Friday, June 29, 2007

Consumer Fireworks Not Legal In Florida

Public Warning Of Fireworks Dangers - Fireworks Dealers Skirting The Law

LABELLE, FL. -- Seven states ban all retail sales of consumer fireworks, with Florida being one of these. Such bans have been linked to significantly lower rates of fireworks-related injuries and fires. According to fire prevention specialists, deaths, injuries and fires occur too frequently when untrained consumers and children use illegal fireworks, and because of this, nearly all safety and fire prevention experts advocate banning explosive fireworks from consumer use.

In Florida, only sparklers are legal for consumer purchase and use. Anything that shoots into the air or explodes is not legal for purchase or use by consumers.  Novelties and trick noisemakers may also be sold to consumers at retail, as defined and listed in Section 791.01, Florida Statutes. These items include smoke devices, party poppers, snappers and snakes. The state Fire Marshal licenses stores to sell sparklers in Florida and requires all products sold to consumers be registered with the state. List of Sparklers Approved For 2007

What Can Legally Be Purchased? Sparklers and Novelty Items Only

There are two types of retailers that will be selling sparklers to the general public.

• Retailers: These people sell sparklers to the general public from a fixed place of business throughout the year. For example: convenience stores or supermarkets.
• Seasonal Retailers: These people may sell sparklers only from June 20 through July 5 and from December 10 through January 2. The temporary stands and tents near roads, in parking lots, etc. are operated by seasonal retailers.

Under state law, all retailers of sparklers are required to be registered by the State Fire Marshal. At the location where the sparklers are being sold the retailer should have a Certificate of Registration from the State Fire Marshal authorizing the business to sell sparklers. The address on the certificate will contain the address of the location where the retailer will sell the sparklers and the address must be the address of the retailer's actual location. If the addresses do not match, then the retailer is in violation of the law.

The State Fire Marshal publishes a list of approved sparklers. If a retailer is selling an item to the general public that is not on the approved list, or the product was obtained from an unlicensed manufacturer, distributor or wholesaler, the retailer is in violation of the law. If the retailer insists the customer sign an affidavit to sell him fireworks products... beware. There are limited exemptions in the fireworks law for explosives purchases by farmers or railroad workers. The retailer, by having the customer sign an affidavit, is shifting all possible violations of Florida Statutes to the buyer by having him sign a statement that is more than likely a false statement.

Fireworks Dangers

Nationwide there are over 24,000 fires associated with fireworks use according to recent statistics. Most of the fires were outdoor brush or refuse fires. These fires usually begin with outdoor use of fireworks. For example, when a device is launched outside and lands on a roof or other location, it can ignite combustibles before being retrieved.

The Florida Department of Health is urging families to take proper precautions during Independence Day celebrations and all summer long. Each year within the United States, more than 4,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in emergency rooms for injuries involving fireworks. Fireworks can result in severe burns, scars and disfigurement that can last a lifetime. Even sparklers, thought to be safe by many people, can reach temperatures above 1000 degrees F and can burn users and bystanders.
Fireworks, including sparklers and flares, can cause serious burns as well as blast injuries that can permanently impair vision and hearing. Children ages five to nine have the highest rate of injury from fireworks, say safety experts.  Families should teach children what to do if their clothing catches on fire ­ 'stop, drop and roll' ­ and how to call 911 in an emergency. Keep a phone handy, and know first aid for burns. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it. Keep all children under active supervision. 

LaBelle Real Estate Sales Slow

LABELLE, FL. -- Sales were slow in June in the LaBelle area. From June 5 to June 26, there were only three homes sold in the LaBelle area, all in Port LaBelle. One Port LaBelle vacant lot was also recorded. The sales this month were:

1) $25,000 on Arnet Lane (vacant lot)
2) $113,000 on Bishop Circle
3) $195,000 on Buttercup Circle
4) $162,000 on Memory Circle

Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem Gets Funding

Governor Signs New Law For Okeechobee Ecosystem Restoration

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist this week signed a "green" law that expands the restoration of the famed Everglades River of Grass to Lake Okeechobee and the farthest northern reaches of the Everglades ecosystem.  The new law provides the infusion of funding for improving and protecting the health of the northern Everglades, including the nation's second largest freshwater lake and its surrounding coastal estuaries. 

Passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature, the law expands the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act to safeguard and restore the entire northern Everglades system, including the Lake Okeechobee watershed as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.  Over the next two years, the law calls for the development of plans to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water north of Lake Okeechobee.  These plans will augment and enhance restoration currently underway in the remnant Everglades south of the lake. 

As part of the plan to improve the health of the northern Everglades, Florida will set aside land, construct treatment wetlands and identify the water storage areas needed to improve the quality, timing and distribution of water into the natural system.

Additionally, the protection plans for Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries will require improved best farming practices, the use of the best available "green" technologies to clean up pollutants, more stringent regulations for the application of wastewater residuals in the watershed and an accelerated timeline for implementing a Total Maximum Daily Load for the Caloosahatchee.  The law requires the South Florida Water Management District to develop the protection plans in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and affected local governments – including Lee, Hendry, Charlotte, Glades, Okeechobee, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The law extends the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund for 10 years through 2020 and expands its purpose.  Florida's 2007-08 budget, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Crist, includes $200 million for the restoration and protection of the River of Grass, allocating $100 million for Everglades restoration, $54 million for the restoration of Lake Okeechobee, as well as $40 million to protect the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Joe Hilliard Receives Ag Award

Joe Marlin Hilliard, owner and general partner of Hilliard Brothers of Florida, has received the University of Florida Gamma Sigma Delta chapter’s award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture.

