Numerous horse farms in the Ocala, Florida area are in danger of being bisected by a new interchange of Interstate 75 under the Florida Turnpike’s proposed Coastal Connector highway project.
The project is currently evaluating new transportation corridor alternatives in Citrus and Marion counties to connect Central Florida with the Tampa area via toll roads, but farms that serve the eventing community and beyond would ultimately pay the price.
A proposed corridor would slice Chester Weber’s Live Oak Farm in half, and other corridors would affect the Ocala Jockey Club, Longwood Farm, Meredyth South and Mardanza Farms, in addition to countless other private farms in the area.
The Florida Turnpike is collecting feedback on the project until May 15, and Kimberly Kojima is hoping members of the eventing community who enjoy Ocala during the winter months and throughout the year will step up and make their voices heard.
“This highway will take out many of the farms and horse-related businesses which employ thousands of people and contribute billions of dollars to the economy,” Kimberly said. “Thousands of people’s homes, livelihoods, and financial stability are in jeopardy.”
Kimberly has owned a 20-acre farm on West 236 in Ocala for nine years. Hers is one of many farms that would be impacted under the Coastal Connector project.
“Ocala is a major hub for all equestrian sports,” Kimberly said. “The results of devastating the horse industry here aren’t only going to impact Ocala. The impact will reverberate throughout the horse industry nationwide and possibly farther.”
The most recent Ocala Chamber & Economic Partnership study found that Marion Country’s equine industry generates more than $2.6 billion, or about 15-20%, of the local economy.
Local farm owner Ralph Holstein is also leading the charge against the proposed Coastal Connector project.
“It has been termed a ‘land grab’ and the proposal has already been denied by neighboring counties, but not yet by Marion County,” Ralph said.
“The committee has set a deadline of May 15 for responses; however, many land owners, leasers, and horse sport enthusiasts are unaware that this proposal has even been made, as they have already left for the summer.”
The group leading the Coastal Connector Alternative Corridor Evaluation Study to evaluate the project held a meeting on Monday at the Ocala Hilton. While more than 400 horse owners in the area attended the meeting, no opportunity was provided for those in attendance to ask questions or provide opinions.
In response, an online petition has been created for eventers and other horse enthusiasts in the Ocala area and beyond to show their opposition to the proposed Coastal Connector highway project.
Email [email protected] to provide direct comment on the project.
Click here to learn more about the Coastal Connector highway project.