1000 Friends Challenges Law To Squash Citizen Challenges On Growth; Seeks Repeal

1000 Friends of Florida has announced it will challenge a hastily-approved bill that will discourage citizens from challenging local growth decisions.
Under the bill (HB 7103) citizens whose challenges fail would be forced to pay the other parties’ legal expenses.
The bill has hastily brought to a vote with minimal debate and no staff analysis and is another example of anti-environmental mindset in Tallahassee.
“Passage of this act is an attack on the rights of each and every one of Florida’s 21 million citizens,” says 1000 Friends former Legal Director Richard Grosso.
1000 Friends is also asking members of conservation groups to ask their local legislators to repeal the law in the 2020 session.
The effect would be to stifle substantive challenges to local growth decisions and is unnecessary to prevent abuses of the current system..
Courts already had the authority to force plaintiffs to pay defendants legal expenses in cases where lawsuits were filed maliciously or frivolously.
Citizen challenges are now the only way to enforce local growth plans since the Florida Legislature acted in 2011 to strip state planning officials of the ability to challenge growth plan provisions they felt were inconsistent withy state law.
Locally, the threat of a state legal challenge was a powerful tool in forcing Polk County officials to protect the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern from overdevelopment.

Despite Appeal Court Reversal, Issue Of Whether State Misspent Conservation Funds Remains Unanswered

Florida’s conservation community received a slight setback this week when an appeals court reversed last year’s circuit court ruling that the Florida Legislature’s spending of land conservation funds was unconstitutional.
The court case involves the implementation of a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014 that was intended to provide the funding to restart the Florida Forever program to finish purchasing state conservation lands.
The suit by a number of conservation groups including Sierra Club  alleges legislators diverted money intended for conservation land acquisition and management to cover day-to-day agency expenses that would normally be funded from other revenues.
But while Monday’s  ruling reversed part of last year’s court judgement, it left open a further examination of the propriety of the Florida Legislature’s funding decisions.
The ruling  struck down a conclusion that the money authorized by the amendment could only be used for lands acquired after 2015, the unanimous ruling added By our ruling we do not speak to the legality of the appropriations since enactment of Article X, section 28, a question which remains pending, adding” the cause is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. ”
That appears to give Sierra and other plaintiffs another shot at arguing for mores responsible funding decisions by legislators. It also involves  Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, who oversee the executive and cabinet agencies also named in the lawsuit.

This isn’t over yet.

What Exactly Is The Toll Road Task Forces Members’ Job?

The process involving a mixture of representatives from local government, the business community and environmental groups to discuss three proposed toll roads has just begun and already uncomfortable questions are surfacing.
The biggest one is the fact that it appears these task forces will have little say in where the roads will go, The Ledger in Lakeland reports..
That leads to the question of what exactly is their role? It seems their role is limited to coming up with suggestions to make a bad idea as palatable as possible and beyond that to keep their mouths shut.

That is, the report will be a consensus report. There will be no minority report and any dissenting voices will be advised to keep their opinions to themselves.

Put another way, Florida’s environment will be given a fair trial and hanged  in the morning.

The idea that this road plan is about Florida’s future, as the Florida Department of Transportation’s leaders put it, is not wrong, it is may simply omitting a broad enough  discussion of what kind of future is desirable.

This discussion will continue at future task force meetings and at related meetings, such as the upcoming Heartland 2060 Summit on Sept. 20 in which some of the proponents for opening the heartland of Florida to these questionable road projects will be the keynote speakers.

Be ready to ask them tough questions.

What Do Taxpayers Owe People Who Build In Flood Zones?