Jimmy Cheek, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, presented the award to Hilliard in Clewiston. Gamma Sigma Delta is UF’s agriculture honorary society.

Photo: Joe Hilliard and Jimmy Cheek

Hilliard has been active in agriculture for many years, helping form the Southwest Florida Agricultural Council, which was instrumental in securing legislative funding for the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. The 320-acre center is used for vegetable and fruit research, as well as a natural preserve and a 30-acre water reservoir.

Hilliard is chairman of the Florida Sugar Cane League, a former chairman of the Florida Game and Fish Commission, former president of the Florida Land Council, past president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and a former member of the Florida Citrus Commission.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

FPL Giving Money To Glades Students

Larry Luckey To Receive Check For Students

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Southwest Florida Leadership Foundation and Florida Power and Light are providing a $30,000 gift to high school students in Glades County at the upcoming luncheon with leaders from four institutions of higher learning.  Representatives of the Southwest Florida Leadership Foundation and FPL will present the check to Larry Luckey, Director for the Moore Haven High School Scholarship Foundation.  The Moore Haven Foundation will distribute the funds to student applicants in the Glades County Community.

The Southwest Florida Leadership Foundation is a public charity founded by leaders of the regional chamber of commerce and graduates of its leadership programs. Steve Tirey, President of The Chamber of Southwest Florida stated, "Without the generosity of FPL and the new Southwest Florida Leadership Foundation, we would not be able to provide this gift."

Four university and college Presidents will be the guest speakers for a luncheon with regional business leaders on Wednesday, June 27th in Fort Myers. Ave Maria University, Hodges University, Edison College, and Florida Gulf Coast University will each participate in the roundtable forum and discussion.  The ""ssues and Barbeque" luncheon is hosted by Hodges University and Wright Construction.

Those confirmed to attend include: Joe Shepard, FGCU, Terry McMahan, Hodges University, Robert R. Jones, Edison College and Nick Healy from Ave Maria University.  Steve Calabro of Southwest Florida College will moderate the session.

Maine's Best Seafood Flounders In Safety

Unlicensed Port LaBelle Restaurant Flouts Laws

LABELLE, FL. -- Recent happenings at the Port LaBelle Inn's restaurant indicates that Maine's Best Seafood restaurant may be one of LaBelle worst food spots, or at least dirtiest. Food inspectors have been publicly citing the operator Well Done Food Concepts, Inc., doing business as Maine's Best Seafood, for dozens of critical food safety violations after numerous inspections over the last seven months.

The Sunday Morning News this week discovered two public and three "hidden" reports relating to the poor food safety history of Maine's Best at the Port LaBelle Inn.

In November 2006, the restaurant was cited with 11 critical safety violations. Included were food being stored in ice used for drinks, vegetables stored on the floor, a buildup of slime in the ice machine, handwashing cleanser lacking at sinks in bathroom, kitchen, and dishwashing area, stove hood fire suppression system inspection out of date by 15 months, and no proof of required employee training.

In April 2007, the restaurant was inspected again and this time 13 critical violations and 2 non-critical were found.  This time previous uncorrected violations were again cited and new ones including storing raw meat on shelves above uncovered soups and sauces,  food stored on  floors, uncovered soups and foods stored in dry storage and cooler, employee eating in preparation area or other restricted areas, two hand washing stations without provision for drying hands.  The stove hood fire suppression system inspection was now out of date by 19 months. And the restaurant was found to be operating without a restaurant license, the manager had no food manager certification, and employees had no proof of training. Proof of manager certification and employee certification is required by Florida.

Although the Department of Professional Regulation has a website with supposedly the latest inspection reports for every restaurant, the Sunday Morning News discovered the department for some reason was holding back on publishing any reports after April 3, 2007 about Maine's Best.  After requests for information to the department and finally the Governor's office, we received inspections reports made for April 25 and June 4, and a report indicating why there may have been an official "reluctance" to turn over these reports. 

"Hidden Reports" After Local Realtor Gets Sick At Maine's Best  - State Clams Up

On April 10, Wanda Bankston, a local LaBelle real estate broker was eating dinner at Maine's Best Seafood and about seven hours later became chilled and then feverish, with diarrhea and vomiting. Bankston said she had been eating mussels at the seafood restaurant. Bankston later called the Hendry Health Department, who contacted the Division of Business and Professional Regulation, Department of Hotels and Restaurants who filled out a foodborne illness form about the incident. 

On April 25, the state sent an inspector out to the restaurant finding safety violations again including food surfaces not sanitized or clean and the food manager still not certified. Dirty wiping cloths were found, required thermometers missing, dirty shelves and cooler, and the restaurant was still not licensed.

On June 4, the inspector returned, and no surprise here, still no restaurant license, and more dirt and continuing food safety violations and the inspector recommended the department issue a "administrative complaint." Warnings had previously been given to the restaurant.  The restaurant is still open.

