If You Do The Math Polk Land Referendum Makes Sense

When the 1994 environmental lands referendum funding was set to expire, the discussion among Polk County commissioners went something like this.

There was already a lot of protected land in the county and what’s the point to going further.

It is somewhat like the recent statement by Herschel Walker in the Georgia race of U.S. Senate in which he asked how many trees are really necessary.

Well, if you listen to critics of many development, a recurring theme involves the disappearance of trees (and wildlife) from the property.

Looking more broadly, a recent column that ran in the Tallahassee Democrat raised the issue of how much conservation land Florida needs. The column described Florida’s national ranking and calculated that there is only 0.4 of an acre per capita, arguing land acquisition has not kept pace with population growth.

Here in Polk County the situation is worse.

The calculation comes out to about 0.2 of an acre per person.

We can do better, but only if Polk County voters approved the environmental referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

To learn more about the effort, go to polkforever.com .



State Protects More Land In Peace River Basin


An agreement by the Florida Cabinet in coordination with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District will protect 11,958 acres in Hardee and DeSoto counties via a conservation easement in the Horse Creek corridor, a tributary of the Peace River.

The vote came on the same day of a primary election that is a prelude to the Nov. 8 general election in which Gov. Ron DeSantis and other members of the Florida Cabinet will be up for re-election.

This follows an action by Swiftmud’s Governing Board in July to secure a 4,357-acre conservation easement on the Carlton Ranch, which is also part of the Cabinet’s effort.

Horse Creek is a 25.2-mile stream that flows through portions of Hardee and DeSoto county before joining the Peace River south of Arcadia.

The conservation easement appears to limit phosphate mining, which has been a major issue in DeSoto County as Mosaic continues to seek permits to mine thousands of acres there despite intense public opposition.

Also approved Tuesday was a 1,883-acre conservation easement on a portion of the 6,754-acre Buck Island Ranch in Highlands County and a 663-acre conservation easement on the Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County.




Sierra Club Florida Endorses Polk Forever Referendum

Sierra Club Florida has joined a list of local and statewide environmental organizations to endorse the Polk Forever referendum that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Sierra’s endorsement is key because it is a diverse grassroots organization. What is now the Ancient Islands Group, which includes members inn Polk County, of the Florida Chapter was organized in 1973.

So far there is no organized opposition to the referendum. An earlier referendum approved in 1994 did face organized opposition.

The Polk Forever campaign seeks to gain voter approval to renew the property tax to purchase and preserve more environmentally important land in Polk County.

The tax of .20 mil would cost the average homeowner $30 a year. If voters approve the measure, it would be levied for 20 years, beginning in 2023.

The idea behind the referendum is to preserve as much land as possible either through outright purchases or the purchase of conservation easements to protect aquifer recharge areas, water bodies and important wildlife habitat and green spaces for future generations.

Polk is undergoing intense growth pressure that has led to predictions that its population, which was around half a million when the 1994 referendum passed, will grow to near 1 million in the next quarter of a century.

That is why the timing of the referendum is important because time is running out to protect what’s left of Polk’s wild lands.

To learn more about the referendum and how you can support it, go to polkforever.com . To learn more about the work of Sierra Club Florida, go to www.sierraclub/org/florida .


American Rescue Plan $ Aid Environmental Restoration

The Polk County Commission voted unanimously Aug. 16 to use $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds approved by Congress and the Biden Administration to purchase two parcels totaling 255 acres that will be used to create wetlands treatment areas.

One parcel will be located on the west side of Lake Hamilton in the Winter Haven suburbs. It will involve diverting water from the Peace Creek Canal into a wetlands treatment area that will be constructed later. Lake Hamilton lies at the headwaters of the Peace Creek, a World War I-vintage drainage canal that flows to the Peace River on the outskirts of Bartow.

The other parcel will be located in low-lying land northwest of Lake Annie near Dundee and will treat water flowing through the lake’s watershed. Lake Annie is the focus of a restoration project being undertaken by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Developer Withdraws Attempt To Intensify Development Near APAFR

The developer of a 1,000-unit recreational vehicle park near the edge of the Avon Park Air Force Range has withdrawn an attempt to ask the County Commission to amend its growth regulations to allow some permanent residences despite a pledge when the project was originally approved in February 2020 that no permanent residences were planned.

The project known as the Resort at Canopy Oaks has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between the developer and officials at the 106,000-acre military base on how further encroachment by development around its boundary will affect the ability of the base to host a variety of training, some of which involves the use of nighttime low-level flights by military aircraft.

Ancient Islands Sierra Club Group was on record as opposing the change.

Although the commission’s original approval ignored concerns raised by state planning officials in connection with a regional effort to buffer the base’s activities so training activities there would not be hampered,.

The approval was not a surprise since local economic development officials had attended an event at the development site before the first hearing that gave the impression the official approval was assured.

However the attempt to add permanent residences created some pushback from some commissioners led by Commissioner George Lindsey.

The withdrawal of the application came in a letter dated Aug. 15 from Bart Allen, the lawyer representing the developer. The issue was scheduled to be heard Aug. 16 before the County Commission after being continued earlier this year to allow the developer to meet with base officials to determine whether they could work out their differences.

Meanwhile, the developer has begun the review process to seek final approval of the next two phases of the planned RV park consisting of 589 spaces via the county’s Development Review Committee.




FDOT Withdraws Northern Turnpike Extension Plan

There will be no more roads to ruin for now in Florida it seems.

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced it will drop plans for four potential routes to link the Florida Turnpike to U.S. 19 and instead focus on improving Interstate 75, according to news reports.

This was the last of a group of controversial road projects opposed by Sierra Club because of their potential to encourage urban sprawl in rural areas that would threaten rural residents’ serenity and security and fragment wildlife habitat.

In addition, there was never any real need for these roads for anyone but the development and road-building lobbies.

Ancient Islands Sierra members in Sumter County and their neighbors had packed recent County Commission meetings to urge commissioners to support the “no build” option which is now what has become state policy.

Elected officials and residents in surrounding counties had actively objected to the project as well.

Ancient Islands Sierra members in Polk actively campaigned against an earlier project to build a new toll road between Polk and the Fort Myers area. Plans for that project have been shelved.

Remaining alert for proposals for unwise or unnecessary road projects is an ongoing task for Sierra, which also opposed an unrelated road project at the edge of the Everglades in Miami-Dade County and has spoken out about some so-called priority road projects in Polk County in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern and the Everglades Headwaters.


Hot, Dry July Is Local Climate Story

All of the figures are not in yet for the final days of July, but perhaps Winter Haven will have to do for an example of our summer of higher energy bills.

It was the hottest July on record from the period that began in 1941 and fifth driest, which means there was little moderation in the temperature from afternoon showers.

Weather in Lakeland may be in the running for one of the 10 warmest Julys, but data from the final few days is still unavailable. Rainfall was on the dry side of the scale there, too.

Bartow Municipal Airport’s weather was not record-setting, but was warm and dry, too.

Weather records for Wauchula show the same heat wave, moderated by more rain.

But the real takeaway was that the bulk of the highest temperatures in the area generally occurred in the last 10 to 20 years.

The heat is definitely on.