House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson want to address water quality and tidal flooding issues differently than lawmakers have done so since at least 2017.
The two new leaders of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature are tentatively proposing the state develop with its 412 cities and 67 counties a priority list of projects to mitigate rising waters that flood streets, damage homes and ruin businesses, similar to the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) five-year work program.
At risk, according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein, is $145 billion in taxable property for an estimated 300,000 homes projected to be underwater by 2050 after sea levels rise by 2.5 feet.
“With 1,350 miles of coastline, relatively low elevations, and communities built largely on top of former swampland, Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise,” Simpson, R-Trilby, and Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, wrote in a Florida Politics op-ed. “Over the last several years, we have seen that risk grow exponentially.”
The emphasis, apparently, will shift spending away from land acquisition to protect watersheds to focus on removing septic tanks, safeguarding natural springs, building flood-mitigation infrastructure and reassessing the state’s – and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ – commitment to the 10,100-acre, $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project. The reservoir is being built to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River estuaries that spawn blue-green algae blooms.
Congress approved last summer the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which provides authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on the EAA, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2017 as a key improvement in the 40-year, $8 billion Everglades restoration plan approved by Congress in 2000.
It marked only the second time in 20 years the federal government provided its full $200 million annual commitment to Everglades restoration.
The boost in federal funding dovetails with DeSantis’ four-year, $2.5 billion state-funded Everglades restoration plan. The first two years have been approved by lawmakers, including more than $625 million in this year’s spending plan.
DeSantis wants to accelerate the EAA reservoir project to be completed in seven years rather than 10. He is expected to submit a $625 million budget request for the third year of the plan before lawmakers convene their 2021 session March 3.
Getting that money may not be a slam dunk if Simpson’s comments during the Nov. 17 organizational session and at last week's Florida Chamber of Commerce Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit are prognostic.
Simpson said with the pandemic punching a projected $3.4 billion to $5 billion hole in the state’s next two fiscal years, approving the EAA in 2017 was a “mistake” and the state “probably should stop building.”
An egg farmer, Simpson is among agricultural interests, including the state’s sugar industry, that favored drilling deep injection wells north of Lake Okeechobee rather than the EAA. He said the wells would produce “twice the bang for our buck” with two key two benefits.
“First of all, it doesn’t allow (runoff) to go into the lake to have to be discharged. So, that’s a positive,” Simpson said. “Number two, it allows you during drought times to be able to pull that water back out of the aquifer and use it. So, I think this year, we will spend a lot of time talking about the northern Everglades restoration.”
The Center Square
As property insurance rates skyrocket, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will become an increasingly more affordable option for Florida’s 6.2 million homeowners.
That could be disastrous, however, Citizens' Actuarial & Underwriting Committee warned in its 2021 rate package proposal.
“Citizens’ policy count has grown by more than 100,000 in the last year with between 2,000-3,000 new policies being written each week in recent months,” the proposal stated. “If nothing changes, growth of at least an additional 100,000 policies is expected by year-end 2021. This current trend is not sustainable and could put Citizens’ solid financial position at risk.”
According to its Nov. 30 "snapshot," Citizens had 532,788 policyholders last month, topping a half-million for the first time since 2015.
The number of Citizens policyholders has increased by 65,000 since July and by nearly 90,000 – from 444,323 – since Nov. 30, 2019. The report projected more than 630,000 will be enrolled this time next year.
Citizens is a nonprofit corporation created by state lawmakers in 2002 to provide property insurance to homeowners and businesses unable to acquire coverage after corporate insurers such as State Farm, Allstate and Liberty Mutual abandoned Florida because of hurricane losses.
Citizens’ policy count swelled in 2012 to 1.5 million, with the state backing $10 billion in property insurance policies. A “depopulation” initiative to transfer policies – and liability – to private property insurers whittled the count to a low of 419,475 in October 2019.
Residents can purchase Citizens insurance if they cannot find private insurance or if a private insurer’s policy is priced 15% above a comparable Citizens’ offering. State law precludes Citizens from raising renewal rates more than 10%.
Citizens’ proposed 2021 rate package calls for an average rate increase of 3.7% effective Aug. 1, 2021. Under its proposal, homeowner multiperil policies would increase 2% and condominium rates by 6.4%.
Citizens’ proposed increases are far below those most Florida homeowners are facing.
Citing ballooning reinsurance costs, loss creep from 2017 and 2018 hurricanes, nonweather coastal flooding and excessive litigation costs, many of the state’s 60 independent insurers are seeking eye-popping rate increases from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FOIR).
At least 12 insurers have requested rate hikes topping 15 percent since last December, including several increase requests between 30% and 40%.
Many independent insurers in Florida’s market are thinly capitalized and, therefore, influenced by reinsurance rates. Reinsurance essentially is insurance for insurers. It is financed by private capital from hedge funds and other sources that essentially gamble against hurricanes.
