The first day of summer, June 21, is still weeks away. But, for many, the Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of the season.
One of the preferred holiday activities around Pinellas is boating. Local waterways likely will be crowded, as people take advantage of three days off and what looks like good weather ahead.
National Safe Boating Week is May 18-25, and the Florida Wildlife Commission and U.S. Coast Guard are out on area waterways making sure everyone remembers safety rules.
“Florida is a great place to enjoy boating year-round,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “And even more people will be out on the water for the holiday weekend. Both the holiday and National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24) present an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remaining safe while boating.”
Sixty-seven people lost their lives in Florida last year in boating accidents, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2011 Boating Accident Statistical Report.
Pinellas County ranked No. 6 among the top 10 counties reporting accidents in 2011. Pinellas ranked No. 4 in 2010. In 2011, three fatality accidents were reported, 13 accidents with injury and 20 without injury.
TARPON SPRINGS - Coast Guard crews continue to monitor the pollution cleanup Thursday from a boat that caught fire near the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs.
Roughly 4,500 gallons of water, diesel mix from the vessel Skye Marie, which caught fire at approximately 11 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, has been collected by SWS Environmental Services. Approximately 500 feet of boom has been deployed to contain spread of pollution.
The Coast Guard continues to send out a Safety Marine Information Broadcast informing mariners to take caution when transiting the area. At this time, there is minimal environmental damage and no affected wildlife has been reported.
The Coast Guard continues to work with state and local agencies to cleanup any pollution.
CLEARWATER - When Jennifer Tollefson began meeting with her special needs students at Woodlawn Community Academy in Clearwater, many struggled with basic mathematical concepts, such as counting money, even though most were juniors and seniors in high school. But now, through her teaching and launching a student store that her kids run, her students are not only much better at their math skills, they also are learning many life skills that will help them in the “real world” after they graduate.
Tollefson of Largo is the director of transition services at Woodlawn Community Academy, and this fall she founded the Swanky Swine school store where about 10 special needs students work during lunchtime on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We thought it would be good for them to get some practical experience, so we started a school store,” Tollefson said. “It’s our first step in a transition program, which is where we take our high schoolers and start switching from basic math and reading to more practical skills. We’re still doing math and reading, but we’re reading menus and doing money math and paying bills and writing checks and things like that.”
LARGO - A group of concerned parents and teenagers held brightly colored signs along Seminole Boulevard in Largo May 9 to warn of the dangerous products still sold in convenience stores all over Pinellas County.
Riley’s Food Mart, where the group gathered, is just one of the places still selling synthetic drugs, said Missy Peterson, who organized the protest in front of the store with her husband, Jeff. The protesters say they have seen the sales continue despite the fact that the state of Florida has banned substances sometimes called bath salts or incense and packaged as Spice, K2 and dozens of other colorful product names designed to target teenagers and children.
“We wanted our community to know, here in Largo and in Pinellas County, that we don’t want these convenient stores to sell synthetic drugs anymore to our teenage kids,” Missy said.
The Petersons, who were interviewed by Tampa Bay Newspapers for a series about synthetic drugs last year, have struggled to deal with the effects of synthetic drugs in their family. Over the last two years, their now 16-year-old daughter, Jessie, has been in and out of four different long-term rehabilitation programs for her addiction to synthetic drugs.
BELLEAIR - The town of Belleair will soon have a new public works facility. The groundbreaking for the building, which will be on Ponce De Leon Boulevard just east of Town Hall, took place May 13, and it couldn’t have come soon enough for Public Works Director Perry Lopez.
“The existing building has structural and termite damage and is antiquated,” he said. “The structural damage is so bad some of the garage bays are actually closed and are being held up by scaffolding. Nobody is allowed in the area.”
Among those taking part at the groundbreaking was Mayor Gary Katica. He said the event shows that the town is moving forward.
“It is something that has been needed for a long time,” he said. “It is nice to be part of an administration that is doing things. I’ve seen us build the Dimmitt Center, undertake the infrastructure improvements and buy the golf course. Now the new public works building - for me that’s progress.”
Lopez said termites are so prevalent in the main building no one has been able to say exactly how much damage has actually been done.
“The termites are in the rafters and we just don’t know the full extent of the damage,” he said.
CLEARWATER - The decision was unanimous, and Pinellas County Commissioners made it clear that preservation of industrial land was of paramount importance.
The commission, acting as the Countywide Planning Authority, was asked to make an amendment to the Future Land Use Plan May 7, for 34.6 acres located in Safety Harbor. The amendment would have changed the zoning designation from Industrial Limited, Residential/Office Limited, Residential Low, Residential Urban, Preservation and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay to Residential Medium, Residential/Office Limited and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay.
The southern 10-acres currently zoned Industrial Limited, fronts State Road 590. It is occupied by the Firmenich citrus processing plant, which is relocating to Polk County. The rest of the property is unimproved and contains woods and some wetlands.
Approval of the rezoning, which was backed by the city of Safety Harbor, would have allowed redevelopment of the property and construction of a 246-unit apartment complex that would have fronted S.R. 590 and an office building that would have fronted McMullen Booth Road.
However, approval would have resulted in the loss of 15.8 acres of land that could be used by an industry to provide much-needed jobs in Pinellas.
