I have not been shy about writing on my belief that the free market and the private sector are of paramount importance to America.
We saw the folly of the government becoming involved in owning and operating businesses once again with the Sailfish Sands clubhouse. I think most Martin County residents and Americans think that government should not be involved in the private sector or free markets. Unfortunately, regardless of party affiliation, fewer and fewer elected officials do.
This week we saw Martin County poised to run another business, the Sailfish Sands clubhouse. Instead of putting it out to bid for a private entity to operate, staff insisted with commission approval on being restaurateurs. No matter what staff or commissioners say that action is good old socialism.
Stacey Hetherington was the one commissioner who has consistently tried to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, she is the lone voice on the commission of free markets and the private sector. Other commissioners behind the scenes just love posing as businesses owners.
Remember it couldn’t happen without the commissioners telling staff they want to compete with the private sector. No matter what a commissioner may utter in public, if in private they tell staff something else…it is the something else that happens.
I am surprised the only small business owner on the commission, Harold Jenkins, has seemed to surrender to the idea of government ownership. Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter if the county is making or losing money, it is the very idea of government involvement that should be anathema to us.
Usually, the government is a poor manager. It isn’t meant to and should not be competing in markets because there is no incentive for any elected official or bureaucrat to succeed as the way there is for a private operator. And there is no real risk of loss other than perhaps at the ballot box for the elected official. A private business owner reaps the rewards but also suffers monetary losses.
The Top Golf facility is an example of the government thinking they should provide this business because the private sector has not done so. That is hubris on their part. Unlike a municipal golf course, swimming pool, or playground, a Top Golf facility is a business and not a necessary public amenity.
The Martin County Comptroller should audit the failed clubhouse and find out what went wrong. The commission should immediately introduce a discussion item as to whether the Martin County government will continue with the ownership and operation of businesses. I want to know especially from the commissioners who are standing for re-election next year whether they want to use our tax dollars to open and run businesses.
Hetherington cannot be the lone voice for fiscal responsibility and the role of the private sector. Entrepreneurship belongs with free markets. Bureaucrats need to stick to providing services such as public safety, public works, and parks…and I do not mean waterparks, beach cafes, or Top Golf facilities.
I sometimes don’t realize where my time goes. It seems we just put the last edition to bed and this one is now due.
We are in beta testing of our new site, and we are hoping we can debut it with our July 9th Edition.
Some disturbing news came to me this afternoon (Thursday). The Coast Guard issued a change to how the St. Lucie Bridge will operate. It will mandate that the bridge open for 15 minutes on the quarter hour and at 45 minutes past the hour, 24 hours per day.
Bridge HunterIf this is true, then Stuart may be one massive traffic jam since freight trains will be stuck across all the city’s crossings multiple times per day. Don’t have a heart attack because you are not getting to the hospital. If this is what Brian Mast and the Marine Industries had in mind, then it is in “be careful what you wish for territory.”
I have consistently written about a new bridge being built as the only solution. This is not about Brightline which may or may not be viable. It is about freight trains which are not going away.
The nonsense about FEC or Brightline being private companies and not entitled to public money is just that nonsense. The state has already bestowed millions of dollars in indirect subsidies. We build highways to move freight, why not rail bridges to do the same.
And the feds have an entire agency just to give grants to public and private railroads for things like new infrastructure. In order to move this along all it needs is for the local congressman to champion the grant. Without this push no way does it happen. Stuart and Martin County may end up in an impossible situation if this is not resolved.
You can read more on the bridge here or under the Stuart section.
As more information comes in check out our Facebook page for updates on this and other stories. https://www.facebook.com/martincountyfriends
The legislature has implemented term limits of 8 consecutive years for school board members. Two terms and done. And I am happy about that.
It is true that there is a learning curve for the job, but the same can be said for being a governor or state senator. For too long, incumbents have made it difficult for new people to take their turn on different local boards. Perhaps if it wasn’t looked upon as a job but rather a volunteer opportunity more people would seek office. It would be very similar to being on a non-profit board.
That should also go for county commissioners and municipal government. No one should hold the same office for more than 2 four-year terms. Over and over, I have seen people that have been elected and then they come to believe that they are indispensable. “I just need one more term to get things done.” Somehow there is always something else to be done.
The legislature should enact term limits for every office. I haven’t decided whether it should apply to the constitutional offices yet, but I can see valid points on both sides of the question there. Another thing the legislature should do is sharply reduce the salary and benefits these people receive. The Stuart commissioners make more than $22,000 per year plus retirement, medical, and money for attending events. No wonder people want to stay around.
The entire idea of citizen legislators is for people to step up serve on these boards and then move on. That is public service. Too often careers are made from these positions (Commissioners Smith & Heard come to mind) instead of allowing others to move into those roles.
The election argument that the people can vote incumbents out doesn’t work very well. The power of incumbency is very strong regarding campaign contributions and political knowhow. Newcomers seldom win unless the incumbent has done or is perceived to have done something awful. It is a paid career at approximately $70,000 per year for Martin County commissioners plus benefits.
I applaud our representatives for this first step. It is time to impose those limits across the board and reduce salary and end benefits for all offices. We want those on elected boards keep their full-time jobs in the private sector when they serve. They need to be grounded. And new citizens should step up and serve for a period, but not forever.
Originally when I signed up for Next Door, I was led to believe that it was a neighborhood message board. A place to go to find recommendations about carpenters and plumbers. For people in a community to let their neighbors know that there had been a break-in or that a kid was causing damage to mailboxes.
Then quite quickly it became a place to lodge complaints and air a particular beef. Some quite justified, others not so much so. It has devolved into a hotbed of pettiness and a place to put bad restaurant reviews that just results in others complaining about the original complainer. All in all, a place that I have stopped going to for information but somewhere to have a laugh.
It has now become a place where information on development projects, government business, and opinions are posted. Many are just not factual. It spreads a lot of misinformation and there doesn’t seem to be anyone in charge of the site.
It constantly asks if I want to register and advertise. While Tom Campenni is a member, I have not registered Friends & Neighbors. With each passing day, I believe I have made the right decision.
This politization of the site is not just in our area but throughout the country. It is influencing local political races in other parts of the nation. That was brought home to me by a recent article in The Atlantic here
As the article specifically states, much of the problem is due to a lack of credible news sources. While we have no local TV or radio, we still have a newspaper and this publication. If you read about something here or in TCPalm, you know the source of the news you are receiving. You don’t have to agree or like it, but you can pinpoint where it came from. The same cannot be said for Next Door.
Next Door needs to return to its original mission which was as a bulletin board for sharing neighborhood information. It isn’t a news source or even Facebook. For many people, it has already become irrelevant to the original intent. I don’t understand why a local business would advertise. I take what I read there now with a giant grain of salt.
I was trying to remember what time in the morning I began school. I couldn’t recall the time.
When I was in elementary school, most kids went home for lunch. It must have been an action-packed hour because I do remember being back in the school yard playing well before the bell rang. If I were going to bet, I think we lined up in the school yard at 8:30 and were dismissed for the day by 2:45.
By the time I was in junior high, it was earlier…Home Room at 8 am I think. Again, I can’t remember for sure. The same for high school. My kids had earlier start times than I, but I never remember them going to school in the Northeast morning darkness or coming home after the sun went down in the winter.
That is a regular occurrence here. For whatever reason, the school day became longer in the past 60 years. In fact, it became so much longer that the Florida Legislature has stepped in and mandated no start times earlier than 8 for middle school and 8:30 for high school. According to the Education Department, the average elementary school begins at 8:15.
For all kinds of reasons, things become out of whack. Reasonableness has gone out the window and schools have become so much more than a place to learn. Sports take an outsized role as compared to my school years. Not that we didn’t have sports teams, but they were never as important as the academic component. The same thing goes for drama and other clubs and activities.
Schools were not trying to feed children two or three meals a day then. Today they may even send kids home with food for the weekend. We decry that kids are not being taught the basics when schools are being asked to do that plus be involved in many more areas of a child’s life.
With these mandated times, what activities go away? Or does anything suffer at all? It is unfortunate that Tallahassee finds it necessary to dictate to school boards across the state. Are they preempting another local function or solving a problem? I guess it depends on who you ask.
Summer is almost here! I wanted to share with all of you that two new “Born Learning Trails” were installed at two local parks for our community to enjoy.
You may ask what are Born Learning Trails? Born Learning Trails are designed to be fun, easy way for parents, grandparents, and caregivers to use outings to communicate with children to build learning critical skills for school readiness. A series of signs offering educational games (approved by experts) guide adults on specific ways to create learning games while outdoors using the objects painted on trails. The signs also suggest tips for additional communication at home. These types of interactive learning opportunities complement and encourage caregivers to read and talk to their children.
In Martin County, 43% of children entering kindergarten are not testing as ready and 49% of our 3rd graders are not reading at grade level. These statistics are staggering for our community and our children. The trajectory for children who fall behind can be grim. Our future leaders need all the tools to ensure their success at school. In addition, these types of fun, interactive trails can assist beyond the classroom.
