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.
Pinellas County stands to receive at least $1.5 million of an $18.7 billion settlement.
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.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Instead of a football, Shelton Quarles picked up a hammer and a pair of gloves. The former NFL player helped to demolish the interior of an existing housing unit at Shepherd’s Village on June 19.
Over the next month and a half, the unit will undergo renovations before becoming the home for a single mother and her children.
In the past 23 years, Shepherd’s Village has been able to help 250 families and nearly 500 children. The housing facilities in Belleair Bluffs offer a safe, steady home for up to 15 families annually.
These temporary homes have helped many women in crisis get back on their feet. But while the existing units are clean, they also date back to the 1970s and are in need of repair.
Thanks to the Shelton Quarles IMPACT Foundation, one of the units was renovated last year. At a Shepherd’s Village gala last winter, Quarles pledged to renovate another. With this second donation, however, Quarles wanted to give more than just money.
For three hours, Quarles and his two sons Shelton Jr. and Carlos worked alongside contractor Jerry to demolish the inside of the unit. Moving from the kitchen to the bathroom to the living room, the team pulled apart fixtures, removed tiles, and tore up the carpet.
DUNEDIN - City officials are leaning toward plans to charge people to park in some areas in downtown Dunedin, but they want to analyze options more before making any decisions.
At a three-hour workshop June 23, commissioners heard the pros and cons from many residents on regulating parking before agreeing by consensus on the two options they want staff to study further.
One option calls for paid and free parking to the public. The other calls for enforced three-hour parking with a transition to paid parking in six months. Commissioners asked for more information from staff and their advisers, Walker Parking Consultants of Tampa.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she wanted to hear more from Walker regarding case studies.
“When you look at Dunedin what other comparable cities size-wise, population-wise have tried paid parking and perhaps failed,” she said.
In addition she asked that city officials evaluate the suggestion that residents be given a discount in parking fees.
“Any benefit we can add to the taxpayers of the city to underwrite the current parking, I want to know as much as possible on how we can accommodate that,” she said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she wants to further investigate funding options besides paid parking to increase spaces while maintaining the downtown’s ambiance, such as future Penny for Pinellas revenue.
TARPON SPRINGS - “You’re American by birth but a Sponger by the grace of God,” Cpl. Taurean Mathis calls out to a group of students huddled in the corner of the Tarpon Springs High School gym.
It’s the last Friday before school lets out for summer and Mathis, the school student resource officer, is wrapping up his responsibilities for the year, but he still stops to talk to the students. He always finds time for his students.
A member of the TSHS senior class of 2002, Mathis grew up in Tarpon Springs with a single mother and two siblings, plus his cousin who moved in with them when she was 3 months old. After high school, he joined the United States Army and served two tours in Iraq, including being a part of the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When he returned in 2007, he said he wanted to continue helping.
“My passion has always been to serve others. I don’t see myself as a role model, but I want to serve others. I may not always do something the right way and I might not do it immediately, but I do the right thing,” Mathis said. “When you do what’s right by people, the rest falls into place.”
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - It began as just a routine day at the beach but ended in near-tragedy and a woman looking for the person who saved her life.
Dorothy Rodriguez, 75, of The Villages was with her beach-going group on April 27. It was a dull day and the water was a bit rough. Most of her group stayed on the beach, but Rodriguez liked what she saw and went into the water.
“I went in by myself, I think there were only five other people in the water at the time,” she said. “It was pretty rough, but to me it was delightful. There were wonderful swells that you could jump in and enjoy. I’ve been in the water half my life; I’m very familiar with the water.”
But the water that day, even for an experienced swimmer, proved to be too much. Rodriguez remembers suddenly being in deep and in a situation out of her control.
“I was in deep water, I can’t tell you how I got there, I don’t know,” she said. “I tried to swim out of it and I couldn’t, I tried to swim sideways but every time I went a little bit a wave would come to take me away. I only weigh 102 pounds and it was sucking me down, I couldn’t fight it. My arms were getting sore.”
LARGO - Sixteen churches are helping build a new home for Julio and Billie Acevedo and their four children.
Members of the congregations signed the two-by-four studs that are being built into the frames of the house at 523 11th Ave. NW. in Largo. Julio Acevedo placed a Bible that had been blessed into the foundation before the concrete was poured. About 180 church members volunteered about 1,200 hours of their time to make the Acevedo’s dream of home ownership a reality.
