FDOT Withdraws Northern Turnpike Extension Plan

There will be no more roads to ruin for now in Florida it seems.

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced it will drop plans for four potential routes to link the Florida Turnpike to U.S. 19 and instead focus on improving Interstate 75, according to news reports.

This was the last of a group of controversial road projects opposed by Sierra Club because of their potential to encourage urban sprawl in rural areas that would threaten rural residents’ serenity and security and fragment wildlife habitat.

In addition, there was never any real need for these roads for anyone but the development and road-building lobbies.

Ancient Islands Sierra members in Sumter County and their neighbors had packed recent County Commission meetings to urge commissioners to support the “no build” option which is now what has become state policy.

Elected officials and residents in surrounding counties had actively objected to the project as well.

Ancient Islands Sierra members in Polk actively campaigned against an earlier project to build a new toll road between Polk and the Fort Myers area. Plans for that project have been shelved.

Remaining alert for proposals for unwise or unnecessary road projects is an ongoing task for Sierra, which also opposed an unrelated road project at the edge of the Everglades in Miami-Dade County and has spoken out about some so-called priority road projects in Polk County in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern and the Everglades Headwaters.


Hot, Dry July Is Local Climate Story

All of the figures are not in yet for the final days of July, but perhaps Winter Haven will have to do for an example of our summer of higher energy bills.

It was the hottest July on record from the period that began in 1941 and fifth driest, which means there was little moderation in the temperature from afternoon showers.

Weather in Lakeland may be in the running for one of the 10 warmest Julys, but data from the final few days is still unavailable. Rainfall was on the dry side of the scale there, too.

Bartow Municipal Airport’s weather was not record-setting, but was warm and dry, too.

Weather records for Wauchula show the same heat wave, moderated by more rain.

But the real takeaway was that the bulk of the highest temperatures in the area generally occurred in the last 10 to 20 years.

The heat is definitely on.



Despite Claims, Polk’s Fertilizer Ordinance Falls Short

Following a presentation by Dave Carter, chair of Polk County’s Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee, at the Aug. 2 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Bill Braswell asked whether Polk County had looked at fertilizer application limits to prevent pollution.

Braswell has an extensive background in agriculture and said many fellow farmers are reducing fertilizer use because it is unnecessary.

Natural Resources staff said Polk has a fertilizer ordinance, but probably could improve outreach to let the public know how to avoid causing pollution.

As it turns out, that’s not the whole story.

Many Florida counties have strict fertilizer ordinances that prohibit spreading fertilizer on lawns from June to September, which is peninsular Florida’s typical rainy season..

Polk County’s fertilizer ordinance is weaker.

The only outright prohibition involves applying fertilizer within 10 feet of a water body or wetland area.

Instead of a summer rainy season ban, Polk’s ordinance reads:

No fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus shall be applied to urban landscapes during a period for which the National Weather Service has issued any of the following advisories for any portion of Polk County: a severe thunderstorm warning or watch, flood warning or watch, tropical storm warning or watch, hurricane warning or watch, or heavy rain is likely to exceed two (2) inches in a twenty-four-hour period.

You get the picture.

The reason behind tougher fertilizer restrictions, which were fought by commercial interests who have a financial interest in selling homeowners high-input lawn care, is to reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen that will run off the land and end up in the nearest water body. Those nutrients feed algae growth that reduces water clarity and can sometimes cause fish kills if the water body is badly polluted

This is an important point because as Carter’s presentation to the commission made clear, it will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix the past pollution problems to some extent by removing phosphorous and nitrogen contaminated sediments, designing wetlands treatment areas to remove pollutants before they reach lakes and rivers and do a better job of collecting tons of these and other pollutants through such programs as aggressive street sweeping before they reach water bodies.

The one thing everyone agrees on is preventing pollution in the first place is far cheaper for taxpayers than trying to fix the damage—if it is even technically or financially feasible to do so in the first place.

The challenge for Polk County to strengthen is fertilizer ordinance is that state law was amended in response to the local summer fertilizer bans (and lobbying from the turf industry and their allies) that require any county that wants to go beyond milquetoast state model ordinance to conduct a whole bunch of expensive scientific studies to prove to the satisfaction of the people who oppose fertilizer bans that the tougher restrictions are necessary.

That underscores why public outreach may be a more cost-effective approach, though the challenge is similar to the challenges to educate the people about smart lawn irrigation techniques.

I was thinking about that as I drove by a lakefront home in my neighborhood where the sprinklers were going full blast despite the lawn’s having received 2 inches of rain the night before and despite the fact that modern irrigation systems are supposed to have rain sensors to prevent such waste.