After a decade without a landfall hurricane in Florida, 2017's Hurricane Irma caused $17 billion in damage and 2018’s Hurricane Michael caused $12 billion, ending an era of “soft pricing.”
Because Florida allows claims to be filed three years after an event, reinsurers are hedging bets by requesting carriers raise rates between 25% to 45% in renewing Florida policies to account for 2017-18 loss creep.
Citizens’ ratepayers are not as vulnerable to reinsurance costs because the state is, essentially, the “insurer of last resort” and the 10% cap on renewal increases.
Without the cap, the proposal estimated Citizens’ suggested 3.7% rate hike would range from 10.7% to 77% for different categories in different areas of the state. Ninety-one percent of Citizens’ homeowners policyholders "pay less than the average private insurer’s rate … mostly due to the difference in reinsurance expenses,” according to the proposal.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has crafted a bill that would do away with the 10% cap on rate hikes that keeps Citizens' policies artificially inexpensive.
If Citizens does not align with the private insurers, Brandes said, more will flee the private market and swamp Citizens, making it too big not to fail.
The Center Square
Ed. Note: This story was updated for better coverage of the entire meeting, it was the last meeting of 2020 and had a full agenda.
Fort Myers Beach Town Council began their meeting with a discussion of a "Crash" in their email system, probably due to a power outage from hurricane Etta. Emails are now working again, if you sent one recently, it's probably a good idea to resend it again.
First public comment was from Len Lemmer from Nervous Nellie's who was representing a group of citizens and businesses that surround Bayside Park who seek to have some input on its design, to put their concerns on the public record, mentioning honoring our Veterans.
Next Peter Ennis, co owner of Snug Harbor Restaurant, who also addressed suggestions about stage and bleachers among other concern about the design of Bayside Park. Nick Ruland spoke next, co owner of Snug Harbor Restaurant, bringing up lighting issues in the area among other issues.
Laurie Russell manager of Marina Village also located by Bayside Park added suggestions for a Splash Pad she saw during a visit at Babcock Ranch and also spoke about a Veterans Memorial Walkway.
Jan Lee spoke about Leonardo Arms bringing concern to the council about beach erosion at her building. Another resident (Cheryl?) also spoke about the beach erosion at the Leonardo Arms.
Boyd Sanharvest( please forgive if the names are not correct, the zoom meetings dialog are sometimes unclear) spoke about the Clock in Times square, with some impressive math to back his argument of the value that Clock has brought to the beach. Closing with, "I just want to recognize that it is important"
Paul Winter resident since 2004, spoke about lack of communications/ responses to inquiries with Town Council, also spoke about the abuse of deputies being paid $50 an hour at the traffic lights, they are supposed to be at the concrete medium under the traffic light. He ran out of time and was asked to wrap it up and give balance of comments to the clerk.
Mr. Seborea spoke about bathroom in public right of way.
Chris Shaub? spoke about beach chair and umbrella permitting Gail Mason spoke about the Arches and the Clock at today's council meeting but it's not on the agenda. She suggested that 2 members of Council and 2 members of County commission and get together a meeting of all the parties concerned.
Earl Morgan spoke about restoring the Arches.
Ray Murphy was again selected by Council to serve as Mayor and Rexann Hosafros was selected as Vice Mayor. The full agenda included discussion about beach renourishment, grant applications to the Lee County Tourism Development Council (TDC) for 2021, and two committee reports, among other items.
Representatives from the Town’s Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC) and Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board (BORCAB) submitted update reports. The AAC wants Town Council to approve the purchase and renovation of private property in the vicinity of Harbor House for the Mooring Field upland services facility. If approved, upland services would be managed by the Town instead of an outside service provider.
Related to the redevelopment of Bay Oaks, BORCAB wants Town Council to reconsider the original, full-scale plan that exceeds the current budget by 300 percent. BORCAB believes that the community would support the millions of dollars above the budget that this larger plan would cost. A joint meeting between Town Council and BORCAB is scheduled for January 2021.
In other business, Town Council approved extra-duty detail contracts with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to control pedestrian crossings at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge and the intersection of Old San Carlos and Estero Boulevard. Boat patrols were also approved with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Public restrooms came up again during discussion about the Town’s requests to Lee County’s Tourism Development Council (TDC) for funding for various projects. The list of requests was approved. The list includes beach and shoreline maintenance and beach renourishment as well as signs, landscaping, restrooms and shade structures at Mound House and Newton Beach Park, and portable restroom trailers at the Palm Avenue Beach Access.
First public hearings were held for the special events, water supply facilities work plan, and height and setback requirements ordinances. The special events and height and setback requirements ordinances second public hearings are scheduled for Town Council’s first meeting in 2021, on January 11. The second hearing on the water supply facilities work plan is scheduled for the meeting on March 1, 2021.
