Phosphate Gypsum Stacks For Roads Resurfaces, Kinda

The idea of using phosphogypsum for road construction is back in this year’s legislative agenda in Tallahassee.

Two bills sponsored by Rep. Lawrence McClure R-Dover, and Sen. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, propose that the Florida Department of Transportation study the feasibility of using this material for road base. This would be an alternative to limerock, which is typically used for road base. The study is supposed to be completed by 2024.

This coincides with a recent advertising campaign by the Florida Phosphate Council, which has appeared in some online sites promoting this idea.

The bottom line is that if phosphate companies can export the thousands of tons of material from their highly regulated stacks to other uses, it would relieve them of the perpetual responsibility of monitoring and managing these waste piles

Politically, this may be a move to consider a change in federal policy (read US Environmental Protection Agency) to allow this, depending on the outcome of the 2024 elections.

The Trump administration agreed to consider using the material for roadbuilding, but the Biden administration revoked the idea.

If there is a GOP victory in 2024, the game could change.

The issue is the difference between gypsum, the harmless chemical found in wallboard in your house, with phosphopgysum, a byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing that contains a number of toxic and radioactive elements.

The issue is whether the use of the material in road building, manufacturing, home building products or agriculture nutrition will put public health at risk.

However, the existing statute doesn’t offer a lot of comfort.

It already allows coal ash and other problematic materials to be used.

It also based the presumption on declining landfill space, even though the material doesn’t go to landifills in the first place and there is no shortage in landfill space in Polk County after the County Commission voted a few years ago to allow the current landfill to be expanded a few hundred feet higher.

Stay tuned.


Tom Pelham Led Florida’s Growth Management Agency

Believe it or not, Florida once had a robust growth-management program overseen by an agency called the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Tom Pelham (1923-2023), who oversaw the agency at its peak, died this week in Tallahassee.

Under his tenure, the agency was able to challenge weak local growth regulations by enforcing the Florida Legislature’s approval in 1985—when Florida’s population was about half of what it is today– of the first-ever effective growth-management regulations. Those regulations required local governments to come up with sustainable, financially sound growth-management plans.

Up until then, many local governments—Polk County was one of the poster children for this—had permissive zoning regulations and refused to adopt impact fees that paid for growth, leaving the financial burden and the traffic congestion on the backs of taxpayers.

The 1985 law also required concurrency, which meant development that would result in road or school gridlock would have to deal with the deficiency.

That’s all a dim memory now.

State law now makes road and school concurrency voluntary and the agency that oversees growth plan amendments, now given the Orwellian Department of Economic Opportunity moniker, no longer has the authority to challenge local growth decisions, no matter how misguided they are.

On top of that, Florida legislators support bills that would make it more difficult for citizen groups to take up the challenges in the breach lest they offend legislators’ developer campaign contributors.

Things didn’t have to turn out this way.

People like Tom Pelham and the responsible legislators who supported better ways to manage growth in Florida will be missed.



FWC Planned Crackdown On Invasive Exotics A Bit Late

The phrase better late than never certainly applies to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

We’re talking about the actual governor-appointed commission that sets policy for just about every aspect of hunting, fishing and wildlife management in this state.

At this month’ meeting an FWC press release reported that Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto directed the staff to come up with a new rule that would set criteria for evaluating the risk involving the introduction of exotic species to Florida that would lead to banning the importation of some species.

It is a great move even though it’s at least 20 or 30 years too late.

The reason for the delay was visible in plain view in the FWC press release.

“We are not trying to hurt the industry, but the time has come that we say Florida is off limits to any new species,” Barreto said.

The industry to which he was referring is the exotic pet industry, which is responsible for the Burmese pythons, tegus, Nile monitor lizards and untold numbers of species of parrots and other exotic birds as well as fish that together either compete with native species for food and nesting habitat or prey on native species to the point that it endangers local populations. Or in the case of iguanas, sometimes clog toilets and fall on unsuspecting yoga fans.

For too long FWC has been unwilling to take an aggressive position against the industry for a simple reason: politics.

The concern is that if wildlife officials crack down too hard on the exotic animal trade, business owners will complain to the Florida Legislature, which approves the agency’s budget.

It would not be unprecedented.

Several years ago an FWC proposal to classify white Ibis as a protected species brought a threat by some legislators to zero out the agency’s budget.

Maybe the tide is turning and it has finally dawned on more people in authority that wave after wave of invasive exotics is not a good thing for this state.

Meanwhile, it would be great if Florida’s new Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumers Services made a similar declaration to the nursery industry, which over the decades—sometimes with the active support of agriculture officials—has unleashed a long list of exotic plants into gardens and farms that eventually found their way into the wild, where they overwhelmed and degraded native habitat.

Critics of environmental land conservation efforts often ask “How much is enough?”

That’s certainly an apt question to pose to the businesses whose actions in promoting the sale of invasive exotic species—and aggressively pushing back on efforts to rein in the practice–have made managing Florida’s conservation lands more difficult and expensive.

It is well past time for a major crackdown.



