Gov . DeSantis, Why Are WMD Board Seats Still Vacant?

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Water policy is one of the most-discussed issue in Florida and has been for decades, but you wouldn’t know it from the dilatory attitude from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office when it comes to filling vacancies on water management district boards.

Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board is functioning with a bare quorum of seven members out a normal 13-member panel.

St. Johns River Water Management District has only five of its nine governing board seats filled and that’s only after two recent appointments that had left the board without a quorum.

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has a full nine-member board, though there are vacancies in the Big Cypress Basin Board.

This is unprecedented and as far as we’re concerned unnecessary.

Part of the problem is that these appointments are more or less political patronage picks, which means you have to be a Republican who has not done anything to anger the governor or his friends.

That leaves many otherwise qualified people off the list, especially people from Florida’s environmental community. Many of Florida’s environmental leaders are Democrats, a logical choice since the recent Republican political leadership in Tallahassee have done little to excite the environmental community and done much to anger it.

Nevertheless, if DeSantis wants to be seen as an “environmental” governor, he would do well to think outside the political silos. Or failing that, maybe he could just do his job and fill the vacancies.

 

 

Jeb Bush Plea For New Roads Recycles Old Arguments, Disputed Claims

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.

 

 

 

 

Winter Haven Seeks $47M Grant For Water Storage, Development Projects Along Peace Creek

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.

 

FDOT Staff Finally Admits ‘No Build’ Option Exists For Rural Toll Road

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.

 

 

 

Polk Commissioners Debate Esthetics Of Planned Garbage Mountain

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.

 

Polk To Revise Septage & Sludge Regs

Later this year the Polk County Commission will consider a revised ordinance regulating the disposal of treated septic tank and sewer plant wastes.

The current ordinance dates to 1995 and has not been updated since.

The revision appears to be in response to complaints from rural residents about odor and esthetic problems in connection with current disposal practices and to update language to reflect changes in county government organization and inflation.

The proposed changes will increase the surety bond from $10,000 to $50,000 to cover the cost of any environmental damage or health effects improper disposal causes.

Additionally, the proposed ordinance would increase the setback between disposal areas and homes from 500 feet to 1,320 feet. The ordinance also includes setbacks from drinking water wells and irrigation wells.

Enforcement will be by county code enforcement officers or the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

 

 

Toll Roads Drawing Increased Criticism; Florida Taxwatch Report Raises Questions About Costs, Rationale

The scheme to divert taxpayer money to build a trio of lobbyist-inspired toll roads between the edge of the Everglades to the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp is drawing criticism from a prominent player in Florida government oversight.

Florida TaxWatch issued a 32-page report questioning the logic of building the extension of the Suncoast Parkway in particular and two other toll roads in general.

The law ordering the roads to be built was law was “passed before an analysis of the need for, or the impacts of, these new roads was completed,” Florida TaxWatch’s report said, a conclusion critics in the environmental and growth-management community reached at the time the legislation was being considered last year, adding “Moving forward with such a major, costly project with so many legitimate objections, without fully studying it (or even studying it at all), raises significant concerns.”

Additionally, Florida Taxwatch’s report points out that the projects costs are unknown since no one knows what the exact route will be, forcing the organization to undertake its analysis based on the costs of other Florida toll road projects.

Additionally, the lack of analysis on the need for the project also raises the possibility that the roads’ construction and operating costs may have to be subsidized by revenue from other toll road projects or from other state transportation funds, diverting funds from other, better-documented transportation needs.

The unknown costs include not only the costs of construction, design and right-of-way purchases, but also the costs of issuing bonds to finance whatever the costs turn out to be, Florida TaxWatch’s report says.

That’s because the projects could potentially increase the size of the state’s toll road system by two-thirds.

In the past, state transportation officials have scrapped proposed toll road projects that are not projected to be financially feasible.

The legislation that ordered the construction of these projects did not give transportation officials that discretion.

Meanwhile, task force meetings continue—the next meeting involving the corridor between Polk and Collier counties is scheduled for Thursday—with a goal of presenting a final report to the Florida Legislature by Nov. 15.

For the latest information on projects, go to https://floridamcores.com/ and follow the links.

To read Florida TaxWatch’s report, go to https://floridataxwatch.org/Press-Room and follow the links.

Additionally, 1000 Friends of Florida has performed extensive analysis of the projects. View its analysis at https://1000fof.org/m-cores/ .