Piney Point Saga Exposes Lax State Regulation

The Piney Point gypsum stack probably should have been closed years ago.

The fact that, unlike many of the other Florida waste stacks, it is near the Gulf of Mexico, a major state highway and a number of residences and public facilities, is kind of a no-brainer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis inherited this debacle from previous administrations who, like him to some extent, generally had a permissive attitude toward environmental regulation and made the calculation that fixing the problem would be more expensive than the state budget could sustain, perhaps.

In 2006 they turned the problem over to the private sector after the previous private sector owner declared bankruptcy and left the state holding the bag.

It is now 15 years later. The Florida Legislature is in session.

It will be interesting to see whether either Gov. DeSantis or legislators take the initiative to figure out a path to solve this environmental fiasco once and for all.

There has been so much effort to restore our rivers and bays to let things revert to the bald old days.

 

Gopher Tortoise ESA Listing Back In Court

 

Federal protection of the gopher tortoise, a keystone species of upland habitats in Florida and elsewhere in the Southeast, has been on hold for decades.

The Center for Biological Diversity has announced it is suing to force federal officials to proceed with efforts to list this species under the Endangered Species Act.

Gopher tortoises live in burrows. Those burrows not only shelter them from fire and weather extremes, but also shelter hundreds of other species ranging from declining species of snakes such as Eastern indigo and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake to small mammals and a variety of insects.

The lawsuit also seeks to resume consideration of listing the Monarch butterfly, whose migratory populations in much of the country—including the Florida Panhandle—have been declining because of pesticide use and changing management practices on farmland and road rights of way.

The suit was filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of the Interior in federal court in Washington D.C.

 

End The Month With A Park Hike

If you needed an excuse to get outdoors in the opening days of spiring, Tuesday’s the day you’ve been waiting for.

It is National Take A Walk In A Park Day.

You can take a long hike or a short hike, an urban hike or a wilderness hike, a solo trek or a group outing.

There are plenty of parks of all types in this region.

Make this an adventure and go to a park you’ve never visited before or haven’t visited in a long time so you can see what’s new.

Pay attention to what’s going around you as you walk. Wildflowers are blooming. Birds are singing and soaring, Butterflies and other pollinators are flying.

Have fun.

 

Proposed Impact Fee Curbs Latest Growth Management Setback

Growth management in Florida was once a national model.

Local governments were required to develop detailed plans on how they planned to handle growth, how they planned to map land uses and how they planned to pay for it.

Unfortunately, the landmark 1985 legislation has been weakened and is gradually taking us back to the days when new development was allowed anywhere, any time.

The agency in charge of overseeing growth plans is now powerless to crack down on overly permissive local government planning decisions in rare instances when they actually have something substantive to say, thanks to legislation has whittled away at earlier growth-management regulations. Legislators have also practically eliminated what kinds of megadevelopments that are classified as developments of regional impact. The list goes on.

A time-honored, though sometimes controversial way to make growth pay its way was to impose impact fees so that local officials would have the money to build schools and parks, widen roads and do other work that a growing population needs and often demands.

This year the Florida Legislature is trying to weaken this fiscally responsible approach to growth management via SB 750 and HB 337.

Most of the legislation’s provisions contain provisions that’s actually already required, such as that there has to be some logical connection between the amount of impact fees local governments charge and what it costs to keep up with the demand growth places on public infrastructure and that the money collected has to be properly accounted for.

What is new is a provision that limits how governments can spend the money that introduce some inconsistency into the process.

For instance, they can’t use impact fees to buy land for schools or road-widenings, but they can use impact fees to buy land and vehicles for public safety facilities. The staff analysis doesn’t explain the discrepancy.

In addition, the legislation proposes to limit how much impact fees can increase, regardless of the justification, though the two bills differ in what those limits should be.

The result of these restrictions will be either more congested traffic and crowded classrooms or taxpayer subsidies for developers.

Tell your legislators this is a bad idea.

 

 

 

 

It’s Time To Retire The “First Environmentalist” Cliche

During a House committee hearing this week, Sierra Club lobbyist Dave Cullen opposed a measure that would prevent local governments from enacting policies designed to reduce climate change by restricting fossil fuels.

Bill sponsor Josie Tomkow, who lives on a family ranch in northern Polk County, responded that living on a ranch makes here “an original environmentalist,” supposedly implying no one should lecture her on the environmental demerits of her proposed legislation.

This is a variant of the sometimes quoted cliché that states “farmers were the first environmentalists.”

