Pinellas County ended the partial activation of its Emergency Operations Center Monday, Aug. 31, at 4:30 p.m.
The partial activation began at 1 p.m. to allow county and partner agencies to monitor potential flooding concerns related to the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika.
A flood watch remains in effect for Pinellas County until 8 p.m. Residents who experienced flooding during heavy rains in July and early August are asked to stay tuned to the weather and prepare their homes for potential additional flooding.
SEMINOLE - Tampa Bay Newspapers office will be closed Monday, Sept. 7, for the Labor Day holiday. Early deadlines are in effect Thursday and Friday, Sept. 3-4, for the Seminole Beacon, Beach Beacon, Largo Leader, Belleair Bee and Clearwater Beacon.
Deadline for press releases and other editorial copy is noon Thursday, Sept. 3.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners may not be as happy with their attorney’s performance this year as they were in 2014 based on his annual review scores.
Commissioners had little to complain about during the County Attorney Jim Bennett’s annual review Aug. 18, except maybe his handling of the BP settlement and minor communication problems. Still, his overall score compiled from responses from the seven commissioners was down this year by 19.6 points compared to last year. Nearly every category showed a decrease.
Bennett scored 352.3 out of 400 on his annual performance review, which is down from last year’s score of 371.9. His highest score was for his integrity, receiving a 3.95 this year. He received a perfect 4 in 2014. His lowest score last year was for communication, a 3.46. This year he got a composite score of 3.07 in that category.
His score for the job of providing major legal services was 3.51, down from 3.66 last year. He scored 3.59 for legal services on routine internal matters, down from 3.9 in 2014. He received a 3.42 for organization, planning and management, compared to 3.5 last year. He received a 3.64 for staff effectiveness, a decrease from 3.81 last year. He received the same score for leadership as he did in 2014, 3.58.
TARPON SPRINGS - Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie walks into a classroom at the Citizens Alliance for Progress and is immediately mobbed.
A dozen children want to shake his hand, show him their drawings or how many checkmarks they have next to their name on the chalkboard (a checkmark is a positive note; do anything wrong and they get an ‘x’).
It’s summer, but these students are still in a classroom. And they love it.
Originally, the building at 101 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was Union Academy Elementary School, an African-American school for grades one through eight from the 1900s to the 1960s. But by the mid-1970s, the school was no longer open and had become an eyesore in the community.
Instead of demolishing the building, the Citizens Alliance for Progress was formed in August of 1982 with the goal of acquiring and renovating it. Four years later, Pinellas County Community Development bought the building and sold it to the city of Tarpon Springs to be donated to CAP. The mission was to deliver community-based services and partner with other service providers to empower and support individuals and families to foster their personal growth and development, the same mission it has today.
LARGO - The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce honored five of its members for their contributions to the community in the 2015 Inspire Awards at the Largo Public Library Aug. 11.
The emcee for the seventh annual Inspire Award luncheon, Erica Riggins of Bay News 9, promised attendees that hearing about the accomplishments of the winners would not only inspire, but also make everyone feel better about their day.
“They make you want to be better. They give you ideas on how to help someone else other than yourself,” Riggins said. “They make me want to be a better woman.”
The chamber’s Women’s Leadership Committee decided on the five winners, but each winner - Jane Morse-Swett, Paul Ziegler, Margaret Coupe, Casey McPhee and Beth Warren - was nominated by someone in the community.
Wendy Swertfeger of LegalShield nominated the first winner. Jane Morse-Swett is the founder of Women with Purpose, a nonprofit group that helps cancer patients and their families with non-medical financial assistance.
“She knows how life can be turned upside down and how to survive, and even more so, how to thrive,” Swertfeger wrote. “Her charisma and charm light up a room and she touches hearts with kindness and generosity.”
SEMINOLE - In a 4-2 vote, the Seminole City Council approved a development agreement between the city and the owners of the Seminole Mall for the site’s redevelopment at its Aug. 11 meeting.
Councilors Chris Burke and Patricia Plantamura voted against the agreement.
The vote followed a second public hearing on the proposed Seminole City Center. The first public hearing was held at the July 28 council meeting. Scores of residents attended both meetings, many speaking out against the agreement and asking the council to vote against it.
