Thursday, September 30, 2010

LaBelle Bridge Closed Overnight

Overnight Closing Of Caloosahatchee Bridge

LABELLE, FL. -- The LaBelle bridge will be closed overnight to traffic. The contractor has planned a nighttime lane closure for Thursday night, September 30 at 9:00 PM (Thursday night) through October 1st at 6:00 AM (Friday morning). 

The daytime work planned for the upcoming week involves electrical work and painting on the underside of the bridge only.  Therefore, traffic will be minimally impacted for the upcoming week.

The bridge will remain under a single leaf operation and is not expected to affect marine traffic.  The bridge rehabilitation project is underway and is estimated for completion by the end of 2010.  Crews will be making electrical, mechanical, and structural repairs to the bascule bridge, as well as painting.  Coastal Marine Construction is the contractor.

Six LaBelle Homes Sold In September

Still Slow Real Estate Sales In Hendry

LABELLE, FL. -- From 8/31/2010 to 9/28/2010, there were only six homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $91,333. Foreclosed  newer three bedroom/two bath homes are listed in the LaBelle area from about $30,000 and up. Most need repairs at the lowest tier of pricing.

1) $312,000 on Fort Denaud Rd
2) $75,000 on Fort Keis Ave
3) $26,000 on Mariner Ct
4) $39,000 on Squaw Ln
5) $49,000 on S Rosebud Cir
6) $47,000 on W Palomar Cir

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flaghole Road Closing

Detour In Mid-Hendry County

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Hendry County Engineering announces that improvements are scheduled to be made on Flaghole Road, just north of Taft Blvd. beginning Monday, October 4th and continuing through Friday, October 9th, 2010.

During construction, that portion of the road will be completely closed to all traffic from Wednesday, October 6th through Friday, October 9th . Anyone living on or south of Taft Blvd. and Montura residents must re-route to SR 80 via CR 833.

Veteran Benefits Program Ending

Military members whose service was involuntarily extended, or whose retirement was suspended between September 11, 2001 and September 30, 2009, due to stop loss are entitled to retroactive payments of $500 for each month they were extended, according to Department of Defense officials. But the deadline to receive those benefits is rapidly drawing to a close. The deadline to apply for the benefits is October 21, 2010.

Only about 58,000 of the 145,000 eligible claims have been paid, leaving more than $300 million available to eligible veterans. The average payout for each veteran is close to $4,000.

The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act established the Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay and throughout the past year the services have been reaching out to eligible veterans, service members and their families through direct mail, veteran service organizations and the media. But by law there is no authorization to make payments on claims submitted after October 21, 2010.

Eligible members should print, complete and sign Department of Defense Form 2944, Claim for Retroactive Stop Loss Payment. They must then select the appropriate method for submitting their claim form based upon their service requirements. The information can be found on their service�s stop loss web site, accessible from, or call: Army: (877) 736-5554; Navy: (901) 874-4427; Marine Corps: (877) 242-2830 and Air Force: (800) 525-0102.

Update: Shortly after the original story was released focusing on the deadline for a stop loss benefit for veterans, Congress approved an extension. Now, eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries now have until December 3, 2010 to apply for retroactive stop loss special pay following an extension in the continuing resolution signed by the president Sept. 30.

The new Dec. 3 deadline extends the original Oct. 21 cutoff for applications and allows eligible recipients more time to apply for the benefit.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Are Students Getting Dumber In Hendry/Glades?

Check Out Hendry/Glades Schools Test Scores And Graduation Rates

LABELLE, FL. -- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and have set up a partnership to allow parents and teachers to easily find how any school in the country is doing in teaching math and reading.

The Education Nation Scorecard allows families to navigate the education system by providing useful, easily understandable information about performance at individual schools, as well as in districts, states, and the nation as a whole. The site invites you to look up your school, the school down the street, or the school you attended growing up.

Local Schools Not Doing Well In Math/Reading/Graduation Rates

Glades county students, according to the statistics presented, seem to be getting dumber as they pass from elementary school, to  middle school, and then to high school. In fact, is appears that so many teenage students fail in high school that in Glades county they do not graduate. 