This is the 5th born learning trail that is available for community members to enjoy. United Way has been fortunate enough to secure sponsors to assist with the cost associated with doing this type of project.
So, if you like walking with your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or young person in your life, consider visiting one of the Born Learning Trails. available at Flagler Park, Guy Davis Park, Shepherd Park, New Monrovia Park, and Kiwanis Park. Each park has similar but uniquely painted trails to work with each sign. All the parks were painted and created by local United Way volunteers in our community.
For more information on the Born Learning Trails or United Way of Martin County, please go to our website https://www.unitedwaymartin.org As always, if you have any questions please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 772-283-4800.
Carol Houwaart-Diez opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint
Many of my friends have commented on the new apartments (The Mason) going up on US 1 just north of Salerno Road.
“Why in the world would they build a wood frame structure?”, they asked. To the average layman (me included) it does bring to mind all the recent hurricanes. I, too, was surprised so I went to Jeff Dougherty, the Director of the Building Dept. for Martin County. (The Mason is in the City of Stuart but is regulated by the State Building Code).
We all know that the wooden structures must have met code, or they wouldn’t be being built. Still, we wondered why not cement block. Mr. Dougherty and Inspector Scott were very eager to explain more than I’d ever thought I’d want to know about building a structure.
My head still hurts. The long and short of it is that the Florida Building Code, just introduced in 2002 (yikes), and which encompasses about 12 volumes, gives engineers, architects etc. choices if the building can “perform”. The building is seen as a “system” and the “system” must accomplish the desired effect. But, man oh man, what a complex menagerie of calculations goes into these choices. Right down to the number, type, and length of nails. The use of the building is very important. Fire stations and buildings needing to house people during a storm must meet higher standards. Wind load and location are in the mix.
The Florida Building Code, I learned, is updated every 3 years. At the end of this year, Florida will be able to build up to an 18-story wood structure. Don’t worry, to an extent, the county does get a say in whether the development is approved or not.
Other factors may have entered into the choice of wood for the particular development in question. Wood, after all, is cheaper than many other materials. Perhaps it was difficult at the time to get a supply of other materials.
Building with wood can be more cost effective and quicker to market. In other words, available to rent or sell sooner. The most poignant point Mr. Dougherty made is [If all else is equal] ‘would you rather buy a home that is made of wood but built with this year’s up to date code or one that is cement block from several years ago?’ That made a lot of sense to this layman.
As a side note, Mr. Doughtery was so proud of the fact that his department performed 73,898 inspections last year while only approving 412 single family homes. I feel I needed to share it with you. Also, his department is “100% self-funded and hasn’t raised the price of a permit since 2001!” Little known is the fact that their code enforcement division is also responsible for removing derelict boats!
All in all, what I thought was going to be a very dry subject was fascinating, albeit way over my head. I certainly have a new respect for what goes into building and will drive past The Mason feeling much more confident.
P.S. I want to express my gratitude to all the county staff who are continually so helpful, transparent, and eager to clarify any misconception.
Darlene VanRiper’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
CRACKING THE SAFE: A FATHER & SON ADVENTURE
It is a Saturday morning in Gimmen, a village in the north of the Netherlands.
The mist lingers in the tall grass amid the overwhelming blooming of the Dutch color palette, a riot of color. There is an old safe in one of the storage rooms, and who knows? Maybe the stolen Nazi gold is there! While I insist it is real, my daughter reminds me that this is an old movie trope.
The combination code to open it is unknown and no locksmith can be found on such late notice. The best realtor ever offers to bring his dad, who is “mechanically minded.” At the appointed time, a tall, ruddy faced man arrives with his grey-haired pa in a late model Volvo.
The son is clad in jeans and an old shirt. His father wears a work suit that covers his shrunken frame. He tries to open the safe with his right hand, listening to the tumblers vibrating in his fingertips, but the combination lock is corroded and does not respond to his inquiring fingers.
The tools come out. They begin to drill into the top of the safe. There is a metal layer, then a concrete layer, asbestos, another layer of metal or concrete. Each layer requires a different tool, a different weight of blade. The son spells the father when the drilling into the concrete begins. One cannot drill with sparks flying, it might ignite and burn up what is in the safe, besides poisoning us.
Removing the concrete would take hours and better tools. I retrieved the last of the N-95 masks for our realtor as we settle for the drilling of two holes: one to shine a light in and one to peep into without using an electrical drill.
Alas, no nazi gold, just more Dutch porcelain is seen in the peephole. Since the house is awash in Dutch porcelain, we leave the safe and its contents to the next inhabitants. My daughter and I revel in watching another parent child duo work on a project together.
We take a picture of our safe crackers. The son is dusty in his jeans and old shirt. Before the pair leaves, his father takes off his work suit, revealing his dress clothes, appropriate for meeting clients of his son. Always on point, always professional. We bide them farewell, wishing them many more Saturday adventures.
Nicki van Vonno’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
A freshly mowed lawn with nicely trimmed trees, a freshly painted house, an award-winning curb appeal, these are all signs of achievement and badges of honor that many strive to maintain.
Some would say that those who do not keep their lawns and homes to these standards are lazy. They do not care about their homes and neighborhoods. Many would look down upon these people for the unsightly condition in which they keep their property.
I agree that a nice lawn and well-kept home are pleasing to the eye. However, it is not fair to judge or look down upon those who do not maintain these standards. The story of the unkempt home’s owner may share an illness in the family or a disability that makes achieving these standards difficult.
It could be that the homeowner is struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table. When it comes down to either maintaining the home or eating, I can promise most people will let their grass grow long and their paint peel so they can focus on finding a way to fill their daily needs. Afterall, what good is a home without the homeowner?
Video sharing sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are filled with recordings of lawncare companies stopping to offer their services to needy homeowners free of charge. Long grass that has grown into the street and sidewalks that have not been pressure washed or edged in a decade are commonly seen in these videos. I love the awesome transformation that comes at the end of these videos. I also love the look of appreciation on the homeowner’s face when they see their lawn brought back into order. That look of appreciation tells me that the homeowner knew the home needed attention, but other things were more pressing.
Growing up I regularly mowed my family’s lawn as most kids did when they became old enough. I can recall times that I had heard of a neighbor who needed help- maybe due to an illness or other reason- and I would push the lawnmower down the street to mow their lawn for them. Or sometimes once I finished mowing our lawn I would continue and mow my elderly next door neighbor’s lawn. They were only a quarter acre lots. These were just small tokens that I offered to my neighbors.
I believe in community. I know I have a community around me, and I do what I can to participate in the circle of giving and support that comes with it. When my lawn grows long and my paint needs a touch up, I hope everyone will understand that I am trying my best and I will do the same for all of you. If each of us will offer our support- not judgement- in times of need, together we will keep this community strong.
David Hafner’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
We’ve been told since we were kids how important it is to respond when opportunity knocks. But you really must hand it to wise investors; they listen closely enough to know precisely when to answer, and exactly how wide to open the door.
Hence their success.
I had this thought when listening to the recent presentation by Jill Marasa of Ashley Capital at our BDB Economic Champions Breakfast. Highly accomplished in the economic-development arena, Jill led us through the story of Sunrise Grove and how Rick Morton—principal and co-founder of Ashley Capital, one of the largest privately held real estate investment companies in the country—recognized the property’s potential and timed its purchase.
With facilities in six states totaling more than 30 million square feet in its portfolio, Ashley Capital acquired Sunrise Grove in 2020. The site near the corner of I-95 and Martin Highway in Palm City was once a citrus grove that—like so many across the region—succumbed to greening. Then-owner King Ranch—while researching crop alternatives—repositioned the property to attract targeted industries.
Spanning 1,626 acres, the site is zoned for 5 million square feet of industrial, 1 million square feet of office, 200,000 square feet of retail and 500 hotel rooms. Ashley Capital is expanding its footprint, having acquired an adjacent 200-acre site that encompasses a mile-and-a-half fronting I-95.
Sunrise Grove stands among an elite selection of sites around the county that either already host robust economic activity or brim with the potential to do so. Those include established sites such as Sands Commerce Center, Martin County Airport and the nearby Innovation Hub and the Cleveland Clinic Martin Health South Campus as well as Seven J’s and well-positioned-but-yet-undeveloped sites such as Newfield’s Martin Enterprise Park.
We applaud Ashley Capital’s investment and vision for the property, which will benefit the community overall. In addition to increasing the tax base, the location is ideal to entice targeted industries and will give the local workforce numerous new employment options.
From the businesses that eventually set up at Sunrise Grove to the individuals who launch or advance their careers there, the cascading effect of possibility is immense when a visionary with the experience and means responds to the knock of opportunity.
Thank you, Rick Morton, for making this investment and demonstrating the message we’re proudly sharing far and wide, that when it comes to making great things happen in Martin County, indeed, Now’s The Time.
