Apalachicola’s Threats Topic Of Conference

If you’d like to know more about the threats facing the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay in Florida’s Panhandle, an upcoming conference might fill the bill.

The conference will be held March 14-16 in Tallahassee.

This issue has been debated for the past half century and is the subject of litigation.

The river flows through endangered ecosystems in the Panhandle before reaching the bay, which for years was a key site for harvesting oysters, which survival depends on the right fresh-salt water mix in the estuary and whose marketability depends on keeping the bay clear of major pollution sources.

The conference will feature a number of scientific and legal experts that will discuss the river’s history, its threats and the complex issues that its protection must overcome.

Solar Co-op Proposal Draws Crowd In Polk

The idea that neighbors could band together to install solar panels on their homes and businesses more cheaply than going it alone attracted a crowd Wednesday at Lakeland’s United Methodist Temple during a program sponsored by the Polk County League of Women Voters.

These cooperatives have already been organized in several other Florida counties and are a growing effort that promises to bring Florida into its rightful place in the effort to expand home solar power installations, said Deidre Macnab, who is a volunteer coordinator for LWV’s Florida United Solar Neighbors organization.

She said Florida is a logical place for this effort because of the availability of solar power as a result of its sunny weather year-round and the fact that many residents pay high utility bills to operate air-conditioning systems during hot summers.

Deidre Macnab explains the LWV solar campaign to residents Wednesday

In addition to helping residents to lower their energy bills substantially—the return on investment can be recouped in a little as four years—increased home solar power reduces the impact on climate change and reduces the need to build additional expensive power plants, she said.

In addition to pushing to interest homeowners and business owners in installing solar panels, the effort also involves getting the support of local officials for changing utility rates or approving ordinances that’s would facility solar installation, said Rick Garrity, a longtime Lakeland resident who formerly headed the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.

One would be to lobby Lakeland commissioners to revise its rate structure in a way that doesn’t include a surcharge that reduces the payback rate for solar conversions.

The other would be to persuade the County Commission to approve an ordinance that would allow property owners to finance solar installation through a lien on their property that would be paid over time on their tax bills.

Macnab said her group is also pushing for lower-cost and faster permitting for solar installations.

“I know we can do it,” Garrity said.

Wednesday’s discussion also broached the idea of installing solar panels on new schools to cut operating costs and use the money that would have been required for power bills to fund educational programs.


Still More Solar Proposed For Southwest Polk

Tampa Electric has submitted another proposal for the construction of a solar farm in southwest Polk County has part of the utility’s effort to diversify its power-generation infrastructure.

The latest proposal, which is scheduled to come before the Development Review Committee on Thursday, involves a 352-acre site off Bonnie Mine Road between Bartow and Mulberry.

The project will produce up to 74.5 MW of power.

This follows a pair of proposals announced earlier south of Mulberry and near the Streamsong Resort west of Fort Meade.

The sites in unincorporated Polk County are facing no official opposition, unlike proposals in recent months in Bartow and Lake Alfred, where local officials balked at approving proposed projects because of alleged conflicts with other development in the area.

Crooked Lake West Restoration, Public Access Plan Under Way

The Polk County Commission Tuesday approved hiring a $199,822 contract with Inwood Consulting Engineers to come up with a plan to restore the Crooked Lake West property that is jointly owned by Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District and is protected by a conservation easement purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The plan is to restore wetlands that were drained to accommodate cattle ranching and to block ditches that send runoff from the property directly to Crooked Lake, an Outstanding Florida Water.

Some future mitigation also may occur in connection with the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans to six-lane that section of U.S. 27, which bisects wetlands connected to Crooked Lake. Some of the property is at the headwaters of Bowlegs Creek, a tributary of the Peace River. Other water from Crooked Lake itself is periodically released into a series of drainage paths that eventually reach tributaries of the Kissimmee River.

The section of U.S. 27 between U.S. 17-92 in Haines City and State Road 17/Alternate 27 south of Frostproof was not constructed until sometime In the 1960s, possible because of extensive wetlands along the highway’s path here and in the Waverly area.

The work approved this week is expected to be completed by late this year. The project is being funded with the county’s stormwater tax.

Implementation of the engineering plan to consultants devise will be the next step. No date has been set for consideration of that phase of the project.

Meanwhile, public access to the property is planned through the completion of a management plan for the property.

The plan is to submit a draft management plan to Swiftmud officials for review this spring.

The next step after the review will be the formal approval of the management plan by the Polk County Commission and by Swiftmud’s Governing Board. The process will also include a series of public meetings to get input on possible activities on the site that would be compatible with its restoration.

Sierra Will Part of Colt Creek SP Sunday Event

Ancient Islands Sierra will have a table with our famous owl pellets Sunday at Colt Creek State Park as part of the annual park gala to introduce people to the park’s natural and manmade features. Stop by and say hello.

The event will begin at noon and will feature a variety of activities.

Some of the big changes at the park since last year are the opening of the campground and the development of a parking area farther south along the park’s main road to allow easier access to some of the trails in that part of the park.

This park was purchased in part with funds from the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, so if you haven’t been to the park, come visit and see what your tax dollars have purchased.

Colt Creek State Park, located at 16000 SR 471 in the Green Swamp north of Lakeland is open daily from 8 a m. to sunset. Admission is $4 per vehicle.

Solar Co-operatives Topic Of Feb. 21 Lakeland Meeting


If you have been wondering how to bring solar energy to your neighborhood, attending a meeting Feb. 21 at the United Methodist Temple, 2700 South Florida Avenue in Lakeland is a good start.

The meeting, which is organized by the Polk County League of Women Voters and Solar United Neighbors of Florida, will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Solar co-ops involve homeowners banding together to form a group interested in obtaining rooftop solar. The effort involves seeking proposals from licensed installers to bid at a price certain per kWh , evaluating/comparing all the bids on behalf of the homeowners as they select an installer for the co-op, and finally assisting the homeowners as they finalize contracts for installation.

This is part of a broader campaign called Solar United Neighbors. You can get more information at this website.

Sierra supports the use of more alternative forms of energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power sources and sees solar as a more sustainable form of generating electricity.


Everglades Organizer: Sugar Farms Are The Problem

The sugar cane monoculture in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee is the biggest obstacle to Everglades restoration, Cris Costello told Ancient Islands Sierra Club Thursday.

Costello, the lead organizer of Sierra’s Our Wild Florida campaign targets Everglades restoration and pollution issues ranging from red tide to regular burning of sugar cane fields.

Some of the main points from her talk included:

The sugar industry is very powerful politically, supporting candidates of both political parties for decades.

The industry’s political clout has allowed it to defend a federal program that inflates the price of U.S. grown sugar at the expense of $3.5 billion a year to the public.

The environmental and health impacts of the longtime practice of burning the sugar fields to cut production and transportation costs for the industry falls exclusively on the residents and workers in the areas around the sugar plantations. State forestry officials prohibit burning the fields when the winds would carry the smoke to wealthy communities to the east, such as Wellington, Mar A Lago and Palm Beach.

The Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee is a key chokepoint in efforts to send more, cleaner water toward Everglades National Park.

The current reservoir plans are inadequate because they are too small and serve more as irrigation reservoirs for the sugar corporations as treatment marshes.