Legislators’ Latest Local Government Pre-emption Attempt: Legal Rights For Natural Resources

This didn’t take long.

You may have read about a movement that began in this country last year when voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a charter amendment that conferred legal rights on Lake Erie in an effort to make it easier for citizens to fight agricultural and industrial pollution affecting the lake.

This, of course, did not sit well with business groups whose membership includes the polluters. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce secured a last-minute amendment to legislation being considered by the Ohio Legislature to invalidate the amendment, The Intercept reported in August.

Now that same impulse has arrived in the Florida Legislature, apparently in response to efforts in a handful of Florida counties to push for the passage of similar charter amendments.

One prominent target for protection is the Santa Fe River in north Florida where multinational Nestle is attempting to get a permit to pump more water from Ginnie Springs, which feeds the river, for its bottled water business.

The pre-emption is tucked into an otherwise environmentally friendly bill filed by Sen. Ben Albritton, whose district includes all of parts of Polk, Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Glades, Okeechobee, Charlotte and Lee counties. It will be discussed this week in a committee hearing.

It reads: ” A local government regulation, ordinance, code, rule, comprehensive plan, or charter may not recognize, grant, convey, or extend legal standing or legal rights, as those terms are generally construed, to a plant, an animal, a body of water, or any other part of the natural environment which is not a person or a political subdivision, as defined in s. 1.01(8), unless otherwise specifically authorized by state law or the State Constitution.”

The obvious workaround is to push for a constitutional amendment, but this year legislators are considering still more measures to beat down popular democracy by adding more obstacles to citizen initiatives to make the world safe for only legislative initiatives, since Tallahassee believes it knows best.



Darren Soto To Host Climate Change Town Hall Wednesday In Kissimmee

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, whose district includes part of Polk County, will host a Climate Change Town Hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, in the Osceola County Commission Chambers in downtown Kissimmee.

According the announcement, the focus of the town hall will be to provide information on the Clean Future Act, which is being discussed in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce.

The legislation’s intent is to reduce carbon emissions in power generation and transportation, improve energy efficiency in buildings and to come up with ways to protect communities affected by climate change and air pollution and to offer support to state and local governments to work toward meeting the carbon-reduction goals.

Heat Records Set, Nearly Broken in 2019 In Heartland

Temperature records continue to inch up in the interior of the state, according to the compilation prepared by Paul Close at the National Weather Service station in Ruskin, which keeps track of weather and climate trends in west central Florida.

It was the hottest year on record for Plant City and Winter Haven, the second hottest for Lakeland, the fifth hottest for Bartow, the seventh hottest for Arcadia and the ninth hottest for Wauchula. This based on records that began in 1892, 1941, 1915, 1892, 1899 and 1933 respectively.

Rainfall, meanwhile, didn’t set any records in this part of the state, either for the wettest or driest years.


Lake Istokpoga Management Plan Meeting Jan. 14

Review of a draft management plan for Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County will be held Tuesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Bert J. Harris Jr. Agriculture Center, 4509 George Blvd., Sebring.

The plan was prepared by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in consultation with various stakeholder groups around the lake in response to concerns about declining environmental conditions in the lake and questions about current management activities.

The lake, which is the one of the largest in the state, has faced the same problems that are familiar on most other lakes in the state, such as declining wildlife, infestation by exotic vegetation and increased urban pollution. In addition, the FWC’s management activities—particularly seemingly poorly regulated herbicide spraying—has been an ongoing issue here and elsewhere in the state.

One of the proposals to emerge in the plan is for FWC to do a better job of communicating with the public and exercising more oversight over spraying operations.

Some other proposals include improving navigation within the lake and in its tributaries, revegetating near -shore areas with more desirable aquatic vegetation and working with lakefront homeowners to persuade them to use more environmentally-friendly practices on their property when it comes to lawn care and fertilizer use and aggressive removal of aquatic vegetation on the lakeside of their property.