Joan Goodrich’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint
SAVE THE DATE FOR THE 2023 INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEANUP!
Enough glass bottles to fill two and a half 18-wheeler cargo trucks…
Enough plastic containers to equal the height of 1,780 Artemis moon rockets…
Enough cigarette butts to stretch longer than the length of the Panama Canal…
All of that and more was collected by volunteers worldwide during last year’s International Coastal Cleanup!
This year, the International Coastal Cleanup – the largest cleanup event on the planet – takes place on Saturday, September 16. On that same day across the world, and right here in Martin County, volunteers will be making a collective impact.
Since the launch of the event in 1986, the International Coastal Cleanup has mobilized millions of volunteers to collect hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash from beaches, shorelines, oceans, and waterways.
Wondering how we stack up in Florida? According to data compiled last year by the Ocean Conservancy, volunteers collected 88,904 pounds of litter. Only five other states gathered more than that!
And what was in that massive collection of marine debris and trash?
- 69,534 plastic bottle caps
- 41,855 food wrappers
- 23,898 plastic bottles
- 18,770 straws
- 17,814 plastic bags
- 15,472 beverage cans
Keep Martin Beautiful, along with Keep America Beautiful affiliates and other coordinators across the country, look at these numbers with frustration and sometimes disgust and think, “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can stop the littering. We can do better.”
But litter and marine debris is here, now, in our waterways and on our beaches. It’s mixed in with the giant seaweed blob that is washing onto our shores every day. It’s the result of a combination of items left behind on land, lost off vessels or platforms at sea, and those that get carried away from stormwater runoff.
JOIN US for this year’s International Coastal Cleanup to help make a positive impact in our little piece of paradise. Everyone is welcome, from families and civic and youth groups to boaters and businesses, all ages, and groups large and small can sign up and receive supplies like t-shirts, buffs, gloves, and bags for collecting litter.
Tiffany Kincaid opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
It’s Summer Camp time!
There are camps throughout our communities that provide parents with childcare and children with fun activities. Other camps provide specific programs such as sailing class, art lessons, environmental and art opportunities to older students. Many nonprofits offer these camps and for the first time, Helping People Succeed is offering two summer camps to help those with a disability gain a variety of skills and have some fun.
Career Camp is a two-week camp that will offer students and young adults who are eligible or potentially eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation Services unique, specialized, and fun employment transition services. The campers will learn and participate in the areas of: Work Readiness Training, Postsecondary Educational Counseling, Self-Advocacy, work-based learning, and job exploration counseling. This is a chance for students and young adults to learn firsthand what work is about.
In addition, there will be some fun with fieldtrips to various community resources, college tours, tours of local industry, mock interviews, go behind the workings of a bowling alley (and maybe get to bowl a bit). The goal is to provide a learning environment that helps the student or young adult expand their vision of their future. By learning what is available, the choices become significantly increased.
Career Camp is a 50 hour in-person camp. It is free for students ages 14 – 21, in school with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan. They may also be referred to by their Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.
There will be opportunities for both Martin and St. Lucie County residents—
St. Lucie County
June 19 – 30 Monday Through Friday
Somerset College Preparatory Academy
725 NW California Avenue
Port Saint Lucie, FL 34986
July 24 through August 4 Monday through Friday
Stuart Adults Learning Center
1150 SE West St. Joseph’s Avenue
Building 1/Room 5
Stuart, FL 34996
Upon completion, each student/young adult will receive a working resume and a certificate of completion. Students/young adults need to bring a packed lunch.
For more information, contact Jennifer Ripperger at 772.320.0793 or email@example.com.
Suzy Hutheson’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
STICKS & STONES
During my undergrad studies I was once a psychology major.
I had a deep desire to help people, but that plan went sideways during an Abnormal Psychology midterm exam. I bombed that exam!!! What was worse, when we reviewed the exam, I felt disheartened. I left class and changed my major to marketing.
Fast forward to seminary and my summer of chaplaincy work in behavioral health. I asked the nurse on duty where I could find the patient that requested a visit. Before giving me the patient’s location, the nurse gave me their diagnosis. It was at that point I realized why I changed my major and probably why I bombed that midterm exam.
The label wasn’t important to me. I didn’t want to be the person to put a label on someone. Of course, I understand the need for medical diagnosis, it just wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I just wanted to help people in need.
I’m sure we all remember on the playground as kids, hearing or maybe even saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Sure, it sounds catchy and may temporarily deflect the insult, but the fact is names do hurt.
Somehow today it seems society has regressed back to the playground where name calling, and insults are the standard way of dealing with those we disagree with or don’t like for one reason or another. I’ve been a regular at our school board meetings this year and the rhetoric before, during and after those meetings often isn’t much different than it was on playgrounds growing up.
The only thing missing is someone stepping up to the mic and proclaiming, “Sticks and stones may break my bones…”. I suppose the labels we slap on people allow us to dehumanize them, which in turn makes it easier to dismiss them, their beliefs, their motives or their humanity.
Fascists, groomers, nazis, pedophiles, racists, indoctrinators, Christians, Satanist are just a few of the labels lobbed back and forth. I received the “groomer/pedophile label for speaking up and advocating for all the youth in our schools, including the LGBTQ students. In the view of some, if you advocate for LGBTQ students and want a safe environment for them to learn, you are grooming them or are a pedophile.
My comments have been nothing more than making sure those students hear a voice of support, when others do the opposite. I’m not allotted enough words in this publication to break down my views on homosexuality and/or how I as a pastor could support those students. Perhaps that’s an article for another time.
But let me put it as simply as I can. Labeling and isolating students is dangerous, it costs lives, that goes against my faith. The Bible never calls us to be the ones judging each other but Jesus does call us to love one another. As a Christian and a pastor, I’ll let God do the judging and take my chances with loving my neighbor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and advocating for those on the margins.
It seems to me that’s what Jesus did. I mean, Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors, can you imagine how he’d be labeled today? If we are using the Bible, or our faith to hurt someone, we are using it wrong.
Given the vitriol that is spewed around this topic, I’m sure more labels will fly. I’m not asking that we all agree, I’m not that naive. But can we be adults? Can we stop throwing around harmful, dishonest labels and dehumanizing each other?
Can we have conversations to seek better understanding of someone’s views? Can we be better examples for our children? Most importantly, can we create a community where we care for each other’s wellbeing even if we don’t agree?
Call me crazy. Call me a dreamer.
Chad Fair’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
As Brightline prepares to begin high speed passenger train service from Miami to Orlando, the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast is focused on how this new endeavor will impact boater safety and waterway access at the St. Lucie River FEC railroad drawbridge in Stuart.
“A vital aspect of our mission as an association is to protect the interests of boaters — commercial and recreational alike — and no interest is more fundamental and worthy of protection than safe and unobstructed navigation of our waterways,” says Tom Whittington, president of MIATC.
This summer, MIATC will begin broadcasting boat and train activity using a high-definition camera system via a live webcam on our website (www.miatc.com). The association has identified the following benefits this will provide our local boating community:
Provide visual updates in real time of vessel traffic at the railroad drawbridge. If boaters can confirm the traffic is heavy, they might reschedule their plans to traverse the bridge. This alone should allow for a better flow of traffic and safer boating conditions.
Active cameras at the railroad drawbridge will promote a higher awareness of behavior of all boaters, thus resulting in safer boating.
Data showing the actual vessel traffic at the St. Lucie railroad drawbridge will be shared with the USCG and other state and local agencies. The last collected data of this type is more than five years old. An ongoing vessel count will assist the USCG in their plans to implement new Drawbridge Operation Regulations.
This new camera system will be a tremendous resource for the community and offer a unique opportunity for people to get involved. In an effort to cover maintenance and operational costs, MIATC has set up an online fundraising campaign on our website and is asking for support. The first $5,000 raised will be matched dollar for dollar thanks to an anonymous donor.
Finally, MIATC continues to prepare for our 16th Annual Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup. This year’s event takes place from Saturday, July 15 to Sunday, July 23, 2023.
Each year, nearly 1,200 volunteers participate by cleaning waterways in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. In 2022, volunteers collected 3.45 tons of trash from approximately 125 miles of waterways.
Since 2008, this event has activated more than 13,441 volunteers who have helped remove nearly 100 tons of trash! If you’re interested in volunteering or sponsoring the cleanup, please visit www.tcwaterwaycleanup.com.
For more information about the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, visit www.miatc.com or contact Justin Beard, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 772-692-7599.
Justin Beard’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
Hurricane season is here. HSTC has a designated Domestic Pet Sheltering Program for Martin County residents in the event of a disaster.
We offer temporary boarding for owned pets of first responders and for anyone in the community who is ordered to evacuate their homes during a disaster. The HSTC staff members work in shifts before, during, and after a hurricane, and will even sleep overnight at the shelter to ensure the safety and comfort of all animals.
