Critic: BS Ranch Operation Conflicts With Polk Cleanup Project

Another aspect of the ongoing discussion of the environmental impact of BS Ranch & Farm occurred during two different sections of Tuesday’s Polk County Commission meeting.

That involved a proposal to use some unreclaimed mined land owned by Florida Audubon to treat pollution flowing down Saddle Creek to improve the quality of water reaching Lake Hancock and ultimately the Peace River. The main source of pollution is stormwater runoff from a watershed that extends all the way to Lake Gibson upstream from the site.

The project has been recommended to proceed by Polk’s Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee.

But during citizen comments and again during a public hearing a proposed change in development regulations governing soil manufacturing plants, nearby business owner Kirk Sullivan questioned the consistency between the two votes.

Sullivan contended that allowing BS Ranch & Farm, which turns sewer sludge, treated septage and other wastes into soil, to continue to operate near the Saddle Creek floodplain, potentially causing a pollution threat to the stream, seems inconsistent with the idea of trying to establish a pollution control operation just a short distance upstream.

However, there so far have been no documented case of off-site water pollution of the creek or any water body that can be tied to BS Ranch & Farm. The main issues has been excessive odor and that plant operators misled county officials about the nature of the operation when it was being reviewed for an after-the-fact development permit, which the County Commission approved last December

Commissioner George Lindsey told Sullivan that although he’s unhappy with the situation, legal due process limits what the commission can do.

The changes in the development code would make BS Ranch & Farm a legal non-conforming use, which could perhaps affect the site’s marketability.

Meanwhile, there are still ongoing disputes between BS Ranch and Polk County over code enforcement citations and an administrative decision by county planners to hold up final administrative development approval for the operation. They are expected to resolved later this year.

This episode has reportedly changed the way Polk reviews developments and may lead to more emphasis on the public interest and less on greasing the skids for applicants, which has been the practice at times in the past.

Polk Commission Approves Florida Forever Funding Resolution; Who’s Next?

Today the Polk County Commission unanimously approved a resolution proposed by Ancient Islands Sierra Club to urge funding of the Florida Forever program by the Florida Legislature.

Below is a copy of the resolution that might be useful as a guide to approaching elected officials where you live.

The time is soon because committee meetings begin in Tallahassee next month in advance of the 2018 session, which will convene in January.


WHEREAS, on November 4, 2014, Polk County voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution by a margin of 130,345 to 57,583; and

WHEREAS, the intent of the constitutional amendment, which was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of Florida, was to provide funding to finish the work of the Florida Forever program initiated by Governor Jeb Bush to further the work of the Preservation 2000 program begun by Governor Bob Martinez with support from the Florida Legislature; and

WHEREAS, the Florida Forever program has provided benefits to residents of Polk County through the purchase of Colt Creek State Park, and through the appropriation of $7,160,901 from Florida Forever’s Florida Communities Trust program to aid in purchases of conservation easements in land surrounding the Avon Park Air Force Range to protect Florida’s natural heritage and the nation’s defense; and

WHEREAS, the revenue authorized by the amendment would generate an estimated $750 million a year for the Florida Forever program; and

WHEREAS, the Florida Legislature in 2017 appropriated no more than two percent of the revenue authorized for the Florida Forever program and have instead appropriated the funds to other programs within the state budget; and

WHEREAS, some of the top-ranked priorities for acquisition under the Florida Forever program include the Bombing Range Flatwoods in Polk County and Lake Wales Ridge in Polk and adjacent counties; and

WHEREAS, it is important to accelerate purchases while land is still available at prices that make economical use of taxpayer’s funds.

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved by the Board of County Commissioners, Polk County, Florida, respectfully urge the Florida Legislature to appropriate funds for the Florida Forever program as mandated by the voters to complete the important mission of preserving Florida’s natural heritage and water resources for future generations. This resolution shall take effect immediately upon its passage.

DULY ADOPTED this 22nd day of August, 2017

Swiftmud Increasing East Polk Monitoring Wells

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is in the process of securing easements on public and private land in eastern Polk County to gather more information on aquifer conditions.

This is part of the Central Florida Water Initiative long-term planning to make sure water withdrawals will be sustainable.

The current conclusion is that in general there is little capacity left to withdraw large quantities of water from the Floridan aquifer, the traditional source of water in this part of Florida for most users.

So far the well sites will be located at two sites in the Green Swamp and one on the Lake Wales Ridge in Frostproof.

One Green Swamp well is on private property near Brown Shinn Road. The other will be in Hilochee Wildlife Management Area near the end of Homerun Boulevard.

The Frostproof well will be located near Lake Clinch.

These wells will be in addition to an already extensive network of monitoring wells that have existed for decades in the area.

If Your County Doesn’t Have Soil Manufacturing Regs, Maybe Commissioners Should Act Now

Soil manufacturing plants seem to be popping up everywhere in Florida and some local officials may not be ready.

St. Lucie County officials approved regulations earlier this year after imposing a temporary moratorium to give them time to fairly consider the issue.

Polk County was caught flat-footed after a company opened a plant on the outskirts of Lakeland without getting state or local permits, sending state environmental regulators and county planners scrambling to deal with the operation after the fact because neither were willing to simply shut it down for operating illegally.

Polk officials became less sympathetic after odor problems that company reps claimed during a PR tour of the facility that such a thing wouldn’t happen did happen and now Polk officials are toughening regulations if anyone else seeks a permit.

More recently, Osceola County officials are dealing with a proposed plant near Kenansville in the Everglades headwaters in the rural southern part of the county. Osceola County officials are reportedly trying to come up with regulations to deal with this new land use.

The question is which could will be next on the list for some entrepreneur to propose a similar operation on an unprepared county commission and staff.

