Piney Point Waste Injection Plan Raises Questions


The plan proposed by Manatee County to treat the estimated 270 million gallons of polluted wastewater from the Piney Point gypsum stack ponds and inject it deep underground has been controversial.

Deep well injection has been used extensively in Florida as an alternative to surface discharges. The best example locally is a well near Mulberry that is used to dispose of acidic wastes that were previously discharged, causing concrete bridge supports downstream to begin dissolving in addition to the environmental damage it caused.

Proponents of deep-well injection maintain that the wells are constructed in a way that prevents the hazardous waste from escaping and polluting drinking water supplies.

But a 2012 report from ProPublica documented numerous cases involving leaks from these wells that allowed wastes to reach shallower sections of the aquifer.

This is becoming more relevant as utilities explore exploiting so-called alternative water supplies in deeper sections of the aquifer, closer to the destination of these deep-well injection projects.

Those deeper sections contain, water that are known to be contaminated by brackish water, which requires reverse osmosis to bring it to drinking water standards.

That process also involves disposing of the wastes from that process via the same deep-well injection process proposed for the Piney Point wastes.

Although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s regular updates on the Piney Point situation focuses on treating the wastewater to reduce concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen, which are the target for surface water discharges, critics of the deep-well injection proposal focus on the other pollutants in the pond water that the FDEP press releases do not mention. Those pollutants consist of cancer-causing metallic and radioactive elements such as arsenic, cadmium, radium and thorium.

These and other issues are expected to be addressed if a coalition of environmental groups follow through with an announced plan to file a lawsuit to challenge the deep-well injection proposal.



Swiftmud Board Oks $1.8M FDOT Offer For Toll Road Through Marshall Hampton Reserve; New Entrance Planned


The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board voted Tuesday to accept a $1,865,200 offer from the Florida Department of Transportation to buy 68 acres at the northeast corner of the 1,167-acre Marshall Hampton Reserve for a section of the Central Polk Parkway.

The Central Polk Parkway is a planned toll road that will connect the industrial areas around the CSX freight terminal and surrounding planned industrial facilities in Winter Haven and the Polk Parkway.

The planned road, whose construction is scheduled to begin in 2023, will wipe out the large oak hammock at the beginning of the trail system with the reserve that connects to the Panther Point Trail along the eastern and southern shore of Lake Hancock.

The agreement with FDOT calls for developing a new entrance, parking area and trailhead somewhere south of the existing entrance. Details will be announced later.

This is the second purchase of Swiftmud property around Lake Hancock related to the toll road.

Earlier FDOT paid the water management district $12 million for land that was occupied by the former Old Florida Plantation development.

The purchase of the right of way will also leave a 19-acre parcel at the corner of Winter Lake Road and Thornhill Road that Swiftmud officials plan to declare surplus and sell later.

All of the proceeds from these land sales will go towards purchasing conservation lands elsewhere in the district.



DeSoto Commissioners Plan Gypsum Stack Ban

The DeSoto County Commission Tuesday was scheduled to consider an ordinance that would specifically ban gypsum stacks.

This appears to be a largely symbolic gesture since Mosaic, which is planning to mine thousands of acres in that county, has no plans to build a fertilizer plant there. Fertilizer production at these plants generates waste known as phosphogypsum because it contains, in addition gypsum, a variety of radioactive and toxic elements.

A similar arrangement to allow mining but no gypsum stacks occurred when Mosaic announced plans to mine phosphate in western Hardee County several years ago.

Hardee, which has no natural lakes, also developed a county park around some of the former mine pits to expand boating and fishing opportunities there.

The proposed DeSoto County ordinance also seems to envision using mined land for future recreational amenities. DeSoto has no natural lakes.


St. Johns District Seeks Comments On Rodman Dam To Free Ocklawaha River, But Legislature, Cabinet Still Have Role

One of the most environmentally offensive legacies of the long deauthorized Cross Florida Barge Canal is the Rodman Dam that prevents the Ocklawaha River from flowing freely as it did for millenia before this misguided engineering project occurred.

The efforts to halt the canal project, which was first proposed sometime before Florida became a state, involved people in Polk County such as the late Ken and Helen Morrison, who were involved in the formation of the Florida Defenders of the Environment. Also, part of the river’s headwaters begin in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern. That means in the big picture, we have skin the game.

The decision has been debated for years, but recently public pressure has increased to free the river to restore the historic flow to the St. Johns River.

The latest opportunity for the public to comment involves a series of questions posted by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

To share your views, go to Rodman – Formstack . If that link doesn’t work, go to the district’s home page and click on the newsroom site at Newsroom of the St. Johns River Water Management District (

The deadline to comment is at 5 p.m. on Oct. 22.

But whatever the SJRWMD and ultimately the Florida Department of Environmental Protection decides will not be the final word.

The Florida Legislature and the Florida Cabinet have a role, too, according to an advisory legal opinion issued by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, which lays out the project’s complicated history

To read more go to: Advisory Legal Opinion – Restoration of Oklawaha River and removal of Rodman Dam (





Landowners Could Earn $, Help Tortoises Under FWC Program

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) is seeking landowners to help with gopher tortoise conservation efforts as part of the agency’s Gopher Tortoise Recipient Site Program. The program benefits landowners and tortoises and is compatible with other land uses, such as hunting and wetland mitigation.

