TARPON SPRINGS - In third grade, Aidan Rooney emailed Mayor David Archie to bring his attention to downed streetlights on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The following year, he raised almost $200 from selling homemade Christmas ornaments to help fund the information kiosk at Sunset Beach. Now, a seventh-grade student at Tarpon Springs Middle School, Aidan has just completed his latest project: a library on Sunset Beach.
Last month, 12-year-old Aidan, along with his father, Christopher, grandfather, Paul, and grandmother, Jill, installed a Little Free Library near the parking lot of the beach near the west end of Gulf Road.
“My dad and I went to one of the first ones in Minneapolis and that led to making one here,” Aidan said.
So they started in Paul Rooney’s garage, with wood and the most weatherproof paint they could find, an olive green color that matches the palm trees clustered around Sunset Beach. Three decorative, colorful fish from Tarpon Home and Garden embellish the sides of the box. And every day, books appear and disappear. But it’s less magical than it sounds.
CLEARWATER - It was nothing but good news as representatives from Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce updated Pinellas County Commissioners about the continued success of its Dolphin Trail project.
Commission Chair John Morroni introduced Carol Haig, chamber president and CEO, Bob Clifford, senior vice president of tourism and economic development, and Anita Treiser, tourism marketing consultant and Dolphin Trail project manager, who did most of the talking for the group.
“I need to tell you what an impact this project has had throughout Pinellas County and beyond,” Treiser told the commission during their April 7 meeting.
Morroni gave a brief overview of the project that features about 150 6-foot dolphin sculptures decorated by mostly local artists located throughout the county and beyond that make up the trail.
“We’re proud that our own courthouse here in downtown Clearwater recently became part of that trail with the Playing on the Water dolphin,” he said.
The county’s dolphin is located on the northwest corner of the courthouse at 315 Court St. Morroni welcomes everyone to come by to see it.
LARGO - In preparation for the summer season, Largo firefighters have been practicing how to save children from drowning in a pool.
The new, live pediatric training is a step beyond required training for paramedics and emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, in the department. And the program wasn’t an idea the chiefs in the fire department developed, explained Assistant Fire Chief Michael Handoga.
“This was the firefighters themselves saying, ‘It’s pool season. We want to practice our skills and make sure our proficiency is at the highest levels,’” he said. “They came up with the curriculum all on their own. How do you not support that?”
On Mondays and Fridays over the last three weeks, groups of four to six firefighters headed to Highland Family Aquatic Center to rescue a “child” - actually a child-size mannequin - from the pool. One firefighter jumped in to swim the child to safety, and on dry ground, the group worked to assess and get the child breathing again.
“We wanted to make this as real as possible,” said firefighter and paramedic Stephen Bailey, who developed the training.
The training was designed to be a hands-on reminder so paramedics and EMTs feel more prepared to save a drowning child - not a common emergency scenario.
MADEIRA BEACH - Congressman David Jolly took a walking tour of the John’s Pass waterfront April 8 to discuss the impact illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico has had on the local fishing industry.
Jolly, R-Indian Shores, recently became one of 20 co-sponsors on a bi-partisan bill, HR 774, which was introduced in the National Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that would implement the Port State Measures Agreement, also known as the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act. The U.S. Senate approved the bill unanimously last year.
The measure strengthens port inspections of foreign fishing boats and increases enforcement to stop illegal fishing.
In recent years, Mexican fishermen have illegally harvested an estimated 1 million pounds of red snapper per year in U.S. waters, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The illegal poaching has also had an impact on grouper and shark populations.
“Illegal poaching is one of those areas everybody agrees something needs to be done,” Jolly said. “What happens? It hurts our commercial and recreation fishing industries. Illegal poaching is a crime and we need to do more for government to fight it.”
DUNEDIN - “Where to Retire” magazine has selected Dunedin as a top retirement destination. The city is profiled in the May/June issue, available April 14.
“Where to Retire” Editor Annette Fuller said in a press release that Dunedin possesses qualities important to today’s retirees.
“Tucked alongside the Gulf of Mexico in the Tampa Bay region, Dunedin offers retirees access to some of Florida’s most pristine barrier island beaches. Time is well-spent outdoors, walking along the beach, cycling the trail that cuts through downtown, relaxing on a sailboat or collecting seashells. Even dogs are welcome at many outdoor dining spots. The town’s rich Scottish history is celebrated at annual festivals, and the local high school has a bagpipe band,” Fuller said.
Each year, 700,000 Americans relocate to new towns to retire. Generally, relocating retirees are healthier, better educated and more affluent than those who choose not to relocate. They bring significant economic benefits to their new states and hometowns. Nationally, two-dozen states and hundreds of towns seek to attract retirees as a source of economic development, the release said.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners gave the go ahead, 6-0, April 7, to seek the court’s help in resolving a tax issue with the Pasco County Property Appraiser.
Commissioner Pat Gerard was absent.
