Thursday, April 30, 2009

Record Drought Continues In S. Florida


Driest Season In South Florida History

LABELLE, FL. -- With no significant rain forecast for the final day of the month, the 2008-2009 South Florida dry season ranks as the driest since recordkeeping began in 1932. The 1970-1971 dry season set the previous record as the driest through the end of April. The dry season typically runs from November 1 through May 31. Water levels in the primary regional storage systems ­ the Water Conservation Areas and Lake Okeechobee ­ continue to drop. A majority of water levels in wells monitored by the District also declined.


Photo: Everglades Fish Camp Normally Surrounded By Water - Now High And Dry



In response to the continually declining water levels, SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle has signed emergency orders that create new water use restrictions in two areas of the District that warrant additional resource protection. The orders will do the following:

Lake Worth Utilities: Cap well field withdrawals for the utility at 5.27 million gallons per day to lower the risk of saltwater intrusion. Existing restrictions limiting landscape irrigation to one day a week remain in effect.

Southern Lehigh Acres, Gateway and Corkscrew Areas: Implement modified Phase II restrictions for users of the Sandstone Aquifer, which is reaching historic low levels, and the Surficial Aquifer. Residential landscape irrigation will be limited to two days a week between midnight and 10 a.m. In addition, the District is aiming for a 30 percent reduction in water use for agriculture, nurseries and golf courses.

Earlier this month, the District issued a burn ban on public land to protect property, the environment and lives amid the drought. The ban only applies to District-managed land and means no fires in grills, fireplaces or fire rings provided by the District or other authorized management agencies until further notice. The use of portable camp stoves and grills, brought in by users for cooking purposes only, is allowed.

Regardless of seasonal rainfall predictions, persistent wet season rains will likely not arrive for several weeks.

The SFWMD is closely monitoring water levels and is urging residents and businesses to conserve water and follow landscape irrigation restrictions to stretch available supplies. For water saving tips, visit http://www.savewaterfl.com/.

In The Service - Darius J. Golson

Pahokee Airman Graduates

Pahokee, Florida -- Air Force Airman Darius J. Golson graduated from basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
    
The airman completed an intensive, eight-week program that included training in military discipline and studies, Air Force core values, physical fitness, and basic warfare principles and skills. Airmen who complete basic training earn four credits toward an associate in applied science degree through the Community College of the Air Force.
    
He is the son of Patricia Washington of Pope Court, Pahokee, Fla. Golson graduated in 2006 from Pahokee High School.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Day In Hendry Criminal Court

Most People Ignore Jury Duty Summons - But Can You Get A Fair Trial?

Commentary by Don Browne

LABELLE, FL. -- It's 8:30 a.m. at the historic Hendry County Courthouse in downtown LaBelle. About 50 people sit quietly filling out paperwork, and others occasionally talking with fellow prospective jury members in the County Commission chambers.

The two score and a half that showed up today for jury duty are only a pimple on the face, of the actual 400 jury appearance summonses sent out several weeks ago by the Hendry Clerk of Courts office demanding an appearance today.

350 prospective jurors are presumably, out and about around Hendry county, doing their own thing today, ignoring the summons for jury duty today, for each of their own 350 different reasons to defy the court's order.

For those who do show up, they may be entitled to a small payment for duty should they be chosen for a jury, and not also being paid by their employers while at court. For the other 350 not showing up, maybe they have a job and just can't afford to take a day  off. Or maybe they're just lazy.

It's 9 a.m. Still waiting on word as to what's going to happen, and when. A bailiff shows up and takes half the group away to the 3rd floor courtroom. The courthouse is being revamped for a new courtroom, so everyone is instructed to go to the 2nd floor and then find their way to the 3rd.

A few minutes later, another bailiff takes the remaining group to the 2nd floor courtroom presided over by longtime affable County Judge James Sloan. It's an interesting courtroom. Construction is going on in the rooms next door. You can heard the drills and pounding of workmen.

Sloan gets moving fast, putting 14 of the group in the jury box and tells the group what's next; the attorneys' chance to choose six jurors and an alternate.

At stake today, defendant Charles Ransom's chance to defend himself against DUI charges stemming from an arrest by the Clewiston Police Department.

Between unpredictable bouts of the drill noises next door, the defense and prosecution lawyers ask questions of the prospective jurors, and at the same time pour on the charm, hoping to be found believable by the jury, as the officers of the court present their cases today.

Oh yes, there is no court reporter, Sloan has explained that's because of a shortage of those folks. Everything is being recorded digitally. Presumably including the construction noise from next door.

