A County Divided?

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Lakeland and Winter Haven are Polk County’s two most populated cities. For almost as long as the two cities have existed (Lakeland was founded in 1885 and Winter Haven in 1923), these have made up the two largest parties in the figurative east/ west divide of the county. This unspoken feud spurred the drafting of a 1934 bill to “build a great and indestructible partition” between them. Support and funding fell through and the bill was to be buried in the depths of the county’s history – until now.  

There was a clear distaste for each other in which Lakeland thought Winter Haven to be “uncool” and Winter Haven thought Lakeland to be “snobby” according to court records and diaries from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Oddly, those old feelings appear to persist even today, bringing new life to the 1934 bill. A three-phase plan has been put into motion by Lakeland city officials who say construction on the Polk County wall could begin as soon as the first quarter of 2021.

At a county meeting in February, Lakeland’s spokesperson for the wall task force, Tom King said, “We’re going to build this wall, and we’re going to make Winter Haven pay for it.” 

Lakeland officials voted unanimously to pass the bill, but Winter Haven has yet to agree on terms. Winter Haven officials agree there should be a wall, but its placement and who will be footing the bill is still up in the air.

Though they haven’t always seen eye to eye, now the cities won’t be able to see each other at all. “We want to build it high enough that they can’t see all the new development and cool things we’re doing,” said King. 

The 40-foot tall, 36-mile long wall will start in Polk City, going through Auburndale and Bartow before stopping in Homeland. Lake Hancock, which sits in the wall’s projected path, will have to be drained. The bill for that and all of the lake’s water will also go to Winter Haven.

Proponents of the wall are demanding nothing but the best. An initial shipment of 80 tons of luxury Italian marble has already been placed. The marble will be shipped to the states via cargo ship and taken the rest of the way by railcar. “It’s needlessly expensive and that’s why we’re – I’m sorry I mean why they – are investing in it,” said one Lakeland city official.

Renderings of the wall show two-way mirrors every five miles or so. Lakeland residents will be able to see Winter Haven, but Winter Haven will only see a reflection. “I think it’s time they take a good hard look at themselves,” said a Lakeland commissioner who wished to remain anonymous.

In addition to difficult terms with Winter Haven on who is paying for the wall, logistics have been a point of contention. Several people who were offered buyouts for their homes refused. As these homes won’t be demolished like most in the wall’s path, the wall will be built directly over these properties.

Other concerns raised with the project is the fact that there will be no way around it. The average 30-minute trip from one city to the other may now take upwards of an hour and a half depending on where you start and where you have to go. There will be a bike path along the top of the wall, though it will only be available to Lakeland residents with guards at each end checking ID’s for addresses. 

World-renowned muralist Edgar Monroe has been contracted to beautify the Lakeland side with “realistic and very cute dog faces,” according to the wall task force website. The artist will paint the other end of the pup in an equally realistic fashion along Winter Haven’s side of the wall. 

It is still not entirely clear how Lakeland intends to force Winter Haven to pay for the wall, but officials say not to worry. King said, “When it’s all said and done, the wall will cost Winter Haven around $2B. Cost of finally having privacy and peace of mind to Lakeland – priceless.”

Though some city leaders and citizens are in support of the wall, an even larger movement from politicians and citizens on both sides of the county in opposition to its construction, has begun to form. “As it turns out, Lakeland isn’t as snooty as we thought,” said one wall detractor from Winter Haven. A Lakeland resident agreed, adding, “And Winter Haven is actually kind of chill.” 

This collective of forward-thinking folks have started an online petition to immediately tear down the wall should it be built. At a rally in protest of the wall at Lake Hancock on February 10, a leader in the ‘Tear Down the Wall’ movement, Robert ‘Bob’ Bobertson, said, “They might build the wall, but we’re going to come together to tear it right down. And we’re going to make Tampa pay for the demolition!” The crowd erupted in cheers and applause. 

To write your congressman about building the wall between Polk or tearing it down, email april_foolz@havenmagazines.com.

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