It’s important to always be prepared, as disasters can strike at any time. Keeping pets in a safe environment, having proper ID tags, and updating microchip information is essential to your pet’s well-being. If your pet needs a microchip, please know that our shelter offers low-cost microchip services by appointment.
If you are interested in making an appointment, or if you would like to learn more about other services we offer, please visit www.hstc1.org. Our website is full of useful information and resources, which benefit both humans and their pets. For additional hurricane information in Martin County, you can also visit www.martin.fl.us/Hurricane, where you can familiarize yourself with the Hurricane Guide, Evacuation Routes, CodeRED Emergency Alert Sign-Up and more.
Our Disaster Supply Checklist can be found at hstc1.org/Disaster-Preparedness. This checklist provides all necessary disaster and pet related information, so that you and your pet can be ready before the season begins. Veterinary records, proof of current vaccinations, identification and a rabies tag are just a few important items needed when evacuating with your pet.
It’s also very important to refill any pet medications, prescription food, or other necessary supplies prior to a notice of a storm. Once a hurricane watch is announced, your veterinary office will be booked and very busy serving many anxious customers.
HSTC’s Disaster Relief Fund is a continuing, dedicated fund that is restricted solely to helping homeless animals in our community who’ve been impacted by natural disasters. When disasters strike, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire, or other natural emergency, shelter and community pets are left vulnerable and in need of support. This dedicated fund allows us to continue to serve as a necessary resource by providing the shelter, food, and life-saving medical care that these homeless animals need and deserve during an emergency.
To donate to this fund, you can visit https://hstc1.org/Disaster-Relief-Fund.
It’s because of our generous community of supporters like you that we can provide this Domestic Pet Sheltering Program to Martin County residents. Thank you for being a responsible pet owner and for helping keep your pets safe throughout hurricane season. We are proud to serve as the area’s Animal Resource Center and safe haven to the community in times of need.
Our community truly cares about the animals and the people that live here, and for this we are truly grateful.
Frank Valente’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
The May 25th Rivers Coalition meeting discussed the good, the bad,
and the ugly bills that emerged from this year’s Florida Legislature
session. The featured speaker was our local State Representative,
Rep. Overdorf touted these accomplishments:
1) There is now a dedicated annual funding source of $100 million for
2) Passing the Wastewater Management program which enables
individuals to get financial help when converting from septic to sewer.
3) The increase in the limit to streamline the permitting process for
agencies to purchase land from $1 million to $5 million.
Eve Samples, though, noted that the topic of the meeting was “Did The
Florida Legislature ‘Fix’ Our Toxic Algae Problem” – and none of
those bills addressed the harmful nutrient discharges from Lake
Okeechobee down the St. Lucie Canal.
Gil Smart, the point man on legislation for Friends Of The Everglades
and VoteWater, swung into action. He first noted that toxic algae is
already rearing its ugly head in Lake Okeechobee. This demonstrates
that it is going to be a problem we will have to deal with each and
every year, and it must – must – be addressed.
Then he talked about the bills that were and were not passed.
SB 540: “The most damaging bill of the year.” Losers of Comp Plan
lawsuits now must pay the legal fees of winners (usually big
developers), making it prohibitively expensive for environmentalists
to challenge developers. A huge number of environmental groups
urged the Governor to veto the bill, but our
pleas fell on deaf ears.
Rep. Overdorf was later asked why he voted for this bill. He
completely ducked the question.
SB 718. Another bad bill that passed, which prohibits citizen
initiatives on land development regulations.
And the Blue-Green Algae bill never moved forward, apparently because
it was sponsored by Democrats.
At one point, Rep. Overdorf was urged by a member of the audience to
“be our champion in Tallahassee”. He responded that he was aware
many audience members didn’t like him (they think he talks the talk
but doesn’t walk the walk on environmental issues) but argued that he
very strongly supports the efforts to acquire more land south of Lake
Okeechobee. He added that he wants to work with the members of the
Rivers Coalition “to come up with something we can live with. I will
continue to show up and work hard.” (It should be noted that Rep.
Overdorf did indeed show up for this meeting in what he well knew was
going to be a hostile environment. Rep. Snyder and Sen. Harrell did not.)
Will we ever “Stop the Discharges”? It was pointed out that we will
never reach the point where there will never be any discharges
whatsoever down the St. Lucie Canal; it’s an “emergency relieve
valve” that needs to be able to be used, well, for emergencies.
Finally, some shocking news from our local environmental hero, Jacqui
Thurlow-Lippisch, who reported that her four-year tenure as our local
representative on the Governing Board of the South Florida Water
Management District is in grave peril of coming to an abrupt end. “I
was reappointed”, she told us, “but I wasn’t confirmed by the Florida
Senate. They are punishing me for opposing SB 2508 so loudly and
strongly last year.”
But — the Governor (who vetoed the bill) can still put her back on
the Board! We were thus urged to call, email and/or write him and
plead with him to do so.
Email the Governor: GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com
Call the Executive Office of the Governor: 850-488-7146
Write letters and send them to:
Office of Governor – Florida State Capitol
400 S. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Walter Deemer’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
Martin County has a love-hate relationship with growth and development.
We want non-polluted waterways, uncrowded roads with landscaping and surface water impoundments; we want parks, highly rated schools, libraries, cultural facilities, family activities, and great healthcare. We want all those amenities our friends in Palm Beach County have but without the baggage.
Our political climate vacillates between no-growth to managed growth. We want to have a rural county personality and feel. Yet ignore the fact that the coast attracts new residents because of its location.
There is this money sucking appendage which makes its annual April appeal and sales pitch to the County Commissioners. What in the world is the BDB and why do taxpayers spend nearly a half million dollars feeding it? And shouldn’t it have weened itself off the public teat after all these years?
I’m talking about the Business Development Board. Oh! there’s that nasty “D” word again: DEVELOPMENT. I thought we didn’t like that word. Why are we paying for it? The “no-growthers” have told us development simply raises taxes and aggravates us. Here’s proof!
If you don’t believe me dial up YouTube and seek the Martin County Board of County Commissioners April 18th meeting. Go to 1:14:40. I even created a directory for you in the Comments section. Listen for yourself why we should pay for DEVELOPMENT, and business development at that. What about affordable housing?
For those of you who don’t have the time I can summarize. Taxpayers fund the BDB because we live in a competitive world and if Martin County wants to attract quality businesses, we must work it. It’s like dating. You better have a good spiel, or your choice of partners rapidly diminishes.
Consider you are the CEO of a company which manufactures medical equipment. How do you narrow down candidates for locating your new shiny production facility? There are so many choices. Like buying a new car or house, it often comes down to relationships and trust.
That bond building takes talented people and some real world representatives. The BDB is an autonomous organization with a small salaried staff governed by a volunteer board of directors. Our county has one county commissioner (Jenkins) as liaison. He keeps things real and practical. The BDB doesn’t produce anything but PR and goodwill. One commissioner thinks it should be self-funded like a chamber of commerce.
It’s nothing like a chamber of commerce. Those entities are numerous and typically identify with a specific census area or municipality. They cater to the needs of local businesses but rarely have the staff nor skills required to recruit quality companies nationwide.
Local chambers are excellent B2B networking spaces. The BDB doesn’t work that zone. It’s more concerned with smoothing things over between our county government and businesses.
You need forty acres for a manufacturing plant; better call the BDB. You want to explore tax incentives or start a discussion about expanding the urban services boundary for plant expansion then call the BDB. If you run an existing business and need clarification about which county department will fix things or how to export your products call the BDB. Since it helps business, should the BDB self-fund?
The BDB has partner businesses. I ask you to consider that most of these existing businesses do not directly benefit from new businesses. Every dollar these partners dole out is equivalent to a self-tax and they are already paying lots of taxes in most cases. Why should they pay even more? High membership fees would require a tiered fee approach based on business size. Higher partner costs would discourage participation. Since all taxpayers benefit from quality businesses it’s best paid for by our taxes.
Paying for the Business Development Board is as one commissioner calls it “an investment” in our county’s future. Spending money and developing a healthy business base makes real sense because quality businesses pay taxes; they help fund all those amenities and services coveted by residents.
Carl Frost’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
May was Mental Health Awareness month and Tykes and Teens was very active and worked collaboratively with other agencies to provide activities and education to our community. The focus was to reduce stigma within our community around mental health. Stigma occurs when a person is viewed in a negative manner due to false beliefs about mental illness.
People are often treated with discrimination when they are dealing with a mental illness. The discrimination can be obvious, such as a negative remark, or it may be subtle, such as someone avoiding the person because they assume they might be dangerous due to mental illness.
Stigma can cause people to refuse, or delay needed treatment. They may not have the support of their families. They may have fewer opportunities for social activities and may be subject to bullying.