There were a handful of Seminole Gardens and Freedom Square residents, as well as other individuals who lived nearby, concerned about noise, traffic and pollution.
The developers had already agreed to raise the height of the fence along 80th Avenue from 6 to 9 feet to abate noise, and modified delivery hours for all shops but Stein Mart and Bealls from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Many speakers, however, were unhappy with the center’s first announced tenants, which include Ulta, Bealls, Stein Mart, Kirkland’s, Lane Bryant, Five Below, Payless, Earth Fare, LA Fitness, Sport’s Authority, Chipotle, Mattress Firm, Pei Wei and Pollo Tropical.
Eleanor Frankeny, wife of 82-year-old Korean War veteran Albert Frankeny, makes no secret of her gratitude for the staff and volunteers at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s Fisher House located at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center.
If it weren’t for the house, she said, her ability to be by her husband’s side during his lengthy hospital stay would have not been possible.
“Because of the Fisher House, I have been able to be with my husband every day during his recovery from several serious medical issues,” Eleanor said. ”I feel comfortable, I can live independently and consider the staff, volunteers and others staying in the house my family.”
The Bay Pines Fisher House is “a home away from home” for families of veterans and military service members receiving care at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center. The nine-bedroom facility gives family members an opportunity to be close to their loved ones during hospitalizations by providing comfortable lodging in a calm environment, only steps away from the medical center.
CLEARWATER - The city of Clearwater has a new parking program in place and it wants to get the word out to residents on how to take advantage of all it has to offer.
Earlier this year, city leaders agreed to partner with Parkmobile of Atlanta to bring pay by cell parking technology to Clearwater.
The new technology will allow citizens to pay for parking through an app on their cell phones, rather than with credit cards or cash. In addition, the program will allow customers to pay for parking via cell phone, and the app will notify them when their session is about to expire, giving the option of paying for additional parking if needed.
There is no cost to download the app, but there will be a .35 cents user fee, which Clearwater residents may opt out of through registration. Residents who live in the city limits of Clearwater will not be charged any transaction fees for this service.
Proof of residency is required in order to be a member of the Parkmobile Resident Discount Parking Program. Residents must physically provide a Florida vehicle registration for each vehicle and a valid Florida driver’s license with current address, as well as any two of the following: A current voter’s identification card showing the “CITY” as “CW.” This indicates it is an address within the incorporated boundaries of the city of Clearwater. If the section marked “CITY” has an “X” or other letters, then it is a nonresident address; any utility bill less than 30 days old that shows your name and a city of Clearwater address as the service address. “Utility” includes electric, telephone, water, or cable bills; a current tax bill (or notice) in your name showing a city of Clearwater address; a notarized or registered deed, mortgage or lease showing your name as the owner or occupant at that city of Clearwater address; a notarized statement from an adult relative that you are a full time resident in their home and any other two proofs from above showing that their home is in the city of Clearwater; mail with postmark less than 30 days old, showing a city of Clearwater address.
PINELLAS PARK - As plans for the Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch at Lurie Park progress, the organization is planning its first fundraiser - the Alive Ride - a 5.2-mile bike ride for veterans, set for Tuesday, Sept. 1.
The bike ride, which kicks off at Lurie Park, 5500 62nd Ave. N. in Pinellas Park, at 9 a.m., will stop at Skyview Elementary School before ending with a barbecue cookout and reception at Custom Mobility, 7199 Bryan Dairy Road, around 11:30 a.m.
Mike Delancey, the founder of the WWAR, said the ride is open to all veterans, but he hopes to especially encourage disabled veterans to participate. A Pinellas Park native who served in the Marines after high school, was left paralyzed in 2006 after being shot by a sniper in Iraq.
In fact, the fundraiser is planned for Delancey, called his “Alive Day,” which is the anniversary of when he was wounded in Iraq.
Ever since that day, his focus has been on not only his own recovery, but also on motivating other soldiers who have been disabled in the line of duty.
The WWAR, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is a part of this goal. The ranch will empower and strengthen disabled veterans through recreational activities.
