Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rick Scott rejects high-speed rail

TALLAHASSEE — Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to build a high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa Wednesday, baffling supporters who already had spent $66 million getting ready for the project.

Scott made the announcement in a hastily called news conference at which he denounced President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget.

"You don't have to be an economic expert to know when you spend more money than you take in, you will fail," Scott said.

Scott's decision likely means those dollars will be rerouted to California and other states investing in a high-speed rail network that Obama has likened to the national highway system. Washington state, in fact, sent out a press release asking for the money.

Scott had previously said he didn't want the state spending any money on the rail line, which required $280 million in matching funds. But backers of the project have said that the consortiums of companies set to bid on the line had indicated a willingness to put up their own money in return for a contract.

News of Scott's decision quickly rippled through Washington and Tallahassee, where lawmakers had approved the project during a special session in late 2009. Some lawmakers grumbled that Scott couldn't unilaterally overturn their decision.

In his brief press conference, Scott went into little detail about how he made his decision, referring only generally to his conclusions about the current and future cost of the train. The state has spent about $66 million on engineering for the 84-mile system and was about to issue contracts for another $170 million.
"My concern with this is if you look at ridership studies, I don't see any way anyone is going to get a return. And so I'm very concerned about the Florida taxpayers," Scott said.

The governor had said repeatedly he would await a ridership study being conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation before making a final decision on the project. Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said afterward that the study has not been completed but that Scott, before making his decision, received a telephone briefing on its findings.

Previous state studies of the train projected annual ridership of 1.9 million to 2.2 million passengers. That didn't include tourists who would ride it to Walt Disney World, which would have hosted a station, possibly near its Wide World of Sports attractions.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Scott said the federal dollars "are better invested in higher yield projects" such as widening Interstate 4 in Central Florida and I-95 through Martin, St. Lucie, Brevard and Volusia counties, and port-dredging projects in Jacksonville and Miami intended to accommodate larger container ships.

However, the federal dollars Florida would be forfeiting are designated specifically for rail projects, and "there is overwhelming demand for high-speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida's funding and the economic benefits it can deliver," LaHood said Wednesday.

Scott also said he was still reviewing the SunRail commuter train project linking downtown Orlando with Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties later this decade, even though money has been set aside in the state budget he proposed last week.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, was among many upset by Scott derailing the train.
"I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project," Mica said in a statement. "This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.''

He said he had already asked the governor to reconsider. His colleague on the House Transportation Committee, U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, called the decision "a nightmare."
And U.S .Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday he was exploring whether the federal government could press on with the project without the state's involvement.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he had talked with LaHood and asked him not to reallocate the money, at least until train backers had a chance to ask Scott to reconsider. "This is a century-type decision that needs to be vetted. I don't think it was given a fair hearing," said Dyer, a Democrat.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said she was taken by surprise. "It's a decision based on ideology," said Iorio, a Democrat. "It's not a decision based on facts."

Among the most dismayed was C.C. "Doc" Dockery, the retired Lakeland insurance magnate who has spent 30 years trying to get a high-speed train in Florida.

He congratulated California because he figures LaHood will move much of the money there, just as he previously sent additional funds to Florida after Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio pulled out of high-speed endeavors. California wants to build a train that eventually would link Los Angeles with San Francisco.

Dockery also questioned whether Scott really understood the way the train was supposed to operate in Florida. The company chosen to build the train would have been contractually bound to cover any cost overruns in construction, as well as any operating deficits for up to 20 years.

In all, eight consortiums made up of international companies representing 11 countries had lined up to bid on the train that would have run from Orlando International Airport to downtown Tampa, with stops at the Orange County Convention Center, Walt Disney World and Lakeland.

""The governor is saying to these teams that they must be lying when they agree to accept cost overruns and ridership risks," said Dockery, a longtime Republican fundraiser and husband of state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.
Other legislators expressed dismay that Scott didn't wait for the private consortiums to offer their bids, and questioned why the governor would turn down thousands of jobs the project would create after campaigning on a "jobs agenda."