Recent photo of Crooked Lake looking east from U.S. 27

As we all await the results of the rainfall caused by Hurricane Dorian on an already waterlogged Florida landscape, perhaps some public policy discussions will flow along with the flood water.
There has been a lot of press attention to the flooding in many parts of the state. In our area this has included the floodplain along the Peace River, which has primarily affected  recreational areas, and a low-lying corner of Crooked Lake in eastern Polk County that has affected a handful of homeowners..
Those affected homeowners demanded county officials open a private drainage canal to drop the lake’s level, though the effect was probably limited because of continued rain appears to be filling the lake as quickly as the canal can empty it.
This is a large lake where lowering the level even an inch involves moving hundreds of millions of gallons of water somewhere with the hope that it doesn’t simply transfer the flooding problem from one lake to another.
The public policy question is how much taxpayer-funded assistance should be granted to homeowners who should already have taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance. That insurance will reimburse them for damage until the damage recurs too often and then the program will solve the flooding problem by simply buying their houses and demolishing them.
Alternatively the County Commission could set up a special assessment district, just as it did for a couple of isolated areas that were threatened with flooding during the 1997-98 El Nino, and let the affected private property owners  pay for their own flood control.
It seems the county’s taxpayer-funded efforts should be remain focused on protecting public infrastructure.

Hurricane Threat Closing Nature Parks, Campgrounds In Area

The threat from heavy rain and high winds to the personal safety of visitors has led various agencies that own or manage conservation lands in the area to close them temporarily.
South Florida Water Management District closed all of its public lands at 5 p.m. Friday.
Southwest Florida Water Management District has temporarily closed all of its campsites .
Polk County Environmental Lands will temporarily close all of its sites to the , public beginning Monday.
Payne Creek Historic State Park near Bowling Green is already closed because of flooding along the Peace River.
The campgrounds/cabins at Alafia River State Park, Colt Creek State Park, Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Kissimmee State Park and Lake Louisa State Park are closed until further notice.

Fantasy Highways Discussion Resumes Tuesday In Tampa

The debate on whether the solution to Florida’s hurricane evacuation, economic development and broadband ambitions is to build three new highways instead of improving the transportation network we already have will resume Tuesday in Tampa.
Representatives from Sierra Club and other environmental and public-interest organizations will be at the Tampa Convention Center to reaffirm our opposition to the projects.
Sierra declined to serve on the task forces as one of the representatives of the environmental community because we feel it is not appropriate to collaborate on the development of projects we don’t think are worthwhile in the first place.
According to press reports, the effort to expand roads south from Polk County to the edge of the Everglades/Big Cypress system and north from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border was largely driven by the road-building lobby and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
This is the latest in a long series of battles over proposed projects that have occurred in recent decades that have threatened historic sites such as Bok Tower or had the prospect of encouraging urban sprawl and making fire management more difficult on conservation lands.
The proposed projects under consideration this time around  threaten to further fragment habitat for the Florida panther and Florida black bear, threaten to cause urban sprawl that may cause economic losses for rural communities, threaten already stressed north Florida springsheds and divert limited state revenue to projects whose necessity has yet to be proven instead of spending the money on projects recommended by previous state task forces to improve mobility.
It will be important to follow this process over the next year and to comment whenever possible.

High Peace River Causing Problems For Parks In Polk, Hardee

This summer’s rainfall has caused the Peace River to swell beyond its normal summer flow and parks along the river are feeling the effects.
Boating is pretty much out of the question for all but the foolhardy.
The photo above taken at the approach of the boat ramp at Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation illustrates the problem.
There is visible flow across the access road. The launching area is beyond the half-submerged picnic tables in the background.
According to preliminary USGS data, the flow exceeds the river flow following hurricanes in 2004.
Downstream the problems continue.
Payne Creek Historic State Park near Bowling Green is closed until further notice because of high water.
Construction on improvements at Crews Park in Wauchula will remain on hold until the flood waters recede.
The Canoe Outpost in Arcadia is closed and its website reports all boat ramps along the Peace River in Hardee and DeSoto counties are closed.

The high water may figure into the continuing discussions of tapping more of the river to meet future  drinking water demands in Polk County following a settlement over a permit dispute with the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority, which has tapped the river for decades  to supply coastal counties in a part of Florida where tapping the aquifer would increase saltwater intrusion.

Utility officials have argued to increase their withdrawal rate, especially during exceptional flows such as what is happening now on the river.