Glades county schools have a high school graduation rate of only 41%, about the lowest in Florida. The average graduation rate for all Florida school districts is 73%.

Showing how Glades elementary students seem to start out well and fail as they progress to middle school, the percentage of students passing 4th grade state math exams is 82% and 4th grade reading exams 76%, both percentages actually much higher than average for all Florida 4th graders.
But by 8th grade, only 57% of 8th graders pass state math tests in Glades, and only 42% pass 8th grade reading tests, both rates much lower than Florida's 8th graders.

After middle school, students seem to go downhill in math and reading, and only four in ten students will be expected to graduate high school.

In Hendry county, it's not as bad, but graduation rates still are behind Florida averages. Hendry schools graduation 68% of students compared to 73% in Florida.

And Hendry students also go downhill yearly in passing state reading and math tests. 4th graders pass math at 73% and reading at 68% rates. But by 8th grade math passing rates drop down to 59% and reading tests only garner a 38% passing rate, one of the lowest passing rates in Florida.

Enter city or school name to see scorecard at:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hendry Sheriff Participates In Sheriff's Institute

Whidden Joins 28 Sheriffs In Colorado

LABELLE, FL. -- Sheriff Stephen H. Whidden of the Hendry County Sheriff's Office completed participation in the 99th session of the National Sheriffs' Institute (NSI) held in Longmont, Colorado, September 19-25, 2010. 

The NSI is the only national executive development program designed for sheriffs.  This no-cost program is co-sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and the National Sheriffs� Association (NSA).     

Sheriff Whidden joined 28 other sheriffs from across the country for training on contemporary challenges facing America�s sheriffs today.  In light of those challenges, the sheriffs explored the role of the local sheriff in providing effective leadership for the public good in such areas as public safety, criminal justice system policy, community relations, and organization effectiveness and efficiency.

Fred G. Wilson, NSA Director of Operations, said, ''Sheriff Whidden is a leader with vision for the Hendry County Sheriff's Office.  It is an honor to have Sheriff Whidden join the over 2,400 graduates of the NSI since 1973.''

The NIC is a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons.  It is the primary federal source of technical assistance, training, and information services for state and local corrections.  NIC provides a wide variety of services to the nation�s jails, most of which are the responsibility of sheriffs.

The NSA is a non-profit professional association located in Alexandria, Virginia.  NSA represents the nearly 3,100 elected sheriffs across the nation and has more than 18,000 members, including law enforcement professionals, state and federal government employees, concerned citizens, students, and others.   

NSA also provides management training for sheriffs and their personnel in court security, crime victim services, domestic violence, homeland security initiatives, jail operations, and traffic safety.  Additionally, NSA administers the highly successful Neighborhood Watch and Triad programs.

Prescribed Burning Season Sets Record

214,000 State Forest Acres Successfully Treated

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson this week announced that the state has achieved an important land management milestone during the recently completed fiscal year as a record number of acres both in State Forests and on private land were prescribed burned.

Hendry county has the Okaloacoochee State Forest on it's southern boundry.

In all, more than 214,000 acres in the roughly 1 million-acre State Forest system were successfully treated with prescribed burning in fiscal year 2009-2010, up substantially from the then record 160,000 acres burned by Florida Division of Forestry (DOF) personnel the previous year.  And statewide, DOF authorized burning of 2.7 million acres of private and public land, up from the previous record 2.3 million acres burned a year earlier.

Florida has long been recognized as the national leader in prescribed or controlled burning as it is indispensible in reducing thick underbrush and eliminating dead vegetation on forest floors as a means of mitigating the spread and intensity of wildfires.  Without these fuels to carry wildfire, countless acres of state land are spared the damage wildfires can cause, including the loss of valuable timber, wildlife habitat and injury and potential destruction of endangered species of plant and wildlife.

Jim Karels, Bronson's Division of Forestry Director and a major advocate of prescribed burning, said that reducing the fuels in the forests is particularly critical today because so many new communities are being built near woods and forests.

