Polk Oks Private Racetrack Near Lake Walkinwater

The Polk County Planning Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to approve a controversial change in the county’s land-use map to allow a private two-mile long asphalt racetrack near the shore of Lake Walkinwater, Polk’s largest lake.

The request by a Melbourne man named Gary Young drew opposition from homeowners around the lake, who were concerned about the facility’s noise level, which they said made it incompatible with their quiet rural lifestyle, and whether gasoline and other chemicals could leak into the ground near wetlands and ultimately reach the popular fishing lake.

In addition, the site is near a number of state and local conservation areas, including Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve and Polk County’s SUMICA tract.

Young told commissioners he would limit operations to daylight, which would eliminate the need for a network of lights around the track. He said the track will be used only by himself and some friends and will not be open to the public.

If the property’s use ever intensifies beyond what was presented in the application, the project would be subject to a second public hearing.

Unless residents decide to appeal Wednesday’s vote to the County Commission, the racetrack can proceed as long as it also complies with county and water management district regulations concerning traffic, stormwater management and related issues.

 

Hurricane Ian Rainfall Produces Record Flow On Peace River

The Peace River has never been flowing this heavily within most people’s memories.

The record flow—in some cases two to four times the previous records—bears out predictions by forecasters that Ian would cause severe flooding.

River flow typically increases the farther downstream you travel, but the flow figures are truly amazing.

Saturday the flow at Arcadia was 50,500 cubic feet per second. The previous record occurred in 1949, when flow peaked at 13,900 cfs. A cubic foot per second is 538,171 gallons a day. The Arcadia flow was something like 27 billion gallons a day.

At Zolfo Springs, Saturday’s flow was 15,300 cfs, breaking another 1949 record of 8,370 cfs.

At State Road 60 at Bartow, the flow was a record-breaking 4,030 cfs, topping the previous record set in 2005 of 3520 cfs.

Lakes have risen, too. A section of Lake Howard Drive in Winter Haven has been closed because the road is underwater.

 

Ian’s Effect On Phosphate Facilities Raises Concerns

Among the personal concerns about Hurricane Ian’s effect on homes in Polk and neighboring counties, there is one big environmental question mark, which is how the heavy rainfall will affect the massive network of ponds operated by Mosaic’s phosphate mining and fertilizer manufacturing facilities.

Polk emergency officials on Wednesday were predicting as much as 12 to 14 inches of rainfall accompanying the storm.

Although the mining companies have extensive water-management systems in place to prevent spills, the ponds do not have unlimited capacity.

The question is whether the overflow will be contained on the mine and plant properties or whether there may be discharges into local rivers or their tributaries.

At last report, Mosaic had not responded to media inquiries.

Meanwhile, earlier concerns about declining water levels on Lake Okeechobee have sidelined by recent increases in rainfall.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released a statement saying the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake is in no danger.

Stay tuned.

 

Polk To Close Nature Preserves, Parks On Monday As Ian Approaches; WMDs Have Not Announced Closures

Polk County officials announced Saturday that county-maintained nature preserves such as Circle B Bar Reserve will be closed Monday and will remain closed until further notice in preparation for the landfall of Ian.

Ian is a tropical storm, but is predicted to become a hurricane by the time it comes ashore somewhere in Florida by Wednesday.

Also affected are all county campgrounds, which will close at noon on Monday, Bone Valley ATV Park and all youth and adult league activities. No other park closures were announced Saturday.

Southwest Florida Water Management District officials on Monday announced closures of its recreational sites at noon on Sept. 27.

The South Florida Water Management District has announced the closure of all navigation locks at the end of operating hours on Monday. Those include locks on Lake Kissimmee and along the Kissimmee River.

The district on Monday announced closures of recreational areas, effective Tuesday.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Protection, Growth Management Figures Into Hatchineha Road School Discussion

The proposal to redevelop Creek Ranch in the eastern reaches of Hatchineha Road for a new school complex, complete with athletic fields that could reduce the rural area’s dark sky atmosphere and its place along the Florida Wildlife Corridor was a recurring theme during a public meeting Thursday night at the FFA Conference Center.