PINELLAS PARK - Last year, the annual Fire Truck Pull in Pinellas Park gave Christa Lynn the thrill of her life, and not because she helped pull a fire truck over the finish line; it was because she was chosen as a perfect match for a woman who needed a bone marrow transplant to save her life.
The purpose of the event, held this year on Saturday, May 18, at England Brothers Park, 5010 81st Ave. N., is to help the Be the Match Foundation find matches for people who need bone marrow transplants but don’t have an exact match in their family.
Lynn is a Hallmark stocker at several area Walgreens, which is the main sponsor of the Fire Truck Pull. Like other Walgreens employees, Lynn dropped by last year’s event to see if she could help.
“I went to the booth and did the paperwork which was quick and easy,” she said. “Then they take four swabs from your mouth and send them off for analysis. Ten months later, in August, I got an email at 11 o’clock at night telling me I was a match and they would be in touch with me.”
A short time later, the Be the Match organization contacted her and began the process of further testing to make sure she definitely was a perfect match.
LARGO - The residents of Briarwood Travel Villa pleaded for the Largo Commission to stop the development of a 260-unit apartment complex on the 14 acres they call home May 7 but were unsuccessful in stopping the progress of the project.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods have lodged their complaints about the complex, which is currently designed to include seven buildings up to four stories high. They have argued that the planned development at 2098 Seminole Boulevard doesn’t fit in with the lower density residential neighborhoods and the increase in residents would cause extra traffic on the congested intersection of Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard.
But until recently, the residents who would be displaced when construction on the complex begins have been absent from city meetings in which Largo commissioners have considered various aspects of the development that have needed their approval. That changed when Christine Allamanno, a lawyer for Gulfcoast Legal Services, reached out to the community and offered to represent their side.
“They had heard a lot of rumors but didn’t understand what was happening, didn’t understand their rights,” she explained.
The Women’s Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Gulf Beaches began almost eight decades of service in 1936.
Now, 77 years later, it is no more. Age and energy were the enemies that prevailed and caused an end to a venerable institution that helped countless people during its existence.
The organization, down to 27 active members, held its final luncheon in March and now, save for some paperwork, it is over. According to publicity secretary June Fruland, there just wasn’t enough interest in keeping it going.
“We gave up because the same people were doing all the work,” she said. “We were having a hard time finding people who would come to do more than just eat and walk away. We were even having a hard time to get people to make a commitment to come to lunch.”
Fruland, 70, said it was becoming a matter of the same people doing all the work and it just couldn‘t continue.
“I think it was a situation that, yes, the time had come,” she said. “We didn’t want to give up but we couldn’t find a new president. It was always the same people. When we appealed to the group no one came forward. They were really telling us it was over.”
BELLEAIR - At each Belleair Commission meeting the commissioners are asked to report on the activities of the various boards and committees they are involved with. Often, the Parks and Tree Board or the Finance Board or the Planning Board will have been inactive, leaving the appropriate commissioner with nothing to report.
That never happens with the Recreation Board, which means Commissioner Michael Wilkinson always has something to report.
Since he joined the Commission in 2010 Wilkinson, 48, has been the commission’s adviser on the Parks and Rec Board; he admits he is that Department’s biggest fan.
“When it is my turn at the commission meeting to speak to the commission and the audience I make sure I promote everything as best as I can,” he said. “I also make a point of congratulating the staff and volunteers who make it all happen.”
There is a lot to be thankful for. Serving a town of just more than 4,000 residents, the Dimmitt Community Center is considered a state-of-the-art recreational complex and the surrounding fields provide plenty of space for various sporting programs. Wilkinson said it is reflected in how the residents treat the facilities.
PALM HARBOR - In the music world, a common joke is, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice.” For Nadia Azzi, all of her practicing paid off and she made her Carnegie Hall debut at age 11. Now, at 14 years old, she is making her third Carnegie performance on May 19.
This talented teen is a Palm Harbor and Dunedin native and recently won first place in the 2013 Bradshaw & Bruno International Piano Competition. The prestige and chance to play at Carnegie Hall as her prize.
PALM HARBOR - Reaping the benefits of studying hard is nothing new for Aadith Moorthy, a junior at Palm Harbor University High School.
In 2010, as an eighth-grader, Moorthy learned 20 new facts about the world each day. That preparation resulted in him winning the National Geographic Bee and a $25,000 college scholarship.
Now at age 16, he has a cell phone, but only uses it for emergencies and seldom watches television. But he still sets goals. Moorthy wanted to make a perfect score on the SAT. He studied hard. He took more than 20 SAT practice test before attempting the test for the first time in March. He researched the origins and meanings of more than 5,000 new words.
ST. PETERSBURG - When Steve Westphal describes his years of success operating bars and restaurants in Pinellas County, he points to the 1979 Bob Dylan song “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
“This is as straight up as you can get with that,” said Westphal, who was named the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Tourism Person of the Year last week. “It’s a responsibility and we take that responsibility very seriously. There’s a lot of pride involved in our product.”
SEMINOLE - American Legion Post 252 Cross Bayou has teamed up with Dive Care to support scuba divers with disabilities - both civilians and veterans.
On Sunday, May 19, the nonprofit organization will hold a daylong course for those interested in becoming Dive Buddies for disabled individuals in the swimming pool at Cross Bayou, 11433 Park Blvd. Once certified following the training, Dive Buddies will then be able to assist those with disabilities in the pool or in open water.