Although vital to controlling wildfires, Bronson said that prescribed fire is also the most efficient and economical way to manage State Forest lands.  It allows DOF personnel to improve wildlife habitat, control diseases, insects and invasive species and assist in the recycling of nutrients into the soil.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Florida Panther Outlook Improves

Panther Population Now More Than 100

LABELLE, FL. -- A paper published in the journal "Science" on Friday focuses on the long-term efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and partner agencies to improve the health of the Florida panther population. Through a process called genetic restoration, scientists have helped increase the population of 20 to 30 animals in the early 1990s to the current population of at least 100.

Genetic restoration involves adding new genetic material into a small, isolated population that has suffered the ill effects of inbreeding. Before genetic restoration, many panthers were diagnosed with heart problems, fertility issues, and low levels of genetic variation. To address these problems, scientists introduced eight female pumas from Texas to breed within the dwindling Florida panther population in 1995.

"We are excited by the success of this project," said Dr. Dave Onorato, FWC biologist. "We now have a larger, healthier population that more closely resembles what we would have expected to find in the once-widespread Florida panther population before it became reduced in numbers and isolated in South Florida."

This project has played an important role in the improvements to the health and size of the panther population in Florida. However, other factors, such as land preservation, wildlife underpasses and cooperative agreements between private landowners and non-governmental organizations also contributed to the population increase and will continue to play an important role in the recovery of panthers.

Genetic restoration of the Florida panther has been a multi-agency effort involving the FWC, the National Cancer Institute, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many non-governmental organizations. These agencies worked with world-renowned experts in conservation genetics and the management of large carnivores to produce the Plan for Genetic Restoration in 1994.

Funding for panther research and management conducted by the FWC comes exclusively from fees collected when Florida residents purchase "Protect the Florida panther" specialty license plates. People wishing to replace a license plate with one of these tags can do so at any tax collector's office.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

West Nile Virus In Hendry County

Five Sentinel Chickens Tested Positive

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry Health Department advises that there has been increased mosquito-borne disease activity in areas of Hendry County. Five sentinel chickens in the LaBelle area have tested positive for West Nile virus. The risk of transmission to humans has been increased according to a press release.

The Hendry County Health Department reminds residents and visitors to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that may cause encephalitis disease.  The Hendry County Health Department will continue with surveillance and encourage everyone to take basic precautions to help limit exposure by following the department of health recommendations.

To protect yourself from mosquitoes, you should remember to practice the 5 D's:

Dusk and Dawn ­ Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood.
Dress ­ Wear clothing that covers most of your skin.
DEET ­ When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are recommended.  Other effective mosquito repellents include picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535. Some repellents are not suitable for children. 
Drainage ­ Check around your home to rid the area of standing water, where mosquitoes lay eggs.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rodeo Grill - 9 Critical Food Safety Failures

More Critical Violations This Year Compared To Last Year

LABELLE, FL. -- The Rodeo Grill LLC in LaBelle received it's latest state food safety inspection on August 17. The inspection revealed nine critical food safety issues, compared to six critical items last summer.

The establishment has gone through several management changes in recent years. Ralph E. Von Frantzius of LaBelle is the current corporation owner.

Among the August violations were improper storage of food, employee handling food with unwashed hands, and many items pertaining to the inadequate hand washing facilities at the bar.

The State's List Of Critical Safety Items Found:

08A-28-1  Critical. Observed food stored on floor. Box of fries in walk-in freezer .
08A-29-1  Critical. Observed uncovered food in holding unit/dry storage area. In standing reach-in cooler
12A-16-1  Critical. Observed employee engage in food preparation, handle clean equipment or utensils, or touch unwrapped single-service items, without washing hands. Observed employee put on gloves without washing hands
20A-10-1  Critical. Dish machine chlorine sanitizer not at proper minimum strength.
31-09-1  Critical. Hand wash sink not accessible for employee use at all times. Hand sink in bar has white bucket inside Corrected On Site.
31-12-1  Critical. Observed hand wash sink used for purposes other than hand washing. Hand sink in bar used to hold bucket .
32-15-1  Critical. No hand washing sign provided at a hand sink used by food employees. At bar hand sink , and hand sink by ice machine
32-16-1  Critical. Hand wash sink lacking proper hand drying provisions. at bar hand sinks
32-17-1  Critical. Hand washing cleanser lacking at hand washing lavatory. At bar hand sinks

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hendry Airglades Airport - Future Sale?

