Growing Gopher Tortoise Relocation Issues Affect Polk Road-Widening Project On Lake Wales Ridge

Much of the discussion about gopher tortoise relocation issues has centered on effort by private developers to either pay to have them relocated or to bury them alive and pay the fine.
The main issue is that as more and more of Florida’s native habitat is paved over with roads and rooftops, gopher tortoises and other wildlife that depend on the refuge of their burrows have been pushed to the side.

One of the tricky issues is making sure you have all of the tortoises.

This issue has come to light during the current project to widen Lake Wilson Road in the Loughman area, which lies along the edge of the Lake Wales Ridge in northern Polk County. These sandy prehistoric desert islands are ideal habitat for these creatures and the dozens of other organisms that may live in their extensive burrows.

It seems that, at least according to consultant hired to relocate these threatened species, that there may be more of them in the path of this belated road project than originally predicted.

According to the agenda at next Tuesday’s Polk County Commission, the original estimate was that were three gopher tortoises in the road’s path.

No wait, did we say three, it is five, according to the consultant’s follow-up survey.

That increased to eight and now the latest total is 13, which seems plausible considering the area involved, though it would not hurt for someone to audit their figures.

In case anyone was wondering what it costs to dig up and relocate a gopher tortoise, it’s $10,000 per critter, which brings the total bill to $130,000.

The staff report does not detail the animals’ ultimate destination, which has been an issue in recent years because of the decline in unoccupied habitat in Florida because rampant development in uplands where tortoises live and where they still survive on conservation lands.

This seems to be a good argument for conserving more of this kind of habitat in the future to make sure this iconic species persists in the landscape.

 

 

 

Lake Hancock Improvement Plans Advance

There has been discussion dating to at least 1968 about ways to improve water quality in Lake Hancock, which covers more than 4,500 acres at the headwaters of the Peace River.

It was polluted for at least a half a century by municipal sewage and private industrial discharges from citrus plants in the Lakeland and Auburndale areas as well as stormwater runoff from as far away as Lake Gibson.

Now a project intended to do something to filter that pollution got approval earlier this month from the Polk County Commission.

The plan involves a $420,000 project to add additional aquatic vegetation along the lake’s eastern shore by next year in hopes the effort will make the lake’s water clarity, which is often measured in inches rather than feet, closer to desirable levels.

The project is jointly funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

 

 

More Solar Farms Proposed For Polk

The wide open spaces of Polk County continues to attract solar farm development.

A group called Tide Bay Solar has proposed a 490-acre solar farm on a site on former phosphate land west of Fort Meade and east of County Road 555.

Meanwhile, Tampa Electric has proposed another solar power facility in eastern Polk County.

The latest proposal involves a 10-acre former citrus grove south of Tindell Camp Road between Dundee and Lake Wales.

This is part of the utility’s continued effort to expand its green energy footprint within its service area in this part of Florida.

Both projects are being reviewed by Polk County’s Development Review Committee.

 

Polk Commissioners Give Environmental Lands Vote A Go

The Polk County Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an ordinance to put a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to seek voter approval to resume a tax levy to buy more environmentally significant land in Polk County.

Marian Ryan, conservation chair for the Ancient Islands Group and a member of the board of Polk Forever, the group formed to promote passage of the referendum, said after the vote that she was pleased with the outcome of the vote.

 

“We are grateful the voters will be given an opportunity to conserve more of water, wildlife and wilderness resources that makes Polk County so unique and such a desirable place to live,” she said.

 

The measure approved Tuesday would, pending voter approval, levy a tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value for 20 years to either purchase and manage environmentally significant land or to purchase conservation easements that would protect large tracts of ranch and forest lands from being development while allowing traditional private agricultural practices to continue.

 

The tax would cost the typical homeowner $30 a year.

 

Opposition Tuesday came from Commissioners Neil Combee and George Lindsey.

 

Combee argued the time wasn’t right economically to ask for a new tax

 

Lindsey argued the proposed tax rate should be halved because it would otherwise generate more revenue than he thought was needed.

In reality, this is the first real opportunity local environmentalist have had to bring back a measure similar to the one voters approved in 1994 expired in 2015.

That’s because a series of other tax measures to raise money for indigent health care, school facilities and roads and transit had been placed on the ballot at successive general elections since then and the thinking that asking voters to consider two tax measures on the same ballot would have been unwise.

