by LISA MACNEIL
Hernando Sun Reporter
Immediately following the Pledge of Allegiance, Chairman Jeff Holcomb called for a moment of silence for the victims of the Sri Lanka terrorist shootings over Easter.
Chuck Gordon referenced fellow citizen Richard Ross’ comments at the April 9, 2019 meeting, where Ross spoke about the commissioners’ salaries. Gordon said, “You not commenting on Ross’ citizen comments … was a slap in the face. Then to call him ‘out of order’ for voicing objection to you not commenting … was a travesty. You said nothing because you do not deserve a raise while asking others to take pay cuts. You could not even put the two things together. As rulers in Hernando County, you think you can almost say, ‘Let them eat cake.’ You feast while others starve with job elimination or cuts.”
Gordon also commented on Judge Stephen Toner’s withholding of adjudication of David Freda, the former Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Chief accused of organized fraud. Freda’s plea deal includes restitution to county and Sheriff’s department. “Would a bank robber get off with no felony or jail time because they returned stolen money? Freda did.”
Pat Miketinac asserted that “statements were made that were not true,” during the April 9, 2019 Gopher Tortoise Relocation Update . “At about 2:19:00 minutes into the video, Mike Singer said that Lake Townsen Preserve was being restored to what it was when the county received the property in (1974). Michael pointed to the pasture actually south of the preserve. At about 2:22:00 into the video, Michael said that gopher tortoises need a community that regularly needs fire. That’s totally false. All the proof you need is in the 188 acres not yet destroyed, as on my own property that’s never had a prescribed burn. A 2012 survey of the preserve found 196 burrows on that heavily wooded site, that had ten different kinds of native hardwoods and 74 non-invasive or nuisance trees. At about 2:28:00 into the video, Michael said there was a chemical treatment to reduce hardwoods. When I asked for details and a records request, he said the chemicals were to control invasives in a different section of the park, but still did not identify the chemicals. So what is the truth? At about 2:57:00 in the video, Eugene Kelly called the oaks ‘trash’. Well, maybe after they were purposely destroyed. Go look at the oaks that shade the restrooms and pavilions in the park to see what kind of trees you’re destroying. Kelly said the oaks were being sent to Gainesville to become ‘carbon-neutral biomass’. If those trees were still alive, they would be returning life-sustaining oxygen to the air and absorbing carbon dioxide at the same time. At about 3:04:00 in the video, Michael Singer said that FWC (Florida Wildlife …) does not allow tortoises to be relocated to pasture. Yes, they do, in the ‘Acceptable’ category. Your plan is for the ‘Desirable’ category, that does not allow pasture relocations. You could have chosen a location that does not require destroying everything that isn’t a pine tree. By your ESL ordinance number 2003-17, the public is not allowed to so much as break a branch on the same trees that you are destroying . How is that legal? What you are really doing here is destroying a self-sustaining forest ecosystem, replacing it with a pine tree farm, that can only be maintained with never-ending prescribed burns because Mother Nature will keep planting native hardwoods to fight you back.”
Shirley Miketinac thanked Commissioner John Allocco for visiting Lake Townsen Preserve. “(Commissioner Allocco) said more research is needed, and we ask for that moratorium on further research until consideration is given. At Lake Townsen, shortly after the mechanical shredding, we have pictures of (gopher tortoise) burrows, active and inactive that had been run over by heavy machinery. Burrows were crushed and rutted, with no respect shown whatsoever. I’d like to know where the original 196 burrows … 70 of those burrows were on those restored acres. Where are the tortoises from the 2012 survey…?” Miketinac directed the commissioners to refer to materials in the packets she and Pat gave them earlier, pointing out that the burrows are protected, as well as the tortoises. Commensals are other animals that might use the burrows created by the tortoises. According to Shirley Miketinac, the study in the packet given the commissioners prescribe a 26-foot diameter barricade around burrows, occupied or not, in case commensals could be occupying the burrow.
“We can see no evidence that such care was taken. I’d like to see if there is, and please insist on this...”
