MPO Chair Karen Seel recommends appointing MPO members to the Pinellas Trail Security Task Force during a March 12 discussion on Trail safety.
CLEARWATER – If all goes according to plan, the first meeting of the consolidated Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council will take place in May.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the MPO’s reapportionment plan Feb. 13. At the March 12 meeting, the MPO discussed the steps needed to make the plan reality.
The first step is to amend the interlocal agreement between the Florida Department of Transportation, Pinellas County and municipal governments, and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, followed by the appointment of 13 elected officials to serve on the unified board.
Currently 11 officials serve on the MPO board. One new appointment will represent the beach communities and the other will represent the cities of Seminole, Gulfport, South Pasadena, Belleair, Belleair Shores and Gulfport. Members serving in the new board appointments would serve on a rotating basis.
The Barrier Islands Government Council (The Big C) will make the beach appointments. The interlocal agreement would establish the process.
MPO staff is working to get the item on member government agendas as quick as possible for approval of the amended interlocal agreement to be able to meet as the new board in May.
Pinellas Trail safety
A good part of the March 12 meeting involved a discussion about safety on the Pinellas Trail. Members heard an overview of the Trail Security Task Force, a report on 2013 Trail incidents, Trail Rangers and an update on the use of surveillance cameras.
The Pinellas Trail Security Task Force is an MPO advisory committee comprised of law enforcement personnel and Pinellas County’s Parks and Conservation Resources, Animal Services, Public Safety Services and Risk Management. Volunteer auxiliary rangers also are represented. The group meets quarterly to report incidents.
MPO members expressed a desire for more information about the areas where the 97 active rangers serve along the trail. Currently, the volunteers have no specific assignment.
Sarah Ward, MPO interim executive director, said the rangers are ambassadors along the Trail and other city parks.
“It is not their function to enforce,” she said.
Ken Welch, Pinellas County Commissioner, wanted to know who was responsible for safety. The answer:
Law enforcement is the responsibility of the local jurisdiction.
For example, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office takes care of areas of Trail in unincorporated Pinellas and within municipalities where it provides contract services. Municipal law enforcement is responsible for the Trail within their boundaries.
Ward said the most recent incidence of crime on the Trail was in St. Petersburg. A teenager who robbed two people in February was arrested in Georgia March 6.
“We need a better way to monitor what is happening on the Trail,” said Julie Ward Bujalski, Dunedin Commissioner.
Wengay Newton, who serves on the St. Petersburg Council, asked if surveillance cameras purchased for use during the Republican National Convention could be used. He said he had never seen a volunteer ranger on the Trail, which “runs right behind my house.”
He suggested that maybe more served in northern parts of the county, which Bujalski refuted.
“They’re not in north county,” she said.
“I’d like to know where they are at,” Newton said.
Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie said the Rangers weren’t active in Tarpon Springs, although the city’s police department takes a proactive approach to “lawlessness” where the Trail is inside its borders.
He suggested becoming more active in recruiting for more volunteer Rangers.
“We know 97 are out there, but where are they,” he said. “One of the most important parts of utilization of that trail is safety,” he said.
Bujalski suggested that the MPO find out how many Rangers are needed. Once the need is established, work could progress on finding a way to fill the positions.
MPO Chair Karen Seel suggested that the MPO appoint members to serve on the Security Task Force. Bujalski, Newton and Councilmember Doreen Hock-DiPolito volunteered.
In other business, the MPO:
• heard a report from Gary Tait on the Teen Driver’s Safety Education Program.
• heard a report on the preliminary design and environmental process for replacement of the Dunedin Causeway Bridge. A presentation is scheduled to take place at a Dunedin Commission meeting in April.
• approved the Congestion Management Process policies and procedures manual.
• approved the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Goals, Objectives and Policies.
• approved the draft Unified Planning Work Program
• approved rescinding co-payment increases for the Transportation Disadvantage Program
• discussed making an application for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to complete the northern loop of the Pinellas Trail.