Saturday, July 28, 2007

Unknown Driver In Critical Condition

State Road 80 Crash - Unknown Driver

LABELLE, FL. -- A vehicle accident Saturday has left an unknown driver in critical condition at Lee Memorial Hospital. The driver was traveling east on State Road 80 at Cowboy Way, east of LaBelle when the vehicle went of the highway. The 1996 Ford Explorer overturned several times and went through a fence ending up about 200 feet south of the highway overturned.
Trooper T. J. Cramer says charges are pending as the accident is still under investigation. The vehicle suffered $10,000 in damages.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Global Warming Hitting Florida?

LABELLE, FL. -- On average, Florida was half a degree warmer in 2006, and human activity is to blame. In 2006, Pensacola sweated through 84 days where the mercury climbed to 90 degrees or higher, 26 more than normal. Tallahassee had 114, 23 more than normal. Fort Myers, with 113 days, equaled its historical average. Orlando topped the charts with 136 days, 31 more than normal.

But the report also shows that the heating was uneven. Key West had 15 fewer 90-plus days last year. Vero Beach had three fewer and Tampa had six fewer. The report found that average nighttime lows were 0.09 degrees warmer in Pensacola last year and 0.1 degrees warmer in Fort Myers. But they were 0.1 degrees colder in Tallahassee. In 2006, the average temperature was 0.8 degrees above normal in Tallahassee. It also showed that last year, the average maximum temperature, or daily high, was 1.4 degrees above normal in Tallahassee.

Ten LaBelle Home Sales This Month

LABELLE, FL. -- From June 26 to July 24, there were 10 homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $225,600. More homes were sold in the city of LaBelle than normal. Port LaBelle sales, usually topping the sales list, included only four of the ten homes sold.

Foreclosures are increasing, including one complaint filed this month and the Hendry courthouse against First Class Builders, Inc. by First Florida Bank alleging that the company is delinquent on mortgage payments on five Port LaBelle parcels owned by the Naples based real estate company.

Sales this month:

1) $184,000 on 5th Ave
2) $220,000 on 5th Ave
3) $231,000 on Hardee St
4) $174,000 on Keystone Cir (Port LaBelle)
5) $260,000 on Oklahoma Ave
6) $195,000 on Park Ln
7) $100,000 on Schooner Dr (Port LaBelle)
8) $210,000 on E Sunflower Cir (Port LaBelle)
9) $541,000 on S Davis St
10) $141,000 on W Palomar Cir (Port LaBelle)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pilar Home Builder Sued For Non-Payments

Montura Builder Not Making Payments Claim Many

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Miami based home builder and investment company Pilar Home Developers, Inc. and it's owner Vivianca P. Aguilar are being sued by lender Equitymax, Inc. for alleged non-payment on mortgages and notes on nineteen different parcels of land in Montura Ranch Estates in Hendry county, Fl. according to suits filed this month in LaBelle.

Pilar Home Developers bought over 200 parcels of mostly one and one-quarter acre lots in Montura Ranch in 2005 and 2006 paying about $35,000 to $40,000 for each lot, purchased from hundreds of individual owners.  The Hendry Tax Appraiser says most of the Montura vacant lots are appraised for 2006 at about $30,000 each, with property taxes about $900 each.

Pilar marketed the lots for sale with new homes for $234,000 to $706,000. Most Pilar homes for sale were listed in the $280,000 range, considerably above the affordable range for most Hendry county buyers. Unfortunately the real estate market started slowing down at about the same time as other builders started putting up new homes throughout the county, and current home owners put their homes on the market hoping to cash in on higher and higher prices. The result was an over supply of homes for sale and not enough buyers.

Mercy Pina-Brito, a spokesperson for the Pilar Home Developers company, told a local reporter that they are unable to complete many homes due to the slow down in the market and investors' failure to continue funding the company.  Attorney David Bakalar, Hollywood, Fl. filed the foreclosure papers against Pilar July 13 at the Hendry courthouse.  Included in the filing are several subcontractors with subordinate liens, listed as defendants including LaBelle Carpet and Tile Outlet, Inc. and several painting contractors and cabinet companies.