Lawmakers appropriated $300 million for the project last year, and Scott cannot constitutionally scuttle that spending without legislative authority, said Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he was told about the decision via a text message minutes before Scott's press conference. But even though lawmakers approved the project last year, there were mixed feeling about it given the tea party-fueled outrage over federal spending.

If lawmakers were to simply continue funding the project, he would expect Scott to veto the move in the budget, and, "I don't believe there'd be the support to override the veto."

But Scott's seeming disregard for the Legislature's appropriating power – whether it's selling a state plane or killing rail projects – is alarming.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, said he planned to lobby lawmakers to fight the governor's move and didn't believe Scott could unilaterally kill the project.

"I disagree with what the governor has said, and I do hope this is not an irrevocable situation," Simmons said.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, was more critical, saying the decision was "tragic" and that Scott should not have prevented the private market from setting a value for high-speed rail.

"We haven't even received proposals. There's no benefit at all at this point in the game to say we won't fund it. Without letting the private sector come to the table, we really don't know how viable it is," he said.
"There's no rational reason at all not to allow that to happen -- unless you're afraid of what you might here. We might hear that this thing will work."

Scott did find support from Robert Poole, a member of his transition team and a rail expert employed by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

Poole said he was skeptical that a business would be willing to cover possible construction overruns or operating deficits, meaning the state could have been forced to bear those expenses. "I think this is a responsible decision," Poole said.

Rick Scott rejects high-speed rail: Gov. Rick Scott says he's rejecting federal high-speed rail money -

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's opening day for the Florida State Fair

It's opening day for the Florida State Fair

TAMPA — Grab your kids and perhaps your antacids. This city's brightly colored, goat-bleating, fried-dough-tempting, music-cranking extravaganza has arrived.
The Florida State Fair.

Beginning today at 10 a.m., the annual fair will offer oodles of rides, games, concerts and so-bad-it's-good grub for between $5 and $12 admission, depending on your age and the day you visit.

Rides, food and some shows cost extra.
It all ends Feb. 21, but there's plenty to do until then.

• Friday night is the big Corndogs and Country concert at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre, featuring five headliners. Tickets, available at, are $20 and include fair admission.

• The High School Jazz Festival will take place all day at the special events center.

• Cheer and dance competitions happen all day Saturday and Sunday.

• There is a talent show Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Country Gold concerts, featuring Leroy Van Dyke, Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, Moe Bandy, Joe Stampley and Bobby Bare, are at noon and 4 p.m. Feb. 16 in the entertainment hall.

• Nock Helicopter Trapeze shows fly over the fairgrounds on weekdays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

• Fireworks start at 8:30 p.m. each Friday and Saturday.

• Other daily shows include: the Welde Bear Show, the Hollywood Racing Pigs, the Giraffe Exotic Menagerie, the Sea Lion Splash and the Kachunga Alligator show and a Blues Brothers tribute show.

It's opening day for the Florida State Fair

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

South Florida Housing is still sliding down the scale.

South Florida Housing is still sliding down the scale.
By:   Tom Johnson

As reported in several publications all over Florida housing prices are still on the fall. Some say that the values have fallen 55 percent in the past four years. Source-Zillow

With all the foreclosures on the market and with the economy still in a blunder sources are saying that there are still some 43 percent of home owners that are still in deep trouble with their mortgages.  In the fourth quarter of 2010, foreclosures slowed considerably, as banks struggled to deal with newfound irregularities in their document filing process and allegations of “robo-signing.”

Short sales (where the home is sold for less that the outstanding mortgage) is still holding around 46.7 percent of South Florida sellers. Short sales are seen to be a preferable way to get out from under a home versus foreclosures but my resources say that it is not as easy as it seems.

