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Items filtered by date: November 2015
Thursday, 31 December 2015 11:37

2015 Sets Record for Panther Deaths

2015 has not been a good year for the Florida Panther. Already one of the most critically endangered species in the world, the small group of big cats still clinging to survival in our state has slowly clawing its way back since its nadir in the 1970s, when only 20 adult panthers were thought to have remained in the wild.


Conservation efforts have brought the species back to a degree, with numbers estimated to be around 100 to 160 in the wild in recent years, but is still vulnerable, with much of its territory overlapping with human development and traffic.

Tragically, this past year saw a record number of panther deaths caused by traffic. As of the week of Christmas, 40 panther deaths were recorded throughout 2015, with 29 of those deaths being a result of collisions with vehicles. The latest death was on December 21st, when a one-year-old male panther was struck by a car in Collier County.

These numbers have not gone unnoticed on the federal level, as Vern Buchanan, the U.S. Representative of Florida’s 16th district, has asked that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set aside land that can serve as critical habitat for the species.

“Each year, the Florida panther population continues to shrink in size as more big cats are hit and killed by cars because they lack a safe habitat,” Buchanan said. “Although these panthers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they face extinction because they have no protected area to live and repopulate. We should not stand by and do nothing as yet another endangered species is wiped off the earth. We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

Earlier in December, Buchanan joined with several other of the State’s U.S. Representatives in order to produce a letter asking President Barack Obama for further protections for the endangered cat.

“The Florida panther is one of the most endangered species in the world as less than 180 of them survive today,” the letter read. “As you know, the two greatest threats to the Florida panther are the loss of habitat and automobile-related deaths, both of which are caused by increased development in environmentally sensitive areas. The best available science suggests that current lands in conservation do not provide enough suitable habitat area to support even the limited number of existing panthers. Further, on November 28th, two more panthers were killed by cars.

“As members of the Florida delegation, we are writing to request your support in establishing a critical habitat designation for the endangered Florida panther,” it continued. “The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1973, but critical habitat has never been established, even though the Endangered Species Act includes a requirement for the designation of critical habitat for endangered species. In other words, the Florida panther is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, unfortunately its home is not.

“It is of great importance to designate a critical habitat not only because it would preserve and encourage the growth of the current population of Florida panthers, but also because it would help to protect other valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer-recharge areas, drinking water supplies and the habitat of other endangered species. At the top of the food chain, Florida panthers help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy. Moreover, a designation of critical habitat does not mean that no further development is allowed in an area, it simply requires additional review when projects requiring federal permits would impact habitats considered essential to preventing the Florida panther from going extinct.

“We urge you to ensure the continued existence of the Florida panther and the preservation of Southwest Florida’s natural resources and unique character by supporting the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther,” the letter concluded. “Thank you for your time and consideration. The decision to take action now will provide a historic opportunity for protecting the Earth’s most endangered ‘umbrella species’ – the Florida panther.”

Staff Report

Published in General/Features

 

For all of its triumphs and tumult, 2015 will be a year of potentially far reaching impacts on the years to come, both globally and locally. From voter discontent fueling the rise of candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, to radical fundamentalists with eyes on monolithic societies spilling their hatred and intolerance into the melting pots of the west, many of the threads that made up the past year still continue to the cusp of 2016 and beyond. The upcoming presidential election is still up in the air, as the often predicted demise of Trump’s campaign now looks like the wishful thinking of the kingmakers and political insiders.


However, many major local events of the past year will also remain prominent into the New Year, with home rule of municipalities on trial in several different arenas throughout Lee County.

The most obvious example of this is the tribulations arising from several Florida cities passing fracking bans this past year, in the face of opposition from the state. Taking the lead was Bonita Springs, where the issue dominated their summer sessions. What brought the matter to the forefront was when citizens began to fear that Collier Resources was going to use the controversial process of Hydraulic fracturing on undeveloped land within their city’s limits to get at gas & oil beneath the surface.

