Florida Environmental Advocate Frank Mann Dead At 80

Although the current generation of political observers may not realize it, there was a time when environmental advocacy was popular in the Florida Legislature.

One of the people who was a leader in that effort was Frank Mann, who served in the Florida House and Senate in the 1970s and 1980s, representing the Fort Myers area. He died this week at 80.

He had a great sense of humor and often used his humor to make serious points about the need to protect Florida’s natural resources.

After he left the Legislature, he served many years on the Lee County Commission, where he continued to advocate for environmental preservation.

He will be missed. Frank Mann, RIP.



Polk Curbside Recycling Will Resume For Now, But Stay Alert For Cutbacks

Depending on where you live in unincorporated Polk County, your recycling cart may have been fuller than normal in recent months after the County Commission cut a deal with one its contractors that wasn’t doing a great job.

That will be over beginning July 1 and weekly curbside recycling collection will resume for now.

But don’t get too comfortable with the arrangement.

By Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, things may change.

There was some chatter at a recent commission meeting about the economics of curbside recycling. That involves the fact that it costs more to provide the service than it yields in revenue from the sale of recyclable materials.

Although aluminum cans peaked earlier this year at an unheard-of price of $1 a pound, it is less now, though still more than previous prices because of inflation.

There has been some tentative discussion of returning to using drop-off locations for recycling to reduce costs.

Drop-off locations—including one at the county landfill—were abandoned because they became a magnet for illegal dumping.

The problem is that curbside recycling has the same problem in the absence of any serious attempt to educate the public or enforce guidelines to reduce contamination as recommended in a years-old consultant report the County Commission spent money to fund but the staff pretty much ignored.

What recycling contamination means is that if there is too much stuff—plastic bags, unrecyclable plastic products, household garbage etc. etc. etc.—placed in recycling carts, the whole load goes into the landfill because it is not economically feasible to sort it to pull out truly recyclable materials.

Although some city recycling operations have attempted to address this issue, Polk County has not.

If curbside recycling in unincorporated Polk County goes away, don’t be surprised.

Another thing to watch is whether the County Commission reduces the garbage rate that was quietly increased last year based on a claim that pandemic-related garbage volume increases were putting a strain on the landfill even though it was also increasing landfill revenue.


Could Turnpike Extension Be An Issue In Sumter Elections?

There is some speculation that the question of whether the Sumter County Commission would be willing to take a stand on the Northern Turnpike Extension that could run through portions of the county, the Villages News reports.

The newspaper reported that a number of residents from the Villages and other sections of the county wearing green No Build T-shirts showed up at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting to urge commissioners to take a stand as commissioners in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties have.

So far Sumter County commissioners have refused to take a stand.

Because of the removal of two commissioners from office over criminal charges earlier this year, four of the five seats on the commission will be up for election this year.

The turnpike extension has been a focus of Sierra Club’s No Roads To Ruin campaign because of concerns that the extension will encourage urban sprawl, threaten traditional agricultural lands and conservation lands and has no real justification from a transportation planning standpoint.

Rights of Nature Webinar Coming June 22

Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels Leadership Team will present a webinar titled Rights of Nature in the United States: Theory, Practice and Recent Developments. It will be presented on June 22 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The “Rights of Nature” movement involves fundamentally rethinking humanity’s relationship with nature, and it is gaining momentum, according to activists.

This issue has been discussed in some parts of Florida, though it has received pushback from the Florida Legislature.

The rights of nature movement is led by activists advocating for ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and mountains to bear legal rights in the same, or at least a similar, manner as human beings. This movement is striving for a paradigm shift in which nature is placed at the center and humans are connected to it in an interdependent way, rather than a dominant one.

One important set of questions involves how would such a legal system work, and could giving rights to nature help in the legal battle against climate change? A legal perspective and a few case studies will offer some insight, according to webinar organizers.

The webinar’s presenters will discuss the obstacles to securing rights of nature under the current legal system, some lessons learned from other countries on how to deal with those obstacles and how they may or not apply to cases in the United States and how the rights of nature may be a pathway to reform American water law.

To participate, go to Meeting Registration – Zoom .


New Entrance To Marshall Hampton Reserve Advances

As many of you know, a new toll road between State Road 60 and the Polk Parkway is going to take out the current trailhead at Marshall Hampton Reserve and a big chunk of the adjacent oak forest.

That means the nature park needs a new entrance and parking area.

Tuesday the Polk County Commission accepted a quit claim deed from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for 1.3 acres along Thornhill Road that will be used not only for the new entrance, but will allow the county to upgrade the bridge of Lake Lena Run, a stream that flows from Auburndale to Lake Hancock and once carried quite a bit of municipal and industrial waste to the lake.

Ancient Islands Sierra has lobbied Swiftmud and the Florida Department of Transportation’s Turnpike Enterprise to make something like this happen.

FDOT also purchased a large tract of the former Old Florida Plantation site from Swiftmud as part of the road project’s need for right of way, stormwater storage and other aspects of the project called the Central Polk Parkway.


Circle B Trail Temporarily Closed

The Marsh Rabbit Run Trail at Circle B Bar Reserve is temporarily closed until further notice. The recent closing of the trail is necessary for the safety of our visitors and resident wildlife. Signs will be posted. All visitors should comply with any trail closure sign.

Typically the signs are posted because of the presence of nesting alligator near the trail or damage to the trail.

There are many more opportunities for hiking, nature study and other outdoor activities at Polk’s network of environmental preserves. For a location map and additional information on Polk County Environmental lands, visit www.polknature.com.

Polk Commissioners Agree To Review Developer Giveaways

It is still way too early to celebrate, but last week Polk’s County Commission—at two of them anyway—said they were willing to review the long-standing let’s-make-a-deal aspect of Polk’s development regulations.

How this works is regardless of what the land-use map says regarding how many homes per acre should be allowed on a particular piece of land, there’s a big loophole.

That is something called the planned development concept, formerly known as planned-unit developments. The idea has been around in some form for decades. It relies on a system of so-called density bonus points that allow two or three or more times the normally allowed density if the developer agrees to do stuff that the regulations don’t require.

In some cases the trade-off is easy to defend, such as setting aside an acre or two of developable land for a new school or a fire station.

But the justification of other density bonus points being awarded either for doing things such as installing sidewalks or street lights or planting more trees that simply make the subdivision more marketable or agreeing to some token “preservation” measures such as setting aside a probably useless fragment of native habitat after bulldozing the rest are debatable.

The possible changes are an outgrowth of the discussions at recent public hearings in which the density bonus point system was used to justify cramming more homes into rural areas.

There are other questionable giveaways in the development code that should be part of this discussion.

There’s the so-called transit-supported development overlay that allows more density in areas that have no access to transit and may never have it. The most egregious case in recent memory involved a proposed development in southwest Polk that was next to an area so rural people had horses.

In one of the so-called “special area plans” that increasingly dot unincorporated Polk County, developers can get density bonus points for installing a transit stop even if there is no transit available or planned. That seems hard to justify.

Then there’s the wetlands giveaway that allows increased density on uplands on property that also contain wetlands that the developer couldn’t develop in the first place.

How soon any of this will occur—if it ever does—is unknown.

County planners are scheduled to brief commissioners on some proposed changes at a work session in August.

Depending on how that goes, the next steps would be to draft amendments to the current development regulations, set public hearings and decide when they would take effect because of the expected pleas for allowing a lot of proposed developments to slip in under the wire.

Stay tuned on whether this occurs this year or next year and how far commissioners are willing to go to change the rules. This is a good time for the public to get more involved before they’re affected rather than complaining after the damage is done.