Hendry County To Privatize County Airport? $400 An Hour Attorney Hired

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Hendry County has submitted Airglades Airport, located in eastern Hendry County, near Clewiston, Florida for consideration in a pre-application to the Federal Aviation Administration into the Airport Privatization Pilot Program (APPP). To process the paperwork, the county has hired an outside attorney at $400 an hour, for up to $100,000.

If accepted, Airglades will occupy the fifth and final spot in the APPP program along with applications from Chicago's Midway Airport, Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Puerto Rico's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, and Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

A company approached Hendry officials in November 2009 and inquired about the possibility of privatizing the central Hendry county airport, one of two county-owned airports. Airglades also serves Glades county and Moore Haven, having no airports of their own.

The Aircraft Owner And Pilot Association (AOPA) says the federal program has not approved any airports for privatization since the program's beginning in 1997, and any approvals would go through many lengthy steps before actualization.

The Hendry Commission authorized spending $100,000 to attorney Peter Kirsch at an hourly rate of $400. So far, through August, Kirsch has received $55,693.11.towards the application.

$12,500 came from the Economic Development Council, Inc. (which is funded by Hendry County), and the county attorney's office used $25,000 of its funds. $62,500 is coming from the Airglades Airport (owned by the county) account for attorney Kirsch to process the paperwork involved.

If there is actually any future income, the Airglades account would pay back $37,500 to the county for the county attorney and EDC expenditures.

Airglades Airport enjoys a strategic location along U.S. Highway 27 and State Road 80, but since it ceased functioning as a military air base during World War II has not been a significant contributor to job creation or economic development despite investments by Hendry County's installation of infrastructure, new hangars, and attempts to lease buildings to private industry, including a shrimp operation that failed years ago.

The airport is midway between Clewiston and LaBelle and not in a particularly convenient location for pilots, laying among thousands of acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. cane fields in mid-Hendry county.

The county has not announced who might be a possible buyer, management company, or lease holder at the airport because of "confidentiality" provisions the Economic Development Council, under state laws that provides for secret negotiations between parties and the county. It is said that only a handful of people know exactly what is being sought by the company in question including some county commissioners.

The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners and the Hendry County Economic Development Council are hoping to find ways to bring more tax dollars and jobs to Hendry, and they believe the APPP could be a way to deliver economic development and job creation.

Supporter of the privatization program, Hendry County Administrator Judi Kennington-Korf said in a press release "Airglades is an asset to this community, and the Privatization Pilot Program only enhances its ability to pay the dividends of job creation and addition to the tax base, while embracing and diversifying our agricultural-based economy in Hendry County.''

She added, ''The County Commissioners' vision in advancing this project shows foresight and wisdom rarely seen in rural communities such as ours.''

It is unclear because of the secrecy, exactly what the proposal is and what future ramifications might be if someone buys the airport and later runs into financial trouble, or decides to eliminate the airport entirely, if allowed by FAA rules or county agreements. And what might the county lose in future income resulting from a sale to a private company.

Glades Gator Poachers Arrested

36 Dead Alligators And 19 Live Hatchlings Found

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- An early morning traffic stop Thursday by Glades County Sheriff's Office deputies led to the arrest of two men on charges of alligator poaching.

When deputies stopped a pickup on Highway 78 near Moore Haven and looked in the bed of the truck, they discovered 36 dead alligators piled on top of each other and a bag containing 19 live alligator hatchlings. Only one of the alligators was legally tagged.

At that point, deputies called officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to investigate.