Some of the activities that Tykes and Teens sponsored for Mental Health Awareness Month included Youth Yoga every Tuesday in May, Coffee and Chat (A Community Conversation about Mental Health Stigma), and Teen Talk (A Mental Health Awareness Month Discussion Panel with local teams). By having diverse panels of people, including teens, talk about their lived experience with mental health challenges, we begin to decrease stigma by being open and honest.
At Tykes and Teens, we support our clients and their families in decreasing the stigma around mental health. Our goal is that all people feel comfortable seeking and receiving needed care. For services, please contact Tykes and Teens @ (772) 220-3439.
Anne Posey’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.
Residential and Commercial New Construction Outpacing Last Year’s Record to More than $600 Million Market Value
The Martin County Property Appraiser’s Office (MCPAO) released the 2023 estimated preliminary taxable values to the ten Martin County Taxing Authorities today. The Taxing Authorities will use the estimated taxable values to prepare their upcoming budgets and determine their proposed millage rates.
The numbers show that Martin County taxable values are at $31.6 billion, an increase of 12.23% compared to last year’s number of more than $28.1 billion.
The market value or what a home or business is valued comparably to others increased by 19.22% to $53.4 billion, compared to last year’s value of more than $44.8 billion.
“The 2022 real estate market continued forward with the incredible valuation growth that started in 2021” said Martin County Property Appraiser Jenny Fields. “Our preliminary estimated tax roll results showed broad value appreciation in most real estate sectors and specifically strong growth in residential property values which drove double digit market and taxable value increases in all taxing authorities throughout the County.”
Sales of residential properties had a 2nd consecutive year of above 20% value appreciation. Within this sector, single family homes increased roughly 20% while condominiums increased 27% on average. Overall sales volume during the 2nd half of 2022 slowed in response to higher interest rates. This shift in demand increased the average number of days it typically took a property to sell, however, sale prices stayed at their peak up to the end of the year.
A deeper look inside new construction shows a market value growth of $600 million this year. This growth is primarily led by a 69% increase in new homes being built in some of our communities such as Osprey Preserve, Ocean Cove, Canopy Creek, Seawalk, New Avonlea (Preserve), and Banyan Bay. Residential new construction for single family homes, townhomes, condominiums, cooperatives, and mobile homes accounted for $394.5 million and multi-family new construction accounted for an additional $94.5 million. Together, these 2 categories represent roughly 80% of the total $600 million in ad valorem new construction.
Martin County continues to be a highly desirable commercial, industrial, and multi-family market as seen with the various projects being developed throughout the County. Notable projects completed prior to the January 1st date of assessment are the Harbor Grove Apartments with 324 units, the Savona at Stuart with 182 units, and the strategically located South Martin Industrial Park that includes 9 buildings with over 96,000 square feet of warehouse space.
The ten Martin County Taxing Authorities are the Children’s Service Council, the City of Stuart, the Florida Inland Navigation District, Martin County Board of County Commissioners, the Martin County School Board, the South Florida Water Management District, the Town of Jupiter Island, the Town of Sewall’s Point, the Town of Ocean Breeze, and the Village of Indiantown.
These estimated preliminary taxable and market values are based on market conditions as of January 1, 2023.
Fields and her office professionals will next certify the 2023 Preliminary Tax Roll to the Florida Department of Revenue before the July 1 deadline.
For more information or to schedule an interview with Martin County Property Appraiser Jenny Fields, please email email@example.com.
Jenny Fields’ opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint
MARTIN COUNTY TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION
Martin County Firefighters invited the MCTA to meet with them regarding tentatively approved Union negotiations which have been going on since January.
It’s difficult to argue with the safety of our citizens and Chief Cianciulli is a convincing advocate for the ongoing needs of the Department. Following are some highlights of our conversation.
There is a continual fight to retain staff. The Department lost 50 firefighters after the recession of 2008, and they have been playing catch up ever since. Firefighters leave for other counties which offer higher wages. Of course, inflation is also forcing Martin County to offer higher salaries.
In Palm Beach County even if the firefighters who leave are downgraded back to STEP 1, they gain an additional $8,000 per year and the other counties promote so fast that they are soon surpassing where they stood in Martin County. The Department needs 40 more firefighters.
Out of the $51 million annual budget, 90% is for personnel which is up by $6.8 million.
Volunteer fire departments which have been suggested in the past are obsolete because of the necessary Emergency Medical Technician training. These paramedic firefighters now preform the same lifesaving maneuvers as are preformed in emergency rooms.
The call load has gone up 67% since 2009 due to more assisted living facilities, more residents overall, more mental health issues and traffic accidents which have increased by 30% in the last 2 years.
It presently takes 3 years for a firefighter to complete the certification and go through the EMT and Paramedic programs. The County does NOT pay for their initial training. There have been job recruitment fairs. During the last one 440 expressed interest. But only 76 showed up to be tested to fill 20 positions. According to the Chief, that’s not nearly enough to assure that Martin County is recruiting the best.
The Department has added 5 additional trucks which require 15 firefighters (due to shift changes) per truck. An interesting note is that firefighters are not allowed to leave after their shift if a replacement hasn’t reported for duty.
The Department recoups on average $1,500 per medical call but only $100 to $200 for each Medicaid call. They get back only about 50% of what they bill insurance companies and Medicare. About 10% of their revenue comes from transportation recoupment. Only about 3% of their budget is funded by grants.
Chief Cianciulli assured us that they have sought ways to get leaner. With automation and more paramedics, they can cut down on the number of trucks needed to respond to each call. (This has always been a constant source of puzzlement among the public.)
However, they must constantly look for ways to improve response time. Now at 6.5 minutes. An example is the new garage doors which open in 12 seconds rather than 1 minute. They were expensive.
The County is never going to stop this ongoing need. So, could the State deal with it by setting the salaries of firefighters? Probably not because the cost of living is higher or lower in different areas of Florida. Besides the various counties could get creative with “perks”.
Should the County assess a fire fee on every household? The City of Stuart does it. Then long-time homeowners who pay less in property taxes would be paying their “fair share” for fire services. The fee does not apply to any medical equipment or treatment.
MCTA thanks Chief Cianciulli and the rest of the staff he made available to answer any and all of our questions.
MCTA’s opinions are their own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint
Our Community Table has created a significant offering for those less fortunate in our communities; the forgotten ones. OCT brings churches and the community together to help those in need by blessing them with a free meal every Saturday as well as feeding their souls. We are bringing a sense of hope and peace to the people, which we can all use these days.
Every Saturday we provide 1300 to 1400 free meals to needy families in Martin County. Unlike most agencies that provide food services, people in need are required to come to them for food, but what makes us different is that we go to them. We provide free meals to needy families in our County. Currently, we have 10 stations; 3 in Indiantown, 2 in Hobe Sound, and 5 in Stuart. ff
This ministry was started by Greg and Debbie Waid, while they lived in NC. Their vision to expand in Martin County has become a reality and a well-recognized ministry making a huge impact locally. Over 187,000 meals have been served since April 2020.
OCT is looking to raise awareness locally and for opportunities to reach people through organizations here in Martin County.
Dream it. See it. Be it.
It’s that simple. With a little help from Career Connect Martin and Family Promise, dreams of financial security are coming true. Every child deserves a home, and every parent deserves the satisfaction of providing their family with a bright future. Together, these organizations are chipping away at Martin County’s devastating 16.5% child poverty rate.
Family Promise fulfills the most immediate and critical needs to stabilize a family. After which, Career Connect Martin jumps in to help by removing employment barriers, providing soft and hard skill trainings, one-on-one job coaching, and job placement. The program, created by the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce, assists job seekers with employability skills such as resume writing, interviewing, dressing for success and other important skills. Even more amazing, is that jobseekers are placed with an employer based on their desires., personality, and interests. Participants are paid $15 an hour during their on-the-job-training period called Trial Employment. Participants also receive financial assistance for transportation and childcare during Trial Employment. Partnering with community agencies has been vital to growing the program. Career Connect and Family Promise have worked together to assist multiple individuals with success in career and in life.
Unique’s triumph is a great example of this partnership. She is a Family Promise client and a single mom who longed for a meaningful and sustainable career. Unique fast tracked through the steps of the Career Connect program with a fierce determination to learn and grow. Now, working as a trial employee at Guaranteed Garage Repair, she is learning the ins and outs of the business and developing critical skills that will grow her resume. By the time this article reaches its readers, Unique will have graduated trial employment, be working full-time as an administrative assistant, at more than $18 an hour, with opportunities for career growth.
The collective impact of Career Connect Martin and Family Promise changes the trajectory of a family’s future, launching them towards financial independence and security. The next generation will not only DREAM, but they will also DO, they will BE and they will THRIVE because they can witness their parents in action.
For more information about Career Connect Martin, visit www.careerconnectmartin.org
From James Stedham
Just curious, what about all the dumped material found on the proposed Costco site?
Many items of which are used in the nursery business.
I will have a short article including pictures Sunday on your question.
PAL MAR DISAPPOINTS AGAIN
I was away and unable to attend either the Pal Mar property owners or board meetings on June 1st.
