April 9, 2023

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In This Edition

Mark Twain wrote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

I hope my children believe that. Something else is equally true as I have become older. It is amazing how much more I think they have learned too. I don’t know if their ideas came around to me or mine to them. I kind of believe we sort of met in the middle.

My progeny are anything but children today, I am amazed at how much we agree where that was not always so true. When did they become so smart? When did I?

Another truth is that we are now all adults. I am their dad but not their parent. They are grown adults who have their own families. We can enjoy each other’s company as peers.

I give much of the credit for this accomplishment to my wife. She is the most measured person I know. The quiet engineer that keeps everything moving. I am the one that needs to be kept on track.

I have never enjoyed my family more than I do today. Just by each of them having a spouse, I have doubled the size of those at the table. Then you add my granddaughter, and it is the best.

But I’ll also admit to being content after dinner (or even a longer visit) when they leave, heading for their own homes. Perhaps that is why I can acknowledge how much smarter they are now than before. I hope they can do the same for me.


In this issue, there are four important stories that you should read regardless of where you reside in Martin County.

The first is about how the taxpayers of Florida sent almost $6.5 million to Martin County from the state’s project appropriation budget. It was for a tunnel under Kanner Highway from one side of the Three Lakes Golf Club to the other.

There would have been no public benefit whatsoever. How did it happen? Will the county decide to put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again? That story can be found in this section.

The second is about the public’s perception of a loss for the Rural Lifestyle Amendment. While it may have been played up as a defeat for Atlantic Fields and Martin County, it was anything but that. The only thing that the ruling found against the project was the inclusion of a convenience store on the property for the residents. Becker’s Tom Hurley explains as do I.

Our third story is on Pal Mar. We continue to document the living hell that Trailside residents are going through. Now because of wildfires, Martin County Rescue personnel are risking their own lives to save people squatting in illegal structures that should never have been built.

It is a tale on the mismanagement of Pal Mar by the district’s staff and the government agencies that are charged with protecting the natural resources of the area. And Trailside residents continue to ask where the sheriff is and why there is utter lack of response from his department in Pal Mar.

It is also a tale of hope with Martin & Palm Beach Counties working together with SFWMD and FWC to protect the area going forward. Both Rural Lifestyle and Pal Mar can be found in the Martin County section.

Our 4th must read story in this edition is the Stuart Commission’s hiring of an interim attorney. How did an excellent choice turn out to be the wrong one? It is because the attorney will be missing in action for half the contract period. To read more go to the Stuart section.

As you read our newsletter from our many different and diverse columnists to our articles and government reporting, remember it is all free to you because of the support of our sponsors.

Have a Happy Easter and Passover!

The Tunnel That No One Claimed

It is amazing what one can discover by delving into public records databases. I did that over the past few days and what I found was startling. When public officials and those who want public money don’t believe anyone is looking, tax dollars can be used for purposes that have no relationship to any public good.

Being the government nerd that I am, I looked at both the Florida Senate and House members’ individual appropriation bills. I confined my search to Martin County’s delegation. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I figured if something was wrong, I would spot it.

It isn’t that everything I saw were funds being appropriated for projects with which I agree. That wasn’t my point in looking at the extensive list of projects needing funding. For example, I don’t agree with what the Arts Council wants to do with the old high school building, but you cannot deny that requesting $500,000 to help pay for renovation plans has a public purpose. However, another request for $6.5 million did catch my eye.

I have been a supporter of the Three Lakes Golf Course, a private club, off Kanner Highway in western Martin County. It will preserve much open space. There will be minimum use of public resources and the project will generate significantly more in taxes than the current Ag designation does.

What can be wrong with a great private business opening in Martin County? Nothing…if everything was being funded with private dollars. That is where Three Lakes and a state appropriation for $6.5 million converge.

I noticed that amount being earmarked by Representative John Snyder for a pedestrian tunnel under Kanner Highway. The tunnel would connect one side of the Three Lakes property to the other side. It would be used by the club members and employees only. There is no way there is any public benefit.

The Requester listed is Katherine Blocke of Martin County Property Holdings Co. 1, LLC. (The actual name of the company is Martin Property Holdings Co. 1, LLC.)

Her email is listed as kblocke@related.com with a New York City phone number. It is a Delaware- listed LLC which is not at all out of the ordinary. The information can be found here

The Sun Biz annual registration can be found here

And the 2022 corporate report here

The New York address listed is that of the Related Companies. They are a New York giant in the commercial real estate business. Related is the developer of Hudson Yards which is a massive development on Manhattan’s far west side. Currently, the company is plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into West Palm Beach. Steve Ross is the chairperson of the company and a partner in Three Lakes. It appears someone who works for (or who is at least affiliated with) the company applied for the government money.

Martin County is the local government that would be the recipient of the funds. County Administrator Don Donaldson is the person listed to contact for any information regarding the project. When I did contact him, Donaldson said it was not a county requested project and that neither he nor any other county employee signed any forms regarding this. He also said that it wasn’t one that the county would request because the beneficiary is a private entity.

I spoke to Representative Snyder. He said that he has a completed attestation form attesting to the legitimacy of the request. Snyder and every representative must rely on the local government’s attestations being accurate and confirming the requested funds would benefit the locality.

I have also spoken to several county commissioners regarding this matter. They expressed surprise and then anger that this was occurring. Then that leads to several questions I have.

This project came in as a local government project. On the attestation form that was completed by the requester, Blocke, question 11 wanted to know what type of entity is making the ask. There is a box to check if it is for a private entity. In this case, the box that was checked was for a local government.

If the money were received by the county, who was going to build the tunnel? Who was going to supervise the project? Was the county going to turn the funds over to the private entity? Was the county going to be the one that managed the project with county resources?

You can find the application and attestation here

There is something more to this than anyone is willing to reveal. Why would Donaldson not have made the request himself? I heard while speaking to people that the county had agreed to pay for the tunnel with Three Lakes. They were just trying to get money from the state instead of Martin County taxpayers.

This doesn’t pass the smell test for a couple of reasons. First, this project is not on the CIP list nor anywhere in the budget or the MPO as a county or even state project. When being approved by the county I don’t remember any mention in the development filing for this project regarding this pedestrian tunnel. Does that mean that a county employee or elected official made a quiet deal with the developer?

What would be the motive for an employee to promise something? Could it be a county commissioner that pressured staff to go along? You can’t put the imprimatur of Martin County government on a project and then deny ownership. Are these actions illegal? It is wrong and bad government without a doubt.

Somehow the county must get to the bottom of this for the integrity of their process. If they sweep it under the rug, then it will happen again and perhaps Friends & Neighbors won’t catch something like this next time.

The Related Group could have made it their request and not mentioned the county at all or as the designated recipient. Likely, it would have then been denied as it should have been all along.

I have spent a good part of the past several days on the phone verifying this story. Representative Snyder has told me that the county and the developer have asked that the project be withdrawn. Although late in the budget process, Snyder has said he will try to have the funds go to other Martin County projects that were not funded.

This is a cautionary tale of what happens when there is no one looking out for the public good. That is what local journalism is meant to do. We report what happens during public meetings but also, we look at government records…even those that are not easily found. Throughout the country, it’s the local reporters who delve into city and county commissions.

Now that money, if it isn’t too late, can be used for worthwhile and beneficial Martin County projects…those projects that will benefit the people who need it the most using money that each of them paid in taxes rather than a private business entity.

As Published In Martin Moment

Stormy Relationship

Martin County local governments and the Florida Legislature have had a stormy relationship this legislative session. There have been many bills that have preempted local control of matters especially regarding development. That is on a macro level.

Local elected officials can complain and bemoan the fact that the legislature passed the preemption. Tallahassee doesn’t mind the minor heat it may generate. What no local official can do is attack a legislator or their families. Now you have taken it to the personal.

For along with legislation passed our legislative delegation also carries appropriation requests for local governments. You need money to help connect septic to sewer, these are the people who are going to work hard to get the local the money to do so. Do something to annoy that legislator and the money for your county or municipality doesn’t make the list.

It is easy for the legislator to say there was only so much money available this year and the legislator needed to help those instead. That becomes especially easy to claim when the government has received money for similar projects in the past.

I don’t know whether this is the reason that Stuart did not receive an appropriation that they requested of $500,000 this year which is part of a multi-year plan to convert from septic to sewer. But if you look at the Facebook page of Commissioner Collins, he calls Senator Harrell out for not stopping SB 102 one of the preemption bills. The comments made by his supporters on the page make it real personal.

There is always an action and reaction. And I can’t say whether that is what contributed to the appropriation not making it this year…for there are many competing priorities. But it doesn’t help that a representative of the City of Stuart began a fight he couldn’t win, possibly costing Stuart the money to have residents go on sewar. Hard to be a river warrior if you prevented a cleanup from happening.

