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 .

Darkness In Bartow

The County Commission met today in Bartow to discuss something or other.

The proceedings may have been broadcast on PGTV, but the agenda was nowhere to be seen on the county’s website, so the public was left to guess.

The only news to emerge, as far as I know, was the appointment of some people to the next Charter Review Commission.

The Ledger printed the bare bones list without any further information, admitting that the only way they knew about it was that County Manager Jim Freeman’s office was kind enough to email it to the newsroom.

This is something that demands an explanation from both Polk County and The Ledger.

NWS: April Was Among Driest On Record

As everyone knows, rainfall has been sparse for the past month, but preliminary figures compiled by the National Weather Service put some numbers to the situation.

Rainfall in the area ranged from no rain in Wauchula—first time that occurred since 2001—to nearly an inch of rain in Lakeland.

Winter Haven had .51 of an inch, which appears to be the fourth-driest on record.

There were no temperature records in the area, but the average temperatures were above average for the month.

The lack of rainfall has affected river flow in the area. Be sure to check conditions downstream before you launch.

7Wetlands Park May Get State $

The development of a 1,600-acre wetlands treatment area south of Loyce Harpe Park in Mulberry may advance, thanks to the Florida Legislature.

The current budget includes $500,000 for the project called 7Wetlands Park.

The area was used by Lakeland for 30 years to provide additional treatment of its sewer discharges before they reached the Alafia River.

Plans for the park have been under discussion since 2014. The park would extend the existing trail system and provide some additional wildlife –viewing opportunities.

The status of the appropriations will depend on the final vote on the budget this week and what action Gov. Rick Scott takes after he receives the budget.

Florida’s Amendment 1 stall and Trump’s monument grab have parallels

Sometimes seemingly disparate events are more related than they may seem at first.

Nearly three years after Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to amend the state constitution to provide the money to restart the Florida Forever program, the Florida Legislature once again has thwarted the people’s will by deciding to spend the money for something else, according to preliminary reports on state budget talks this week.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump this week has ordered a review of Barrack Obama’s decision to protect large tracts of federal lands in the western states by designating them as national monuments.

Both decisions reflect a political philosophy that is antagonistic to the idea that conserving natural resources for their own sake is a worthwhile public policy goal.

Both also present disingenuous arguments to justify their positions.

Florida legislators have taken advantage of the perhaps necessarily general language in the ballot language to argue that they can spend the money for projects to exploit natural resources—water supply projects come to mind—to further development interests instead of projects to protect them or to play fiscal games with state budget trust funds.

Trump’s monument decision, which he claimed was aimed at reversing a “federal land grab” without answering —or perhaps being asked by the press–how can federal officials “grab” land they already own?

What it’s really about is the disagreement about whether conserving land is worthwhile is useful or wasteful.

When federal public land receives monument status it is no longer open for mining, logging and other types of commercial exploitation.

The Trump administration’s real intent is to allow that exploitation, usually at cut-rate return to the federal treasury.

Critics of environmental land acquisition often ask us how much is enough?

It’s appropriate turn the question around and ask how many forests have to be clear cut and how many mountains have to be turned into rubble and how much of the aquifer, rivers and lakes need to be depleted before someone yells “ENOUGH!”

Think about Circle B Bar Reserve as a golf course development or Iron Mountain upon which Bok Tower sits as a sand and clay mine to support the road construction industry or the Green Swamp as the site of new suburbs for the Tampa and Orlando areas and it may be clearer where the philosophy that has been revived could have led if that philosophy had governed in earlier times.

We need to be vigilant.