Frustrated About Amendment 1 Inaction? Learn What To Do About It

The Florida Legislature’s inaction on implementing the voter approved Land and Water Legacy constitutional amendment and what citizens can do in response will be the topic of a free webinar June 21 organized by 1000 Friends of Florida.

This is the latest in a series of excellent online webinars the organization has put together to educate the public about this and other important issues relating to conservation, growth management and other important topics.

To sign up, go to this link.

Amendment 1, as the measure is often referred to, passed with an overwhelming majority in the 2014 general election.

Its purpose was to restart the stalled Florida Forever program to finish the job of preserving what’s left of Florida’s natural areas with an emphasis on completing the protection of key wildlife corridors that stretch from the Everglades to the Panhandle.

The money to do this would come from the allocation of a portion of state documentary tax revenue from real estate transactions for the next 20 years.

Since the amendment’s approval Florida legislators have refused to fund the program as voters directed them. Instead, the money has been diverted to pay for routine agency operating expenses or siphoned off for pork barrel public works projects to develop water projects to advance development.

Some legislators have also tried to take advantage of the ballot amendment’s broad language to argue this spending is justified even though it is clear that was not the voter intent.

Meanwhile, the development machine is cranking up again and it’s only a matter of time before some of the land needed for conservation will no longer be available.

Just for the record, the approval percentage for that constitutional referendum in our area was:

Polk: 69.3 percent

Highlands: 69.5 percent

Hardee: 59.9 percent

DeSoto: 63.9 percent

Sumter: 69.6 percent

Lake: 70.3 percent

Our so-called represntatives should be reminded often of this.

Swiftmud Increases Watering Restrictions

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has ordered lawn irrigation restricted to one day a week because of the ongoing drought.

The scattered showers this week were welcome, but the current conditions will continue until there is adequate sustained rainfall.

This typically occurs from late June to late September.

This underscores the wisdom of landscaping with native plants that can generally cope with weather extremes, provided they are planted in the right location.

Meanwhile, there is still a countytwide burn ban, which includes campfire.

In addition, Swiftmud has restricted vehicle access to many of its recreational lands because of the danger hot vehicle parts could inadvertently spark a wildfire.

Bond, Compost Plant Bond

I watched the first public hearing in St. Lucie County to consider the county’s first-ever ordinance regulating commercial composting plants.

The crowd there and planning commissioners didn’t share the optimistic assertion contained in the Polk County staff report accompanying December’s permit hearing for BS Ranch & Farm.

“There is no data to suggest that the soil manufacturing facility will be detrimental to the surrounding environment if developed according to the County’s standards,” the Polk staff report read.

One topic that generated a lot discussion at the St. Lucie hearing was how high a bond any applicant should post to guarantee enough money to clean up the site if the owners abandon it.

Polk’s ordinance doesn’t include such a requirement. That allowed BS Ranch’s reps to argue against a shutdown for serial code violations at the code enforcement hearing, raising the specter about the undesirable impact of their shutdown while tons of material remained unprocessed .

If there were financial responsibility provisions in Polk’s ordinance, that argument would be less persuasive.

Although it doesn’t apply to the Eaton Park plant site, a Florida Farm Bureau represented raised an issue that should be considered in an agricultural county such as Polk—food safety—if anyone proposes to build one of these plants .

It seems that there’s a consensus that crops being grown around these plants might be hard to sell because of the contamination threat.

Latest Polk Bear Sighting Educational Moment

There was another bear sighting in an urban area of Polk County Monday in a neighborhood in northeast Winter Haven between Lake Martha and Lake Elbert.

This is the latest in a series of recent bear sightings in Polk County that have occurred in the Winter Haven area since 2004, when a bear was treed in Inwood. There have also been reports in the past couple of years from the Dave nport and Poinciana areas as bear populations recover and young bears head out looking for unoccupied territories.

Many of the bear sightings in eastern Polk County involve bears dispersing along the Lake Wales Ridge from a population in southern Highlands and northern Glades counties.

Sightings in northwest Polk County, such as the ones at Colt Creek State Park, probably involve bears from Withlacoochee State Forest.

So what do you do if you see a bear in your yard or anywhere else?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers advice on human-bear encounters.

