More Solar Farms Proposed For Polk

Polk County’s vast tracts of vacant land, particularly in some of the areas mined and reclaimed by the phosphate industry, are attracting interest of investors interested in developing new solar farms.

The latest potential entrant is San Francisco-based Ecoplexus, which is considering a 463-acre site near the intersection of State Road 37 and Doc Durrance Road near the Bradley community south of Mulberry.

This not far from where a scaled-back solar farm proposed by Tampa Electric was approved in the Chicora area last year.

Other projects have been proposed elsewhere in the Bone Valley area.

Meanwhile, Tampa Electric is actively constructing some solar farms in the Bartow area and another solar farm is under construction in the Fort Lonesome area just outside of Polk County.

This is making Polk County one of the centers for sustainable green energy generation in Florida.

Why Water Conservation Education, Enforcement Matters

Friday morning the Polk County Commission heard that water conservation education is being included in local school curricula to reduce increased water demand and to delay the need for enormously expensive so-called alternative water supply projects.

Local governments are poised to spend tens of millions of dollars on these projects in coming years unless demand subsides.

In mid-Friday afternoon I was driving down a street in Winter Haven near Lake Howard and noticed a yard with sprinklers going full blast about 2:45 p.m. a time when lawn watering is prohibited all over Polk County. Violators can face fines if they are caught, but I’ve never heard much indication that any active enforcement occurs.

While I stopped to snap a photo, a neighbor asked me what I was doing. I told him I was documenting unpermitted water use. He told me I ought to mind my own business. I replied this is my business.

In fact, protecting natural resources is everyone’s business, a point we should constantly make to anyone we meet.

Lawn irrigation is an important issue because it is the largest user of public utility water supplies, which are becoming the largest component in total water consumption in the area.

Before we build the first reverse osmosis plant to treat the water coming from deep wells in outlying areas of the county and piping that treated water to new customers and injecting the brine deep into the earth, we need to have second thoughts about our landscaping practices.

Break the habit of heavy water use and other intensive landscape management practices. They waste water and contaminate the environment.

These are practices we can live without.

Polk Commissioners Back Galvano Toll Road Plan

The Polk County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to support a proposal by Senate President Bill Galvano to extend toll roads into rural areas of Florida

Galvano has proposed working to find funding to extend existing toll roads into rural areas and to build new roads, claiming it will aid economic development in rural areas of the state, an area he claims has been neglected by such projects.

These road projects have generated criticism in the past from rural residents because they would bring urban noise and traffic to relatively peaceful sections of the state. Most of the push for the new roads is coming from business interests hoping to profit from the projects or their spinoff effects.

Polk’s main interest involves getting funds to advance the Central Polk Parkway.

The first phase, which would connect the CSX freight terminal in Winter Haven to the Polk Parkway, is being designed. A second phase, which would run through rural areas of northeast Polk near extensive conservation areas, is on hold because an analysis showed it was not financially feasible. The second phase has drawn criticism from rural residents and is mainly being championed by business interests in the Winter Haven-Haines City area, who view as an economic development project.

In the letter signed by Commission Chairman George Lindsey, local officials repeat the often-used claim that the need for hurricane evacuation routes justifies the project, adding completion of the Polk toll road could provide an important link for a larger toll route that would run southwest toward the Gulf Coast through rural and conservation lands.

Meanwhile, when commissioners meet in their annual retreat later this week is scheduled to include a presentation on the claimed need for other road projects to relieve traffic congestion, primarily in northeast Polk County. That congestion is partly the result of the approval of thousands of new homes in an area with little infrastructure to handle it and little planning to deal with it before the new growth was approved.

The congestion-related projects commissioners will hear about will be competing with these toll roads for limited transportation dollars.

Meanwhile, road impact fees are less than they should be. If new development generates the need for these road projects, that’s where the money should come from, but probably will not.

 

 

 

 

Sprawl Highways Back On State Agenda

I guess if anyone had any hopes of the new administration in Tallahassee’s reviving strong growth-management regulations in Florida, all they had to do was to listen to Senate President Bill Galvano’s announcement this week.

Galvano announced that he was going to push for the revival of some controversial toll roads that would cut through the still relatively rural Florida heartland.

