LIVE OAK INTERNATIONAL OPPOSES COASTAL CONNECTOR

LIVE OAK INTERNATIONAL OPPOSES COASTAL CONNECTOR

May 16, 2018

Ms. Rebecca Bolan, P.E., PMP                                 Dr. Rax Jung, P.E.
Project Manager for                                                    Project Engineer
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise                                  Florida Turnpike Enterprise
PO Box 613069                                                            PO Box 613069
Ocoee, FL 43761                                                           Ocoee, FL 43761

Dear Ms. Bolan and Dr. Jung:

The Live Oak International Horse Show has, for more than a quarter century, been a leading tourist destination and economic benefit for Marion County, Florida. It is the largest spectator event in Ocala. It is hosted at Live Oak Stud, our family home for a half century. Please see the attached short video from the 2018 show: https://vimeo.com/266400131
Two of the routes of the proposed “Coastal Connector” would destroy the location of this highly successful show, and put us out of business. We write to you today to say that the routes C2 and D1 are combined when they travel through this area south of Rt. 40, and we strongly oppose both of those alternatives for this proposed turnpike.
The sport of combined driving challenges teams of horses, carriages and drivers over a three-day test of skill and stamina. The Live Oak International was a driving show for the first 20 years of its successful history. Many US national championships have been hosted at Live Oak over the years and its excellent worldwide reputation is a mainstay of the sport.
Starting six years ago show jumping was also added to Live Oak with outstanding results. This is the only horse show in the US that offers both driving and jumping together. It has proven exceptionally successful with spectators, competitors and vendors alike.
My sister Juliet and I host this event. We are members of the next generation of the Weber family, the owners of Live Oak Stud. All four of us siblings were born in Ocala. I have been a leading combined driver in the four in hand division for many years. I am a 15 time US National Four in Hand Champion. Representing Team USA is critically important to me and I have been fortunate to do so for more than 20 years. Juliet’s daughter, Chloe Reid, has also made a name for herself as a highly successful international show jumping rider joining Team USA regularly.
Live Oak International is broadcast on NBC Sports to a worldwide audience. It is one of only 14 World Cup Qualifying events in North America. Competitors and spectators alike travel from around the world to take on the best of the best at Live Oak. The Federation Equestrian International oversees and regulates this show, the worldwide governing body for equestrian sports. There are multi year sponsorships in place with major international firms such as Longines watches. We also have many leading local businesses that are sponsoring this event and showcasing their products and services. Significant charity partners benefit from Live Oak each year as do the hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of spectators. Whoever created these proposed alignments that would destroy Live Oak International must not have ever attended one of its annual Saturday night parties! They are legendary.
On April 26 five alternatives for the proposed Coastal Connector through southern Marion County were released publically for the first time. We oppose all five of those routes. Two of those routes would permanently destroy the show grounds for Live Oak International. The C2 and D1 routes would bring an end to what is currently a very successful business that has made a substantial investment in infrastructure at that site. Live Oak International is currently bringing millions of dollars in direct economic impact to the local economy annually. We also know that hotels, restaurants, and many other vendors also enjoy millions of dollars more in substantial indirect benefits each year.
We do not accept the supposed justifications for this roadway whatsoever. Reducing congestion? Assisting evacuations from the Tampa area in the event of hurricanes? Decreasing travel times? Florida Turnpike Enterprise will never be able to make case that these supposed benefits come close to a justification to destroying the many current business in the way of the new toll road, including one of the most successful equestrian events in the USA at Live Oak International. These proposed toll road alignments are not economically feasible.
We encourage you transportation planners to look at the comprehensive plans for Ocala and take note of the “farmland preservation areas”. These areas are not appropriate for eight lane interstate toll roads. Live Oak Stud represents some of the most valuable land for equestrian purposes in the country and is in the local comprehensive plan’s farmland preservation area. The limestone and excellent soil, water and climate combine to create special grass that horses thrive on. It is not an accident that so many horse farms are found near Ocala. These proposed toll road alignments do not conform with the local comprehensive plans.
Those comprehensive plans also include “springs protection zones” that, obviously, are extremely well known to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Live Oak Stud has an excellent record of environmental stewardship and a close working relationship with these regulators. They have provided Live Oak many helpful “best practices” to help ensure the long-term health of the precious aquifer. These proposed turnpike alignments are not environmentally feasible.
As I am sure you are aware, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise authorizing legislation includes three tests; economic feasibility, environmental feasibility and local comprehensive plan compliance that must be met for any toll road to be approved by the Florida legislature when proposed turnpikes comes forward for review at the State House. It is apparent right now that none of those tests are going to be met for this road in Marion County. Please save us all from the time, effort and energy that will be required if Florida Turnpike Enterprise tries to find a way around them.
We vow to stand up to you at every turn. We have successful businesses to run, jobs to create, taxes to pay, world class equestrian competitions to host, and are far too busy being productive members of the Marion County community to waste our days fighting with you about something this hair-brained. The manner you have chosen to surprise Marion County and all its residents with this massive toll road is destined to fail. We have yet to hear of anyone or any business in favor of your proposal.
For the Turnpike Enterprise there are many other route options possible besides Marion County if the justifications for this road are real, which we dispute entirely. For Live Oak International and Live Oak Stud, this is our life work. We are absolutely outraged that this proposal was made at all, and in this manner, and we won’t rest until it is defeated.
For these many reasons – and good common sense – we ask that you set aside the proposed alignments of C2 and D1 for the new turnpike immediately.
Sincerely,


Chester C. Weber                                                                           Juliet W. Reid

cc: The Hon. Rick Scott, Governor
The Hon. Bill Nelson, US Senator
The Hon. Marco Rubio, US Senator

The Hon. Neal Dunn, Florida 2nd District

The Hon. Keith Perry, State Senator District 8
The Hon. Charlie Stone, State Representative District 22
The Hon. George B. Gainer, Chair Florida Senate Committee on Transportation
The Hon. Darryl E. Rouson, Vice Chair, Florida Senate Committee on Transportation
The Hon. Clay Ingram, Chair, Florida House Transportation and Tourism
The Hon. Michael Grant, Vice Chair, Florida House Transportation and Tourism

The Hon., Elaine Chao, Secretary, US Department of Transportation
The Hon. Bradye Hendrickson, Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Admin.

Florida Transportation Commission, Chair, Jay N. Trumbell / Ex Dir., Teddi Pitts
Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation, Mike Dew
Executive Director, Florida Turnpike Enterprise, Paul Wei P.E.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein, Secretary
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Jay Prather, Central District Director

The Hon. Kathy Bryant, Chairman, Marion County Commission
The Hon. Michelle Stone, Vice Chairman, Marion County Commission
The Hon. David Moore, Marion County Commission
The Hon. Jeff Gold, Marion County Commission
The Hon. Carl Zalak III, Marion County Commission

The Hon. Kent Guinn, Mayor, City of Ocala
The Hon. Matthew Wardell, City of Ocala, City Council President
The Hon. Mary Sue Rich, City of Ocala, City Council President Pro Tem
The Hon. Jay Musleh, City of Ocala, City Council
The Hon. Justin Grabelle, City of Ocala, City Council
The Hon. Brent Malever, City of Ocala, City Council

Planning Director, City of Ocala, Florida, Peter Lee, AICP
Director, Ocala / Marion Transportation Planning Organization, Michael Daniels
Fl Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council, Chair, Mayor Susan Haynie

Ocala / Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership
William Thames, Chairman
Kevin Sheilly, President and CEO

Ocala Star Banner Editor, Douglas Ray
Ocala Star Banner, Reporter, Carlos Medina