I was told that the annual property owners meeting did not go forward because improper notice was given. It is amazing that could occur considering that we had the same legal firm and executive director as in the past issuing the notice. These same individuals should know the process. How could a mistake have happened?
Regarding the board meeting that followed, once again nothing was decided. I guess I should be glad I wasn’t there since apparently it would have been a big waste of time. But I really don’t know what occurred and have no way to verify any of this.
It is standard practice to record all meetings of Martin County governmental entities so that citizens can watch online or listen to a recording of the meeting. Even though Pal Mar meetings are held in the Martin County chambers, no meetings are recorded. I found that amazing.
Pal Mar is a separate taxing district. It isn’t on county TRIM Notices, so Martin County residents are not directly taxed for the lots. However, Martin County owns thousands of lots and of course the assessments are paid by the county using citizen tax dollars. In essence, county residents are the owners. This also applies to residents of Palm Beach County which also owns lots as does SFWMD (and those taxes do appear on citizen TRIM Notices.)
Then why aren’t the meetings recorded and available for viewing on MCTV and the county’s YouTube channel? I don’t think it is because they want to keep voters and taxpayers ignorant…I just don’t believe they think.
I sent an email to Assistant County Administrator George Stokus and Commissioner Sarah Heard, Martin County’s representatives on the PalMar board, asking just that question. You can view it below:
Dear Pal Mar Board Members:
I find it strange that the Pal Mar meetings are not being recorded and then made available to Martin County taxpayers and residents on MCTV.
We, Martin County residents, own thousands of lots within the district. There is keen interest in the fate of this valuable resource. We are locked in a battle as to whether the Pal Mar district will remain a piece of a forgotten Florida or destroyed for the profit of a few.
In an age where the public wants the government to be transparent this utter lack of it with Pal Mar is appalling. Since moving the meetings to the Martin County chamber, the ability to watch it live and have recordings for later viewing is very easy to accomplish.
If an interlocal agreement is needed, then by all means initiate one immediately. But what is happening during the meetings is of concern to our citizens. It would seem a poor waste of a valuable asset (the ability to record the meetings) if it is not used.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
There may need to be an interlocal agreement between the county and the Pal Mar District to facilitate the recording of the meetings. That shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. The ability to record is not in question since it is in the chamber where things are recorded regularly. Where is the commitment to transparency that we hear so much about?
The budget for Martin County is north of a half billion dollars. The expense to record one more meeting is negligible. We have a government TV channel just for this purpose. How about using it for the people of Martin County.
COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 6, 2023
Sheriff Snyder made a compelling presentation for building a special pod for his mental health prisoners.
The Martin County jail is the largest mental health facility in the county. According to the sheriff, that is true in every Florida county. The cost for construction of the pod would be millions of dollars. He had a figure of $30 million but that was an estimate from several years ago.
How do individuals with mental problems end up as inmates? Many commit crimes when they are in full mental crisis. During an event, they either do property damage or hurt someone. If it is a very low-level property crime, then the person would be “Baker Acted,” an involuntary commitment to a mental health facility for evaluation that can last no more than 3 days.
As many as 30% of the jail population are taking psychotropic medication. Snyder tries to segregate those with mental health problems from the general population, but he doesn’t have the room to do it every time. The sheriff had a presentation that graphically portrayed some of the problems that the staff and inmates face.
He is looking for funds not only from the county but also from the state. We know that many of our “crime” problems are the direct result of the state not providing the resources to alleviate this suffering. As Snyder said, we, as a society, need to make a course correction because what is happening currently is unsustainable.
We probably will be hearing more about this as budget time approaches.
The next presentation was from Judge Jennifer Waters who presides over the mental health court. According to Judge Waters, Florida is 12th in the nation with those that have diagnosed mental health problems yet 50th in resource funding. Of the 176,000 in the Florida penal system, one in four are mentally ill.
If the offender can be diverted to her court, they will receive a panoply of services and are required to appear weekly. If the person has a full-time job, they can arrange to do so by Zoom. If the offender sticks with the program and takes advantage of it, the diversion from criminal court is well worth it.
Florida has a recidivism rate of 58%. Those who finish this program have a 12% rate. The program saves thousands of taxpayer dollars based on the current costs of keeping the offender in jail and future costs if they re-offend. You can see the presentation here
The commission went into executive session to discuss the lawsuits with the stores selling live animals in the county. After several meetings last year, the commission passed an ordinance that stopped the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits after June 30th of this year. The two pet stores commenced legal action to set the ordinance aside. The commission agreed to stay enforcement of the ordinance until the current legal matter has been adjudicated.
Three Lakes golf course requested a revised site plan approval. The 1216-acre site will have 2 golf courses, practice facilities, an existing home as the temporary club house, and other ancillary uses. There will be 141 acres of lakes to act as storm water retention. There will be 14 cottages for members and their guests only. 97% of the 1216 acres will be open space.
The 14 golf cottages will only be allowed to use one bedroom of the three- and four-bedroom cottages. The project is limited to 5000 gallons of waste per day. This was the first sticking point with Commissioner Heard who didn’t believe them. She also felt the parking was inadequate.
A third golf course, a new clubhouse and the use of entire cottages would have to wait until the applicant applies under the Rural Lifestyle Amendment. If that is successful, then they can tie into water and sewar lines which are adjacent to the property.
All the irrigation water will come from the C-44 canal. That water is loaded with nutrients. Earlier in the day, there was a presentation on best management practices for golf courses. It highlighted that science has changed considerably regarding both irrigation and fertilization. Unfortunately, the county did not provide the presentation as one document. I have enclosed a link to the agenda item where individual pages can be found here
As Commissioner Ciampi stated, Martin County is becoming known for some of the best golf courses in the country. It is a perfect match for our western lands. Farmers and ranchers didn’t stop farming and ranching just to sell their land to developers. It no longer made good business sense to farm because of the price of crops, livestock, and citrus greening.
On this 1200 acres as of right, more than 200 homes could have been built under current zoning using wells and septic tanks. That would equate to sprawl with the need for roads, schools, and public safety. The taxable value would be less than what the golf course’s value will be. The alternative is not leaving the land as is. The alternative is a golf course with a small impact or homes with a large impact.
A motion was made by Hetherington to approve and seconded by Jenkins. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
Staff needs guidance on the now defunct golf course clubhouse and Top Golf experience at Sailfish Sands. In May after just 6 months, the one bidder for the operation, LaMattina Management, gave the keys back to the county. Should the county operate the facility, or should it go out to RFP for a private operator?
Commissioners Heard, Ciampi, and Smith couldn’t stop describing in glowing terms how staff handled the entire debacle. According to those three, staff handled everything perfectly. Since staff created the problem beginning with the RFP process, that is kind of hard to swallow.
From the very beginning of the building of the new golf course, commissioners were more interested in creating a “private” feel to the clubhouse than what was necessary and the public using the golf course wanted. The facility was not geared to the people who play golf on the courses but rather the commission’s idea of a sophisticated restaurant. In my opinion the food was good but not excellent as Ciampi claims. The service was not good…forget about excellent.
The hitting bays were enticing. However, the two times I wanted to use them they were closed and out of order. That is where the restaurant and bar would make the money.
The staff wants to run it for a year to have figures before sending it out to RFP. But according to staff, the place grossed $2.2 million in six months so that figure is available. It was revealed that the county spent $634,000 on capital equipment so that a more upscale menu could be produced. The staff in their proposal are not going to sell real liquor and be cashless which already would not give a true picture of a private operation.
Staff are proposing to run the facility cashless, which the commission was not enthusiastic about. There would be beer, wine, hard cider, and canned cocktails. Unlike the beach cafes, they want to allow tipping. They will honor gift cards purchased under LaMattina until the end of the year.
Heard moved to approve staff’s recommendation. The only one who wanted to really understand why the venture failed was Commissioner Hetherington. She said the county needs to take some responsibility for the failure. When there was only one bidder, that should have been a warning sign and she mentioned that at the time the bid was accepted.
She is philosophically opposed to the county operating businesses. Hetherington wanted an audit done by Comptroller Timmann to help unravel the problems encountered. I agree with her…what is going to be different a year from now?
Jenkins seconded the motion but added he wanted it brought back in January to see about going out to bid. The commissioners wanted to have cash considered as an option. Since Heard never agreed with Jenkins and reiterated she wants staff’s recommendations, I don’t think anything was included. The motion passed 4-1 with Hetherington voting no.
There has never been a discussion item on the agenda regarding Martin County running businesses. When staff are questioned, they suggest that the businesses are well run and make loads of money. That may even be true. But it is irrelevant as to whether the government should be competing with the private sector.
In the case of the golf course, the commissioners may have set up the entire clubhouse to fail. They insisted on a grand and beautiful place. They wanted to have a Top Golf facility. This fact alone probably precluded some restauranteurs from bidding.