This led to action by the Bonita Springs Council to head the company off at the pass, voting unanimously to approve an ordinance this past July that would ban fracking. And while many of the citizens present at the vote were jubilant at the vote, applauding the Council vigorously for their action, it did not take long for state-level players to show their hand.

In September, before summer had ended, State Representative Ray Rodrigues introduced HB 191, a bill pertaining to the Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources. I previous version of the bill had died in the Florida Legislature when their spring session abruptly ended over a health care showdown between the House and the Senate.

A key difference between 191 and its previous iterations was far strongly language when it came to dealing with home rule decisions concerning oil extraction techniques. The brief of the bill read “Preempts regulation of all matters relating to exploration, development, production, processing, storage, & transportation of oil & gas; declares existing ordinances & regulations relating thereto void;” which seemed aimed at municipalities exercising their own laws in order to decide what extraction would be allowed within their jurisdictions.

“The state already retains the authority for regulation,” Rodrigues told the Sun Bay Paper this past September. “Counties and municipalities do not have the authority to grant or deny permitting in this area.”

Since its introduction to committees, the response from many cities, including Bonita Springs, has been strong. As such, Rodrigues and the Legislature has been working with the Florida League of Cities to amend some language in the bill, but it remains to be seen if these changes have any tempering effect on the initial aim of 191.

The Bill will most likely come to the floor of the Legislature sometime after their new session begins in January, and unless the session collapses unexpectedly like it did the year before, a fight could be brewing between Florida and its individual cities.

In the shadow of this bill, Estero also passed a fracking ban to close out the year, making what is perhaps the biggest decision of the Village’s young life. It was a unanimous decision by the elected body that once again came to great public approval, with numerous residents from Estero, Bonita Springs, and Naples taking the podium to voice their support for the ban.

The decision came in the wake of the Council getting multiple perspectives on the matter from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, who were opposed to the practice due to the many dangers it potentially poses to the local fresh water supply, and Ray Rodrigues, who gave a presentation at a November work session in defense of his bill.

Ultimately, the Council was moved by the environmental concerns, and now stand with Bonita Springs as a municipality that is waiting to see how much its home rule is valued by the State government.

It’s an impressive situation to be in, considering that the Estero Council is still in its freshman year, and that the Village itself only incorporated a year ago, with the November 2014 vote becoming official on December 31st of that same year. The Council didn’t convene for their first meeting until the following March, in front of an auditorium packed with dignitaries from around Lee County at Estero High School.

Fracking is not the only outstanding issue that Estero will deal with heading into the New Year. The Village tapped city planner Bill Spikowski to draw up a land-use plan going forward, and it was unveiled on a conceptual level back in August. Centered on establishing a Village Center for the new municipality, it emphasized a lot of mixed use zoning. Developers operating in Estero turned out in force at the Estero Planning and Zoning Board meeting where it was revealed, where they objected strongly to the plan en masse, drowning out the voices of the residents attending the meeting. Among the top points they pushed against were the mixed-use zones, with several developers saying that it would saturate the Village with commercial property.

The future direction the land-use plan will take is currently unknown, and what shape it could eventually take is a subject of great interest for 2016.

Development is also a hot topic in Fort Myers Beach, as the end of the year saw the public presentation of conceptual plans for Grand Resorts, a proposed $250 million project aimed at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge heading into the Town itself. Consisting of four planned hotels, the tallest of which would reach 7 stories in height, as well as a convention center, shops, and a large parking garage, the project would reshape FMB’s northern commercial area, with a shift of Estero Boulevard itself included in the plans. Part of that shift would have the inclusion of a roundabout in place of a traffic light.

Needless to say, the reaction to the project has been mixed, and a public viewing of the plans held at Chapel by the Sea on the Beach a few weeks ago was met with rounds of jeers from the standing room only crowd. Of prime concern to many Beach residents was the variances the project was asking for in regards to height restrictions in FMB’s Comprehensive Plan. It allows only for three stories for new buildings, and all the hotels and the parking garage exceed that limit at the moment.

Concept plans show the parking garage only would alter the views of those living and working on Crescent Street, and many have expressed concerns about the traffic that increased density would bring to the area. Still, others feel it’s a proposal that will bring money to an area that has been losing businesses over the last few years, and see as an opportunity for revitalization.

