Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amphitheater Plan Strikes a Few Sour Notes Environmental Impact, Traffic Issues Surface

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amphitheater Plan Strikes a Few Sour Notes Environmental Impact, Traffic Issues Surface

Article excerpt

FOLKSTON -- An environmentalist group is expressing concern about the impact a proposed outdoor amphitheater near the Okefenokee swamp could have on wildlife.

Andrew Schock, director of the National Wildlife Federation's southeast field office in Atlanta, said he was "very concerned" how loud music, overhead lighting and sewage from the site would impact the swamp, about 4 miles away.

"My concern is we don't know enough," Schock said. "I'm not convinced this can be done without hurting the swamp."

But the project's developer, Florida state Rep. Joe Arnall of Jacksonville Beach, said all environmental concerns will be addressed before the first concert -- tentatively planned for March 1 at the site on Georgia 121.

"We are not trying to steamroll anybody," Arnall said yesterday. "I haven't met everybody. I can assure you every problem and concern will be addressed."

Arnall, who is president of Starlight Amphitheater, a Ponte Vedra Beach company, said the reason there are unanswered questions is the Times-Union published a story about the $2.5 million project before all the details could be worked out.

"The goal of having a first-class amphitheater in a rural setting, without hurting the wilderness and the environment is attainable," Arnall said. "We're trying to find a win-win across the board."

The venue -- located in a sparsely populated area about an hour from downtown Jacksonville -- could host 30 to 40 concerts a year and draw top acts such as the Eagles, Back Street Boys and Rolling Stones, Arnall predicted.

But those acts would attract crowds that could cause traffic backups along the two-lane highway leading to the site, if it opens as scheduled.

Tony Collins, a pre-construction engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation, said "there's no way we could have the road widened by March."

Collins said he met Monday with Starlight representatives who suggested adding a third lane to ease traffic congestion for concerts. But he said he couldn't begin the environmental studies or apply for permits necessary for the project until DOT officials had an exact location of where the road leading to the concert venue would be.

"We can't go in and do anything until we have more assurances," Collins said. …

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