Meanwhile Bankston says this week she has not heard from anyone after her complaint to the Health Department until we contacted her. The Sunday Morning News began investigation, making a call to the Division of Hotels And Restaurants on June 15, and after making many more contacts with the state, didn't receive anything until June 27 when the Bankston complaint and two inspection forms were emailed to us. Officials said they "lost" our email address. 

Got a complaint about food and restaurants or hotels? Try this email address and see if you get a response:  or go to the DBPR website below to file complaints or inquire about hotel or restaurant reports online.

Florida Food Safety Inspection Reports On Maine's Best

Coming Story: What's Up With The Port LaBelle Inn?

'Shop And Compare' Insurance Rates - Thumbs Down

Governor's New Effort To Appease Citizens A Time Waster

LABELLE, FL -- Governor Charlie Crist today announced the launch of "Shop and Compare Rates," a Web site that assists consumers comparing homeowners insurance rates throughout Florida. In Miami, the Governor ceremonially signed legislation to continue insurance reforms by freezing Citizens Property Insurance rates and implementing additional measures to help stabilize the insurance market.

"Many Florida homeowners find it difficult and frustrating to compare the cost of homeowners insurance," said Governor Crist. "This site is a valuable tool and serves as starting point to help Floridians find the insurance policy best suited to their needs."

Well, yes and no Governor.  As hard as they try to convince the public they are helping, the politicians are only slapping themselves on the back for the great job they are doing while not contributing anything of substance for the consumer public. We tried the new insurance website and found it a terrific waste of time. The Sunday Morning News has been contacting insurance regulators for months about improving the access to insurance information available to consumers. Today, what looked like a good effort in disclosing rates by insurance companies, turns out to be a disaster as far as helping any consumer find access to affordable insurance.

"Shop and Compare Rates" is an interactive tool available at online at The program assists consumers with comparing homeowners insurance rates in all 67 Florida counties. By clicking on each county, a consumer will see a pop-up window with a representative sample of companies and rates for insuring a typical Florida home. The list of insurers is sorted from the lowest to highest cost and provides a link to the company�s contact information.

Unfortunately, the companies listed can not and will not give you a quote or sell you insurance but will tell you to contact an agent.  Expect to be put on hold for considerable time while they look up an agent's phone number for you. When you contact an agent, you will be in for more surprises as they most likely will tell you they don't sell insurance for that company.  The website also uses an example of a 5-year old home, so most likely the agent will also tell you that there are only one or two companies that will write a policy for you instead of the dozens found on the Governor's new website.   The bottom line:  skip this website and keep contacting your government officials for real help in getting better insurance rates and consumer information.

Commissioner Kevin McCarty of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation joined Governor Crist in Tallahassee for the announcement and ceremonial bill signing and provided a demonstration of the "Shop and Compare Rates" Web site.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kids Injured In ATV Crash

Illegal Four-Wheeler Riders - Another Accident

LABELLE, FL. -- A crash Sunday afternoon between an all terrain vehicle and a Ford truck left two pre-tenns injured and taken to Lee Memorial Hospital with critical injuries.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the two boys were hit as they pulled from a wooded area onto Ft. Denaud Road west of LaBelle and north of Huggetts Road. ATV passenger Johnny Marquez age 9, of 43 Everglades Street, LaBelle, and driver Ryan M. Hellard age 12, of 1391 Navaho Avenue, LaBelle are reportedly being treated for broken legs.

The 2000 Ford truck driver, Solon Mils, 76 of LaBelle was not charged in the accident. Both boys were illegally riding the 1998 Yamaha ATV. In Hendry county, no ATVs may be ridden on public property or roadways. ATVs, as unlicensed vehicles, are often ridden unsupervised throughout the area by youths usually without protective headgear, and are a leading cause of serious juvenile injury.

The ATV had $10,000 damage according to FHP Trooper Timothy W. Burtcher and the Ford truck $500. Charges are pending against the ATV driver.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mel Karau Re-Appointed To Planning Council

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist today announced the re-appointment of Mel Karau of LaBelle to the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. Karau, 73 will serve until October 1, 2009. Karau is chairman of the Hendry County Republican Executive Committee. Others appointed are: David Farley, 65, of Venice, funeral director, Venice Memorial Gardens, succeeding Rory Dubin, appointed for a term beginning June 22, 2007, and ending October 1, 2009 and Alan LeBeau Sr., 58, of Punta Gorda, general contractor, LeBeau Construction Inc., succeeding Frank Weikel, appointed for a term beginning June 22, 2007, and ending October 1, 2009.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Steroid Testing Coming For High School Athletes

Tests For Football, Baseball And Weightlifters

LABELLE, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist today signed House Bill 461 establishing a pilot program that provides for random steroid testing of high school athletes participating in interscholastic football, baseball, and weightlifting. The Governor also signed House Bill 463 making student records relating to steroid drug tests confidential.

"We have a responsibility to teach our children about the serious health risks as well as the legal penalties associated with steroid use," said Governor Crist. "By creating awareness among athletes, parents, coaches and school administrators early, we can help prevent serious health problems and drug abuse later on."