Finished, Judge Sloan tells all that he and the attorneys will have a sidebar, and that no one is supposed to hear what they discuss as they choose which seven people to keep. Sloan meets attorneys in a court corner, and pushes a sound effects button turning on static noise over the room speakers to mask attorney/judge conversations.  The construction sounds next door continue.

Done. Seven are chosen. Sloan dismisses the remainder, and takes a short break, telling the excused jury pool jokingly to not run over one another as they head for the door, back to their ordinary non-courtroom lives .

Opening Statements:

The prosecutor tells the jury the defendant was arrested for alcohol intoxication and drug use while driving. The defense plays personable, says his client is a 63-year old Army veteran on prescription drugs, who the day before the arrest had 8-10 beers while watching college football playoffs. The defense will be throwing out all forms of statements to make sure the jury has "reasonable doubts" about finding his client guilty.

After just a few minutes of opening argument from each side, it's lunch time. Not sure if the construction crews next door are breaking also for lunch, but the sounds have stopped.

Is This Anyway To Run A Courthouse?

One would think somehow, a court trial should not have to take place in the next room of a construction site. And one might also believe that using a digital recording of the trial, in lieu of a court reporter, with very loud construction sounds in the vicinity might be a bit problematic.

I noted only three African-Americans showed up for the jury pool. And very few Latinos. Today we get pretty much a white Anglo jury pool, although fairly well matched male to female. If I were a black or Latino defendant, I'd be pretty worried.

If I were the defense attorney, I think I might now have a novel way to attempt an appeal of a guilty verdict in this Hendry county court. 

Christina Kulpa Election Case On Hold

Fighting Christina Kulpa Law Suit, Strickland Says Fees Weren't Paid

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry County Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland is awaiting court orders on pleadings filed claiming former Hendry County Property Appraiser Kristina A. Kulpa neglected to timely pay court fees in Kulpa's suit against Strickland and the Hendry County Canvassing Board.

Kulpa had filed suit November 24, 2008 with the Circuit Court in LaBelle, demanding a new election. Kulpa lost the election to Phillip Pelletier in the November 4 general election by 5 votes, and again lost on a recount by the same amount. The election results were certified by Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland on November 14, after the recount.

Kulpa, through her Boca Raton attorney Peter Feaman of the Florida law firm Hodgson Russ L.L.P. filed a lawsuit at 9:11 a.m. Monday morning November 24, the last day under state law to file. Kulpa, a Republican, claimed "improper assistance to dozens of voters at the Clewiston Supervisor of Elections early voting station which illegally influenced the voters' choice for candidates."

She also claimed that convicted felons may have voted in the election, and that poll workers failed to require "dozens of voters" to sign an affidavit or cast provisional votes when their information did not match info on the election office master file. Kulpa claims that "potentially hundreds of illegal votes were cast."

Strickland has a filing ready to send to the District Court of Appeals claiming that the Circuit Court erred in not dismissing Kulpa's suit for failing to pay court summons fees. Court records show that Kulpa filed her suit on the last day possible under the law, but seemingly failed to have the papers served on the defendants at the same time. The Sheriff's summons fees were not paid when she filed the papers, thus delaying the legal process. Ironically, Kulpa filed several papers asking the Judge to expedite the case , which were later denied as moot, since the case had already been delayed.

Kulpa filed the lawsuit against The Hendry County Canvassing Board, Lucretia Strickland, and Phillip Pelletier. and Hendry county Judge Jim Sloan. Sloan is the chairman of the three member elections Canvassing Board. She has demanded a trial by jury and a court order that the "election be set aside" and a new election be held, and demands court costs be awarded to her.

The case is on hold now awaiting instruction to procede or not from the Appellate Court. Meanwhile the attorneys are having a field day with the complicated case.

And Bring On The Attorneys...

Strickland's attorney, Owen L. Luckey, Jr. is being paid by the Hendry Board of  County Commissioners to represent her. He has filed a witness list of possible people to be deposed or testify of 172 persons. Kulpa, has filed a witness list of 17 witnesses she wants to question. Attorney's will presumably also rack up large amounts of billable time looking over thousands of documents from the election in preparation for a trial.

Phil Pelletier, current Hendry Property Appraiser is left hanging in the wind, as he will presumably be paying his own attorney's fees in the case to defend himself, as he was a private individual when the suit was filed by Kulpa.

Kulpa's attorney, from the law firm Hodgson Russ L.L.P. , is a large firm with over 200 attorneys in eight offices from Toronto, Canada to Palm Beach County. The firm ran into some difficulty last year and agreed to pay $50,000 to the New York Attorney General's Office in response to a statewide investigation over it's improper employment arrangements with school districts and various Boards of Cooperative Educational Services.

