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Forum to address hurricane recovery
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REDINGTON SHORES – Pinellas County officials are moving forward with plans for a conference to advise the emergency managers of beach towns on what they can expect after a hurricane.

The forum, which is being organized by Pinellas County Haz-Mat Analyst Coordinator Richard Walker, will be held Wednesday, April 24, at the Holiday Inn Harbourside in Indian Rocks Beach from 8 a.m. to noon.

“We’re focused on having two speakers, probably three,” Walker told members of the Barrier Island Governmental Council on Jan. 27. “We’re planning on two from Galveston, Texas, and another that’s coming up from Sanibel Island to talk about what happened on the recovery side and the problems they ran into.”

Galveston sustained heavy barrier island flooding following Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Charley and Ivan hit Sanibel hard in 2004.

“I think the speakers will be very interesting and give us some insight. It’s really about them telling their stories so we can refocus and move forward with some ideas.”

PSTA update

Redington Beach Commissioner Mark Deighton, who serves on the board of directors of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, said a suggestion by State Sen. Jack Latvala led to a meeting last week regarding a possible regional merger of PSTA and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit.

“This is about service, but more importantly it’s about money,” said Deighton. “But it’s not about the potential $2.4 million savings in personnel from the merger.”

Deighton explained that a recent multi-agency transportation study in Pinellas called Alternatives Analysis recommended greatly enhanced bus service and light rail to meet the county’s future needs.

The cost was estimated at $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion with half of the funding coming from the federal government.

“About three months ago, we had a presentation when the Deputy Secretary of Transportation (John Porcari) flew down from Washington and he told us outright that Washington is not interested in financing anything except regional proposals. Pinellas is not regional,” Deighton said. “So this means if we can get together with Hillsborough, they can get their light rail project on the tracks and they can figure out how to finance their part of it, then we can send something up to Washington and have a much better chance of approval.”

Deighton said the combined effort would carry a price tag of about $4 billion and the federal government would pick up about half, or $2 billion.

“That’s the big carrot on the stick and the reason we’re curious about consolidation,” Deighton said.

The project time frame would be eight to 10 years.

On another note, Deighton said PSTA would be financing its operation over the next two years using reserves. The reserves would be used at the end of fiscal 2015.

“At that point we would probably have to cut back our service by about 18 percent,” Deighton said. “So at our last meeting we requested the Pinellas Commission put an item on the November 2014 ballot to replace our .75-mill ad valorem tax, which we collect now, with a 1 percent sales tax.”

Deighton said it would allow PSTA to go ahead and improve bus service immediately and would send a message to the federal government that Pinellas is in a position to finance its portion of a regional effort.

PSTA’s Beach Trolley transports about 750,000 people per year on Gulf Boulevard, which is the seventh-busiest route in the system.

In other action

• Bill Hogarth, interim chancellor of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, said USF has received between $25 million and $30 million in BP oil spill reparations through the federal RESTORE Act. BIG-C president George Cretekos said he believes Pinellas County will ultimately receive about $3 million. “It’s not going to be a pot of gold for us,” he said. Cretekos suggested the county possibly hold onto the funds and use them for beach renourishment, sand dunes or Gulf Boulevard.

• Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning was appointed as the BIG-C rep to the county’s Coastal Management Committee.

• Andy Squires, Pinellas County Coastal Manager, said T-groins installed recently at Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach are working effectively. He said prospects for a Treasure Island-Long Key beach renourishment later this year look favorable. The Sand Key renourishment project, which extended south to North Redington Beach, was completed in November, using 1.25 million cubic yards of sand.
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