Ancient Islands Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Committee is continuing to urge the Polk County School Board to use funds from the $57 million settlement awarded to Florida from Vokswagen over its cheating on diesel emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act.
The application deadline is Jan. 18.
School Board members rejected a similar proposal last year in favor of purchasing propane-fueled buses, arguing electric buses don’t have range to handle bus routes, said Karen Freedman, the committee’s chair.
Freedman argues electric buses offer the advantage of having lower maintenance costs than conventionally-fueled school buses.
According to a fact sheet prepared by the Sierra Club, electric buses can save between $149,000 and $190,000 in fuel costs and $200,000 in operation and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.
School Board members often mention maintenance costs in connection with capital purchases for new facilities because they are recurring budget items. Adding electric buses and other vehicles would reduce the fiscal impact.
In addition, the reduction in emissions can reduce the threat of respiratory diseases such as asthma and cancer by reducing air pollution.
Meanwhile, there is a push to install more electric vehicle charging stations in more locations.
Nearly all of the charging stations in Polk County are located at private businesses rather than at government offices.
Ancient Islands Sierra has been active in commenting on the impact the coming construction of the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway will have on Marshall Hampton Reserve.
The route of the new toll road will take out the mature oak forest at the beginning of the reserve’s trail system and will force the relocation of the parking and trailhead to site farther south on Thornhill Road.
Led by Conservation Chair Marian Ryan, AISC has been pressing Florida Department Transportation officials on some key issues.
First, what kind of habitat mitigation will FDOT perform to compensate for the destruction of the forest and surrounding meadows?
Second, will there be any on-site mitigation for the impacts on gopher tortoise and any other listed wildlife species affected by the project?
Third, what kind of safety and access improvements will be made at the new access point to recognize the increased traffic that will occur around the new highway interchange that might affect visitors? The design also needs to accommodate the needs of all user groups—hikers, cyclists, equestrians—who access the trail system.
Fourth, what kind of visual and sound buffering will be planned to reduce the new highway’s impact on user experiences?
There was some good holiday news for the environment.
The owners of ranchland near the intersection of State Road 60 and Yeehaw Junction have announced a public-private partnership that will turn 27,000 acres onto a place for research and wildlife preservation.
The significance is that more than a decade ago this site was proposed for a 40,000-home development called Destiny, the latest in a series of large developments proposed in some of the last rural areas in the Kissimmee River and St. Johns River headwaters in east central Florida.
The partnership involves the University of Florida, Ducks Unlimited and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
This property is north of the 54,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and includes the dry prairie habitat that is home of the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow and other endemic Florida plant and animal species.
It is also an example of how creative alternatives that once were unimaginable can bring a result that is good for both the environment and long-time property owners.
The holiday season is a time of generosity.
It would really be generous for Gov. Ron DeSantis to finally decide to fill the long-vacant seats on the 13 member Southwest Florida Water Management Governing Board.
The board membership has remained at nine members for some time now.
The Polk County Regional Water Cooperative has suggested that former County Commissioner John Hall would be a suitable appointee.
There may be others under consideration, though it’s hard to tell. The governor’s press and appointments offices are pretty close-mouthed on any potential nominees the last time we checked.
Surely there are decent, qualified Republicans (typically governors appoint people from their political party) from Polk and the other underrepresented parts of the 16-county district who could serve.
There are many serious water issues facing Florida. Having a full board to consider solutions should be a no-brainer.
The delays are hard to understand.
The governor can do better.
If you have lived in Florida long enough, you might remember crisper weather.
Just to reassure you this isn’t a false memory of better times, you might check out the National Weather Service summary of traditional temperature averages.
The figures show the average nighttime lows are in the low 60s and the average daytime highs in the low 80s. This year the lows are in the low 70s and the highs are in the upper 80s.
The 60s average means that there were times when the temperature was in the 50s. There are historic lows for this time of year in the 40s.
If you don’t think anything is happening with our climate, you better think again.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly approved the use of phosphogypsum for roadbuilding.
This is a major change in a discussion that has been occurring for decades as the phosphate industry has regularly pushed for approval to find a use for this waste that is now stored in massive stacks near fertilizer plants.
Phosphogypsum is slightly radioactive and contains trace amounts of a number of toxic elements such as arsenic and cadmium.
The change was announced in an Oct. 14 press release.
EPA’s earlier ban that dates to 1992 was based on a concern that if the material were used for a road and the road were abandoned and the land was later used for a homesite, residents might be exposed to the radiation through exposure to radon. Radon is a gas.
The revised rule prohibits the abandonment of the road to be used for another purpose, so it seems that issue is covered. There are other restrictions.
What constitutes a harmful exposure to radon has been the subject of decades of pushback from the phosphate industry toward EPA regulations, too.
That’s another issue to watch as agency heads under the Trump Administration are rushing to enact a bunch of rule changes as Trump’s term ends in case (we hope) he is not re-elected.
The EPA’s change of heart is reportedly linked to a study published by The Fertilizer Institute that was persuasive enough for an agency that probably didn’t need much persuading under the current regime.
The unanswered question is whether any bid specifications for local road projects will allow contractors to use this stuff instead of limerock for road base material.
According to the EPA press release, any roads built using phosphogypsum will require public notice.
This will be a developing saga.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but most people who have bothered to comment about a plan to jam new toll roads through much of what’s left of rural Florida are against it.
The figures were contained in an analysis released today by No Roads To Ruin, a coalition of environmental and other public interest organizations that includes Florida Sierra Club.
Specifically, 93 percent of the public comments were opposed to the projects. These projects were the result of lobbying by the road-building industry and other special interest that produced legislati0on that was rammed through the 2019 session by Senate President Bill Galvano.
One corridor runs from Lakeland to the Naples area. A second would run from north of the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border. A third corridor would connect the northern corridor with the Florida Turnpike.
The No Roads To Ruin report comes less than a week before the final meetings of the task forces appointed to study issues related to building new roads through three designated corridors running from the Everglades to the Georgia border.
The task forces were only allowed to develop some guidelines and principles to be used in implementing whatever project state transportation officials decide to pursue using the money appropriated by legislators and within the timeline laid out in the law.
Galvano and other road backers argue new highways are needed to relieve traffic congestion, ease hurricane evacuation and promote economic development in struggling rural areas of the state.
Opponents contend the roads are unnecessary, will destroy remaining intact wildlife corridors, encourage urban sprawl and are not financially feasible.
The final reports are due in Tallahassee by Nov. 15.
The No Roads To Ruin coalition organizers have also questioned whether the fact that public opinion is overwhelmingly against the projects will be included in that final report.