Just How Serious Is Polk On Water Conservation?

The Central Florida Water Initiative, the regional water supply organization that involves three water management districts and all or parts of five counties including Polk has recently been touting water conservation efforts in Polk County as way to avoid the expensive efforts to develop alternative water supplies. In Polk the alternative water supply efforts involve drilling deep into the lower-quality sections of the aquifer and treating the water similar to what occurs at a desalination plant to remove impurities. The plan is to pump the treated water into a pipeline system to be shared by participating cities and to inject the wastes from the process into an even deeper section of the aquifer.

The price tag for this and other projects, such as possible reservoir along the Peace River, will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Polk County and Winter Haven are involved in pilot projects to test the feasibility to use treated sewage that’s not already committed to other uses such as power plant cooling and lawn irrigation as a possible future source of drinking water.

That brings us back to water conservation.

The main target justifiably is landscape irrigation because that involves the bulk of residential water use.

So far, the main effort involves encouraging voluntary efforts by homeowners. Plant a more sustainable landscape. Have your irrigation system checked out by an expert. Make sure you have a rain sensor connected to your irrigation system. There is some thought of belatedly requiring higher standards for new construction.

Development trends may be taking care of some of the problem in a way. There are more and more subdivisions being proposed that include homes on 40-foot lots, which means they have hardly any yards at all.

Nevertheless, newer homes often come with irrigation systems. An analysis done a few years concluded that newer homes were more likely to be a source of higher water consumption than older homes simply because they had automatic irrigation systems.

That means that at some point utilities will have to be more active in monitoring their customers water use to spot signs of overuse or misuse of water.

I’ve driven regularly by homes where lawn sprinklers are running nearly daily even after ample rainfall.

It seems there is a way to develop a computer program to analyze water use by individual customers to spot problem areas that need either education or, failing that, enforcement.

Business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore and the sooner utilities educate their customers about that fact, the less demand there will be for expensive projects.

 

 

Polk Seeks To Fine BS Ranch $88K For Odors In 2019 Code Case

Polk officials issued a terse press release Wednesday saying county code enforcement officials had decided to fine the controversial BS Ranch & Farm soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland $88,000 for a handful of verified odor problems traced to the business.

This enforcement dates to a 2019 code enforcement case. That case came after four years of problems at the plant, which began operating without proper state and local permits. Wednesday’s announcement apparently doesn’t involve subsequent problems over the past two years.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which initially granted the plant and after-the-fact permit, finally had enough and filed a lawsuit in early 2019 to force the company to comply with the permits and to take action to curb its odor problems.

The reason this case has dragged on was because BS Ranch hired lawyers, who have fought the enforcement efforts and disputed the odor and environmental complaints. In addition because Polk officials naively rushed an initial approval of the plant, the business was able to argue it had some entitlements.

By the way, this saga could go on. BS Ranch has 10 days to appeal the county’s action, the press release said.

 

 

Biden Administration Undoes Trump Gypsum Road Use Decision

The Joseph Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn a proposal announced in October to the allow the use of phosphogypsum for road projects within 200 miles of the waste stacks.

Most of the waste stacks in Florida are in Polk County, the location of the major fertilizer manufacturing plants.

Phosphogypsum is one of the waste products from fertilizer manufacturing. It is slightly radioactive and contains unnatural concentrations of heavy metals and other contaminants that can potentially affect public health. The earlier proposed rule reflected that concern and included a condition that any roads made with this material could not be abandoned and the land converted to another use. The main concern was that if a home were constructed atop a road containing this material, residents could face greater exposure to radon gas.

The Trump Administration’s decision was in response to a long-time request by the fertilizer industry, which supplied research to support its requests, to allow other uses of this material as an alternative to the corporations’ responsibility for perpetual caretaking and monitoring of the stacks, even after they are no longer active.

This was more of a temporary political victory for the fertilizer industry than any else. It didn’t seem to produce any real effect on road construction practices in Florida. State and local road engineers said after the announcement that they didn’t plan to use the material, which some engineers consider inferior to conventional materials used in building road bases.

 

 

Lakeland Takes Different Approach In Zoning Lawsuits

Lakeland is facing two federal lawsuits over the City Commission’s decision to deny applications erect a couple of cell towers in different neighborhoods, The Ledger reports.

These lawsuits allege the city’s decision was not based on much besides the number of residents who showed up to oppose the projects, arguing everything that the private property owner should build something on their property to raising concerns about the health effects about emissions from the towers.

However, unlike a lawsuit filed earlier this year over the Polk County Commission’s decision to approve a suburban development next to rural homesteads, Lakeland’s lawsuit will be defended by its own legal staff rather than hiring outside counsel for what will probably amount to a tidy sum.

Although the facts and law are different in the two cases, it will be interesting to see if the outcomes are any different.