Additionally, it is hard to accurately predict future revenue growth and what opportunities might become available that would require adequate funds to accomplish.

Now that the future of the referendum has been decided, Polk Forever board members will be gearing up their campaign to persuade voters to support the measure by scheduling speaking engagements at civic clubs and other groups around the county, seeking campaign donations to support their outreach efforts and seeking endorsements.

For more information on the campaign, its goals and how you can support it, go to polkforever.com .

Environmental Lands Referendum Vote Set For Tuesday

The Polk County Commission is scheduled on Tuesday to consider a request by a local group called Polk Forever to place a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to ask voters to approve a tax to restart funding of the Polk County Environmental Lands land-acquisition program.

The vote will come following a public hearing at the meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m in the commission board room in Bartow. Supporters will be wearing green shirts to show their support.

If commissioners approve the measure, the campaign to begin informing voters about the measure will begin in earnest.

The proposal involves a request to levy a property tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property for 20 years to either buy environmentally important land or to buy conservation easements, which means the land would remain as private property but future development would be limited.

All of the purchases would involve willing sellers.

This would be the second referendum to seek voter approval for this purpose. Polk voters approved a similar referendum in 1994, which led to the purchase of 19,000 acres of land ranging from the Green Swamp to the headwaters of the Everglades. However, commissioners decided in 2015 to end the use of the voter-approved tax to fund environmental lands and diverted the revenue to other purposes.

Polk Forever, a local grassroots organization, is arguing it is now time to finish the job the first referendum started while the land is still available.

It is focusing on expanding conservation lands in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, the Lake Wales Ridge and other upland ridges throughout Polk County, the Peace River Basin and the Upper Kissimmee River Basin.

The organization has also formed a political committee to seek donations for the campaign.

For more information, go to polkforever.com

Peace River Flow Lags As Rainy Season Begins

Late June is typically the time when the traditional rainy season begins in peninsular Florida, but so far it’s off to a slow start.

The Peace River’s flow in Polk County is running about half the long-term average at Bartow and even less downstream in Fort Meade because of water losses in the river bed caused by historic aquifer overpumping.

Farther downstream, flow at Zolfo Springs in Hardee County is about one-sixth of average flow and flow at Arcadia in DeSoto County, where phosphate mining is proposed near a major tributary, is about one-fourth of normal.

This is relevant as Polk continues to consider tapping a section of the river for future water supplies when the river flow allows.

As climate change continues to affect weather patterns, it is too soon to predict whether that will result in wetter or drier times in this part of the planet, but this is something to watch.

An active hurricane season could change all of this quickly as it did in 2004 when late summer water levels were alarmingly low until they weren’t and river flow surged to near record levels.

Stay tuned.

 

 

DeSantis Vetoes Preemption Bill Opposed By Sierra

Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed a bill that would have gutted local officials’ ability to regulate businesses in the public interest.

CS/SB 620 would have allowed businesses to sue local governments for any adopted ordinance or charter amendment that the business perceived as having the potential to cause a loss of profit of 15% or more. Businesses could have been awarded up to seven years of projected lost profit, plus attorney’s costs and fees. This legislation would have had a chilling effect on local governments, and severely impacted their ability to respond to local issues.

“Sierra Club Florida congratulates the thousands of people who made calls, wrote emails, and more with us and our partners, said Luigi Guadarrama. Sierra Club Florida’s political director. “This is proof that voters do not want to curtail action on the environment, and the polls agree; policymakers would be keen to pay attention.”

“In Florida, local governments are leading the way in responding to the climate crisis, said Emily Gorman, Sierra Club Florida’s Chapter Director. “Protecting the ability of local governments to respond to local issues is critical to protecting our environment and ensuring our quality of life in the Sunshine State. Sierra Club Florida is thrilled to see this veto.”

This bill is the third of three bills Sierra Club Florida prioritized for veto this year. In addition to SB620, Sierra Club Florida urged Governor DeSantis to veto HB741, an anti-solar bill that would have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs, and SB2508, a bill that would have had broad consequences for conservation efforts in Florida. It would have affected the state’s land-acquisition efforts and given unprecedented water rights to regulated industries.

Gov. DeSantis vetoed both bills.