Pilar Home Developer, Inc. Leaves Others Unpaid

Other companies providing services to Pilar are claiming non-payments as well, including Antonio Serrano of LaBelle. He owns Antonio's Tie Beam, Inc. and says he provided service to Pilar on two properties and hasn't been paid.  He filed claims of lien at the county courthouse.

Montura Land And Cattle Co., Inc. filed a foreclosure suit against Pilar on July 11 on two parcels, alleging non-payment on a land contract. Okeechobee Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Inc. on July 3 filed two liens for services not paid.

Gary Scott Miller, owner of a mortgage, filed a foreclosure naming Pilar Home Development on July 16. BG Investment Services, Inc. filed two foreclosure suits also on July 16, as did G.A.M.E. Investment, Inc. on yet another Montura land parcel. Linda and Joseph Yeager filed a foreclosure suit July 17 against Pilar, also claiming non-payment.  United Subcontractors, Inc. of Sebring has filed numerous claims of lien in the last several months against Pilar for providing insulation in Pilar homes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ave Maria, Florida 'New Town' Opens

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- The country's first new so-called "true" Roman Catholic university in four decades and a new town "Ave Maria, Florida" opened July 21, 2007. The town square including one of the nation's largest Catholic churches and planned crucifix, is funded by one of the country's richest men with ultra-conservative religious views.

The Oratory of Ave Maria, the centerpiece of the new town. Photo by Don Browne

Thomas Monaghan, 70 years old, founder of Domino's Pizza and former owner of the Detroit Tigers sports team says the $240 million first phase of the campus plans to be centered around the "Oratory of Ave Maria," a steel and stone-clad church with aluminum and glass arches, and will include the nation's largest crucifix in stained glass with a 60 foot high bleeding Jesus.

The church itself, the "Oratory" is 100 feet tall. Officials originally said the church was be the largest fixed-seating Catholic church in the nation, but as plans changed it now holds about 1,200, instead of the 3,333 to 3,500 worshipers hoped for. A cornerstone ceremony was held on March 25, 2006.

The university campus, built in the "prairie style" of simple lines made famous by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including a gymnasium seating 2,500, a science, math and technology center, a library and a student activities center. An original completion date of Summer 2006 had been delayed one year, with students attending first classes for the fall semester of 2007.

The new town called Ave Maria, Florida and a golf course, built on an additional 5,000 acres in a venture with area land developer, the Barron Collier Companies. The new town will promote "traditional family values" and although Catholic centered will open to people of all faiths. There may be some surprising restrictions on what town stores may sell, reflecting Monaghan's conservative religious beliefs. Drug stores, for example may not be able to sell contraceptives or adult magazines in Ave Maria if Monaghan has his say. Stores are asked not to sell such items although not prohibited, according to Monaghan.

Residences were available starting in late spring of 2007, built in partnership with several national builders. The Collier companies donated the school campus land but owns all the surrounding properties in partnership with Monaghan's companies. Up until now all the acreage a few mile south of Immokalee, Florida was farm land.

Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan is the seed of the new "University". Monaghan founded that small college in 1998, with a few hundred students and then decided to move to Florida. The new school is seeking educational accreditation and the Michigan school has been closed to the dismay of the students there. The Florida school operated with barely over a hundred students in temporary facilities in Naples in the clubhouse of a former retirement community.

Ave Maria University and Ave Maria, Florida's "New Town"

Local Economic Groups Get 'Kickback' Refunds

LABELLE, FL. - The Hendry County Economic Development Council and Glades County Economic Development Council will be receiving some unexpected cash soon, after the state negotiated a settlement with an insurance broker. The broker is alleged to have received kickbacks from insurance companies, although the settlement releases them from any further litigation and the company does not admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty this week announced that multiple Florida cities and counties will receive approximately $2.6 million in reimbursements from Willis Group Holdings Ltd.,, a national insurance broker.

Included in the group receiving a portion of the settlement were both county's local economic development boards, both purchasing insurance from Will Group Holdings. Under the settlement, the broker denied wrongdoing but agreed to reimburse its clients without any formal action taken by the state agencies. The company will also reimburse the state for $600,000 in legal costs, and will be able to continue in business.