Last week at the Locks, Commissioner Collins threatened the Army Corps of Engineers with a lawsuit. While everyone else including the ultimate river warrior and SFWMD Board Member Thurlow-Lippisch were thanking the Corps for working together, Collins was antagonizing the very people that determine when to open the flood gates.

Imagine you are an army general that has served probably in a theater of combat, have advance degrees in engineering and other subjects, commanded young men & women for 20 or more years and some guy comes up to you and calls you nothing but a plumber and threatens to sue. The Corps of Engineers must receive 50 lawsuits a day. They have hundreds of lawyers at their disposal with all the government money to buy the best legal talent. If they are mad enough, they could bankrupt the city in a matter of months.

This is the real world and Tallahassee and Washington have real power. Mostly whether they are elected to the state and federal governments or have rose to command thousands of people they are not afraid of an insignificant commissioner from a small Florda city. Arrogance and bad judgement do not really get much done.

Rights But No Responsibilities

 For the past couple of years, we have heard from state and federal politicians about rights.

Most of the rhetoric is framed as if individual rights have no cost associated with keeping them. Yes, indeed every American certainly possesses individual rights. That doesn’t mean those rights are free to us without sacrifice and responsibility. Most of “paying” for our rights is done through recognizing our responsibility toward others in helping to secure their rights. Having rights isn’t a zero-sum proposition. Others do not have to forfeit their rights for us to keep ours.

Even if you believe that your rights are God given, do you not also believe that God wants you to act responsibly when exercising those rights? Society can only be successful if, at times, the individual subsumes their rights for the greater good.

If as individuals, we do not recognize our responsibilities toward society, then what protects any right we may possess? That is what is missing in much of the chatter about individual rights by some. Society is what holds others in check from depriving the individual of their rights.

Our quiver of individual rights is protected by being responsible for the protection of everyone in society. The weakest among us will not be deprived of their rights because the strongest are responsible for their protection. Buying into the doctrine of total individuality, as is sometimes fostered by politicians, is not absolute freedom. It is an invitation to someone just a little stronger depriving us of our own rights.

Other Opinions

Other Opinions

Non-Profit Perspective

Carol Houwaart-Diez
United Way of Martin County, President & CEO

Have you ever wondered about United Way of Martin County’s fundraising and investment process? Where does the money go, and how does it help our community? Let me take you through the entire process.

United Way partners with corporations to encourage their employees to donate a portion of their paycheck to United Way through payroll deduction. In addition, United Way receives support from individual donors, corporations, and grant funding from government agencies and private foundations. These gifts, no matter how big or small, are combined to make a greater impact on our local community.

These funds are invested in a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at addressing community needs in the areas of education, health, and financial stability.

With a plethora of non-profit organizations in Martin County, identifying programs that align with United Way’s focus areas can be a challenge. Let me assure you that United Way staff does not decide who receives grant funding. Instead, we use a rigorous process, the Citizen Review Process, that relies on volunteers to evaluate proposals submitted by programs seeking United Way funding.

As of now, 49 programs provided by 34 different agencies have applied for funding for the 2023-2024 grant cycle. However, not all programs/agencies that submit applications will receive a grant – so many needs exist in our community, and there is never enough funding to take care of them all. In light of this, it is even more crucial that funds are distributed in the most effective way possible.

Finally, I am also excited about the update to the ALICE Report, which will be released nationwide on April 27th. ALICE refers to the population in our community who are Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. These families are above the living poverty line but still falling short of affording the basics, despite being employed.

Our previous reports have shown that 44% of Martin County families are living below the ALICE threshold. This means that almost 27,720 households in Martin County are only one paycheck away from disaster. Despite the pandemic, Statewide the numbers are expected to hold steady or slightly decrease but we will know more about how our local community fared by the end of the month.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Citizen Review Process or want more information, visit our website at https://www.unitedwaymartin.org/citizenreviewpanels. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at chdiez@unitedwaymartin.org or call 772-283-4800 if you have any questions about the process.

Carol Houwaart-Diez opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper

Here I sit with Covid.

A souvenir brought back from a 10-day cruise.  The cruise wasn’t bad, but I remain very puzzled by the Covid protocol.  I was to bring my proof of vaccination.  Ok.  I was vaccinated in 2020 and have had no boosters.

So, I called and was told that it was perfectly acceptable. Humm. I had heard that natural immunity was strong, but to last this long.  Nonsensical, but I proceeded.

When I arrived at the port without the required vaccine document (because if I forget anything, it will be something absolutely essential), I was required to take a Covid test.  I complied and 20 minutes later and $75 lighter I was allowed to board the ship. The party was on!

It was impossible to dodge the squirts of sanitizer which greeted me constantly from some smiling staff member lurking around every corner.  I was thankful for those squirts and probably acquired a false sense of security from these gestures.  Afterall, we disembarked for excursions nearly every day.  Meaning we had a brand-new opportunity for at least one of two thousand participants to contract and re-board with Covid nearly daily.

At some of the stores we visited there were prominent signs stating that masking was mandatory. Not even the salesclerks were wearing masks.  I found this both confusing and humorous.

Only at one port we were warned that we would need to produce proof of vaccination upon arrival.  I anxiously called guest services concerned that they might not accept my 3-day old negative Covid test results but would have preferred the 3-year-old vaccination document.  ‘No worries’, I was told.  “They likely won’t even ask for anything”.  They didn’t.

So, I ask, is the tail wagging the dog here?  Have the authorities simply not caught up with the people?  Are people applying common sense where authorities fear to admit that we really have very little control over this virus?

For myself, I don’t mind complying if there is some degree of reality involved in the request.  But, to have been fleeced out of $75 and have been spritzed like I was walking through a Dillard’s perfume department at every turn, to have been asked to jump hoops which are nonsensical on their face and then to acquire the illness anyway is too much like the village idiot questioning why everyone believes the emperor is wearing a brand-new red suit when it is just so clear that he is naked as a jay bird.

Darlene VanRiper’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Nicki's Place

Nicki van Vonno
van Vonno Consulting, Owner

 Nicki is off this edition.

Hafner's Corner

David Hafner
UF/IFAS, 4-H Youth Development Agent

Happy Easter!

Spring has sprung, the early birds are singing, and calves, lambs, and kids are entering the world on Martin County’s farms and ranches. Along with the celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of the new life that comes in the spring is the celebration of Easter following the completion of Lent.

There are many Easter traditions we all enjoy, like dyeing eggs and hiding them around the house, giving Easter baskets full of fun toys and tasty treats, and decorating our homes with Easter Lillies to name a few. Though this holiday is heavily associated with the Easter Bunny, I believe Easter has held its true meaning much stronger than Christmas has. Families who don’t typically attend church will often find themselves in a pew on Easter morning or at least gifting chocolate crosses to keep the message of the holiday.

I visited Puerto Rico in mid-January and was a little surprised to see how many Christmas decorations were still up. By mid-January in Martin County all those decorations have been packed up for the next year. I was told in Puerto Rico some of the most religious people keep them up all the way until Easter.

When I heard about the tradition of leaving Christmas decorations up until Easter it made sense to me and made me think about how we celebrate holidays. We compartmentalize and celebrate Christmas and Easter as two separate events, but they are tied together. They are the celebrations of the beginning and end of Jesus’s life on earth. Hearing how they celebrate in Puerto Rico really made me want to change how we celebrate things here.

All of those fun Easter traditions that we celebrate have direct ties to Easter celebrations of the past. A quick search will tell you why we give hard boiled eggs and why we dye them, why we give sweet treats, and why we put all the goodies in baskets. A quick search will also tell you that the celebration of Easter is God ‘s fulfillment of his promise to send a King to free his people. Jesus was born in the lineage of David and of Abraham, two men to whom God promised through them the King would come.

“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28:5-6 KJV

He’s not there. He died for you and me and He lives today so that we also may live. He is alive!


David Hafner’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Business Development Board Bent

Joan Goodrich
Business Development Board of Martin County, CEO

With its reliance on teamwork, organization, communication and coolness under pressure, there’s little wonder why corporations often require their CEOs to undertake mountain-climbing training to sharpen their leadership abilities.

Such exercises also offer the built-in benefit of reaching the top and savoring—if only momentarily—the view, a parallel few companies can resist.

Locally, we’re short on mountains that we can bring business leaders to (unless you count Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park). But we can still bring the summit to them. That’s the intent with our 2023 BDB Leaders Summit from 8 a.m. to noon April 12 at Indian River State College’s Chastain Campus.

The Business Development Board of Martin County is blessed with easy accessibility to a sizeable and dynamic network of business leaders. In addition to our accomplished board of directors, we assembled the Partners Council—composed of our colleagues in the chambers, trade associations and Economic Council—as well as our Champions Council, Corporate Council, Talent Advancement Team, and the numerous small-business owners we’ve connected with through our Pulse visits.

The bonds that exist across these alliances form the foundation of our network which were also forged and fortified during the pandemic. In a movement we dubbed, “United Economic Leadership,” we came together to share information, strategize responses, and advance initiatives that upheld public safety while prioritizing the needs of local businesses.

