Lakes, Soil Board Makeups To Change

There will be some new faces on the Lakes Region Lake Management District and Polk Soil & Water Conservation District boards after November, according to qualifying information posted by the Polk County Supervisor of Elections.

Kevin Henne and Carter Adams are the lone qualifiers for Seats 1 and 3 respectively. They will succeed current board members Matthew Kaylor and Dan Adams.

There are three seats up for election in the Polk Soil & Water Conservation District.

Daniel Lanier of Fort Meade is the lone candidate for the Group 4 seat now held by Mike Darrow.

In the Group 2 seat, incumbent Joe Garrison of Dundee faces opposition from Greg Williams of Lakeland.

In the Group 3 seat, incumbent Brian Dockery is not seeking another term. The contest for that seat will be between Kyle Carlton and OnDrew Hartigan, both of Lakeland.

The Polk Soil & Water Conservation Board races are countywide, so you might want to pay attention to the platforms and qualifications of the candidates in the contested races.

The district, which was established around 1945, had been inactive for some time and was revived following the 2016 election and its leaders are working to come up with some programs to make the agency relevant.


Storm-Delayed Cleanup Back On For Saturday

If you want to get rid of tires that are causing eyesores or collecting water and breeding mosquitoes, Saturday is the day.

Keep Polk County Beautiful is offering to allow Polk County residents to dispose of up to 24 tires for free at Westwood Park in the Inwood neighborhood near Winter Haven.

The park is located at 1145 36th Street NW. The event will run from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

This cleanup, which will also involved curbside cleanup in the surrounding neighborhoods, was postponed earlier this spring because of the frequent storms that blew through the area.

This event is also a good opportunity to get information about recycling and the proper disposal of any kinds of wastes.


Tenoroc Adds Paddling Trail

The paddling trail winds around spoil islands left over from phosphate mining

Tenoroc Public Use Area has opened the first of what is planned to be a series of paddling trails in the recreation area’s phosphate pits.

The 2.9-mile Wetland Wandering Trail is located in the East Wetland Area. (See location map below)

The trail is marked with wayfinding buoys.    

Tenoroc Manager Danon Moxley said he would like to create a network of these trails at other water bodies to attract more public use to Tenoroc, whose existence is not well-known beyond the angling community despite being open for decades.

In case you haven’t visited Tenoroc, formerly known as Tenoroc Fish Management Area, you might be surprised by the amount of recreational opportunities available here.

The original attraction was a chance to catch largemouth bass and other sports fish.

However, today there are trails for hikers and equestrians as well as plenty of land to explore for a variety of nature observation opportunities.

Tenoroc, whose main entrance is on Tenoroc Mine Road off North Combee Road just outside of Lakeland contains a number of units stretching from the north side of Lake Parker to the north edge of Saddle Creek Parka and the south end of the Williams property within sight of the Auburndale-TECO Trail within its 7,300-acre footprint.

The recreation area is open Friday through Monday for day use activities. Admission is $3 per person.


Peace River Water Permit Dispute Heats Up

Just weeks after the Polk County Water Cooperative challenged a permit request from the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority to double the amount of water it can withdraw from the river.

PRMWSA provides drinking water for customers in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The permit, which would be good for 50 years if approved, is intended to meet the area’s projected water demand.

PRMWSA’s response has been to claim, correctly, that they are downstream, which is where the river flows.

They further state that they only take a fixed percentage from the river and only during high flows. This is also correct.

However, they also disingenuously claim they are unsure why Polk is challenging their permit.

The permit challenge is a public record. They likely have a copy by now.

Polk’s position is that the permit request would reserve all of the water that the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s current regulations allow to be taken from the river. That allegedly boxes in Polk or any other users—Wauchula has also challenged the permit—who may want to tap the river in the future for their projected water demand.

Polk also alleges the legal notice Swiftmud issued regarding PRMWSA’s was misleadingly worded and not circulated as widely as it should have been to give anyone affected due notice.

These issues will be sorted out at some point.

The latest word is that the issue will end up before a state hearing officer. How soon any of this will happen is unknown at this point.

    Peace River south of Fort Meade during low flow


Meanwhile, there could be another permit challenge in the offing.

That involves the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative’s request for a permit to withdraw water from the Peace River near Fort Meade.

It is unclear how much water would be available from this section of the river. During droughts there is sometimes little or no water flowing in that part of the river.

Also, any permit would have to meet the same standards as the PRMWSA’s permit in that withdrawals would be restricted to 10 percent of high flow.

It would seem that if there is a cap on water withdrawals from the river, its unclear why it matters which section of the river is affected as long as it meets the other permit requirements.

Polk has no immediate plans to pursue this permit—it is not among the three projects currently approved by Swiftmud for funding—but it seems Polk officials simply wanted to get on record with its request in connection with the downstream utility’s request.