House Bill 461 requires the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) to establish a random anabolic steroid testing program for the 2007-2008 school year. Up to one percent of high school student athletes will be tested. Involvement in the pilot program is a prerequisite for all schools to be members of the FHSAA, both public and private. The question remains whether student athletes will guess than their chances are slim in getting caught as less than one athlete in a hundred will be tested.

House Bill 463 creates a public records exemption, making students' records relating to anabolic steroid drug tests confidential and exempt from public disclosure. The bill also provides an exemption from public meeting requirements when the exempt records are discussed or presented. This means no one other than school authorities will be able to determine what individual has tested positive for illegal drugs.  Observers says this legislation will not help curb drug use by athletes but will prove a boon to private drug testing companies now setting up to provide the student testing.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sheriff Responsible For Woman's Death Says Jury

Sheriff Ronnie Lee Wins In Federal Court But Found Negligent In Hendry County

LABELLE, FL. -- In a complicated multi-year, multi-lawyered series of Federal and finally State court cases, Hendry county Sheriff Ronnie Lee has been found negligent in carrying out his duties and his department's negligence caused the death of a Ft. Myers woman in 1998. The court cases resulted from Lee hiring a jailed inmate, Terry Lynn Gartno as a confidential informant and allowed him out of jail early. Gartno killed a woman in a traffic crash in Ft. Myers during a period of time Gartno had been working for the DEA and the Sheriff in making drug buys.

Several Federal cases were filed by the family of Kristina Waddell against Sheriff Lee and Lieutenant Susan Sibbald, the Hendry jail supervisor alleging violation of Waddell's rights, but the family's arguments were lost at the Middle District Court level and lost again upon appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District.

In October 1997, Terry Garnto, a longtime resident of Clewiston, Florida, was convicted of battery. In November 1997, Garnto was sentenced to 364 days imprisonment, reduced by 29-days� credit for time served in the Hendry County Jail. While serving his sentence as a �trusty� in the Hendry County Jail, Garnto spoke with Sheriff Lee of the Hendry County Sheriff�s Office  about becoming a confidential informant on the illegal drug trade in Hendry County.

After Sheriff Lee spoke with Garnto, the matter was turned over to then HCSO Captain John Vetter and narcotics investigators Richard Notaro and Grady Johnson, Jr. When Officer Notaro learned of Garnto�s extensive criminal record, Officer Notaro expressed concern about using Garnto as a confidential informant. Captain Vetter, however, reasoned that Garnto�s record was no worse than that of confidential informants used in federal criminal prosecutions and approved use of Garnto as a confidential informant.

In February 1998, Garnto was enrolled as a confidential informant. That same day HCSO�s jail administrator, Lieutenant Sibbald, released Garnto from jail under a �work release� agreement. Under the agreement, Garnto worked at the HCSO�s Clewiston substation by day and stayed with his mother at night. Pursuant to the work release agreement, Garnto signed a document promising to consume no drugs or alcohol. Lieutenant Sibbald maintains that she did not know Garnto was to be used as a confidential informant for HCSO. Five days after his release, in the early morning hours of 8 February 1998, a police officer found Garnto wandering around Clewiston. Garnto was intoxicated.

Garnto had been arrested 41 times and had about 19 convictions including robbery, burglary, escape, and battery. Garnto�s driving record also reflected that he had been arrested and convicted for driving under the influence and reckless driving.

Although Hendry County officers, including Lieutenant Sibbald, contend that they had no knowledge of this outstanding warrant, evidence exists that Garnto had filed a request in jail to see a lawyer about an outstanding warrant in Palm Beach County.  Upon discovering that Garnto, in Palm Beach County, had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear on a charge of attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud, the officer arrested Garnto. Garnto later was transferred to a jail in Palm Beach County.

On 25 February 1998, Lieutenant Sibbald wrote to the Palm Beach County State Attorney�s Office. She requested that Garnto, if convicted in Palm Beach County, be returned to Hendry County to serve his sentence. Lieutenant Sibbald wrote that Garnto was "working with us on several projects" and the Federal court says she may have deceptively indicated that Garnto would be incarcerated at the Hendry County Jail, when in actuality he was to be released again. On 2 April 1998, Garnto was sentenced to one-year imprisonment on the Palm Beach County charge. The judge recommended that Garnto be allowed to serve his sentence in Hendry County. On 19 April 1998, Garnto was returned to Hendry County and immediately was returned to work-release status. Garnto continued to make controlled drug purchases for HCSO.

One of the alleged drug traffickers HCSO had targeted was Jesus Sanchez. Because HCSO had limited funds with which to conduct its drug operations, Officer Notaro contacted Dennis Eads, a Federal DEA agent, to see if the DEA was interested in using Garnto to purchase drugs from Sanchez. After observing Garnto act in his confidential informant capacity, Agent Eads had Garnto sign an agreement to work with the DEA as a confidential informant.

Under the supervision of Agent Eads, Garnto purchased drugs from Marcus Dennis, an associate of Sanchez. After the DEA signed Garnto as a confidential informant, HCSO assisted the DEA by providing equipment and personnel to perform controlled drug purchases. Officer Notaro informed Garnto, however, that, if Garnto had information pertaining to Sanchez or Dennis, Garnto needed to call Agent Eads. HCSO continued to use Garnto for controlled drug purchases with other suspected drug dealers. Garnto sought to introduce Agent Eads -- in an undercover capacity -- to Dennis so that Agent Eads could purchase cocaine from Dennis.