The BDB Leaders Summit will give us a chance to come together again, sharpen our own individual skills and learn from respected voices about how we can tackle the challenges and embrace the opportunities facing our community.

The event will feature Peter Kageyama, an award-winning author and speaker who’s written several well-regarded books about the power of place, its effect on people and how to incubate and grow vibrant communities and strong economies.

The subjects in his book, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places, struck me as most likely to resonate with Martin County residents. The book explores how communities can effectively navigate contentious issues and challenging circumstances in a fashion that respects and incorporates the input of a broad range of stakeholders and produces outcomes all participants can appreciate.

Kageyama’s other titles include For the Love of Cities Revisited and The Emotional Infrastructure of Places.

Our Leaders Summit aims to promote dialogue and thought leadership. In addition to an economic development conversation, we’ll have addressing trends, opportunities, and ways to better compete for jobs and business investments, we’ll hear more about the flurry of activity in the Martin County Innovation Hub—a region near Witham Airport hosting some of our most dynamic enterprises, entrepreneurs, and innovators.

While Martin County’s economy encompasses the ideas, efforts and contributions of numerous business leaders, its strength—as we like to say—is everyone’s business. When we’re all pulling in the same direction and helping each other along the way, there’s really no limit to the heights we can reach.

Joan Goodrich’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Keep Martin Beautiful

Tiffany Kincaid
Keep Martin Beautiful, Executive Director


Martin County is a community known for environment conservation, advocating for clean water, and preserving our quality of life.

But protecting our community – and our planet – is no simple task. Keep Martin Beautiful is all about providing practical suggestions that can make a difference locally. And when combined with individuals taking action all over the planet, the results can be truly impactful!

In this column, I’ll dive into the history of Earth Day and then provide some helpful tips and upcoming events where you can get involved.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22nd to raise awareness and support for environmental protection and conservation. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 and was organized by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Nelson was motivated to create Earth Day after witnessing the devastating effects of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He was also inspired by Rachel Carson, whose book “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, is widely regarded as a catalyst for the modern environmental movement.

Earth Day 1970 – Help

On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest environmental degradation and demand government action. This massive mobilization helped push environmental issues to the forefront of national consciousness and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of landmark environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Since then, Earth Day has become an international event, celebrated in more than 190 countries around the world. This year, Earthday.org, the global organizer of Earth Day, chose Invest in our Planet as the theme.  The investment doesn’t need to be monetary. In fact, even more power and impact can come from the investment of your time, your thoughtfulness, and your influence as a consumer, a voter, and a community member.

Here are five ideas for making a good investment in the planet:

Hands holding and caring a green young plant

  • Plant a tree. Even better, plant an edible tree!
  • Become a citizen scientist. Volunteer with the Florida Oceanographic Society, ORCA or download the Global Earth Challenge app and measure air quality and plastics pollution in your community: https://www.earthday.org/campaign/global-earth-challenge/
  • Reduce your plastic consumption and waste. Plastic pollution is one of the most menacing environmental problems today. Each year, the average American generates about 88 pounds of plastic waste which can end up in our rivers and oceans and break down into microplastics that harm wildlife and human health.
  • Choose “sustainable” fashion over “fast” fashion. The fashion industry produces 150 billion garments each year and 87% wind up in landfills. Sustainable fashion is a movement that aims to minimize the negative impact of the fashion industry on the environment and promote ethical and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. Sustainable fashion encourages recycling and upcycling of materials and the use of organic and biodegradable materials as well as production processes that minimize water consumption and promote ethical and fair practices.
  • Join a local cleanup event through Keep Martin Beautiful’s Great American Cleanup. See more details below.

The Great American Cleanup (March to June) is the nation’s largest community improvement event, and many local groups have already conducted spring cleaning activities:

  • Rio Civic Club did their bi-annual Rio Nature Park Cleanup by trimming vegetation and removing litter from the area.
  • Treasure Coast Classical Academy’s Parent-Teacher Coalition swept through Stuart Beach in their most recent volunteer gathering.
  • Publix Super Markets Charities joined forces with us for a Stuart Beach cleanup.
  • City of Stuart and Students4H20 hosted their 9th Annual WaterFest event at Memorial Park on Saturday where Keep Martin Beautiful was an exhibitor along with 40 others!

Check out these upcoming events that all still need volunteers:

  • House of Hope – Gleaning on most Saturday mornings through April and May from 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. at the Growing Hope Farm, Palm City
  • The Nature Conservancy – Blowing Rocks Preserve Shoreline Cleanup on Sun., April 2 from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. at Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound
  • The Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast – Earth Fest on Sat., April 15 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at The Children’s Museum, Jensen Beach
  • Stuart Main Street – Sweeping the Streets on Sat., April 22 from 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., downtown Stuart
  • The Hobe Sound Chamber of Commerce & Jenkins Landscape – Live. Love. Local. Cleanup on Sat., April 29 from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. at Harry & The Natives, Hobe Sound
  • Martin County Public Works – Planting Day, Sat., May 13 from 8 a.m. – noon, Mary Brogan Park in Stuart
  • I-town My Town Community Revitalization Cleanup on Sat., May 13 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Booker Park in Indiantown

Working together, we can make even more of an investment in Martin County and our planet. To view a list of events and details go to keepmartinbeautiful.org/great-american-cleanup.

For more information contact Keep Martin Beautiful at 772-781-1222, email info@keepmartinbeautiful.org or visit keepmartinbeautiful.org.

Tiffany Kincaid opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Helping Hand

Suzy Hutcheson
Helping People Succeed, CEO


April Showers usually bring May flowers. At Helping People Succeed April Showers bring a month long “Baby Shower”. We are coordinating a month-long “Baby Shower” during the month of April, seeking baby necessities for families in need.

“April Showers” collection boxes have been placed in businesses throughout Martin County to be filled with such infant-related items as developmental toys, baby clothing, rattles, books, diapers, and wipes.

These contributed items will benefit children and families specifically served through our Healthy Families program, which offers support and services to families, with newborns, who may be experiencing stress in their lives that makes parenting more challenging.

These services are offered through home visits with a Family Support Specialist which may start before or shortly after the birth of a baby and can continue until the child’s 5th birthday.

The “April Showers” drive allows the community to provide these much-needed items to families who, in many cases, won’t have a traditional baby shower. Families who receive our donations are not only extremely excited but also, very grateful. To have everything you need such as diapers, wipes, baby clothes when you bring your beautiful new baby home is very special.

As a special treat this year, Thrivent will host a brunch on April 29 from 10:00 am through noon, here at our offices at 1601 NE Braille Place, Jensen Beach, for anyone donating a shower gift for a newborn. Give us a call at 772.320.0778 if you need additional information.

If you’re looking for a place to donate, Martin County locations for “April Shower” boxes are:

  • All Creatures Animal Hospital
  • Beachcomber Hair Salon
  • Becker Insurance Company
  • Brightway Insurance, The Moody Agency
  • Kimberly Dettori, DDS, MA, PA
  • Harbor Wear of Stuart
  • Helping People Succeed
  • Kinane Corporation
  • Martin County Clerk of the Court
  • Realty ONE Group Engage, Jensen Beach
  • Realty ONE Group Engage, Stuart
  • Sandhill Cove Retirement Living
  • Thrivent in Jensen Beach
  • Tootsies
  • Twinkles Jewelry & Gifts

A wish list and a list of these businesses along with addresses, can be found on our website at www.hpsfl.org.

April Showers has always been such a successful giving campaign for the families we serve! We are thankful to you, our community!

Suzy Hutheson’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Contemplative Christian

Chad Fair
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Pastor

“Nashville…Hot chicken,” was the call and response last year when we took our youth on a mission trip to Nashville Tennessee.  The staff would yell, “Nashville,” to get our attention and we would respond back, “Hot chicken!”  Since I’m a bit of a foodie, any trip must involve the local cuisine, in Nashville that’s Nashville Hot Chicken.

Unfortunately, Nashville was front and center for something other than delicious spicy chicken.  It wasn’t the cuisine or country music, rather Nashville was the latest community to be torn apart by another school shooting.  I must confess an initial sense of relief in learning that only three children and three adults were killed.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, every life is precious, and this latest tragedy is just that, a tragedy.  But my mind goes to previous school shootings such as Sandy Hook or Columbine, where the list of casualties was longer, and I am thankful the loss of life in Nashville didn’t reach double digits.  It’s sad that we’ve all had to conjure up a fake standard to make us feel less horrified by these events.

I’m not naive enough to think another school shooting will lead us to any meaningful conversation to address gun violence.  Blame the guns.  Blame the music.  Blame movies.  Blame the video games.  Blame mental health.  God being taken out of our schools.  Well, we’ve put age restrictions and content warning on music, video games, movies and are headed down the path of doing the same for books and guess what?  Gun violence and school shootings are still a common occurrence.

