SFWMD Opens More Land To Public

The South Florida Water Management District has opened 1,873 acres to general public use in Polk County.

The property had been opened to hunting for a couple of years and now will be open to hiking, bicycling and nature viewing as well as continued hunting and frog gigging.

This is part of the former Rolling Meadows Ranch along Catfish Creek between Lake Hatchineha and Camp Mack Road.

For now access appears to be by boat only—there are no designated access points on Camp Mack Road—though it seems possible there may be land access whenever the Florida State Park Service opens the section of Rolling Meadows that is part of Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park. No date for the opening of that section to the public has been established.

Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic Designation Proposed

U.S. Rep Darren Soto, whose district includes sections of Polk and Osceola counties at the headwaters of the Kissimmee River, has proposed seeking Congressional approval to designate the Kissimmee River an official Wild and Scenic River as allowed under the 1968 National Wild And Scenic Rivers Act.

Soto announced his proposal recently at a forum in Orlando, according to Politico.

The only Florida Rivers that have this designation are the Wekiva River near Orlando and the Loxahatchee River in South Florida.

The law recognizes significant streams and provides assistance to landowners along the rivers to help to preserve their important characteristics. It does not restrict development or land use.

Most of the land along the river is in public ownership or included in large tracts of agricultural land, which means there is little imminent development threat anyway.

The once wild free-flowing 103-mile river was ditched in the 1960s as part of a misguided flood-control project. The project destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands, displaced wildlife and removed the natural river’s ability to filter pollution coming downstream from urban areas at its headwaters before the water reached Lake Okeechobee and the lower portions of the Everglades.

Restoration work is under way to restore much of the river’s original channel. It is the largest river restoration project ever attempted anywhere in the world. The latest projected completion date is sometime in 2019.

Polk Could Learn From St. Lucie’s Sludge Composting Regs

Polk is not the only place where private entrepreneurs have proposed composting g sludge (the solid residue from sewer plants) and other materials.

But in at least one other Florida county, local officials are taking an entirely different approach to regulating such operations.

The St. Lucie County Commission refused to approve one outdoor composting operation similar to the one Polk officials approved in December, TC Palm reports.

Instead, the St. Lucie County Commission is poised to consider an ordinance that would require composting operations to be located indoors on a concrete or asphalt surface and have a site plan that requires extra stormwater storage and setbacks from other buildings as well as various measures to control potential nuisances ranging from odors to vermin.

The first hearing of the ordinance is Thursday in Fort Pierce.

That proposed 15-page St. Lucie ordinance is much more detailed in expected standards than the six-page revision of the development regulations that the Polk County Commission approved last August.

St. Lucie’s ordinance comes a year after the County Commission there adopted a temporary moratorium on considering applications for commercial composting operations. Polk commissioners did not approve a temporarily moratorium until after they realized they had screwed up in approving the original ordinance and the permit for BS Ranch & Farm, which is the center of the current ongoing dispute in Polk County.

Some Polk officials have complained privately that BS Ranch did not act honestly, but that’s beside the point.

The reason governments enact and enforce ordinances (also known as laws) is to protect the public interest. When local officials rely on assurances provided during a PR tour and promises of jobs, , which appears to have been Polk’s approach., in making development decisions it can end badly, as it has here..

Composting is nothing new. It is a process that has been used for centuries to recycle waste materials.

However, as everyone who didn’t understand this has learned, composting operations can pollute air and water, which is something St. Lucie County is taking more seriously than Polk County did until recently.

I will repeat the point from a previous post that Polk’s development regs are up for their biennial review. The lessons learned from the BS Ranch & Farm affair should be part of the discussion.

As officials in St. Lucie County are demonstrating, there are better ways to do this.

Legislature Adjourns, Hits And Misses

The Florida Legislature has adjourned for the year and now comes the complicated task of figuring out what happened.

Florida Forever money was diverted to other projects once again in the biggest shell game since the lottery started.

They promise to approve money next year. We’ll see.

The test ban on single-use plastic bags for coastal cities died before the session ended. However, Coral Gables passed a ban anyway, which is predicted to trigger a lawsuit from the bullyboys in Tallahassee who don’t want local officials daring to do what they don’t have the integrity to do. It seems aiding and abetting littering is still official state policy.