At a debriefing on 3 July 1998, Garnto told Agent Eads that Garnto was planning to spend the Fourth of July weekend with Dennis at Fort Myers Beach in neighboring Lee County and that it might be possible to arrange a meeting between Agent Eads and Dennis at that time. Agent Eads told Garnto to page him if Dennis wished to meet. Agent Eads also asked Officer Notaro if he would be available to attend the possible meeting between Agent Eads and Dennis. Officer Notaro indicated he would be available but stated that he had to check with his supervisor.

On 4 July, Garnto went to Fort Myers Beach with Dennis, Mary Harper and another woman. On 5 July, Garnto consumed substantial quantities of alcohol. Upon leaving the beach, Garnto drove away in Harper�s car. Garnto later claimed that Sanchez began following him and that Garnto was on his way to page Agent Eads for instructions when Garnto lost control of the car. Gantro crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic and ran into a vehicle occupied by Erik Hemerson, Gary Wheeler, and Kristina Waddell. Waddell died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the collision, and Hemerson and Wheeler suffered serious injuries.

On 7 July 1998, HCSO terminated its confidential informant contract with Garnto. Plaintiffs filed against Defendants three separate complaints which were consolidated by the district court. Plaintiffs alleged that HCSO and Sheriff Lee, in his official capacity, had violated Plaintiffs� substantive due process rights by unlawfully releasing Garnto, making him a paid agent, and failing to monitor him. Plaintiffs further alleged that HCSO, through its agents Sheriff Lee and Lieutenant Sibbald, had acted with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the public and with willful indifference to Plaintiffs� rights. Plaintiffs also brought claims against Sheriff Lee and Lieutenant Sibbald in their individual capacities, alleging
In their third count, Plaintiffs raised state-law tort claims. The district court declined to exercise pendent jurisdiction over these claims and dismissed them without prejudice.

The district court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Garnto was a state actor for the Defendants at the time of the traffic collision, and that Defendants� conduct did not meet the conscience-shocking standard necessary to constitute a substantive due process violation, and that, even assuming Defendants� behavior was wrongful in a constitutional sense, this conduct was not the legal cause of the accident. The district court also determined that it would be an unwarranted and impermissible extension of substantive due process to hold Defendants responsible for the losses caused by the incident. Plaintiffs appealed and again lost in Federal court.

But in Hendry county court, Larry Norman Waddell, as personal representative for the estate of Kristina Waddell won a victory against Sheriff Lee last month on May 18 when a Hendry jury found Lee negligent "in the hiring or retention of Terry Lynn Gartno" and that his negligence was a legal cause for the accident killing Waddell on July 5, 1998. The jury also said Lee was negligent in releasing Gartno from jail and that negligence was also a cause for the fatal accident. The jury did not find for the Plaintiff's claim that Gartno was in the employ of the Sheriff at the time of the accident nor find that Lee was negligent in supervising Gartno at the time of the accident.

It is expected that appeals will also be filed in this case by the Sheriff which will cause the ultimate findings to be delayed for several more years.

Friday, June 15, 2007

LaBelle Chinese Restaurant Now Safe

Food Inspector Says Emergency Food Order Satisfied

LABELLE, FL. -  Inspectors from the Florida Hotel and Restaurant Division have given the all clear to the Fortune Cookie Restaurant in downtown LaBelle. The small restaurant had been under an emergency order since May 2 when inspectors found 27 critical food safety violations. A follow up inspection the next day revealed 16 violations still existing.

Violations included slime in ice machine, live roaches in food prep area and under food containers, and flies in kitchen. Over the following weeks, the restaurant operators were able to satisfy all the food safety issues. The latest inspection on June 13 found no violations.

The Fortune Cookie is not the only local restaurant with dozen of critical food safety violation citations.  You can easily check complaints and inspection reports from Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Search For Restaurant/Hotel Inspections Reports

See all Fortune Cookie food violation inspection reports

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Okeechobee's Eddy Farm Gets Recognition

Maude Road Farm Over 100 Years Old

OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson announced that a farm in Okeechobee County has qualified for recognition as a Century Pioneer Family Farm.  Recognition in this program means that the families have maintained continuous ownership of the property for at least 100 years.
The family is headed by Enoch and Tealy Wingate Eddy, whose farm is located on Maude Road in Okeechobee County.  "This family has been able to retain ownership of their land through the Depression, diseases, droughts, freezes and the urbanization of Florida," Bronson said.  "That is a great tribute to the many generations of this family."
Mrs. Eddy says "the farm is still in pretty much in its original condition." The 65-acre family farm is full of virgin timber and is home to a herd of Florida cracker cattle.
Since the program began 25 years ago, 130 family farms have received the Century Pioneer Farm designation.  The program is administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with assistance of the Florida Agricultural Museum.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Large Fires Erupt In Port LaBelle

Storm Ignites Brush, Contributes to Vehicle Crashes

LABELLE, FL. - Emergency personnel were dispatched to the area of the Port LaBelle Middle School as large brush fires were erupting through the area, probably caused by lightning as a storm passed north over the area around 5 p.m.

