Polk County Seeks Landowner Nominations As Voter-Approved Environmental Lands Tax Nears Taking Effect

Last November Polk County voters overwhelmingly approved a grassroots effort to resume purchase of environmentally important lands.

The tax, which is projected to generate an estimated $11.3 million in the first year it takes effect beginning Oct. 1, will be used to purchase land or conservation easements to protect land from development.

Which lands will be recommended to the County Commission will be based on a review by a technical advisory committee of environmental experts and a citizen committee appointed earlier this year by commissioners.

The citizen committee called the Conservation Lands Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet next on Oct 11 in the County Commission chambers in Bartow.,

County officials announced this week the formal application process for landowners will open Aug.1.

The criteria for acquisition involves securing land that protects wildlife and water resources, can be managed cost-effectively and can provide public recreation where appropriate.

Many recent state purchases, which in the past involved partnerships with local environmental lands programs, have involved conservation easement of ranches within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a statewide conceptual network designed to allow movement of wide-ranging species such as Florida panthers and Florida black bears and to provide buffers along key streams across Florida’s remaining undeveloped landscape.

However, there has also been a push by conservationists to also seek higher-quality sites that include more native habitat rather than pasturelands as a priority.

The emphasis of the campaign to pass last year’s referendum emphasized the need to purchase lands in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, the Peace River corridor, the Lake Wales Ridge and the headwaters of the Everglades in the Kissimmee River Basin. In addition, there was an emphasis of trying to acquire land that would connect existing conservation lands to avoid fragmentation.

To apply for consideration to participate in the program, go to https://polknature.com/about-us.


Still Unapproved Road Plan Won’t Make A Dent In Gypsum Stacks

The Tampa Bay Times reported and other Florida media have followed that Mosaic is seeking approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use 337 tons of phosphogypsum for a test road construction project authorized this year by the Florida Legislature.

That sounds like a lot of material that could go toward erasing these waste mountains on Florida’s landscape until you look at the big picture.

Florida’s gypstacks as they are called contain an estimated 1 BILLION tons of this stuff and the number increases by 30 MILLION tons a year.

That means we’re talking about a project that will consume about one ten-thousandth of a percent of the annual output, which even if it were approved would be hardly noticeable.

In case you tuned in late, phosphogysum as the industry calls it so it doesn’t get confused with the material contained in drywall, is slightly radioactive and contains some toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury and chromium. It is a waste byproduct of the process of making fertilizer from phosphate rock.

Meanwhile, the public reaction has been a mixture of unease and ridicule. Commentators on a recent radio show joked about how the roads built with this stuff won’t need street lights because they will glow in the dark.

This isn’t true, of course, but this is hardly a public relations win for Mosaic.

This also demonstrates how the Florida Legislature just rubber-stamped this proposal without any serious analysis in a decision that seemed to reek of politics.

If Trump was for this and Biden is against it, what else is there to discuss?

There was actually plenty to discuss such as whether the public would accept this if were used to build roads in residential areas, whether it is really an economical alternative to limerock and whether it would really solve Mosaic’s waste problem that requires the corporation to otherwise monitor and manage these waste piles until the end of time.

Until EPA officials make a ruling, this discussion is academic but will be entertaining to watch the political reaction if the answer is no.

Stay tuned.



Florida Constitution Rewrite Could Affect Environmental Advances

Florida’s Constitution has not undergone a major overhaul in more than 50 years. Recently there has been some discussion of pushing a major rewrite while the GOP legislative supermajority can control the process.

This idea, at least as far as anyone knows, comes from Rep. Spencer Roach, who represents the Fort Myers area.

Although his stated reasons for the rewrite involves things like increasing the number of legislators and re-examining election laws, once there’s a decision to go forward with a rewrite everything inside the document is on the table for GOP legislators and their lobbying partners to go over.

That could include several environmental provisions enacted by citizen initiatives in recent decades in response to legislative inaction or outright hostility.

At the top of the list could be the 2014 amendment that required legislators to set aside a third of net documentary stamp revenue to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to protect more of Florida’s native habitat for future generations. Ever since voters approved the amendment, the Florida Legislature has done everything it can thwart its enactment.

