Storm May Restore Peace River Flow

This is unusual for August, but the flow in the Peace River is approaching near-record lows that the area hasn’t seen in more than two decades.

At Bartow, for instance, the river is flowing so weakly that it is inadvisable to launch a boat to head downstream.

Farther downstream, just as upstream, the flow is approximately 10 percent of the long-term average.

The approaching storm, whose exact path is still a matter of speculation among meteorologists, may bring some heavy rain to restore river flows to nearer normal levels.

If not and in the absence of normal rainfall, it could be a long, dry winter along the river.

Circle B Meeting Focused On Single Project

Friday’s meeting at Circle B ended up focusing on a single project. That involved the development of educational, recreational and management facilities around an 11-acre pond that was dredged earlier this to eliminate a cattail monoculture and create more open water habitat.

County staff, who are hoping for a state grant to make this happen, are planning a number of improvements.

They include extending the trail system to this site, which is now not open to the public, adding a solar-powered educational kiosk, a floating boardwalk, a demonstration native plant garden, tanks for growing native aquatic plants such as eel grass and some work to improve habitat in that part of the property by establishing more pine trees and understory vegetation.

There was a brief mention of long-range plans to connect Circle B with the Marshall Hampton Reserve though wetlands bordering Lake Hancock. Polk officials are in the preliminary stages of hiring consultants to take a closer look at the project. The Florida Department of Transportation has also expressed an interest in becoming involved.

If that extension occurs, it would fill the last gap in a trail system that extends from Circle B to the Fort Fraser Trail to the Panther Point Trail and back to Circle B

One issue that is likely to arise is management of the lake swamp boardwalk, based on experiences at the Mosaic Peace River Park. That park’s boardwalk is closed periodically because of downed trees that damage or block the boardwalk.

Meanwhile, attendees learned that Friday’s meeting is the first of a series of public meeting that will lead to an update of Circle B’s management plan.

Stay tuned and stay involved.



Want To Guide The Future Of Circle B? Show Up Friday

There will be a meeting at noon on Friday in the workshop meeting room at Circle B Bar Reserve to discuss the future of this popular environmental site.

Topics will include future trails, future amenities and future nature-based recreational activities.

This just came to our attention at the last minute because for some reason there was no public outreach by the staff.

It is important to show up because the future of this preserve because it should be driven by the public who paid to buy the land and manage it and not just by the staff.

Ther biggest trail project that is in the early stages of planning and evaluation would connect Circle B with the Marshall Hampton Reserve on the other side of Lake Hancock via a boardwalk across the Saddle Creek and Lake Hanock flood plain south of Winter Lake Road. Polk County is expected to partner with the Florida Department of Transportation on this one and its route will have to work around the path of a new toll road between U.S. 17 and the Polk Parkway that will involve levelling part of the oak hammock at Marshall Hampton and moving the entrance south near the recently reconstructed Lake Lena Run bridge on Thornhill Road.

If anyone has thoughts on other trail connections, now is the time to bring them up.

The amenities idea seems pretty open-ended but bring you suggestions.

The idea of new nature-based activities could include occasional night-time activities to provide a chance to see fireflies, moths and other wildlife species that are either more active or more visible at night .. A bioblitz could be a fun activity, too.



EPA Seeks Recycling Logo Removal From Non-Recyclable Plastics

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pressing the Federal Trade Commission to approve new rules that would eliminate the familiar universal recycling symbol from products that are not—despite their manufacturers’ claims—recyclable except at great expense, The New York Times reported recently.

This is intended to promote clearer communication with members of the public who are seeking to pursue environmentally-friendly practices in their daily lives, according to the agencies’ websites.

Proper disposal of solid waste is certainly fits into that category.


The change comes at a time when many jurisdictions have cut back or eliminated residential recycling programs, especially relating to plastic, most types of which are not financially feasible to recyclable and have not been for years.

Polk County reduced the types of plastic it will accept a few years ago and next year will end curbside recycling. Some city programs will continue.

Environmental groups, including Sierra, have long maintained that the public has been misled by the oil industry and the chemical industry that manufactures these single-use plastic containers and encourages their use even though many of the products—particularly single-use plastic water battles—are unnecessary in most cases anyway except in areas where people do not have access to clean tap water.

Also, some local and state governments in places like California have enacted regulations that prohibit companies from claiming their products are recyclable unless they can provide evidence that they area.

The most environmentally responsible choice is to reduce plastic use—especially single-use products—as much as possible. That includes not only water bottles, but also single-used plastic bags that are still offered in many stores to customers who do not bring reusable bags when they shop.


Polk Seeks Hearing Over State’s Handling Of BS Ranch Permitting

The BS Ranch saga, which has lasted nearly half as long as the Afghanistan War (or the Vietnam War for that matter) has taken an interesting turn.

Polk County officials, who historically complained about picky state environmental regulations, are on the offensive against state environmental regulators who they contend fell down on the job.

