Summer’s Over; So Is Record Heat

The record-setting heat that was reported in the area this past summer is over.

Instead of being one of the 10 hottest months on record, the October temperatures were more likely within the top 100, according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall was scarce, too, with Winter Haven recording its 15th driest October with less than an inch of rainfall recorded.

The Peace River is flowing about a third of its long-term average flow for this time of year at its beginning in Bartow.

The current flow is only marginally strong enough for paddling, though recent reports of numerous fallen trees along the river may require some scouting before planning a serious trip downstream.

The effects of El Nino are predicted to produce a wetter-than-normal winter, however, which may eventually restore normal flow.

Polk lnvites Public To Check Out Pilot Plant That Will Test Feasibility Of Turning Treated Sewage Into Drinking Water

Polk County Utilities is planning a formal ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the site of a $2.5 million pilot project to test the feasibility of turning treated sewage into drinking water.

The event, which is open to the public, will occur at the Cherry Hill plant, 3300 Raulerson Road, in the northwest Lakeland suburbs.

The idea, which has been studied and in some cases implemented in other parts of the United State and elsewhere on the planet, is to try to provide another source of drinking water in the face of increasing demand as a result of new development , This is considered a potential alternative water source, which is necessary after recent analyses have concluded that the Upper Floridan Aquifer, the traditional source for drinking water in Polk County, is a largely tapped out.

Polk officials are pursuing other alternative water projects, such as tapping the Lower Florida Aquifer and treating its poorer quality, brackish water with reverse osmosis and piping the treated water to local water plants for distribution to customers.

The Cherry Hill project has been in the planning stages for a couple of years in connection with the construction of a new utility plant.

The vast majority of Polk’s treated sewage is piped to area power plants to supplement their need for cooling water or diverted into water reuse lines for lawn irrigation to reduce stress on traditional well withdrawals, especially in the Four Corners area of northeast Polk County.

The pilot program is expected to last for several years as utility officials test various advanced treatment methods to bring the treated sewage to drinking water standards.

In addition to making sure bacteria and other disease organisms are removed from the water, utility officials are likely to have to deal with what are called contaminants of emerging concern that often are found in sewage. They include chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, hormones and personal care products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with the scientific community to devise drinking water standards for these chemicals.

The other challenge, utility officials acknowledge, is to persuade the public to accept this water source, which has been controversial elsewhere, including in neighboring Hillsborough County.

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Polk Proposes New Development Review Scheme That Will Bypass Public Involvement, Add Higher Voluntary Standards

Polk County planners, at the encouragement of the County Commission, have come up with a cure for long Planning Commission agendas.

Their prescription, if approved by the Planning Commission and the County Commission, will mean that in some cases developers will no longer be plagued by having to sit through hearings and having to listen to complaints by the pesky public about the demerits of their projects.

Instead, all they will need is a favorable staff review that will occur without public notice.

But in exchange developers will have to add more sidewalks and park space, not cram their units so close together and plant some trees along the edge of the subdivision if their project is twice as dense as the one next door.

The effort, called prescriptive planned developments, will undergo its first public hearing Nov. 1 before the Polk County Planning Commission.

This approach raises some questions.

First is that planned developments or planned-unit developments as they were called when the idea emerged 40 years or so ago around here, was an attempt to push the envelope of the restrictions in existing zoning regulations by agreeing to additional conditions, This proposal expands that idea.

It will apply only in mapped Urban Growth and Utility Enclave areas, though the boundaries of those areas have a way of expanding unexpectedly or as the staff report puts it “Much of the UGAs and UEAs are not completely formed.”

Although it is billed as an “objective” approach to development review, it is based on the assumption that if the area is mapped within something called the Transit-Supportive Development Area– most of the areas along main thoroughfares outside cities—the development site has adequate infrastructure– at least when it comes to water and sewer service– for the addition of subdivisions containing up to 15 new homes per acre.

The ordinance is carefully worded to omit mention of other infrastructure deficits. If the stealth approval of new residential subdivisions means your kids are going to more overcrowded schools or your daily commute takes longer, this new ordinance is technically not to blame.

That’s because the Florida Legislature in cooperation with the development industry and the last two development-friendly governors did away with the state growth law requiring roads and schools to keep up with growth years ago and limited citizens’ rights to complain about it in court.

This is definitely part of a growing trend to grease the skids for development reviews by county planners whose staff reports—at least in Polk County– typically go out of their way to tout the advantages of any development that comes before them anyway.

Because of some restrictions imposed this year by the developer-controlled Florida Legislature, this ordinance will be available only to developers who voluntarily agree to abide by it. It also probably will be limited to developers who can justify their business decisions by being able to market to higher-end homebuyers willing to pay for the additional amenities. Affordable housing will occur elsewhere.

The proposed ordinance will expire at the end of 2024 unless the County Commission is happy with how it worked out.

In the meantime, you might want to watch and see how this works out in your neighborhood.

If you are unhappy, show up in Bartow and tell commissioners what you think.

 

 

Report: BS Ranch Stops Accepting Waste In Face Of Polk County Injunction Filing, DEP Permit Withdrawal

BS Ranch & Farm, an alleged soil-manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland, has stopped accepting waste from septic tank haulers, The Ledger in Lakeland reports.

This move comes following Polk County’s filing for an injunction to halt the waste flow, arguing the site near Saddle Creek, a major tributary of the Peace River, has become an unpermitted waste dump rather than a processing facility.

The creation of BS Ranch, which opened a decade ago without obtaining either environmental or land-use permits, has been the source of odor complaints and years of legal disputes.