CLEARWATER - Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, Pinellas County’s hotels and other lodging establishments will collect 6 percent in tourist development tax from occupants of their rooms.
County Commissioners voted 5-2 to increase what is commonly known as the bed tax by 1 percent at a meeting on Aug. 4. Commissioners Karen Seel and Dave Eggers voted no.
The levy of the sixth cent has been a subject of great debate since the county collected $31.1 million in bed taxes in 2013, qualifying Pinellas as a high impact tourism destination. The designation, which was certified by the Florida Department of Revenue in 2014, allows the county to levy a sixth cent in tourism taxes.
Pinellas is the sixth county in Florida to qualify as high-impact tourist destination, joining Broward, Monroe, Osceola, Orange and Walton counties. One the tax is levied, the high-impact tourist status is permanent.
Estimates show that the sixth cent would bring in an additional $7 million annually, based on 2014 tax collections. The Tourist Development Council recommends keeping the additional revenue in a “lock box” until a plan is developed on how best to spend it. As of the end of May, in excess of $27 million had been collected in bed taxes in 2015, an increase of almost 13 percent over last year’s record $35 million.
Odds are now 90 percent that the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season will be below average, say the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, updated the media during a teleconference Aug. 6. Pre-season predictions called for a 70 percent chance of a below-average season.
NOAA’s typically releases a second outlook in August, the first month of the peak season, which runs through September. Bell said the new outlook calls for the possibility of six to 10 named storms. One to four could strengthen into a hurricane and zero to one could become a major hurricane.
The initial forecast in May called for six to 11 named storms, one to four hurricanes and zero to two major hurricanes.
The average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, which are Category 3 or above.
Bell cited three reasons for the below-normal activity. The biggest factor is El Nino, which has strengthened and expected to continue through the end of the season. In addition, atmospheric conditions, which are associated with a significant El Nino, including strong vertical wind shear, are present. These conditions make it difficult for storms to develop. The third factor is sea-surface conditions in the Tropical Atlantic are below average and much cooler than the rest of the global tropics.
With the likelihood of additional rainfall early next week due to Tropical Storm Erika, residents are being urged to take steps to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and use repellants to prevent being bitten.
The first human case of West Nile Virus was confirmed in a 32-year-old male in Pinellas County Aug. 28. Health officials issued a mosquito-borne illness advisory Aug. 21 to alert the public of the need to protect against the threat.
Twenty-three sentinel chickens have tested positive for WNV so far in the county’s Mosquito Control coops located in Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Oldsmar and Seminole.
Tropical Storm Fred strengthened into a hurricane early Monday morning. Fred is the sixth named storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season and the second hurricane.
Fred will likely be a short-lived storm. National Hurricane Center forecasters say it will travel through an area of favorable environmental conditions for about 36 hours before encountering vertical shear and an area of dry air. The latest intensity forecast shows Fred becoming a depression by Friday night.
The recent heavy rain and rough weather along southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast impacted sea turtle nests along the beaches along the Florida's west coast, jeopardizing the eggs and hatchlings emerging from the nests.
Many nests of loggerhead and green turtles have been documented this year in Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties by people working under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission permits to survey the beaches for sea turtle activity.
SEMINOLE - Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a Largo High School student Thursday afternoon after he reportedly displayed a BB gun on a school bus.
Logan A Burton, 15, of Seminole was riding the bus home from school when the incident occurred about 2:38 p.m. Aug. 27. The bus was near 9200 113th St. N., according to a media release from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies said the school bus driver saw the student holding what she thought was a black-colored handgun. She called 911 and pulled the bus off to the side of the road.
SEMINOLE - Spoto’s Grill 131, 13079 Park Blvd. N., changed hands earlier this month. James Gilbert and his son, Christopher Gilbert, purchased the restaurant from Bob Spoto, who retired.
Spoto is a well-known local restaurateur whose previous eateries included Spoto’s Stockyard Inn and Spoto’s Supper Club in Seminole, Smokey’s Texas Barbeque in Pinellas Park, and Spoto’s Steak Joint in St. Petersburg and Dunedin.
James, who lives in California, has been in the restaurant business for 60 years, and owns several seafood restaurants and steakhouses in Monterey and Santa Cruz.