Legislature Adjourns, Hits And Misses

The Florida Legislature has adjourned for the year and now comes the complicated task of figuring out what happened.

Florida Forever money was diverted to other projects once again in the biggest shell game since the lottery started.

They promise to approve money next year. We’ll see.

The test ban on single-use plastic bags for coastal cities died before the session ended. However, Coral Gables passed a ban anyway, which is predicted to trigger a lawsuit from the bullyboys in Tallahassee who don’t want local officials daring to do what they don’t have the integrity to do. It seems aiding and abetting littering is still official state policy.

Polk officials were able to get approval of a bill that will qualify them for water supply project funding if they provide detailed information on how they plan to spend the money. A provision that would have allowed Polk to seek a sales tax increase at the polls to pay its local share of the project cost was deleted during the bill’s review.

One of the areas where the result is unclear relates to drones. They are banned now in conservation lands such as Circle B Bar Reserve because of their effects on wildlife and other users. But it seems the only places where drones are restricted under the recently passed legislation is sewer plants, utility lines and other infrastructure and everyone else has to petition the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to restrict these craft. The only good news is that it is illegal for civilians to weaponize drones.

The only septic tank bill proposed this year that went anywhere—but didn’t pass—would have required anyone selling a home with a septic tank to disclose the existence of the septic tank and to let the next owner know that the septic tank needs to be maintained to avoid polluting the environment. Inspections and funding for replacement didn’t come up.

Also failing this year were bad bills that would have potentially intimidated people challenging zoning and environmental permits by threatening them with paying the defendant’s legal costs if they don'[t win.

Finally, it appears there will be money for Lakeland’s Se7en Wetlands Park, though not as much money as was originally sought. However all expenditures are still under review by the Governor’s office.

Stay tuned.


Water, Politics Meetings On Tap This Week

If you’d like to get an idea of how local government officials see the current water planning effort and perhaps receive a fresh perspective on politics, two events on Thursday might be worth your time.

At 10 a.m. The Ledger will host a forum in which local government managers will discuss water, the recently ended legislative session at the Polk State College for Public Safety . 1251 Jim Keene Blvd., Winter Haven, which is off Winter Lake Road. The program is free and open to the public.

Rob Lorei, one of the founders of WMNF, an alternative Tampa radio station and managing editor of WEDU’s Florida This Week politics and public affairs program, will be the guest speaker at the Tiger Bay Club meeting at 11:30 a.m. at the Bartow Civic Center, 2250 S. Floral Ave. The cost is $15 for Tiger Bay members and $25 for non-members.



Polk’s friendly handling of BS Ranch review fatal to code case

Polk County’s belated attempt to undo a bad zoning decision that it had promoted until a few months ago hasn’t turned out well.

Today code special magistrate Nicholas Troiano denied Polk’s request to temporarily shut down the BS Ranch and Farm soil manufacturing plant over its reported offsite odor problems.

The main reason for the ruling was that Polk officials had never actually proven to odor came from BS Ranch and had ignored the potential offsite odor problems as county staffed worked with BS representatives to grease the skids for their grand opening, amending the growth regulations for this single use (a not uncommon action in this county), which made the county’s efforts to reverse themselves hard to defend.

The odor issue is interesting because even the BS folks finally admitted that some of the odor came from their plant, but blamed it on the weather and received help from Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials (who, like Polk County, had bent over backwards to approve and after-the-fact permit for the plant) to abate the odors. However, as a matter of due process, anyone accusing someone of something in a formal proceeding ought to be willing to back up the charge.

That ruling led to the postponement of a related court case scheduled for Friday in which Polk County was seeking an injunction to shut the plant down.

During Friday’s agenda study session, the County Commission is scheduled to hear a presentation on the biennial review of the county’s development regulations. Be interesting to see if any lessons learned from this case will be part of the discussion.

Meanwhile, last week the County Commission approved a temporary moratorium on any more of these plants, though none is proposed at the moment.

Balloons Are Litter; Celebrate Carefully

This is the time of year when people are celebrating graduations, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Increasingly balloons are involved and that’s a growing environmental problems.

I and others who spend outdoors regularly find balloons that were released or got away from their owners and end up in natural areas, such as the one depicted here that was in Sumica, a Polk County environmental preserve east of Lake Wales.

Sometimes they are simply eyesores, but the balloons and the tethers can affect wildlife negatively.

This kind of problem is one reason this year state legislators were requested to allow cities to experiment with plastic bag bans because of their effects on the environment.

Balloons, after all, are nothing more than sealed plastic bags.

We need to rethink how and how often we use balloons outdoors.

Learn About Snakes At Thursday Sierra Meetup

Snakes have been in the news recently.

Polk officials reported removing an alleged 7-foot Banded Watersnake from a Lake Wales home (the record is 5 feet). Polk Fire Rescue sent out breathless press releases every time firefighters saw an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake fleeing local wildfires and the day late and a dollar short great Everglades python hunt is under way with prizes galore.

Perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and learn some facts about Florida’s snakes.

That opportunity will come when Ancient Islands Sierra Club meets Thursday at 7 p.m. at Circle B Bar Reserve, 4399 Winter Haven Road, Lakeland.

Guest speaker will be Scott Spaulding, manager of Lake Louisa State Park, a longtime snake enthusiast. He will bring live snakes and discuss fact and fancy about these misunderstood reptiles.

The program is free and open to the public.

If you’d like to come early for some fellowship, a covered dish supper will start at 6:30 p.m.

Parks, Water To Take Hit If HX Boost Passes

The proposed increase in Homestead Exemption that the Florida Legislature put on the 2018 ballot in the latest effort to give the finger to local government is bad news for parks and water management funding, according to a revenue estimate prepared by Polk County Property Appraiser Marsha Faux.

Based on May 1, 2017 taxable property values—the revenue hit would likely be higher two years from now if the measure passes—the county parks MSTU would take a $400,930 a year hit, stormwater project funding would drop by $71,352 a year and local revenue going to the water management districts would decline by $672,050.

The cumulative impact, of course, amounts to millions of dollars at a time when population demand for water, parks and clean lakes will increase and funding deficits loom.

It will an interesting debate as we head into next year over whether the long view of the short view will govern.


Pollution Notification Passes Legislature

Residents will be able to sign up for alerts from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to learn of any environmental pollution incidents under a new law approved by the Florida Legislature this week.

Gov. Rick Scott, who suggested the legislation, is expected to sign it.

The new law requires any one whose facility releases unpermitted pollution to notify FDEP officials, providing details on the incident, any potential threats it may pose and whether it affects areas outside the permit holder’s property boundary.

Anyone who fails to report a pollution release could face a fine of up to $10,000 a day.

The main concerns raised by regulated industries during the discussion on the legislation involved what thresholds would qualify for reporting and who would be responsible for altering the public.

The origin of the legislation dates to two incidents last year involving massive releases of poorly treated sewage in St. Petersburg that polluted coastal areas and the release of acidic process water into the aquifer via a sinkhole at gypsum stack pond at Mosaic’s New Wales plant south of Mulberry. The second incident has not caused any documented offsite impacts.

However, the fact that the incidents were not reported until well after the fact angered residents who were concerned about what health or environmental effects the incidents might have had.

To read the bill, go to http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/532/BillText/c1/HTML .