Highlands Hammock State Park Plan Meeting Feb. 6

The periodic update of the management plan for Highlands Hammock State Park will be the subject of a public meeting Feb. 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the park’s recreation hall at 5931 Hammock Road in Sebring.

The meeting will be conducted in an open house format, which means there will be an initial staff presentation and exhibits around the room that attendees can view. That will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The draft management plan is available at this link.

The comments collected at the Feb. 6 and additional information will be discussed at a public meeting of the park’s advisory committee beginning at 9 a.m. Feb. 7 in the same location as the public hearing. The meeting is open to the public.

Highlands Hammock State Park is one of Florida’s oldest state parks. The park was originally developed through the efforts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A museum commemorating the CCC’s efforts is located at the park.

For more information on Highlands Hammock State Park, go to this link.

SFWMD Board To Meet In Orlando Feb. 8

The South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board will travel to the northern end of the Everglades basin for a regular monthly meeting Feb. 8.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. It will be held in the Carl T. Langford Board Room at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, One Jeff Fuqua Blvd., Orlando. To authority, as you might have guessed, is located at Orlando International Airport.

No agenda for the meeting has been posted yet, but a press release said the meeting topics will include an update on efforts to secure more land along Shingle Creek at the top of the Kissimmee Chain.

Unlike the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which allows brief public comments on items not on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, the SFWMD sets the time for general public comment near the end of the agenda. There is an opportunity for the public to comment earlier in the meeting on some specific agenda items.

The meeting is viewable via a webcast. Go to the agency’s website for details.

Interestingly, the meeting is the same day Ancient Islands will be hearing an update on Everglades issues from Cris Costello, senior organizing representative for Sierra Club. Costello will speak at 7 p.m. at Circle B Bar Reserve. The meeting will be in the classroom at the rear of the Nature Discovery Center building complex.


A Constitutional Amendment Florida Doesn’t Need

Recently the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission rejected proposals to ask voters if they wanted to place the right to a quality environment into the state constitution, arguing it would lead to a flood of frivolous litigation that could hurt business.

That might lead many people to suspect the body would employ this caveat consistently throughout its deliberations, but they would be wrong.

This week the panel’s Local Government Committee will consider a proposed constitutional amendment that reads:

A regulation enacted by a county, municipality, or special district may not intrude upon or impede commerce, trade, or labor across the respective entities boundaries.

If something like that isn’t a litigation magnet, what is?

“Impede” is a pretty vague word. What would the threshold be? What would the remedy be? What problems would this measure solve that couldn’t solved in a more practical way?

It’s also interesting that this proposal is coming up at a time when the Florida Legislature is considering proposals to further erode the review projects with of multi-jurisdictional called developments of regional impact.

Anyway, the proposal is coming before the committee tomorrow.

Contact committee members or Sen. Tom Lee, who proposed this, to let your views be known. The contact information is below.

Commissioner Erika Donalds, Local Government Committee Chair
(850) 270-8283, Erika.Donalds@flcrc.gov

Commissioner Chris Nocco, Local Government Committee Vice Chair
(727) 847-5878, Chris.Nocco@flcrc.gov

Commissioner Emery Gainey
(850) 296-0898, Emery.Gainey@flcrc.gov

Commissioner Bob Solari
(772) 226-1438, Bob.Solari@flcrc.gov

Commissioner John Stemberger
(850) 329-0805, John.Stemberger@flcrc.gov

Commissioner Carolyn Timmann
(772) 210-4398. Carolyn.Timmann@flcrc.gov

Commissioner Nicole Washington
(786) 309-6022, Nicole.Washington@flcrc.gov

Senator Tom Lee
(850) 487-5020, Lee.Tom.web@flsenate.gov


Why Makeup of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Matters

The makeup of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been in the news lately.

The Tampa Bay Times reported this week that Gov. Rick Scott is appointing members to the commission based, it seems, primarily on their support of the Republican Party, not any overriding interest in wildlife management and conservation.

I’m willing to reserve judgment on how the new appointees work out until after I see them in action.

It has been a long time since there has been an FWC commissioner with a background in biological science.

But the FWC staff has a large corps of subject matter experts on all aspects of wildlife conservation management and they bring that information to commissioners for policy decisions. As long as the staff can make a good case of the decision and commissioners are willing to listen, the professional background of commissioners may be less important.

How those policy decisions are made and carried out is important to the future because of the challenges the state faces from population growth, natural resource impacts and changing outdoor recreation preferences.

It is probably relevant that at FWC’s last meeting earlier this month in Gainesville, commissioners were provided with a comprehensive overview of the history of wildlife conservation and management and its future challenges.

One big issue will involve how wildlife management and conservation will be funded in the future in Florida.

Despite claims by the old guard that hunters and anglers carry the funding load for everyone else, the figures don’t back that up.

I addressed that issue in a recent column in The Ledger.

The problem is the only way to fix the funding issue is either through legislature or through a constitutional amendment, though that would ultimately require approval by the Florida Legislature to implement, as we learned through the current Florida Forever funding debacle.

That will require political support and perhaps having politically connected appointees on FWC could help the cause if they’re so inclined.

Solar Expansion In Rural Polk Residential Area Increases

Here’s more on the root of the opposition to Tampa Electric’s plans to expand solar energy farms in southwest Polk County.

The original word circulated among county officials was that the protest was about a facility five miles away from the area where the anti-solar signs were going up.

But it seems that information was misleading.

Here’s the rest of the story.

TECO is planning to contract for a second facility closer to the rural residential areas of Bradley and Chicora, near or bordering Albritton, Bethlehem and Chicora roads.

It would cover 417 acres spread among a group of separate tracts and generate 74.9 megawatts. According to the narrative in TECO’s initial application this plan would allow the utility to avoid falling under the provisions of the Power Plant Siting Act, which applies to facilities generating 75 MW or more.

The project will require approval of a conditional-use permit from Polk County.

To hearing date has been set.

The tentative schedule is to have the solar farm in operation by early next year.

Sierra supports solar energy because it provides cheaper, more environmentally-friendly energy that reduces the generation of greenhouse gases that affect climate change.





Colt Creek State Park May Benefit From FDOT Mitigation

Colt Creek State Park may be the beneficiary of wetlands mitigation work that is required for six Florida Department of Transportation projects in Sumter and Hernando counties, according to a report scheduled to be presented to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board Tuesday.

The agency will meet at its Tampa office.

This is part of a required annual report FDOT makes to the water management district.

The report also made it clear that its possible an approved private mitigation bank may be the ultimate beneficiary of the mitigation work if credits are available in the Withlacoochee River Basin.

Generally, the mitigation must occur in the basin in which the impacts occur.


Cities’ Solar Power Criticisms Expand To Countryside

This was probably predictable.

In recent months officials in Lake Alfred and Bartow put the skids on plans for solar energy farms within their jurisdictions.

In both cases the local officials—absence any evidence—said they were hesitant to allow solar farms where Tampa Electric proposed them because it could affect the value of nearby residential developments.

Now this solar-as-threat-to-home-values sentiment has crept into a rural area in southwest Polk.

Just before TECO was planning to hold a groundbreaking ceremony featuring local dignitaries for its planned Payne Creek solar farm near Streamsong Resort, area residents began receiving anti-solar farm literature and some “Stop The Solar” yard signs were popping up in the area.

In the meantime, the groundbreaking was put off until next fall. The official reason was scheduling conflicts.

TECO officials say they are still planning the project, which is under review by Polk’s planning staff.

In the meantime, county officials are working on a response to the anti-solar campaign.