More Land Along Peace River Gains Protection

The Southwest Florida Water Management District agreed this week to purchase a conservation easement over a 771-acre private ranch in Hardee County.

The Frederick Ranch contains 2.5 miles of frontage along the river south of Wauchula. Aerial photos posted on Swiftmud’s website show a substantial amount of the property is in its natural state. The staff report said a substantial amount of the property lies in the floodplain of the river, which bisects the property.

The purchase price for the permanent conservation easement was $3,705,000.

This is the latest in a series of purchases along the Peace River or its tributaries that has occurred in recent years.

Last year state officials agreed to purchase a conservation easement over 11,458 acres in Hardee and DeSoto counties along Horse Creek, one of the Peace’s main tributaries.

Meanwhile, Polk County officials are moving forward with a consultant study to examine needed restoration work along the section of the Peace River in Polk County, which has been impacted by phosphate mining and development.

An update on the plan will be the subject of the May 11 Ancient Islands meeting at 7p.m. at Circle B Bar Reserve.


Celebrate Earth Day At EV Event Or On A Trail Near You

Saturday is Earth Day and if you live in or around Polk County, you have some choices for observing it.

Ancient Islands Group’s Clean Energy Committee will be participating in an electric vehicle show-and-tell at Munn Park in downtown Lakeland. From 9 1 p.m.

A number of electronic vehicles will be on display and their owners or dealer representatives will be available to answer questions about these vehicles . Electric vehicles, which generate no tailpipe emissions, are seen as the ultimate solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

Saturday is also National Trails Day. There are no local special events to celebrate the event organized by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, but it is an opportunity to walk or ride a bicycle along one the many recreational and nature trails in the area.

This is an activity you can do anytime because it is worthwhile to celebrate Earth Day every day.

Polk Commissioners Get Earful On Lands Panel Picks; Assure Public Everything Will Be Run Properly

The selection of 10 people—many of them with ties to the local development industry—to a committee that will make recommendations on the next wave of Polk environmental preserves that need to be purchased drew renewed public criticism at Tuesday’s Polk County Commission meeting.

The committee called the Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee will review applications for purchases under the Polk County Environmental Lands Program. The purchases will be funded with a tax voters approved in a referendum last November. The tax , which was authorized for 20 years, will be collected beginning in the 2023-24 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The committee members ‘terms begin May 1. After an initial organizational meeting, the committee will meet as proposals arise to be considered. All meetings will be open to the public.

Travis Thompson, a local hunting and fishing guide who was one of the people who worked on the referendum, renewed his criticism of the people selected to serve on the committee, arguing no one was chosen with backgrounds in water management, land management or outdoor recreation.

He acknowledged he did not know most of the people appointed to the committee, but maintained some well-qualified people did not make the cut.

Several other residents voiced similar complaints, arguing the makeup of the current committee was much different from the makeup of the committee appointed to advise commissioners in spending funds from a previous referendum that was approved in 1994 and funded the purchase of about 25,000 acres.

After listening to the comments, commissioners either challenged the criticisms or sought to assure people that there is nothing to worry about.

Commission Chairman George Lindsey said they could have put the names of the applicants into a hat and pulled out 10 names and still had a good committee.

He said he sent letters to all of the unsuccessful applicants thanking them for offering to serve and urging them to remain involved in the process.

He said the committee will review applications from willing sellers rather than going out and looking for property to buy. That review will be aided by a technical advisory committee that will visit sites and report whether they meet the program’s criteria.

He said the fact that people from the development committee sit on the committee is not important since the lands being considered cannot be developed anyway.

However, that’s not entirely accurate.

Although there likely will be wetlands on some of the properties that will be reviewed, the program also envisions nominations from high and dry land in places like the Lake Wales Ridge, which contains one of the largest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the United States. It also seeks land with potential for public recreation that could involve other upland sites.

In fact, the original program made sure to limit purchases to lands that not only had environmental value, but also could provide public access and could be easily managed. This prevented the program from becoming a dumping ground for property that simply could not be developed.

Commissioner Bill Braswell challenged the idea that people some of the speakers didn’t even know should be ruled unqualified out of hand.

“What do you think they’re going to do?” he asked.

Commissioner Rick Wilson, who will chair the committee, said he has lived in Polk County his entire life and has experience in hunting, fish and land management.

“I will make sure everything is done by the book,” he said.

Gyp Stack Roadbuilding Bill Still Moving Ahead Despite Questions

Legislation that would authorize the Florida Department of Transportation to test the feasibility of using a fertilizer manufacturing waste called phosphogypsum –if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decides to allow such things—is still moving toward possible passage during this year’s session of the Florida Legislature.

The basis for this bill seems a bit odd because a couple of roads in Florida—including Parrish Road near Fort Meade—were built years ago and still seem to be in good shape.