A joint investigation by the Attorney General's Antitrust Division and the Department of Financial Services (DFS) led to allegations that Willis improperly collected undisclosed fees or commissions when it placed various coverages with insurance companies. Willis brokered multiple insurance contracts in Florida from 1999 through 2004. The company's clients included more than a dozen public entities in the State of Florida, including economic development councils, city and county governments and school boards.

Insurance brokers represent their clients by advising them on their insurance needs and options. The brokers also represent the clients when negotiating the price and terms of insurance coverage offered by insurance companies. Under today�s agreement, Willis also agreed to make full written disclosure of commissions in the future and to pay the costs of the investigation. The recovery of $2.6 million in restitution funds is the result of an industry-wide investigation into insurance broker activities.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brooke Bruhn Joins Edison College Staff

LABELLE, FL. -- Edison College has added Brooke Bruhn to the staff of the Hendry/Glades service center in LaBelle. She will work to advise students on the proper courses to take and help them with getting financial aid.

Bruhn moved to the area in January 2007 from Orlando. She was previously an academic advisor at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from the school. To make an appointment with Bruhn for advising or help with financial aid, call (863) 674-0408. The office is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Last year, enrollment at the Hendry/Glades center increased 55 percent over fall 2005 enrollment. Registration for the Fall 2007 semester begins July 20. The Hendry/Glades center is a full-service office, so students may register online or in person at the Edison College office in LaBelle.

Those who want to enroll for fall classes at the Hendry/Glades center may apply and register online at or stop by the center, which is located at 4050 Cowboy Way in LaBelle.

Glades County Schedules Tax Rate Meeting

Will Taxes Be Increased This Year?

MOORE HAVEN, FL. --  The Glades County Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing and special meeting on Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 9:00 AM in the County Commissioners Chambers, Glades County Courthouse, Moore Haven, Florida. The purpose of the public hearing is to adopt the proposed millage rate on real estate for the year as well as adopt the current year "rolled-back rate" which is the calculation that compares the actual tax income from the real estate taxes with the millage rate that would keep the taxes the same as last year.  The rolled back rate this year can be a rate lower than last year if property tax values have increased.

When property values increase, the county governments can lower the millage rate and still receive the same income. Governments typically don't want to admit that their "proposed millage rate" will result in income from taxes higher each year, that is taxes are raised, but instead like to tell the public that they "kept the millage rate the same" or even "lowered" the millage rate, which is misleading. Hence, state law mandates that the "rolled-back rate" be disclosed, often in the fine print on government publications.

The Commission will also adopt the millage rate for the MSTU for Law Enforcement at this meeting and schedule the next budget hearing. Written comments received prior to the hearing shall be considered. Direct written comments to: Chairman, Glades County Board of County Commissioners, Post Office Box 10, Moore Haven, Florida 33471.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Port LaBelle Inn Rates Poorly

Port LaBelle Motel Gets Consumer and State Complaints

LABELLE, FL. -- Catering to weekend bikers and construction workers, the Port LaBelle Inn has been the object of numerous Florida Division of Hotel and Restaurant warnings and critical safety inspection failures as well as consumer complaints over the last nine months. The Maine's Best Seafood restaurant (see separate story) inside the motel has also been on the state' s warning list for "critical food safety violations" after months of warnings from state restaurant inspectors. Recent consumer reviews of the 50-unit motel have not been glowing, citing lack of night staff, complaints of false advertising, and generally poor conditions of its rooms.

The owner of the hotel, Mike Lafferty and his company Lafferty Development, Inc. is reportedly partnering with Cabrera Capital to get 31 acres of the property developed for high density housing and commercial use. Laffterty is following the lead of other Hendry county developers who have submitted more the 30 "Planned Unit Development" proposals to the county planning and zoning department. The idea is to get county permission for high density land zoning and then either build homes and condos or sell off the now much more valuable land to speculators or other developers.