Lastly, Town Councilors decided to cancel the annual cupcakes and New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square and the Town’s 25th birthday party due to continuing concerns about the spread of COVID where groups of people gather.
The next regularly-scheduled Town Council meeting will be on Monday, January 11, 2021, at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers at Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard. In keeping with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about COVID-19, Council meetings are adhering to standards of social distancing and have reduced capacity for an audience. Masks or other face-coverings are mandatory.
Council meetings are broadcast live on the Town’s YouTube channel and Comcast Channel 98. Visit www.fmbgov.com, then click on the title Mayor and Council, then go to Meetings & Agendas. Agendas and minutes of meetings are also available at that link. To find out when Council meetings are scheduled, visit the Town’s website at www.fmbgov.com and scroll down the homepage to the calendar. Keep up on meeting schedules by signing up to receive emails through the website’s Notify Me feature. Find that feature under the Quick Links column on the homepage.
Skywatchers are in for an end-of-year treat. What has become known popularly as the “Christmas Star” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.
In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope to the night sky, discovering the four moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In that same year, Galileo also discovered a strange oval surrounding Saturn, which later observations determined to be its rings. These discoveries changed how people understood the far reaches of our solar system.
Thirteen years later, in 1623, the solar system’s two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to and passed Saturn, in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.”
Each night, the two planets will appear closer low in the southwest an hour after sunset as illustrated in the below graphic:
“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium,” said Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”
The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years.
What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”
as seen with binoculars
The closest alignment will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and last for a few days. On the 21st, they will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky. The planets will be easy to see with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.
From our vantage point on Earth the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth.
On Dec. 21st the two planets will appear as one and bright to the naked eye.... this is why it is refered to as the Christmas Star
“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said Throop. “The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis. The solstice is the longest night of the year, so this rare coincidence will give people a great chance to go outside and see the solar system.”
as seen through a good telescope
For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do:
• Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
• An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible.
Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
• The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be
able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.
ALL DAY 11am - 10pm
SNUG HARBOR WATERFRONT RESTUARANT
645 Old San Carlos, Fort Myers Beach
This will be a TOY DRIVE (so bring a toy) with Snug Harbor letting 20% ALL FOOD SALES go to benefitting The Beach Kids Foundation, "Spiritof the Holidays"!
Come on over and join us outdoors with Nick, Mary, Peter, Ray, Leslie and all the fun, local staff & guests... or check out their Menu below and order To-Go!
Amazing Food and the Bay View is UNBELIEVABLE!
Join our "Reindeer Team" with our FMB Firefighter partners
and help fill Santa's Sleigh for full of toys for our Local Kids and Island Families!
President-elect Joe Biden proudly has announced that his White House senior communications team will be "filled entirely by women."
As a woman, I like to see women break barriers and take a seat in what used to be men's clubs.
But it's hard to get excited at the notion that Biden's upper-press operation will be Ladies Only. Men represent some 49% of the population, so you'd think there would be a place for at least one of them in the top seven plum spots.
Mayhap Team Biden was finding it hard to come up with "firsts." Dee Dee Myers, after all, became the first female White House press secretary in 1993 thanks to President Bill Clinton. In 2007, President George W. Bush made Dana Perino the second female press secretary.
President Barack Obama's press secretaries were entirely men. President Donald Trump apparently prefers spokeswomen. He chose Sarah Sanders to follow Sean Spicer's short tenure, and then Stephanie Grisham, who never gave a briefing, and then current Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
So having Jen Psaki as Biden press secretary and Kate Bedingfield as communications director is hardly groundbreaking. By adding communications directors, spokespersons and deputies for the president-elect, first lady and vice president, Team Joe baked the all-women team.
Psaki noted that her team includes mothers of young children, which makes her the third press secretary/mother of a young child after Sanders and McEnany.
McEnany took umbrage with a Washington Post story on Biden's distaff press shop. Trump, she tweeted, "already has an ALL FEMALE Senior White House Press Team," citing herself, Communications Director Alyssa Farah and communications pros who work for the vice president and the first and second ladies.
McEnany was onto a media double standard. Top female staffers are hailed as trailblazers when they are Democrats but dismissed as Stepford Wives when they are Republicans. Perino recently offered that conservative women know they "aren't going to get the glowing profiles."
For her troubles, McEnany was schooled by New York Times ace Maggie Haberman, who suggested principal deputy press secretary Judd Deere and spokesman Brian Morgenstern might not like McEnany's tweet. Message: McEnany, a Harvard Law School graduate who studied at Oxford, can't set her own definition of who is senior staff. She's supposed to stick to the Biden version.