An investigation found Hodgson Russ classified it's lawyers for the schools as employees, instead of independent contractors, so that they could be eligible for state pension funds. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said "This is chronic widespread corruption and fraud," and "It's death by a thousand cuts and in the end taxpayers bleed millions of dollars." The firm without admitting any wrongdoing ceased the practice and paid the settlement amount.

"Shylocking" Removed From Florida Statutes

Governor Crist Signs Bill Removing Terms From Lawbooks

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Charlie Crist today signed Senate Bill 813, removing the terms "shylock" and "shylocking" from Florida's laws about unlawful moneylending.  The terms were introduced into Florida statutes during the 1969 legislative session.

 "Today I am proud to sign legislation that honors Florida's Jewish community by removing harmful language from Florida's criminal moneylending laws," Governor Crist said.  "Harmful terms that communicate hate have no place in our society – and especially not in our laws – and the removal of this language is long overdue."

The term "shylock" was originally coined in the late 16th Century, based on a character in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.  In the play, the Jewish moneylender Shylock demands a "pound of flesh" be cut from the bodies of individuals who owe him money. The term is considered discriminatory, anti-Semitic language.

Sponsored by Representative Elaine Schwartz and Senator Eleanor Sobel, the legislation was unanimously approved by both the House and the Senate.  Rabbi Schneur Oirechman of Chabad of Tallahassee also attended the bill signing ceremony.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

South Port LaBelle Smolders


Square Mile Of Port LaBelle In Smoke And Ashes

LABELLE, FL. -- After Saturday's large brush fire, residents have moved back into their homes in southern Port LaBelle. An emergency shelter was set up at the LaBelle Civic Center for those evacuated during the fires. About a square mile of palmetto and pine covered lots went up in smoke as fire fighters from as far away as Okeechobee joined the LaBelle volunteer fire department in dousing the fires, fanned by fairly heavy easterly winds.

On Sunday, the fires were out, but smoke was still rising in the area west of Collingswood and Eucalyptus where the fire originated, apparently in an empty lot. A few dozen homes were at risk during the fire in this sparsely occupied section of Port LaBelle.

One home, built several years ago by Hendry County's Habitat For Humanity project, suffered extensive exterior damage as the heat from the fire melted the vinyl siding on the home.  Two burned out trucks were seen nearby. Several utility poles in the area were burned to the ground, while homeowers' primary damages were burned lawns after flames came within several dozen feet of many homes in this rural area.

Photo: A Port LaBelle home suffered damage from heat from the wild fires

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Clewiston Sugar Festival Attendance Down


Watch live video from Don Browne - Florida on Justin.tv
Lots Of Fun With Slimmer Crowds This Year

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Clewiston Sugar Festival, sponsored in large part every April by Clewiston's U.S. Sugar Corporation, is an annual event celebrating the town's primary industry, the growing of sugarcane and noting the end of the cane harvest each year.

Clewiston, America's Sweetest Town, and Hendry county's largest municipality rolled out the carpet once again Saturday with lots of fun, music and food for all. Plenty of arts and crafts and exhibitors this year, along with maybe the largest collection of antique, classic and "hot rod" cars and trucks on display in one place, a big draw for visitors.

Attendance, although lower than past years, might have been helped a bit as travelers passed through Clewiston and down State Road 80 and U.S. 27 because of the road closings due to smoke along State Road 29 and Alligator Alley this weekend.

Former Hendry County resident known as "NaplesCritic" Paul, showed up at the Sugar Festival to record it live on the internet using a netbook computer and a webcam Saturday. See Paul's Festival car show video above. Paul now lives in Naples and was joined by wife and his mother to take in the Festival and record it live on his webcam broadcast website at http://justin.tv/naplescritic

Port LaBelle Fire Spreads Fast


Collingswood Parkway Fire Spreads Westward

LABELLE, FL. -- A brush fire that started in a vacant lot east of Port LaBelle's Collingswood Parkway and Eucalyptus Circle spread quickly towards the west as high winds fanned the fire near homes in the south section of Port LaBelle Saturday about 4 p.m.

Units were working the fire from the LaBelle Fire Department, Pioneer, Lehigh Acres, Palmdale in Glades County, Department of Forestry, and an DOF aviation helicopter unit from Okeechobee county, dumping 42 buckets of water by the end of the day on the quick spreading brush fires resulting from a stiff easterly wind.

At one point the fire surrounded a house in the area. EMS units from Hendry County worked to keep motorists out of the area. The electric power has been cut in the area.

