Former Gov. Jeb Bush has joined the campaign to boost the embattled Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance aka M-CORES proposal enacted by the Florida Legislature to foist a network of toll roads between the Everglades and the Okefenokee Swamp on Florida’s taxpayers at the behest of the road-building lobby.
He wrote his comments in an op-ed column circulated to Florida newspapers.
Let’s look at the arguments.
The first one is that we can somehow build our way out of highway congestion as more and more people move to this state. The idea that traffic will move smoothly in the third-most populous state in the country if only we simply build more roads is delusional. Smart planning groups have proposed plans for sustainable ways to deal with Florida’s expected population growth, but sprawl-inducing road projects into rural areas are not among them.
Next is the argument that this proposed road network is the only way to aid rural economies. There have been a lot of claims, but with little evidence advanced anywhere that this is true. Expanding broadband and other utilities, two factors often cited by road backers, certainly improve economic prosperity, but you don’t need to build new roads to accomplish that.
Access to ports has also been cited. To reach coastal ports, traffic has to traverse congested urban areas and these projects won’t change that. If the motivation is to connect planned inland ports in rural areas such as Hendry County, you run up against issues ranging from protecting the Florida panther to preservation of farmland. Those issues have yet to be resolved during the current discussions.
Of course, there’s always the all-purpose argument about the need for hurricane evacuation. This comes up every time someone wants to build a major new road corridor. We heard the same argument when boosters proposed an east-west highway several years ago that would have cut through the Lake Wales Ridge and the Everglades and St. Johns River headwaters.
Bush also cites the input from state environmental agencies in protecting natural resources. Representatives of those agencies are well represented on the task forces, but they have been notably silent during the current deliberations. That has left the heavy lifting to private environmental organizations to point out flaws in the proposal and to suggest that much of it be scrapped . This is not surprising. State environmental agencies have been on a short leash for several years. State employees have better sense than to run afoul of the political establishment.
The Winter Haven City Commission is seeking a $47 million federal grant to buy four parcels totaling 1,767 acres in the Peace River Basin as part of its long-term plan to create water storage areas to advance the city’s long-term utility, development and recreational plans.
The lands are primarily pastures and marshes in and around the World War I-era agricultural drainage ditch system that flows through formerly rural lands in the Winter Haven-Lake Wales area toward the Peace River. They are located at various spots between areas north of Dundee Road between Buckeye Loop Road and Sage Road, south of Cypresswood and west of Lake Ashton.
According to the city resolution, the idea is to create new water storage areas that will improve flood protection and increase aquifer recharge, provide sites for future nature parks and provide adjacent property owners with new waterfront lots for future development.
City utility officials have stated in the past that they hope the increased aquifer recharge they hope the project will achieve will be used to justify maintaining current or increasing future aquifer withdrawals at a time when other utilities have been told they may face pumping limits because recent studies have concluded the aquifer in this part of central Florida has been pumped to its sustainable limit.
The overpumping was cited in the decline in flows in the Upper Peace River and the cessation of flow from Kissengen Spring near Bartow in 1950.
Members of the public frequently pushed for the “no build” alternative during early in the meetings of the task force appointed to study the proposed corridor between Polk and Collier counties.
Legislative leaders and the road-building lobby envisioned a new toll road cutting through this rural expanse to open someone’s land for development under the guise of improving hurricane evacuation and providing broadband service to rural areas.
In those early meetings, though, state transportation officials pushed back on any thought that the “no build” option should not even be on the table.
At this week’s latest meeting, FDOT officials finally acknowledged that any honest evaluation of both the need and the financial feasibility of any new road would have to include the “no build” option.
Whether that really means anything will become clearer after the task force wraps up its work and issues recommendations and the implementation falls to FDOT staff to implement.
The “no build” option is always a listed on any of these road schemes, but usually only in theory when there’s either enough political pressure or a real need for the project.
A proposal to allow the county landfill to eventually rise as high as a 38-story building generated a lot of discussion during a public hearing before the County Commission Tuesday.
The proposal involved allowing the landfill to expand as high as 480 feet above sea level, which is higher than any natural feature in Florida.
According to engineers hired to support the proposal, the project would be somewhat lower than the eventual height of some of the phosphate waste piles in the Bartow-Mulberry area and would provide capacity for garbage for the next 100 to 150 years.
Ana Wood, Polk’s director of waste and recycling, said one impetus for the request was a population projection that would put Polk’s population at 1 million in the near future, adding the extra capacity would also give Polk space to dispose of waste if there were another natural disaster such as serious hurricane.
Commissioner Martha Santiago asked whether that increased capacity might attract trash from adjacent counties. Wood said that would be up to commissioners.
Commissioner Bill Braswelll argued the plan allows for good planning, but there may be alternatives in the future, though he didn’t name any.
Commissioner George Lindsey, the lone dissenter in the vote, questioned whether having a trash pile that high is appropriate to be located along the Polk Parkway, one of the gateways to the county.
The other gateways to Polk County along Interstate 4 are dominated by a heavy equipment auction yard and an industrial park.