More Polk Water $ On Swiftmud Agenda

A proposal to appropriate an additional $11 million to support early work on three projects proposed by the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative is scheduled for routine approval Tuesday when the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board convenes at 10 a.m. at the Lake Eva Center in Haines City.

The appropriation is included among the items on the consent agenda, a group of items that are approved by a single vote, because the main decision occurred earlier when the Polk cooperative met the deadlines for funding imposed by the agency as part of a long-term project to development an additional 30 million gallons per day of what have been termed “alternative water projects.”

The $11 million covers part of the $23 million first phase work on the projects, which involve Lower Floridan Aquifer projects in the Lakeland and Frostproof areas and a water project involving storing water in the Peace Creek Drainage Canal basin in hopes of getting credits that will allow Winter Haven to withdraw more water from its existing wells.

The $23 million figure represents only 3.6 percent of the estimated $640 million cost of the three projects.

The financing of the rest of the costs is still to be worked out. Swiftmud has committed to contribute additional money as the cooperative requests it. Where the cooperative’s share will come from remains to be determined.

Polk officials were hoping to get approval from the Florida Legislature to use sales tax funds if voters agree to a local-option tax increase as outlined in a bill sponsored by members of the Polk legislative delegation. However, I heard this week that the legislation may be revised to eliminate that provision.

Without the sales tax, other funding options–none of which require a referendum–include utility rate increases, property tax increases or an increase in utility impact fees.

How much the projects eventually cost or whether all of them will be needed will depend on the success of water-conservation efforts, which remains the cheapest source of water.

BS Ranch Case May Be Wakeup Call For Polk

I watched a good portion of Thursday’s code enforcement hearing on BS Ranch & Farm with great interest.

The special magistrate properly deferred a decision until he has time to go over his notes from the daylong hearing and to receive brief summaries from Assistant County Attorney Randy Mink and from Julie Ball, the lawyer representing BS Ranch.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Polk County’s review process, in a way, created this mess.

The fact that the company began operations to do something that had caused problems in other parts of Polk County without securing proper county zoning permits or state environmental permits should have given someone in Bartow pause.

But nooooo!

County staffers shepherded the project through the process with fanboy enthusiasm and deference.

Then after the final public hearing and assurances by county staff that they have an operational green light, the plant cranked up and soon county officials were fielding complaints from area residents and business owners about offensive odors that the business operators had assured county officials would never happen and the county staffers believed them so much they didn’t put any fallback conditions in the permit. Company officials denied responsilibity.

Now Polk County is trying to shut down BS Ranch over the odor problems, arguing the company hasn’t completed its required permit review and is violating its permit and has never been in full compliance for years while its permit worked its way through the system.

BS Ranch’s lawyer asked an interesting question during the code enforcement hearing.

If the lack of a completed permit was the problem, why didn’t Polk County tell the company to shut down long before this?

John Bohde, Polk’s development director, said they were trying to work with them, but the County Commission finally had had enough of both the odor complaints and BS Ranch consultants’ argumentative responses to the complaints.

That attitude continued during Thursday’s hearing when BS Ranch’s lawyer and engineer unbelievably argued they didn’t believe the company was required to complete the technical staff review of its permit that typically follows public hearing votes for approval.

This has been a standard requirement for years, but BS Ranch’s bs response was that that requirement was not specifically listed in some case documents so it didn’t apply.

Pending the outcome of the code special magistrate’s review and pending legal proceedings, let me add a couple of suggestions.

Later this year the County Commission will be working with staff on the biennial review of the county’s land development code.

In the past this has been a forum for the development community to present its grievances about how their experience with development review isn’t perfect.

Maybe this could be a golden opportunity to close loopholes that create more fiascoes like BS Ranch.

Many years ago Robert Reich wrote an essay titled How Nitpicking Regulations Get That Way.

He concluded that regulations often begin as general and non-threatening, but become complicated because people try to game the system to evade the original regulation’s intent.

I still have a copy. It would be instructional for any county official to read and consider.

Polk Water Bill Advances In Tallahassee

Legislation that would steer funding to the newly created Polk County Regional Water Cooperative is advancing in the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session.

The bill also would allow Polk County to ask voters for a sales tax increase to pay for water projects.

In exchange, Polk will have to provide legislators with an annual report outlining its priority projects, their costs and how much the cooperative and its members will be contributing to the cost.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Colleen Burton and Sam Killebrew in the House and Sen. Kelli Stargel, has passed all of its initial committee hearings and one more committee in each chamber before it goes to the floor.

Additionally, Sierra and others worked with bill sponsors to fix some problems in the draft bill language relating to the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.

 

USGS Expands Online Flow Data

If you are planning a paddling outing, you now have more information on flow conditions on more local streams, courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.

USGS, which has maintained an online real-time streamflow site for Florida for several years, has recently added a number of streams where the agency had flow data but had not included the data in its online site.

The new locations include Tiger Creek near Babson Park, Livingston Creek near Frostproof and more locations along the Peace River.

