Proposed Sand Mine Near Archbold Raises Questions

The Highlands County Board of Adjustment delayed action until January on a proposal to mine sand for the next 15 years at a site north of Archbold Biological Station between State Road 70, which is scheduled to be widened, and Lake Placid, a 3,320-acre lake on the Lake Wales Ridge.

The decision on the case was postponed after Hilary Swain, Archbold’s director, asked for more time to evaluate the mine’s impact on Lake Annie. The 86-acre lake lies on Archbold’s property and is part of an international environmental monitoring network.

The staff report raised questions about whether some of the work that had already occurred on the mine site was done with proper permits and also raised questions on the hydrological impact of dewatering associated with the mining operation.

The property is owned by Black Bear Citrus LLC. Bert Harris III, the Lake Placid lawyer who presented the case and frequently clashed with Swain during her testimony, is listed as the property’s manager in state corporate records.

There is also a concurrent request by the same owner for the same 200-acre parcel to change its land-use classification from Agricultural to Mixed Use. Although county planners are not objecting to the proposed map change, the report did point out that any plans for future development will require more extensive environmental review on the site, which contains cutthroat seeps, wetands and scrub.

It is unknown when any planned development could occur, but mining often is used to create water bodies that can be used to market residential development.

 

 

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The Peace River Settlement Spin Begins

I’ve been watching for official reaction to the unanimous vote Wednesday by the board at the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to authorize its lawyer, Edward de la Parte to sit down with his counterparts at the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority to work out some sort of settlement to avoid proceeding with a legal challenge to a pending permit over how much PRMWSA can withdraw from the Peace River.

PRMWSA sent out a press release Thursday hailing the still unseen settlement agreement. As of this writing, Polk officials have issued no official statement.

Perhaps it might be wiser to wait until there is actually a settlement instead of an agreement to discuss a settlement. The schedule calls for everything to be wrapped up by Dec. 19, when the Polk cooperative is scheduled to meet to consider approving any settlement is worked out by then.

By then the Swiftmud Governing Board, whose handling of the permitting decision is at the heart of this dispute, will have met again. At the meeting Dec. 11 in Brooksville, the subject of the settlement may come up.

Swiftmud officials have pressed for a settlement, citing the public expense. However, Swiftmud officials have been criticized for allegedly keeping PRMWSA’s pending permit application pretty close to their vest.

Some of the research Polk officials conducted in connection to this challenge also revealed PRMWSA’s staff proposed seeking to withdraw less water from the river than the current pending permit proposed, but its board pushed instead to take all of the available water from the river.

PRMWSA’s next scheduled board meeting is Dec. 5 in Port Charlotte. Its board will obviously have to sign off on any settlement, too. The question is whether those folks will wait for Polk’s decision before they take action.

Polk’s challenge seems to have persuaded the other two parties to reconsider their positions.

It will also be interesting to see how the Peace River fares in this deal.

Polk still has a pending permit application to tap the river and one of its tributaries, the environmental wisdom of which has been questioned.

This isn’t over yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Polk Board OKs Settlement Talks In Peace River Legal Dispute

The Peace River water war may be settled in time for Christmas.

The Polk County Regional Water Cooperative’s board voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize lawyer Edward delaParte to proceed with settlement negotiations with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority

Board members have scheduled a meeting Dec. 19 to vote on the proposed settlement if negotiations are successful by then.

The dispute involves a pending approval by the Swiftmud Governing Board of a permit submitted by the PRMWSA to double the amount of water it is authorized the withdraw from the river.

The water authority has turned to the river for its future water supply because the aquifer has already been overpumped in that part of the state and is no longer available to supply the amounts it projects to need to handle future growth.

Polk challenged the proposed permit because it is looking to the river to supply water for its future growth, too, arguing if PRMWSA’s permit were approved, that would forestall any plans Polk has to use the river or its tributaries for future water needs.

Gene Heath, PRWC’s projects director, said eliminating the use of the Peace River would limit Polk’s options in developing future alternative water supplies.
Polk’s future project plans also include trying to tap the lower Floridan aquifer, but he acknowledged that approach still hasn’t proved out.

“The stakes are extremely high,” he said , adding the settlement talks will involve looking at the entire river corridor.

