September 2004 Newsletter Articles
FROM THE CHAIR…Bob Taylor
STOP THE HIGHWAY BILL
THE HURRICANE, TREES AND INVASIVE EXOTICS
THOMAS LANDING VICTORY
ABSENTEE BALLOT VOTING
WOOD DUCK T-SHIRTS
This month’s meeting proved to be a triple treat. First, the meeting site, Gail Bagley’s charming home a block from Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, was a wonderful home away from our usual home.
Second, the monthly outing was a leisurely stroll along the recreation trail, which encircles the lake, to the site of Lakeland’s newest stormwater treatment facility. Gene Medly, the city’s Supervisor of Lakes and Stormwater, was on hand to explain the design of the project which includes catchment basins and wetland filtration areas enclosed by a semi-circular earthen dike. Water flows through a release breach in the dike into the lake after pollutants have had a chance to settle out. The catchment basins and wetlands areas are planted with nutrient absorbing submerged aquatic vegetation The dike is planted (or will be) with appropriate vegetation so that it will be an attractive and integral part of the recreation and boardwalk trail. Additional stormwater treatment projects are planned for Lake Hollingsworth; all involved hope that these projects will forestall the lake ever again having to go through a muck removal ordeal such as has just been completed.
Third, we returned to base and enjoyed an exceptional dinner. After our usual abbreviated summer business meeting, Paul Anderson, who is particularly knowledgeable about the candidates running for local, state and national offices, provided us with excellent thumbnail sketches of each aspirant. This should help all of us decide which candidates to support by our vote.
Election day this year will be of special importance and it is crucial that each of us vote for the candidates of our choice. Democracy works best when we have a viable two-party system; when one party is poorly organized and the other is exceedingly well organized, the result is a landslide for the latter - and that results in concentration of power which means poor representation for at least half of the electorate. Let us not allow this to happen again in our county, in our state, and in our nation.
We note with great sadness the death of Pat Herbert, a member-at-large of Polk Sierra’s executive committee. Pat and her late husband, Harlan, were active members of Sierra (in California and Florida) for 63 years. They were Life Members and had been recognized for their outstanding contributions by Florida Sierra on two occasions. The Herberts were part of a small group who created the extremely influential slide show "Death of a River" which was shown all over the state to arouse public support for the Kissimmee restoration. We have lost a great friend and a great conservationist.
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A BAD DEAL FOR ALASKA, A WORSE DEAL FOR FLORIDA
Right now, House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (Republican-Alaska) is trying to muscle a staggering $275 billion Transportation Bill through Congress that unfairly redirects massive amounts of taxpayer money to his unpopular and environmentally harmful projects in Alaska while leaving larger states like Florida without adequate transportation funding.
While Alaska’s share of the federal transportation project money amounts to a sizeable $590.2 million, Florida’s share is just $513 million. This may not seem like much of a difference, except when you take into account that Florida has 16.7 million people and Alaska only has 643,000. This means Alaska has roughly $918 per person to spend on transportation projects. Compare that to Florida, which only gets $30 per person!
So, why is a state as populous as Florida getting such a raw deal from the Transportation Bill, while Alaska with just over half a million residents, is taking home over half a billion dollars? The answer is simple: Rep. Don Young, Alaska’’s only House member, is chair of the Transportation Committee.
BACKGROUND ON THE TRANSPORTATION BILL
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE TRANSPORTATION BILL AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
The transportation bill is what’s known as an ‘‘authorization’’ bill. This means it authorizes government money to be used for various projects and provisions outlined in the bill. These projects include national programs, such as the national highway system, as well as local and regional projects, such as improvements to I-95 in Broward County and roadway and drainage development to prevent street flooding in Tampa.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE BILL’S PRICE TAG?
In the past, the transportation bill has been a bipartisan effort with overwhelming support from both Congress and the president. But because of a growing federal deficit, many in Congress and the Bush Administration have voiced concern over the mammoth price tag of the transportation bill. President Bush has even made threats to veto any bill that costs more than $256 billion. But Congress has stubbornly opposed this figure, with the Senate passing a $318 billion bill and the House passing a $275 billion bill, which was pared down from its original $375 billion cost.
WHAT IS ALASKA SPENDING ALL THIS MONEY ON?
While there are many wasteful Alaska projects in the transportation bill, the two most costly are the $175 million Gravina Island Bridge and the $200 million Knik Arm Bridge. These projects are often called ‘‘earmarks’’ because specific funding within the bill is earmarked for projects that benefit the districts of certain members. Originally, the funding of these two bridges was $3 million a piece. However, Rep. Don Young was able to use his position as Transportation Committee Chair to increase funding by hundreds of millions of dollars at the last minute, making these two bridges by far the biggest earmarks in the transportation bill. Florida’s largest earmark project is only for $13 million to improve Church Street Road in Orlando.
WHY BUILD A $175 MILLION BRIDGE TO AN ISLAND WITH ONLY 50 PEOPLE?
The Gravina Island Bridge would connect the city of Ketchikan to Gravina Island, where the Ketchikan airport is located. The airport is presently accessible by a 5-minute ferry ride. Building such a bridge is a Herculean task as it would measure just 20 feet short of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just over 50 people currently live on Gravina Island. This bridge is opposed by local bush pilots as well as the Coast Guard and is more likely to be used as a convenient route to haul logs out of the Tongass National Forest than to accommodate the citizens of Ketchikan.