One point that will surely be contested is the Grand Resorts proposed seawall, which will frame its boardwalk and keep the buildings at ground level. Experts have already chimed in, warning that such a hard structure being placed on the beach will accelerate erosion, causing a need for additional nourishment at a more frequent rate, as it would interrupt the beach’s natural ability to replenish itself by trapping upland sand.

No official Town or County Government meetings have taken place to address this project as of yet, so 2016 is poised to be a year that will shape the future look of Fort Myers Beach.

Changes are already underway in that Town’s primary thoroughfare, as Construction crews started digging up Estero Boulevard in the summer in order to replace an aging water utility infrastructure running below the street for the length of the island. A multi-year project, ReFresh Estero Boulevard looks to update the water system one section of the island at a time, following it up with an overhaul of the Boulevard itself, redoing the surface of the travel and turn lanes, while also adding improved trolley stops and contiguous sidewalks on both sides of the road to improve safety for motorists and pedestrians.\"EsteroBlvdConstruction\"

This year was merely the first step of a project that will take the better part of a decade to complete. Segment one of the project stretches from the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge out past Seagrape Plaza at Lover’s Lane. Construction of the road portion of this project is set to be complete at the end of 2016.

Further up the road, on the main land, a brand new Walmart opened up this past November on the site where the then empty Summerlin Square once stood. Following a breakneck construction schedule that lasted from Spring until the Fall, the new store has brought back commerce to an area that had been derelict for years after a constructed fly-over altered traffic patterns. How much of a kick-start it will be to the area will be seen over the next few months, as several empty properties remain in the area, ready to be reoccupied.

Estero Boulevard wasn’t the only road to see major construction this year, as Bonita Springs started renovating Old U.S. 41 in the Fall of this year as part of their Downtown Improvements Project. Much like Estero Boulevard, the work is aimed at improving utilities around and under the road, including storm drainage. It will also put in roundabouts and streetscaping to beautify the historic Downtown district,. It preceding long-term plans by the city to transform the Old U.S. 41 corridor into a major mixed use district.

Moving away from the local news, there are major events brewing at the state level that could impact the lives of those living around Estero Bay in various ways. One of the big issues this year was discontent over the State’s use of Amendment One funding.

Amendment One was approved by voters in the Fall of 2014 with the intent to set aside money raised through real estate taxes for environmental purposes such as land acquisition. In the time since, though, many voters and environmental groups have accused the Florida Legislature of putting the funds into areas it was not intended for, such as equipment maintenance for the DEP and other departments. Of the over $750 million raised for the trust fund that was set up by the amendment, just over $55 million went towards land acquisition.

This led to several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Florida Wildlife Federation filing a lawsuit against the state to contend this usage of the funds. Early December saw a circuit judge from Leon County, George Reynolds, accept a motion by the state to dismiss a portion of the lawsuit that wanted a court order to demand Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to transfer over $230 million from the state’s general-revenue fund to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund set up by the Amendment. However, the rest of the lawsuit filed by these groups will continue, and could shape the direction of Environmental policies that effect Lake Okeechobee, its estuaries, and the Everglades in the years to come.

Finally, going from natural resources to man-made borders, the potential end to the electoral map controversy that has embroiled the Sunshine State these past few years might be within sight. December saw the state’s Supreme Court rule in favor of a Congressional district map created by a coalition of citizen’s groups that had contended that Legislature-drawn maps were in violation of a “fair districts” amendment that voters had approved back in 2010. Their contention was that the districts drawn by the governing body showed clear bias towards political parties, and that those boundaries were made without regard to communities and municipalities they bisected.

The decision by the Court could result in a massive shift in the make-up of Florida’s congressional delegation, which currently favors Republicans with 17 seats to the Democrats’ 10.

A court decision on a map for State Senate seats waits in the wings, and it won’t be until elections take place in 2016 that the effects of this decision can be truly measured. Early predicators still think Republicans will retain a majority, but at much narrower margins that more closely aligned with near 50-50 split between the two major parties we’ve seen in the recent presidential elections.