Lafferty, a Phoeniz, Arizona electrical contractor who recently sold his company, has plans to change the former Port LaBelle Golf Course acreage, now zoned for recreational use, to sites for 310 multi-family units, while managing the operation from his second home in Naples, Fl. He purchased the golf course property including the hotel from a LaBelle owner for $4,000,000 in November, 2005, with the previous owner holding a large mortgage for Lafferty. Since the hotel most likely cannot pay off the four million dollar purchase investment by itself, it would appear Lafferty's strategy is to sell off the adjoining land if it can be rezoned for housing development, theoretically making a huge multi-million dollar profit after a few years of holding the property.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

The often poorly maintained hotel is having its share of problems, plagued with low occupancy, customer complaints, and state hotel inspector citations for safety and consumer violations. Although the hotel front exterior and swimming pool seem to be attractively maintained, the tennis courts and the majority of the grounds behind the hotel are overgrown with three foot high weeds, and truck trails where employees make short cuts to State Road 80. Vehicles are most always parking in the emergency "fire lanes" at the hotel entrance driveway, say neighbors.

Inspectors from the division of hotels and restaurants has cited the restaurant and the hotel for repeated violations of state laws and rules after repeated visits. In October 2006 a warning was issued to the hotel for five "critical" violations and four non-critical ones. A fire extinguisher tag was found that showed an expiration 14 months earlier as one of the fire safety critical violations cited.

Other safety device problems included a stand pipe inspection that expired over three years earlier. The stand pipe system is a critical set of water pipes for fire fighting. The inspector found no state required smoke detector available in any room for the hearing impaired, and the front desk clerk had no knowledge of where the smoke detector was supposed to be. The inspector also noted that there was no required certificate for any balcony safety inspection.

Among the non-critical items citid by inspectors were mold found in a bathroom wall and shower, three rooms with no posted rates, two rooms with no posted phone surcharge notice, and the hotel did not have a copy available of the Florida Statute hotel and motel rules.

Port LaBelle Inn Management Ignores State Inspector And Consumer Complaints?

On June 29, 2007 and inspector came back for reinspection and still found the un-certified standpipe situation "critical", along with the expired fire extinguishers, fire alarm system, and missing hearing impaired smoke detector. The missing room rate notices were also now rated "critical" violations. The inspector gave the hotel another "warning" notice citing the four violations.

Complaints have also been registered by guests and motel neighbors as well. At TripAdvisor.Com, an online hotel rating web site, all four ratings by guests rated the Port LaBelle Inn poorly.

A June 14, 2007 review from a Tampa visitor said, "I travel for my job and have stayed at the Port LaBelle Inn a total of 17 nights over the last 3's terrible. The stories I have! Doors that didn't lock, toilets that overflowed, people that have been locked out of the hotel after 10 PM, getting stuck in the elevator, no blankets, no pillowcases (!), the list goes on and on. On top of all that, they charge rates that rival what you'd pay at a decent place in a more populated area. Take my advice- drive to Clewiston (30 miles east) and stay at the Holiday Inn Express, or drive to I-75 (20 miles west) and stay at the Comfort Inn."

A California guest review on May 22, 2007 said, "My wife, daughter and I stayed in the Port LaBelle Inn last year while interviewing for a job in LaBelle. The man who was interviewing us chose our room specially and chose the best one in the hotel, so our room was clean and newly remodeled. He did, however, tell us that it was one of two rooms remodeled and that he had sent others he interviewed to Ft. Myers to stay in a hotel because the other rooms were SO bad.

"The foyer and lounge areas were decorated nicely, but overall the place was depressing... Also, beware, after about 10 P.M., there is NO ONE on least at the time we were there! You are alone with the other guests on the property."

An April 7, 2007 reviewer says flatly: "Warning...this is terrible and misleading place"

Another recent review says: "After doing many searches online for an afordable but clean place to stay while visiting Ft. Myers, I came across the Port La Belle Inn website. What appeared to be a newly renovated, and beautifully decorated Inn, in reality was the worst place I have ever stayed. The front desk clerk was friendly but laughed about how misleading the website was, and continued to tell me that the Inn has changed management several times in the past year.

"I felt like I was entering into a scene to a horror film. The rooms are tiny as well as the bathrooms. 2 out of 3 lamps had burnt out bulbs, our door to the adjoining room was broken (we had to secure the door with a chair) and I could probably go on to tell you how bad it was for the next 20 minutes...but please beware of their misleading website...and one more thing, it's in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by swamp lands and alligator ponds. Also, no staff at night, so your on your own."