Still missing is the discharge from Lake Hancock and the P11 structure south of the lake.

It appears the Southwest Florida Water Management District has been releasing water from the structure or the outfall from its treatment wetlands because the upper reaches of the Peace River data is showing an increase in flow despite lack of rain and declining flow in the Peace Creek Canal, the main tributary near Bartow.

I generally don’t recommend putting in at the Bartow boat launch unless flow there is at least 50 cfs of flow. I haven’t studied the relationship between flow data and stream navigability at other locations.

The USGS site can be viewed at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/fl/nwis/current/?type=flow .

Happy paddling.

Jackalone: Resist Environmental Rollback

The 2018 elections in Florida will be key to overturning decisions to ignore voter mandates to restore funding for environmental land protection and to ensure that fracking doesn’t happen in the future, Frank Jacklalone told a packed audience at Ancient Islands Sierra Club’s monthly meeting Thursday at Circle B.

Jackalone, a longtime Sierra Club activist from St. Petersburg, is senior organizing manager for Sierra Club Florida.

Environmental preservation and cleaner energy are the two big issues around which Sierra is joining with other groups to organize.

He outlined the current fight to get funding to restore the Everglades, which is suffering from decades of water diversions designed to support sugar farming and urban sprawl in south Florida.

Although the proposal approved this week in the Florida Senate to construction a giant reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is not exactly what supporters of Everglades restoration had in mind, Jackalone said they[re supporting it unless it is watered down by the Florida House.

“But protection of the Everglades is not enough,” he said, explaining it’s important to support and effort led by Bob Graham, who launched Everglades restoration when he was governor in the 1980s, to make sure the Florida Legislature funds purchase of environmental lands as the voters envisioned when they overwhelmingly supported Amendment 1 in the 2014 election.

The amendment authorized $300 million this year, but the budget proposed by the Florida House has no money and the proposed Senate budget has only $15 million, he said.

Meanwhile, a move to ban fracking in Florida, which was poised to get Senate approval, appears dead this year because of the unwillingness of House members to support the measure.

Jackalone said it will be important to get candidates on record on these issues for the 2018 legislative races and to support only candidates that support these two conservation priorities.

He emphasized that it is important to persuade elected officials to take the long view on these issues.

“We want the generations that come after us to enjoy the special places we enjoyed,” he said.

He also discussed the challenges of weakened federal environmental policy under the Trump administration.

“The stakes are very, very high,” he said, explaining citizens can commit to alternative energy as the technology becomes cheaper, more efficient and more esthetic and can create a new energy economy, regardless of anything Trump does.

“People don’t want environmental degradation,” Jackalone said.

He said another key to success will be joining with other groups to make common cause on these issues.

The next action is the People’s Climate March April 29.

The main demonstration will be in Washington D.C., but there will be local events around central Florida, including Tampa and Orlando.

For details on the Florida events, go to http://peoplesclimate.org/sistermarches/ .

Lakeland Sludge-to-Soil Plant Update

The County Commission and BS Ranch and Farm will finally get their day in court April 19 before Circuit Judge Keith Peter Spoto at 2:45p.m. in Courtroom 5A2 at the courthouse in Bartow.

Polk County, which is represented by de la Parte & Gilbert in Tampa, is seeking a temporary injunction to halt the company’s operations at an industrial park off Maine Avenue near Lakeland until the company, which began operating illegally last year without either proper county zoning permits or state environmental permits, comes into compliance with all of its permits.

BS is being represented by Clark,Campbell, Lancaster and Munson of Lakeland.

The odor problem, which BS officials initially denied was coming from their plant and then later changed their story and blamed weather conditions, drew widespread complaints from surrounding businesses and residents.

County officials had approved a permit for the company after being assured by company representatives and their own staff that it was a wonderful operation that would cause no problems. In addition to the injunction, commissioners have asked their legal staff to research whether the commission can legally revoke its approval of the company’s zoning permit.

Meanwhile, on April 18 the County Commission is scheduled to hold the first of two public hearings on an ordinance that would impose a six-month moratorium on all new or pending applications for soil manufacturing plants. The final hearing will occur May 2. Both hearings will occur during the afternoon commission session, which begins at 1:30 p.m.

Earlier in the meeting the commissioners are scheduled to consider approval of a proclamation in honor of Earth Day, which will occur Aptil. 22.

Tips For Fighting Trump Environmental Assault Up Thursday

Does the environmental news out of Washington (and Tallahassee) make you see red instead of green?

You’re probably in good company.

But instead of just complaining or fuming, attend the next Ancient Islands Sierra Club meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at Circle B Bar Reserve and find out what you can do.

The advice will come from Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager, Sierra Club Florida.

Jackalone has years of experience in working on Sierra’s behalf on a variety of environmental issues in Florida.

It should be a good talk.

If you’d like to socialize, come at 6:30 p.m. and bring a covered dish for some fellowship.