The Gopher Tortoise Recipient Site Program provides landowners with an opportunity to generate additional revenue from their lands, as the landowner may charge a market-based fee for each tortoise received at the site.

The problem is that Florida is running out of approved sites in the Florida Panhandle, forcing developers to seek sites in areas of the Florida Panhandle, where gopher tortoises were historically hunted and eaten, for gopher tortoise relocation sites.

This idea is good financially for landowners.

The price landowners can charge per tortoise received at an approved site is not set by the FWC, so the landowner can adjust the fee based on their needs. Based on the current market for gopher tortoise recipient sites, landowners can generate more revenue from this program than ever before while contributing to the conservation of the species, according to FWC officials.

The program has a wider environmental benefit to protect Florida’s natural heritage. . Managing properties and habitat for the gopher tortoise has a conservation benefit for more than 350 other species that have been documented using gopher tortoise burrows. Many of these species are also state or federally listed.

“Landowners play a significant role in conserving gopher tortoise habitat throughout Florida,” said Alex Kalfin, program planning and monitoring administrator for the FWC’s Wildlife Diversity Conservation Section. “We are hoping we can get more property owners enrolled in this program, which is not only a critical component of gopher tortoise conservation in Florida but also provides substantial benefits for landowners.”

 FWC staff will assist property owners whose lands meet the recipient site criteria throughout the application process. They will also help landowners make improvements to their land to improve quality habitat for gopher tortoises and other wildlife.

To learn more about gopher tortoises, the recipient program and how to apply, visit

Through the FWC Landowner Assistance Program, biologists provide technical assistance to private landowners, helping them develop management plans for their property that maximize benefits to wildlife and people. They can also assist with finding financial assistance to complete important habitat restoration projects on private lands. To learn more about this program visit or call your FWC Regional Office and ask to speak to a LAP biologist.

Are More Predictable Zoning Hearings A Good Idea?

The first public hearing on a proposal to extend the idea that reviews of zoning and planning cases would turn out better for applicants if fewer people were involved in the decision-making didn’t go as planned Tuesday before the Polk County Commission.

Commissioners had already abolished the local Board of Adjustment and turned its function to decide on requests for variances and special exceptions to zoning and building codes to a hearing officer. Tuesday the issue was whether to turn over hearings to consider approvals of everything from cell phone towers to new subdivisions to a hearing officer instead of the county’s Planning Commission.

When the change went before the Planning Commission, that body voted 6-1 to recommend denial. Even Chair Becky Troutman, the lone dissenter, told commissioners she had questions about the proposal, but was concerned the challenge of dealing with the compatibility issue which was often at the heart of most of the appeals, remained unresolved.

Since this was the first hearing on the change, commissioners took no vote. A decision will occur Oct. 5.

Ancient Islands Group of Florida Sierra opposed the change, arguing it was unnecessary and that such decisions were better left to the collection of professionals from various backgrounds that make up the Planning Commission than a single professional hearing officer.

We also took issue with the more restrictive appeals process, which it made it harder to challenge decisions and limited commissioners’ ability to shut down bad proposals.

The root of the effort was an attempt by County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, to create a review system whose outcome would be more predictable and less cumbersome for his he and his colleagues.

But other commissioners questioned the whether this was a good idea or even necessary.

Another and more cogent aspect of this discussion is that if the system were changed so decisions became more cut-and-dried—critics of Polk’s development review contend the staff reports are already heavily skewed in developers’ favor—people would be left to wonder why have public hearings at all.





Conservation Takes A Back Seat As Polk Cities Jockey For Bigger Water Permits

Officials in Davenport and Haines City have been aggressively annexing land for new residential subdivisions in their former rural outskirts in recent years.

Water line extensions typically accompany the subsequent development that the annexations anticipated and were contingent on.

As a result, officials in those cities have complained about not having enough permitted water capacity to meet projected growth demands. They have tentatively discussed trying to develop their own so-called alternative water supplies by tapping the lower reaches of the Floridan aquifer as the Polk Regional Water Cooperative is planning to do at two planned wellfields at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern north of Lakeland and in the Lake Walkinwater area east of Lake Wales.

However during this week’s PRWC meeting, a presentation on potential water conservation strategies to reduce indoor and outdoor (read lawn irrigation) residential water consumption revealed officials in Davenport, Haines City and most of the other cities in Polk County have no one on staff assigned to deal with water conservation even though aggressive conservation measures could reduce the need for developing new water sources and perhaps allow cities to live within their water budgets.

And, even in cities that do have a staff member assigned to water conservation, the practical effect is unclear based on casual observation of some residents’ water consumption patterns that belie conservation efforts.

Some residents in newer homes don’t have rain sensors even though they’re supposed to. That means the lawn sprinklers are sometimes running full blast in the morning after an inch of rain fell the night before.

Many lots are still dominated by a turf monoculture which requires not only more water, but more fertilizers and pesticides to maintain this high-input and outdated landscape.

The water savings are not trivial, either.

The Polk County Extension Office, which is working the PRWC on water conservation issues, estimates residents who follow their recommendations for adjusting their irrigation methods and their landscaping practices could save tens of thousands of gallons of water a year. Multiply that by the number of new homes that typically use more water than older homes because they come with a pre-installed irrigation system. Older homes use less water because many of them do not have irrigation systems.

Hiring water conservation staffers costs money, but the expense seems small compared to the tens of millions of dollars that will go into an alternative water projects that might not be needed if cities didn’t allow so much water to be wasted in the first place.