Nearby Port LaBelle home owners are also annoyed and say Harley motorcycle riders from dealer-sponsored clubs in Palm Beach and Ft. Myers come and go on Saturday and Sundays, loudly proclaiming their presence on LaBelle roads traveling to local restaurants including Maine's Best at the Port LaBelle Inn. Bikers staying over night, neighbors say, often wake residents at the nearby townhouse and condo community early mornings with their loud exhausts revving up for the ride back to Palm Beach or Lee county.

The Hendry Commissioners will include on the July 24 meeting agenda the Port LaBelle golf course land re-zoning proposal at Commission Chambers in LaBelle.

Port LaBelle Inn Inspection Reports

Maine's Best Seafood Restaurant Story

Friday, July 13, 2007

Citizens Object To Port LaBelle Project

Land Owner Seeks High Density Land Plan

LABELLE, FL. --  A citizen's group, S.O.A.R. (Save Oxbow As Recreation), plans to appear before the next Hendry County Commission meeting July 24 with strong objections to proposed changes in the Hendry Comprehensive Land Plan. The plan proposes replacing the Oxbow golf course's current recreational land use to high density home, commercial, and condominium development of the the former Port LaBelle Golf Course 27-hole golf course adjacent to the Port LaBelle Inn and the marina.  A letter, printed in part below, was written by Scott Wegscheid on behalf of the SOAR group, and was part of a presentation to the Hendry County Local Planning Authority this week.

"Before the golf course was ruined for short term personal gain, it was a place where local civic, church and school organizations could hold fundraisers and undertake other important community activities.   It was a place where many people in our community sought recreation and exercise.  It was a place where some people living in our community earned their wages and raised their families.    And finally and most importantly, it was a place that drew people into our community who spent money in local restaurants, stores, car dealerships, gas stations, hotels and motels. 

There have been assertions in the past that the reasons that the golf course went away was because of economic reasons.  This is simply not true.  The reality of the situation was that the owner of the course made sizeable annual profit from its operation. However due to personal financial problems of the owner, the golf course became expendable. 

We have petitions signed by more than 750 persons in LaBelle who wish that this area remain a golf course.  We are committed to appropriate and well-planned development around the course, but we want it understood that we adamantly desire for this property to remain a golf course that provides recreational opportunities, open space aesthetics and economic benefits as originally intended and as originally approved.

As most of us already know the Port LaBelle Inn is basically a deserted hotel with few if any overnight customers.  There are signs on the property at the present time that show it is on the market for sale.  In our opinion, this fact shows that without a destination facility, this area will continue to flounder and not be viable in the marketplace.  

There is a new marina which has just been completed in the area and we believe that with a good plan in place, this area could be a world class tourist destination with a first class Arthur Hills designed golf course and driving range, a new marina on the Caloosahatchee River, a hotel, with a restaurant, meeting facilities, tennis courts and a pool.  In addition the area has existing condominiums and villas that could be augmented with additional residential and commercial uses."

Thousands of Still Vacant Lots In Port LaBelle   

"It is our opinion that with the current real estate market situation, these proposed development will not occur in the near future.  This means that the land owners will continue to fence these properties, place cattle on them and obtain agricultural exemptions so that they pay minimal taxes to our community.

There are at least 7,000 to 8,000 vacant residential buildable lots in the immediate area of the golf course, and this is the only recreational area which was proposed for the original master planned community. In our opinion, there are enough vacant residential lots to grow for the next 25+ years, but we need something for the people who already live here and the ones that are going to live here in the future. 

As a matter of fairness, what happens to the persons who invested their monies in this community with the expectations of having a golf club and course on which to play and socialize.  Do they lose the access to the community�s major recreational facility?  The current owners of property which was a part of the original Oxbow Golf Course purchased their property as a portion of a Golf Course, which had a future land use map designation of Leisure Recreation.   The land was not a vacant tract in a transitional area, but a golf course.  They had no assurance that a speculative investment could obtain a change in the approved use of the land.  If this recreational area is changed, will it replaced with recreational area somewhere else in the County?  If so, how, when and where will it be replaced?"