At 5:50 p.m. the LaBelle Civic Center was opened for evacuees from the Port LaBelle area as fire fighters continued to try to contain the fires.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Governor's Proposed Seminole Gambling Pact

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida today released detailed results of The Seminole Compact Accords. The Seminole Compact Accords effectively represent an addendum to the original Compact first negotiated between Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Seminole Tribe has a reservation in both Hendry (at Big Cypress) and Glades county (at Brighton), with highly advertised gambling in Immokalee and Brighton, as well as a Broward county casino and one in the Tampa area. 

Approval now rests with Members in both Chambers of the Florida Legislature, who have been openly and publicly looking for ways to address Florida's budget deficit.

The Governor says 45,000 new Florida jobs will potentially be created, and provides the following explanation:

·         Financial Relief: An up-front payment of $600-million to help alleviate the state's multi-billion-dollar deficit without having to resort to painful remedies; $1.1 billion in new revenue available for Florida over the first two years.

·         Education Funding: Dollars available for education are equivalent to paying the salaries of more than 12,000 Florida school teachers.

·         Solidity: Utilizes the financial strength of the Seminole Tribe – the only investment grade gaming company in the world today.

·         Jobs: Generates a projected 45,000 new Florida jobs at a time of record unemployment in the state, and establishes Florida as a "destination resort" with more choices than ever before.  The Seminole Compact Accords would also protect the jobs of thousands of Floridians currently employed by the gaming industry.

·         Limits Expansion/Access: Limits gaming to existing locations currently operating or authorized to operate; the Tribe also agrees to adhere to the state's age limits.

·         Competitive Concessions: Recognizing many legislators' concerns for providing Florida's pari-mutuels with a level playing field, the Tribe has agreed to a number of concessions that will help the state's pari-mutuel industry including allowing 24-hour operations, adjusting poker limits, ATMs on the casino floor and credits to players club members.

Further, the Tribe confirmed today that they would support the proposed 15% tax rollback requested by pari-mutuels on all Class III gaming operations for the benefit of all of the state's pari-mutuels and racing-related interests.

Water Levels Still Declining


Water Conservation Recommended Until Water Levels Rise
CLEWISTON, FL. -- In an effort to keep the public informed about the dry conditions gripping much of the state, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is issuing the following latest conditions report.

Photo: Airboat trails visible in Everglades as water levels remain low

Despite welcomed rainfall along the East Coast and other localized areas this week, groundwater levels across much of the 16-county District and the primary regional storage systems ­ the Water Conservation Areas and Lake Okeechobee ­ continue to decline.

April and May are traditionally the driest times of the year, with evaporation claiming about 6 inches of water a month. In contrast, as of this morning, only 0.64 inches of rain had fallen for the month. No meaningful rain is predicted to fall in the next nine to 10 days, according to District meteorologists.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows severe drought conditions, the middle of the monitor's intensity scale, are impacting a large portion of the 16-county District. Parts of central South Florida are experiencing extreme drought conditions, just below the driest and highest level of the intensity scale. Already the third driest on record since 1932 as of the end of March, the 2008-2009 dry season has produced a rainfall deficit reaching more than 9 inches.

Drought conditions will not be alleviated until the arrival of the wet season, likely a month away. An exact start date to the wet season, the amount of rainfall and the focus of that rain are uncertain.

Water conservation remains the best defense against drought conditions. The SFWMD is closely monitoring water levels and is urging residents and businesses to conserve water and follow landscape irrigation restrictions to protect available supplies. More information about irrigation limits by area is available on the District's water restrictions Web site. For water saving tips, visit http://www.savewaterfl.com/.

Got A Big Tree?


Florida Champion Trees Sought In Arbor Day Celebration

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is asking the public for its help in identifying "Champion Trees," the largest known examples of individual species in Florida.

Photo: One of Port LaBelle's largest oak trees

LaBelle's own local garden club searched a few years ago for Hendry County's largest oak tree and found the largest specimen on Fort Denaud Road and the second largest in the Laurel Oaks community.

For decades, Bronson's Division of Forestry has participated in certifying champion tree records and maintains a list of more than 300 trees. But with National Arbor Day (the last Friday in April), a day set aside each year to promote the benefit of trees, just around the corner, he wants Floridians to help in identifying champion trees.

"What better way of thinking about the benefit of trees than for commercial land owners, homeowners and those hiking in the woods to see if they can identify large specimen trees that we've missed," Bronson said. "Champions are all around us just waiting to be discovered, even in people's yards and neighborhoods."

Procedures used by the Florida Division of Forestry for measuring and scoring champion trees are the same standards used by American Forests, whose procedures can be viewed on that organization's website at http://www.americanforests.org/.

Some of the largest concentrations of champion trees in Florida occur on public lands managed by various state and federal agencies, including Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee and the various National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys.

In fact, a new national champion pyramid magnolia was just discovered this month on Lake Talquin State Forest near Quincy.