Highlands Commissioners Back Off Carter Creek Protection Plan

The Highlands County Commission on Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposal that would have injected them into the ongoing battle to prevent questionable development activities from occurring on a scattering of private inholdings within 3,302-acre conservation tract on the outskirts of Sebring.

The property is called the Carter Creek tract and it lies within a 17,530-acre archipelago of state conservation lands that stretches from Lake Placid to Auburndale in Highlands and Polk counties. The sites predominantly are composed of scrub habitat, the home of a number of species found nowhere else on the planet.

The Carter Creek property itself is home of 37 protected species, said Jennifer Myers, assistant regional biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The proposal that led to Tuesday’s discussion was a recommendation from the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee to require anyone owning a parcels totaling less than two acres within the defined Carter Creek megaparcel to secure an environmental clearance regarding the presence of endangered species before they could proceed with development plans.

Highlands County’s development regulations already require clearances for properties larger than two acres.

The rationale of the request was that there had been a number of instances recently in which landowners took advantage of the county’s seeming permissive building regulations and the lack of local environmental review to alter habitat for road building, home construction and land clearing that might be a prelude to development.

According to one commissioner, it seems that only about seven percent of the lots fall into this category. The rest are owned by the state or The Nature Conservancy, which has been serving as an agent to negotiate purchases of these private parcels.

Carter Creek, like many similar properties in central Florida, was originally composed of thousands of 1.25-acre lots that were marketed to investors all over the world in the 1970s and 1980s. Locating owners and securing purchases is typically a slow, laborious process.

Commissioners said they agreed with the need to protect rare and endangered species, but said this proposal could potentially violate private property rights because of the expense involved in complying and would add an unnecessary layer of regulatory review.

They said if someone violates state or federal wildlife regulations, it is up to FWC or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—not Highlands County—to pursue enforcement actions.

Nevertheless, they seemed to agree that local officials need to make it clear to anyone who applies for a permit here or in other environmentally sensitive lands that they bear the responsibility for compliance or face fines or imprisonment if they are caught.

Commissioners also encouraged state and federal officials to more aggressively pursue purchases, though it was clear from the testimony that there are obstacles to that approach.

That is because some landowners have unrealistic expectations about land prices for lots that are often landlocked with no access to public roads and that the presence of private homes within a fire-managed landscape would be impractical.



Polk Environmental Lands Panel Applications Open Following Approval of Referendum

If you think you could contribute to the work to help the County Commission to select more land in Polk County to protect from the bulldozers, now is your chance.

The application process has begun for positions on the county’s Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee, known as CLASAC for short.

The announcement came after the County Commission approved a resolution Feb. 7 establishing the committee to advise commissioners on acquisitions that will be funded by a tax approved by Polk County’s voters in a referendum that appeared on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot.

For details on applying, go to the news tab at Home ( contact Polk Parks and Natural Resources at 863-534-7377.

The referendum authorized a levy of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property for 20 years beginning in the 2023-24 fiscal year. The first year’s levy would raise at least $8.2 million in the first year it is in effect.

The deadline to apply for membership is March 15. Commissioners, each of whom will appoint two recommend two members to serve, are scheduled to make appointments in May.

According to the resolution, the committee will consist of at least 11 members, including a commissioner, who will serve as chair.

The membership will be composed of representatives from various sectors of the community.

They will consist of : two professionals with experience in water resource management, two from local environmental groups, two from agricultural community, one from a local sportsman’s group, one from local outdoor recreation group, one with public land management experience, one professional with experience in land use planning and/or education.

Members will serve four-year terms and will not be term-limited.

All committee meetings, which will be scheduled as there are acquisitions to be considered, will be open to the public.

According to the ordinance that authorized the referendum, the county will either buy land outright or buy a conservation easement, which means the land will remain in private ownership but its future development will be limited.

Purchase prices will be based on appraisals and negotiations. The County Commission will have the final say on all purchases.


Opportunities Coming To Learn About Birds

Birds are an important part of the planet’s ecosystems and there is plenty to learn about them.

This month, as winter winds down and the first stirrings of annual spring migrations are poised to begin, there are local opportunities to find out more about what’s happening in the world of birds.

Environmental consultant and local Audubon Christmas Bird Count compiler Cole Fredericks will present a program on trends in CBCs and other bird surveys in this part of Florida at the next meeting of Ancient Islands Sierra on Feb. 9 at Circle B Bar Reserve. The program begins at 7 p.m. and is preceded by a covered-dish meal and social gathering beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Circle B Bar Reserve is located at 4399 Winter Lake Road, Lakeland.

On Feb 15 at 6 p.m. naturalist, wildlife photographer and international tour leader Reinier Munguia will discuss what birds go through this time of year as they prepare for the annual breeding season.

Some birds migrate thousands of miles and others are more sedentary but still have deal with the basics of finding mates, nesting sites and food to make sure their species will survive.

The program will be held at Lake Region Audubon’s Street Nature Center, 115 Lameraux Road, Winter Haven.

Both programs are free and open to the public.

Finally the annual Great Backyard Bird Count will occur Feb. 17-20.

This international event is designed to collect information on the location and abundance of bird species in mid-winter.

Participation is free and open to all. It does require an eBird account to submit the results of your sightings.

For details, go to .