Jackson wildlife "ecopassage" got the notoriety being Item No. 5 in Coburn's list of 100 foolish uses for stimulus money.
But it's too bad nobody from his office bothered to talk to Matthew Aresco first.
"It's an easy target," Aresco said. "But when you understand the project and what's at stake, you would support it."
Hang in there, Matt.
There's a simple and relatively cheap solution: a low wall on the side of the road that funnels the lake creatures to three culverts under the roadway for safe crossing.
Aresco's crusade for this has resulted in a not-for-profit group with a Web site (www.lakejacksonturtles.org), a grant of land from a donor and widespread support from the local community and the state Department of Transportation, which has endorsed the $3.4 million project.
Yet, Coburn's report has painted the project as a fly-by-night government boondoggle, claiming that a temporary fabric fence Aresco put there adequately "saves a lot of our four-legged friends."
Aresco doesn't think so.
"They don't understand the project," he said. "They just put it down without knowing anything about it."