Removing God from school?  The idea that we somehow control where God is and is not shows a profound lack of understanding of God and gives humanity way more power than we actually have.  Personally, I’d rather see faith/God have a greater presence in homes than legislated into schools.

That leaves us with a conversation about access to guns and mental health.  Somehow these two issues are often pitted against each other as an either or rather than a both and.  What drives me absolutely bonkers is when we scream it’s not guns, it’s mental health, then cut funding for mental health programs.  If we want to point a finger at mental health, then let’s put our money where our mouth is.

I am not on team take away everybody’s guns, but I do think we need some common sense around the issue and several states moving toward permit less and open carry laws lack common sense.  Law enforcement will tell you going into an active shooter situation and not knowing who the “good guy with a gun” or “bad guy with a gun,” only complicates their job.

For some in this country guns have become a false idol, not like the Golden Calf in the sense that people are worshiping or praying to it, but they are putting guns above or on level with God.  The bumper sticker boldly claiming, “God and Guns,” has zero Biblical credibility.  I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian and own a gun, I’m simply saying they need to be held in proper order.

The second amendment is in the constitution not the Bible.  Just to be clear the right to bear arms isn’t one of The 10 Commandments but The Greatest Commandment is, simply stated, to love God and love your neighbor.  I know one column from a pastor in Palm City, Florida isn’t going to solve this complex issue.

But maybe as we enter into Holy Week, where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, we can all take a few moments to reflect on why.  Why would God send Jesus to endure the cross.  I just have a hard time believing it was so we could take each other’s lives whether by guns or any other means.  Every major religion has a common theme of caring for one another and valuing life.

Prior to last week, when I heard the word Nashville, my mind instantly responded, “hot chicken!”  Now it’s “Nashville…school shooting.”  I long for the days when my concern was how many Tums I would need after the meal.

Chad Fair’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Martin's Marine Industries

The Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast is committed to providing the most up-to-date information to our membership and the public regarding the upcoming FEC Stuart Railroad Bridge Closures.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently provided MIATC with the following schedule for the upcoming rehabilitation project:

Bridge Hunter

Overnight closures (8 p.m. to 6 a.m.) begin April 16 and end April 28. During this time, the drawbridge shall remain in the down position overnight; vessels able to pass beneath the drawbridge without an opening may do so at any time. The drawbridge shall remain open to allow for the passage of vessel traffic for one hour in the morning (6 to 7 a.m.) and one hour in the evening (7 to 8 p.m.). The drawbridge returns to normal operations at 7 a.m. April 28.

Full Closure of the drawbridge begins at 6 a.m. May 1 and remains in effect until 6 a.m. May 22. While the drawbridge remains in the down position; vessels able to pass beneath the drawbridge without an opening may do so at any time.

Overnight closures (8 p.m. to 6 a.m.) begin May 22 and end May 29. During this time, the drawbridge shall remain in the down position overnight; vessels able to pass beneath the bridge without an opening may do so at any time. The drawbridge shall remain open to allow for the passage of vessel traffic for one hour in the morning (6 to 7 a.m.) and one hour in evening (7 to 8 p.m.).

The drawbridge returns to normal operations at 7 a.m. May 29.

MIATC will continue to communicate with FEC, Brightline, USCG and USACOE, as well as federal, state, and local officials to monitor preparations for the project. MIATC will also continue providing updates and any related information about the project.

We would like to congratulate the City of Stuart for hosting Water Fest 2023 last month and thank you for allowing MIATC to participate. The event was well attended and was an ideal setting for the MIATC team to share information about 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, contact Justin Beard, Executive Director, at jbeard@miatc.org, 772-692-7599 or www.miatc.com.

Tom Whittington’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Humane Society of The Treasure Coast

Frank Valente
Humane Society of the Treasure Coast, President & CEO



If you love animals and want to make a difference, please consider becoming a volunteer at the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC). It will be one of the best decisions you ever made!


HSTC offers many opportunities to volunteer and support our organization and the animals.  These opportunities range from dog walking, cat care, critter care, thrift stores, events, spay and neuter, front desk administration, and so much more! There’s even take-home volunteer projects and media appearances that volunteers can be involved in through HSTC.


The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast simply could not operate at our current far-reaching level without our volunteers. Each year, the volunteers dedicate as many hours as paid staff to care for the well-being of animals who call HSTC home!  The shelter is fortunate enough to have a pack of more than 500 yearly volunteers, ranging in ages from 12 to over 90, who all together provide the organization with over 40,000 hours of service, annually. Even volunteers who are younger than 12 can still earn their volunteer hours by fostering pets in their home!


It’s not only the animals who benefit from a volunteers’ selfless acts – there’s no greater love than unconditional love, and that’s exactly what the volunteers will receive from the animals they care for each day.  Aside from bonding with the animals, volunteers will quickly make friends with other like-minded individuals and ultimately become part of the HSTC family.


The first step in getting started as a volunteer is to register for a Volunteer Orientation to learn more about our shelter’s programs and services, as well as volunteer requirements.  Pictures and videos are shown throughout orientation to help demonstrate what is expected.  Orientation that takes place during business hours will include a shelter tour so future volunteers can walk through and meet staff and the animals.  After the orientation, you will be contacted to schedule training in your preferred area.


Once training has been completed, it’s time to get started. HSTC can guarantee that you will make friends with the animals on your very first day!  Your view of animal shelters and rescues will expand tremendously. As a volunteer, you are part of the mission, team, and family. The reward of animal gratitude and affection is the best reward of all. Volunteers and supporters are the reason why HSTC can continue to save hundreds of lives year after year.


To learn more about volunteering at HSTC, and to sign up for orientation please visit www.hstc1.org/volunteer. You can also contact the Volunteer Program Manager, Laura Faber at 772-600-3214 or Lfaber@hstc1.org.


Frank Valente’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Water Corner

Walter Deemer
Martin County League of Women Voters, Co-Chair

The Martin County Chapter of the League of Women Voters is one of the 105 member organizations of the Rivers Coalition.

Thursday’s meeting was held at the St. Lucie Locks and Dam but was much different than our usual meetings in the Stuart City Hall; more like a rally, with many local environmentalists addressing the crowd. 

There was a major change from prior rallies. The Army Corps of Engineers, which not all that many years ago was referred to as an expletive at Rivers Coalition meetings, heard their efforts praised by several speakers. This new mutual Corps-Rivers Coalition respect was underscored by the presence of the first speaker, Brigadier General Daniel Hibner, the Corps’ South Atlantic District Commander.

Lt. Col. Polk, the District Commander, has ably represented the Corps at almost all of our monthly meetings of late as the Corps opened a line of communications between us. This, though, was the first time an officer with that high of a rank visited us.

Gen. Hibner opined that the St. Lucie River was “a national treasure” and stressed that the stakeholders needed to continue talking with, not at, each other. His pledge to keep the dialogue going on his part was warmly received.

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, an enthusiastic environmentalist and a member of the South Florida Water Management District’s Board of Governors, said that “we have made tremendous progress” during the last few years thanks to the cultural shift that has taken place at the Corps of Engineers [May I add, also at the Water Management District].

She noted, for example, that the current discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, which have been underway for two months, have been stopped three times when the presence of algae was observed. “This has never, ever, happened before.”

Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard also thanked the Corps of Engineers for their work with and communications with Martin County in her remarks.

Chris Collins, a Stuart City Commissioner, noted that there was currently a vacancy for the City Attorney position. “I would like to see an environmental attorney with litigation experience appointed.”

Eve Samples, the Executive Director of the Friends of the Everglades, noted that we know a lot more about health issues than we used to. She praised the fact that the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which will replace the one from more than ten years ago, has taken the toxic algae issue into consideration.  

Gil Smart, from VoteWater, said the “system” still operates in favor of Big Agriculture and Big Sugar. This is both “immoral and inequitable”, he said, adding that there needs to be a cultural change to address this.

Finally, Mark Perry from the Florida Oceanographic Society and the Rivers Coalition president said one of the biggest problems is the pollution flowing into Lake Okeechobee from the north. This, he emphasized, needs to be addressed and stopped. (“Why not require agricultural interests to keep all runoff on their own land?”, one attendee asked.)

In summary: There was widespread recognition and relief that after many decades of virtually nothing being done to address the harmful discharges into the St. Lucie Canal and River some progress is finally being made. This progress is due in large part to the cultural shift at the Army Corps of Engineers, which is now including health concerns as part of their overall analysis.

At the same time, there was an acute awareness that there is a long, hard road still ahead of us to get to our ultimate goals: Stop The Discharges and Send The Water South.

Walter Deemer’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors’ viewpoint.

Constitutional Corner And Other Government Notices

Supervisor of Elections

From Our Property Appraiser

Tax Collector

Clerk of the Court

Non Profit & Community Notices


The Sky’s the Limit for Students & Jobseekers

MARTIN COUNTY (March 31, 2023) — On April 19th, Sky Blue Jet Aviation will host a thrilling fundraiser to support the Stuart/ Martin County Chamber’s workforce development department. The event named for its boundless prizes, Sky’s the Limit, is presented by Treasure Coast Toyota and is open to the public. Guests will enjoy a live auction with Elliot Paul & Company and jet planes, fast boats, and glamourous cars on exhibit. Tickets are $10 and include appetizers, entertainment, and two drinks.