Area's Major Recreational Land Area To Be Taken Away? 

"The Port LaBelle Community was done as a master planned community and was approved by the Hendry and Glades County Commissions, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and the Department of Community Affairs.  Their approval included this leisure recreation area for all of the residents and now they (you) are being asked to take it away from the citizens who live in the area and bought into the planned community.  There are no other large vacant tracts in the area that can be converted into a recreational area. 

The area already has thousands of unbuilt residential lots.  Is there a need for the large number of residential units proposed in this amendment? "

500 Condos In Glades County Proposed

"There is also a Glades county request for over 500 condominium units on an  adjoining 100+ acre parcel.  This parcel is located just over the county line around the existing marina.  Have the cumulative impacts of the proposed project been assessed?  If not, that additional density needs to be considered because while it is in Glades County, it adjoins this area and is part of the neighborhood and will utilize the same access roads as a large portion of the subject property. 

With the current growth rate, not the rate that was occurring two (2)  years ago, but with todays growth rate, we have no need for the proposed number of units.

Our group is very concerned that if the development is approved as requested in this Comprehensive Plan amendment, that the developers of the site are not being held to any standard to replace the lost recreational land that is currently in the community�s inventory.  In effect, the developers that are requesting this change are asking you to remove a future opportunity for the entire community for their short term gain."

Port LaBelle Crash Injures Man

LABELLE, FL. -- According to the Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Travis Parks, a 2003 Ford van driven by Rita J. Little, 72 of 4057 Caloosa Loop struck a 1985 Toyota pickup driven by George W. Jackson, 62 of Canal Point, Fl on Wednesday this week.

Jackson was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital in critical condition after Little failed to yield at Collingswood Parkway and State Road 80. Jackson tried swerving to avoid Little, but lost control and overturned several times. Jackson was reported in stable condition at the hospital.

Charges are pending completion of the investigation

Girl Missing In Montura

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County Sheriff's Office would like your assistance in attempting to locate a missing Juvenile. A juvenile female has been reported missing from the Montura area of Hendry County.

Natasha Ivette Perez, an Hispanic Female, Age 14, 5 ft. 2 in. tall, 200 lbs., Long Black Hair/Possibly in a Pony Tail, Brown Eyes.

She has been missing since May 30, 2007. Anyone with information as to her location, please contact the Hendry County Sheriff's Office at 863-674-4060 or 863-983-1440.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Glades Landlords May Be Checking For Sex Predators

Proposed Ordinance Restricts Tenant Selection

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- At the Tuesday morning Glades County Commission meeting a proposed ordinance will force landlords to check on prospective tenants for any sex offense convictions. Commissioner's discussion focused on the criminal liability for landlords who will be required by the ordinance to verify that possible tenants are not convicted sexual offenders. 

The purpose of the ordinance is to prevent residence of sexual offenders within 2500 feet of a school, child care facility or public park.  County Attorney Richard Pringle was directed to modify Section 4 of the ordinance to include civil penalty but not criminal penalty for non-compliance by landlords and to prepare a standard form for written verification by landlords stating that tenants are not sexual offenders.  Sheriff Whiddon stated his office would provide search of national and FDLE sex offender registries as a free service to landlords.  The public hearing for this ordinance was continued until July 23 at which time Attorney Pringle will have a revised version.

Waterspout Appears At Lake Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- A waterpout formed over Lake Okeechobee Monday afternoon about 5 p.m. Photo courtesy of Christina Ortiz who took the photo from her horse ranch in Okeechobee.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Hendry/Glades High Schools - Worst In State Again

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry county's two high schools, Clewiston High and LaBelle High and Glades County's Moore Haven High all received grades of "D" from the state this year. They are among the eight percent of Florida's schools that received a "D" this year. Less than a third of the Hendry high schools students this were able to meet "high standards" in reading or science. While about 70% of Hendry high schools students in Hendry were able to meet the high standards in reading.

In Glades, 35% of high schoolers were able to meet high standards in reading and only 18% in science. 57% met high standards in writing.

