New Toll Road Task Force Membership List Still Incomplete

The memberships of the three task forces that will provide input to state transportation leaders on three new toll roads through rural areas of Florida are gradually appearing, but some jurisdictions have yet to name representatives..
Under legislation approved this year, the task forces were supposed to selected by today from a list of stakeholders outlined in the bill.
The appointments so far are listed on the website the Florida Department of Transportation has set up for the projects.

Local representatives include Polk County Commissioner Rick Wilson, Winter Haven Commissioner Nat Birdsong, Hardee County Commissioner Colon Lambert, Central Florida Regional Planning Council Executive Director Pat Steed, Polk State College President Dr. Angela M. Garcia Falconetti , South Florida State College Vice President Glen Little, DeSoto County Commissioner Elton Langford, Hardee County Commissioner Mike Thompson,  Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley and Katie Worthington Decker, president and CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

Environmental groups represented on the task force are 1000 Friends of Florida,  Audubon Florida,  Defenders of Wildlife, The Everglades Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.

.The first meeting will occur Aug. 27 at the Tampa Convention Center. It is planned to run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Future meetings will be scheduled in varied locations within the proposed corridors.
In this part of Florida, the southwest Florida route  runs from Lakeland to Naples.
The corridor study area depicted on the website’s map includes Polk, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Lee, Hendry, Glades and Collier counties.
For more information, go to this link .

Sierra opposes the project because it will fragment wildlife habitat, lead to urban sprawl and waste state transportation resources.

Swiftmud Sets Meeting On River Flow, Lake Level Regs

This is about a month out, but the Southwest Florida Water Management District plans a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at its Tampa office at 7601 U.S. 301 to roll out the latest plans for minimum flows and levels for rivers and lakes in this part of the state.

The meeting is scheduled to last only an hour, so it seems this won’t be the place for an expanded discussion, but simply a meeting to satisfy the legal requirements for having such a meeting.

Also, the details of any changes from the current schedule of reviews, which stretches a few  years into the future, will not be posted until the day before or the day of the meeting. You get the idea.

One issue that’s coming that may be new is planned  rule-making that pertains to how much water can be sustainably withdrawn from the Peace River for public supply.

That was part of the settlement in the threatened litigation between upstream interests in Polk and Hardee counties and the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority , which is based in Charlotte County but draws water from the river to serve customers in adjacent counties downstream.

Meanwhile, the current list of priority planned new reviews or re-evaluations that affect the area where Ancient Islands Group members live are:

2020: Water reservations for the Upper Peace River and Lake Hancock.

2023: Charlie Creek in Polk and Hardee counties and Horse Creek in Hardee and DeSoto counties.

2024: Upper Withlacoochee River in Polk, Sumter, Lake, Pasco and Hernando counties.

2025: Three segments of the Upper Peace River in Hardee and Polk counties stretching from the USGS gauge at Zolfo Springs to north of the USGS gauge at State Road 60 in Bartow.

2025: Prairie Creek in DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

2027: The North and South prongs of the Alafia River in Polk and Hillsborough counties.

Details or the schedule and the current studies completed within the past couple of decades are available at https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/projects/mfl/documents-and-reports .

ICYMI Development Compabiity Rules On Tuesday Workshop Agenda

If you live in unincorporated Polk County adjacent to tracts of private property and worry what may occur next door, the county planning staff wants to hear from you,
There’s a workshop at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 413 at the county administration building.
The idea is to turn something that is often a subjective determination into an objective one, if that’s possible.
Rules are scheduled to be presented to the County Commission this fall.
The development community will probably turn out in force. If you aren’t there and someone else writes the rules, don’t complain.

Efforts to enforce 2014 Florida Forever amendment in appeals court

It has been five years since an overwhelming majority of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to allocate state revenue to revive the popular Florida Forever land acquisition program.
We’re still waiting for the Florida Legislature to obey the will of the voters and amendment sponsors.
This week a lawsuit in which environmental groups prevailed in circuit court  and legislators appealed was before appeals court judges in Tallahassee.
During the  hearing, the arguments were familiar.
Lawyers representing Sierra Club and other environmental groups charged that legislators were using the voter-approved land-purchase appropriation as a slush fund for whatever they felt like spending it on.
Lawyers representing legislators and other state agencies argued the amendment’s language was vague enough to allow them to do as they pleased.
There is no word on when a ruling will occur.
The case is expected to be ultimately resolved by the Florida Supreme Court. Lawyers for environmental groups have sought to expedite getting the case to the high court.
Meanwhile, the price of land increases as the economy recovers following the recession that caused state officials to suspend most spending on the Florida Forever program and development pressure on rural lands is returning.
This lawsuit is not only the pursuit of a principle but a race against time.

