Ancient Islands Sierra Addresses Legislators

Bruce Kistler, chair of the Ancient Islands Sierra Club group, addressed members of the Polk legislative delegation Tuesday in Bartow during the delegation’s annual meeting to hear public input prior to session.

Kistler emphasized three important environmental issues.

–Banning fracking to prevent damage to water supplies and further fragmentation of wildlife habitat with new roads.

–Supporting full funding of Florida Forever as mandated by voters in a 2014 constitutional referendum.

–Ensuring that water management districts reserve adequate water for natural systems to prevent further environmental damage.

Kistler also offered the resources of Sierra Club experts for legislators seeking additional information to deal properly with these important issues.

Legislators also heard support for Florida Forever funding from representatives of the Heartland Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Polk County League of Women Voters.

Legislators offered no comments in response to the presentations.

BS Ranch Plan Returns To Polk Planners Wednesday

The controversial BS Ranch & Farm soil manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Lakeland will be back before county officials for review Wednesday when the Planning Commission convenes in Bartow.

County planners are recommending approval of the revised development plan if the company agrees to a long list of conditions designed to deal with odors, water pollution and other impacts that generated complaints from area residents and owners of businesses in the industrial park in which the 300-acre facility is located.

Conditions also include a process for dealing with citizen complaints and requires further changes in the operating plan if significant citizen complaints recur.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the County Commission, which will hear the case Dec. 5.

The staff report follows an extensive review of the facility’s plan and environmental permitting by consultants retained by the County Commission. The consultants’ comments and the company’s responses are contained in the staff report.

The review that preceded Wednesday’s case is in stark contrast with the applicant-driven review that preceded the original approval of the project in 2015 and the revision of the development regulations to accommodate this use. The County Commission has since revoked the changes. That doesn’t affect BS Ranch, but would apply to any future applicants.

Complaints About Polk Recycling Cutbacks Continue

Residents are continuing to complain about the decision by the Polk County Commission to divert the bulk of plastic and all glass to the landfill instead of the new, larger recycling containers.

The question remains is whether Polk is a leader in more efficient recycling or simply an outlier responding to what may be a just temporary dip in recycling markets.

No other government in central Florida is following this trend. Some, such as Orange County, are accepting old plastic recycling bins for recycling after they were replaced by carts. Polk refuses to do this.

We’ve been advised to use them as yard waste receptacles or planters instead.

Waste & Recycling Director Ana Wood proposed the change and continues to defend it, arguing there was a lot of faux recycling going on. That is, a lot of stuff was going into bins that didn’t have much chance of being remanufactured into something else.

Wood also argues that if sometime in the future the markets change, there’s always an opportunity to mine the landfill for this material. Studies have shown that very little deteriorates in the anaerobic atmosphere beneath the landfill’s surface.

People do appear to be happy with the carts, however, since it means there’s less chance their recyclables will be blowing down the road as they were with the yellow bin system.

Finally, somehow the word on the conversion hasn’t reached everyone. There are still a surprising number of homes in some neighborhoods whose occupants are still putting yellow bins at curbside on the former collection day.


Trump’s Pruitt Wants To Cut Charlotte Harbor Estuary Program

A long-standing environmental program that has succeeded in improving water quality in southwest Florida faces federal budget cuts, the New York Times reports.

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program is a regional effort to improve water quality and wildlife habitat in the Charlotte Harbor, whose watershed includes the Peace River that begins in Polk and flows through Hardee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

About half of the program’s approximately $1.1 million budget comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rest comes from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Southwest and South Florida water management districts and local governments within the basin.

Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s head of the EPA, has proposed eliminating the National Estuary Program’s funding in next year’s budget, the Times reports.

The final decision on funding rests with Congress so even though Pruitt has proposed cutting program funding, House and Senate members may have different ideas.


Wekiva Toll Road Proposal Offers Warning On Rural Toll Roads

There are a number of environmental questions relating to plans to punch toll roads into rural and environmental areas, such as some of the proposals being discussed in northeast Polk County and adjacent areas of Osceola County in the headwaters of the Everglades.

Some, such as the fragmentation of important wildlife corridors, can be mitigated to some extent by wildlife crossings incorporated into road designs, providing you can get the engineers to followup on promises to do so.

What cannot be mitigated is the decision on where to locate interchanges.

Interchanges are logical development magnets.

Today we see a cautionary tale on how assurances about protecting environmental areas by restricting the locations of interchanges on new rural toll roads can evaporate when it’s politically expedient.

