INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - New manatee-protections zones for western Pinellas County, which continue to spark criticism from boaters, are expected to take effect in six to 12 months.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the zones after its final public hearing on the rules June 24 in Sarasota. The total area in Pinellas affected by the zones is about 11.6 percent of inshore waters, including most of Indian Rocks Beach, except the Intracoastal Waterway. Regulations will be in effect April through October.
The agency’s decision has prompted Indian Rocks Beach boaters and others to threaten legal action to overturn the decision. That includes hiring an attorney to file an injunction against the state’s action and distributing a petition to local state and federal representatives to relieve IRB citizens from “undue interference” with the rights of fishers, boaters and water skiers.
Bob Griffin, president of the IRB Boat Club, said the agency held meetings at times and places people couldn’t go to because of work and other obligations.
LARGO - When the second season of “Time Keeper” left off, its memory-deficient protagonist Mitch Manners stared at the desolate horizon of Earth shockingly dominated by the looming surface of Jupiter, unsure how his actions in the past had changed the future.
Now series creator and director Daryn Murphy of Largo wants to continue the story. The 38-year-old has raised $2,000 for the web series in 20 days through an Indigogo campaign. His goal is to raise a total of $15,000 through the crowd-funding site in twice that time.
It’s a lofty goal, even for an award-winning web series that has claimed the title of best web series at the 2015 GeekFest and best fantasy/sci-fi series at the 2014 Miami Web Fest. “Time Keeper” also has been nominated for best sci-fi series in the 2014 Atlanta Web Fest, best cinematography in the 2014 Snobby Robot Awards, best actor and best sci-fi series in the 2015 Vancouver Web Fest, best cinematography in the 2015 IAWTV Awards and best web series in the 2015 Film Quest Film Festival.
“The figuring out how to make money off of it, that’s the hard part,” Murphy said.
“Time Keeper” follows in the tradition of Felicia Day’s “The Guild,” Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and, also raising support on Indigogo, Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion’s “Con Man” - shows broadcast and streamed entirely from the Internet. The medium allows for a direct connection to the audience, Murphy explained.
LARGO - Even two weeks later, the plaza at 12580 Seminole Blvd. looks much as it did the morning of July 5, after a fire destroyed the longtime businesses that called it home.
The roof of the L-shaped building is collapsed, and its insides are charred black. The iconic brick fireplace of the Fireplace Restaurant still stands, and a bench still sits outside Debbie Allen’s hair salon.
But it will be months before the local businesses can return, and much depends on how well and fast insurance claims can be paid. Until then, the business owners are in a state of limbo.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on what I had in there: hundreds of dollars worth of equipment,” said Allen, who opened her salon in the plaza 26 years ago.
The family that owns House of Shades, Lamps and Lighting is renovating an old convenience store across the street, at 12691 Seminole Blvd., into a suitable display room for their merchandise. Michael and Sharon Carter will reopen their business relatively soon after the fire, but in many ways, it’s like starting over again, 18 years after the first time around.
MADEIRA BEACH - The Florida Department of Transportation plans a $2.8 million maintenance project to the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge, which will require occasional lane closures during evening hours over the next year.
The work is expected to begin this month and last through the fall of 2016.
According to an FDOT release, construction will include concrete restoration of support beams and the bridge foundation, repairs to the bridge decks and pedestrian railings.
The project also includes work on the tender house and sidewalks, which will force closure of the sidewalks on occasion. When necessary, roadway lane closures will occur from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Electronic message boards will alert motorists in advance.
Quinn Construction of Palmetto is performing the work.
The bridge, which opened in 1962, is part of State Road 666, or 150th Avenue. It features four lanes of traffic with a concrete and steel low-level median barrier. It is one of eight thoroughfares leading to the Pinellas beaches.
The cyclists of Project HERO Pinellas literally push each other along the road to recovery.
The group provides an outlet for veterans to recover from physical and psychological wounds through cycling. Every Thursday, dozens of members gather for a group ride on the Pinellas Trail. They motivate new members to become physically active again and help each other prepare for upcoming challenge rides.
Support comes in the form of camaraderie and encouragement. But it often means a hand at your back, boosting your speed, or at the bar of your recumbent bicycle to help propel you up an overpass.
“And it’s not just the folks that are helping injured vets - it’s the veterans helping the rest of us. It’s as much mental as it is physical,” said one of the group leaders, Army veteran Mitch Lee. “It’s been extremely rewarding.”
The group is a local training group for a national movement: Ride 2 Recovery Project HERO, short for Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity. Along with helping veterans get back into shape with bicycles that are fitted to meet their physical needs, the project offers six different multi-day challenge rides that cover 350 to 450 miles apiece.
MADEIRA BEACH - Every day is Bring Your Pet to Work Day for Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford.
After emergency surgery saved the life of Crawford’s beloved pet MJ, the fluffy little dog has practically become city hall’s newest employee.
It all started when Crawford realized that something was wrong with MJ a few months ago. It was a Friday afternoon at about 4:30, and there really wasn’t anything that a veterinarian could do other than prescribe the dog pain medication.
“I thought, ‘He’s got his own pain medicine, I’ll just manage it myself,’” said Crawford. MJ had previously undergone surgery to fix a dislocated hip. Crawford figured that MJ’s prior injury might have something to do with his new problems.
But as MJ’s condition worsened over the weekend, it became clear that something else was the cause of his pain. On Saturday, the dog was stumbling around the house in what Crawford describes as a tipsy, drunken stupor. By Sunday, MJ was completely paralyzed from his front shoulders down.