I have no idea how much fertilizer washed into the lake.



Mosaic Delays Phosphate Mining Plans In DeSoto County

Mosaic’s request for DeSoto County commissioners to reconsider an earlier denial of the bulk of its mining plans won’t happen as soon as originally planned.

The fertilizer company announced last month that it will put off its request to rezone 14,000 acres (in addition to 9,000 acres already approved for mining) until at least 2025.

Officially, Mosaic said the reason for the delay was that the rock from DeSoto had been planned to be shipped to its Plant City plant, which is closed. But that plant closed permanently in 2019 after being temporarily closed in 2017 for economic reasons.

A more likely explanation may lie in local politics. Four county commission seats are up for election this year and the candidates’ standing on mining has become a major issue.

That debate involves the effects on local water and wildlife resources as a result of the alteration of 17 percent of the county’s area either through mining excavations or the construction of impoundments to store clay extracted during the initial processing work. This will combine to permanently change the county’s landscape.

Although Mosaic officials contend they will follow all state and federal regulations regarding protected wildlife species and water discharges into the Peace River and its tributaries, the claim has been met with skepticism because of the history of environmental damage caused by phosphate mining and fertilizer production.

Any effects on the Peace River is a key issue because the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority withdraws millions of gallons from the river south of Arcadia to supply water to customers in Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties.


Sumter County Residents Plan Renewed Plea Tuesday To Persuade County Commission To Oppose Toll Road Extension

Sumter County residents opposed to the extension of the Florida Turnpike across the county’s landscape plan to appear en masse before the Sumter County Commission on Tuesday.

This follows an appearance by a number of project opponents at the June 14 commission meeting.

The residents are asking Sumter commissioners to take a stand on the project as officials in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties have. Officials in the other counties are on record opposing the project.

This project is a leftover from a more extensive list of road projects proposed to open vast tracts of rural land in north Florida and southwest Florida for development under the guise of everything from improved hurricane evacuation to the expansion of rural broadband.

The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in the Grand Canyon Room at the Everglades Regional Recreation Center, 5497 Marsh Bend Trail in The Villages.

There have been reports in local media in Sumter County that commissioners’ stand on the issue could play into this year’s County Commission elections in which four of the five seats will be on the ballot.



Kissimmee Wild And Scenic River Status Advances

The effort to designate the Kissimmee River as one of America’s wild and scenic rivers has advanced in Congress, thanks to the efforts of Rep; Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Darren Soto. D-Orlando to gain approval of this measure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The river, whose restoration was the largest project of its size in American history, drains a basin of more than 100 miles of creeks and thousands of square miles of land at the headwaters of a much larger system that flows to the Everglades.

The Everglades, which was described in Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ classic 1947 “Everglades River of Grass” as a unique feature of America’s landscape, needs all of the protection and management it can obtain because of decades of ill-advised drainage of the southern area of Florida’s peninsula to serve agricultural and development interests.

The Kissimmee River was once a meandering stream that flowed for more than 100 miles through Florida’s Heartland until a misbegotten engineering scheme to reduce flooding in an area where flooding is a natural occurrence turned a wild river into a 56-mile long ditch that reduced waterfowl and wading bird habitat and seriously altered an important ecosystem.

Sierra Club opposed the project and for many years worked to correct the damage the original engineering project caused.

Approval of the designation still requires approval in the Senate.

Anyone who supports this measure should contact Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio to urge them to advance this measure.

Horse Creek May Get More Protection

A section of the land around Horse Creek may be in line to receive some permanent protection.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board is scheduled on July 26 to discuss pursuing conservation easements at the Carlton Horse Creek Ranch.

According to the agenda backup, an initial conservation easement covering 4,357 acres is being secured and work may proceed on work to negotiate the purchase a conservation easement on an additional 11,958 acres.

Conservation easements typically protect land from significantly more intense development, allow the current landowners to pursue traditional agricultural, management and recreational activities and keep the land in private ownership, which relieves the agency or organization that purchases the conservation easement of the expense of management costs.

Horse Creek is a 25.2-mile stream that flows through portions of Hardee and DeSoto county before joining the Peace River south of Arcadia.

The protection of Horse Creek has been an important issue for area residents in connection with Mosaic’s plans to mine that section of DeSoto County.

Mining approval is currently on hold, pending the result of a series of public meetings being held by the DeSoto County Commission to gather more information on the effects of mining and relating activities involved in processing the mined material before it is transported to fertilizer plants in Polk County and in the subsequent reclamation of mined land as required by state law.

The next work session on this issue, which involve the impact on wildlife, is scheduled for July 27 in Arcadia.