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.


EPA Reverses Policy: Approves Using Phosphate Waste To Build Roads

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly approved the use of phosphogypsum for roadbuilding.

This is a major change in a discussion that has been occurring for decades as the phosphate industry has regularly pushed for approval to find a use for this waste that is now stored in massive stacks near fertilizer plants.

Phosphogypsum is slightly radioactive and contains trace amounts of a number of toxic elements such as arsenic and cadmium.

The change was announced in an Oct. 14 press release.

EPA’s earlier ban that dates to 1992 was based on a concern that if the material were used for a road and the road were abandoned and the land was later used for a homesite, residents might be exposed to the radiation through exposure to radon. Radon is a gas.

The revised rule prohibits the abandonment of the road to be used for another purpose, so it seems that issue is covered. There are other restrictions.

What constitutes a harmful exposure to radon has been the subject of decades of pushback from the phosphate industry toward EPA regulations, too.

That’s another issue to watch as agency heads under the Trump Administration are rushing to enact a bunch of rule changes as Trump’s term ends in case (we hope) he is not re-elected.

The EPA’s change of heart is reportedly linked to a study published by The Fertilizer Institute that was persuasive enough for an agency that probably didn’t need much persuading under the current regime.

The unanswered question is whether any bid specifications for local road projects will allow contractors to use this stuff instead of limerock for road base material.

According to the EPA press release, any roads built using phosphogypsum will require public notice.

This will be a developing saga.


Analysis Confirms Widespread Opposition To Toll Road Scheme

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but most people who have bothered to comment about a plan to jam new toll roads through much of what’s left of rural Florida are against it.

The figures were contained in an analysis released today by No Roads To Ruin, a coalition of environmental and other public interest organizations that includes Florida Sierra Club.

Specifically, 93 percent of the public comments were opposed to the projects. These projects were the result of lobbying by the road-building industry and other special interest that produced legislati0on that was rammed through the 2019 session by Senate President Bill Galvano.

One corridor runs from Lakeland to the Naples area. A second would run from north of the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border. A third corridor would connect the northern corridor with the Florida Turnpike.

The No Roads To Ruin report comes less than a week before the final meetings of the task forces appointed to study issues related to building new roads through three designated corridors running from the Everglades to the Georgia border.

The task forces were only allowed to develop some guidelines and principles to be used in implementing whatever project state transportation officials decide to pursue using the money appropriated by legislators and within the timeline laid out in the law.

Galvano and other road backers argue new highways are needed to relieve traffic congestion, ease hurricane evacuation and promote economic development in struggling rural areas of the state.

Opponents contend the roads are unnecessary, will destroy remaining intact wildlife corridors, encourage urban sprawl and are not financially feasible.

The final reports are due in Tallahassee by Nov. 15.

The No Roads To Ruin coalition organizers have also questioned whether the fact that public opinion is overwhelmingly against the projects will be included in that final report.

Sierra Endorses Alan Cohn In Congressional Race

This is a reprint of press release received from our neighbors in the Tampa Bay Sierra. The congressional district includes parts of western Polk County.

 “We are very pleased to announce that the Sierra Club officially endorses Alan Cohn for election,” said Sierra Club Florida’s Political Chair David Harbeitner. “We are confident that he will work to protect Florida’s environment for our families and for our future.”

Cohn has been an outspoken advocate for environmental protection, restoring the health of Florida’s waterways and tackling the climate crisis. As a Peabody Award winning investigative journalist he has produced a number of in-depth investigations into environmental issues and challenges over his 30-year career. Topics he covered included environmental issues such as red tide, toxic blue-green algae blooms and the impacts of the phosphate mining industry on our rural lands, aquifer and communities.  Cohn opposes issuing new oil and gas drilling leases in federal waters off Florida coasts because he knows that the health of Florida’s beaches and coastal waters are tied to the health of our economy and lifestyle.  He supports transitioning to a clean energy economy to help combat climate change and he supports rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, both as a means to ensure public safety and create good paying jobs.


Cohn is focused on kitchen table issues that affect our everyday lives.  He is a proponent of fixing our broken healthcare system which leaves too many people without affordable coverage, and raising the minimum wage and expanding social security to help lift workers, families and seniors out of poverty and move towards a more just and equitable society. 


“We look forward to a victory party for the environment on election night and to many more years of Cohn fighting for the environment as a U.S. Representative,” said Harbeitner.