Save Cypress Creek!


Update: Cypress Creek

Just when you thought it was dead, the East-West road still lives. Tampa recently asked the state Department of Transportation to take another look at how to pay for the road.  Before that, FCAN and allies thought the road was dead, killed by financial reality.

New Tampa Bridge over 275

An intergral part of the project is a bridge over 275.  If the bridge is not built, that will slow down or stop the E-W road.  A group of New Tampa residents is working to stop the bridge.

All the various schemes to fund the road had failed, and it appeared the Cypress Creek Ecosystem would remain undisturbed.  Apparently the Mayor gave in to political pressure from developers who want to build even more homes in the area and provide access to two new malls in the area. 

Write to Tampa Bay area decision makers and demand she stop the East-West road and build light rail instead.

 FCAN, Sierra Club-Tampa Bay Group, Tampa Audubon, Citizens for West Meadows, the Lutz Civic Association and community environmental activists are continuing the fight to save Tampa's last remaining expanse of pristine wilderness, the Cypress Creek Ecosystem.

Pressure from development in the northern part of Hillsborough and southern Pasco counties has led to daily traffic jams for local residents -- the predictable result of faulty planning. Civic "leaders" are attempting to solve this dilemma the old-fashioned way: build a road.  But there are alternatives.  New  light rail proposals would solve the problem.  

You can find info on the proposed light rail transportation program at TBARTA and the Florida Transportation Coalition, which FCAN joined.  Note that the rail plans would avoid Cypress Creek and get people from New Tampa and the University to downtown, Westshore, and St. Pete.  Here's what it could look like:

TBARTA Transportation Map

Why Cypress Creek is important:

Cypress Creek Preserve and ecosystem is a one of a kind wilderness tract in north Tampa. The main part of the preserve is located between the apex of I-75 and I-275.  Unfortunately, the area is under imminent threat of development and the prospects for its protection are dim, unless citizens take a more active role in supporting its preservation. This is a top priority of the Cypress Creek Coalition consisting of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, Tampa Audubon,  Florida Consumer Action Network, and the Lutz Civic Association.

Cypress Creek, a state designated Outstanding Florida Water, is a major tributary of the Hillsborough River, which is the primary source of drinking water for the City of Tampa. Protection of the creek and associated lands will ensure protection of the water this system contributes to the City’s drinking water supply.

There are over 6,000 acres of natural uplands and wetlands in the Cypress Creek area. The diverse habitats include pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, and wet prairies. The Preserve has been designated a "Significant Wildlife Habitat" by local planning and environmental agencies. That designation means that this ecosystem is critical to the survival of healthy and diverse populations of wildlife in the region. The Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission has listed the area as some of the most valuable habitat in Hillsborough County.

A Tampa Audubon site surveys of Cypress Creek Preserve on June 26, 1998 and Dec 19, 2001 found the following inventory of nesting pairs of birds:

INVENTORY Number of Nests Listing Dec 19, 2001
Anhinga 21   Y
Great Egret 9   Y
Little Blue Heron 14 Species of Special Concern  
Snowy Egret 5 Species of Special Concern  
Tricolored Heron 4 Species of Special Concern  
Cattle Egret 349    
Green Heron 1    
White Ibis 12 Species of Special Concern Y
Wood Stork 5 Endangered Species  
Turkey Vulture     Y
Red Shouldered Hawk     Y
Laughing Gull     Y
Morning Dove     Y
Pileated Woodpecker     Y
Eastern Phoebe     Y
Fish Crow     Y
Carolina Wren     Y
Gray Catbird     Y
Northern Cardinal     Y
Total 420    

All these attributes mean that the Cypress Creek Ecosystem is a pristine and ecologically significant area that is too important to sacrifice for development.

The Danger

The entire area is designated "Environmentally Sensitive" land on local growth management plans. The designation is meant to indicate areas inappropriate for development. However, suburban sprawl and a major road network to serve the ever increasing congestion in north Tampa threaten the preserve. Lennar Homes, Inc., the developer of Tampa Palms, has government approved plans to build homes on upland areas encroaching on the ecosystem. The plans were approved prior to adoption of growth management laws. Therefore, while most wetlands will be preserved within the proposed development, Lennar is exempt from the law’s provisions to protect upland habitat.

Lennar is giving land to the City of Tampa for a major road network, called the East-West Road. The road will connect Cross Creek and Bruce B. Downs boulevards with I-275 and Livingston Avenue, splitting the proposed Preserve east and west and north and south -- piercing through the heart of the ecosystem.

What has happened so far:

To date, our local Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) has acquired approximately 3,500 acres of the Preserve, north and west of Lennar’s property. The land ELAPP has acquired is a mosaic of uplands and wetlands, providing shelter for the rich variety of species listed above. But it's not nearly enough. More habitat must be saved to assure that these creatures will thrive.

In recent years, ELAPP has been working to acquire various  properties along the creek near interstate apex, and south of the Florida Power and TECO transmission corridors and west of Bruce B. Downs. But due to the land’s high price tag, ELAPP has negotiated successfully for only the northernmost 3,500 acres of the preserve.  Cypress Creek

Cypress Creek - A Road Could Run Through It

Once ELAPP and Lennar completed their most recent negotiation, the City moved forward with plans to locate the East-West Road directly adjacent to the property acquired. This would make undesirable the acquisition of any of the remaining Preserve land in this area and would open it all up to development. Despite testimony from dozens of families who skipped their dinner in order to tell the Metropolitan Planning Organization the road was the wrong solution, the MPO finalized its "Cost-Affordable" transportation plan for the year 2025 with a highway bisecting the West Meadows neighborhood and the heart of the preserve. Affordable? Estimates from experts in the road-building business have placed the price tag at $63 million+ (!), a huge sum that would be spent on a road serving fewer than 15,000 cars per day -- out of the over one million residents of Hillsborough County.

The MPO commissioned a study to determine whether sufficient money could be collected at tollbooths on the East-West road to fund the project.  That is the funding mechanism committed to when the road went on the map.  Activists from FCAN and the Sierra Club have confirmation from the consultant for the study that tolls could not fund the road. The City attempted a plan to have the scandal ridden Expressway Authority bid out the toll road as a for-profit plan, but that too failed.


Stop the New Tampa Bridge

Florida Dept of Transportation EW Road Site

Cypress Creek Coalition The Cypress Creek Coalition meets on site to discuss strategy.

From Left:
Lynn McGarvey, Sierra Club
Rob Heath, Wildlife Biologist
Denise Layne, Lutz Civic Association
Ged Caddick, Tampa Audubon
Linda Saul-Sena, Tampa City Council
Bill Newton, FCAN
Rene Weisner, ELAPP

What you can do:

Elected officals in Tampa and Hillsborough County need to know that:

  • The Cypress Creek ecosystem is too important to sacrifice to suburban sprawl.

  • Millions of taxpayer dollars should not be spent on building the East-West road.  Ask officials to request that the MPO study alternatives that are enviro-friendly.

  • Elected officials should find a way to protect Cypress Creek in a manner that is fair to taxpayers and the landowners.

*Personalize the letter.
*Keep it short but strong.
*Ask for a written reply.
*Kids can make drawings.

Don't let Cypress Creek be given over to the bulldozers! There is nothing else like it. Once gone, it can’t be replaced. Future generations may never know, except from pictures, what a beautiful region was once near their homes in Tampa. Your actions can make the difference.

Bill Newton FCAN Executive Director Bill Newton speaks to the Hillsborough County Commission on Cypress Creek while canvassers display hundred of petitions.

Photo by Melissa Silvers