More than two-thirds of all graded Florida public schools received "A" or "B" grades in this year�s grading calculation. School grades for Florida�s public schools included three new components - science FCAT scores, learning gains in mathematics among the lowest-performing students, and passing scores for 11th and 12th graders retaking the Grade 10 reading and mathematics FCAT exams. In 2007, of the 2,831 graded schools the majority, 52%, an "A", 17% a "B", 21%, a "C", 8% a "D", and 3% an "F."

Both Clewiston and LaBelle Middle schools and Central Elementary received "C"s while the County Oaks Elementary pulled a "B" this year. All the remaining Hendry elementary schools gained "A" grades this year. Both Glades county elementary schools, Moore Haven and West Glades received a "C".

Hendry School's State "Report Card"

Glades School's State "Report Card"

Marriage And Children No Longer Priorities

LABELLE, FL. -- A new study by the Pew Research Center shows new trends in family relationships. According to the survey, Americans believe that births to unwed women are a big problem for society, and they take a mixed view at best of cohabitation without marriage. Yet these two nontraditional behaviors have become commonplace among younger adults, who have a different set of moral values from their elders about sex, marriage and parenthood.

This generational values gap helps to explain the decades-long surge in births to unmarried women – which now comprise nearly four-in-ten (37%) births in the United States – as well as the sharp rise in living together without getting married, which is something that nearly half of all adults in their 30s and 40s have done for at least a portion of their lives.

Americans of all ages acknowledge that there has been a distinct weakening of the link between marriage and parenthood. In perhaps the single most striking finding from the survey, just 41% of Americans now say that children are "very important" to a successful marriage, down sharply from the 65% who said this in a 1990 survey. Indeed, children have fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of items that people associate with successful marriages – well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," "happy sexual relationship," and "faithfulness." Back in 1990, when the American public was given this same list, children ranked third in importance.

Ray Judah Says Robert Coker Distorts Facts

U.S. Sugar Corp Objects To Everglades Plan

Op-Ed By Ray Judah

LABELLE, FL. -- After a recent meeting of the 10 County Coalition about Lake Okeechobee management and Everglades restoration, U.S. Sugar Corp.'s Robert Coker made comments to the media alleging fault with a proposed flow-way connecting Lake Okeechobee with the Everglades.

Mr. Coker attempted to distort the action taken on a resolution by the coalition.  He ignored the fact that the resolution supported further investigation of storage and conveyance of excessive water released from Lake Okeechobee and broadened the analysis beyond a single specific flow-way in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The Army Corp of Engineers  and South Florida Water Management District are struggling with this dilemma:  the Central Southern Florida Flood Control restudy ­ used as the basis for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) ­ is defective due to faulty data used in the district's computer model to manage water in Lake Okeechobee.

The district model used rainfall data from 1965 to 1995, which historically was a dry cycle in Florida.  Cyclical rainfall patterns, depicting wetter rainfall events prior to 1965 and after 1995, were not taken into account resulting in inadequate storage in CERP, thus failing to address maximum flows from Lake Okeechobee.

In the absence of adequate storage south of Lake Okeechobee, the district releases billions of gallons of water during wet years to the east and west coast resulting in destruction of coastal estuaries and significant loss of water supplies from South Florida, which is now experiencing severe drought conditions.

An evaluation of the water budget for Lake Okeechobee including inflow, rainfall, and evaporation reveals a need for an additional one million acre feet of storage during the wet season in excess of the 800,000 acre feet of water storage in the reservoirs under CERP.

The contingency plan by the district to store the excess water in aquifer storage and recovery wells is fraught with economic and environmental concerns.

A proposal of 330 wells around the lake would cost in excess of $3 billion and the uncertainty of injecting water below ground raises serious questions as to the recovery rate and release of arsenic contaminating ground water supplies.

For the record, it is the dairy farms north of the lake and decades of back pumping from the sugar cane fields south of the Lake that have made the water dirty in Lake Okeechobee.

Fertilizers and pesticides back pumped into Lake Okeechobee have degraded water quality forcing the glades communities to shift from lake water to expensive treatment of ground water for potable water supply.

Approximately 430,000 acres of sugar cane fields in the Everglades Agricultural Area between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades displaced an expansive natural wetland system that historically treated and stored surface water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee. 