Then there are amendments that gave tax breaks for the installation of home solar devices to encourage alternative energy sources to reduce greenhouse emissions. Investor-owned utilities tried to undo some of this with a false flag amendment that voters rejected. The big utilities are not against solar; they simply want to control the market. They are big contributors to legislative campaigns and certainly would lobby to get rid of these amendments if the opportunity presented itself.

Then there was an amendment approved in 2002 that is often used as the poster child for topics that don’t belong in the constitution.

I’m speaking of the so-called “pregnant big” amendment that sets standards for this sector of the livestock industry. What this amendment actually accomplished was to make it unlikely that factory hog farms and their manure lagoons the size of phosphate industry waste ponds would be able to locate in Florida and threaten Florida water bodies with the kinds of spills other states have experienced.

Finally, there a section that was proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission and approved in 2018 that seeks to protect Florida’s natural resources and scenic beauty from air, water and noise pollution, supposedly made Everglades polluters responsible for cleaning up after themselves and banned offshore oil and gas drilling.

I can see some argue this an anti-business measure that does not belong in the Florida constitution. If there are problems, certainly the Florida Legislature can handle it.

The good news is that no changes in the Florida Constitution can go anywhere without voter approval, but it will be important if anything comes of this rewrite idea to look closely at ballot language to make sure no one is trying to pull a fast one or two.


Radioactive Road Proposal Faces Roadblocks Aplenty

After the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation authorizing state transportation officials to test the feasibility of using a toxic byproduct of fertilizer production in Florida to build roads, it seemed that was that.


The Ledger in Lakeland reports that state officials and Mosaic, the fertilizer corporation that proposes to build test roads on its property, are awaiting review of this scheme by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA rules currently prohibit using this material called phosphogypsum for anything other than piling it up in stacks the size of small mountains.

Phosphogypsum is a waste product that is slightly radioactive and contains a number of toxic elements such as arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium.

The argument for using this material in roads is that it is not as dangerous as critics claim and that it could reduce road-building costs by eliminating the need to transport limerock, the material that has been traditionally used in Florida road-building projects, from far away mines elsewhere in Florida.

They could further argue this study is unnecessary because the material has already been used in building a road on the outskirts of Fort Meade decades ago. A subsequent investigation of the environmental impacts by the University of Miami reportedly found no problems.

Mosaic certainly has an incentive to push this through because as things stand now, it is financially responsible until the end of time for monitoring and managing these stacks. This is an expense the corporation would be happy to shed.

Opponents are concerned that this opens the door to spreading this material all over the landscape with uncertain results.

However, the reality of this venture is even more complicated.

First, any action by EPA would require a public process before the agency makes a decision.

That decision is subject to legal challenges by organizations that oppose the idea.

This could take years to play out.

Meanwhile, the perfunctory staff analyses accompanying the legislation did not address how much demand there actually is for this material and whether there is enough demand to make even a small dent in the size of the stacks that dot southwest Polk County and a couple of spots in adjacent counties.

Also unaddressed is what would happen if phosphogypsum road testing is ultimately authorized and EPA subsequently decides it is a suitable road-building material and a road project is proposed somewhere in Florida using it.

It is not hard to imagine the political fallout that could occur when word gets out and residents show up at city or county commission meetings to object to using this material near their homes and wells.

You get the idea.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see, given all of the uncertainty over the EPA review, whether any state-mandated report will be available by its next April Fool’s Day due date and how much it will cost the taxpayers.

Stay tuned.


Horse Creek, Charlie Creek Minimum Flows Meetings Planned

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is planning a series of public meetings beginning July 17 and continuing through Oct. 2 to update minimum flows and levels for Horse Creek and Charlie Creek, two major tributaries of the Peace River.

The meetings will principally involve peer review of draft report by scientists, but public comments are allowed throughout the process, according to Swiftmud officials.

A public workshop is scheduled for this fall. Formal Governing Board action is scheduled in November.

The idea behind setting minimum flows and levels for water bodies to prevent environmental harm as a result of water withdrawals.

Historically, the Peace River has been one of the most impacted streams in central Florida as a result of water withdrawals that included the loss of base flow that caused portions of the river in Polk County to cease flowing during droughts.

For more information, including a copy of the draft and the meeting schedule, go to

Minimum Flows for Horse Creek and Charlie Creek | WaterMatters.org (state.fl.us)