BS Ranch’s decision to halt accepting waste leaves septic tank companies looking for legal places to dispose of the waste from tens of thousands of homes and business served by septic tanks in Polk County.

Polk County officials have been discussing alternative disposal sites, but nothing has been developed or funded and it may be some time before any facility that gains approval will be ready to accept waste.

The disposal of wastes from septic tanks and sewer plants and their environmental and health impacts has been an issue in Florida for several years.

1000 Friends of Florida will sponsor a webinar on sewer plant sludge, which is sometimes described by the neutral-sounding term biosolids Nov. 8 online.

For more information, go to Upcoming Webinars – 1000 Friends of Florida (1000fof.org

 

Has BS Ranch’s Allegedly Illegal, Environmentally Harmful Operation Finally Reached A Point Of Reckoning?

BS Ranch’s alleged soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland may finally have reached a point of reckoning.

In July the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft consent order that amounted to an operating permit extension.

Polk County officials challenged FEDP’s action because they claimed it allowed violations of state environmental regulations to continue and asked for an administrative hearing.

There will be no hearing because FEDP officials decided on Oct. 3 to withdraw and void the proposed consent order, concluding that ” BS Ranch will be unable to perform CO 22-0423 and that it is not an appropriate exercise of enforcement discretion, and it should not be approved as final agency action. ”

Meanwhile, BS Ranch does have an active request before the department for a permit renewal and that has to be acted upon at some point. Additionally all of the parties involved have legal rights to appeal any decisions state officials make.

 

As predicted in an earlier post, this drama could drag on for some time.

 

Polk’s request for an injunction, which was filed Sept. 22 in Circuit Court in Bartow, seeks to halt BS Ranch from accepting any more waste until it comes up with a plan to market the ,more than 1 million tons of waste it has already received or remove the waste from its property.

 

Polk’s injunction makes it clear that BS Ranch was permitted as a recycling facility, not a landfill and wants to seek the court’s approval to enforce its development regulations.

 

It is worth noting again that if Polk’s land development staff had been more thorough in their review a decade ago when this operation first came to their attention, this whole mess would have been avoided.

 

There really is an important distinction between being customer friendly and simply being a pushover.

 

It is never clear whether that lesson has been learned down in Bartow.

Proposed Sales Tax Vote To Fund Roads Splits Polk TPO

Traffic Tr

Traffic congestion is common in many parts of Polk County as this once rural county heads toward having a population of more than 1 million residents in the near future.

County Commissioner George Lindsey, a local developer, once again made his case for the latest of several sales tax referendums that have been proposed and defeated since 1992, at Thursday’s meeting of the Polk Transportation Planning Organization. The TPO is a panel composed of elected officials from all over Polk County.

He wants to have the measure put on the ballot in 2024. That will require approval by his colleagues, which so far has not been forthcoming.

He argued it is necessary because the number of substandard roads is growing and there is no money from existing revenue to deal with the looming deficit.

However past referendums have failed because of a mixture of general opposition to tax increases and concerns that the money would finance developer wish lists to open more land to development rather than solving existing traffic problems.

That is, many of the projects on Polk County’s current list of unfunded transportation “needs” look more like wants.

County Commissioner Neil Combee pushed back against Lindsey’s idea, repeating the Republican Party line that inflation is hurting families and an additional sales tax will hurt them even more. He accused tax proponents of living in “ivory towers and echo chambers.”

He cited the $40 million expense of widening a one-mile stretch of Old Lake Wilson Road in the Loughman area as an example, arguing this is a road the majority of Polk County residents will never drive on.

What was left out of his argument was the fact that much of development in northeast Polk and other parts of Polk County were mapped and approved without much thought on how to pay for the inevitable effects on the road network and other public services.

Impact fees to pay for the improvements were slow to be adopted and underfunded to keep the development community happy.

Increased development densities along two-lane roads were approved under the guise of supporting transit.

Many of those decisions occurred during Combee’s previous tenure on the commission.

And Combee’s position drew pushback from city commissioners on the TPO board, who argued against denying the public a chance to decide on this issue.

Lakeland Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said traffic is the main issue her constituents raise.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 50 years,” she said, arguing that it is the opponents of putting the issue on the ballot who live in an ivory tower.

That division was reflected in a motion proposed by Haines City Mayor Roy Tyler to send a letter to the Polk County Commission urging them to put the measure on the ballot.

The measure passed, with four of the five county commissioners voting against it.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Area September Weather Records Defy Generalizations

The figures released this week by the National Weather Service includes some hotter-than-average temperatures, but it offers a caveat about generalizing about climate records.

It seems weather, like politics, is all local.

Lakeland, where records have been kept from various locations in the area since 1915, recorded 82.9 degrees F average temperature, making the warmest September on record, but was still slightly more than 1 degree above the long-term average of 81.7 degrees. The record was 83.8 degrees in 2018.

Across the county in Winter Haven, where records began in 1941, a record of 82 degrees only placed it as the 25th warmest September . The hottest recorded average temperature in September was 85 degrees, also from 2018.

Down in Bartow , where records date to 1892, 81.1 degrees ranked only 49th on the hot September scale. The record there is 83.5 degrees from 2014. Interestingly, second hottest September was 83.3 degrees in 1925..

Rainfall records were even more scattered, like the showers that hit here and there every month during the rainy season.

Lakeland recorded 1.59 inches, making it the seventh driest September, while the 7.39 inches that fell in Winter Haven made it 27th wettest and the 7.67 inches that fell in Bartow last month only amounted to the 53rd wettest September.

Looking ahead to winter, the predictions are for rainier and cooler days as is typical when El Nino influences our weather patterns.

Stay dry.