Unlimited chances to bid on vacations, electronics, unique experiences, recreational land, and more are not the only benefits to attending this exciting fundraiser at Witham Field. Supporting the event helps to strengthen and grow our local workforce.  Proceeds raised at Sky’s the Limit will benefit Career Connect Martin and scholarships for students of any age, seeking certifications in vocational and technical careers. Hosting an event at a local flight school makes for more than a thrilling backdrop. The location represents the aviation industry, just one of Martin County’s contributary industries with boundless high-paying career opportunities.

Sky’s the Limit is sponsored by Treasure Coast Toyota, Sky Blue Jet Aviation, Sovereign Yacht Sales, and Journaventure Travel & Tours. There will be entertainment and many ways to contribute including a Live Auction, Reach for the Sky Raffle and Lucky Draw. Guest arrival begins at 5:00 PM and the fun ends at 8:00 PM. Purchase tickets online at www.stuartmartinchamber.org.

Letters From Readers

I urge those who are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to TOM CAMPENNI or fill out the form on the website.

Letter from Patrick Armstrong

Correction: FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS Page 3 March 26, 2023 under IS THERE ANY WONDER WHY?

If there is, all one had to see was the vote last night for Stuart Cay. 

I believe it should be “Sailfish Cay”. “last night”  may be misleading dates are unknown

And my response

Yes, you are absolutely right, and I will correct and print this letter.


Next from Lynn McCauley


I am glad you informed us about the home rule issue and pending legislation at Tallahassee.  My husband and I attended a committee meeting not too long ago about it and the affordable housing that was at that time pending before the Senate.  Shortly after that we learned that the bill passed 40-0.  There were several of us who spoke against it at that meeting, but there seems to be no other action being taken from the grassroots level to oppose it.  If you know of anything being organized please let us know. 

Martin County




By Tom Hurley

Becker Companies, CEO

Lately, some well-meaning friends have sought to cheer me up after hearing about the recent recommended order in the legal challenge brought against the County’s proposed Rural Lifestyle land-use amendment to Martin County’s comprehensive plan.

They’re usually surprised by my thoughts. I’m neither disappointed nor dissuaded; I was encouraged by the judge’s recommended order and frustrated that the County’s legal team (and the people of Martin County) have been forced to play a petty game to bolster the ego and presumed political aspirations of activist Donna Melzer.

Martin County’s latest statement reads in part:

“The judge issued a Recommended Order based on evidence provided at the hearing and found that the petitioner failed to prove the challenged items with one small exception – a proposed community store. Martin County has reviewed the Recommended Order and is pleased the judge ruled in the County’s favor on all issues with one minor exception.”

Recently, a member of the local media presented me with a proposal. He suggested that the county “start over” with the amendment but fast-track approval—and even waive associated fees—of Atlantic Fields as a stand-alone project.

As the first project approved under Rural Lifestyle last September, Atlantic Fields is proposed for my family’s 1,500-acre property—formerly home to one of our citrus operations. We farmed the land for three generations until canker and greening decimated our crops. We pivoted, creating the Hobe Sound Polo Club, which hosts polo matches during the winter that the public is welcome to view for free.

I’ve proudly partnered with Discovery Land Company—originator of 24 exclusive luxury resort communities worldwide—on Atlantic Fields. As Discovery’s first community in Florida, Atlantic Fields’ 317 homes, based on today’s market activity, would generate more than $30 million in annual property taxes. One county commissioner equated that amount to the tax revenue derived from 8,000 homes

The billions of dollars that Atlantic Fields will generate in economic activity will create thousands of jobs, contribute to our local non-profits, and add more than $2.5 million a month in tax revenues for the County, which the legal challenge unfortunately delays.

Atlantic Fields commits to several high-quality public benefits in which we pledge to:

  • Donate our current equestrian center to the Florida Park Service as a comfort station.
  • Create a southern entry point to the 5,800-acre Atlantic Ridge State.
  • Restore a 125-acre wetland.
  • Relocate and donate the Hobe Sound Train Station—currently our office—to the Hobe Sound Historical Society as a museum of local history.
  • Strip future development rights from my 800-acre Becker Tree Farm and place them in permanent agriculture usage.

When we planted a grove in the citrus business, we didn’t get a crop for at least five years and didn’t get a return on our investment for at least twenty years. Our family’s approach to investing is similar—seeking slower but more reliable long-term gains over flashier, riskier investment trends promising quick riches. Perhaps this mindset—calculated risk conducted orderly—is why I’m glad we brought Atlantic Fields forward only after county approval of the Rural Lifestyle amendment.

The amendment keeps the urban service districts intact. It incentivizes landowners to donate minimum parcels of 500 acres for permanent preservation—and foot the bill to maintain them. Most importantly, the Rural Lifestyle—limiting the allowable zoning to one unit per 5 acres—is consistent with the current surrounding agricultural zoning.

Fortunately, the County successfully defended all the critical points of the amendment. The remedy is simple and will be reached expeditiously. We’re confident that the amendment will protect agriculture, preserve land, generate revenue with minimal impacts, and prove more beneficial to Martin County than the current options permit.

Tom Hurley’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

“What Is A Store In Western Martin County?”

Is Judge Ffolkes’ decision in the Rural Lifestyle land use trial a meaningful win for Ms. Melzer, the plaintiff, or a pyrrhic victory?

Ffolkes took 28 pages to state that having a convenience store for Discovery residents is a violation of the comp plan because it is a commercial venture. Except for that one exception, the developer’s use was acceptable, and the county commission did not exceed their authority in having the use. This decision is hardly going to stop a project that has reserved parcels totaling millions of dollars.

The simple thing to do would be to forward a text amendment removing the store. But is that the best thing for the developer, the county, or the Urban Services Boundary? That is what the county and developer are probably contemplating now.

Another question that needs to be answered is whether an appeal of the judge’s ruling and the text amendment can be done simultaneously? That would be what I would like to see done.

For the “store” is a de minimis and is not a commercial venture at all. It is there for the convenience of the residents and no one else. It is far from the classic definition of what a grocery store is. If anything, it could be argued that having the store is good for the environment and traffic since it keeps people off the roads.

One solution that I know is not a good one is to withdraw the Rural Lifestyle use and for Discovery to go in as a PUD exception. That ship has sailed. There is now too much at stake in western Martin County to allow each development to come in as a stand-alone project. There need to be rules and clarity for property owners. The badly named Rural Lifestyle land use is what will prevent sprawl from taking over.

When a developer brings a project under that amorphous PUD exception, it creates a precedent for other developers. PUDs will do nothing to keep the USB intact. The purpose of the Rural Lifestyle use was to have in place a way for non-functioning citrus land and farm owners to develop their property but still provide for open space with minimal impact to county services while also bringing in tax dollars.

Judge Ffolkes’ decision really did not stop much. It delayed the development now known as Atlantic Fields for sure, but county taxpayers are the ones that will suffer. This proposed community will have homeowners who have three other luxury homes just like the one in Discovery in other places.

I bet the management can afford to give away all the bread and milk that would have been purchased at the convenience store for free.

As Published in Martin County Moments 


By Kyla Shay

Trailside HOA President


2023 has started with a bang and a fire.  Yes, a real fire.

Nothing has changed in the hazardous, noxious activity in PalMar.

The native land including wetlands continues to be destroyed.  The shooting continues unabated and has even increased from previous levels.  This is not hunting. If they are hunting as some allege, they would have fully obliterated their targets, unless they are really, really poor shooters.

Over the past three months, we’ve had to call too many times about the shooting being very close to our border.  We have residences on the south, adjacent side who are afraid to let their children be outside. They are afraid to work on their lot and wetland, being adjacent to PalMar.

They cannot mow the field or trim the fence line for fear of being shot.  Bullet projectiles have crossed the canals into our property.  Is this fair?  Is it right that we are forced to live in fear and exercise extreme caution because the Martin County Sheriff’s Office will not enforce any laws within PalMar?  The Sheriff’s office is supposed to protect all citizens.  However, Trailside is an island that is consistently ignored.

The Sheriff’s department cannot do trespass arrests or cite anyone in PalMar.  Why?  They don’t know who owns what!  Nothing is surveyed.  Nothing is posted “no trespassing.”  If it were posted, the signs would likely not stay up very long.

For example, this “do not shoot north” sign which was posted last year got pushed down (or… “run down”) then marked up with a derogatory “Karen” comment, then unmarked, then shot up and pitched into the swamps.  In just five weeks’ time:

The Sheriff’s department is ineffectual, and says they can’t help us in any way, shape, or form.  We are just sitting ducks here or moving targets—depending on the day.  Why can’t the MC Sheriff’s department cite people driving motorized vehicles for DUI’s?  Are they not willing to enforce the State of Florida laws?  No answers are ever given to us.