Most golfers who play on that course want a beer and a sandwich not Pasta Bolognese, which was one of the entrees on the menu. The private sector did not open a Top Golf in Martin County for a reason. The same goes for a water park.
The commissioners need to make their philosophy known to the taxpayers and voters. Is it Martin County’s responsibility to do things that can be done better by the private sector? Just because the private sector is not doing something doesn’t mean Martin County should do it instead.
As a taxpayer, I want to hear if our commissioners want to own and operate the means of production. If they answer yes, then they are not Republicans or even Democrats but Socialists. I think I know where Hetherington stands, how about the rest?
The next commission meeting will be June 12th.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
It is no secret that Brightline is coming to the Treasure Coast.
During the decade that this has been brewing, many of us have protested, denied, fought, accepted, and now have some anticipation (especially if Stuart has a station) for the inevitable. A few are still at the fighting stage of the process ignoring the fact that Martin County settled the matter with the railroad several years ago.
Instead of working collaboratively to solve this important problem facing Stuart and Martin County, our state and federal officials have carried on their opposition to inter-city passenger rail going through the Treasure Coast as it travels from Orlando to Miami. Is there a sinister plot with the residents of Martin County as the pawns in this fight?
The choke point for Brightline has always been the Stuart Railroad Bridge. It is old and creaky. Further it only has 6 feet of clearance. Most boats cannot go under it. Given that the passenger line wants to run 32 trips a day using that bridge, it is a major bone of contention between the boating industry and the railroad. But it doesn’t only concern Brightline. FECR’s freight business more seriously impacts those tracks.
Anyone who has ever sat in their car at a crossing waiting for the miles-long freight train to pass at 30 MPH understands how just a few minutes can tie up traffic and bring Stuart to a standstill. While all the attention has been focused on Brightline, the Achilles heel to the operation has been the freight line. We are about to see how much this will affect us.
For years, the marine industries and pleasure boaters have been forced to wait to traverse the St. Lucie in Downtown Stuart. There is just no way to get to the inlet from Palm City, Indiantown, and western Martin County when the bridge is down. As annoying as it is for the public, it can be real money for the boat builders, a private industry, that are tied up waiting for the bridge.
That is why a suit was brought by them against the Coast Guard to demand the bridge be opened at least for half the time. Congressman Brian Mast has championed that same action for years. He has lambasted the Army Corps and Coast Guard in congressional committee hearings.
The Coast Guard has now responded by giving Mast and the marine industries much of what they want. Beginning June 21st they have issued an interim rule here that states the following :
- Open the drawbridge every quarter and three-quarter hour to allow boat traffic to pass but no longer than 15 minutes.
- If a train is in the circuit at the designated opening time, then the opening can be delayed for 5 minutes then remain open until all boats have cleared but the opening can be no more than 15 minutes.
- Always have a drawbridge tender on site (there has not been one in over fifty years)
- The old Roosevelt Bridge will open on the same schedule. Now it stays closed during peak traffic times.
There are other points that you can see in the order. It doesn’t matter whether there is a boat in sight, the bridge will be open. It will happen at 2:15 am and at 2:15 pm. In typical bureaucratic fashion, there is no deviation from this deviation order.
I have used Brightline a half dozen times from West Palm Beach to Miami. It isn’t cheap but (at least for my wife and I) it sure beats the traffic. It is fantastic to park your car at West Palm station and go to Miami or Miami Beach for the weekend and not have to worry about traffic or paying for hotel parking. You never use your car once you arrive anyway, so it works out about the same financially only without the stress.
With that said, if Brightline were to go away tomorrow, my life and that of the people in Martin County would not be any different. I have come to believe if Stuart ever does have a stop, it would be an economic boost to our economy. Not a big one but a measurable one.
While the boaters and marine industry are pleased, this “temporary” rule could cause havoc for the rest of us. Freight trains are running through the county now. They are miles long and if they are stopped half the time because the bridge is up, where do you think they will be stopped? A typical freight train that is halted in Downtown will block every crossing in the city of Stuart south of the bridge (St. Lucie Avenue, Confusion Corner, MLK, Florida St., Dixie Highway, and Monterey Road).
FECR thinks crossings will be closed 8 times a day going north and 8 times going south from 30 minutes to an hour. If you have a heart attack and live on the other side of the track from the hospital, you are dead. The dreaded fire and the town will burn. Police emergency not a chance.
The bridge is the choke point and always has been. For most of the time Brightline has been coming, that has always been a problem. There have been at least two bridge concepts that have been explored. Washington has hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure project grants.
The one missing figure in moving forward with a new bridge is Brian Mast. Any entity can apply for the money but without the local congressman endorsing the bid, it will fail. So far Mast has not been willing to champion the cause.
He has said that the railroad is a private company and therefore should pay for it themselves. And if it was for their rolling stock I would agree. The state and more so the federal government spend billions every year to build and upgrade airports, highways, and ports. But there are no public airlines, truckers, or shipping companies as they are all owned privately or by their shareholders. We spend those billions and billions of dollars on the infrastructure that allow those private companies to operate for our economy and for our people. It is in the local, state, and federal governments’ interest to do so.
Mast is not shy about requesting and receiving federal money. He is in the top ten of congressional representatives for bringing money home for projects. In the 2024 budget year, Roll Call has the congressman ranked 4th for earmarks at $337.3 million. I applaud him for that since it is money for Florida and mostly his district. Mast does represent Stuart and Martin County.
Working to make sure that pleasure boaters and the marine industries can thrive here is vital also. So, it is an achievement for Mast having the Coast Guard do his bidding. He represented those constituents brilliantly.
Brightline is not scheduled to begin service until Labor Day. For the next two months, nothing will have changed on the ground except the new opening times commencing June 21st. If havoc ensues for residents, businesses, and drivers, will Mast then represent all our interests and bring home the money for a new bridge?
The new rail bridge would allow at least 80% of boaters to pass underneath without opening. Occasionally it will need to open to have that large sailboat or yacht maneuver through. We should be working together to solve this problem, not playing politics with the lives and businesses of our area.
STUART TRIAL ON PFAS STILL GOING
Back in 2016 when I was still a Stuart city commissioner, we were made aware of PFAS in our water supply. The commission, on the advice of staff, then approved remedial action. At another meeting, we voted to be added to a class action suit against the makers of the chemicals.
For almost two decades, Stuart’s Fire Department used fire-retardant foam to practice fighting chemical fires. 3M was Stuart’s supplier. It leached into the ground water and eventually the water supply became contaminated. Though the chemical concentration was higher than the government-recommended amounts of 70 parts per trillion, Stuart is no Flint, Michigan or Jackson, Mississippi. Two hundred million Americans have the chemical in their bloodstream.
Stuart was picked by both sides as the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit. The trial has thousands of plaintiffs and is being held in Charleston S.C. Last week the other three companies implicated in the PFAS suit settled for almost $1.2 billion. And now the Stuart/3M trial is on hold as possible settlement talks continue.
It almost seems as if the judge in the case wants to force a settlement. If it goes to trial and Stuart and the other plaintiffs win, the jury could award a judgement that could seriously impact the viability of 3M as a company. 3M has set aside billions for payouts. If the final number is within that amount, all is well. However, juries are unpredictable, and I am sure that is weighing on the judge’s decision for at least a 21 day postponement as of June 5th.
But Stuart isn’t the only fire department in Martin County. While you hear about the city’s involvement in the lawsuit, the county has been mysteriously silent. They are responsible for the airport which is much more likely to have this type of fire than the city and is the location where they have practiced with foam. I don’t know whether they are a party in this or any other lawsuit.
In the meantime, do not fall for all the doomsday chatter and stories you may read and hear. If you are a city resident, the water is safe. We don’t really know about any contamination in Martin Count’s water supply, but the water they produce for their customers is constantly tested as is the water from SMRU and Indiantown.
PFAS is not only found in water supplies but in cleaning products, dental floss, tents, rain jackets, grease resistant paper and containers, nail polish, makeup, stain resistant fabrics, and hundreds of other products.
Stuart did the right thing by taking the actions it did. Let’s not go into American panic mode. I am sure soon we will hear of people that claim they became ill because of it. Another miracle of modern life through science that went a bit wrong.
I have taken heat by some people for writing in favor of the Costco PUD.
There is a reasoned argument about some of the aspects of the project. And I believe that people can disagree on whether it is a good project. What I do know is the nearly 50-acre site was not pristine Florida woodland no matter who wants to claim that it was.
From the very beginning, the developer/owner and their contractors have found old cars, boats, old machinery, abandoned and previously unknown structures, unpermitted irrigation ditches, old appliances, tires, garbage mounds, and everything else that a well-appointed dump could have. Even the purported wetlands have been declared non-existent by the EPA.
Since site clearing work has begun, the cornucopia of all the above has not only been discovered at ground level but been uncovered when the land has been cleared. It seems previous owners had used the property for more than farming. It was anything but a natural woodland and unadorned wetland.