County Attorney Jim Bennett recommended that commissioners authorize his office to initiate litigation to seek a declaratory judgement and injunctive relief against Mike Wells, Pasco County Property Appraiser, Mike Fasano, Pasco County Tax Collector, and Marshal Stranburg, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue.
The question is should Pinellas County have to pay ad valorem taxes on its land located in Pasco County.
Pinellas bought the 8,200-acre Cross Bar Ranch in 1976 and the adjoining 4,200-acre Al Bar Ranch in 1990. All 12,400 acres are located in central Pasco County.
Pinellas purchased Crossbar to help supply its water needs. Seventeen wellhead sites located on 6.41 acres began producing drinking water in 1980. The county sold the wells and water rights on Crossbar in the mid-1990s as part of a deal that created Tampa Bay Water.
Pasco County made an offer to purchase the land in 2014, which Pinellas declined.
CLEARWATER - Results of Pinellas County’s annual study of citizen values shows signs of improvement.
Sarah Lindemuth, senior research director with HCP & Associates, presented results from the phone survey to commissioners during their March 24 meeting. The survey took place Jan. 26-Feb. 11. Calls were made to 200 citizens in four demographic areas - north, mid, south and the beaches.
The goal of the phone study, as well as a second study conducted online, is to “measure citizen expectations and perceptions regarding key drivers for citizen qualify to life, to determine strengths and opportunity of improvement,” according to the written report.
County Administrator Mark Woodard pointed out that the study results help staff as it develops the annual budget and to evaluate the effectiveness of county services.
One new metric included in the 2015 survey was whether residents were employed within their skillset. Lindemuth said 97.9 percent of those called indicated they were employed within their skillset. Of those respondents, 60 percent indicated they had high-wage jobs.
Commissioner Pat Gerard questioned the demographics report that showed 74.4 percent of the county made more than $50,000 a year. Latest census figures showed only 46.4 percent brought home more than $50,000 a year. Gerard pointed out that it might be harder to get low-income residents or transients on the phone.
BELLEAIR - Town fathers like to say that Belleair is a family-oriented community that it is a safe place to live with amenities for young and old alike.
The poster boy for their claims could well be retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joe Oder who moved to the community a year ago and now says he and his wife Pat would not want to be anywhere else.
“We absolutely love it. It is the best thing we’ve ever done,” he said. “You have the small community life but are close to the big city. You have accessibility to the big life while living the small life.”
As a career military man Oder, 70, and his family was never in the same spot for long. When he retired 18 years ago he and Pat moved to Destin. It was the first time in their 46 years of marriage that they set down roots.
It was a happy time for them until their daughter, Josette Oder Moynihan, pushed those grandparent buttons and got them to move.
“She had moved to Belleair with her family, including two of our grandchildren and wanted us to move closer,” said Oder. “She said growing up as a military child she never had grandparents in her life and she didn’t want that to happen to her children.”
LARGO - Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is encouraging residents who live on the county’s barrier islands to register now to receive an access permit to get back home after an evacuation for a hurricane or other disaster.
Municipalities that will require an access permit are Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, St. Pete Beach, Tierra Verde and Treasure Island. Access permits are available through each local government.
SEMINOLE - As Seminole Elementary School’s centennial celebration set for Saturday, May 2 approaches, the school has been ramping up efforts to get the campus ready for the big day.
The majority of the work has been done on the original building, constructed in 1915, said principal Diane Cato. New windows, especially made to match the style of the historic building, with shades that open from the side rather than vertically, have been installed.
“Because it’s an historical building, we wanted them to be as much like the original windows as they could be,” Cato said.
LARGO - Lester R. Dailey, 69, a longtime Tampa Bay Newspapers correspondent and avid historian, died April 16, 2015 of an illness.
Dailey worked as a freelance writer for Tampa Bay Newspapers for more than 20 years.
“Lester did a great job covering Clearwater and other areas of the county for us,” said Executive Editor Tom Germond. “He will be deeply missed, not only as a loyal correspondent but for his commitment to the community as a volunteer and a historian.”
DUNEDIN - A volunteer organization hopes to bring home to Dunedin a rare landing craft that played an important role in U.S. offensive operations during World War II.
The Dunedin LVT Preservation Group is seeking contributions to buy one of the few remaining World War II Landing Vehicles Tracked and place it at VFW Post 2550 as a tribute to the inventor, the men who used it and the city of Dunedin, where the amphibious vehicles were first produced.
“We have done all the groundwork, we’ve laid all the seeds we have to, and we just really haven’t had the time to get the information out and to raise the necessary funds,” said City Commissioner John Tornga, a spokesman for the group.
TALLAHASSEE - Keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on driving -- that’s the message the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Department of Transportation want motorists to remember this April during Distracted Driver Awareness Month.
Distracted driving crashes in Florida have increased 25 percent since 2012. Even though teens represent only five percent of licensed drivers, they were responsible for 12 percent of distracted driving crashes. Drivers aged 20-29 were responsible for 31 percent of crashes.