A summary of the draft report is available at https://lakeistokpoga.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/hmp_summary.pdf .


More Green Energy Coming To Polk

Two more projects that will support green energy alternatives are being proposed in Polk County.

One is a new solar energy facility planned for a site off State Road 37 southwest of the Bradley community in southwest Polk. The applicant is Durrance Solar.

This is the latest in a series of solar energy facilities built or proposed to be constructed locally. The developers have been a mix of private and public electric utilities and some private entrepreneurs.

The other is a proposal to install electric car charging stations at the Pilot convenience center northwest of the intersection of Interstate 4 and U.S. 27 in northeast Polk County to serve two major travel routes and ina portion of the county that is not served.

Most of the electric car charging stations in Polk County are in the Lakeland area, though there are stations in Winter Haven, Lake Wales and Bartow.


Lake Hancock Water Reservation Proposed; Swiftmud Plans Jan. 8 Meeting At Circle B

Work to raise Lake Hancock’s regulated level was completed in 2015 at great public expense to store water to replenish the depleted Upper Peace River and to comply with a state law requiring water management districts to set minimum flows and levels for water bodies and to come up with plans to restore flows in levels in places where they were lacking.

Now the Southwest Florida Water Management District is proposing formally reserving the water in Lake Hancock for river flow restoration.

A draft study outlining the plan and its background has been prepared and will be the topic of a public meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 8 at Circle B Bar Reserve.

Swiftmud’s Governing Board is scheduled in February to consider authorizing the agency’s staff to proceed with formal rulemaking to implement the reservation.

Some highlights from the study include:

  • It will not affect existing permitted water withdrawals from the river, primarily the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority’s withdrawals for public supply for coastal utilities.
  • It will not significantly affect the amount of fresh water in the Lower Peace River needed to maintain the proper conditions in the Charlotte Harbor estuary, whose restoration has been the focus of years of efforts under the federal National Estuary Program.
  • The reservation precedes a planned reevaluation of minimum flows in the Upper Peace River in 2025, which will also take a look at setting medium and high flow ranges as well, something the environmental community including Sierra Club has long advocated.

The study does not address a conceptual proposal by some Polk officials to establish an off-stream reservoir on mined lands near the Peace River to capture water from high river flows as part of Polk’s long-term water-supply planning and how that would affect the overall river flow standards on all sections of the river.

Polk Swiftmud Board Vacancy Drawing Pushback

The Polk County Commission agreed Tuesday to draft a resolution to send to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to fill a vacancy on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board involving one of the two seats allocated to Polk County.

The seat has been vacant since August.

Haines City businessman Paul Senft, who was honored Tuesday for his public service, said he applied in February to serve another term on the board. His term expired in March, but under the rules was allowed to continue serving until August.

Whether anyone else has applied for the seat has been a well-kept secret in Tallahassee.

DeSantis’ so-called Communications Office has not responded to emails in recent weeks asking for a list of applicants for the position.

Polk received a second seat on the 13-member Governing Board in 2007 under legislation that expanded the board from 11 to 13 seats, putting it on equal voting footing with coastal urban Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which had two members each.

Why DeSantis is holding up the appointment has been a matter of speculation.

One rumor is that DeSantis thinks the Swiftmud board has too many members and would like to reduce its size, though it is unclear what the reason is. There was a proposal in 2013 that was never considered by the Florida Legislature to reduce the board’s membership to nine seats to match the size of the other water management district boards. Any change in the board’s makeup would require legislation.

Another rumor is that DeSantis was looking for an environmentally-conscious Polk County appointee who was also a Republican and was not involved in supporting his opponent Adam Putnam in the 2018 gubernatorial race, which one observer said was like trying to find a unicorn or simply a ploy to keep the seat vacant so it would easier to eliminate.

This comes at a time when Polk is trying to continue to secure funding from Swiftmud to finance alternative water supplies to continue to support the county’s and cities’ growth ambitions.