Who Will Pay For Growth-Related Water Projects In Polk?

One of the unanswered questions in the discussion of efforts by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to develop future water supplies to take care of the next half century of projected growth is how the costs will be allocated.
That is, will new customers whose demand will require the expansion of water supplies and associated infrastructure pay the cost of will their costs be subsidized by current customers whose demands are already being met by the current system?
On Wednesday, a new wrinkle in this discussion emerged in the form a consultant study that will also examine, among other things, the feasibility of imposing a special assessment on the county tax rolls.
The idea drew quick pushback from County Commission Chairman George Lindsey and Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz.
Lindsey said utilities are enterprise funds whose costs should be covered in their rate structures.
“There is a distinction between rate payers and taxpayers,” Lindsey said.
Mutz agreed, adding this approach could allow a decision to be made in a way that gives the general public little input.
He also questioned the escalating consultant fees for this study, which has already grown from $6,000 to $25,000 as the scope of work has increased, arguing this may only be the beginning.
The origin of the decision to pursue the study was also unclear during Wednesday’s discussion.
The issue will be discussed further at the next cooperative meeting in September.
Any special assessment, utility fee increase or other revenue source is part of the PRWC’s contribution to the cost of planning, permitting, constructing and operating a countywide water-supply system envisioned by its consultants.
The cost will total hundreds of millions of dollars–the exact cost is developing as the project advances–and will be shared by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Polk officials have also lobbied for state and federal funds.

Neil Combee Proposes Peace River Land Swap to Swiftmud Board

Neil Combee advanced a proposal this week to swap ranch land along the Peace River near Homeland for part of a dormant high-end a development in Bartow.
Combee, a former Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board member, appeared before his former colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting Clearwater to make the pitch.
Executive Director Brian Armstrong said he and his staff would take a look at the idea.
The properties Combee proposed to swap for the ranchland is part of the former Old Florida Plantation development or regional impact. Swiftmud officials have planned for years to declare some of the land surplus and sell it since having to buy the developer’s entire property for $30.5 million in 2003 as part of the agency’s plan to turn Lake Hancock into a reservoir to restore minimum flow to the Upper Peace River.
The property Combee proposes to exchange is the Peace River Ranch, which he said covers 2,550 acres . The property is located east of the river south of Homeland-Garfield Road.
“This needs to be looked at to help Polk County and Lakeland, ” Combee said, referring to efforts by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to find a suitable location along the Peace River to build a reservoir to store high flows from the river as part of the cooperative’s long-term alternative water supply plan.
Armstrong said while the property may have value, any land deal would have to go through the normal acquisition process before the board could consider it..

Hello Highway, Goodbye Oaks; Trails’ Future Undecided

Toll road shrinks Hampton Reserve

An aerial view of the planned route for the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway caused some anxiety at a public meeting Tuesday night in Bartow.
It came from people who regularly use the Marshall Hampton Reserve on Lake Hancock and Panther Point Trail.
The aerial shows a highway cutting through what is now a scenic live oak hammock that lies at the beginning of a network of trails on this property.
How the access to the Hampton property would be affected remains up in the air.
Polk officials said they’d like to see the access issue dealt with in the overall project design, arguing the money is available through toll revenues.
Another issue that remains undecided and probably would be until a later phase of the project, is whether any part of the Hampton Reserve will be used as a staging area or heavy equipment or construction materials, which could also affect the site’s natural features.
Finally, county officials are looking for some mitigation of the impact of increased traffic noise that could affect visitor experience.
The good news is that nothing is going to happen anytime soon other than the completion of the current design study.
A public hearing on the project, whose estimated cost is somewhere between $120 million and $160 million, will occur in the fall. This phase of the project is scheduled to receive approval in summer 2020.
No money has been appropriated for right of way purchase or construction.
The road is intended to divert truck traffic from State Road 60 and U.S. 98 in an already congested section of Bartow. The Polk County Commission shelved plans for another road that would accomplish the same thing but along a more benign route because county officials couldn’t get state of federal money to help with the cost.
The proposed road would be a toll road connecting to another toll road, the Polk Parkway.
That bad news is that this road lies at one end of a proposed larger toll road stretching to the Naples area that could potentially affect many of the region’s natural areas.
A study commission is scheduled to be appointed by Aug. 1 to examine the feasibility of various routes proposed.
County Commissioner Rick Wilson will represent Polk County’s Transportation Planning Organization on that panel, he said Tuesday.
The study commission’s report is due Oct.1, 2020.