On March 23, 2023, at 11:00 am we glanced to the south and witnessed a large plume of smoke from PalMar.  Several residents of Trailside called in.  (NOTE THIS:  911 dispatch is not even aware of where PalMar is.)  They want a specific address.  Well, we don’t have one. We just give our address and say, “keep driving down Pratt-Whitney Road, Martin County Fire/Rescue should see it.  The woods are on fire.   Bring the brush truck. Call Forestry. You are going to need them.”


Forestry and Martin County Fire were dispatched and fought valiantly to contain the fire.  It was a difficult scene.  From Trailside, we heard the propane tanks exploding.  Propane tanks that have no permit and should not be in PalMar.  It is not permitted as a permanent hunting camp nor a residential area.  We heard multiple tanks exploding from the campsites as the fire engulfed the trailers.  Television news crews interviewed persons who admitted they lived permanently within “Hungryland Trails” their catch phrase for PalMar.

I have left messages with the State Fire Marshall who is investigating the fire in PalMar as potential arson from what I am told.  No answers.  I guess it’s an active investigation.  It will probably get nowhere as did the investigation of the last fire in PalMar two years ago on March 17, 2021.  Nothing could be proven in that investigation; I am not expecting anyone to be held accountable for this one either.  Pessimistic?  Yeah, we all have had practice and have been let down by all the agencies involved in this PalMar disaster.  Consistently!

We have called Martin County Commissioners.  We have e-mailed each and every one of them.  I sent a series of questions, photos, and requests on March1, March 10, March 23, March 25, March 26, March 28 and April 2.  I’ve had no responses.  I have sent emails to Don Donaldson and other staff for an update on March 10 and March 26.  No response.

I have called FWC.  They are sending officers as available to check permits.  They did this weekend.  There was an ATV racing event even advertised for PalMar.  There’s a large area cleared adjacent to Trailside’s western boundary.  Is this the new racetrack?  FWC issued warnings and wrote citations.  We have had updates and contact with officials from FWC.  They state it is a work-in-progress and for us to hang in there.  The Regional Commander for FWC is not invited to meetings of other officials discussing the PalMar problems.  Why not?

SFWMD- Nothing new to report here.  No updates on the enforcement in PalMar.  All that is there is new damage to SFWMD (i.e. Florida State owned) land in PalMar.  SFWMD is waiting on DEP to investigate and do something.  It’s like waiting for rain this year.  Years and months have gone by, and DEP has done not one single thing.  Why?  They are short staffed. There are not enough investigators we are told.  They are aware and are very concerned.  My response… That’s a really good, canned message.

Governor DeSantis has been emailed for a year and telephone calls have been made to his office.  Not one staff member has had a moment of time to reach out and discuss our concerns about a systemic failure of multiple government systems.

Overall, a less than adequate performance has been issued by Martin County Sheriff’s Department, SFWMD, DEP, Martin County Administrative Staff, and our very own Martin County Board of County Commissioners.  We are asked to hang on, wait another month, and maybe just maybe something will change or not.  So exactly what is going on?  Will there ever be a resolution?

Kyla Shay’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.




I have written about PalMar for well over a year.

Over and over, I have emphasized the illegal development that has happened without building permits. There are no roads in the area. And there never will be because of current codes. Just like nothing can be built in PalMar or Hungryland as it is sometimes called. That is the way it was meant to be.

In both TCPalm and the local tv stations last week, they covered the 800-acre wildfire and kept referring to “residents” who had lost their homes and hunting camps. Legally speaking, everything that the fire consumed in that area should have never been there…not a trailer, a generator, a lean-to, or a well.

I have worked with the residents of Trailside, and they have taken hundreds of photos documenting this illegal activity. Martin County is aware of this unlawful activity and has begun to code enforce, but by the time any significant progress is made, this treasure that was always intended to remain pristine will be an illegal environmental mess.

Just imagine if you decided to erect a house on a vacant parcel on Mapp Road in Palm City without a permit. How long do you think it would be before the county would put a stop work order in place. Why are there two standards of justice? In PalMar, officials are threatened and ignored. Where is the sheriff?

We have all seen what happens during public comment when citizens speak to the commission. If 5 people show up, then things happen. Where are all the self-proclaimed environmentalists? This is truly an environmental wonder that is being destroyed even though Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District are the biggest landowners.

There is an election in 2024 for Commissioners Jenkins, Ciampi, and Smith. They all profess to be champions of the environment. I don’t know about you, but we should hold those three plus Heard and Hetherington responsible for what they do to return this area to what was intended. Much is riding on keeping this as a natural area for wildlife and the environment, native plant species and wetlands.

We now have visual as well as people speaking about their illegal acts to the media. Should the county continue to let it slide because the property is out of sight to almost all residents? Friends of the Everglades, Audubon, 1000 Friends of Florida, The Guardians of Martin County, and all other supposed conservationists, this is your fight. Don’t you collect donations for just this purpose?

Kyla Shay and the rest of the Trailside homeowners have been warning about this for years. I started writing because of the dangerous gunfire into Trailside from these illegal PalMar residents. After going out to PalMar and seeing the devastation of a wetland, that devastation is equally as important to stop. The time for our local government’s needed action is now.

As Published in Martin County Moments



 The board met after a three-month hiatus because members were unavailable. This board tends to change or cancel meeting dates if a member is on vacation. I can’t understand why it would not meet on the days that they have on their published calendar. To board members who are serving, meetings shouldn’t be seen as an afterthought.

In January after a motion was made by Board Member Heard, the board instructed staff to remove the illegal culvert and gate from the border of Trailside and Pal Mar. Although the gate is still there, the culvert was removed the day before the meeting according to the president of the Trailside Homeowners.

It is possible they would not have removed it at all if Kyla Shay hadn’t sent me an email with pictures the week before. I forwarded them to Heard with a note. Perhaps she intervened or Pal Mar’s director decided to finally do something about a board directive from months ago. The emails and pictures can be seen below in a report after this section.

Vice-Chair Stokus made a motion to hire Tim Wallace Lawn Service as the district’s new mowing contractor. The motion was seconded by Heard. The bid of $3 from the current contractor, Zach Gazza’s Lumberjack Land Management LLC, was rejected. Chair Marino didn’t believe that it was a real bid. She said there had to be something else he was receiving from the district since this was not adequate compensation.

Board Member Lew Lolmaugh felt the work outlined in the RFP would be done too often. Stokus amended his motion to allow for the director and Lolmaugh to negotiate a contract with Wallace that is more in line with what they believe is the appropriate schedule and bring it back to the board for ratification. The vote was 4-1 with Board Member Berman dissenting.

One of the most perplexing issues to me, Trailside, and the public is the Sheriff’s Department disappearance from law enforcement in Pal Mar. We have written about how 24-7 gunfire comes from Pal Mar into Trailside. The deputies say it is legal to shoot on your own property. But the deputies claim they can’t trespass anyone because the land is not posted. How does a deputy know it is the shooter’s land then? Joseph Heller’s character Yossarian in the novel “Catch 22” would understand this dilemma completely.

At the last meeting three months ago, the board asked that staff come back with a price for employing off-duty deputies to protect the “works of the district.” The price is $60 per hour per deputy. The Chief Deputy will only allow it if there are two deputies working together. It is too dangerous otherwise. (I guess for Trailside residents, the shooting and intimidation from Pal Mar isn’t serious and dangerous.) After discussion, the board wanted to have deputies starting at 8 hours per weekend which is $960 for two deputies.

Deputy Andy Smith spoke about what the department can and cannot do. Berman asked whether a family driving on a berm in their golf cart would be considered hurting the “works of the district.” Smith said no. Stokus then asked whether a deputy would step in if the driver was drinking a 40-ounce beer with his two kids in the back seat. The answer was “it depends.”

A few weeks ago, 800 acres of Pal Mar burned. The illegal buildings, shacks, generators, and propane tanks caught fire. None of those things are allowed in Pal Mar. Firefighters risked their lives to make sure people were safe and evacuated.

People had no business having these structures on their property (or more probably someone else’s property). If property lines are so blurred that the county and SFWMD can’t delineate their own property lines with multi-acres, then how is someone who bought a quarter acre without a plat able to do so?

The next meeting will be May 4th and the annual landowners June 1st.


A significant development occurred to preserve the environmentally sensitive Pal Mar lands on April 5th.

SFWMD and FWC manage the public lands in Pal Mar. They do so subject to leases between the two entities. A letter was sent to FWC from SFWMD informing them that they are in violation of the leases.

The leases call for the management of these sensitive lands “only for the conservation and protection of natural and historical resources and for resource-based public outdoor recreation that is compatible with the conservation and protection of the lands, as set forth in sections 259.032 and 373.1391, Florida Statutes.”