The Peace River forms in northern Polk County and flows 105 miles through Polk, Hardee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties before reaching the Gulf of Mexico at Charlotte Harbor.

Although critics have questioned Polk’s proposal to tap the upper reaches of the Peace River, Heath, a former Swiftmud executive, said he believes the project is viable.

The parties in the permit dispute, which had been scheduled for a three-week trial early next year, include Polk and several Polk cities as well as the city of Wauchula, which lies along the river in Hardee County.

Tom Cloud, Wauchula’s city attorney, said after the meeting that one of the concerns that city has is to maintain adequate flow in the river to continue to make the area attractive to recreational paddlers.

Polk parks and recreation staffers are also working on a plan to encourage more recreational use of the portion of the river in Polk County.

State Park Entry Free For Veterans Day; Explore, Check Out Events

You won’t have to pay even the modest admission fees to visit a Florida state park on Sunday, Nov. 11 in honor of Veterans Day.

This might be a good time to visit a state park you’ve never visited before or haven’t visited in a long time.

You can find the location of any of the state’s 191 parks at this link.

There is one special Veterans Day event in our area.

That will occur at Historic Dade Battlefield near Bushnell in Sumter County.

 

 

 

BS Ranch & Farm Rules May Get A Lot Tighter

The ongoing saga involving Polk County’s attempts to overturn some of its past wrongheaded zoning decisions on a soil-composting plant on the outskirts of Lakeland took an important step forward Wednesday.

The Polk County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a proposed set of rules—some of them agreed to in a September settlement designed to resolve pending litigation, others proposed since the settlement by county planners—that will deal with persistent odor complaints and make sure the operation meets state rules on wetlands protection and stormwater management.

The soil-composing facility accepts a variety of material including septic tank waste, vegetative waste and other materials. It opened quietly in 2015 without obtaining either county zoning review or state environmental permits and part of the saga has involved the attempts by state and local officials to draft after-the-fact permits instead of simply shutting the place down.

It lies on a 300-acre site in an industrial area off East Maine Avenue adjacent to a 428-acre tract along Saddle Creek owned by Florida Audubon Society and within two miles of residential developments and a public school.

The case goes to the County Commission Dec. 4 for final action.

BS Ranch representatives are pushing back on some of the new conditions, particularly one that involves notification of odor problems within a two-mile radius of the site rather than the one-mile radius in the settlement agreement. That wider area would include Oscar Pope Elementary School, where staff members have reported odor problems suspected to being caused by the plant, according to a non-voting Polk County School Board representative on the Planning Commission.

One of the key proposals from Polk planners involves ensuring there is proper enforcement of any violations of the new facility operations plan and establishing a clear process for anyone in the area to report an odor complaint and a process to determine whether the source of the odor is BS Ranch or another operation in the area.

The complaint process, which is still in the testing phase, will include an online complaint form area residents and property owners can fill out to document any odor problems they notice.

 

 

 

 

Polk’s Swiftmud Funding Could Be Reconsidered, Board Told

The $40 million commitment the Southwest Florida Water Management District ‘s Governing Board made to Polk County could be up for reconsideration, Executive Director Brian Armstrong told board members Tuesday.

His comment came in response to a question from board member Ed Armstrong of Pinellas County following a briefing by General Counsel Karen West on the current litigation filed by Polk County to challenge a proposed permit request by the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority.

“Committed funds can be changed by the board if it so chooses” Brian Armstrong said, explaining only $11.5 million of that amount has been encumbered by formal contracts. He added those contracts are performance-based.

No board member has proposed such a change.

West cautioned board members not to comment on the pending litigation, explaining they will be required to vote on a final order after the administrative law judge issues a recommended order. At that time the board will have to consider all of the evidence and legal arguments in the case.

The three-week trial in the case is scheduled for January, West said.

Board member Armstrong asked West how much the case has cost the agency.

She said the agency has spent about $130,000 as well as used “substantial” staff time, but added she expects that number will increase as depositions begin and the process proceeds. Swiftmud has reportedly budgeted up to $1 million to cover litigation costs.

This litigation involves competing claims by utilities at opposite ends of the river in connection with their long-term water-supply planning.

An attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation so far has not been fruitful, though it is still possible a settlement could be reached before the case goes to trial.