The Orlando Sentinel reports on such a case in the new toll road to create a high-speed loop around Orlando through the Wekiva River Basin.

It seems that a “temporary” access may become permanent even though the legislation authorizing the road doesn’t authorize it.

Environmentalists, who were key players in crafting the road’s details, feel betrayed.

Local officials, who downplay the proposal as for “discussion only,” counter the environmental community is overreacting.

However, we know from experience that if local officials weren’t interested in making a change, they wouldn’t be scheduling a discussion. The fact that the current legislation protects the area is no guarantee it will always be so.

The record of the current crop of legislators on environmental and growth management is not reassuring.

This is an issue worth our attention.

Amendment 1 $ To Go To Polk Water Projects

The money that voters approved in 2014 to be used to restart the Florida Forever program will be going to local water projects, a county lobbyist confirmed to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative board Wednesday.

Frank Bernardino said as long as the projects provide a “public environmental purpose,” they will qualify for the funds.

The list of projects and the amount of funds involved will be discussed at the Nov. 15 meeting after the projects are ranked.

The authority to submit Polk projects for consideration for special state funding under Amendment 1 was contained in legislation approved this year under a bill proposed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, called the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act, Bernardino said.

Board members were told only a handful of the proposed projects involved environmental restoration. The rest involved drinking water, sewer, drainage and water conservation projects.

The Amendment 1 money will not be used for the cooperative’s major planned expenditure, which is the $17.1 million the board agreed to spend Wednesday to hire a group led by Carollo Engineering, a national engineering firm with offices in Florida, to study the feasibility of using the lower Floridan aquifer to supply future water needs. The vote involve spending an additional $5.8 million for well construction, administration and securing third-party review of the engineering work.

The source of money for that work will be funded with grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and a loan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s state revolving loan fund.

The question of whether the lower Floridan aquifer—the upper Floridan aquifer is the main source of local water supplies now—will provide enough water to supply future demands for growth has not been established, Jason Mickel, Swiftmud’s water supply section manager, told the group.

“There is no slam dunk yet,” he said.

In addition to determining whether the water quality is acceptable and whether the wells are productive enough to be worth pumping for public supply, the research is also intended to determine whether the area of the aquifer where the wells are drilled is really a separate section of the aquifer.

Unless that can be established, it may be difficult to obtain a water-use permit because of the coming cap on tapping the upper Floridan aquifer because it has nearly reached its sustainable limit.

In reality, the legacy of water overconsumption plays into parallel efforts by Swiftmud officials to plan the recovery of a 5,100-square-mile area called the Southern Water Use Caution Area that includes most of Polk County.

It is an area where lake levels and river flows do not meet minimum standards, mostly as the result of past water withdrawals.

The best-documented case involves the Upper Peace River, whose base flow was seriously reduced decades ago when adjacent Kissengen Spring quit flowing in 1950 and when sections of the river disappeared beginning in the early 1980s after supplementary flow from sewer plants was diverted to be used for power plant cooling water.

That led to the purchase of land around Lake Hancock to form a reservoir to be used to release water to supplement river flow when necessary.

The steps to recover lake levels on the Lake Wales Ridge are still to be determined.

The effect of groundwater pumping on lake levels in the area was documented several years ago, at least regarding Crooked Lake.


Another Assault On Growth Management In Tallahassee

Good local planning is facing another bogus attack this year in the Florida Legislature.

A pair of bills (HB 207, SB 362) propose to require local governments to adopt a private property rights element to their growth plans even to the point of dictating how the language in the growth plan should read. Once the element is added, the rest of the plan and the corresponding development regulations have to be revised to conform.

The language is obviously aimed at protecting development interests rather than private property rights in general.

Here’s why.

The effects of planning decisions and regulations can cut both ways when it comes to how they affect private property owners.

The approval of one person’s development plan could come at the expense of neighboring property owners.

The most recent case of these competing property rights claims occurred in an application heard recently by the Polk County Planning Commission to turn a planned suburban shopping center into an industrial park even though it is bordered by single-family homes on three sides.

But more broadly, the idea that private property rights are routinely ignored by local officials is absurd.

The Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from taking private property without just compensation.

The question that often comes up in this discussion is what exactly constitutes a taking.

At the heart of this latest assault on growth planning is the debate over whether zoning and planning regulations are a threat to private property rights rather than a system that protects them.

If there’s a serious dispute over this issue, it will end up in court.

These bills that set up some made-up standard for protecting private property rights against zoning and development regulations won’t change that.