FWC investigators charged Joel M. Green of Fort Myers (DOB 11/29/62) and Donald T. Strenth (DOB 10/12/87) of Moore Haven with 54 felony counts each on illegal possession of American alligators. Both men are being held at the Glades County Jail with no bond.

The alligators were taken to a licensed processor, and the hides will be retained for evidence. The live hatchlings were returned to the wild. It is unclear where the alligators came from or what the men were doing with them.

"We hope this case sends a strong message to any would-be poachers," said FWC investigator Capt. Jeff Ardelean. "We will find you and hold you accountable for wildlife law violations."

American alligators are protected under state law. It is unlawful to kill, injure, capture or possess, or to attempt to kill, injure, capture or possess an American alligator without authorization from the FWC

Alex Sink Visits Hendry-Glades

Sink Visiting Port LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- Alex Sink, Democratic Party nominee for Governor, will visit Port LaBelle on Saturday, September 18. A reception will be hosted at the Port LaBelle Inn and Villas from 4 to 5 p.m.

Alex Sink's visit will begin on the Glades side of the county line with her arrival at Port LaBelle Villas followed by a walk to the Port LaBelle Marina on the Caloosahatchee River. The visit will highlight river issues, including a display of this weeks' News Press "River at Risk" series and a discussion of how changes to our farms and ranches can contribute to regional ecological restoration.

After viewing the river, Alex will walk to Port LaBelle Inn on the Hendry side of the county line (Port LaBelle Inn) for a more general reception.

Folks from Hendry, Glades, and Lee Counties wanting to meet Alex Sink in a green setting are invited to arrive at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sep 18, at either location.

Hendry Unemployment At 20.6%

Hendry Again #1 In Unemployed Workers

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry County, at 20.6% has the highest unemployment rate in Florida in August 2010, followed by Flagler County (16.4 percent); Indian River County (16.2 percent); St. Lucie County (15.6 percent); and Hernando County (15.0 percent).

Many of the counties with the highest unemployment rates in the state have seasonal declines in agriculture and related industries. There are 51 Florida counties with double-digit unemployment rates in August, up from 49 the
previous month.

Despite record high unemployment, Florida homestead property owners found the assessed value of their homes, for which they pay taxes, raise by 2.7% this year, the change in the consumer price index from December 2008 to December 2009. Ironically the market value of most homes in Florida decreased by up to 40%.

In August 2010, Liberty County has the state�s lowest unemployment rate (7.5 percent); followed by Walton County (7.8 percent); Okaloosa County (8.0 percent); Lafayette County (8.4 percent); and Monroe County (8.5 percent). Most of the counties with the lowest unemployment rates are those with relatively high proportions of government employment. Others have seasonal increases in tourism.

Florida�s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August 2010 is 11.7 percent. This represents 1,084,000 jobless out of a labor force of 9,229,000. The unemployment rate is 0.2 percentage point higher than the July rate of 11.5 percent.

Florida�s total nonagricultural employment in August 2010 is 7,227,900, representing a decline of 16,000 jobs (-0.2 percent) over the month. However, Florida�s annual job growth rate is up 0.4 percent, representing an increase of 29,800 jobs from August 2009. It is the second consecutive month the state is showing positive over-the-year job growth after losing jobs for three years. Nationally, the number of jobs is up 0.2 percent over the year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Judge Rejects LaBelle's Susan English Plea

Former Hendry Jail Administrator Pleads "No Contest'' - Judge Denies Proposed Plea & Probation Proposal

LABELLE, FL. -- Former Henry County Jail administrator, Major Susan Russe Sibbald English entered a ''no contest'' plea this morning before Circuit Judge Christine Greider at the Hendry county courthouse. English is accused of two felony counts surrounding missing money at the Hendry county jail while she was worked there.

Judge Grieder, however would not accept English's proposed plea, for which English agreed with prosecutors to serve 23 months in prison, and be on probation for 20 years. English also asked the judge to delay sentencing until after the holidays. The judge denied that request as well.