The one that affects this part of the state is what I jokingly called the Loughman-LaBelle Expressway, a road that would cut from around the Polk-Osceola line at Interstate 4 almost to the Gulf of Mexico north of Fort Myers.

It was unveiled several years ago in a lengthy piece in Florida Trend magazine as a plan by some well-connected large landowners to open the rural lands to future development.

The only surviving segment of that idea at the moment is a section of the Central Polk Parkway, which is a proposed local toll road that would supposedly handle the projected increase in truck traffic generated by the CSX freight terminal and surrounding proposed industrial development on the south side of Winter Haven near State Road 60 on the outskirts of the rural community of Alturas.

Another section that would run through rural areas of northeast Polk County to I-4 is on hold at the moment after state turnpike officials concluded it wouldn’t generate enough toll revenue to justify its cost.

The idea behind these roads is a familiar one heard from the development/road-building lobby is that providing new highways is the path to prosperity, though they often couch the need in the old standby of improving hurricane evacuation routes to mask their true intentions.

The fact is that there already is a state highway system serving a lot of these areas, just perhaps not serving the exact tract that some people have in mind for development and perhaps not ample enough to handle the traffic from a new city.

Galvano reportedly brushed off past criticisms of these roads from the environmental community, arguing we’re always going to be opposed to something.

The facts are that we have sound reasons for our opposition.

The first is that these roads encourage urban sprawl that would cut off any chance of protecting Florida’s remaining network of wildlife corridors that would allow wide-ranging species such as Florida panthers and Florida black bears to survive. If you doubt this, look at the accompanying map of the study corridor and compare it with the alternative 2070 growth scenario for Florida and see if you see a pattern.

The second is that the existence of new roads restricts the ability to manage public and private conservation lands that already exist by presenting more challenges for smoke management related to the prescribed fire that is necessary to maintain healthy habitat.

Finally, it seems that public transportation funds could be spent in a more environmentally sustainable way.

The good news so far is that the expense of these projects will give us time to build a case against them because it will take years to generate the funds even to conduct some of the preliminary work to try to justify them.

 

 

Sierra Responds To DeSantis Environmental Proposals

Frank Jackalone, Florida Sierra’s Director, issued the following response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement at a press conference in Naples this week.

 

1)   “$360 Million for Everglades Restoration”   

  • What is the source of funding for this large allocation for Everglades Restoration?  
  • What are the 20 Everglades projects that would be funded?  
  • From the text, it appears that Governor DeSantis wants to speed up construction of  the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir based on the current design which is highly flawed;  it is too high at 23 feet and doesn’t have the land needed to clean the reservoir’s water before it is released to the Everglades.  He should ask water managers to pause to redesign it, which would allow for the use of Amendment 1 funds to acquire and manage land needed to build a shallower, less expensive reservoir.  
  • We are concerned from the comments on reducing discharges and updating the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) that the Governor may be looking towards a higher water level which would be harmful to the Lake’s ecology.
  • We are happy that Governor DeSantis wants to speed up construction of Tamiami Trail bridging.   

2)   “$150 Million for Targeted Water Quality Improvements”

  • We like the $150 million from General Revenue for targeted water quality improvements.  However, the current system of Basin Management Action Plans, TMDLs, and MFLs is not working the way it could and should.  
  • We need more stringent, more protective BMAPs, TMDLs, and MFLs.  
  • Where is the regulation we were promised to stop pollution at its source?

3)   “$50 Million to Restore Florida’s World-Renowned Springs” 

  • Springs have already been getting a measly $50 million since the 2016 Legacy Act. 
  • $360 million vs. $50 million is an unfair split.    
  • Springshed protection is drinking water protection to and deserves a higher level of attention.   
  • Sierra Club calls for equal spending of land acquisition funds between South Florida, including the Everglades, and North Florida, including our Springs.  

4)   “$25 Million to Improve Water Quality and Combat Harmful Algal Blooms”

  • Governor DeSantis would be wise to avoid Red Tide Rick Scott’s folly of funding studies, control and mitigation AFTER the algae blooms wreak havoc.  
  • We support increased harmful algae monitoring, but hope that his mitigation funding for innovative technologies isn’t the same as Scott’s plan to spread Chinese clay on the Gulf.  