The permits that have been issued by FWC for vehicle access have resulted in adverse impacts to “the natural habitat and resources, which contravenes the FWC and District Leases, Florida law, and the Land Management Plan required by Chapter 259.032, Florida Statutes.”

SFWMD has asked that permits not be issued or renewed, and existing ones be revoked. That doesn’t mean landowners can’t access their property in Pal-Mar according to the letter which states, “Thank you for your continued support in allowing passive, non-vehicular recreational use within Pal-Mar in accordance with Chapter 40E-7, Florida Administrative Code.”

Speaking to Martin County officials, they believe the main gate off Beeline will be closed to all vehicular traffic.

This is the first step in returning Pal-Mar to what it had been for generations. Instead of a shoot- ‘em-up fantasy world for would be Daniel Boones, it goes back to being an oasis from modern Florida to that of 100 years ago. Only true environmentalists and campers will hike in and discover nature’s wonders.

You can find the letter here

My Email To Commissioner Heard


I received these photos from Trailside which is, as you know, adjacent to PalMar.

At the last PalMar Board meeting I believe you made a motion which passed to have the illegal culvert and gate removed. PalMar staff and their contractor stated it would be no problem to have done. I remember the staff said within a week.

According to the photos nothing has changed since the meeting in January. And while no one likes to blame staff in the case of PalMar they seem to be unaccountable to the management board. If the county administrator or attorney so blatantly ignored the commission’s policy directives, they would not have their jobs for very long.

With the recent wildfires 800 acres burned. The remarkable thing was the news media portrayed those that suffered losses as residents. Anything from a lean-to to a trailer should never have been in there. It’s all illegal!

If someone built a structure on a lot they owned in Salerno or Rocky Point without permits, the county would be all over the person responsible. Then why is everyone at the county allowing this to occur as if those owners are different.

We may at times disagree on development projects but as to the sanctity of the IRL, LoxaLucie, and PalMar we are agreed. We cannot allow this desecration to continue. This is our Martin County heritage, and we hold a sacred trust to preserve these lands for the future. Once they are gone, we will not have them back.

Thank you.


———- Forwarded message ———
From: trailsidehoa@yahoo.com <trailsidehoa@yahoo.com>
Date: Fri, Mar 24, 2023 at 11:21 AM
Subject: Fw: PalMar Culvert into Trailside.
To: FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS OF MARTIN COUNTY <thomasfcampenni@gmail.com>

As you can see, a violation notice has been posted on the PalMar side.  The culvert is still intact.  The locks are dummy locked giving anyone access to our gated community.




City of Stuart


Stuart Commissioner Campbell Rich, Sewall’s Point Commissioner Kaija Mayfield, Indiantown Mayor Susan Gibbs-Thomas, and Mayor Karen Ostrand will explain how Tallahassee is removing your rights from determining what goes on where you live.

I will moderate the event. Come and learn what you need to understand.


The alley in the CRA between Joan Jefferson Way and West Ocean Blvd was beautifully redone and was named for recently deceased local historian, Alice Luckhardt. The motion passed 5-0.

Alice Luckhardt

When it was discussed at the CRB meeting, I said I hoped we could find something more appropriate for Alice. I guess the staff could not. That is too bad. While the alley is nice…it still is an alley.

The “Sign Up & Save Program” is back beginning April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024. The program allows Stuart residents the opportunity to sign up for sewer hook-up at reduced rates. If a resident signs up during the year, the price is $8,000 which is financed for several years on their utility bill instead of the usual $10,000. Residents may also pay $7000 up front which would allow them to receive a total discount of $3000 off the price.

There is also a discount for small businesses. The motion passed 5-0.

In a 5-0 vote, the Stuart City Commission decided to hire Paul Nicoletti as their interim city attorney even though he will be out of town for about half the initial contract period. They will pay him $200 per hour. There is a clause in the agreement obligating the city to pay its share of payroll taxes. He also will participate in other benefits including the health center while he is employed. Though not stated in the contract, he is being treated as a part-time employee.

When hiring him, the commission made much of the fact that what he billed was less than others would charge. The Human Resources Department even presented a chart purporting to show what a great deal the city made. The chart can be found here

And the contract here

During discussion, it was amazing how the commissioners were thrilled with this arrangement. And there would be nothing wrong with the arrangement if Nicoletti were going to be present in the office or at least in Martin County…but he isn’t. The commission made a big deal out of the chart. However, it doesn’t give a true picture of costs. It is comparing apples to oranges.

Paul Nicoletti

Did staff telephone any of the possible other attorneys who could have done the job and ask what they would charge? They apparently called some friendly HR people in other cities and gathered some incomplete data to bolster the narrative that the commission wanted.

Rich even asked Mike Mortell about not being in Stuart for most of June. Mortell, without specifying why, said he had planned to be working remotely and would be available by Zoom for the meetings. Mortell said now because of being interim manager, he would need to attend meetings in person.

In fact, Mortell will be out of the office for most of June because, as the city’s attorney, he will be representing Stuart in a trial regarding the pollution of our drinking wells with PFOA. The trial is scheduled from June 4th to June 28th in Charleston S.C. If successful, the city will receive millions of dollars as part of a comprehensive national settlement. Because of the complicated nature of the litigation, Mortell will still represent the city but fly back and forth between Charleston and Stuart. He is representing the city even though he is no longer the city attorney because of his knowledge regarding the case.

The list really is no comparison because Nicoletti is an employee of the city. The fees listed don’t differentiate between employees and outside attorneys. As an employee he is not using his own office where he pays expenses or has employees. Yet there is a cost involved to the city beyond his hourly wage for benefits and office expense that is completely being overlooked.

It isn’t Paul Nicoletti’s fault in trying to get the most he can receive for his effort. Would the city commission be so cavalier if they were spending their own money? Hiring Nicoletti was an easy out requiring no thought…and that is what they gave it.

A smile and a wink, and a “good ole boy” handshake. That is what the commission did here. Collins is supposedly the guy who claims to look after the taxpayer and is always speaking about the ROI. In most of his actions, Rich has spoken about fairness, but in this case, there is no fairness to the taxpayer. The other three (McDonald, Bruner, and Clarke) perhaps have been commissioners too long or believe that they are part of the network of insiders who can do things that we residents will ignore.

There has not been something so egregious since the commission decided to give themselves a huge raise a few years ago without any public input. They used the same methodology of a chart from HR showing how underpaid they were, which turned out to be incorrect. They should repudiate their actions, or the voters may do it for them at next year’s election and the one after that.

On another note, years ago the almost two-acre city owned parcel on Federal Highway north of the Roosevelt Bridge was carved out of the Haney Creek Preserve. It has been vacant since 2011. There was a referendum in 2012 where over 80% of the voters gave the city the authority to rent the property and use the proceeds to maintain the rest of the preserve.

An unsolicited offer to place two restaurants on the site has brought this to the forefront. At one point, a hotel operator was interested, but it did not proceed. Gas stations are prohibited on the site.

It was a faulty strategy to begin with that hasn’t gotten better over time. It is much too small for any proper development and too large to sit there. A couple of years ago, a nonprofit wanted to build affordable housing but could never muster the where-with-all to get the project off the ground. And if that were not bad enough, Stuart is responsible for all the maintenance of the preserve, but Martin County is also involved. Stuart has placed their part of the preserve in conservation, but the county has yet to do so.

Current City Attorney Mortell believes a referendum is in order if the commission wishes to place the piece into conservation. He said half-jokingly that Nicoletti would spend at least his first 10 hours figuring that out. The commission is not up to making any decisions including renting to fast food restaurants that will inflame the non-city residents of North River Shores.

The decision on the offer was tabled until research was done on the referendum status and whether one or two were needed. If there are two, then the cost would be about $50,000. Earlier bad decisions have a way of rearing their ugly heads.

The commission now needed to decide on the half unit controversy.

Every commissioner except Campbell Rich should never utter the words “affordable housing” and their desire to see it happen again. By their actions at this meeting, they have consigned development of this type of housing by the private sector to never being built without using the recently passed pre-emption known as Senate Bill 102 or the “Live Local Act”.

I agreed with the aims of the code being more transparent when it came to the definition of half units. And I agreed with making those half units smaller in order to qualify for the designation. What is totally perplexing is increasing the amount of parking needed to build those units. By doing so, the city commission has added thousands of dollars to the cost of each unit.

Chris Collins spearheaded the effort in his mission to see only single-family housing built in the city. I don’t agree with Collins philosophically on this issue, but I understand where he is coming from…Stuart for rich people. His is an idealized small-town vision that is more Disney Main Street than the homes of working people and young professionals just starting out.

I understand Campbell Rich’s motivation for trying to incentivize building housing for young people, working people such as waitresses and retail clerks, and those who need a good place to live that is affordable. What I don’t understand are the motivations of Bruner, Clarke, and McDonald. They didn’t seem to be consistent with what they say about keeping Stuart affordable for everyday folks.