English proposed to pay back $120,343.35 to the Hendry Sheriff's department over a period of 20 years at $500 a month. The agreement was worked out between English and the State Attorney's office, but the judge said she had read the file and would not accept that proposed agreement, and would continue the case to trial.

Background On English's Arrest

In March 2009, the FDLE was informed by the Hendry Sheriff's office of suspicious activity in jail accounts. It was learned that English made frequent cash withdrawals from the Olde Cypress Community Bank in LaBelle, but records documenting the cash withdrawals could not be found in her records. Cashed checks were made out in amounts from $355 to $3210 over three years.

According to a 'probable cause' affidavit prepared by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to gain an arrest warrant for Major English, a 53-year old 5' 3'' blonde, records at the jail indicated inconsistencies in the disposition of funds from the accounts under her control, leading Sheriff Steve Whidden to call in the FDLE to investigate.

In 2006, the affidavit says, English cashed $31,329 at the LaBelle bank. The amount of cash taken rose in 2007 to $42,206, and in 2008 to $46,807. Tellers at the Olde Cypress Bank confirmed to investigators that English made frequent cash withdrawals from the jail account.

English made out the checks from a so called petit cash account so she could cash them, but wrote on the check stubs they were for various vendors to disguise them should anyone check. Lt. Michael Kosh provided a sworn statement that he was unaware of any type of 'cash drawer' at the jail. He said that English had told him in January 2009, just before her retirement to not tell the finance department or administration about the jail canteen account.

In May 2009, FDLE Special Agent Ryan Walker interviewed English when she admitted to begin writing checks in 2006 for cash and cashing them at the bank, about one every two weeks she said.

English said the money was to pay for childcare for grandchildren, clothes, doctor bills for her grandchildren, and vehicle repairs for her personal vehicle. She said she had given her step children about $30,000 each from the cash from the jail account. English said she tried to cover up the thefts by writing on check that they were from a petit cash drawer, which actually didn't exist.

English told an investigator in a written statement last year that she blames her husband's loss of a job and having to take custody of two grandchildren as reasons for taking funds from the LaBelle jail account.

English claims that all the money she took has been spent. She says she is ''extremely sorry'' for everything she had done. She has been out of jail on $25,000 bond and living in Westville, Florida.

Judge Greider has set a case management hearing for English on October 14, in preparation for an eventual trial.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hendry Planning Director Gets New Job

Vincent Cautero Heading To Citrus County - Rebuts Critics

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry county's planning director has been hired by Citrus County today by a 4-1 vote of the County Commission. Local newspapers in Inverness had been running numerous stories about Cautero's bid for the new Development Service Director for Citrus County.

(Video - Cautero explains the Collier County fiasco)

In a rebuttal from last week's news stories critical of Cautero and his years in Collier county, Cautero denied responsibility for Collier county's mess-ups regarding golf course developers not paying impact fees during Cautero's reign there.

In an email communication from Mr. Cautero on September 13 to the Sunday Morning News, he clarifies that he has been a member of APA since 1981 and certified by their certification division AICP in 1991. (The 1986 membership date in the Sunday Morning news article was provided to the News by the APA office.) Defending himself from a quote by a Collier commissioner, that Cautero was a "darling of the developers,'' Cautero said that Commissioner Frank Halas was elected after Cautero resigned his job in Collier county.

In the same email Cautero denies responsibility for the failure to collect developer impact fees while he worked for Collier County, ''I did not have the responsibility to assess impact fees in Collier County. Three members of the Engineering Dept. were responsible for assessing these fees on golf courses.''

This statement, however, seems contrary to the findings of a special audit report ordered by the Collier County Commissioners in 2001, investigating county official's failure to collect golf course developer impact fees.

The report (on page 9) says: ''Once an impact fee ordinance was enacted, the responsibility for assessing and collecting and impact fees lay in the Community Development Division and the Revenue Department, respectively.'' Cautero was the head of the Development Division, charged with assessing the fees.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Air Conditioning Service

Hendry-Glades Bird Count Saturday

Clewiston, Moore Haven And LaBelle Participate In Bird Counting

LABELLE, FL. -- Help the Hendry-Glades Audubon count birds for Florida North American Migration Count sponsored by the Florida Ornithological Society. You are invited to participate in the 5th Annual Glades and Hendry North American Migration Count to be held Saturday September 18, 2010.