Of course one of the biggest stories to hit Florida happened at the very start of the year, when gay marriage was legally recognized within the state beginning on January 6th. This was a result of a stay expiring on the U.S. District Court decision of Brenner v. Scott, where the court ruled on August 21st 2014 that the State’s 1977 same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Later in the year, the U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage throughout the United States when the Justices found in a 5-4 decision that the 14th Amendment made marriage a fundamental right under its Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

In all, 2015 was packed with events and decisions that can change the face of our corner of Florida for years to come, and 2016 will be interesting not only to see how those changes come to pass, but also for what new wrinkles it will add.

By Trent Townsend

Published in National

Publisher Forward: Fort Myers Beach is a major economic driver and engine for Lee County. Almost everyone who visits the county will make a trip to the Beach. For many decades, Estero Island has been a family-friendly slice of \\\"Old Florida\\\" There is now a new development project under consideration that could change the character and complexion of the Beach forever.

The Sun Bay Paper has chosen to publish the following assessment of that development by Doug Sperin-Smith. Sperin-Smith is well-qualified in this regard. As the owner of the Harbour House, Matanzas on the Bay and the Beach Pierside Grill - all located in the same general area as the new proposed development - he brings a wealth of experience and insight to the table. He voice deserves serious consideration and it is presented here unedited for our readers.

Downtown Redevelopment- Visioning our future Choices.

There is a clear benefit with an established developer proceeding with orderly repositioning of property within the downtown core. The Plaza parcel and some of the other buildings are well past their prime. A good front door to the Beach would be a good thing.
What many of us do not like about the plan is how aggressive it is, how out of step it is to the character and soul of the Town and how odd it has been envisioned this far without public input. Any plan that requires a full rewrite of the development code by extensive CPD Variances is not where this community has gone or embraced in the past.

It is a bit gratifying to see their outreach for Public Input (News Press Guest Opinion), although I would have preferred a gentler unveiling to begin with and a more balanced plan from the beginning. It will be interesting to see the science behind the Seawall modeling. This needs to be clarified to the community and not just the development team- especially since they are convinced this is really a good idea. Similarly, although I have little sympathy for the “hardship” of losing a floor on the Hilton, some of the reassessment options they have disclosed seem hopeful. Saying this, it seems a beachfront Plaza to allow a view of the beach is underwhelming compared to the existing park and public places- but it’s a start.

The developer must have received a very positive impression for cooperation by someone (Town or Lee County Leadership) to suggest the plan. To put the Beach Park into the plan is a huge assumption. Perhaps, because the developers are really very new “residents “ to the beach – they may have assumed because the property is where it is, reasonable permitting will keep the economics of the project to be acceptable. They are paying top dollar for many parcels (Plaza excepted in my opinion). Time will tell if this is a good or bad strategy- but their economics are of modest concern for our community compared to the impacts of the development.

One of the bargains that will be presented to the County is the loss of Crescent Beach Park and the Seafarers parcel in exchange for a re-routing of Estero Blvd and some parking places in the plaza parcel. The idea of giving up scarce Beach Parks in prime resort areas and limiting public beach access seems shortsighted. Improving access and parking options makes more sense and investing resources to improve public spaces is more community spirited. The county has all the negotiating power on this and needs to protect the public lands.
One of the Carrots we are being presented is relaxed FEMA regulations to allow ground level commercial for areas like Time Square and this helps rationalize the Seawall – which at 9 feet above sea level, essentially limits ground level views of the beach while impacting businesses such as Pierside Grill in very substantial ways. These details need to be evaluated before the county or town Opine to fast tracking permitting.

The developers beach parcels will be asked to be consolidated to allow bigger/wider buildings and perhaps, if helpful and the park is not traded away totally, some property exchange will be proposed to make building footprints more flexible- their parcels bookending Crescent Beach Park make this an option- which may not be a bad thing if the public/park spaces are retained. Existing easements and Right-of-Ways will be asked to be moved or vacated to facilitate the plan. Unless the park is retained, no view corridors of the beach will exist- thus, the buildings and ground floor commercial in the park area essentially become the view. None of this is a positive or should be taken lightly by the Town or County Leadership.

