Planning Panel Rejects Road Privatization Idea

The Polk County Planning Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday to recommend denial of a proposal to change the development code to allow the County Commission to quit accepting roads in new subdivisions for maintenance.

The idea was proposed last year by County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, as a way to reduce the county’s future financial burden for road maintenance costs.

But planning commissioners questioned the wisdom of telling future homeowners they’re on their own when it comes to maintaining the road and drainage systems on the streets where they live.

One issue that the proposed changes didn’t address is what kind of notice people buying homes would get.

The other issue raised was the uncertainty on how much of a financial burden maintaining local roads was on the county budget. No information was available during Wednesday’s hearing other than generic costs of road maintenance in general.

This appears to be a unique approach among county governments among other urban counties in central Florida, according to a staff analysis. In fact, one adjacent county—Osceola—discourages private road subdivisions.

The case will now go to the County Commission to determine whether it will overrule the Planning Commission or reconsider the policy.

Conservation Amendment Appeal Briefs Keep Coming

The legal fight over the long-delayed implementation of a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by a 75-25 percent margin continues in Tallahassee.

The amendment was intended to restart the stalled Florida Forever program and resume major conservation land purchases on the state’s priority list.

Instead, Florida legislators have diverted money to cover routine agency operational costs and have appropriated much less money for land acquisition than the amendment authorized.

Several environmental groups, including Sierra, sued legislators in 2015 to enforce the amendment’s proper implementation.

Environmentalists won in circuit court last year. Legislators appealed and now the case is before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

During the past month a number of outside groups on both sides of the dispute have filed motions with the court.

On the environmentalists’ side, briefs were filed by Florida Conservation Voters, The Trust for Public Land, The Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon Society.

On the legislators’ side, briefs have been filed by the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Stormwater Association, the Florida Rural Water Association and the Florida Water Environmental Association Utility Council.

Copies of the briefs are not viewable by the public on the appeal court’s website, but according to a report by Bruce Ritchie at Politico, opponents of the environmental case are arguing the amendment could harm Everglades restoration and beach renourishment funding and delay solution of the algae pollution plaguing south Florida coastal areas. Critics also claimed there probably isn’t enough conservation land left of buy anyhow to spend the $18 billion the amendment authorizes.

The fact is that there are other legitimate funding sources for these programs besides the Amendment 1 funds, which is at the heart of the debate.

The latest estimate to buy just the lands on the state’s top priority list comes to $2.5 billion, which is only a small fraction of the other projects on the state’s acquisition list. In addition, more funds are needed to match local environmental land acquisition purchases. Added together, you get pretty close to the $8 billion figure.

But this argument is really irrelevant.

The simple fact is that Florida voters voted to fund land acquisition, legislators opposed the effort and have been doing what they can to thwart it. Local governments have joined the fight on the legislators’ side because they see the fund as giant piggy bank they can use for public works projects to support more development.

By the time this is over, we’ll know whether the Florida Supreme Court views the Florida Constitution as a suggestion or the law.





Polk Commissioners Still Dealing With Fort Myers Waste Shipment Critics

Despite the lack of evidence that shipments of waste from Fort Myers pose any health threat to anyone living in Polk, county commissioners are still receiving a regular stream of emails and phone calls from a handful of residents who are upset based on media reports.

In an effort to put the issue to rest, commissioners have scheduled a presentation at next Tuesday’s meeting by Mary Yeargan, a geologist from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s regional office in Temple Terrace, and James W. Clark III from Clark Environmental in Mulberry, the company that is processing the waste.

Meanwhile, FDEP officials, perhaps in an effort to reassure the public about the issue, on Dec. 19 conducted a “surprise” inspection of Clark Environmental and of the Cedar Trail Landfill, the site where the processed waste will be disposed . According to the report forwarded to county officials, the inspection found both facilities in compliance.

Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., is open to the public and can also be viewed on Polk Government Television, either online or on cable.

In case you don’t know what this is all about, here’s the short version.

Fort Myers officials buried some waste from a city water plant in a pit in a predominantly African-American community called Dunbar in the early 1960s. The presence of the waste only came to light in recent years. City officials initially misled the public about the situation until local media uncovered the facts.

Although there’s some dispute about whether the material that was buried really constitutes a health threat to the Dunbar community, the presence of the dumpsite and the initial response by city officials caused it to become a political issue. That forced city commissioners to agree to remove the waste and ship it somewhere to the processed.

Although city officials originally planned to ship it to a cement plant in Alabama, the deal fell through and they decided to ship it to the Mulberry processing plant instead.

At the time the waste was first disposed in 1962, no state or federal environmental agencies with any enforcement power existed.