Clear Cutting on 319

The stripping of land along a Florida highway is stirring up controversy. Now, a state representative is demanding answers.

The land that looks bare and unappealing to the eye was once a beautiful scene filled with longleaf pines dating back three decades, but the area was wiped out this month, the result of a road project and the center of controversy.

Rep. Will Kendrick says, “The removal is unwarranted because it was done after the road system was almost completed.”

Many in the public sector echo the representative's complaint. The destruction of the land doesn't just pose a hindrance to environmentalists, Rep. Kendrick says it affects the confidence of taxpayers, those paying for the new roadway. That's why he's demanding answers from the Department of Transportation.

In response, DOT officials say the land would have been cut down anyway. It says the U.S. Forest Service had plans of harvesting the area in the next few years.

In a written letter to Kendrick, DOT says there were no requests from the Forest Service to stop the project or the cutting of trees in question. The Forest Service assumes responsibility for the land, but says it never had plans of harvesting.

Denise Rains with Public Affairs for the U.S. Forest Service says, “Basically a misunderstanding. We're focusing on ensuring won't happen again, working with DOT to establish procedures to ensure [it] doesn't happen in the future.”

DOT has begun replanting pine trees and sawgrass along the 30-acre stretch. Officials say it was all part of an agreement they had with the U.S. Forest Service.