The LaBelle Fire Department ordered in assistance from over a dozen units from the Department of Forestry, Pioneer, Montura, Clewiston and Glades county, all staging at the LaBelle Middle School. Meanwhile other emergency units were called at the same time for traffic accidents in Hendry county on the north side of the river including a roll-over accident. And at least one injury was reported in a crash between a motorcyclist and vehicle.

An hour later another roll-over accident was reported in front of the Christian School on Cowboy Way after heavy rains charged through the LaBelle area. A male victim reported back injuries as a result of the crash.

At about 7 p.m. most of the fire units were cleared from the Port LaBelle area as the heavy rains made the scattered fires less dangerous.

Photo: Clewiston Fire Department Brush Truck And Firemen Waiting For Orders

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Black Swan Is Out To Bite You

The Impact Of The Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb

LABELLE, FL. --  I don't normally do book reviews. But circumstances no longer allow me to ignore the latest by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Author of Fooled By Randomness, Taleb is going to anger many, while others may shake their heads in disbelief at his latest The Black Swan.

When is the last time your life changed unpredictably?  Taleb says probably fairly recently. And further more, unforeseen events have probably guided your life's adventure repeatedly. 

According to the author, most things happen randomly and he distinguishes two types. Type One: things that are routine, obvious, and can be predicted among fairly small samples; examples include average height, weight, average income for a professional, wage earner, or small business owner, gambling profits, car accidents, average IQ.

Type Two are those things less predictable and subject to the unseen, the accidental; wealth, income, becoming famous, damage by war or natural disaster, direction of financial markets, commodity prices, inflation rates, economic data.

Taleb says there are a few things in the world that are easy to predict from what you see, and can be extended to what you do not see. On the other hand there are many more things that are extremely hard to predict from past information. The latter are more likely to be found in our modern environment where most everything is now complex. And here lies the rub: those things that are not predictable, he calls "Black Swans" and they are the events that are likely to change history quickly and without warning.

Taleb contends that, because of the extreme difficulty in predicting "Black Swans,"  professional advisors "wearing suits," i.e. financial consultants, politicians, stock brokers, lawyers, etc. are just playing roles as "experts" but have in reality have never been able to predict the future with any accuracy at all.  He also jabs at newspapers, journalists and other current event or historical commentators, that he says aren't of any use in providing any real knowledge when attributing reasons for "why" some event happened. 

Taleb says when you observe normal random events you can get to know what's going on quickly, but for Black Swan events, it will "take a long time to know what's going on" if ever.  Because of the complexity of modern events, there is just no way to predict what will happen or to explain what happened after it happened.  Instead of relying on "expert" predictions, which are only chance guesses,  protect yourself from possible negative consequences from a "Black Swan" event that is unforseen.

The bottom line: Don't fool yourself or be fooled by others when they attempt predicting the future.  Realize that most things with even a modest complexity are not predictable. And read this book. Check online for many detailed summaries of Taleb's premise. The book is available at the Clewiston Public Library.

Unfinished New Homes Await Turnaround

Builders Stop Work On New Homes

LABELLE, FL. -- New home building in the area has come to a standstill as builders attempt to sell off their existing unsold homes. Only one new home has been hooked up to water and electric utilities in the last three months.

There is an extensive builder inventory of unsold new homes and dozens of uncompleted building shells are scattered throughout Port LaBelle. Some builders have uncompleted homes with no work being done for almost a year.

Photo: A full block of CHL Home Builders, Inc. homes lay uncompleted. Building permits for many uncompleted homes throughout Hendry county were issued nearly two years ago.

From May 22 to June 5, there were eight homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $186,125. All but two were in unincorporated Hendry county in the Port LaBelle community.

1) $138,000 on Albany Rd

2) $183,000 on Brazil Cir

3) $250,000 on Case Rd

4) $214,000 on Keystone Cir

5) $105,000 on Phillips Rd

6) $240,000 on Showboat Ln

7) $204,000 on S Montana Cir

8) $155,000 on W Palomar Cir

If you enjoy the Sunday Morning News online, would you leave us a "Comment" at iTunes? Connect to iTunes

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Electricity Out In LaBelle

Electric Expected To Be Out for 10 Hours in Port LaBelle Area

LABELLE, FL. -- Electric went out in much of LaBelle, areas south of LaBelle, and Port LaBelle Thursday night about 7:40 p.m. Residents waited for FPL linemen to reach LaBelle to begin repairing a pole that took out electric service for about 10,000 people. Crews began restoring power about 9:30 for parts of the city of LaBelle.

Unfortunately, for the remainder of residents in Port LaBelle and State Road 29 South, electric is expected to be out of service until about 5:30 a.m. Friday morning as FPL replaces a pole. A fire was reported on a pole at Case Road and S.R. 29 South Thursday about 9 p.m. It is unknown at this time whether this was related to the widespread electrical problems.

In The Service

LABELLE, FL. -- Air Force Airman Matthew D. Santiago has graduated from basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. During the six weeks of training, the airman studied the Air Force mission, organization, and military customs and courtesies; performed drill and ceremony marches, and received physical training, rifle marksmanship, field training exercises, and special training in human relations. In addition, airmen who complete basic training earn credits toward an associate degree through the Community College of the Air Force.  He is the son of Efrain Santiago of Oakhaven Drive, and grandson of Jane Mariapen of Rainbow Circle, both of Labelle, Fla.  Santiago is a 2004 graduate of Labelle High School.