The Knik Arm Bridge is similarly opposed by the local community. The bridge would connect the city of Anchorage to currently unpopulated wetlands to the north in the hopes of spurring suburban development. The result would be increased sprawl with more congestion into the city.
WHY IS FLORIDA PAYING MORE INTO THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY FUND THAN ALASKA?
The main issue that can be used to influence Florida representatives is what’s known as ‘‘donor disparity’’. This term refers to the disparity between what states known as ‘‘donor’’ states contribute to the federal highway trust fund versus what they get back in the way of transportation and infrastructure projects. ‘‘Donor’’ states are typically heavily populated states, such as Florida, Texas and California. These states are called donors because they pay more in taxes into the federal highway trust fund than they get back in funding for projects in the transportation bill. This is in contrast to a state such as Alaska that, because of its small population, gets back several times more than it pays into the federal highway fund.
FLORIDA ONLY GETS BACK $0.83 FOR EVERY DOLLAR
According to Floridians for Better Transportation, Florida only gets back 83 cents for every dollar it contributes to the federal highway trust fund.
ALASKA GETS BACK $7 FOR EVERY DOLLAR
Based on the figures in the versions of the transportation bill that passed the House and the Senate, if the transportation bill passes as it is right now, Alaska would receive a whopping $7.72 on its $1 investment!
TAKE ACTION NOW TO STOP THE HIGHWAY BILL!
The waste and abuse in the federal transportation bill will reroute taxpayer money to projects that will harm Alaska's wildlands and provide less money for public transit, important road improvement and maintenance projects in Florida. Express your concern to your US Representative now!
…Tom Wheatley, Alaska Coalition
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Charley certainly did a lot of serious tree trimming and removal in his swipe through Florida. Many oaks, pines and magnolias, both young and old, were no match for the lethal combination of high winds and soggy ground. Non-native trees really showed their weaknesses in the storm. Many were battered to smithereens especially orchid trees,
woman's tongue, lead trees, eucalyptus and melaleuca. I hope that when replanting people pick natives to replace them.
Besides trashing trees, Charley spread the seeds and propagules of many of our worst invasive exotic plants like Japanese and Old World climbing ferns, Chinese tallow tree, rosary pea, woman's tongue tree, lead tree, air potato, Chinaberry tree, schefflera, Brazilian pepper, cogon grass, orchid tree, cat's claw vine and melaleuca.
It's important for conservationists to know about the impact that invasive species have on native wildlife populations and what they can do to help. Please educate yourself and your friends and neighbors about the benefits of native species vs. invasive exotic species.
For more information please refer to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's website: http://www.fleppc.org/
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The Polk Group of the Sierra Club has had a long history of working to protect the environmental values of the Kissimmee River and its restoration. One of the chief activists in Kissimmee River issues was Richard Coleman who, until his untimely death, worked vigilantly on many fronts. One of those was Thomas Landing, a “Fish Camp” for lack of any better term, which constantly faced code enforcement issues with Polk County and was forever attempting to expand its non-conforming uses. Those uses threatened that area of the Kissimmee from septic tank runoff as well as many other issues.
When the owner of the property came before the Polk County Planning Commission we were facing another round of expansion even though the owner has yet to come into compliance with a long list of code violations. RV storage and the addition of a campsite was on the owner’s agenda. And as anticipated, the Polk County Planning Commission was willing to approve the expansion request. John Ryan (a Polk Group activist on land use issues) appeared before the Planning Commission and argued against the expansion. The county had not counted the trip rates (the average annual daily number of automobile trips) that Thomas Landing had originally created plus those new trips an expansion would create.
Why is this an environmental issue, you might ask? Well, trip rates would limit the expansion of Thomas Landing if the trips are counted as required by Polk County’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. To expand any further, the owners of Thomas Landing would have to pave a road they don’t own. The cost of acquiring the easement that Thomas Landing calls a road would be cost prohibitive and even if the Fish Camp owner could afford it, the expense to pave it would be extremely high.
The Planning Commission approved the expansion and exempted the camp’s original trip rates from being counted for the expansion. The Polk Group and John Ryan immediately filed for a De Novo hearing (De Novo means all issues related to the approval are re-heard) and in late July the issue went before the County Commission.
John argued that the Comprehensive Plan and Polk’s Land Development Code do not give the Planning Commission the authority to exempt trip rates from any development no matter what the size. He also argued that the Planning Commission had exceeded their authority in granting the waiver of trip rates.
And the Polk County Commissioners agreed!!! The Planning Commission’s exemption of trip rates was rescinded by the County Commissioners and now Thomas Landing can not be expanded without a very expensive road paving job.
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Floridians are justifiably concerned about their votes being counted. The counties of particular concern are those with the new touch-screen machines because there is no paper trail. If you live in a county (like Polk) where your vote is cast using optical scanning technology (darkening an oval) then you are using the best - just make sure you don't let anything stop you from going to the polls on November 2nd. If there is any possibility that you might not be able to get to your polling place on that date, then request an absentee ballot from your Supervisor of Elections; take into account time needed for mailing.
…Frances H. Coleman
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Our wood duck t-shirts were made available in 2002 and since then there has been recurring interest in having a second run. If your shirt is almost worn out or if you need unique gifts for Christmas, birthdays, etc. now is your chance. Shirts with front, back and sleeve printed will cost $9.80; those with front only will be $9.30. Donations above the actual cost will be gratefully accepted for the Richard Coleman Scholarship Fund. Our thanks always to Paul Schulz for the donation of the art work. Deadline for orders is October 31st; phone 863 956 3771.
…Frances H. Coleman