 

DEP Head Vacancy, Politics and The Law Collide

Noah Valenstein’s resignation as the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has touched off an interesting debate over executive power that may still be an issue during next year’s election.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced he planned to name the new FDEP head all by himself without consulting the Florida Cabinet.

As it turns out, one of DeSantis’ announced opponents in his bid for re-election is Cabinet member Nikki Fried, Florida’s secretary of agriculture and consumer services.

She pushed back, charging that was illegal.

No, it’s not, DeSantis replied.

A check of the Florida Constitution and Florida statutes shows Fried was right.

20.055 (1) of Florida statutes reads:

The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. ”

Section 6 of the Florida Constitution reads:

“When provided by law, confirmation by the senate or the approval of three members of the cabinet shall be required for appointment to or removal from any designated statutory office.”

Florida has a three-member Cabinet, so that means the vote must be unanimous.

That means Fried potentially has veto power if DeSantis appoints, for instance, someone with strong ties to the enterprises the department is supposed to regulated.

That also may be why DeSantis doesn’t want to deal with any dissenting voices if he is thinking of making some Trump-like appointment (coal lobbyist to head EPA), which would mirror some of the other decisions that have emerged from DeSantis’ office recently.

Just for the record, Sierra Club has made no endorsements in the governor’s race.

Sierra does support strong environmental protection and who leads the agency sets the tone for whether the protection is strong or weak.

 


 

Now That Commercial Franchising Issue Settled, Can Polk County Commission Turn Its Attention To Broken Recycling System?

Polk commissioners voted 3-2 today to ditch a proposal by Waste & Recycling Director Ana Wood to get them to vote to consider commercial garbage franchising.

Ever since this idea surfaced earlier this year, the rationale has been a mystery.

Wood’s presentation that followed a video about how wonderful the landfill is because of its space and central location focused on a legislative-imposed deadline for deciding whether to get into commercial franchising.

It took persistent questioning from commissioners to draw out the reason this was even taking up their time in the first place.

As it turns, landfill revenue has not risen as projected, Wood testified, but was a little vague about what exactly accounted for that.

One possibility is that Republic Services, which contracts for commercial hauling and also operates a private landfill in Bartow, may have been taking its garbage to its own landfill.

A commercial franchise system could perhaps force Republic and any other commercial hauler to use only the county landfill, though the law is little murky on that point, commissioners were told.

That brought pushback from Commissioner George Lindsey, who said he didn’t think it was good public policy to use that policy as a hammer to squeeze private enterprise to the county’s financial advantage.

Besides, he and other commissioners concluded, there was really no problem with the current system that the public was clamoring to change.

If there is one issue about which the public is clamoring for reform, it is Polk County’s recycling system.

The main problems are the confusion over what to recycle, which varies depending on where you live in the county for no reason that anyone has yet presented and the lack of a coherent educational or enforcement campaign to deal with the widespread contamination of recycling carts by people who are either wishful recyclers or ignoramuses who simply use their recycling cart as a second garbage cart.

Other counties offer much clearer information on this issue. There has been a discussion about hosting some kind of countywide forum among local officials involved in solid waste decisions to come up with a more consistent message to the public.

So far all that it has been is talk.

It’s long past time for action.

 

 

 

Developer Hopes and Fiscal, Political Reality Collide in Polk

It seems nothing much has changed regarding the Polk County Commission’s willingness to further increase taxes or to go further into debt since I reported from the annual retreat that when the idea of seeking the fourth sales tax increase for roads in 30 years arose.

The Ledger reports in a followup story now that it has hired someone to cover county government again that the commission majority’s aversion to asking for more taxes has not changed since then.

You have to understand that although previous commissions tried and failed three times to persuade voters to pay higher sales taxes to fix a road backlog that was largely of their own making, they did raise taxes elsewhere to fund roads.

They raised the gas tax to the max , they added a special property tax for roads and they used most of the former Polk County Environmental Lands tax proceeds after the 20-year voter mandate expired. Those tax increases didn’t require a referendum.

A lot of this was developer-driven to meet transportation concurrency back when Florida had growth-management regulations that were enforced.

One key reason there are backlogs in road network capacity is that because for years Polk County approved development on the cheap. Road impact fees were either non-existent, temporarily suspended or imposed at a rate lower than what was required to fund the projects new growth was making more urgent. The local development community was the main opponent to impact fees.

The results were predictable.

So, it should not surprise anyone when voters look around and see what kinds of development decisions the County Commission has made—or refused to make—they are not eager to pour more money down the same rat hole to subsidize more of the same.

Finally, it might be useful to take a harder look at this long list of road projects to sort out which ones are true needs to solve real problems and how many of them are simply on someone’s wish list.

I’d add that it is hard to argue that in one of the fastest growing areas in the third-most populous state in the nation that traffic congestion will be the norm from now on in many places. Get used to it.