The sugar industry uses hundreds of thousands of acres of publicly owned land known as storm water treatment and storm water conservation areas to treat and store water from their sugar cane fields, thus depriving the use of these publicly owned lands for treatment and storage of excessive surface water runoff from Lake Okeechobee.

This insidious system of allowing the sugar industry to exploit publicly owned land ­ to the detriment of the economy and environment of South Florida and the exclusion of the entire Everglades Agricultural Area from being incorporated in a comprehensive management system to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades ­ is a recipe for destruction of our South Florida ecosystem and further deterioration of our economy and quality of life.

Restoration of a storage flow-way south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area, whether in the form of a continuous shallow water conveyance, or interconnecting reservoirs and storm water treatment areas would be the most cost effective and efficient means of providing treatment and storage of water release from Lake Okeechobee.

-Ray Judah is a Lee County Commissioner representing District #3.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ortona Locks Under Repair

Ortona Lock Closed Until July 20

LABELLE, FL. -- On June 4, the Ortona Lock located on the Caloosahatchee River between LaBelle and Moore Haven (part of the Okeechobee Waterway) underwent a major procedure to drain the lock for repairs. Every four to five years navigation locks on Lake Okeechobee and the Okeechobee Waterway require inspection and routine maintenance.

In less than 24 hours two 12-inch hydraulic pumps emptied all but a few inches of water from the lock. The remaining water was intentionally left so fish that became trapped in the drained lock could survive until they were netted by Corps staff and transferred into a metal tub. The tub was then raised from the lock by crane and the fish were emptied back into the river. The catch of the day was a Snook weighing approx. 30 lbs and measuring nearly 3-feet in length.

Before locks can be inspected and serviced they need to be de-watered or drained. The first step in dewatering is to isolate the lock from surrounding waters. To accomplish this feat steel bulkheads and a series of partitions, called needles are placed within concrete recesses of the lock. Divers are used during this phase to make sure the recesses are clear of debris and help align the needles for proper placement. Once the bulkheads and needles are in place dewatering (pumping out of water) can begin.

Over the next several weeks work crews will replace rubber seals and lubricate various moving parts on the lock. Existing manatee protection screens will be repaired and a new Manatee Protection System will be installed on the lock gates

In The Service

LABELLE, FL. -- Air Force Airman Sarah A. Van Wagenen 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. She is the daughter of Nick and Prudi Van Wagenen of Riverview Drive, Labelle, Fla.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fourth Of July Safety

Advice From State Fire Marshal Alex Sink

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is urging Floridians to comply with fireworks laws as they make their Fourth of July plans, in light of the high risk of injury and the state�s recent wildfires.  Florida fire departments last year reported that they responded to 250 incidents involving sparklers and 90 incidents involving fireworks.

"Floridians must think about fire safety as they celebrate this Fourth of July," said CFO Sink.  "With the serious risk of injury and the danger of wildfires, we owe it to our families and our firefighters to be extra cautious."

Anyone using fireworks must have a permit from their local government or for certain agricultural purposes be exempted by law.  Without a permit, it is illegal in Florida to use fireworks, which include shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers, when such use is not in strict compliance with Chapter 791.012, Florida Statutes.  Floridians should not sign "waivers" in order to purchase fireworks.  Signing a waiver will not clear you of responsibility should you be caught illegally using fireworks, which is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

There is still a risk of injury with the use of legal sparklers.  When lit, some sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees - at least 200 degrees hotter than a standard butane lighter.  For a list of hundreds of sparklers that are legal to use in Florida, as well as safety tips, visit the State Fire Marshal�s web site at 2007 Sparklers List .

To celebrate safely, CFO Sink advises Floridians to follow these precautions:

Use sparklers and other legal novelties on a flat, hard surface.  Do not light them on grass.
Use sparklers in an open area.  Keep children and pets at least 30 feet away from all ignited sparklers.
Light only one item at a time and never attempt to re-light a �dud.�
Don�t use any unwrapped items or items that may have been tampered with.
Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose on-hand for emergencies.  It�s a good idea to drop used sparklers in a bucket of water.