Peggy Adderly also spoke about the Lake Townsen Preserve. “When the land was designated as a turtle preserve, it was agreed upon that all the horse trails and hiking trails would not be disturbed, and that 30 feet on both sides of the trail would not be cleared to maintain their shade. I was personally told this by Mike Singer, which he now denies. The most recent clearing of the park has totally destroyed a large section of Trail 2. The heavy equipment used to remove all the hardwoods dug up the trail and roots so that now it is impossible to navigate a horse, or hike in that area. There is no longer any shade with the removal of all the hardwoods, except for the pines. This was done with total disregard to the promises made that riders and hikers would be able to coexist with the turtle preserve. Mike Singer also said that the only hardwoods that were removed were leaning. That’s a lie … I understand that turtles need to be relocated from building sites and I understand the delicate ecological balance between turtles and other animal species, but certainly what has been cleared should be enough space for them to survive. I’m asking that you leave the remainder of the park as-is. If you cannot do this, at least leave the remainder of the trails undisturbed and please keep them in shade, as previously promised to the public. This park is special for riders and hikers who have enjoyed the gift of … shaded woods, and for some odd reason - no flies in the summer. What has been done has most definitely gone against the original land usage agreement, and shame on you all for lying to us.”
Jennifer Bliska with the Hernando Community Coalition (HCC) thanked the board for the Tobacco Free Florida resolution. Bliska also highlighted an event at Hernando High School on April 30, 2019 to educate students on eCigarettes. According to Bliska, 16.9% of Florida students are using the devices, or “vaping.” Bliska said she is also working to get the electronic devices added to the “Tobacco Free Parks” initiative, which bans smoking in public parks.
President of the Nature Coast Backcountry Horsemen Rebecca Card Swerdloff spoke about the equestrian trails at Lake Townsen Park. “I spoke with Mike Singer, and was promised that we would leave the trails … shaded for the equestrians. So then I came to find out after looking at it, it looks like a bomb went off there. Why do we need the horse trail at Townsen Park? Because Townsen park was established for the people, not for the turtles. The equestrian trails are the only trails that we have during hunting seasons and the summer.” Swerdloff and a team of equestrian have been involved in trail cleanup in the area as well. “If you take away all the shade, why would we go there? We pay money to go there, so we do support it financially, also. Turtles are not endangered, they’re a protected species … financially, they’re getting paid to move these turtles, so this is a profit thing that we’re fighting … and that’s hard for us to fight, because all we can do is offer trash cleanup.” Swerdloff asked why the tortoises couldn’t be moved to the forest rather than Lake Townsen Park, questioning the logic of why the forest is not considered as a habitat. Swerdloff also asked the board to consider a moratorium on any more tree-clearing until further discussion. “Because I’m going to bring about 300-500 horse people (to a future BOCC meeting) because this is our only park, and we’re supporting it financially and cleaning it, so please, let us have our park. We don’t mind the turtles, but leave us the shade.”
Rita Spillers is part of a group who trains and provides therapy dogs asked the board to have a second look at the way therapy dogs are used in the county. “Having them go to the public libraries, and even coming (to the BOCC chambers) if you have a little stress, we can de-stress you.” Spillers said that her team with their therapy dogs visit the Citrus County Commission and also Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Aware of the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs, Spillers explained the differences, and added that her dogs do receive three months of training, and are carry $5-million insurance policies. For starters, Spillers would like to see a dog in the library.
Richard Ross - again asked the board to justify their salaries. “I hope that the press will pick up this question, make it public, since the board won’t.”
Elizabeth Coates, a 34-year resident living near Lake Townsen Preserve asked the board, “Have any of you walked the park and enjoyed her greenery and shade? And have you been out there now that it has been destroyed? I’m sure you all understand why we’re so concerned about this. She’s been a haven of greenery and shade for the locals for many years now, and she has coexisted with the turtles. But, it’s going to be very difficult for all the horsemen and the hikers to enjoy her during the summertime anymore. It is very sad to see what is being done. I would like to have a moratorium put on any more destruction until this problem can be fully investigated.”
Bill Loomis played a recording from a Sean Hannity show, which he said addressed the problem of email spoofing, however the sound transmitted poorly and was unintelligible. According to Loomis, “An IT (Information Technology) person called in and explained how an email can be changed, and sent as an original copy.” Loomis presented emails he suspects have been altered.
Shannon Turbeville spoke about Weeki Wachee Springs, as Governor DeSantis has proclaimed April as ‘Springs Awareness Month’. “Ironically, this month marks three years since your constituents voiced their desire for the (Weeki Wachee) river to be maintained and protected.” Turbeville thanked Commissioner Allocco for “sacrifices he has made for the protection of this resource.”
Turbeville continued to give thanks to the entire board. “Sometimes we get so focused on the here-and-now that we forget the accomplishments along the way. I think it’s important to note, and you should be proud that this board has had direct involvement in half of these accomplishments. Plainly stated, this could not have been done without all of you.”
The Carrying Capacity Study of the Weeki Wachee is currently underway, and expected to be completed in December of 2019.
