Will You Need A License For Your Kayak?

State officials are holding a series of meetings to discuss the idea of charging licenses for non-motorized watercraft in the same way that motorized craft are assessed.

The idea is being discussed by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panel called the Non-Motorized Boats Working Group. Its next meeting will be Feb. 1 and 2 at DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, 10100 International Drive , Orlando.

For details on the agenda, go to http://myfwc.com/boating/advisory-council/nmbwg/meetings/ .

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the proposal has brought pushback from paddlers who question how the money from the licenses proceeds would be used to benefit them. They argue they don’t require the hard infrastructure that motorized craft require.

The current boat registration fees are $10.25 for boats 12 feet long and less and $33.50 for craft between 12 and 16 feet long.


Lake Smart variance draws questions

If you drive Lucerne Park Road often and wondered why land had been cleared at the edge of Lake Smart just east of the Lake Point Landing subdivision, the answer may disturb you. This is the site of a new two-story home served by a septic tank, a permit for which reportedly has already been approved.

The house will also be located slightly closer to the lake than city regulations normally allow thanks to approval of a construction setback variance at a public hearing in November.

The owner sought the variance to avoid having to build a triangular-shaped house, according to city officials.

The lot is lower than the road, so it will be interesting to see how the .82-acre site is engineered and how much fill will be required to prevent flooding. The building code requires the first floor and the slab for the air conditioner to be above the 100-year flood elevation, in which a large portion of the lot appears to lie.

Roger Griffiths with the Lake Region Lakes Management District said he is concerned that if the home is threatened with flooding, it could trigger a demand to lower the regulated level for that portion of the Winter Haven Chain, similar to what occurred on Lake Henry a few years ago. In that case, complaints about minor flooding at a golf course led to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s decision to lower Lake Henry. That decision angered other lakefront homeowners who owned boats because it made the lake too low for navigation.

New Toll Road Will Impact Hampton Tract

The proposed western leg of the Central Polk Parkway, a toll road between U.S. 17 near Bartow Municipal Airport or thereabouts and the Polk Parkway near the county landfill will cut through the northeastern corner of the Marshall Hampton Reserve, a popular recreation site near the intersection of Thornhill Road and Winter Lake Road.

The draft map of the project lays out its tentative route. The road is still in the planning stage at this point, but funding may be forthcoming to make it happen because the Florida Department of Transportation has put a lot of emphasis on freight mobility and this is downstream from the CSX freight terminal recently rebranded as Florida’s Gateway or some such.

Watch for public meetings so you can provide your input. The names on the map are property owners along the route who will also be involved in the process.

Polk Water Future’s One Certainty: It Will Cost More To Feed The Growth Machine

There are still some missing pieces in Polk’s water plan, based on what I heard Tuesday night at the latest local water summit put on by the Polk County Water Cooperative.

The cooperative is a paradox.

It is an innovative confederation of local officials uniting in Polk County for the first time to find a way to deal with water problems by embracing a plan that promotes doing things the way they’ve always done it, regardless of the cost.

The problem they confront is that public water utility departments have tapped out their traditional, relatively cheap sources and will have to find a way to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to find additional water somewhere to maintain current growth patterns.

The current projections only guarantee water for the next generation.

After that, who knows?

The missing pieces are where the money will come from to finance these plans, which lean heavily on what amounts to a network of inland desalination plants to tap poor quality water in a section of the aquifer beneath the fresh water section that has been the traditional source up until now.

Local officials and their consultants have come up with some credible proposed sources that include getting money from the water management district, getting money from the Florida Legislature, issuing ponds, asking the voters to increase the local sales tax and raising utility rates.

The nagging concern for all of us who are municipal utility customers is that there could come a day when our water bills are as high as our sewer bills. What the future rates will be is a big question mark because the plan isn’t far enough along to provide good numbers, but you can’t say you weren’t warned.

There are alternatives, such as capping water permits, but while that’s technically defensible, the politics are against it for now.

Nothing is going to happen immediately.

Polk legislators may make a run at a bill this year that would authorize money for water projects and give Polk the right to use voter-approved sales tax money for water projects. The rationale for the legislation is that Polk is a special place at the headwaters for several rivers and home of the Green Swamp and deserving of state help.

As I wrote in an earlier post, some of the bill’s introductory language needs some fact-checking and wordsmithing, but if it promotes more growth in Florida, that may not matter, for now.

Polk Water Planners Seek Changes In State Law On Taxes, Spending

Tuesday night’s Polk Regional Water Cooperative meeting in Bartow will include an introduction to something called the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act.

It is draft legislation that has not been filed, according to the Florida Legislature’s website. There’s no word on potential sponsors.

The key elements of the legislation, posted in the agenda packet at http://www.prwcwater.org/ involve persuading the Florida Legislature to fund water supply projects in Polk in exchange for filing annual reports outlining what Polk officials are doing to further water planning, conservation, stormwater management and environmental restoration.

The proposed change in Florida law also would allow local discretionary sales taxes to be spent by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative for water supply development if voters approve the sales tax increase.

The copy of the draft bill posted on the cooperative website (see pages 133-143 in the agenda backup) may need some editing to clear up some confusing language in the findings and intent section.

It refers to the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, but appears to claim Bartow lies within the Green Swamp, which it doesn’t. It also refers to the headwaters of the Alafia River, which lies in Polk County, but nowhere near the Green Swamp. There is no mention of Polk’s portion of the headwaters of the Kissimmee River, a small portion of which begins at the edge of the Green Swamp.

Florida DEP Chief Resigns

Joe Steverson, the latest head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, has resigned.

This is the second major shakeup in the agency since Don Forgione was dismissed in December as head of the state park system.

Steverson, who was appointed in 2015, drew fire for suggesting allowing more commercial activities in state parks to make them more financially self-sufficient. His department also drew fire last year for deciding it was unnecessary to inform the public about a sinkhole Mosaic reported beneath a gypsum stack near Mulberry that potentially threatened to contaminate area drinking water wells.

No well contamination was ever documented.

Reports indicate Scott may quickly appoint a successor as occurred following Forgione’s departure.


Issues To Watch In 2017 Legislative Session

The opening session of the Florida Legislature is now slightly more than a month away.

This week 1000 Friends of Florida presented a webinar on some issues to watch.

Many of them are environmental issues.

Amendment 1 spending: This continues to be a repudiation of will of the voters who overwhelming voted in 2014 to spend more money on land protection to restart the Florida Forever program that was sidelined during the budget crunch following the collapse of the real estate bubble. Out of the $646 million available for expenditures other than debt service, very little appears to be going to land acquisition and is being diverted to management and administrative costs instead. Interestingly, Adam Putnam’s Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services is seeking $50 million to purchase conservation easements from farmers while Rick Scott’s Florida Department of Environmental Protection is seeking only $15 million for park purchases.

Fracking: Bills (SB 98, HB 35) have been filed to ban fracking in Florida and some key legislative leaders are supporting it.

Plastic Bags: Two bills (SB 162, HB 93) have been filed to launch a pilot program for some coastal communities to enact temporary bans on disposable plastic bags and submit a report to state officials on the impact the bans have.

Everglades Restoration: The issue to watch is the outcome of Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to purchase 60,000 acres in the Everglades Agriculture Area to store water to return historic water flow to Everglades National Park.

Environmental Regulation Commission: Legislation (SB198) has been proposed to force Scott to fill vacancies on the panel and to require a supermajority to approve changes in air and water pollution standards.

To view details of any legislation, committees to which bills have been assigned and other details, go to Online Sunshine, the Florida Legislature’s home page, and follow the links.