The value of homes in South Florida seems to be back to where they were back in 2002. This is a drastic change from just a few years ago when I was in the Real Estate business.  We can only hope that the economy does a swing and bring back the market value of homes to this region.

Beachgoers take beached squid back to ocean in Delray Beach

The man-of-war on Delray’s beach had to make some room Tuesday morning when a 3-foot squid, squirting ink by the cupful, washed ashore. 

Squid rescue: Beachgoers take beached squid back to ocean in Delray Beach

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fishing Report for the last of January

As I reported a couple weeks ago that we were going to head out to the gulf to do some fishing even though it was cold. We went out in Crystal River and tried several of our hot spots but no luck. The water temperature was down and so the fishing was dead. We even tried several areas in shallow water hoping to get something to bite but again no luck. We were using shrimp for bait and after awhile on no bites I tried several lures in my box but still no hits.
After the tide started to come in we went back in around Shell Island and tried a couple spots that we always have good luck at but still no success. Then after several hours on the water we decided to head in and grab a nice dinner somewhere.
We came around the corner by the coast guard head quarters and I decided why not go and see if we can find a few manatees and see what they are up too. We came through Kings Bay and headed toward Three Sisters Springs where the manatees like to hand out and to our amazement we saw hundreds of them hanging out at the warm water of the springs. The warm water at the springs draws the manatees each year to come and cuddle at the mouth of the springs. Article by ABC News

Fishing was terrible but the day was not a total loss. It was such an amazing site to see these huge adorable sea creatures just gently swimming around in the nice warm water for the winter.

After we the left the manatee zone we went back up the river out of Kings Bay and anchored again and threw a couple lines out where we saw a bunch of pin fish hanging out. We had a couple of hits but they were so light that we could not get anything hooked.

Maybe we will give it another shot this weekend since the temperatures are starting to rise again and the water temperatures are also starting to come back up and hopefully the fish will start getting their appetite back.

Government getting involved with manatees

Top brass gets down and dirty with manatees

D.C. official in town to get look at operations

When you’re a higher-up on the ladder at the Department of the Interior, interacting with wildlife should be second nature.

But there was Deanna Archuleta on Tuesday morning, gazing at a group of manatees at Three Sisters Springs like a regular tourist.

Archuleta is far from that. She is deputy assistant secretary of water and science, overseeing, among other things, the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS.

So she played more than giddy visitor Tuesday. Archuleta joined officials and college student volunteers in the capture and health assessment of about a half-dozen manatees from King’s Bay.

“This is incredible!” Archuleta exclaimed as she poured water on a hyperactive manatee’s snout to help its breathing while other workers conducted their testing. “It’s in really good health. It’s young, which explains why it’s kind of frisky.”

She and other USGS officials were in Citrus County for a research site visit to Homosassa and Crystal River. Tuesday morning, two or three dozen workers, volunteers and veterinary students from the University of Florida gathered at King’s Bay Drive peninsula as part of a regular manatee health assessment.
Earlier, Archuleta met with Michael Lusk, manager of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, and received a boat tour of King’s Bay sanctuaries.

Archuleta, a former county commissioner in New Mexico, has worked for the Interior Department for two years. She is the department’s top scientist, overseeing agencies that conduct research on wildlife and the environment.

This is the fourth year the USGS has conducted the wild manatee study in Crystal River, and it does the assessment three times a year. The random testing is to receive a baseline of manatee health, USGS spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz said.

Teamwork was essential. Volunteers captured manatees with nets; the manatees were transferred to stretchers on other boats where “capture team” workers, including Archuleta, hoisted them gingerly to padded mats under the cover of a tent.

Once there, veterinarians and their assessment teams conducted complete medical exams. The procedure takes about an hour; less if the weather is cold.

John Peterlin, a director with the Friends of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, said the health assessments are vital to the manatee population.

“They use that data to make good, balanced decisions,” Peterlin said. “That’s what we’re doing here today — collecting data.”