The meeting, which was attended by a standing room only collection of area residents and Polk County School Superintendent Frederick Heid, focused on a proposal to locate a new high school and perhaps other schools in this relatively rural area of northeastern Polk County to deal with overcrowding at the three existing high schools farther west as a result of exploding development in urban areas.

There was no dispute about the need to reduce school overcrowding, but residents told Heid that school officials should look at more creative solutions to deal with the problem rather than pushing deeper into the countryside.

That included considering sites that were more compatible with existing land-use patterns and more fiscally responsible. They cited one proposal that would have asked taxpayers to pay eight times the per-acre price that a developer recently paid for one site proposed for a school site in the middle of the corridor.

This part of the county contains section of the Lake Wales Ridge, the home for many species found nowhere else on the planet, and the headwaters of the Everglades, one of the most important wetlands expanses in the world.

Additionally, the corridor has been documented to have been used by Florida panthers and Florida black bears, wide-ranging creatures whose survival requires large tracts of land.

Heid said he would consider the new information, but explained the Polk County School Board needs to make a decision by next year to continue attempts to stay ahead of predicted population growth that includes the growth of demand for classrooms.

He said, in response by audience members to simply ask city and county commissioners to simply cap building permits, that current more permissive state growth laws now allow school officials to consider capacity in adjacent school attendance zones before even considering a growth moratorium.

 

 

 

Belated Rainy Season Finally Kicks In; River Festival Saturday

It has been a relatively dry summer in this part of Florida until recently.

Flows in the Peace River between Bartow and Arcadia had been anemic, running at a quarter to a half of what is normal for that time of year.

As noted in an earlier post, all it would take would be sustained rainfall to turn things around.

September rainfall, fueled by a system that is bringing moisture in from the West Indies, has changed that.

Now river flows in the Upper Peace River Basin are running more than twice the long-term average. Downstream the flows are slightly above average, which means there will be adequate freshwater flow to the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

The rainfall may also augment flow in the Kissimmee River as it flows toward Lake Okeechobee, whose water level was a subject of concern recently.

Meanwhile, this is the perfect time to promote an event that offers plenty of opportunities to learn about the river systems that originate in Polk and influence the environment downstream.

That would be the eighth annual Seven Rivers Water Festival, which will be held Saturday in downtown Winter Haven.

It will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Exhibitors will include the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership, Polk Forever, Polk County Utilities, Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Stormwater Pollution, Lakeland Utilities, Winter Haven Water Department and more.

In case you’re wondering about the event’s title. The seven rivers that form in Polk are the Peace, Alafia, Kissimmee, Ocklawaha, Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Little Manatee.

 

Become Bearwise This Fall To Avoid Problems, Property Damage

Florida Black Bears are on the prowl for extra calories in fall to prepare for leaner times in winter.

Although bear sightings are uncommon in Polk and primarily confined to the area along the Lake Wales Ridge, they are encountered fairly regularly in more rural sections of Highlands County. But bears are wide-ranging animals and could appear anywhere.

Their travels could bring them to your garbage can or bird feeder and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is offering tips to reduce the chance that bears could cause problems for you or your property.

The top advice is not to leave food—include pet food dishes—anywhere where it might attract bears and make sure your garbage containers are secured. Commercial garbage containers should be bear-resistant.

Also, never feed a bear or leave food for them. This is both illegal and unwise because it could make them lose some of their natural fear of humans. In addition, it is unnecessary because there is usually enough wild food such as acorns and berries available for bears to consume.

You should also take down bird feeders if you are aware bears and in the area. FWC officials also advise people to degrease and clean grills and smokers and store them indoors if possible.

If you see a bear, do not approach it. Bears normally will not attack humans. Nevertheless, if you see a bear, let your neighbors know and work with neighbors to avoid attracting bears.

Also, be alert for bears crossing roads, especially around dawn and dusk in rural areas where you may see bear crossing signs.

Go to MyFWC.com/bears for additional information on living in bear country. Additionally, contact your regional FWC office to report anyone harming bears or intentionally feeding them.