Nevertheless, Bronson believes that there are many potential winners just waiting to be discovered all around us.

The Division of Forestry's website http://www.fl-dof.com/ will soon have a champion tree page where the public can find Florida's largest specimen of any tree species. In the meantime, residents can contact Charlie Marcus at (850) 921-0300 or their local county forester for more information about the program or to nominate a tree as a Champion Tree.

If participating in the Champion Tree program is not an option, there are a number of other ways to celebrate National Arbor Day, which falls on April 24 this year. Many local communities conduct celebrations in schools, churches, youth groups, adult organizations and local governments.

And they will all be celebrating trees, something that most people take for granted.

"Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other air pollutants at the same time that they produce oxygen," Bronson said. "They reduce storm water runoff and soil erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, reduce heating and cooling costs, produce more than 5,000 products that Florida residents use in their daily lives and make communities more desirable places in which to live."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Arrested In Grow House Bust

"Cooperative" House Occupants Had 3 Stolen Trailers And 28 Pounds Of Weed

LABELLE, FL. -- While following up on anonymous tips, narcotics investigators located an indoor marijuana grow operation at 845 N. Live Oak Street, in the Montura area of central Hendry County. 

Narcotics Investigators were greeted outside the home by a man later identified as Ernesto Napoles.  When asked if there was anyone else inside the residence Napoles stated "six" and motioned for them to follow him.  As they approached the rear door of the house it became evident to investigators that they had clearly located a marijuana grow house.  Once inside Investigators found themselves in the midst of the harvest operation. 

Occupants inside were cooperative.  Suspect, Ivan Acanda admitted to investigators that he was in charge of the residence, he pays the rent, and the grow operation was his. Acanda allowed Sheriff's Officer personnel to search the residence. Acanda told investigators that he moved in and began the operation approximately three months ago and had about thirty to forty marijuana plants he just harvested. 

During the search Investigators located, in the back yard of the residence, a tandem axle car hauler, a tandem axle closed in utility trailer and a Bobcat utility vehicle, all reported stolen.  This resulted in the arrest of four men, the recovery of three stolen trailers, and the confiscation of 28 pounds of marijuana with a street value of $126,000.

Ivan Acanda was arrested and charged with Cultivation of Marijuana, Operating a Drug House, Trafficking in Marijuana, Grand Theft and numerous other charges.

Sergio Ruz, Lazaro Zamora and Ernesto Napoles were all arrested and charged with cultivation of Marijuana, Trafficking in Marijuana, and Possession of marijuana with intent and Possession of Paraphernalia.

Brother-Sister Kidnapping Suspects Arrested


Cruz Gets His "Wish" To Go To Jail - Infant Found In Orange Grove

LABELLE, FL. -- Hugo Cruz, 17 years old was arrested on April 15, 2009, on charges of Kidnapping, Resisting and Officer, Obstruction without Violence, after refusing to surrender custody of his infant child to the child's mother, Viviana Morales.

The entire incident began on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 when Civil Deputies served Cruz with a court ordered Temporary Injunction for Protection against Domestic Violence with Minor Children awarding temporary custody of the minor child to the mother. Cruz told Sgt. Hollingsworth that the child was not at the home but was in Immokalee with his sister. Again Sgt. Hollingsworth explained to Cruz that he must produce the child and return him to the mother, at which time Cruz told her "I'll go to jail before I give him back to the mother."

The next morning Hendry County Sheriffs Deputies were notified that Cruz had not complied with the court order and was concealing the whereabouts of the 10 month old infant. Deputies responded to 1690 Ute Street in LaBelle making contact with Cruz and placed him under arrest for violation of a court order. Cruz was taken to the Sheriffs Office for questioning as to the whereabouts of the child and to determine the infant's physical condition. Cruz refused to provide any information and instead fabricated information even indicating that the child may be in Tennessee.

An all out search began Road Deputies and Criminal Investigators searched around the immediate areas and followed up on any tips received. Later that afternoon Investigators and Deputies received an anonymous that indicated that Cruz's 18 year old sister, Adriana and the baby were hiding in an orange grove near the home. Road Officers were able to find both Adriana and the child. The baby was taken into custody and returned to the mother by DCF investigators; Adriana Cruz was arrested and charged with Kidnapping of a child under the age of 13.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Snails To Be Released In Lake Experiment


Apple Snail Release In Lake Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- Scientists from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will tag and release approximately 1,600 apple snails in an experiment designed to study reestablishing the significant species in Lake Okeechobee. Apple snails are an important food source for endangered snail kites, baby alligators and other wildlife. The snail release supports the District�s Everglades and ecosystem restoration efforts.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute will deliver the snails, hatched from eggs collected in Lake Kissimmee in 2008, to a District science lab in West Palm Beach on April 22. The noted Fort Pierce institute has been a longtime SFWMD partner in researching strategies and utilizing aquaculture to replenish the species in the wild, especially to benefit the endangered snail kite.

