Hurricane Threat Closing Nature Parks, Campgrounds In Area

The threat from heavy rain and high winds to the personal safety of visitors has led various agencies that own or manage conservation lands in the area to close them temporarily.
South Florida Water Management District closed all of its public lands at 5 p.m. Friday.
Southwest Florida Water Management District has temporarily closed all of its campsites .
Polk County Environmental Lands will temporarily close all of its sites to the , public beginning Monday.
Payne Creek Historic State Park near Bowling Green is already closed because of flooding along the Peace River.
The campgrounds/cabins at Alafia River State Park, Colt Creek State Park, Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Kissimmee State Park and Lake Louisa State Park are closed until further notice.

Fantasy Highways Discussion Resumes Tuesday In Tampa

The debate on whether the solution to Florida’s hurricane evacuation, economic development and broadband ambitions is to build three new highways instead of improving the transportation network we already have will resume Tuesday in Tampa.
Representatives from Sierra Club and other environmental and public-interest organizations will be at the Tampa Convention Center to reaffirm our opposition to the projects.
Sierra declined to serve on the task forces as one of the representatives of the environmental community because we feel it is not appropriate to collaborate on the development of projects we don’t think are worthwhile in the first place.
According to press reports, the effort to expand roads south from Polk County to the edge of the Everglades/Big Cypress system and north from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border was largely driven by the road-building lobby and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
This is the latest in a long series of battles over proposed projects that have occurred in recent decades that have threatened historic sites such as Bok Tower or had the prospect of encouraging urban sprawl and making fire management more difficult on conservation lands.
The proposed projects under consideration this time around  threaten to further fragment habitat for the Florida panther and Florida black bear, threaten to cause urban sprawl that may cause economic losses for rural communities, threaten already stressed north Florida springsheds and divert limited state revenue to projects whose necessity has yet to be proven instead of spending the money on projects recommended by previous state task forces to improve mobility.
It will be important to follow this process over the next year and to comment whenever possible.

High Peace River Causing Problems For Parks In Polk, Hardee

This summer’s rainfall has caused the Peace River to swell beyond its normal summer flow and parks along the river are feeling the effects.
Boating is pretty much out of the question for all but the foolhardy.
The photo above taken at the approach of the boat ramp at Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation illustrates the problem.
There is visible flow across the access road. The launching area is beyond the half-submerged picnic tables in the background.
According to preliminary USGS data, the flow exceeds the river flow following hurricanes in 2004.
Downstream the problems continue.
Payne Creek Historic State Park near Bowling Green is closed until further notice because of high water.
Construction on improvements at Crews Park in Wauchula will remain on hold until the flood waters recede.
The Canoe Outpost in Arcadia is closed and its website reports all boat ramps along the Peace River in Hardee and DeSoto counties are closed.

The high water may figure into the continuing discussions of tapping more of the river to meet future  drinking water demands in Polk County following a settlement over a permit dispute with the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority, which has tapped the river for decades  to supply coastal counties in a part of Florida where tapping the aquifer would increase saltwater intrusion.

Utility officials have argued to increase their withdrawal rate, especially during exceptional flows such as what is happening now on the river.

M-CORES, Hell; Finish Highway 60

One of the essential faults with the plan to build three new toll highways across rural sections of Florida was exposed during this week’s Polk Transportation Planning Organization meeting in Bartow.
It is simply this: Florida is years behind in fixing the highways it already has that are essential for moving freight and hurricane evacuation, the very attributes ascribed to these proposed new roads, and diverting state funds to these new projects isn’t likely to improve the funding situation.
TPO board members on Thursday approved a resolution urging state transportation officials to four-lane the rural section of State Road 60 that runs through parts of Polk and Osceola counties. There is currently no state funding to do this. The only traffic relief in this area is  the existence of periodic passing lanes, which are a band aid solution.
“While looking at new corridors, don’t lose sight of the need to look at existing corridors,” said planner Tom Deardorff, explaining State Road 60 is a critical freight route– truck traffic makes up 30 percent of the highway’s traffic volume–and hurricane evacuation route.
Haines City Commissioner Roy Tyler, a former law enforcement officer who has responded to auto crashes there, described the section as a “bottleneck” where most crashes are head-on collisions.
“There are no fender benders on SR 60,” he said.
Later in the meeting the board discussed the need to improve another highway, the section of SR 33 between Lakeland and Polk City, that is plagued by heavy truck traffic generated by the distribution centers that have been constructed nearby.Ironically there is another toll road nearby, but it is not a convenient alternative route for the truck traffic. Board members were told there was no money available in the near future to fix that problem, either.

Balloons Are Litter; Do Not Release Them Into The Environment

Finding balloons in conservation lands is an all-too-common occurrence these days.
That’s because the activity is incompletely .regulated and public education may be lagging.
Florida bans releases of 10 or more balloons unless they area biodegradable or photodegradable. Violations can bring a $250 fine.
The problem many have encountered is not with mass balloon releases, but with individual releases, either intentional or accidental, that can be carried many miles–some have been documented to travel hundreds of miles–into wildlife habitat.
Perhaps the best approach is to work to persuade people to use more environmentally sensitive practices to celebrate events, remember loved ones and other uses.

New Toll Road Task Force Membership List Still Incomplete

The memberships of the three task forces that will provide input to state transportation leaders on three new toll roads through rural areas of Florida are gradually appearing, but some jurisdictions have yet to name representatives..
Under legislation approved this year, the task forces were supposed to selected by today from a list of stakeholders outlined in the bill.
The appointments so far are listed on the website the Florida Department of Transportation has set up for the projects.

Local representatives include Polk County Commissioner Rick Wilson, Winter Haven Commissioner Nat Birdsong, Hardee County Commissioner Colon Lambert, Central Florida Regional Planning Council Executive Director Pat Steed, Polk State College President Dr. Angela M. Garcia Falconetti , South Florida State College Vice President Glen Little, DeSoto County Commissioner Elton Langford, Hardee County Commissioner Mike Thompson,  Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley and Katie Worthington Decker, president and CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

Environmental groups represented on the task force are 1000 Friends of Florida,  Audubon Florida,  Defenders of Wildlife, The Everglades Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.

.The first meeting will occur Aug. 27 at the Tampa Convention Center. It is planned to run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Future meetings will be scheduled in varied locations within the proposed corridors.
In this part of Florida, the southwest Florida route  runs from Lakeland to Naples.
The corridor study area depicted on the website’s map includes Polk, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Lee, Hendry, Glades and Collier counties.
For more information, go to this link .

Sierra opposes the project because it will fragment wildlife habitat, lead to urban sprawl and waste state transportation resources.