Tour boat operator Traci Wood, owner of Nature’s Vacation in Crystal River, also helped out Tuesday.
“It’s a great way to make sure the manatees have the proper health,” she said. “They’re checking the overall health of the animals.”

Archuleta said she returns to Washington, D.C with an up-close understanding of manatees.
“The sheer number of people involved is amazing,” she said, adding with a smile: “I guess it takes a village to raise a manatee!”


Monday, February 7, 2011

Officials tour manatee sites

Officials tour manatee sites

Argument's on both sides of the debate sure seem logical.

The idea of touching an endangered species in the wild is odd. After all, most people don’t pet a caribou.

Yet on many days, especially winter, that’s exactly what happens in Three Sisters Springs. Snorkelers, swimmers and kayakers get up close encounters with manatees that huddle in the warm 72-degree water.

On the other hand, if manatees are bothered by the attention, why don’t they just swim away?

Michael Lusk, manager of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is tasked with developing a plan for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that could limit access to the springs or interaction between humans and manatees.

“We need to make some very hard decisions in gray areas,” Lusk acknowledged.

That’s where people like Deanna Archuleta and Bob Bonde come in.

Both are scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, and it is their studies of manatees that could sway Lusk’s decisions on rules one way or another.

“We very much need the science because what we do is affecting real people and real people’s lives,” Lusk said.

Archuleta oversees the USGS as deputy assistant secretary of water and science for the Department of the Interior. Bonde heads the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center in Gainesville.

They were in Crystal River last week for a research site visit and to participate in a manatee capture and health assessment. Bonde oversaw the manatee exercise that included experts and volunteers from the USGS and University of Florida.

Lusk accompanied Archuleta on a site visit to the Three Sisters Springs property, now owned by the city of Crystal River and managed by wildlife service. They then went by boat throughout King’s Bay, with Lusk pointing out manatee sanctuary sites.

Archuleta, who had never seen a manatee, was enthralled.

Lusk explained the delicate balance he faces at Three Sisters: Developing a rule that protects manatees from harassment while also giving the public access to the unique encounter that only Crystal River offers.

Archuleta said she could appreciate that, which made the USGS’s studies of manatees that more important.

“We have to find the triggers that are risks to the species,” she said. “We have trained scientists with amazing backgrounds. They have such depth of knowledge.”

Archuleta said her scientists take no sides in the manatee-interaction debate while conducting research.
“They’re independent,” she said. “We make sure we have a divide between science and management.”
Expert: Keep it simple for manatees
It was quite the scene Tuesday morning.

Researchers in manatee science and veterinary students from the University of Florida, plus other volunteers, converged on a peninsula off King’s Bay Drive. Their goal was to capture a half-dozen manatees — one at a time — and bring them ashore for a thorough checkup before being released.
They worked quickly and efficiently, with the goal of keeping each manatee on land no more than an hour.

Robert K. Bonde, a research biologist for the USGS who has studied manatees for 32 years, oversaw the operation.
“It’s like a MASH unit,” he said.
He said these manatee health assessments occur three times a year at Crystal River so that researchers can compare baseline data from year to year and spot change patterns.
Bonde has learned over the years to profile manatees and he especially loves the research obtained in Crystal River.

“This is a jewel. It’s a prime place for manatees,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than here.”
During an interview, he provided two significant observations
One is that older manatees, those with boat-propeller scars on their backs for example, tend to stay in the protected sanctuaries.

Younger generations of manatees, who do not have the same history with humans as their elders, are more likely to veer from the sanctuaries to interact with swimmers.
The other is that data is inconclusive whether human interaction is hazardous to manatees or not.
“Manatees choose to come out and interact,” he said.

Manatees that avoid cold water for the warm springs in winter have learned that human interaction is part of the lifestyle. They do not flee because they know there is nowhere else to go.
“They’re like puppy dogs. They like the attention,” he said.