Scientists at the lab will use a special glue to attach plastic tags to the mollusk shells in an assembly-line fashion. The next day Thursday April 23, SFWMD scientists plan to release the snails in a lakeside marsh near Jaycee Park in Okeechobee.

Researchers will return to the release site every two to three days to collect data, and they expect to have significant information on survival rates and other key indicators in about a month. The data collected will aid the District and its partners in restoring and protecting the Everglades and its wildlife.

Investigation Into Death Of 21 Horses

21 Mystery Horse Deaths At Wellington, Florida

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has launched an investigation into the deaths of 21 horses that collapsed after arriving in Wellington, Florida, for a polo match.  Initially, 14 horses died by Sunday evening and an additional seven died overnight.

Because of the very rapid onset of sickness and death, state officials suspect these deaths were a result of an adverse drug reaction or toxicity.  At this time there is no evidence that these horses were affected with an infectious or contagious disease as there are no other horses affected at this time.

The department's Division of Animal Industry, headed up by the State Veterinarian, is involved in the investigation.  The department's Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement is also participating and working with local law enforcement.

The horses have been transported to a Department of Agriculture laboratory in Kissimmee and to the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine for necropsies and toxicology testing.  It could take several days before any test results are in or a cause of death is known.

"Obviously, this is a tragic situation and we are working hard to determine what happened," Bronson said.  "But it would be irresponsible to speculate on what may have killed the horses.  We will wait until the facts are in before making any specific comments on the case."

The horses were part of a team from Caracas, Venezuela, scheduled to play Sunday in match at the U.S. Open Polo Championship in Palm Beach County.  The Lechuza Caracas team had been kept at the team's complex near the polo stadium.  The horses were reportedly not showing any signs of illness as of Sunday morning.  When the horses were offloaded at the event, some of the animals were dead and the remaining animals were showing severe symptoms of depression, respiratory problems, poor coordination, and recumbency.  Despite treatment by veterinarians on site, these animals also died within a brief period of time. 

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officials will wait until test results are available before determining the next step in the investigation.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Public Not Receiving Adequate Dental Care

Department Of Health Report Says Need For Better Dental Care
 
While there have been considerable improvements in oral health in the state over the last 30 years, the state surgeon general realizes that many persons in Florida, especially the disadvantaged, are not receiving basic dental care.

While there are many factors that contribute to this lack of care, the inadequate availability or access to dental providers throughout the state is a major concern. Oral health is essential to general health and well-being, says the report from the Florida Department of Health.

The lack of basic oral health care for all people in Florida contributes to the number of people experiencing poor general health. There is a need for innovative approaches in order to deliver appropriate and high quality dental care services to populations that have historically had difficulty receiving dental services in the traditional dental health care delivery model in Florida. This includes expanding community-based oral health prevention services and oral health education and preventive programs in schools.

Also, third party payer issues such as reducing Medicaid administrative burdens for providers and patients and increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates need to be addressed. Other issues include recruitment/incentives to attract providers to public health dental positions, legal/policy approaches to expand workforce or services, and training of providers.

Unauthorized Immigrants Now 4% Of Population

Three-Quarters Of Immigrants Are Hispanic

A new study by the Pew Hispanic Center paints a portrait of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. Unauthorized immigrants living in the United States are more geographically dispersed than in the past and are more likely than either U.S. born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children.

In addition, a growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrant parents--73%--were born in this country and are U.S. citizens. Based on March 2008 data collected by the Census Bureau, estimates are that unauthorized immigrants are 4% of the nation's population and account for 5.4% of its workforce.

Their children, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and those who are U.S. citizens, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation's elementary and secondary schools. About three-quarters (76%) of the nation's unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic.

The majority of undocumented immigrants (59%) are from Mexico. Significant regional sources of unauthorized immigrants include Asia (11%), Central America (11%), South America (7%), the Caribbean (4%) and the Middle East (less than 2%).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kids Attending JAKES Outdoor Day

Kids Learn About Great Outdoors

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) 7th annual JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics & Sportsmanship) Day will be held this year on April 18 at Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area north of Moore Haven.   

Kids will learn about the great outdoors though swamp buggy rides, fly-fishing lessons, hunt simulations, turkey calling, canoeing and kayaking, muzzleloading and skeet shooting.  FWC staff, including biologists and law enforcement officers, will be on hand. 
The FWC�s aviation and K-9 units also will be represented. 