The question, then, is not whether you can use this stuff to build roads instead of other conventional road base materials such as lime rock or other unconventional materials such as shredded tires or pulverized glass.

Instead, the question is whether it’s a good idea.

As the Senate staff report understates: “A literature review suggests the existence of opposing opinions relating to the advantages and disadvantages of exposure to phosphogypsum.”

That may have something to do with the fact that it is slightly radioactive and contains all kinds of toxic elements.

It is fair to add that a University of Miami analysis of the Parrish Road project, which was completed decades ago, found nothing alarming regarding potential exposure to residents or the natural environment. The road is bordered by a phosphate pit that attracts all kinds of waterfowl and marsh birds, so if there were effects, you might expect them to have showed up by now.

What the Senate analysis never deals with is why such a project is important to the Florida roadbuilding industry in the first place.

That is, is Florida facing a lime rock shortage? We’re left to guess.

The fertilizer industry’s issue is obvious. Right now the mining/fertilizer companies are required to operate or monitor these mountainous waste stacks forever at considerable cost.

If they could figure out a way to get rid of the stacks by persuading some agency to agree to allow the material’s commercial use, there would be a potential end point for their obligations.

That scenario raises another question.

That is, how long would the construction or reconstruction of how many lane miles of roadway take to make a dent in even one of the24 stacks that dot Florida’s landscape?.

The staff report offers no guidance.

It is hard to believe they are that amazingly incurious.



Winter Haven Celebrates Increased EV Charging Stations

Winter Haven Mayor Brad Dantzler (right) addresses crowd at unveiling on new downtown EV charging stations

Winter Haven officials on Monday celebrated the addition of more electric vehicle charging stations in the downtown area

The new charging stations are in addition to facilities that had been previously installed in the city’s downtown parking garage.

“Electric is the future,” said Winter Haven Mayor Brad Dantzler, one of a crowd of EV owners who turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

He said this event marks a significant change in transportation technology.

“I never thought in a million years I’d be talking about electric vehicles,” he said.

City officials tied this event to annual celebration of Earth Day, which will occur later this month.

The expansion of charging stations, which initially be available at no charge to EV owners, has been a goal connected to the increased public acceptance of electric vehicles.

Monday’s event attracted a crowd of about 50 EV owners and other members of the public.

Sierra supports increased use of electric vehicles as one approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have been connected to climate change.

Ancient Islands Chair Tom Palmer, Vice Chair and Conservation Chair Marian Ryan and Clean Energy Committee Chair Karen Freedman attended the event.

This week President Joe Biden announced plans to increase regulations on emissions; from internal-combustion engines, which have powered vehicles for more than a century. In an attempt move the automobile market toward the adoption of more electric vehicles in coming years.

Florida is a key state in the climate change discussion because of the effects of sea-level rise and increased tropical storm activity.

This could affect inland areas of Florida in the future as climate refugees put more pressure on natural resources in this part of the state.

ICYMI It Has Been Hotter and Drier Around Here

What a difference six months makes.

Last fall many residents were worried about floods as torrential hurricane-related rainfall caused some rivers to surge into torrents few people alive today could recall.

Now residents are concerned about wildfires as local officials are imposing outdoor burn bans because the rain faucet is down to a drip .if that. in many places though there are predictions of some relief by next week.

According to the National Weather Service in Ruskin’s preliminary March data, it was the second driest March on record in Winter Haven, the fourth driest in Bartow and the fifth driest at Archbold Biological Station.

Meanwhile, it was the sixth warmest March on record in Lakeland (tied with a previous ranking from 1935), and the 9th hottest in Winter Haven and at Archbold. Other stations in the area are at double-digit rankings.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of spring goes between now and the start of hurricane season.


Sierra Wins Conservation Panel Appointment

Ancient Islands Group Chair Tom Palmer was appointed Tuesday to Polk County’s Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee. He was the only member of a local environmental organization to be named to t he 10-member committee.

The committee, which will be chaired by County Commissioner Rick Wilson, will make recommendations to the County Commission on purchases of land or conservation easements restricting future development. The purchases will be funded with a property tax approved in November by the voters.

The levy is estimated to generate $11.2 million in its first year of the 20-year authorization.

The amount of expected revenue became an issue when it was revealed that although the ballot measure called for a levy of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property, the authorizing ordinance states the levy not to exceed that amount of millage. That gives commissioners the authority to levy a lower amount if they choose.

This issue was raised by some members of the Polk Forever committee during Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners did not respond at that time, but following the meeting Chairman George Lindsey said there had been some discussion among he and his colleagues to reduce the millage in all of the funds by 3 percent to give taxpayers a break.

Commissioners will make a decision on the proposed millage later this year in preparation for public hearings in September to adopt next year’s budget.