Polk Commissioners Reduce Size of Chicora Solar Farm

Tampa Electric’s plans to build a solar farm on three unconnected parcels around the historic Chicora community in southwest Polk will be downsized, the Polk County Commission voted 3-1 Tuesday.

The proposal is the latest in a series of approved and planned solar energy facilities TECO is planning in Polk and adjacent counties to increase its renewable energy portfolio.

However, a roomful of Chicora residents compared the collection of parcels wrapping around groups of rural homesites to an anaconda suffocating its prey.

They questioned how compatible the solar farm—even if it is buffered as proposed—would be when it lies across many residents’ back fences.

Residents said they favor solar power, but wanted it to be located farther from their homes.

The compromise commissioners agreed to will eliminate the sections of the solar farms closest to homes and in the middle of Chicora, leaving the sites south of Albritton Road and northeast of the South Prong of the Alafia River. Commissioner John Hall’s dissenting vote came after he said he thought the entire project was incompatible with the community.

TECO officials could not tell commissioners Tuesday whether the reduction in the size of the solar farm will affect the project’s viability.

They said they selected sites based on its proximity to power lines and the developability of the property, which rules out a lot of slime ponds and other mined lands in the area.

TECO officials also earlier told Polk officials that they are scaling the solar farms to a size that requires only local planning review and does not trigger a more extensive review of the Florida Power Plant Siting Act.

Solar farms have been previously approved in a number of locations in the Lakeland and Bartow areas and in Fort Green. More applications are pending the Bartow-Mulberry area.

Crooked Lake West Plan Advances; Public Access Coming


Crooked Lake West may be closer to getting its first public visitors by the end of this year.

Polk County Environmental Lands staffers held a public meeting recently on the site’s draft management plan.

The 11,4000-acre area that includes the project contains a mixture of ranches and the legacy of a failed Florida land-sales scheme.

The site also contains two miles of shoreline on Crooked Lake, which is classified as an Outstanding Florida Water.

The property was first acquired a decade ago, but management plans have been slow to come together because of a combination of staffing shortages and the fact that the property is jointly owned by Polk County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA holds a conservation easement on a large section of the property.

The only section open to the public is Crooked Lake Wildlife Environmental Area, which is accessed from U.S. 98. It was created to be a gopher tortoise mitigation site and contains an extensive network of hiking trails that are good for nature observation.

The only improvement planned for the property is a small parking area on an upland portion of the property.

Much of the property is seasonally flooded. That includes some of the areas of the hiking trail depicted above.

There is scrub habitat on the property that contains a good variety of endangered plant species, but it will be accessible only to groups by special arrangement.

The site also contains an archeological site of Midland, an abandoned town that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries..

The long-term plan is to restore more of the site’s wetlands and to reduce direct discharges to Crooked Lake through canals that were dug for agricultural drainage.

A wildlife passage area that was constructed for cattle movement will remain in place.

The site contains diverse wildlife including a variety of resident and migratory songbirds, sandhill cranes, wild turkey, Florida scrub-jays and great horned owls. The area near the lake contains striking patches of wildflowers.

Sierra Wins Amendment 1 lawsuit

A Tallahassee judge has ruled in favor of Sierra and other Florida environmental groups in a 2015 lawsuit filed to force state officials to spend money approved by voters in a 2014 constitutional amendment election as intended.

The case had been scheduled to go to trial next month, but the judge ruled Friday in favor of environmental groups.

Legislators planned to appeal.

Environmentalists sued after legislators diverted the money approved by voters to cover routine environmental agency operating costs rather than restarting the Florida Forever program to finish purchasing land approved to protect Florida’s remaining targeted conservation lands.

The priority list included additional purchases on the Lake Wales Ridge and the Green Swamp in Central Florida.

Sierra and other groups have repeatedly asked legislators to spend the money as voters intended, but so far the expenditures have fallen short of the amendment’s intent.

Below are reactions to the ruling.

Alisa Coe of Earthjustice, one of the attorneys who represents plaintiffs Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and Manley Fuller:

“Today’s decision is a big victory for the millions of Florida voters who demanded that the legislature reinstate land buying programs for parks, wild lands and the Everglades.  Four million Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to devote almost a billion dollars a year to purchasing conservation lands. The legislature and agencies thumbed their noses at the voters by spending the money on other things. This ruling will help protect some of Florida’s most beautiful and environmentally important areas for generations to come.

In 2014, an overwhelming three out of four Florida voters approved the Land and Water Acquisition Amendment to the state constitution—it was the most popular item on the entire statewide ballot that year. Today’s ruling means that the state must honor the voters’ will to preserve our precious natural resources through conservation.”


Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:

“Judge Dodson’s ruling today is a landmark decision making it clear that amendments to Florida’s constitution are orders by the people; they aren’t suggestions which the Legislature can decide to ignore.  After four years of blatant misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, the Legislature has been forced by the Florida Courts to obey the voters mandate that it use a dedicated source of state funds to preserve and protect Florida’s natural lands.”