New Beachfront development does not require commercial in the ground floor areas. Edison Beachhouse, Diamondhead and new Pink Shell are good examples of new development. The Town would be reasonable served if the commercial component of the new downtown was limited to the Plaza site. Even if FEMA was accommodating with the seawall and eased floodplain rules, an extended Times Square with no beach view corridor and an uninteresting wall of multi-story resort structure is not a valuable addition to our community.

The seawall itself is an interesting concept. It sounds like an Atlantic City Boardwalk, but it really is a nine foot high wall blocking all views of the water landward of it and it is the width of a six foot wide sidewalk. To satisfy design requirements, you have to climb over it with limited beach accesses. Think of a tight dike. It certainly helps their parcels with the flexibility of ground floor commercial uses and it has the potential to help existing Times Square businesses rebuilt in the event of a storm catastrophe, but for most other parts of the island, it does little. As I understand it, the reason these seawalls are essentially not permitted historically is under normal conditions and in normal high water events, the structure itself is a major contributor to beach loss and the need for more re-nourishment occurs. The structures have been disasters of their own. So what you get is more hurricane protection but lots of negative impact on the beach itself. The carrot might be that the Lynn Hall park gets the seawall for “Free”, but giving up Crescent Beach Park is really the loss of a once in a lifetime opportunity the County wisely took when it purchased the property in the first place. Having a seawall for the parks is much less attractive or needed because these lands are parks and not resort development parcels. Open space and view corridors with public space are good.

Traffic flow is critical. Smoothing traffic and reducing barriors are good goals, but the added development adds its own issues- particularly when development and auto access if on the Gulf side of Estero and requires re-entry and a left turn back onto what is supposed to be a newer faster Estero Blvd. It’s hard to believe existing Estero Blvd uses/ conditions, multiple drive accesses and unfamiliar tourists will fly through this area despite any attempts to change it. High demand periods will continue. Moving Estero and simplifying People flow is probably a good idea and if the county had been serious enough- they could bought the plaza themselves and made this happen. Never the less, a reasonable bargain with the developer seems to be an option- which is a good thing if it will help- with our without development. The developer negotiating for the Ocean Jewels site is because the traffic circle does not work without it and the new Estero cannot bend around it enough to make traffic flow. A better plan is to bend Estero a bit and have all the parking garage and much of the resort development on the left as you enter the island. Going “under” the parking garage at the Gateway to be beach makes no sense at all.

The Beach understands economic impacts. There is always a case for economic growth, more jobs, more taxes, more impact fees etc. etc. Lee County has been and is a growth area. This is fine and if this Hotel proposal is abandoned, Lee county will get the same type of development in a different location (Estero Coconut Hyatt as an example)- which is where impacts can be mitigated more easily anyway. It is also fine to have a Town with strong vision, strong quality of life and a specific chosen balance to what that community should try to be. This proposal would not get out of the starting line in Downtown Naples or Sanibel and it okay to just say no. Cleaning up the easily seen shortcomings of our Downtown does not preclude a different plan or smaller scale higher quality development as envisioned by the Downtown plan and the Development Code. This is a good time for the Town to be strong.

This is all very important to the town and the review of the proposal does not need to be political based, rushed or accommodating to the developer. The Outcome needs to be the best it can be and the CPD process allows the Town to follow any path it believes to be necessary. If a town consultant can help to protect the residents’ interests that may be fine. If a citizens visioning committee needs to be formed to review the proposal or develop choices- so be it. If consultants need to be hired to review traffic studies, seawall concepts or site-plan choices – so be it. Any variance requested from the development code is an opportunity to negotiate an outcome acceptable to the Town and residents and this power should not be taken lightly. It is not unfair to have a strong community voice or vision. Save your beach.

Doug Speirn-Smith
Fort Myers Beach
303-818-0900

Published in Business

 

With more than 1 million apps in the Apple and Android stores, it would be easy to assume we are nearing the limit of developers to come up with new creations. That would be a mistake.