Last year, over 100 youth, ages 5-17, attended the event.  An additional 189 parents and volunteers also attended.  The event is free. The locations is at 1937 Banana Grove Road. Info:  Gabriella Ferraro, 772-215-9459

Multiple Injuries In SR29 Crash

20-Year Old Charged With Cause Of Crash - 6 Passengers Injured

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- Heather M. Hudson, 20 of Immokalee was traveling south on State Road 29 in the southbound lane, according to the Florida Highway Patrol and ran into a 2007 Hyundai SUV driven by Mario C. Leno, 49 of Lehigh Acres. Hudson, with six passengers onboard, was driving a 2000 Mazda 626 and has been charged with failure to yield right of way and other pending charges. Hudson suffered serious injuries and all six passengers were also injured in the crash.

Leno was traveling south on State Road 29 on the southbound lane and was behind Hudson, according to the FHP report. Hudson indicated that she missed her turn at County Road 858 and initiated a counter clockwise U-turn south of the intersection.

Hudson entered the unpaved west shoulder and then entered Leno's path which had the right of way. Hudson's front struck
Leno's vehicle's left side in a "T-bone" collision within the southbound lane. The impact caused Hudson to travel southeast 43 feet to final rest facing in a southeasterly direction on the unpaved east shoulder.

The impact caused Leno's vehicle  to travel south 120 feet to final rest facing south in the southbound lane.

Hudson and four of her passengers were transported by ambulance to NCH in Naples. The other two passengers were transported by medical helicopter to Lee Memorial. Leno refused medical transport from the scene and was listed by the FHP with minor injuries.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

LaBelle Man Arrested In Charlotte County

Accused Of Attack On Woman

Port Charlotte, Fl. -- According to a news report in the Charlotte Sun, 35-year old Samuel Stephen Foster was charged with aggravated stalking and battery on Thursday April 9 after allegedly stalking a woman on a bicycle the Monday before.

The report says Foster "got on top of the woman and began scratching her." Foster also tried to take her pants off and remove his as well during the incident, according to the report. The victim had previous problems with Foster over comments made about his being "homeless."

She said he had followed her home from work one evening, and made obscene gestures outside the business while she worked, according to the report.

Foster's record shows up on the Hendry county clerk's office with a past history. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mortgage Rescue Co. Fraud Rampant

Mortgage Rescue Companies Taking Advantage Of Homeowners

LA BELLE, FL. -- According to the Florida Attorney General Office, "Many unscrupulous companies and individuals are taking advantage of the desperate situation our state�s homeowners are facing. These companies promise they can help save homes, then take outrageous up-front fees from our homeowners facing foreclosure. The companies often keep the fees, take no additional action, and let the homes fall into foreclosure."

Advice recommended by the Attorney General by anyone contacting or contacted by a mortgage rescue company:

What Should Consumers Do?
  • Homeowners should NEVER pay any up-front fees and should avoid any high-pressure sales tactics. Fees may only be collected AFTER services are completed.
  • Homeowners should first try talking to their lenders or a lawyer before contracting with any third-party company for rescue or modification services.
  • If a homeowner believes he or she has been taken advantage of by a disreputable company, he or she should call the Florida Attorney General�s fraud hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (contact us) or file a complaint online at myfloridalegal.com. The complaint will be reviewed by the Attorney General�s Mortgage Fraud Task Force.

The Attorney General�s Office has been actively pursuing these companies in an effort to shut them down and help consumers retrieve some of their money. The following is a list of companies with a brief description of their unethical business practices and a link to an affidavit and instructions for consumers to fill-out if they have been a victim of one of these companies.

More Info and Listing of Legal Actions Against Florida Companies: http://www.myfloridalegal.com/mortgagefraud

Friday, April 03, 2009

Bomb Threat At LaBelle U-Save Supermarket


Hendry Investigators Probe Bomb Threat In Downtown LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County Sheriff's Department is handling a bomb threat at the U-Save Supermarket in LaBelle this afternoon. A threat was received about 5:30 p.m. The LaBelle volunteer fire department and Sheriff's deputies were summoned immediately to secure the location.

The U-Save Supermarket is located in downtown LaBelle on State Road 80 between Main Street and Bridge Street, just across the street from the Sheriff's department's Criminal Investigations Department office and a block away from the main Sheriff's office and Hendry County Courthouse.

Deputies were shutting down traffic this afternoon on all streets surrounding the large store including State Road 80, and both Bridge Street and Main Street from SR 80 north to Ft. Thompson Road and setting up traffic cones around the downtown area.

The LaBelle Fire Department set up a command center and its fire trucks were staged at the fire department, about a mile north of the scene.

