Happy New Year; Hope Is On The Way

I wanted to wish all of our members in Polk, DeSoto, Hardee, Highland and Sumter counties a Happy New Year with a hope that the new year will bring better things for the environment.

The new administration in Washington promises to undo the damage that has occurred during the last four years on clean air, clean water, water conservation and the protection of our public lands.

With any luck, the efforts to bring the pandemic under control will eventually create a time when we can get together face-to-face and once again hold outings to share our love for the outdoors.

There also will be plenty of work to do to advance our environmental agenda to control climate change, protect native habitat and combat the forces that seek to undermine decades of hard work to protect out natural heritage.

We can do it.

Circle B To Host New Year’s Day Hike

The annual hosted hike at Circle B Bar Reserve will occur at 9 a.m. Friday at the popular outdoor venue.

The event will involve a 2.5-mile hike through a variety of restored native habitats. Volunteers will be present along the route to point out wildlife and other natural features.

Participants should dress appropriately with closed-toed shoes and bring binoculars or a camera. No registration is required.

The weather forecast calls for a windy and partially sunny day.

People can hike at their own pace and should practice social distancing and take any other measures in connection with the pandemic.

If you want to hike in a less-crowded venue, there are several other sites owned and managed by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program.

They include Lakeland Highlands Scrub in the south Lakeland suburbs, Gator Creek Reserve north of Lakeland, Sherwood L. Stokes Preserve east of Haines City, the Sumica and North Walkiniwater sites east of Lake Wales and Crooked Lake Prairie near Babson Park.

For more information on the county’s environmental lands sites, go to www.polknature.com

DeSantis Finally Fills Long-Vacant Polk Swiftmud Governing Board Seat

The typical Friday afternoon new releases from Tallahassee included an announcement that Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Ashley Bell Barnett to the long-standing vacancy on the board.

According to the release, Bell is a former educator and analyst for the Polk County School District and lives in Winter Haven.

Her appointment is for four years and is subject to Florida Senate confirmation. She fills a seat vacated more than a year ago by retired Haines City businessman Paul Senft, who left the board in August 2019..

Bell Barnett is the daughter of former County Commissioner and current State Rep. Melony Bell.

The Polk Regional Water Cooperative had proposed appointing former County Commissioner John Hall to the post.



More Lake Kissimmee Lakefront Headed For Protection Following Purchase

A 2,909-acre parcel on Lake Kissimmee that was once proposed for a golf course development may be on its way to permanent preservation.

Conservation Florida announced recently that an unnamed philanthropist has purchased the property with the intention of entertaining an offer to sell the development rights through a conservation easement.

The property was proposed in 2016 for a golf resort call Lost Oak, but the project stalled in 2018 when the Polk County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial and the developer withdrew his application a short time later.

The property lies north of Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks, a county park and campground.

The land, which was once the site of fish camps and weekend retreats, was purchased by the South Florida Water Management District in 2004 in connection with the Kissimmee River restoration project, which also included a plan to raise the regulated level of Lake Kissimmee.

However, some of the land ended up in the hands of a developer in 2007 as a result of another land deal elsewhere in the Everglades Basin.

The recent purchase will provide Conservation Florida and its partners time to raise funds to purchase a perpetual conservation easement on the property, which contains many stately live oaks and four miles of lakefront.

This is part of a larger effort to protect as much natural landscape as possible in the Kissimmee River Basin under the H2O: Headwaters to Okeechobee initiative.



Sierra Will Renew Push In Polk For Electric School Buses With VW $

Ancient Islands Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Committee is continuing to urge the Polk County School Board to use funds from the $57 million settlement awarded to Florida from Vokswagen over its cheating on diesel emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The application deadline is Jan. 18.

School Board members rejected a similar proposal last year in favor of purchasing propane-fueled buses, arguing electric buses don’t have range to handle bus routes, said Karen Freedman, the committee’s chair.

Freedman argues electric buses offer the advantage of having lower maintenance costs than conventionally-fueled school buses.

According to a fact sheet prepared by the Sierra Club, electric buses can save between $149,000 and $190,000 in fuel costs and $200,000 in operation and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.

School Board members often mention maintenance costs in connection with capital purchases for new facilities because they are recurring budget items. Adding electric buses and other vehicles would reduce the fiscal impact.

In addition, the reduction in emissions can reduce the threat of respiratory diseases such as asthma and cancer by reducing air pollution.

Meanwhile, there is a push to install more electric vehicle charging stations in more locations.

Nearly all of the charging stations in Polk County are located at private businesses rather than at government offices.




Sierra Presses FDOT On Parkway’s Impact On Hampton Preserve

Ancient Islands Sierra has been active in commenting on the impact the coming construction of the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway will have on Marshall Hampton Reserve.

The route of the new toll road will take out the mature oak forest at the beginning of the reserve’s trail system and will force the relocation of the parking and trailhead to site farther south on Thornhill Road.

Led by Conservation Chair Marian Ryan, AISC has been pressing Florida Department Transportation officials on some key issues.

First, what kind of habitat mitigation will FDOT perform to compensate for the destruction of the forest and surrounding meadows?

Second, will there be any on-site mitigation for the impacts on gopher tortoise and any other listed wildlife species affected by the project?

Third, what kind of safety and access improvements will be made at the new access point to recognize the increased traffic that will occur around the new highway interchange that might affect visitors? The design also needs to accommodate the needs of all user groups—hikers, cyclists, equestrians—who access the trail system.

Fourth, what kind of visual and sound buffering will be planned to reduce the new highway’s impact on user experiences?