The latest example: Apps aimed at fighting human trafficking. Yes, they exist and more are emerging as social entrepreneurs attempt to use technology to battle what they see as the forces of evil.

A group of government agencies and private foundations calling themselves Partnership for Freedom has set up a competition with the not-so-catchy name “Rethink Supply Chains” challenge. What is grabbing attention is $500,000 in prize money that will be awarded for the best technology solutions to combat the use of slave labor. Finalists will be announced next month.

Rising awareness among global companies of labor abuses and new laws requiring steps to ensure fair labor practices across supply chains are spurring a new industry for technologies that help them enforce supplier rules. The challenge also intends to lure innovators who are working on related technologies, said Catherine Chen, director in charge of investments at Humanity United, a key supporter of the challenge.

“In many instances they have already been addressing issues that are analogous,” Chen said. “That could be conflict minerals, that could be tracking the source of e-coli, mobile money, digital payments -- those kinds of things. We wanted to get that community of problem solvers to focus their talents on this particular challenge and to see that there’s a lot of opportunity.”

Humanity United is the social welfare organization started by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, eBay Inc.’s founder, in 2005. Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s 10,000 Women initiative and Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation are also supporting the challenge.

LaborVoices, a Sunnyvale, California-based venture, is entering the challenge with an app that allows workers to report abuses simply and anonymously using a voice activated smartphone app. Made in a Free World, a five-year-old startup that’s built a database of labor abuse risk factors for global supply chains, is joining the race with an app designed to let small and medium-sized enterprises use its data more easily.

Laborvoices Smartline, a voice-operated app that let workers anonymously share feedback on their working conditions, is also participating in the challenge.

Kohl Gill, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and semiconductor physicist who worked on the human trafficking issue at the State Department, founded Laborvoices in 2010 after coming up with the idea of using mobile phones to help workers report working conditions.

Laborvoices works with garment maker Reliable Source Industrial, a supplier to Nike Inc., Victoria’s Secret and Under Armour with factories in China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Taiwan. Gill’s organization is helping the company monitor its own production and sub-contractors by providing workers with a voice-activated mobile app to report labor abuses.

“We are creating these persistent, reliable reputations for employers, so that workers can vote with their feet,” said Gill. This lets the people who are in the best position to see human trafficking respond to it directly without waiting for the government or other authorities, he said.

Existing apps already help consumers get an idea of the scope of human trafficking. Made in a Free World, for example, created the Slavery Footprint app that generates estimates of an individual’s reliance on slave labor from data on trafficked humans and labor-abuse rates at manufacturers and suppliers.

Justin Dillon, chief executive officer of Made in a Free World, is not shy about telling people that for all his efforts, his lifestyle still requires 47 slave laborers -- a number he’s determined to get to zero. “That’s what drives me,” he says.

The Rethink Supply Chains challenge will pick as many as five finalists next month and award them $20,000 each to build a prototype. The winner will be announced in April.

Dave McCombs

Bloomberg Newa

Published in Business
Tuesday, 29 December 2015 09:26

November 2015 Warmest November on Record

While those who live and vacation here in southwest Florida usually don’t dream of a white Christmas, rising global temperatures could be threatening that famous vision elsewhere.


According to data that was recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this past November was the warmest November ever recorded. However, the larger cause for concern was the amount the temperature departed from the historical average of the month. November was the second highest positive departure from this average since records were started, dating all the way back to January of 1880. The highest positive departure was the month preceding it, October of 2015.

It also makes 2015 the warmest on record, with only one month remaining to cement the annual average. Nine of the eleventh months of this year have set the record for highest recorded in NOAA’s databases.

While El Nino can take some of the blame for these warmer temperatures afflicting us, it may not explain these extremes. Of the energy El Nino releases into the atmosphere as heat, it can cause a positive departure from average temperatures at about 0.1 degree Celsius.

By comparison, November had a departure of around 0.97 degrees, and October had a departure of 0.99 degrees. September 2015 came in third all-time at 0.91 degrees.