Polk officials were able to get approval of a bill that will qualify them for water supply project funding if they provide detailed information on how they plan to spend the money. A provision that would have allowed Polk to seek a sales tax increase at the polls to pay its local share of the project cost was deleted during the bill’s review.

One of the areas where the result is unclear relates to drones. They are banned now in conservation lands such as Circle B Bar Reserve because of their effects on wildlife and other users. But it seems the only places where drones are restricted under the recently passed legislation is sewer plants, utility lines and other infrastructure and everyone else has to petition the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to restrict these craft. The only good news is that it is illegal for civilians to weaponize drones.

The only septic tank bill proposed this year that went anywhere—but didn’t pass—would have required anyone selling a home with a septic tank to disclose the existence of the septic tank and to let the next owner know that the septic tank needs to be maintained to avoid polluting the environment. Inspections and funding for replacement didn’t come up.

Also failing this year were bad bills that would have potentially intimidated people challenging zoning and environmental permits by threatening them with paying the defendant’s legal costs if they don'[t win.

Finally, it appears there will be money for Lakeland’s Se7en Wetlands Park, though not as much money as was originally sought. However all expenditures are still under review by the Governor’s office.

Stay tuned.


Water, Politics Meetings On Tap This Week

If you’d like to get an idea of how local government officials see the current water planning effort and perhaps receive a fresh perspective on politics, two events on Thursday might be worth your time.

At 10 a.m. The Ledger will host a forum in which local government managers will discuss water, the recently ended legislative session at the Polk State College for Public Safety . 1251 Jim Keene Blvd., Winter Haven, which is off Winter Lake Road. The program is free and open to the public.

Rob Lorei, one of the founders of WMNF, an alternative Tampa radio station and managing editor of WEDU’s Florida This Week politics and public affairs program, will be the guest speaker at the Tiger Bay Club meeting at 11:30 a.m. at the Bartow Civic Center, 2250 S. Floral Ave. The cost is $15 for Tiger Bay members and $25 for non-members.



Polk’s friendly handling of BS Ranch review fatal to code case

Polk County’s belated attempt to undo a bad zoning decision that it had promoted until a few months ago hasn’t turned out well.

Today code special magistrate Nicholas Troiano denied Polk’s request to temporarily shut down the BS Ranch and Farm soil manufacturing plant over its reported offsite odor problems.

The main reason for the ruling was that Polk officials had never actually proven to odor came from BS Ranch and had ignored the potential offsite odor problems as county staffed worked with BS representatives to grease the skids for their grand opening, amending the growth regulations for this single use (a not uncommon action in this county), which made the county’s efforts to reverse themselves hard to defend.

The odor issue is interesting because even the BS folks finally admitted that some of the odor came from their plant, but blamed it on the weather and received help from Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials (who, like Polk County, had bent over backwards to approve and after-the-fact permit for the plant) to abate the odors. However, as a matter of due process, anyone accusing someone of something in a formal proceeding ought to be willing to back up the charge.

That ruling led to the postponement of a related court case scheduled for Friday in which Polk County was seeking an injunction to shut the plant down.

During Friday’s agenda study session, the County Commission is scheduled to hear a presentation on the biennial review of the county’s development regulations. Be interesting to see if any lessons learned from this case will be part of the discussion.

Meanwhile, last week the County Commission approved a temporary moratorium on any more of these plants, though none is proposed at the moment.

Balloons Are Litter; Celebrate Carefully

This is the time of year when people are celebrating graduations, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Increasingly balloons are involved and that’s a growing environmental problems.

I and others who spend outdoors regularly find balloons that were released or got away from their owners and end up in natural areas, such as the one depicted here that was in Sumica, a Polk County environmental preserve east of Lake Wales.

Sometimes they are simply eyesores, but the balloons and the tethers can affect wildlife negatively.

This kind of problem is one reason this year state legislators were requested to allow cities to experiment with plastic bag bans because of their effects on the environment.

Balloons, after all, are nothing more than sealed plastic bags.

We need to rethink how and how often we use balloons outdoors.