County Attorney Garth Coller will get in touch with Rita Spillers to clarify the county ordinances on therapy dogs. Coller believes they are already allowed in county parks and facilities, but will research the proper law.
Steve Champion is in agreement with moratorium and more research into the stated problems. “Why can’t we just relocate the turtles there with the hardwoods?”
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said, “Well, it’s my fault that the turtles are going out there, and I still think it’s a good idea … I knew that we had very strict guidelines from FWC to prepare it, and the focus was mainly on the underbrush.” Dukes said he visited the park very recently and was surprised to find the cutting of everything except longleaf pines. “It does look a bit bare. I don’t doubt that there are state regulations, but I think sometimes we have to question that direction.”
Commissioner John Allocco said he used the word “ugly” when describing his findings to family. “The problem is this is an emotional issue, whether you’re a horseback rider, or you love to hike, or just walk around and look at the trees…. But it’s turned personal. Just today, in this meeting, calling people ‘a liar’ or implying that the board is financially benefiting from it, but mostly going after Mr. Singer this morning … I’m not liking that tone. We want to work together as a team and make sure we can fix the problem. If there’s guidelines that aren’t being followed … then we need to look into that.”
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb remarked that he has noticed the thinning of the trees while driving south on Highway 41 from Citrus county. “You can see 200-300 yards into the forest … that’s where they’re going (in Lake Townsen). I see it. It doesn’t look good now … but I think the idea was positive one to save money.” Holcomb went on to say that clear cutting isn’t going on, and in the future, the benefits should be realized.
Ron Pianta added that the seven-year timeline has taken place due to slow and methodical clearing of underbrush.
Mike Singer addressed the board, advising that signs have been posted to inform the public about sensitive plants that have been temporarily relocated. He went on to say that the 26-foot buffer will be addressed, and information from the state will be put on the site. Singer added that the contractors working on the project in Lake Townsen have been trained on recognizing gopher tortoise burrows, but an extra effort could be made to mark them for extra visibility. The coming actions stated by Singer are not required by law, which is why they were not put in place from the beginning.
1. Amendment No. 1 to FY 2018-19 Community Planning and Technical Assistance Grant Agreement With State Department of Economic Opportunity for Affordable Housing Needs Analysis Funding
2. Budget Resolution Recognizing Revenue Generated From Unsafe Building Program
3. Consent to Merger Letter Authorizing American Track Generations, LLC, as Provider for Railroad Signalization and Track Inspection Services (Contract No. 15-T00081/BH)
4. Designation of RESTORE Act Authorizing Official
5. Enabling Resolution Implementing May 2019 as Code Compliance Month
6. FY 2018-19 State Department of Health Emergency Medical Services Grant Funds for Improvement and Expansion of Pre-Hospital Emergency Medical Services and Associated Budget Resolution
This item was pulled for brief discussion on the specific usage of the grant funds. According to Chief Scott Hecher and Kevin Carroll, the department is in need of upgraded equipment to transmit electrocardiogram (EKG) traces to the destination hospital while in the field or en route.
7. Perpetual Utility Easement From Richard Zabrzyski a/k/a Richard Zabyyski and Grazyna B. Machnik for Maintenance, Installation, Repair, and Operation of Public Utilities for Parcel Located at Commercial Way
8. Resolution Proclaiming April 2019 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month
9. Resolution Proclaiming April 22, 2019, Through April 28, 2019, as Tobacco Free Florida Week
10. Resolution Proclaiming April 28, 2019, Through May 4, 2019, as Law Week
11. Resolution Proclaiming May 5, 2019, Through May 11, 2019, as Small Business Week
12. Resolution Proclaiming May 2019 as Building Safety Month
13. Resolution Proclaiming May 2019 as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month
14. Satisfaction of Interim Disposal Special Assessment Liens for Leilani and Daniel Toto; and William Colello, Jr.
15. Satisfaction of Mosquito Control Nuisance and Pestiferous Arthropod Special Assessment Lien for Andre M. Brooks
16. Satisfaction of Mosquito Control Nuisance and Pestiferous Arthropod Special Assessment Lien for Elizabeth J. Lyons
17. Transit Program of Projects for FY 2019
18. Transmittal of List of Accounts Payable Disbursements for Weeks Ended April 5, 2019, and April 12, 2019
19. Various Code Enforcement Public Nuisance Abatement Special Assessment Liens
20. Various Satisfactions of Code Enforcement Public Nuisance Abatement Special Assessment Liens
21. Approval of Minutes for Regular Meeting April 09, 2019
The consent agenda was approved unanimously.
TO BE CONTINUED...