Some have attributed two natural disasters that have occurred in the past month to these increases of temperature, both in excess of billions of dollars in damage. Over of a month of heavy monsoon-level rains have impacted the island nation of Sri Lanka off the southern tip of India, which continued into early December. Parts of the island’s urban area of Chennai was flooded with up to eight feet of water for a span of days, and 13 inches of rainfall was recorded in the span of 24 hours at one point. In all, the floods resulted in over 230 deaths.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, South Africa was hit with a vicious drought during the last month, with nearly 3 million households hit with water shortages, as well as dire impacts on livestock in the afflicted provinces.

Staff report

Published in Environment
Monday, 28 December 2015 15:19

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

 This summer, Fort Myers Beach City Council worked aggressively to change the current code for beach chair/umbrella vendors to a BFVP (Beach Furniture Vending Permit). Currently, there are 11 vendors with 30 locations on a seven mile island that provides this service to beach goers, however, if the council passes this ordinance, there will be only five vendors, with a total of twelve locations permitted to continue with their businesses.  There have been two or three “working” meetings with vendors to provide discussion about the new proposed ordinance, however, the majority of these vendors where not notified of these “working” meetings. At the last “working” meeting, a majority of the vendors were present with the mayor at city hall, however, notification to all vendors was not provided by the mayor or city council, most of them were notified by word of mouth from other vendors. This has been an ongoing problem with the city council. The mayor indicated they had received 100's of complaints, however, as vendors, we have not seen any documentation of these complaints. That makes us skeptical and questions how valid the complaints are and why such an over regulated ordinance was created.  We will briefly provide you with a chronological order of events at the last “working” meeting on September 4, 2015, and other meetings to follow.

A majority of the vendors were present and each had the opportunity to speak of the unique situation that each vendor encounters at their respective locations and how the proposed BFVP ordinance presents negative impacts for them as owners/vendors, for property owners, for businesses, and for visitors to Fort Myers Beach. These amenities that will be taken away, and will not accommodate supply/demand for vacationers and local patrons. Of the proposed changes, there were three or four items that the majority of the vendors agreed they could work with and support. At the close of the "working" meeting, everyone signed in with their name and email address. The mayor asked all in attendance to email her with their suggestions. (See attachment of the mayor's email after the "working meeting".)
 The vendors respectively honored her request and submitted their recommendations, however, the ordinance when completed, resulted in NO changes by the city council, ignoring any recommendations from the vendors. According to the Fort Myers Beach charter, the council has to submit the ordinance to the LPA (Local Planning Agency) for their recommendations. At the council meeting, November 16, 2015, there was one individual, who is a resident of Fort Myers Beach, whom asked to be on the agenda and speak in favor of the new restrictive ordinance. The LPA had a meeting on December 8, 2015. At the LPA meeting, the same individual that had requested to speak on November 16, 2015, at the city council, was also in attendance at the LPA meeting and requested to speak in favor of the restrictive ordinance.

The LPA asked the audience who was in favor and who was against the new ordinance. Except for the one individual, others in attendance raised their hands against the ordinance. The LPA continued to review this ordinance. At the beginning of this meeting, the LPA expressed their deep concerns and the negative impact this ordinance will have. The following is a brief list of the LPA’s concerns and comments:
 • The majority of the LPA members were not in favor of this ordinance and wanted nothing to do with the ordinance
 • Felt that this was over governing
 • Eliminating supply & demand
 • Commercial resort zoning is 50 units or more, why increase to 60 units
 • Vendors have been in business on the beach for 15-25 years or longer and should not be eliminated and should be grandfathered in

The individual that had requested to speak in favor of the ordinance at the previous meetings seems to have a personal agenda. His daughter is a Fort Myers Beach council member and has publicly made it known that she wants to eliminate a large amount of the chairs/umbrellas on the beach. Because of her public comments, her father speaking before the council and the LPA, and her serving as a council member, creates a conflict of interest by consanguinity. The Town Charter, states: “Section 4.13 Voting; quorum.--Roll call voting shall be required for ordinances or upon the specific request of a council member and shall be recorded in the minutes; otherwise, voting shall be by ayes and nays. Three members of the council shall constitute a quorum. No action of the council shall be valid or binding unless adopted by the affirmative vote of a majority of the council. All council members in attendance shall vote on all council actions, except when, with respect to any such member, there is, or appears to be, a possible conflict of interest as defined under general law.

