DeSantis Finally Fills Long-Vacant Polk Swiftmud Governing Board Seat

The typical Friday afternoon new releases from Tallahassee included an announcement that Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Ashley Bell Barnett to the long-standing vacancy on the board.

According to the release, Bell is a former educator and analyst for the Polk County School District and lives in Winter Haven.

Her appointment is for four years and is subject to Florida Senate confirmation. She fills a seat vacated more than a year ago by retired Haines City businessman Paul Senft, who left the board in August 2019..

Bell Barnett is the daughter of former County Commissioner and current State Rep. Melony Bell.

The Polk Regional Water Cooperative had proposed appointing former County Commissioner John Hall to the post.



More Lake Kissimmee Lakefront Headed For Protection Following Purchase

A 2,909-acre parcel on Lake Kissimmee that was once proposed for a golf course development may be on its way to permanent preservation.

Conservation Florida announced recently that an unnamed philanthropist has purchased the property with the intention of entertaining an offer to sell the development rights through a conservation easement.

The property was proposed in 2016 for a golf resort call Lost Oak, but the project stalled in 2018 when the Polk County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial and the developer withdrew his application a short time later.

The property lies north of Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks, a county park and campground.

The land, which was once the site of fish camps and weekend retreats, was purchased by the South Florida Water Management District in 2004 in connection with the Kissimmee River restoration project, which also included a plan to raise the regulated level of Lake Kissimmee.

However, some of the land ended up in the hands of a developer in 2007 as a result of another land deal elsewhere in the Everglades Basin.

The recent purchase will provide Conservation Florida and its partners time to raise funds to purchase a perpetual conservation easement on the property, which contains many stately live oaks and four miles of lakefront.

This is part of a larger effort to protect as much natural landscape as possible in the Kissimmee River Basin under the H2O: Headwaters to Okeechobee initiative.



Sierra Will Renew Push In Polk For Electric School Buses With VW $

Ancient Islands Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Committee is continuing to urge the Polk County School Board to use funds from the $57 million settlement awarded to Florida from Vokswagen over its cheating on diesel emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The application deadline is Jan. 18.

School Board members rejected a similar proposal last year in favor of purchasing propane-fueled buses, arguing electric buses don’t have range to handle bus routes, said Karen Freedman, the committee’s chair.

Freedman argues electric buses offer the advantage of having lower maintenance costs than conventionally-fueled school buses.

According to a fact sheet prepared by the Sierra Club, electric buses can save between $149,000 and $190,000 in fuel costs and $200,000 in operation and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.

School Board members often mention maintenance costs in connection with capital purchases for new facilities because they are recurring budget items. Adding electric buses and other vehicles would reduce the fiscal impact.

In addition, the reduction in emissions can reduce the threat of respiratory diseases such as asthma and cancer by reducing air pollution.

Meanwhile, there is a push to install more electric vehicle charging stations in more locations.

Nearly all of the charging stations in Polk County are located at private businesses rather than at government offices.




Sierra Presses FDOT On Parkway’s Impact On Hampton Preserve

Ancient Islands Sierra has been active in commenting on the impact the coming construction of the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway will have on Marshall Hampton Reserve.

The route of the new toll road will take out the mature oak forest at the beginning of the reserve’s trail system and will force the relocation of the parking and trailhead to site farther south on Thornhill Road.

Led by Conservation Chair Marian Ryan, AISC has been pressing Florida Department Transportation officials on some key issues.

First, what kind of habitat mitigation will FDOT perform to compensate for the destruction of the forest and surrounding meadows?

Second, will there be any on-site mitigation for the impacts on gopher tortoise and any other listed wildlife species affected by the project?

Third, what kind of safety and access improvements will be made at the new access point to recognize the increased traffic that will occur around the new highway interchange that might affect visitors? The design also needs to accommodate the needs of all user groups—hikers, cyclists, equestrians—who access the trail system.

Fourth, what kind of visual and sound buffering will be planned to reduce the new highway’s impact on user experiences?


Creative Deal Saves Kissimmee Headwaters Area From Sprawl

There was some good holiday news for the environment.

The owners of ranchland near the intersection of State Road 60 and Yeehaw Junction have announced a public-private partnership that will turn 27,000 acres onto a place for research and wildlife preservation.

The significance is that more than a decade ago this site was proposed for a 40,000-home development called Destiny, the latest in a series of large developments proposed in some of the last rural areas in the Kissimmee River and St. Johns River headwaters in east central Florida.

The partnership involves the University of Florida, Ducks Unlimited and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

This property is north of the 54,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and includes the dry prairie habitat that is home of the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow and other endemic Florida plant and animal species.

It is also an example of how creative alternatives that once were unimaginable can bring a result that is good for both the environment and long-time property owners.


Dear Santa DeSantis: Fill Vacant Swiftmud Board Seats For Christmas

The holiday season is a time of generosity.

It would really be generous for Gov. Ron DeSantis to finally decide to fill the long-vacant seats on the 13 member Southwest Florida Water Management Governing Board.

The board membership has remained at nine members for some time now.

The Polk County Regional Water Cooperative has suggested that former County Commissioner John Hall would be a suitable appointee.

There may be others under consideration, though it’s hard to tell. The governor’s press and appointments offices are pretty close-mouthed on any potential nominees the last time we checked.

Surely there are decent, qualified Republicans (typically governors appoint people from their political party) from Polk and the other underrepresented parts of the 16-county district who could serve.

There are many serious water issues facing Florida. Having a full board to consider solutions should be a no-brainer.

The delays are hard to understand.

The governor can do better.


October Weather Ain’t What It Was; Welcome To Climate Change

If you have lived in Florida long enough, you might remember crisper weather.

Just to reassure you this isn’t a false memory of better times, you might check out the National Weather Service summary of traditional temperature averages.

The figures show the average nighttime lows are in the low 60s and the average daytime highs in the low 80s. This year the lows are in the low 70s and the highs are in the upper 80s.

The 60s average means that there were times when the temperature was in the 50s. There are historic lows for this time of year in the 40s.

If you don’t think anything is happening with our climate, you better think again.