Business Interests Unsurpisingly Push Signing Of Toll Road Bill

As Sierra Club and other environmental groups organized rallies around the state Tuesday  to urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that would siphon state general revenue into a proposal to build new toll roads through rural sections of Florida and the habitat of some of the rarest species in the state, business interests predictably launched their own publicity campaign to support it.
As reported in Florida Politics, a procession of statewide and local business leaders argued the roads are the answer to an increasingly overdeveloped state’s traffic congestion and freight movement problems.
The fallacy in this argument is that the congestion lies in urban areas and the proposed roads will be built elsewhere while already busy corridors that need improvements are being ignored.
A traffic accident recently shut down a two-lane section of State Road 60– one of Florida’s major east-west corridors– for nearly half a day. That’s a real transportation infrastructure problem, not an imaginary one.
Business groups raised the same familiar questionable arguments.
They want better access to ports. Florida’s major ports are in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville, not Naples and Steinhatchee.
Long-distance hurricane evacuations are too rare to justify these new roads, especially  when improvinge local shelters would be more cost-effective in keeping people safe.
Local economic-development officials always want new roads because the resultant real estate sales and road contracts will  fatten a few well-connected colleagues wallets.
This isn’t really a fight about relieving traffic congestion, but a fight over what kind of vision we should have for growth-management and preservation of green spaces in this state.
Excuse us if we have little confidence in study commissions that will likely have pre-set agendas. And,  if they come up with questions about the feasibility or the projects, they will be dismissed as merely advisory.
Legislators, after all, always know best. All you have to do is ask them.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision on this proposal will affect Florida’s environmental sustainability for generations.
Let’s hope he makes the right decision.

Polk Commission Accepts Ancient Islands Proclamation On Endangered Species Day

Ancient Islands Chair Tom Palmer and County Commissioner Rick Wilson

There are plenty of endangered species in our own back yard.
That led Ancient Islands Sierra to draft and propose to the Polk County Commission a proclamation declaring May 17 National Endangered Species Day.
The proclamation was read at Tuesday’ morning’s session.
Commissioners were also presented with copies of a power point presentation depicting some examples of endangered species found locally.
The importance of protecting wildlife was underlined this week by the release of the summary of an international report that predicted human alteration of the planet could put as many as 1 million species in danger of extinction.
The causes for this threat include poaching, land alteration and the consequent loss or fragmentation of habitat, pollution and climate change.

Sierra’s Response To Toll Road Approval Vote

Today the Republican majority of the Florida House of Representatives approved a disastrous Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill that would be ruinous to the rural heartland of Florida and our state’s nature coast. The urban sprawl that would accompany the new toll roads would be deadly, devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of rural and natural lands, fragmenting wildlife habitat and polluting our rivers, springs, lakes and coastal waters.

Passage of the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill is the equivalent of a declaration of war by the Legislature on Florida’s Environment, and it moves Sierra Club to respond in kind. It is the worst bill for Florida’s environment we have seen in more than 20 years.

Florida taxpayers will pay over $1 billion for these needless roads over the next decade. Money that could be spent on relieving our actual highway congestion issues will now instead be funneled into 320 miles of toll roads that will create massive sprawl and traffic. It’s a perversion of the old tax and spend analogy, taking tax money from hard working Floridians to give away to developers and landowners. In return they will pave over our rural and natural areas to line their own pockets with profits.
The Toll Roads to Nowhere bill is largely a pet project of one legislator, Senate President Bill Galvano. Galvano used his extraordinary powers over the state budget and bills sponsored by each Senator, to pressure his colleagues to approve the bill whether they liked it or not. He then did some horse-trading with Republican leadership of the Florida House of Representatives to make sure his bill would be passed there. In short, this one man imposed his will on the Senate, and then maneuvered House Republicans to vote for this terrible bill. Sierra Club is grateful to Representatives Evan Jenne, Margaret Good and 34 other House Democrats who refused to be intimidated and voted against the bill.