I have no idea who first came up with this talking point.

It’s time to set the record straight.

Farms and ranches of any type are created by removing native vegetation and introducing exotic animals and plants as a way to make a living. That’s just the way it is and always has been.

Some farmers and ranchers do an admirable job of responsibly managing what’s left of the natural landscape on their property. Some do not. Farms and ranches do provide ample green space, but sometimes it is by default rather than by design.

In Florida, farmers’ environmental record is not inspiring.

The Florida panther wouldn’t be endangered and the red wolf wouldn’t be missing from Florida’s wild lands if they hadn’t been persecuted by ranchers.

The Kissimmee River and a good part of the Everglades basin would probably not have been ditched as extensively as it was if not for the political pressure of the agriculture lobby.

The state’s water pollution laws would probably be stronger than they are except for pushback by some agriculture interests.

Finally, if you want to look for an original environmentalist, try Alexander von Humboldt, who was credited with being the first scientists to observe than human activity can seriously damage ecosystems.

Swiftmud Board Votes To Delay Polk Funding Until Legal Dispute Over Water Rules Resolved, Projects Better Defined

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board voted unanimously today to delay further funding for projects sought by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative until Polk officials settle a pending legal dispute over proposed water rules, better define their proposed projects and commit to their share of project funding.

Staff members told the board they expect to have the issues resolved by May, when they are scheduled to provide an update at the May 25 regular meeting.

The dispute involves a proposal by the Central Florida Water Initiative to enact a rule that will limit future permitted withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer to prevent further damage to lakes, rivers and wetlands from overconsumption.

Nine of the 16 local governments that have challenged the CFWI’s proposed rule are members of the Polk cooperative, including the Polk County Commission. They argue the permit restrictions threaten local economic development and their ability to deal with future growth.

Swiftmud Deputy General Counsel Chris Tumminia said the current challenges differed from the earlier dispute over allocation of water in the Peace River when PRWC officials acknowledged groundwater will be limited and they needed alternative supplies, such as surface water.

“Now they’re arguing they don’t need groundwater limitations and expect to get increases (in their permits); it’s completely contradictory,” he said.

He said a tentative settlement has been reached—details were still being worked out and are not public—that would end the challenge if it is approved.

Stephen James, the cooperative’s project director, told board members the settlement will allow temporary allocations from the Upper Floridan Aquifer while they develop alternative supplies.

The primary alternative supply involves drilling wells into the Lower Floridan Aquifer, which will require the water to be treated similar to what occurs at a coastal desalination plant before it can be used for drinking.

The cooperative has a permit from the South Florida Water Management District to pump up to 30 million gallons a day from a network of wells in the Lake Walkinwater area east of Lake Wales, Swiftmud Executive Director Brian Armstrong told board members.

The measures Armstrong recommended and the board approved including having signed and approved settlement agreements to end the rule challenge, obtaining a clearer definition of the size and scope of the cooperative’s projects for which it is seeking Swiftmud funding and having assurance there are adequate funding partners to complete the projects.

This issues will also be discussed at the next cooperative meeting, which will occur April 28 in Winter Haven.

Tuesday’s decision and t he proposed settlement agreements appear to prevent what some observers considered an opening battle in a regional water war reminiscent of the disputes that occurred in the Tampa Bay area decades ago.

The proposed CFWI rule affects not only Polk County, but also major water users in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

The CFWI was established as the result of a joint effort that began in 2006 to head off a similar water war in the Orlando area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosaic Seeks More Gypsum Stack Permits Amid Calls For Tougher EPA Oversight Over Contamination Concerns

Mosaic is seeking permits for a 121-acre expansion of the gypsum stack at its New Wales plant and a modification of the reactivated 319-acre stack at its Green Bay plant.

This comes at a time when Sierra and other environmental groups have launched a campaign to seek stronger federal oversight of this waste byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing.

Phosphogypsum is required to be stored in stacks that look like small hills across the landscape. The material is slightly radioactive and contains a number of chemical elements such as arsenic, lead and chromium that can contaminate groundwater.

The stacks have been the site of some catastrophic accidents involving sinkholes that sent waste to the Florida aquifer and spills that threatened local rivers and bays.

The push for stronger oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is intended to recognize the hazardous components contained in these stacks and their potential health and environmental threats.

This not solely a Florida issue. These stacks exist in other states, particularly Louisiana.

To get a full picture of the issue, what Sierra and other groups are seeking to accomplish and more, go to phosphogypsumfreeamerica.org .