Small group protests proposed bridge route



Article Courtesy of the Palm Beach Post

Published Sunday, August 29, 2004

PORT ST. LUCIE Under the sparse shade of pines, not far from the narrow banks of the St. Lucie River's North Fork, Suzanne Eovaldi plucked a line from Mark Twain and read it to the group before her Saturday.

"No, the romance and beauty were all gone from the river, and it never came back," she said, turquoise jewelry dangling from her neck, wrists and ears.

Twain wrote about the Mississippi River, but the words seemed relevant to Eovaldi, who coordinated Saturday's protest against a proposed bridge that would carry West Virginia Drive across what she calls the "widest and wildest" part of the St. Lucie River.

As protests go, it was a small crowd, but Eovaldi and the dozen or so who joined her were optimistic their cause will gain momentum.

"This core group that showed up, we could make a difference," Eovaldi said from the gravel parking lot of the St. Lucie River North Fork state buffer preserve, which is west of U.S. 1 and north of Village Green Drive.

Kevin Stinnette, who heads the Indian Riverkeeper organization, spoke about the precious wildlife that could suffer if the city of Port St. Lucie and the Florida Department of Transportation build the bridge across the environmentally sensitive land.

The only place in the world where the opossum pipefish breeds is in Treasure Coast waterways, and damaging a portion of the river would hurt the struggling species, Stinnette said.

"Piece by piece, we're taking its habitat, and we're taking its ability to reproduce," he said, adding that the pipefish is just one example.

Also attending the protest was Chuck Winn, a Republican challenger in the race for District 81 state representative, a post now held by Gayle Harrell.

"All this is just a scam," Winn said. "It's a giveaway to big development corporations."

City council members have said they support building the $40 million bridge between West Virginia Drive and Village Green Drive, a route that could affect the state-owned preserve land where Saturday's protest took place.

"Obviously our roadways need something, but this isn't it," said Guy Hoffman, a protester who lives in western Port St. Lucie. "This destroys one of the best natural areas here."

The site of the bridge won't be set until next year, when the DOT is expected to complete a study weighing the environmental, neighborhood and traffic effects. It's also possible that the DOT could rule against a bridge altogether.