"If Kayleigh McEnany and Alyssa Farah were Democratic women, they would be on the cover page of Vanity Fair or Vogue," assistant press secretary Karoline Leavitt told me. Ditto the first lady.
Friends expect Biden briefings to be boring affairs -- which would make them like the former vice president's rare and brief press availabilities. Staff, not Biden, choose which reporters are graced with the opportunity to toss softballs at the future president. Obviously, the Biden press corps sees little upside in pressing Biden. Often their questions focus not on Biden but on Trump's bad-boy antics.
Perhaps for a change in pace someone can ask Psaki to pass the Grey Poupon.
Like Trump, the cantankerous Biden has been known to insult reporters who ask him tough questions. When Fox News' Peter Doocy asked Biden how many times he talked to his son Hunter about his son's overseas business dealings, Biden snapped that Doocy, who has covered Biden for his network, should ask Trump that question.
When CBS News reporter Bo Erickson asked Biden if he would encourage teachers unions to reopen schools, Biden knocked him as "the only guy that always shouts out questions." (Sad.) When another interviewer asked Biden if he would take a cognitive test, Biden asked the interviewer if he was a junkie.
In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. As for the press team, it will be "A League of Their Own, the Sequel."
Debra J. Saunders
In which America would you prefer to live? In one America, a family that works hard and saves money can afford to buy a detached home on a nice piece of land -- with a two-car garage.
In their home, they have a refrigerator, a freezer, a stove, two ovens, a dishwasher, a washing machine and a dryer. They purchased all of these appliances in an open market after doing careful research to make sure they got good machines that did the jobs they were supposed to do and were worth the money they cost.
They also have three toilets -- that actually flush.
And two showers -- that routinely run with hot water.
They also own two cars they keep filled with gasoline and use every day to drive their kids to school and themselves to work. They also use them to drive their kids to sporting events and go on vacations to great American places -- using the already-existing interstate highway system they paid so much in taxes over the years to build and maintain.
In the other America, the same family is regulated into an apartment or townhouse that is squeezed between two neighbors. They have no yard and no garage. They have a small refrigerator, a stove and one oven -- none of which works very well. They do not have a dishwasher, but they do have a washing machine -- if not a dryer.
Their kids take a government bus to school, and they take a government bus to a mass-transit train and the train to their workplace.
All along the route, they see windmills and solar panels -- blocking the once-splendid view of a nearby mountain range.
But they live in an "energy-efficient" America.
And they pay more in taxes than their predecessors did in the former America that the country's leadership has determined was overcrowded with energy-consuming appliances.
As you struggle to figure out which place you would rather live, consider, too, this follow-up question: Which one is closer to Joe Biden's "vision" for America?
Biden, you see, says he wants a "revolution."
On his campaign website, Biden published a plan for how he is going to achieve it. It is entitled "The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice."
America, Biden claims, faces an "existential threat" -- and he is going to save us from it.
"From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat -- not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being," says his plan for this "revolution."
Among the enemies posing this "existential threat" (as Biden sees it) are American homes, vehicles and appliances -- as well as the spacious suburban neighborhoods where too many Americans complacently live in energy-consuming comfort.
Biden, says his plan, will "put in place a national program to target a package of affordable energy efficiency retrofits in American homes."
He will direct the U.S. Department of Energy to redouble efforts to accelerate new efficiency standards for household appliances and equipment," it says.
"In addition," it says, "Biden will restore the full electric vehicle tax credit to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles." "And," it says, "he will work to develop a new fuel economy standard that goes beyond what the Obama-Biden Administration put in place."
As Biden campaigned for president from his basement, he was apparently inspired by the idea that more Americans should take mass transit -- or ride a bike -- to work.
"Communities across the country are experiencing a growing need for alternative and cleaner transportation options, including transit, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian thoroughfares, and first- and last-mile connections," says his plan.
He intends to "fund local transportation" in a way that creates a "safer, cleaner, and more accessible transportation ecosystem."
Biden wants Americans to get closer to each other -- not only in their housing but on their way to work.
Altering local regulations to eliminate sprawl and allow for denser, more affordable housing near public transit would cut commute times for many of the country's workers while decreasing their carbon footprint," says his plan.
Together," says Biden's related "Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future," "these steps will unleash a clean energy revolution in America, create good paying union jobs that cannot be outsourced, and spur the installation of millions of solar panels -- including utility-scale, rooftop, and community solar systems -- and tens of thousands of wind turbines -- including thousands of turbines off our coasts -- in Biden's first term."
Imagine how beautifully Biden's plan will transform the American landscape and seascape. They will become environmental masterpieces.
And Biden says he will do this with "a federal investment of $1.7 trillion" and at least $3.3 trillion in what he calls "private sector and state and local investments."
When the government takes your money and spends it, Biden -- who has spent 47 years in federal office -- calls it an "investment" in his revolution.