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.

Winter Haven Considers Water Plan Update

Winter Haven officials are poised to make some changes in the city’s long-term water policy in its growth plan.

The first hearing will occur before the Planning Commission May 2, followed by a transmittal hearing by the City Commission May 22. A transmittal hearing involves sending the proposed changes to Tallahassee for review and comments. Final action is scheduled for sometime in July.

The details are in the agenda packet are on the city’s website. Despite the recent redesign, getting information on planning still takes a few clicks to burrow far enough into the sit to find.

This is not a major overhaul, but does include some changes intended to make the city’s plan conform with Polk County and Southwest Florida Water Management District plans.

One of the centerpieces remains a plan to gain credits to pump more groundwater by making improvements in the Peace Creek system.

Some points I noticed in the plan were:

It uses a goal of lowering average per capita water use to 120 gallons per day, which is lower than current average consumption of about 129 gallons per day, in projecting future water demand.

It calls for “periodic” reviews to determine whether water consumption is affecting lake levels, but doesn’t define how often the reviews would occur, what the thresholds would be and what actions would result.

It calls for revising the development code to require Florida-friendly landscaping in new developments and in redevelopment projects.

It would extend the deadline for phasing out residential irrigation water meters from 2017 to 2022.


Commuter Rail Coming To Area

Construction is well under way on the new SunRail commuter rail station in Poinciana behind the WaWa store near the intersection of U.S. 17-92 and Poinciana Boulevard.

The scheduled start of service is early next year. By boarding a train there, commuters will be able to travel to various spots in the Orlando area.

There are plans to have local transit serve the station, providing a multi-modal element.

There has been interest in eventually expanding the line south to Haines City to provide more access to Polk residents, but there is no funding or schedule for that project.


Pay Attention To Future Road Plans

The still relatively rural swath of Florida’s heartland south of Polk County is home for some prime wildlife habitats for Florida black bears and Florida panthers with a basic road network that has served the area for decades.

To get an idea of how that might change in the future, you might want to view the Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization’s 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan.

The Heartland TPO is a relatively new agency just formed in 2015 to provide local input on future transportation projects in Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry counties.

The future project list includes the six-laning of U.S. 27 between Lake Placid and the Glades County line, the four-laning of State Road 29 in Hendry County and a discussion of the Florida Department of Transportation’s future corridor concepts for changes in the U.S. 27 corridor and for what was once called the Heartland Parkway, a new road from the LaBelle area northeasterly to Polk County to connect to Interstate 4.

The only active section of that project is the Central Polk Parkway, which is proposed to run through rural areas of northeast Polk County, but is mostly on hold because FDOT officials have concluded that most of it is not financially feasible at this time as a toll road.

The fact that the corridor is on a long-range state transportation planning map is important.

To learn more about the Heartland TPO, go to http://heartlandregionaltpo.org/about/ and follow the links.