Making believe that the property was and is something other than an overgrown mess is misleading. The development argument has been lost. With “Live Local” now Florida law, what the property can be used for is much denser than what was approved initially. Even environmentally (as has been borne out by the EPA, SFWMD, FWC, and others) the development of the property is not having any adverse effects ecologically.
If anyone has any doubts regarding what was on the property these photos should put that to rest.
SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP JUNE 6, 2023
I have been covering the school board for years now. Although it is one of the least interesting, it is also one of the most important since it is about the education of our children.
This 3+ hour meeting was mind numbing. Yet, important matters were discussed. Reporting them without getting lost in the details is challenging. When the subject is something like selecting a new superintendent replacement, there is lots of interest. Budget discussions, student codes of conduct, and mental wellness can be less compelling but not necessarily less important.
A couple of interesting tidbits came out of the budget discussion. It is believed that the ARPA Funds will be clawed back as of September 30th. If the feds do that more than the school board will be affected.
The new high school in Indiantown was projected to have 175 students for school year 23/24. It looks like there are half that many. Does that mean the school is a failure? Not necessarily. But if enrollment doesn’t increase, I wonder what use the facility will ultimately have.
In general, the budget is in flux because of the new laws and what the impact will be on the bottom line. As of now, the district still does not have the tax rate to charge from Tallahassee. You can see the budget presentation here
There is a big push to eliminate tobacco and vaping in school. The seriousness of even being caught with either a vaping device or a pack of cigarettes is severe. You can see the presentation here
Mental Health is also a big problem. Statistics were provided citing that suicide is the second most prevalent cause of death in ages 10-14 and third for the 15–24-year-olds. You can see the presentation here
The board also discussed a revised code of conduct for students. Interestingly, much had to do with recent legislative bills. Students have a right to have a wireless device, but they cannot use it during instruction time. Another interesting tidbit was that the use of A.I. was prohibited for everything a student does.
An example of A.I. is when suggestions and words auto populate. Microsoft has built into their programs the capability to correct the spelling of words and use of grammar. Does that mean students need to turn off that feature? For a few weeks, I was using Chat GPT as one of my research tools. In the end, I found it gave me too many wrong answers. This bill eliminates the use of that for school projects.
You can find more here
COUNCIL MEETING MAY 25, 2023:
Indiantown has problems at the water plant.
It was not something that was unknown. The village has been anticipating spending a small fortune on the plant since they bought it. They have received generous grants and loans in preparation.
The village will spend millions refurbishing the nearly 70-year-old wells and plant. At full capacity, it produces 1.296 million gallons per day. That will be the capacity even after the upgrades to keep the plant going. The current amount budgeted is $11 million. The SRF loan is $12.625 million which includes other work of which $8.46 million will be forgiven. The debt service is pegged at $160k per year.
There is a myriad of development projects either approved or on the drawing boards. Some have already reserved water use consumption permits. That means at this point the water that the village can produce is almost all gone. And because only 6 of the 8 wells are currently operating, the plant has a per day capacity of closer to 1 million gallons.
Development is stopped until the village can increase production. They somehow need to have at least another 2 million gallons per day. The village needs a second plant to be built. Construction costs are pegged at $45 to $60 million.
From the initial silence of the council, it didn’t seem that they were aware of this at the time they purchased the water plant. I think they had no idea that they would have to come up with this money to allow for further development. Now what do they do?
At Manager Kryzda’s request, they approved $150,000 for preliminary plans. The new plant will be located as close as possible to the existing plant since the infrastructure is all there. In the immediate aftermath they will also have to contend with the water quality in the wells, which is part of the existing plant improvements.
When they approved the initial purchase, did the village council have any idea that these problems would occur 2 1/2 years later. Every time we heard Council Member Hernandez boast how smart the past manager and council were to plunge ahead with buying the plant, was there any pause for reflection? Was more due diligence necessary? Or did they have the right consultants explaining the problems that would occur?
Despite all this, I still believe the village needed to buy the plant. It was the only course of action open to them so that these projects could be approved. The private owners of the plant would not spend the apparent close to $100 million needed to do the necessary work.
How this eventually turns out is now in the hands of the village with input from the right professionals to guide them. Apparently, this was far from the case previously. Kryzda has the experience of being able to navigate the village through this. Hopefully, the council listens to the advice.
You can find the engineer’s presentation here
The next meeting will be held June 13, 2023
HERE THEY GO AGAIN
There must be something in the water provided by South Martin Regional Utility that makes Jupiter Island Commissioners more susceptible to not following the Public Records and Sunshine Law.
At a May 9th special meeting, the commission fired Michael Ventura as town manager. It seemed that at least some of the commissioners were aware of the reason for the meeting. No advanced materials were provided nor was there an agenda item that stated the purpose for the meeting. How did the commissioners know what the special meeting was about? It seemed to me they did as was evident by remarks made by the commissioners during the meeting.
Did the commissioners need to fire Ventura so quickly that they couldn’t wait for a noticed meeting? To act so quickly, did all or a few commissioners communicate outside of the normal channels. Or did they use a person acting as a conduit to relay information?
There was no public comment time offered during the meeting in violation of statute because as Mayor Townsend claimed it is a personnel matter and not a legislative one. Where is that exception provided under the law? Or does Jupiter Island have its own exception?
Another interesting matter was a “private letter” sent to Governor DeSantis by Townsend as a private citizen urging him to veto a bill that impacts Jupiter Island and their lawsuit with the Testas. I can’t understand how a letter can be sent personally on a matter that she will vote upon as a member of the commission. Simply saying a communication is sent as a private citizen doesn’t mean that is true.
Townsend is clearly stating her personal opinions on the matter. She has made up her mind on Ordinance 376 and the pending litigation. As such she has as much declared that she will not be listening to any argument by Loeb and his clients on this matter.
Is the letter a violation of Sunshine? By giving a copy of the “private letter” to her fellow commissioners, the mayor has telegraphed how she would vote on a matter under consideration with no public discussion and no commission-noticed debate. Commissioner Scott immediately jumped in that she would send the governor a similar letter thereby signaling to the others her intentions.
On June 1st these allegations and more were presented in court in a lawsuit between some Jupiter Island residents and Mayor Townsend and her husband. Peter Townsend became a party since his devices and email addresses were used instead of her public email provided by the town. Once again Jupiter Island Commissioners are being accused of breaking public records and sunshine laws.
Just a little over a year ago, two commissioners resigned over these same type matters. Now it is happening again. And it is so avoidable. Ethan Loeb, the attorney who has brought this suit, is currently representing the landowners who would be most affected in a negative way by rescinding Ordinance 376 regarding the shoreline protection area.
Will Townsend end up resigning as her two other board members did last year? Will the State Attorney step in with a criminal investigation? How about the Florida Ethics Commission? For this same problem to repeatedly occur on Jupiter Island, there must be something in the water causing commissioners to forget their responsibilities to their office.
You can see the letters and court filings here
FROM BEDLAM TO BEDLAM
There was a time when people with mental illness were involuntarily committed to hospitals.
The first such place was founded in England in 1247 by a religious order. It was officially called Bethlehem Royal Hospital but was known as Bedlam. Since treatment was nonexistent, the patients were left to their own devices. The place was soon known as Bedlam and that word became synonymous with these type institutions.
There were thousands of people who ended up spending years in those places. Fifty years ago, there was very little in the way of medication to help patients. They just sat in the wards year after year. Most were public facilities where people could be committed by a judge and never get better or leave.
The sick was a vulnerable population. They were easily taken advantage of sexually and physically by their caregivers. Periodic scandals erupted. Then it became a civil rights issue, and the government began closing these facilities and, in most cases, dumping the patients out on the streets.
When these large facilities were closed, the patients were supposed to reintegrate into the local communities in group homes. By the 1970s, psychotropic drugs were more available to treat the mentally ill. Unfortunately, the government never followed through with spending the money to provide the group homes.
Society went from locking up thousands in mental institutions to releasing thousands to the streets without proper care. The government saved billions of dollars by not having large mental institutions. Today Florida, the third most populous state, is dead last in providing services to this population.
Yet the state spends billions to control the mentally ill by locking them up in prison. As we saw in the statistics that Sheriff Snyder and Judge Waters gave to our county commission during their presentations, we really haven’t provided civil rights to the mentally disturbed. What we have done is criminalize sickness and discarded the problem to our criminal justice system to sort it out.
If someone self-medicates with alcohol and illegal drugs, the person’s problem hasn’t gone away. Do they really have the right to live on the street and make everyone’s quality of life suffer? Or does society owe these individuals proper treatment?
I think we need to remove mental illness from the penal and law enforcement system. The state must provide facilities where those who fail to take their medication can live and be provided for. Will that work better? I don’t know but what we are doing now is certainly not working.
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GET THE WORD OUT
Friends and Neighbors of Martin County is your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.
Tom Campenni 772-341-7455 (c) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org