Water-Related News

Funds for 2nd phase of Se7en Wetlands project stripped from state budget

MULBERRY —Lakeland’s newest park will soon open to the public, but visitors will have to wait longer than the city hoped for the second phase of planned amenities.

Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed $800,000 for an additional phase of the wetland area, scheduled to open April 14. It’s not the first time Scott has been tight on funds for the park: He denied half the city’s funding request for $900,000 in 2016.

“We are certainly disappointed in the final budget appropriation decision,” Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado said in an email. “It seems as though the veto may have been a reaction to the project being assumed to be associated with a wastewater facility and not the true scope of the conservation and recreation land development.”

Se7en Wetlands is a 1,600-acre water-treatment area where Lakeland’s already-treated wastewater has been sent for three decades for further cleansing. The water meanders through seven retention areas, treating the water even more before it is sent into the Alafia River or used as cooling water at Tampa Electric’s Polk Power Station.

The city of Lakeland bought the land, which is in Mulberry, from a phosphate company in the 1980s to create the treatment area. The land drops incrementally 80 feet from holding area number one, adjacent to Eaglebrook golf course, to holding area number seven, close to Highway 60. Water distribution ditches line the top parts of each area, with openings every 100 feet gently pouring the water into the next retention wetland. Se7en Wetlands is connected to the Tampa Bay estuary via the Alafia River.

“While this decision is not ideal, we do plan on continuing with our phased scope of work as funding permits,” said Julie Vogel, an environmental-program specialist with Lakeland’s water utilities department. She oversees the park. “We are actively seeking grant and other funding opportunities.”