FEMA May Allow Rebuilding In Flood Zones

Over the years the government has bought several homes in places in Polk County such as the flood plains of Peace Creek, Lake Lowery and Lake Seward after they suffered repeated flooding.

The idea was to reduce the impact of the taxpayer subsidy for poor development decisions.

Now it seems that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is thinking about allowing people to rebuild in these flood-prone areas as long as they build to a still-undefined higher standard.

It seems there is some pressure from local governments who are concerned leaving the land vacant will have a major effect on their tax base.

What’s missing from that discussion is that these local governments are the ones who approved the developments in the first place and enacted development codes that usually don’t adequately deal with the changes new development causes within a drainage basin as far as the amount and velocity of runoff.

The idea has drawn criticism from environmentalists and public works officials.

This comes at a time when people in flood zones are already complaining about high flood-insurance rates as federal officials are trying to make the rates reflect the true cost of dealing with claims. That is, they’re trying to run government like a business.

The reason the government is in the flood insurance business in the first place is because the private insurance company knows a bad risk when they see it and are not interested in writing policies at rates anyone can afford. Business owners never like to run businesses like the government.



Gaye Sharpe Named To Succeed Jeff Spence

Gaye Sharpe, whose skills as a scientist, manager and fifth generation Polk County native helped to make the Polk County Environmental Lands Program a success, has been tapped to become the new director of parks and natural resources.

Sharpe, whose appointment by County Manager Jim Freeman must be confirmed by the County Commission, will succeed longtime director Jeff Spence, who is retiring.

She played a key role in the development of Circle B Bar Reserve and Polk’s Nature Discovery Center and had been involved in a variety of environmental monitoring work before taking over the Environmental Lands Program, which was funded by tax proceeds approved in a 1994 referendum organized by Sierra and other local environmental groups.

Her appointment provides some continuity in the program at a time when taxpayer funding for the program has ended, forcing the program to be supported by an endowment created to provide a sustainable funding source for the management and operation of the sites purchased by Polk County and its partners.

Kissimmee River Wild And Scenic Status Advances

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s efforts to give the Kissimmee River federal Wild and Scenic River status passed an important milestone this week.

Soto secured a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives to support legislation that would launch a study of the proposal he broached last year.

The bill has been referred to the Committee for Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate.

The Kissimmee River was once a winding 103-mile river that was ditched in the 1960s for flood control, destroying thousands of acres of riverine marsh habitat that once attracted large numbers of waterfowl.

The project, which was opposed by the environmental community and many outdoors groups, also eliminated the river’s environmental services as a natural pollution-treatment plant.

By the 1980s government officials acknowledged the project was a mistake and launched a study to undo most of the damage.

That brought on the largest river-restoration project in world history through Congressional authorization in 1992.

Work finally began in 1999 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020, about five years after the initial predicted completion date.

The entire river will not be restored because of encroachment in the floodplain by development on the south end of the river near Lake Okeechobee that officials decided makes some flood protection necessary unless the property owners were bought out and forced to move, which was not approved.

Polk Issues on April Swiftmud Board Agenda

Continued funding of Polk Regional Water Cooperative projects and a lawsuit against Sanlan Ranch and Holloway Park in Lakeland for longstanding permit violations will be among the items on the agenda with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board meets at 10 a.m. April 24 at Lake Eva Banquet Center in Haines City.

The water cooperative will continue to receive $5 million a year for the next five years in connection with planned projects to explore using the Lower Floridan Aquifer for future water supplies and to use restoration of portions of the Peace Creek Basin to justify additional withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer.

The cooperative will also be required to develop additional water conservation measures.

The Lakeland enforcement action involves disputes stretching back to 2015 over permit compliance for wetands alterations and preparation of proper engineering plans for campground expansion work.

The board also will be briefed on a long-range plan to support conversion of septic tank and package plants to modern sewer treatment service in parts of the district to reduce groundwater pollution that affect surface water quality. No specific projects are included in the agenda.

New Wetlands Park Grand Opening Saturday

Lakeland’s Se7en Wetlands Park’s grand opening is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Gopher Tortoise entrance at the southeast corner of Loyce Harpe Park off Carter Road in Mulberry

Workers were busy late this week putting the finishing touches on the entrance area.

The park has 8.5 miles of trails in the current phase—more is planned later—along a former phosphate mine dike system with side trails at wooded edges and wetland edges.

I took a leisurely three-hour hike through much of the site this week and can report the site offers a variety of flora and fauna and a potential to become a good wildlife-viewing site if managed properly.

Among the species I saw on my visit were various wading birds, such as great egrets and black-crowned night herons, spotted sandpiper, monarch and several other species of butterflies, a good variety of dragonflies, lots of wildflowers and an osprey flying overhead. In the distance across one of the ponds I could see wood storks and roseate spoonbills.

Entry is free from either Loyce Harpe or Lakeland Highlands Scrub.

Check it out.

Polk Environmental Pioneer Helen Morrison Dead At 99

Helen Morrison, whose involvement in raising environmental awareness ranged from helping to fight the Cross-Florida Barge Canal to helping local schoolchildren understand the wonders of the natural environment, died last week at 99.

She is an example of the results of commitment to environmental progress in a place where there was little when she and her family arrived in Polk County in the 1950s.

Along with her late husband Ken, she was instrumental in founding Florida Bi-Partisans Civic Affairs Group, Defenders of Crooked Lake and Ridge Audubon Society.

A 25-acre piece of land near her home on Crooked Lake that was protected for years is now a Polk County preserve called Crooked Lake Sandhill, one of a collection of conservation purchases that now further the lake’s protection and what’s left of the native habitat around the lake.

For many residents in Babson Park, where Helen Morrison lived for much of her life, she is also remembered as the woman who brought wildlife to local schools and encouraged children to explore the outdoors through a network of trails called the Scrub Plum Preserve.

It is fitting that this year on Earth Day, April 21, there will an effort to honor her legacy with a day of litter cleanup and exotic plant removal in the Babson Park area. Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate. The event will begin at 9 a.m.

Watch for more details on gathering sites nearer to the event.

A memorial service to celebrate her life is planned sometime in May.