“His tail didn’t work, his legs didn’t work, nothing worked,” said Crawford. “He was dragging his back legs like a fish tail.”
CLEARWATER - It’s been five years since the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. Now, five states will benefit from the billions of dollars in claims and penalties the oil company must pay.
Attorney General Pam Bondi announced July 2 that Florida had joined four other Gulf States, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, in an “historic multi-billion dollar joint federal-state agreement in principle” with BP Exploration and Production Inc. to resolve economic losses, natural resource damage claims and Clean Water Act penalties associated with the April 20, 2010 spill.
“In 2010, our state - and the entire Gulf region - woke up to a story that shook the nation; an oil spill that not only threatened states that depend on the Gulf for their economic livelihood, but their very way of life,” Bondi said in a press release. “Today, after just five years of negotiations, I’m pleased to announce that Florida has entered into an agreement in principle of more than $3 billion with BP for the state’s economic and environmental recovery which will benefit areas of the state most devastated by the spill. I want to thank all of the people who came together, in common purpose, to do the right thing for our state.”
CLEARWATER - After being open to the public for 33 years, Moccasin Lake Park will receive a much-needed facelift through grants and other funds totaling $600,000.
The 51-acre nature preserve features six different ecosystems teeming with wildlife, a network of trails that circulate throughout the park, and a visitor’s center that houses live animals.
“It’s the only true environmental nature park in Clearwater,” said Lynn Sumerson, a board member of the Friends of Moccasin Lake Park.
The park is a popular field trip destination for school groups and summer camps. It also hosts meetings for a variety of organizations at the Environmental Education Center, from the Pinellas Native Plant Society to the Suncoast Sierra Club to The Florida Herb Society.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund recently awarded Moccasin Lake Park a $200,000 grant to renovate its facilities.
“We applied for 200,000 and we had to match it with $200,000,” said Felicia Donnelly, administrative support manager for the city of Clearwater. “The city has also budgeted an additional $200,000, so the project total for renovations at this point is $600,000.”
CLEARWATER - Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a record $461 million in budget requests June 23, including nearly $7 million from Pinellas County.
But the news wasn’t all bad, Mary Scott Hardwick, the county’s intergovernmental liaison, reported at a June 23 commission meeting, with money in the budget for an Upham Beach project, prescription drug monitoring and homeless services.
“There are a lot of good things,” she said.
But, funding for local nonprofits wasn’t one of them. The governor vetoed a funding request for $250,000 from Vincent House in Pinellas Park, which assists people recovering from mental illness and other disabilities. Scott also said no to $400,000 for Directions for Living in Clearwater, which provides behavioral health services. The Pinellas Education Foundation also won’t get the $500,000 it requested for career path planning to help the county’s school students. In addition, Scott vetoed $400,000 for the Clearwater Homeless Empowerment Program, formerly Homeless Emergency Project.
Clearwater Historical Society Museum did not get the $204,340 it requested. Bill Wallace sent out an email to members of CHS and others June 23 informing them of the veto.
LARGO - Three children have already died in the backseat of hot cars in Florida since April. On July 31, National Heatstroke Prevention Day, five community organizations came together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
A press conference at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Largo campus focused on educating the public on the dangers of leaving pets and small children locked in hot cars.
Members from the Florida Department of Children and Families, Pinellas County Animal Services, SPCA Tampa Bay, Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition and Sunstar Paramedics spoke at the event.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously July 21 to declare three parcels of land on Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach as surplus.
The city requested that the county take the necessary steps to put the land up for sell because Indian Rocks Beach wants to include the prime spot in its redevelopment plans.
Pinellas County purchased three adjacent parcels located on the east side of Gulf Boulevard between 23rd and 24th avenues in 2006. The plan had been to put in a public parking lot for access to the beach. The purchase price was $2.8 million and included 36,000 square feet (.8264 acres) of land and two businesses. The county paid to demolish the convenience store and gas station and the environmental cleanup. Penny for Pinellas sales tax money funded the deal.
LARGO - For the first time ever, Largo Fire Rescue has been classified among the most effective fire departments in the nation, a ranking that could mean lower insurance rates for Largo businesses and residents.
Fire Chief Shelby Willis found out July 17 that her department had an ISO Public Protection Classification of 1, directly from the director of a company that evaluates municipal fire protection efforts nationwide. Of about 47,000 fire departments in the nation, only 138 of them share the top classification that Largo now boasts.
CLEARWATER - The Great Recession has taken a toll on youth sports programs in unincorporated Pinellas. Representatives from Seminole attended the July 21 County Commission meeting to ask for help.
“We used to get maintenance funding and grants, but we’ve received no money in the last seven years,” Arrow Woodard, a volunteer for the Seminole Junior Warhawks, told commissioners. “We have survived with registration fees and sponsorships.”
WASHINGTON DC - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation cosponsored by Congressman David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, July 27 to fight the problem of illegal fishing from foreign vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 774) passed the House by voice vote.
“Illegal fishing from foreign vessels is a direct threat to the livelihood of thousands of hardworking Americans along the Gulf coast as well as the quality of life throughout our Bay area communities. This bill will strengthen enforcement mechanisms against those who illegally fish our waters and will protect this important resource for our recreational, commercial, and charter boat fisherman,” Jolly said.
The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act stiffens penalties for those caught illegally fishing in U.S. waters by potentially stripping poachers of their boats and equipment and laying the groundwork for criminal charges based on the laws of their home countries.