April 26, 2019 7:00 am

Vintage Florida flier. Julie Hauserman photo

Trees! What have the bastards ever done for you?

Trees just sit there sucking up that CO2 we manufacture for them with our Escalades and our F-150s, and how do they repay us? By dropping pollen on us all spring and falling over on purpose during football season, knocking out the TV right when you want to watch the ball game.

Trees contribute not a damn thing to Florida’s economy, and take up space that could be better employed as a strip mall or condos or, say, roads.

Nice, big roads.

Senate President Bill Galvano has a plan to deal with those uppity trees in Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Marion and other counties plagued with too much so-called “Nature.” He and Sen. Tom Lee, R-YellaWood, want to replace trees (and wetlands and springs and mangroves and salt marshes) with some fine Florida toll roads.

The Florida Senate has voted–all but one guy, a Democrat, natch–to go forward with a $45 million dollar “study” of the project. Sen. Lee called it a “bold endeavor.”

It is indeed bold! And all the Senate had to do was siphon off a little cash (about $100 per kid) from public education and maybe some from healthcare for the undeserving poor.

The idea is to extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County all the way to Georgia and charge admission.  Sure, you can currently motor around these “rural” parts for free, but that’s not the point, is it? Florida exists to monetize every square inch of ground. That’s our state motto, right?

Anyway. The Suncoast Parkway’s several dozen users know that it’s the nicest road ever, because no one actually drives on it. Families can safely picnic in the right lane. Some country folk have put up hog pens near the Land O’Lakes exit.

Now, certain weirdos and misfits aren’t super-enthusiastic about carving big-ass highways through so-called “pristine wilderness.”

Outfits like the Sierra Club. 1000 Friends of Florida. Progress Florida. And 75 other groups and businesses. They’re environmental terrorists who believe what these so-called “climate scientists” say about doom and gloom and melting glaciers and dying reefs and dead penguins.

Who cares? Florida has no penguins.

Naysayers will point out that Taylor County floods if you stare at it hard, and the storm surge from even a Cat 1 hurricane can dump considerable water 20 miles inland, but that’s defeatist talk. Surely the Florida Asphalt Contractors Association will figure out a way to tame that pesky H2O.

Real Americans support the toll roads and the money-making sprawl those roads will spawn, upstanding citizens such as the Florida Trucking Association, the Florida Department of Transportation, the road construction industry, purveyors of septic tanks, big landowners, and potential franchisees of all those Subways, Mickey D’s, Taco Bells, Burger Kings, and truck stop strip joints which will replace those creepy wetlands and mangrove forests.

Sens. Galvano and Lee are only trying to help gazillionaires free us from unprofitable “wild lands.”

Take Mr. Thomas Peterffy, Florida’s richest man. He owns 561,000 acres in Taylor, Dixie and Lafayette Counties, and would, no doubt, like to help the benighted folks in his fiefdoms put so-called “Nature” on a leash, transform rural North Florida from a worthless ghetto of forests, marshes, deer, birds, bugs, fish, snakes and other freeloaders into a series of totally adorable and developments called “Urban Village,” “Suburban Village,” “Rural Village,” and “Eco Village.”

Eco! It’s green!

Mr. Peterffy should be an inspiration to all Americans: he’s an immigrant–but not one of those immigrants. He hails from Hungary, a land of hardworking white people and excellent pastries.

He lives in Palm Beach, frequents the Mar-a-Lago Club, and, like our president, has never become entirely comfortable with the English language.

It is a total coincidence that he gave $310,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign last year, and says the first he heard of these toll roads was right here in the humble Florida Phoenix.

See, your better class of billionaire often buys hundreds of thousands of acres for no reason other than to make sure those nefarious trees aren’t causing any trouble for decent, hardworking people, such as, say, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Drywall, part-owner of Sabal Homes, purveyors of “upscale semi-custom single-family residential” houses, and his brother builders.

And what of Mr. Frank Stronach, a gentleman of the Canadian persuasion who owns tens of thousands of acres in Levy and Marion Counties, some of which could well be along the route of the new toll roads? Older readers may recall that Mr. Stronach became famous in our state for wanting to pump out a bunch of water from Silver Springs for his grass-fed cattle ranch.

But rich people getting richer (one of America’s core values!) isn’t really the point. The point is that an underpopulated wasteland full of non-tax paying animals and extremely damp places will be transformed into a veritable Disney World of cute “hometown” cottages and plenty of concrete.

After all, Florida doesn’t really have a manufacturing base or anything. What else do we have to sell but ourselves?

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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