If you enjoy the Sunday Morning News online, would you leave a "Comment" at iTunes?  Connect to iTunes

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tuberculosis In LaBelle? Mother Says 'Yes'

Special Report: Mom Says Daughter Has Tuberculosis

LABELLE, FL. -- A LaBelle mother has told a Ft. Myers Television station that her daughter has tuberculosis and is in the hospital.  Paula Martin who lives in the city of LaBelle in a modest house on 5th Avenue says her 34-year old daughter Andrea Page  was diagnosed with tuberculosis a month ago. Martin claims her daughter got TB about nine months ago and believes others have caught it,  and wants people to know her daughter is a victim in the situation, claiming her daughter "didn't do this."

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs. The germs are put into the air when a person with TB of the lung coughs, sneezes, laughs or sings. TB can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys or the spine. General symptoms may include feeling weak or sick, weight loss, fever and/or night sweats. Symptoms of TB of the lungs may include cough, chest pain and/or coughing up blood. Other symptoms depend on the particular part of the body that is affected.

Although Florida law requires this disease when diagnosed as suspected or in an active state to be reported within 72 hours and immediately by telephone to the Health Department where the patient lives, no medical officials reportedly have confirmed the mother's allegation. Although tuberculosis is common around the world with about one-third the world's population infected, it is rarer in the U.S. About 2,000,000 million people die around the world of tuberculosis, more than any other infectious disease including AIDS.  Eight million new cases occur each year, 22,000 in the U.S.  10 to 15 million people in the U.S. are infected with the TB germ, with the potential to develop TB disease in the future.

The Florida Department of Health reported only 137 cases in Florida in the first two months of 2007, the latest reporting period. Hendry county had one reported case.  Miami-Dade county had 29 cases and Orange county 17. Lee county had 4 cases. The state's tuberculosis hospital A. G. Holley State Hospital is in Broward County.

Those at higher risk to get TB include:
      • People who share the same breathing space (such as family members, friends, co-workers) with someone who has TB disease;
      • Poor people;
      • Homeless people;
      • Foreign-born people form countries where a lot of people have TB;
      • Nursing home residents;
      • Prisoners
      • Alcoholics and intravenous drug users (IVDUs)
      • People with medical conditions such as diabetes, certain types of cancers, and being underweight; and especially
      • People with HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS).

If you enjoy the Sunday Morning News online, would you leave us a "Comment" at iTunes??? Connect to iTunes

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

FPL Glades Power Plant Voted Down

Governor Applauds Turn Down

MOORE HAVEN, FL. - The Florida Public Service Commission voted 4-0 to day to deny Florida Power and Light's proposal for a coal-fired new power plant in Glades county.  The decision means that the Commissioners decided the proposal was not economically feasible for the company's customers.
Governor Charlie Crist said today, "I applaud the Florida Public Service Commission's decision to deny Florida Power & Light Company's petition seeking approval to construct a coal-fired power plant in Glades County.  The Public Service Commission today made the right decision for the environment, the right decision for the Everglades and the right decision for Florida.  I congratulate the commissioners on their unanimous vote and commend them for their leadership on behalf of the people of Florida.  I have been concerned about both the proposed technology and the location of the Glades Power Park.  For those reasons, I believe the Public Service Commission has made the right choice. As we seek to address the challenges presented by global climate change, leadership of the caliber demonstrated today by the Public Service Commission will be essential to our success."

FPL President Armando Olivera recently argued that coal is the way to go and said, "The prices of liquefied natural gas are tied to the world oil market, and we've all felt the pain that causes at the gas pump. There are other concerns, too. FP&L gets its natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma reminded all of us about fuel disruptions that can occur when storms roar through the gulf. Clean coal is a reality, built on engineering and environmental leadership, allowing FPL to meet your energy needs while respecting your hard-earned money."

Environmental groups, including a contingent from Glades county, have fought the proposal for months. At recent hearings, three Glades county commissioners argued that the plant was desperately needed to create jobs and economic growth in their rural county.  Those opposed to the plant said the coal fired plant would create pollution in the Everglades at the same time governments are spending million to clean up the environmental damage already done.

Juvenile Girl Reported Missing

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Two juvenile girls have been reported missing from the Montura area of Hendry County according to the Hendry County Sheriff's Office. One has been located but still missing is Natasha Ivette Perez, a Hispanic Female, Age 14, 5 ft. 2 in. tall---200 lbs. Description: Long Black Hair, Possibly in a Pony Tail, Brown Eyes. Missing since May 30, 2007. She was reported traveling together with 15 year old Yailey Carmona who has returned home, but was originally reported missing on May 28. Anyone with information should call the Sheriff's office at 863-674-4060.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Large Fires Out In South Hendry County

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry county received between one and two inches of rainfall over the weekend helping to put out the large fires burning in forest lands in southern Hendry and eastern Collier county. According to Gerry LaCavera of the Florida Division of Forestry the wildfires in Picayune Strand State Forest (Collier County) and Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest (Hendry County) are 100% contained. The fire in Big Cypress is now 90% contained at 63,599 acres.