The commission lessened the square footage that was required to be called a half unit from 900 sq. ft. to 500 sq ft. and for a 3/4 unit from 1100 sq. ft. to 700 sq. ft. I do believe those size reductions are appropriate. They also put a cap of 45 units per acre which also makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the increased parking requirements…1.25 spaces per 1⁄2 unit, 1.5 spaces per 3/4 unit, and 2 spaces over 700 sq. ft.

It appears to me that more land will be needed for parking than for living which makes the rents skyrocket for the very people who can least afford it. Say goodbye to anything that is affordable. Any professional planner…whether in Martin County, Florida, the US, or the world…is looking to reduce parking requirements. Here in good old 1950s Stuart, we want to make sure more valuable land is set aside for that purpose.

In a vote of 4-1 with Rich dissenting, the Stuart City Commission decided not to build for a diversity of residents. And for this classification of housing, they decided to make parking restrictions even more stringent than for other types of multi-family housing. Good job in making the city even less attractive to anyone but those with money who can afford more than one car.

Martin County School Board


I went to high school decades ago. Many things have changed in schools and in the country in the ensuing years. Yet there are many similar problems that students faced then and now. What has changed is the response of society.

In the 1960s everyone smoked. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and even students. One of the favorite places to do so then and apparently now is in the school restroom. Cigarettes have given way, for the most part, to vaping. Occasionally, when I went to school, someone would light up a joint and from the discussion of the board, I heard them acknowledge that it still goes on today.

Smoking is anything but universal now. The CDC estimates that 12.5% of Americans still can be classified as smokers. About 20% of Americans, mostly younger people, use vaping products. While smoking cigarettes by kids is far less prevalent, vaping is not. And just as we migrated to the restroom to have a few puffs back then, young people today are using the restroom to take a few hits of their e-cigarette.

That apparently is where the similarity ends. Students in Martin County will flush their spent vaping cartridges down the toilet causing major damage to the plumbing system. So much so that some rest rooms are now closed, and others have long lines as a result.

The closures and lines are because there are not enough bathroom monitors to prevent the vaping and other damaging behavior. Scarce dollars are being spent to pay an adult to watch students in the restrooms. Does anyone find that disturbing? Or is it another sign of our modern school system and how it has developed?

I don’t know what the punishment is, but there is something wrong with a society that has its kids damaging the restrooms by ripping sinks off walls (which is apparently being done) in addition to vaping. I would hope that property destruction is less prevalent than throwing things down toilets.

Bathroom for men, especially clean, spacious

When I was in high school, there was no age limit to buy a pack of cigarettes. Today there is. The same goes for vaping products. In our puritanical way, society thinks that by outlawing a product, it solves a problem. It doesn’t. Our banning mentality has come so far that we place monitors in bathrooms. Apparently, children who will soon be classified as adults can’t be trusted to begin to act in that manner.

Parents should stop worrying about banning literature and lay down rules for their children to follow with certain punishments if caught disobeying rules. The same needs to be done by the school board. It is absolutely absurd to have to be monitored while doing “your business” in a school lavatory.

Town of Sewalls Point


The meeting was all about the trees.

There hasn’t been one as contentious free as this in quite a while. For about an hour and a half the commission discussed the town’s trees and what they mean to themselves and the public. There were no decisions made and the commission decided to discuss it further at another meeting.

If we take sewer and roads off the table, the town perhaps to use Commissioner Campo’s favorite expression really can be a bit of Mayberry.

Village of Indiantown

The next meeting will be April 13th.

Town of Ocean Breeze

The town will hold its first regular evening council meeting April 10th at 6 pm.

Town of Jupiter Island


The meeting began with Mayor Pidot gaveling the commission into session.

He was given a well-deserved congratulatory resolution and symbolic key to the town on this his last day on the board. The commission motioned to approve the minutes from the previous meeting. They also motioned to certify the results of the election of Anne Scott, Tim Smith, and Marshall Field for new four-year terms.

Re-elected commissioners Penny Townsend and Moira Collins were sworn in for their new two-year terms. Anne Scott also took the oath of office. The three then sat on the dais. Both Smith and Field were on the phone. It was decided that Smith could actively participate as a commissioner. He was attending telephonically because his brother had passed away unexpectantly.

The town attorney, Tom Baird, filling in for Skip Randolph, cited several attorney-general opinions which said it was fine for Smith to do so since it was an emergency. Field was in Africa and therefore it was deemed not an emergency so he could not vote.

No mention was made regarding Smith having not been sworn in before leaving town, which should affect not only participating in commission discussions but also voting. It is my understanding that you cannot take the oath of office remotely. Smith’s vote should not be counted.

I am not sure whether the meeting was lawful given the set of facts. Field did not vote but he participated in lengthy discussions without being sworn in. It looks like this commission won’t let many things get in their way of obtaining their goals.

Townsend was chosen as mayor. The motion was made by Collins and seconded by Scott. It passed 4-0 with Smith voting. Scott made a motion for Field to be vice mayor which Smith seconded (without being sworn in, can he do that?). It passed 4-0 with Smith voting.

The board set the next three dates of their meetings which are April 24th, May 18th, and June 12th.

A discussion regarding continuing to employ lobbyists to plead the town’s case in Tallahassee occurred. The discussion was in regard to what is considered a glitch bill to rectify a ruling by the appeals court on adjourning meetings without readvertising. It was a case brought against the town by the Testa family that resulted in the ruling.

It is a common practice to adjourn the item to a date certain when a matter cannot be voted upon. That practice began so that the applicant would not need to readvertise the matter. The Florida Legislature then introduced bills in both the House and Senate correcting this, not only going forward but retroactively, so that perhaps thousands of local government decisions couldn’t be challenged. The bill in the Senate then had a provision inserted that the bill does not apply to pending litigation. The only pending litigation is the Testa case against Jupiter Island.

The dispute goes back to moving the dune line for building. Whether it should have been done or not can be debated. Now that it has been moved, there are property owners who would be deprived of their right to build if the line was returned to the old boundary. The election that swept the three new commissioners into office is partially about this line. Scott, Smith, and Field along with Townsend would not have moved it.

Stopping the lobbyists from pushing to remove the section of the bill about pending litigation will result in the continuation of the court battle. And I would imagine the new majority will be instructing staff to discontinue fighting that decision in court. Even if Testa prevails and the line reverts to the earlier version, the litigation is far from over.

Jupiter Island Sky View

There are several landowners ready to file suits and seek damages. Ethan Loeb, their attorney, is probably ready to sue Jupiter Island for depriving his clients of their property rights. He is very good at his job.

During the election, he wrote a letter to every town resident regarding what resulted when Scott was on the county commission and her actions with the Lake Point debacle. Loeb represented Lake Point. It ultimately cost the county millions of dollars.

Scott made the motion to stop lobbying until a shade meeting can be held after the April 24th meeting to explain the need. It was seconded by Smith. It passed 3-1 with Collins dissenting.

Scott wants to go out for an RFP to obtain service for a new town attorney. She said, “Let’s give Randolph a resolution thanking him for his service.” She, along with Field and Smith, want it on the agenda for the April 24th meeting. I was told that Randolph’s firm has resigned.

Final Thoughts


This edition is hitting your mailbox on Easter Sunday. Though I hope you enjoy reading Friends & Neighbors, today is the holiest day in the Christian liturgical calendar. It is the day that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion on Good Friday.

We are in the middle of Passover, the feast where Jews celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is when God spared the first born of Israel from death. Moses took his people into the desert and finally pointed them to the promised land.

In the Islamic calendar, this is still Ramadan. A month of ingesting no food or drink from sunrise to sunset. Extra time is spent in prayer and recital of the Quoron.

The three great monotheistic faiths have many of the same figures from the bible. While the number of Jews worldwide is small, both Christianity and Islam have many of their underpinnings based in Judaism. The rituals may be different but faith in the one and true God is paramount.

Religion has been the prime motivator of more wars than probably any other factor in world history. More death and destruction have occurred in the name of God and to what end? My God is a lover not a fighter. Jesus teaches us to turn our cheek in his “Sermon on The Mount.”

Easter represents God’s Son, Jesus, being resurrected after suffering and dying for our sins. While nowhere in the Bible is there an exact verse of “Hate the sin but not the sinner,” there is ample demonstration of that principle. It is St. Augustine who wrote “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” “Hate the sin but not the sinner” is from Mohandas Gandhi’s writings who was a Hindu.

One can pray and praise the Lord in many ways this Sunday morning. There is no exclusivity in this except to accept His divinity. As a believer in a one true God, there are many paths to expressing that belief. For Christians, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the core of our religion. The reason we can enter His Kingdom. As a Christian I am thinking about that this Easter morning.

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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: thomasfcampenni@gmail.com


Stuart Commissioner Campbell Rich, Sewall’s Point Commissioner Kaija Mayfield, and Mayor Karen Ostrand will explain how Tallahassee is removing your rights from determining what goes on where you live.

I will moderate the event. Come and learn what you need to understand.

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