One individual was seen walking behind the store and was picked up and moved out of the area by deputies.
Update: At 6:40 p.m. deputies removed the traffic cones from the area allowing traffic to resume.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Celebrate Spring In The Everglades

Wildflower Walk At Everglades National Park

BIG CYPRESS, FL. -- Celebrate Spring and Easter weekend by looking for the beautiful wildflowers of Big Cypress National Preserve. Join Park Rangers and Botanists on Saturday, April 11th with walks at 8:30 and 9:00 a.m.lasting approximately 2 ½ hours

Ranger LIsa Andrews says, "Come prepared with sturdy walking shoes that can get wet or muddy, water, snack, hat, sunglasses and lightweight clothing." Space is limited to 15 persons on walks so make your reservation by calling the Big Cyress Preserve office  at 239-695-1164 or e-mail lisa_andrews@nps.gov

The groups will be going on the Concho Billie Trail off of Turner River Rd which is off of U.S. Hwy 41 on the western side of the preserve.  The walk will be through prairie, pineland and cypress.  Some of the areas have recently had a prescribed burn so there should be lots of new growth and wildlife.


State Revises U.S. Sugar Purchase/Leaseback

Proposal Gives US Sugar $7310 Per Acre and Lease Back At $150 An Acre

CLEWISTON, FL. -- After gathering key input from the public, legislators and South Florida's communities and in recognition of the nation's current economic climate, Governor Charlie Crist today shared details of a revised strategy to acquire Hendry and Palm Beach county land for Everglades restoration from Clewiston's United States Sugar Corporation at what some say is an exorbitant price for ag land.

The proposed terms, which are subject to financing and approval by both the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board and the United States Sugar Corporation Board of Directors, would allow the district to fulfill the Governor's vision to acquire huge parcels of agricultural land for Everglades restoration by purchasing 112 square miles of property immediately, with an option to purchase the remaining acreage when economic and financial conditions improve.

Under the proposal, the district would initially invest approximately $530 million for 72,500 acres of property south of Lake Okeechobee, a cost of $7,310 per acre. Approximately 32,000 acres of that land, currently in citrus production, would be available to the district within a year after closing. 

The United States Sugar Corporation would lease back the other approximately 40,500 acres of sugar cane land for only $150 per acre per year for at least seven years, a heck of a cost saving deal for US Sugar.  The district would have an option to purchase the remaining 107,500 acres of United States Sugar Corporation property for restoration within the first 10 years after closing. The Governor did not say what that "option price" might be.

"Restoring Florida's Everglades depends on acquiring the land needed to clean and protect water flowing through the ecosystem," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation at the annoucement. "The purchase of this land is a milestone for all who cherish the Everglades and its unique habitat for endangered species."

Governor Crist was joined for the announcement by Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp, Secretary Mike Sole of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as well as environmental leaders:  Charles Pattison, 1000 Friends of Florida; Thom Rumberger, Everglades Trust & Foundation; Janet Bowman, The Nature Conservancy; Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida; and Curt Kiser, Florida Wildlife Federation.

 

The negotiations to buy the land began June 24, 2008, when Governor Crist announced that the South Florida Water Management District would begin talking with the United States Sugar Corporation to acquire vast tracts of land south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration. After extensive deliberation, due diligence and public input, the district's Governing Board voted to accept a proposal to acquire more than 180,000 acres of agricultural land for $1.34 billion at that time, although the funding was not fully worked out, as the taxpayers would probably have to look forward to increases in their property taxes since the money to be spent was not fully funded.

In light of changing economic conditions, the district's Governing Board added a clause to the contract to allow for the review of the most current financial conditions – including interest rates and revenue streams – before closing to verify the district's capacity to finance the purchase and accomplish its existing statutory and legal obligations.  Since December, revenue projections have changed dramatically with economic forecasts indicating continued financial uncertainty over the coming months.

The details of the revised acquisition terms are still under discussion. The final proposed terms will be reviewed and considered by the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board at its public meetings. 

Environmental goals of the acquisition include:

 
·         Increasing the availability of water storage, significantly reducing the potential for harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries when lake levels are high.

·         Delivering cleaner water to the Everglades during dry times and greater water storage to protect the natural system during wet years.

·         Preventing tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades every year.

·         Significantly reducing the need for "back-pumping" water into Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades Agricultural Area.

·         Relieving some pressures on the Herbert Hoover Dike while the federal government undertakes repairs by providing alternative water storage alternatives.

·         Improved flexibility in managing Lake Okeechobee levels in a more environmentally friendly way.

For more information about the acquisition, visit www.sfwmd.gov/riverofgrass.