LaCavera, a wildfire management specialist with the department, says although the wildfire risk was temporarily lowered by the rainfall received over the weekend, high winds and high temperatures could raise the risk again by mid-week even without additional rainfall.

River Clean Up Week In LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- In celebration of American Rivers Clean Up Week the Hendry/LaBelle Recreation Board and Coalition for Eco-Recreation would like to invite community organizations, youth groups, and individuals to help remove debris and invasive plants from the canal on the west side of Bob Mason Park on Saturday June 9 from 7:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m. sBob Mason Park is on the north side of the Caloosahatchee River, a mile west of State Road 29 North.

Volunteering at this community park for one half hour or more will make a difference. Trash bags and some tools will be provided. Hats, gloves, long pants, sturdy shoes and insect repellant are recommended. Participants are encouraged to bring wheelbarrows, rakes and shovels. Water will be provided. For information contact Margaret England at 674-0695.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ancient Artifacts Found In Lake Okeechobee

Bodies and Boats Found

BELLE GLADE, FL. -- State and Palm Beach County archaeologists are exploring a recently discovered site containing what may be 16th century boats and bodies.  Authorities were notified by Belle Glade resident Boots Boyer that he found some artifacts in the muck and mud near a clump of trees along the shores of Lake Okeechobee about two months ago.  The lake is at historic low water levels, allowing land to be exposed that is normally underwater.

State Archaeologist Ryan Wheeler  says Palm Beach County has been issued a permit to begin a study of the site. Although the artifacts most likely predate any existing Indian tribes arrival in Florida, Wheeler has contacted the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes.

Archaeologist Christian Davenport, with the Palm Beach County planning division, has inspected the site, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is patrolling the area, keeping away anyone who might disturb the site.  It is illegal to disturb any historic or archaeological site in Florida, or remove any items from it.

If you enjoy the Sunday Morning News online, would you leave us a "Comment" at iTunes??? Connect to iTunes

Friday, June 01, 2007

LaBelle And Clewiston Get $1.4 Million From State

Your Tax Dollars At Work

LABELLE, FL. -- The Florida Department of Community Affairs today announced that it has awarded $1.4 million to two local governments in Hendry County to bring new employers and jobs to area residents. The grants, awarded by the state through a competitive process, will enable the communities to attract a mattress manufacturing facility and a medical professional complex that combined will create an estimated 100 new jobs.

The funds, provided through the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, will be used for infrastructure, and more than half the newly created jobs must go to workers from low- or moderate-income households. For the mattress manufacturing facility, a $700,000 grant to the City of Clewiston will provide infrastructure in the form of street improvements and associated flood and drainage improvements. Meanwhile, a $700,000 grant to the City of LaBelle will provide necessary water, sewer and street improvements for a medical professional complex that will house an expanding dental practice.

The grant to the City of Clewiston will fund a portion of the infrastructure supporting the construction of an $8.5-million mattress manufacturing facility within the city's new industrial park. The 62,500-square foot facility is being built by PranaSleep LLC, a subsidiary of City Mattress, which has eleven retail locations in the southern part of the state. The manufacturing facility will employ an estimated 80 people. Clewiston Mayor Mali Chamness expressed the city�s appreciation for the grant, saying, "This is a great success and we are excited about the economic impact Pranasleep brings to our community. Their presence will have a positive effect on our ability to create many good paying jobs within our new Clewiston Commerce Park and ultimately improve the local economy in this region for years to come."

The grant to the City of LaBelle will be used to extend water and sewer lines to the site of the LaBelle Professional Center. The $2.6-million facility will employ an estimated 21 individuals providing medical services for LaBelle and Hendry County. In a recent letter to DCA, Mayor Randal A. Bengston said, "I would like to thank you in advance for your continuous efforts to provide funds to erect the LaBelle Professional Center. . . .Your program will provide needed employment for our residents, as well as (meet) the great need for additional health care for our citizens and visitors to the City of LaBelle and Hendry County."

The CDBG program is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is administered by DCA's Division of Housing and Community Development.  The program provides dollars to small local governments for projects that include housing, neighborhood revitalization, commercial revitalization and economic development initiatives.

If you enjoy the Sunday Morning News online, would you leave us a "Comment" at iTunes??? Connect to iTunes

Fires Burn At Lake Okeechobee

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- On May 28, fire broke out in Buckhead Marsh just west of Pearce Canal at Buckhead Ridge. The fire initially moved in a slow decent to the south toward Indian Prairie, but quickly gained speed and strength. Multiple agencies participated in a coordinated response to control the fire: South Florida Water Management District, Department of Forestry, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Glades County, Lakeport and Buckhead Fire Departments.

A backfire was set in Indian Prairie to intercept and halt incoming flames from the initial outbreak . A backfire is a fire started to stop an advancing fire by creating a burned area in its path.Strong winds, however, allowed the fire to push through the backburn and spread into the marsh at Harney Pond at Lakeport. To date, approximately 9000-12,000 acres of marsh and upland habitat have burned. The source of the fire is unknown but is suspected to have been an intentional act.

The greatest danger posed by fire is the potential for it to �jump� the rim canal and tow ditch and damage private property. Conservation experts say fire can be beneficial in releasing nutrients from burned plants, helping to stimulate growth in unproductive habitats. Fire also burns away thick, old growth vegetation and creates space for new plants to thrive.