The effort is part of what Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County is calling a Faith Build, a house entirely funded and built through partnerships with the 16 churches. Julio and Billie Acevedo joined in the work June 4 with volunteers from three churches - Gulf Coast Church, Palm Harbor United Methodist Church and their own congregation, Anona United Methodist Church in Largo.
The day marked Anona’s 36th time it’s sent volunteers to work on site of a new house. Its members have helped about 25 families earn their own home, said Dave Gerald, who has organized much of those volunteer days over the last three years.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard asked Commissioners for input at a June 4 budget work session on 41 funding requests that collectively exceed the target budget set for fiscal year 2016 by $45.9 million.
Woodard presented his recommendations for funding for commissioners to review ahead of final preparations of his proposed budget, which he will present July 21. He said this year’s requests for extra money far-exceed last year’s total.
He split his recommendations into four groups - funded, partially funded, alternate solutions and unfunded. Some of the funding comes from sources other than the General Fund, which is primarily fueled by ad valorem taxes and pays for most operating costs. Woodard’s suggestions maintain a 15 percent reserve fund, per the commission’s policy, and a “consistent millage rate.”
The decision packages were divided into categories, starting with the top priorities - public safety, health and welfare. Next in line was maintenance of county assets and infrastructure. Third was service level enhancement or restoration, and finally, quality of life.
Woodard said his approach was to make “forward progress” even when requests could not be fully funded by looking for “another way to go.”
Fourteen people have died from lightning in the United States so far this year, including an 81-year-old man from Largo.
Jay Freres was taking a walk near his home in the area of Sandpiper and Egret drives when he was struck and killed by lightning June 19, according to Largo police.
Two other deaths have occurred in Florida attributable to lightning, according to the National Weather Service. Both victims, a 36-year-old male from Bonita Springs and a 26-year-old male from Port Orange, were working on a roof when lightning struck.
PINELLAS PARK - This month, 72-year-old Harry Carothers will travel to Minneapolis to compete in the National Senior Games presented by Humana with his basketball team, the Clearwater Aces.
Not only does the Pinellas Park resident hope his team will bring home the gold, he also was recently selected as a Humana Game Change for serving as a role model to seniors - and people of all ages - for how to live a healthy life.
Carothers has played basketball since he was a child. His father, a semi-professional player, set up a hoop in the family’s New Jersey back yard.
CLEARWATER - There’s a new solution for those who hate agonizing over a parking spot at Clearwater Beach or enduring the tedious traffic on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.
Since March, the Clearwater Ferry has been offering riders a different way to get to the beach. The ferry departs every hour on the hour, seven days a week. Each ride takes about eight minutes. Passengers are picked up at the marina at the end of Cleveland Street on the mainland and dropped off at the Clearwater Beach Marina.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Local community beautification group Action 2000 installed a butterfly garden last month outside of city hall, planting a splash of colorful flowers that have become home for a variety of butterflies and pollinators.
“The garden was a joint project between the city of Indian Rocks Beach and nonprofit organization Action 2000,” said city manager Gregg Mims.
Action 2000 meets with the city every six months to discuss potential projects to improve the community. Past projects include the creation of free beach libraries as well as the addition of lighting to the yacht basin on Gulf Boulevard.
LARGO - Zack Everhart, who placed fourth in the eleventh season of the Fox competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” returned to a bit of his roots June 24, teaching classes in the dance studio where his mother grew up.
The professional dancer spent the day teaching choreography and techniques to the members of the Tutterow Dance Academy at the Largo Community Center. But he said he also hoped to instill in the dancers the sense that they too can make a living doing what they love.
LARGO - Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced a partnership June 23 with local law enforcement agencies, Congressman David Jolly and Project ChildSafe to provide free gunlocks and materials to citizens in an effort to promote gun safety.
The Sheriff’s Office encourages citizens to keep their lawfully owned guns locked and stored in a safe place. With proper storage and security, incidents such as the accidental self-inflicted gunshot death of 2- ½-year-old Kaleb Ahles in Tarpon Springs earlier this year are preventable. Prevention is key to keeping the public safe and preventing serious injury and/or death from the accidental discharge of a firearm.