Gypsum Road Study? What Gypsum Road Study?

A bid by the Mosaic fertilizer corporation during last year’s session of the Florida Legislature to direct the Florida Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of using a waste product called phosphogypsum for road—building projects easily passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill.

The study was due to be completed by April 1 of this year, but so far there is no word on the study’s whereabouts.

The last we heard from an inquiry to a local legislator was that he is still waiting to hear from the folks at FDOT.

That’s not surprising.

This whole endeavor was more a political ploy than a practical engineering enterprise.

For one thing, it is not really a mystery whether the material, which is slightly radioactive and contains trace amounts of a number of toxic metals, was used to build a road.

It was used to build one on the outskirts of Fort Meade several years ago in a rural residential area next to an old phosphate pit.

Despite some of the talk about “radioactive roads” that might glow in the dark, University of Miami researchers examined whether the material used to build that road caused any problems and reportedly found none.

What this was really all about is the continual tug of war between environmental regulators and regulated industries over what is allowed and what is prohibited.

As things stand now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not allow wholesale use of phosphogypsum for roadbuilding, farming or any other use for which it is reportedly allowed to be used in other parts of the world.

The fertilizer industry would like to change the EPA ban  so that they could be relieved of the very expensive obligation of monitoring these stacks for the rest of time.

The problem is that over the decades these waste stacks have grown to the size of small mountains across the region’s landscape to the point that even if someone approved its use, the amount that would be economical to use—at some point transportation costs to job sites makes it uneconomical—it would hardly make a noticeable dent in the size of these stacks.

That practical aspect was never addressed in the superficial staff analyses that accompanied the debate on the bill.

The bottom line is that it really does not matter whether FDOT conducted the study or what it concluded.

Those stacks are not going anywhere.

Tom Palmer
Winter Haven

Check out my blog at Conservation News – Sierra Club – Ancient Islands Group

New Parking Area Opens At Marshall Hampton Reserve

A new parking lot has opened off Thornhill Road for Polk County’s Marshall Hampton Reserve.

The new lot is south of the old lot, which is now closed, and  just north of the Lake Lena Run Bridge.

The  old parking area and some of the land adjacent to it appears to be for sale as it will eventually be cut off from the rest of the site by the construction of the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway.

The new parking area appears to be closer to the portion of the Panther Point Trail south of the borrow pit.

For more information on this or other Polk County Environmental Lands sites, go to  www.polknature.com .

Warmest March In History? Not Around Here

Recent reports that last month on average was the warmest March on the planet ever were puzzling when you look at regional weather data in this part of Florida.

Well, maybe not. If it was really hot in some places, there have to be places that are cooler. That’s how averages work and it’s where we came in.

Generally the records ranged from the fourth warmest from stations at Sarasota-Bradenton and Punta Gorda, which have periods of record dating to 1911 and 1914 respectively, to 30th warmest at Brooksville, which has records dating to 1892.

Locally, the divergences also occurred.

Lakeland, where recordkeeping began in 1915, recorded its ninth warmest March.

Winter Haven, whose records date to 1941, had its 13th warmest March,  tying a records from 1976 and 1990.

Bartow, where records began in 1892, had its 18th warmest March, tying records from 2002, 2016 and 2022/

Wauchula, which began recording temperature records in 1933, had its 11th warmest March, tying records in 1976 and 2015.

Archbold Biological Station near Lake Placid,  whose records date to 1969, reported its fourth warmest March.

Peace River Flow Drops In Time For Proposal To Fix Eroded Bank

If you had thoughts of launching a kayak or canoe into the portion of the Peace River in Polk County, forget it.

Try farther downstream.

The latest USGS data at Bartow  puts the river flow at about 20 percent of average for this time of year and about 50 percent of the amount of water needed to even float a boat downstream, providing you are prepared to portage around deadfalls.

The timing is opportune, though.

On Tuesday the Polk County Commission is scheduled to approve an agreement with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to repair some bank erosion in an area of the river south of Fort Meade.

From the project map, it seems to be close to Polk County’s Peace River Hammock site where the river bends picturesquely south of the confluence of Bowlegs Creek.

There were some major deadfalls in the river channel in that portion of the river last year. Maybe this project will deal with that problem, too.

State Approves Creek Ranch Purchase

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet quickly voted Tuesday to proceed with the purchase of 1,342-acre Creek Ranch near Lake Hatchineha in eastern Polk County.

The purchase price is $36.1 million. There was no word on when closing will occur to finalize the deal.

The ranch was the focus of a fight involving Sierra Club and others last year over a plan to develop the property into a residential-commercial project that would put urban growth deeper into what has traditionally been a rural area of Polk.

The property’s development would have interrupted a lengthy wildlife corridor stretching from the Everglades to near the Green Swamp where Florida panther and Florida black bear have been documented.

The lack of intense development there will also aid in maintaining some of the dark sky aspect of that area.

Once the state acquires the property, it will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a wildlife management area. Agency officials say the plan to use the buildings on the grounds for staff housing and equipment storage.

There are also plans to organize youth conservation camp activities.   

Loopholes In Florida’s Conservation Easement Law Offer Cautions About Hopes Of Perpetual Protection  

There have been some pieces published recently in Florida that may give some people pause when they push for buying conservation easements as a cheaper way to protect land forever while encouraging legitimate agricultural operations to continue.

As it turns out the cautions are right there in plain view in the Florida statutes.

One part of the statute reads:

  A conservation easement may be released by the holder of the easement to the holder of the fee even though the holder of the fee may not be a governmental body or a charitable corporation or trust.

That sentence is pretty open-ended in that it does not place any restrictions on the circumstances in which such a release—that means a decision by some official body to relinquish its previously agreed to conservation protection—and it doesn’t require repayment the taxpayer money used to buy the easement in the first place.

Later in the statute, it clearly states that the holder of a conservation easement can sell or sublease the property for power line and pipeline corridors or new roads, though it does require a finding by the court of whether the conservation benefit of not building the road, for instance, or the public benefit of building the road is more important.

This issue is playing out now in the controversy over where the Central Florida Expressway Authority and its developer supporters can run a new toll road through a conservation area called Split Oak Forest.

Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area straddles the Orange-Osceola county line. Osceola is pushing the road. Orange County is opposing it. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages the property and has yet to announce its position.

But this is something that could play out in Polk County if county officials are ever able to find the money to finance a plan to realign Deen Still Road through existing conservation land—including a portion of Colt Creek State Park—to build a new truck route connecting U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 through the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.

None of the public conservation lands involved in that proposal are conservation easements, but it seems the principle is at stake.

Sierra Gets Second Seat On Land Panel

Marian Ryan, conservation chair and vice chair for Florida Sierra’s Ancient Islands Group, was appointed Tuesday to the county’s Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee.

The committee makes recommendations to the County Commission regarding land purchases under the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, which is funded by a property tax voters approved in a 2022 referendum.

Ryan is involved in a number of local conservation organizations. In addition to Sierra, she is on the board of directors of Green Horizon Land Trust and is president of the Friends of the Parks Foundation.

She has served on a number of state and local committees including the Green Swamp Task Force, the Polk County Water Policy Advisory Committee and the Peace River Basin Management Advisory Committee.

She also served on  CLASAC  from 1996 to 2016 when it was making recommendations on the spending of money that had been approved by voters in a 1994 referendum.

Ryan was active in the campaigns for both referendums.

She was recommended for appointment by County Commissioner Martha Santiago. She fills the unexpired term of Kerry Hammock, who died in November.

Ryan joins Ancient Islands Chair Tom Palmer, who was appointed to the committee last year.

Tom Palmer
Winter Haven