The county recently filed papers to obtain a state hearing over a consent order between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and BS Ranch & Farm, arguing the order fell short of state environmental regulations that the FDEP is supposed to enforce.

Polk officials are seeking stronger order that also includes a closure plan so that Polk County doesn’t end up having to clean up the mess as has happened in other cases.

BS Ranch is an alleged soil-manufacturing facility located in an industrial park on the outskirts of Lakeland that has been the source of odor complaints throughout much of its existence and probably a lot of water pollution to boot.

It began operations sometime in 2013 or 2014 without obtaining state environmental permits or local land-use permits and even when it received after-the-fact permits, the operators appeared to have felt free to ignore them.

The thrust of Polk’s argument is that FDEP this year issued a four-year permit extension under the guise of a consent order without getting any real assurances that the facility’s operators would do anything different than the stuff it had been doing that has been the basis for code-enforcement cases, lawsuits and citizen complaints.

“In the 10+ years the Facility has been in operation there has never been a single period of time in which the Facility was compliant with FDEP rules,” the 27-page petition states, adding that with this kind of history it is hard to understand why the agency didn’t take stronger action.

Polk officials also allege the odor and water pollution the facility is putting citizens, county inspectors and natural resources at risk, which is a key issue that gives Polk County standing to seek further action.

Additionally, the facility’s stated purpose of turning different kinds of wastes ranging from yard debris to septic tank wastes into marketable soil turned out to be bogus, too, according to the county’s filing. Using BS Ranch’s own figures, only about 0.3 percent of the nearly 1.5 million tons of material that was brought in for processing was actually marketed.

In other words, instead of being a recycling facility, it is just a dump.

The irony is that Polk officials wrote a special regulation just to accommodate soil manufacturing to bring the facility into compliance with local development regulations. Part of the allegations in the filing was that the operation has made a joke of the county’s development regulations.

It is hard to say how much longer this will drag on.

Everyone involved has a right to respond to what Polk filed. Then if a hearing is granted, it has to be scheduled. The hearing will likely involve voluminous testimony or documents and it may take some time for the hearing officer to sift through all of that and render a ruling.

Depending on what the hearing officer rules, more appeals may be filed and it could string this fiasco out as long as the Afghanistan War. Stranger things have happened in other environmental cases.

Residents Appeal Creek Ranch Development Approval

As predicted in an earlier post in this space, residents have appealed the recent approval of a dense, city-sized sprawl development deeper into the edge of the Everglades Headwaters to the County Commission, The Ledger reports.

County Commissioners had previously denied another development approval in the area in 2008 that was later acquired by The Nature Conservancy to add to a large amount of public and private conservation land in the Kissimmee River Basin.

The development applicant had applied to the state for a conservation easement under the Florida Forever program, which is still pending.

These applications tend to increase the cost to taxpayers if property owners gain development entitlements and sometimes even if their application is denied as in the case of the Prairie Unit of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest.

During the Planning Commission hearing, which involved a 4-3 vote split, the planning commission majority cited rural sprawl provisions that were added to the county’s development regulations in a settlement with agriculture interests to supposedly to protect farm land by requiring a 50 percent set aside.

The minority questioned whether this property was so flood-prone and so incompatible with the majority of surrounding lands that called the wisdom of its approval into question.

The weakest argument the Planning Commission majority made was to defer to the recommendation of the county’s planning staff.

These were the same people who opined that the troubled BS Ranch project on the outskirts of Lakeland was the best thing since sliced bread.

At next Tuesday’s County Commission, the county’s legal staff is scheduled to gain approval to pursue future action against BS Ranch.


July In Area Broke Some Heat Records, Was Relatively Dry


You probably noticed this when you received your latest power bill, but your air conditioner had a busy month.

According to the National Weather Service Lakeland’s average daily temperature of 85.5 degrees F. was the highest since 1915.

Bartow was 4th warmest since 1892 and Winter Haven was 7th warmest since 1941.

The Bartow temperature figures were interesting because unlike other places in the area, the other warm Julys were not recorded within the past decade or so when climate change became a greater focus. Although the warmest July occurred in 2014, the second warmest July there was in 1932 and the third warmest July was in 1969.

The figures from Wauchula were not in yet.

It was also the second driest July in Bartow.

That lack of rainfall was evident in the Upper Peace River, which officially begins in Bartow at the confluence of Saddle Creek and the Peace Creek Drainage Canal, is flowing below normal for this time of year, which is why flow at Fort Meade is lower than it is at Bartow because some of the river is swallowed into underground caverns in that stretch of the river because of historic decline in aquifer levels in this part of Florida because of heavy pumping.

The river flow can change quickly if a tropical storm arrives, such as occurred last year following Hurricane Ian when the river saw record-breaking flow that caused serious flooding downstream that caused substantial property damage.