Image credit: Orlando Sentinel
Deseret Ranch was founded in Osceola County in 1950, and continues to produce beef cattle, citrus and timber. The Ranch, located in the northeast corner of the county next to Orange and Brevard, is owned by an entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now, its owners are planning a 133,000 acre development that will eventually have an estimated population of over 500,000 people and 182,600 housing units by 2080. That is the size of two cities the size of Orlando. In addition, the plans call for nearly 68,000,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space and 20,390 hotel rooms. This would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history, and would impact the headwaters of the Econlockhatchee River and the St. Johns River.
As part of the review process for Deseret’s North Ranch Master Sector Plan, Osceola County requested an independent peer review of the environmental plans for the development. According to the Peer Review Executive Summary, the property “is located in the center of an area recognized and mapped as having state-wide significance for its ecological and wildlife values. Much of the central part of the ranch has been maintained as improved and semi-improved pastures for cattle production, but even that land has significant conservation values in itself and in providing connectivity for hydrology and wildlife movements to the even higher value intact habitats around it, most of which are existing conservation areas."
The Deseret Sector Plan includes a proposal for the construction of a new bridge over the St. Johns River, the expansion of the Taylor Creek Reservoir, and the creation of and a new 5,548 acre reservoir that would capture water that now contributes to the base flow of the St. Johns River. The new reservoir would be created by damming two tributaries (Wolf and Pennywash Creeks) of the St. Johns River.
St. Johns Riverkeeper remains opposed to any plan for a Wolf and Pennywash Reservoir. Without protection of the free-flowing tributaries, sustainable design protecting critical wetlands and responsible water conservation, this project is unacceptable.