We join today with more than 90 other environmental organizations, citizens groups, and businesses to urge Governor DeSantis to veto the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill. The Governor should ask Legislators to take a second look at this concept next year and broaden it into a study on how to manage Florida’s growth, stop harmful pollution, transition to clean, renewable energy, and meet the Sunshine State’s transportation needs over the next several decades.

We are hopeful that Governor DeSantis, who has stated that he is sensitive to the cost of toll roads on average Floridians, will recognize the bill as an affront to fiscal conservatism and veto it. And we haven’t forgotten that candidate DeSantis promised at a campaign stop in the Everglades on September 12, 2018, that he would “represent, maybe, an emergence of a Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican Party here in Florida.” We remind the Governor that Roosevelt used his Presidential authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land; that’s quite a contrast to a Florida Legislature that just this year slashed spending for the Florida Forever program and passed a bill that would destroy much of the state’s rural and natural lands.
Should Governor DeSantis sign the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill, Sierra Club will mobilize our resources to stop construction of the ruinous roads. We will organize opposition in impacted rural communities; activate more than 230,000 members and supporters in Florida; go to court to stop destruction of our natural lands; and hold accountable legislators who voted for the bill in the next election.

Legislators Use Back Door To Enact Straw Ban Moratorium

Legislation is moving ahead in Tallahassee that would place a five-year moratorium on the enactment or enforcement of local ordinances that ban single-use plastic straws.
The moratorium was added to another bill (HB771)dealing with contamination in local curbside recycling collection programs and how local governments have to deal with the issue in contract negotiations with haulers.
The amended bill has passed a House vote and is headed for a Senate vote.
Sierra has continued to support bans in an attempt to reduce unnecessary use of single-use plastic products because it contributes to litter and wastes resources.

Lakeland Coal Plant May Close

Lakeland Electric officials are recommending that the municipal utility close its last remaining coal-fired power plant, The Ledger of Lakeland reports.
The proposal, which would require approval by the Lakeland City Commission, is to use natural gas and solar farms to provide power to the city’s grid instead of coal.
Pending commission discussion and possible approval, there is no published timeline for implementing the conversion.
The pile of coal is a prominent part of the view by anyone passing the plant on East Lake Parker Drive.
Studies have pointed to the potential for groundwater contamination around the coal storage area, though no drinking water wells are located in the area. around the plant.
Nevertheless, getting rid of the coal stockpile will lessen the chances of future pollution. problems.
In addition, by increasing reliance on solar, the utility will move closer to the green energy goals being pursued in other Florida cities to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases that have been linked to climate change and sea-level rise.

Park Volunteer Bill Advances, But Questions Arise

Bills being considered by the Florida Legislature to provide free annual passes to anyone who contributes at least 50 hours a year to combatting invasive species is moving, but staff analyses raise questions about whether the threshold is too low.
A Senate analyses points out that park passes are already available to volunteers who contribute 500 volunteer hours a year in general efforts, not restricted only to removal or control of invasive species.
The issue is whether this proposal has a net beneficial or detrimental financial impact to park budgets.
That is, what sounded initially like a commendable idea may need some tweaking.

BS Ranch Still Disputes Blame For Odor Complaints; DEP Says Prove It As Lawsuit Proceeds

Disputes over who’s responsible for the odor complaints on Lakeland’s east side continue in legal filings in the suit filed earlier this year by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Against BS Ranch & Farm.
The company that processes septage and other wastes into soil has been at the center of legal and regulatory disputes since in opened a few years ago without getting either state environmental permits or proper county zoning.
Attempts by state and county officials bring the operation into compliance in hopes it would operate properly didn’t turn out as planned.
Area residents and business owners have regularly complained about foul odors. Many, but not all of the complaints have been traced to BS Ranch.
In early legal filings, BS Ranch’s attorney claims most of the odor problems are coming from other sources and disputes whether FDEP has any legal authority or jurisdiction to pursue its actions against the company.
FDEP responds that BS Ranch has presented no evidence to back up its claims that it is not in violation of its permit regarding foul odors or wetlands encroachment.
I’ll try to keep you updated as the case develops..