Please review the attached “NEGATIVE IMPACT CHART”. We believe this presents a clear visual of the negative impact to the vendors, businesses, property owners, local patrons and visitors to Fort Myers Beach. We all have customers return every year to our properties and they provide excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, Facebook, and other social media venues that we use. We feel this ordinance is extremely over regulating. Thank you for your time and your consideration in this matter, we look forward to hearing from you soon. Fort Myers Beach Concerned Vendors

Published in Letters To The Editor
Monday, 28 December 2015 15:15

One Reason the Middle Class is Dwindling

I had a friend who just graduated with a law degree who can't find a job and he's been looking for over two years. He borrowed over $140,000.00 to get his degree. To me he is just another victim in the snow job of the higher education cartel. There is lots of money in the government giving loans to anyone who can fog a mirror to go into unforgivable debt to chase after the American Dream. We just went below 50 percent of the adult population recognized as being in the middle-class. In the 70s it was over 60 percent. Think about America in the 70s. Most households were headed by a single wage earner and women were just starting to enter the workforce in mass. College was affordable for those who attended and the degree paid off in a higher standard of living. Look where we are now. Young people need to ask themselves if it is worth chasing shadows. There will be no relief for this type of debt, because the system is set-up to screw people over. If you manage to make it into the middle-class you now have Obamacare to deal with. It will bleed you dry from one side, while student loan debt bleeds you from the other. How did we get into this situation? It must have been very carefully planned by those more powerful than you.

Ed Swengel

Published in Letters To The Editor
Monday, 28 December 2015 15:12

Pay Attention to What is Really Going On

With regards to all the articles about migrants, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, I find it so funny how they always just put pictures of women and children just like the global warming articles always have to have a picture of a smokestack it's like look at this smokestack its big it’s scary and it's dirty!!!! Give us your money!!! But they never show the pictures of the men holding signs that says open or die or what about the men that were holding the signs convert to Islam or be killed. Or what about the men in Germany that were walking around in orange jackets that said Sharia law enforcement on the back the men were arrested then let go and told they could do that. What about these immigrants raping women what about them robbing people what about them defecating and urinating in people's yards on the sidewalks in in people's gardens... what about Muslim man refuses to be treated by female medical staff what about them and insulting and physically abusing medical staff? What about them complaining that they do not get enough free stuff and that they want bigger TVs and faster Internet. What about these people telling the natives of these countries that Islam is going to take over the world? If you're strictly paying attention to mainstream media you are absolutely going to love these undercover terrorists but if you actually pay attention to what's really going on through alternative media stations that actually report the truth you will begin to hate them as much as I do.

Roger Huggins
Online Reader

Published in Letters To The Editor
Monday, 28 December 2015 15:06

The World Doesn't Owe These People Anything

I read a liberal politician commenting on why we should take in Syrians and other migrants. He stressed that "demonizing and scapegoating these people based on their religion, ethnicity or country of origin has no place in the 21st century."

How about demonizing these people for being ungrateful to host countries, for demanding more accommodations, disrespecting host countries' laws, for bringing an increase in rape and assault, terrorism, hatred for the West, for forcing changes in host counties' culture, depleting welfare coffers, refusing to eat food or to accept sleeping arrangements given to them because the items weren't up to their standards, mocking host countries' citizens, organizing mob attacks against police including breaking down barricades, throwing rocks, out running police, picking and choosing which country in which to claim asylum based on how much $ they will receive, only to change their minds and go back to their country of origin when they realize they won't get as much $ as they thought?

The world doesn't owe these people anything.

Julia Bondurant

Published in Letters To The Editor

What will we do to keep busy after the computers and robots have learned to do most work better than humans do?

Well, maybe we’ll talk to each other.

Published in Technology
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