 

5)   “$40 Million for Alternative Water Supply Development”

  • More details are needed on the Governor’s alternative water supply line item.  
  • It is good to see the $40 million proposed for alternative water supply would come from general revenue funds. 
  • Where is the conservation of water supply?  Until consumptive use is more strictly monitored, regulated, and reduced Florida will remain in water supply jeopardy.

 

6)   “Transfer of 19 Positions from FWC to DEP”

  • Sierra Club Florida needs to study Governor DeSantis’ proposal to transfer environmental crimes enforcement to DEP and has no comment at this time.

 

Finally, we need to ask:   Will there be any funds left over for the Florida Forever and Rural Family Lands programs?   We hope to learn the answer to those questions when the Governor releases his full environmental budget on Friday.

Road Privatization Idea In Polk Is Dead For Now

Polk County planners have withdrawn a proposal thrust upon them by the County Commission to end public maintenance of local roads in new subdivisions.

The idea was proposed last year as a way to prioritize where the county spends road-maintenance money.

The Polk County Planning Commission voted 5-1 earlier this month to recommend denial, questioning the justification for the change and how the homeowners would become aware that they and their neighbors would become responsible for a job that traditionally has been undertaken by local road maintenance staff.

Their rejection was buttressed by the fact that the staff report revealed that no other counties in the area have pursued such a policy.

Additionally, members cited a lack of figures to support the contention that maintenance costs of purely local roads was a financial burden.

On the eve of a decision by commissioners to public hearings for them to consider whether to overrule the Planning Commission, some leaders of the Polk County Builders Association weighed in, alleging this proposal was an abdication of the county’s responsibility and questioning whether homeowner groups would be capable of handling the responsibility.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners supported County Manager Jim Freeman’s recommendation to pull the vote on setting the hearings from that morning’s consent agenda and to withdraw the proposal.

 

FDEP Sues BS Ranch Over Chronic Permit Violations

The chronic odor problems and seeming unwillingness to follow the rules even when regulators tried to cut them a break finally have caught up with BS Ranch, the troubled soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland.

On Monday the Florida Department of Environmental Protection filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Bartow to force the company to comply with its permits, asking Circuit Judge Catherine Combee to impose fines of up to $10,000 a day until the violations are resolved.

This follows a warning letter FEDP officials sent to the company on March 18, 2018.

FDEP officials issued after-the-fact environmental resource and industrial wastewater permits in early 2016 to try to bring the company, which had begun operating in 2015 without either required state environmental or county land-use permits, into compliance.

The main issue has been persistent sewage-like odors that have generated complaints from surrounding residents and business owners that have occurred regularly since the plant received its permits.

According to the 236-page lawsuit, FDEP investigators visited the site numerous times to check into odor complaints and to verify they were not caused by other potential sources in the area. The investigators verified that BS Ranch was the source of most of the complaints.

Although FDEP officials stated in the lawsuit that the agency tried to work out an amicable resolution of the problem, it persisted for the past two years.

Finally, FDEP officials concluded that the supposed corrective actions BS Ranch took to deal with the odor problems, corrected very little, the lawsuit said.

In addition, FDEP inspectors found the company had expanded some of its operations beyond what was allowed in the environmental permit issued in 2016.

This week’s suit follows a settlement approved recently by an obviously frustrated County Commission, which had not only approved an after-the-fact permit for the company, but even changed its development regulations—the change has since been repealed—to specifically accommodate the company.

Other Florida counties have been less accommodating in dealing with this type of operation in order to protect the public from odors and other problems these facilities potentially generate.

It is worth repeating that any company that begins operating an intense waste-processing facility without securing permits first should send up red flags, not encourage local officials to put out the welcome mat. Polk officials may have learned the pitfalls of their anything-for-economic-development attitude on this one.

Polk County officials cannot legally shut down the operation because they’ve already given them permission to operate.

Perhaps FDEP’s enforcement action can produce better results.

In earlier times, when FDEP was known for taking a tougher stance on offensive operations, another company that was processing wood waste in the same industrial area was finally forced to relocate in response to persistent citizen complaints about airborne debris.

The best solution may be for BS Ranch’s owners to try to find a more suitable location and decide to play by the rules.

Their current plan certainly isn’t working.