Rainless Spring Start May Affect Outdoor Adventures

Spring began last week in the region, but if you want to get out on the water, check out conditions first.

The effects of last year’s moisture-laden hurricanes that raised water levels to record levels in some parts of the Peace River Valley have disappeared.

At the present time, water levels are barely high enough in some parts of the river to float a canoe.

As previously noted, there may be downstream obstructions that may have carried over from last year’s dry season despite efforts to promote a Blueway corridor in the incredibly scenic upper reaches of the Peace River.

The best advice is to check out conditions at various public lands along the river, particularly Peace River Hammock south of Fort Meade where last year two large trees blocked downstream passage.

Conditions are likely better south of Zolfo Springs.

If You’re Stuck In Traffic, Thank The Florida Legislature

Polk County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to update the impact fees they charge against new development to keep up with the increased traffic congestion that development causes.

But there’s a catch.

Legislators passed a law a few years ago that requires local officials to phase in the increases to provide relief for developers at your expense, commissioners were told as they prepared to vote.

That means the total effect of the impact fee increase won’t be felt for five years.

Add to that the local ordinance that gives developers several months of delay between the time the impact fee increase is improved and the time it actually takes effect.

The only somewhat bright spot in this imbroglio is that the County Commission has asked its staff to come up with a formula to determine how impact fee charges might be adjusted to account for developments such as warehouse distribution centers that generate more truck traffic than car traffic because of the obvious congestion truck traffic causes locally in places such as the State Road 33 corridor.

This is reportedly the first such attempt in Florida to deal with this disparity.

However, motorists may have to wait awhile on that change, too.

Happy driving.


East Polk Sprawlway Proceeds, Financed By Taxpayers, Not Tolls

While the long-sought eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway remains unfunded, the development community has come up with an abbreviated Plan B.

This involves the extension of Powerline Road from its intersection with South Boulevard along an arching northwesterly route all the way to U.S. 17-92 on the north side of Davenport just north of the predominantly African-American Jamestown community.

This will be a public road, not a toll road. The original proposed route of the toll road would have taken it to U.S. 17-92 somewhere near Loughman with some sort of planned connection to an already congested segment of Interstate 4.

On Tuesday the County Commission quickly agreed to a $10.8 million reimbursement package in impact fee credits and cash from the taxpayer-funded county budget to the project’s developers, who will handle design, permitting and construction costs.

County Manager Bill Beasley said the project aligns with the commission’s road priorities of creating a parallel route in northeast Polk County to relieve current and future congestion on U.S. 27 and 17-92.

That’s the official story anyway. But it is only half the story.

For one thing, most of the congestion on those highways involve travel headed to destinations along those highways or beyond in places like Orlando and Tampa.

Additionally, what this, as with any developer-backed road project, is not about regional congestion, but is all about is opening more land in the countryside to more intense development.

The list of corporations scheduled to be reimbursed are all housed in the offices of the Berry-Cassidy development entities based near downtown Winter Haven.

This may be a shocker, but it seems the Berry-Cassidy folks already own substantial acreage near the road’s planned route. Once the new road is constructed, the now landlocked parcels will be eminently developable. There may be other nearby major landowners, such as Standard Sand & Silica, that could be interested in taking advantage of the new road as well

That, coupled with some of the leapfrog annexation and development approvals that Davenport officials have supported within the past year will eventually radically transform once-rural areas east of Davenport into another urban sprawl complex similar to what’s already happened elsewhere in the area.

And the idea that this will relieve congestion on U.S. 17-92 is laughable, since what it will really do is dump a lot more traffic onto what is not a relatively uncongested section of US. 17-92. There will be a traffic light, though, to keep traffic from moving too quickly.

But hold on to your wallets.

This is just the first phase.

The second phase that has been discussed would involve extending Powerline Road from Hinson Avenue in a southwesterly direction through even more undeveloped farmland to link to State Road 17 and maybe U.S. 27 itself somewhere on the south side of Haines City.

The land ownership along that potential route is more mixed, but that same Winter Haven address pops up on corporate ownerships of some of the major parcels. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.



Legislature May Seek To Put The Rights of Hunters, Anglers In Florida Constitution To Follow Growing National Trend

A review of the upcoming issues that the Florida Legislature will deal with when it convenes next week includes a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Sen Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, that would enshrine the right to hunt and fish into that document if legislators agree to put it on the 2024 ballot and if voters approve.

This was a head-scratcher at first, but a little research was enlightening.

It seems this is part of a trend in a number of states in recent years—Vermont passed a measure to this effect in 1777, but no other state bothered to raise the issue until Alabama did so in 1996—to enact such a measure.

Since then, voters in 23 states have enacted similar measures.

It seems to be a reaction to efforts by animal rights advocates, who are sometimes falsely portrayed in media reports as environmentalists, to limit hunting and to deal with the fact that population growth, urban sprawl and changing demographics in many states have reduced the amount of land available for hunting and that hunters comprise a much smaller part of the population than in earlier times and feel threatened.

There actually was a proposed measure that never made it to the Florida ballot a couple of years ago that proposed to ban hunting of “iconic species.”

It was actually an attempt to prohibit Florida black bear hunting, which was approved in 2016 for a single season and may be on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s agenda in the near future. The other species on the ballot measure’s list, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers and Florida manatees, had been protected species for decades or were never game species in the first place.

There is already an active campaign to oppose further bear hunting in Florida and this proposed constitutional amendment may have been filed in response to it or filed simply to make Florida’s constitution consistent with those in the other states in the Southeast that have already approved similar measures.

Stay tuned.



Massive Polk Water Pipeline Project Moving Ahead


If you have been driving along Walkinwater Road east of Lake Wales and wondered what’s up with the giant drilling operation near the entrance of Walkinwater Estates, it is all about providing enough water to keep the development machine humming until at least mid-century.

The project is being carried out by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, a consortium of local governments that is using a combination of government grants and government loans to finance the planning, permitting and construction of what is probably one of the largest utility projects in the county’s history.

Here’s what’s happening.

Decades of unabated development as well as traditional agricultural operations and mining has depleted the Upper Floridan Aquifer to the point that there is no more water than can be sustainably withdrawn.

That means water users have to come with alternative sources. For public utilities that means tapping a previously unexploited underground reservoir called the Lower Floridan Aquifer.

The reason that part of the aquifer has never been tapped is because the water is not fresh and easily treated to standards required for drinking, cooking and bathing. That means it has be treated with a process called reverse osmosis. This is an energy-intensive process that pushes the water through a membrane to strain out the salt and other impurities.

The disposal of the waste products reverse osmosis produces requires the construction of an even deeper well—8,000 feet deep according to a presentation at a recent public hearing—to finish the job. Meanwhile, the treated water will be pumped into a 65-mile network of pipelines and sent to local water plants as far away as Bartow and Auburndale. Once the water reaches the plants, it will be blended with the water the plant is already producing and shipped through conventional water lines to customers.

The current schedule calls for construction to begin on the pipeline in 2024 and be completed by 2026.

How much extra the cost of the wells and pipelines and other infrastructure required to provide water for future customers will fall onto the backs of existing customers who did not create the demand the project is planned to meet, is still unclear at this point.

If you are a water customer anywhere in Polk County, you might want to pay attention. It will affect tens of thousands of customers.