M-CORES Meetings Winding Down; Next One Is Wednesday

The meetings to discuss the direction the review of a planned toll road corridor through southwest Florida between Lakeland and Naples are in their final stages.

The next meeting will occur from 9 to 5 Wednesday. It will be available online by registering at the project’s website.

There also will be a chance to view the meeting at the W. H. Stuart Center on U.S. 17 in Bartow.

The agenda will include further discussions about panther protection, drafting details to be included in the task force’s final report, which will be delivered to state officials in November, and discussing the public comment period for the report.

The process remains open to public comment at FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us

 

FDOT Continues to Dishonestly Spin New Corridors Debate

Anyone who subscribes to the Florida Department of Transportation emails regarding the legislative-mandated toll road projects under study by a trio of task forces was probably not surprised by the spin in the latest missive.

It was billed as providing answers to five commonly-asked questions about this endeavor.

The answers ranged from fairly clear (the role of the task forces) to non-responsive (what about the no-build option) because this whole enterprise is still a pig in a poke.

That is, the taxpayers still don’t know what they will be forced to pay for and how much they will have to pay.

It gets worse as you scroll down.

FDOT lists recent news articles about the projects, but only some favorable commentary pieces. News articles and commentaries written by critics were conspicuously absent. This is intellectually dishonest, but hardly surprising.

The timing of this release is not surprising, either.

It comes just days after a team of academics released their evaluation of the project’s financial feasibility and need and concluded the projects failed on both fronts.

None of the news articles regarding that study were listed on FDOT’s news Imagine that.

Polk Water Co-op Supports Hall For SWFWMD Board Vacancy

The Polk Regional Water Supply Cooperative’s board voted unanimously Wednesday to support County Commissioner John Hall’s application to be appointed to the vacant Polk County seat on Swiftmud’s Governing Board.

The seat has been vacant for more than a year after board member Paul Senft’s term expired and Gov. Ron DeSantis did not appoint a replacement. A second Polk seat on the 13-member board is held by James G. Murphy, who was appointed in 2017 by Gov. Rick Scott.

Hall will be leaving the Polk County Commission in November after losing to Neil Combee in this year’s election.

Combee served on the Swiftmud board from 2005 to 2012.

DeSantis has drawn criticism for his inaction in filling seats on some of the state’s five water boards, resulting in cases in which boards did not have or barely had a quorum to conduct business.

The role of the water management districts has been highlighted in recent years in connection with efforts to secure alternative water supplies and to protect the aquifer from overexploitation.

 

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.