However, swimmers who try the same thing during the summer, when manatees are in the Gulf of Mexico, will find a much different reaction. Manatees are not the same cuddly critters when they know they’re not limited to a small area of warm water, he said.
“They don’t expect you to get in the water out in their world, but they will here,” Bonde said.
Bonde acknowledged, however, that the issue is stickier when large numbers of manatees and swimmers gather at the same time in a cramped space, such as Three Sisters Springs.
“That’s the 64 million dollar question,” he said.

“They are a creature of habit,” Bonde added. “They don’t like change. You keep it mundane for them, they’re happy.”

Article By Mike Wright

Manatees Florida: Survey shows Florida manatee population up from past years


Manatees Florida: Survey shows Florida manatee population up from past years

Injured manatee rescued in Boynton Beach is pregnant

Injured manatee rescued in Boynton Beach is pregnant

— An injured manatee rescued Thursday in the Inter-coastal Waterway is pregnant.
Staff at the Miami Sea Aquarium, where the manatee was taken for treatment, discovered the pregnancy during a medical examination.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission team captured the manatee in a side canal about a quarter mile south of the cove at the city's Boat Club Park.
The animal was in obvious distress. Two long gashes on her body were nearly an inch deep.
Fish and Wildlife officials believe she was injured by a boat propeller.
The precarious nature of Florida's manatee population, and the high threat from boaters, is well documented. Last week, the commission reported it had counted 4,840 animals statewide, which actually is up from last year.
The agency credited warmer January weather this year, compared to the catastrophic freezes of January 2010, which killed many manatees.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Eliot Kleinberg

Injured manatee rescued in Boynton Beach is pregnant

Scott unveiling Fla. budget plan at tea party bash

Scott unveiling Fla. budget plan at tea party bash

The Associated Press

Gov. Rick Scott will be breaking with usual practice in a couple ways when he unveils his first budget recommendations to the Legislature.

The Republican governor will present a two-year plan Monday rather than the annual version required by the Florida Constitution.

And, he'll do it first at a tea party rally in Eustis before flying nearly 200 miles back to Tallahassee for a traditional news conference at the Florida Capitol.

GOP-leaning tea party activists are expected to give a more favorable response to his proposals for slashing spending by $5 billion and cutting business and property taxes by more than $2 billion.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature say they don't see how the cash-strapped state can afford tax cuts.

Read more

Scott unveiling Fla. budget plan at tea party bash

Alternate Energy Technologies: A success story in Jacksonville Read more at Jacksonville

Jacksonville residents driving past the Westside campus of industrial offices that house Alternate Energy Technologies LLC probably don't notice that one of the world's leading manufacturers of thermal solar collectors is there, quietly making panels for myriad international vendors.

"We're not a walk-in business," said Billy Byrom, company founder, president and managing partner. "We're strictly a manufacturer for wholesale distributors. We lead a lot of tours, though - we want people to see what we do."

The company does not purchase anything from foreign suppliers, Byrom says. Its 60 workers bring in raw materials and manufacture everything in its 67,000-square-foot facility. Byrom said that makes AET one-of-a-kind in the United States, because other U.S. solar manufacturers are really just assembly operations that put together components fabricated in foreign factories.

"Everything is American-made. We're very proud of that," he said. "We are the only complete manufacturer in the United States."

AET has been leasing space at that location since 1987 when it started with 18,000 square feet, he said. But with the return of a federal tax credit for consumers in 2006, business has been booming.

The growing company will move to a new facility in Green Cove Springs in May.

Byrom, 63, went to work for AET predecessor U.S. Solar in 1979 as the company's director of operations. Prior to that, he worked with an Alabama company that manufactured mobile homes. He was educated at the University of North Alabama in Florence, Ala. and moved to Jacksonville to work with a friend in the solar industry, he said.

Alternate Energy Technologies: A success story in Jacksonville