The lessons learned from activities so far are that local ordinances should at the bare minimum: deal directly with the odor issue by considering whether the operation should only take place indoors, require adequate bond or other financial assurance to take care of cleaning up the mess should the plant close unexpectedly and decide just where in the county such facilities should and should not be allowed and what kind of review they deserve.

The fact is that the material that is being processed in these plants has to go somewhere, but not just anywhere, anyhow., anytime.




Kissimmee River designation talks continue

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said this week he is still moving ahead with plans to designate the Kissimmee River a Wild and Scenic River in connection with work to restore most of it.

Soto said he is planning meetings with major landowners along the river to hear what their feelings are first, however, explaining their opposition would likely doom the proposal.

The Kissimmee River was once a free-flowing meandering river until it was ditched in the 1960s as part of a misguided flood control project.

The restoration project, the largest of its type in the world, is scheduled to be completed by 2019.

It will not completely restore the river.

Some sections of the original canal will remain intact, especially in the southern reaches of the river, to provide flood control for development that encroached into the historic floodplain after the canal was dug and the floodplain was drained.

The floodplain has been restored in the remainder of the river, rehydrated historic wetlands and once again attracting waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife to the area and providing some nutrient removal for water flowing south toward Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Soil Plant Controversy Continues

The Polk County Planning Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday to recommend changes to the county’s growth plan and development regulations to more tightly review soil manufacturing plants.

The cases will now go to the County Commission, which is scheduled to send the changes to state officials for review. Following the review commissioners are scheduled to adopt the changes later this year.

The changes do not affect BS Ranch & Farm, a suburban Lakeland plant that already has a permit, though its compliance with its permit is still a matter of dispute.

The company’s revised operating plan is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission in October for a recommendation to the County Commission.

Despite a claim by a BS rep at Wednesday’s hearing, this is far from voluntary.

There is a pending appeal of a code enforcement case involving the plant. County officials maintain the special magistrate erred in not upholding the county’s claim there were development code violations.

That appeal is scheduled to be heard later this month.

Meanwhile, county planners are still working with BS to come up with a management plan that will address odor problems that brought the issue to the attention of county officials.

Before then, county officials were willing to grease the skids to allow the company to receive after-the-fact permits though the company never did complete the technical review required for formal approval.

In addition, an internal memo has stated that unless BS Ranch works out these issues, county planners will recommend denial of their revised operational plan.

What would happen if that occurs is unknown at this point.

There are two outstanding issues involving the overall question of regulating such operations, which attempt to turn solid waste produced by sewer plants, septic tank companies and other similar waste streams into a useful product.

One is that this waste has to go somewhere and as Florida’s population grows—the Lakeland plant is getting truckloads of this stuff from all over the state—the amount of waste will continue to increase.

The other is that there needs to be adequate safeguards to make sure these operations don’t cause environmental pollution and public nuisances and that there is enough financial responsibility in regulations and operating plans to cover the costs of cleaning up any messes left behind if these companies go out of business.

Finally, it’s past time for Polk and other inland counties to act like some economically desperate Third World country that’s eager to unquestionably accept and gently regulate new waste treatment businesses in the name of jobs and economically development. That’s a short-sighted mentality that has guided development policy for too long.

It appears local officials are finally recognizing this, but it case they haven’t, here’s another poke in the rear to remind them they need to do better.

July’s Record Rainfall and Stormwater Policy

Last month was the rainiest July on record in Lakeland since records began around 1910, according to the National Weather Service. The gauge at the airport recorded 20.07 inches

The previous record—15.67 inches– was from 1960, which was considered the last “wet year” by those who contend declines in river and spring flow in recent years are the result of changing rainfall patterns caused by something called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

For the record, the rainfall totals elsewhere in the area were less impressive. That is reflected in Tuesday’s flow of the Peace River at Bartow, which was 148 cubic feet per second. On the same date in 1960, the flow was 2,370 cfs, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey.

Following the month’s soggy finale, courtesy of Tropical Storm Emily, The Ledger reported flooding in a mobile home park in an older section of town west of downtown Lakeland.

Unsurprisingly, city officials said the flooding was likely caused by stormwater runoff downstream from new development that prevented the floodwater flowing through a ditch in the mobile home park from draining as quickly as it once did.

This problem has been building for years because of current and past development policies that required less stormwater storage than some thought was prudent.

In unincorporated Polk County, any development built before 1992, during a period when Polk officials were still avoiding the responsibility of updating their growth plan and development regulations as required by state law, the standard was that development need only be designed to handle a storm that had a 33 percent chance of happening in any year.

Newer developments have to design for storms that have 4 percent chance of occurring in any year unless they are in a closed basin—a place where stormwater flows in and stays until it evaporates or percolates—the design standard is a storm that has a 1 percent chance of happening, the so-called 100-year storm.

The general requirement in unincorporated Polk County and Lakeland is that land where a new development is located is not supposed to generate any more stormwater runoff after it is developed than it generated before it was developed.

Judging by the comments in the article, that isn’t exactly what’s happening.

There have been other problems caused by development downstream from Lakeland’s airport in the suburbs between Drane Field Road and State Road 60.

What is occurring, from what engineers say, is that the increased development has caused both the volume and velocity of the stormwater runoff to increase, sometimes causing scouring of canals and stream channels, potentially affecting bridges and occasionally causing flash floods in homes. Very little of this land is particularly well-drained in its natural state.

There has been some discussion in recent years about the effects of climate change on rainfall patterns, which could shift some of the discussion away from the threats of sea level rise in coastal areas and onto the effect on the levels of freshwater bodies in inland areas.

This week’s flood could be a quirky event or a warning of what we might come to expect in a few decades. This should be part of the discussion of design standards for new development in Florida in 21st century.