It also provides information for living in areas where bears are more likely to be present.

Generally, FWC officials advise not deliberately (that’s a crime) or inadvertently providing food sources for bears, which have a strong sense of smell.

Also, as with any wildlife, give them space so they can move away from where you are.

FWC staffers set up a baited cage in the yard near the tree where the bear was seeking refuge in hopes of luring it down whenever it became hungry and moving it to a safer, less stressful location.

If you would like to learn more about bears in Florida, FWC has a lot of information on its website.

SFWMD Opens More Land To Public

The South Florida Water Management District has opened 1,873 acres to general public use in Polk County.

The property had been opened to hunting for a couple of years and now will be open to hiking, bicycling and nature viewing as well as continued hunting and frog gigging.

This is part of the former Rolling Meadows Ranch along Catfish Creek between Lake Hatchineha and Camp Mack Road.

For now access appears to be by boat only—there are no designated access points on Camp Mack Road—though it seems possible there may be land access whenever the Florida State Park Service opens the section of Rolling Meadows that is part of Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park. No date for the opening of that section to the public has been established.

Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic Designation Proposed

U.S. Rep Darren Soto, whose district includes sections of Polk and Osceola counties at the headwaters of the Kissimmee River, has proposed seeking Congressional approval to designate the Kissimmee River an official Wild and Scenic River as allowed under the 1968 National Wild And Scenic Rivers Act.

Soto announced his proposal recently at a forum in Orlando, according to Politico.

The only Florida Rivers that have this designation are the Wekiva River near Orlando and the Loxahatchee River in South Florida.

The law recognizes significant streams and provides assistance to landowners along the rivers to help to preserve their important characteristics. It does not restrict development or land use.

Most of the land along the river is in public ownership or included in large tracts of agricultural land, which means there is little imminent development threat anyway.

The once wild free-flowing 103-mile river was ditched in the 1960s as part of a misguided flood-control project. The project destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands, displaced wildlife and removed the natural river’s ability to filter pollution coming downstream from urban areas at its headwaters before the water reached Lake Okeechobee and the lower portions of the Everglades.

Restoration work is under way to restore much of the river’s original channel. It is the largest river restoration project ever attempted anywhere in the world. The latest projected completion date is sometime in 2019.

Polk Could Learn From St. Lucie’s Sludge Composting Regs

Polk is not the only place where private entrepreneurs have proposed composting g sludge (the solid residue from sewer plants) and other materials.

But in at least one other Florida county, local officials are taking an entirely different approach to regulating such operations.

The St. Lucie County Commission refused to approve one outdoor composting operation similar to the one Polk officials approved in December, TC Palm reports.

Instead, the St. Lucie County Commission is poised to consider an ordinance that would require composting operations to be located indoors on a concrete or asphalt surface and have a site plan that requires extra stormwater storage and setbacks from other buildings as well as various measures to control potential nuisances ranging from odors to vermin.

The first hearing of the ordinance is Thursday in Fort Pierce.

That proposed 15-page St. Lucie ordinance is much more detailed in expected standards than the six-page revision of the development regulations that the Polk County Commission approved last August.

St. Lucie’s ordinance comes a year after the County Commission there adopted a temporary moratorium on considering applications for commercial composting operations. Polk commissioners did not approve a temporarily moratorium until after they realized they had screwed up in approving the original ordinance and the permit for BS Ranch & Farm, which is the center of the current ongoing dispute in Polk County.

Some Polk officials have complained privately that BS Ranch did not act honestly, but that’s beside the point.

The reason governments enact and enforce ordinances (also known as laws) is to protect the public interest. When local officials rely on assurances provided during a PR tour and promises of jobs, , which appears to have been Polk’s approach., in making development decisions it can end badly, as it has here..

Composting is nothing new. It is a process that has been used for centuries to recycle waste materials.

However, as everyone who didn’t understand this has learned, composting operations can pollute air and water, which is something St. Lucie County is taking more seriously than Polk County did until recently.

I will repeat the point from a previous post that Polk’s development regs are up for their biennial review. The lessons learned from the BS Ranch & Farm affair should be part of the discussion.

As officials in St. Lucie County are demonstrating, there are better ways to do this.