Join a team or count at your home, ranch or farm. Birders of all skill levels and photographers are needed for the Clewiston, LaBelle and other area teams.

The LaBelle Team will meet at 7 a.m. at the Barron Park Pavilion. Add Austin will guide the team to various LaBelle birding hotspots.

Volunteers for the east Glades County team will be lead by Dr. Paul Gray at 6:40 a.m. at Harney Pond Observation Deck at Lakeport. Rhonda Roff needs help with the South Hendry bird count at the Seminole Reservation and CR 833.

Butch Wilson will meet the Clewiston City team 7 a.m. at the Clewiston Museum. For forms, information or to join a team near your home contact Margaret England cell: 863-517-0202 home: 863-674-0695

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Port LaBelle Banyan Village Gets Assessments

Owners Notified Of $238.58 Due In Banyan Village

LABELLE, FL. -- Property owners in the Banyan Village section of Port LaBelle received bills this week mandating the payment of $238.58 for assessments to pay for the extra costs of installing water lines in the last several years.

Payment in full is due by October 1st or if not paid, annual installments of $41.64 for 15 years will be added to property tax bills. Paying over the 15 year period is the equivalent of  financing the full amount at 12% interest. There is some question of whether the county might increase the yearly payment amount if financing or other costs should increase for the county.

Owners who had paid into a utility escrow account previously, will have the paid-in amount deducted from the total amount due.

The county found the costs to install the Port LaBelle water lines exceeded estimates by over a million dollars. Only one home has been built in the subdivision, and none are expected to be built until the housing market improves in coming years.

Warning - Hurricane Window Film

Hurricane Protection Companies Selling Unapproved Product

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum today issued a conssumer advisory warning Floridians about window film companies that have sold or are selling products to residential homeowners as hurricane protection.
The implied benefits leave homeowners with a false sense of security, and ultimately very vulnerable to the destructive forces of hurricane winds and flying debris.

 Through information gathered from the International Hurricane ProtectionAssociation (IHPA), investigators have determined that aggressive sales tactics may have misled some homeowners to believe the hurricane protection for windows has been approved for residential as well as commercial use, when in reality the film protection advertised has only been approved for commercial use.

The Florida Building Code compliant forms of hurricane protection contain no approval(s) for film applied to a residential structure. The consumer must be aware that passing some but not all testing does not qualify a product for approval.

 Purportedly, some window film companies are also falsely claiming that by purchasing the window film for residential use, the homeowner will be eligible for an insurance discount. In reality, the insurance industry may not recognize this discount because the window film does not meet the standards for use in a residential home.

 Recently, the International Window Film Association (IWFA) has began issuing manufacturer and dealer alerts in an effort to make sure companies are adhering to proper business procedures. While most members are following proper advertising and sales practices, some are not. Additionally, not all film manufacturers are part of the IWFA, therefore they are not held to the same standards.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Southwest Florida's Dirtiest Restaurant?

LaBelle's Fortune Cookie Restaurant - Critical Safety Reports Routinely Bad

LABELLE, FL. -- In what may be Hendry county's, if not Southwest Florida's most troublesome food safety violator, the Fortune Cookie Restaurant has come up with yet another state inspection showing above normal food safety issues.

The restaurant, over many years, has had the worst food safety history of any we've covered. Current owner Wang Jian Gang, doing business as Fortune Cookie, 505 West Hickpoochee in LaBelle has had an above average of four state inspections in the last three months.

All four required follow up inspections due to the large number and nature of critical food safety violations found each time.

On June 14, 21 violations were found including 19 critical safety items. A follow-up inspection 3 days later still found 4 critical violations. An inspector re-visited on August 23 and found the critical food safety violations increased again to 13.

Three days later, August 26, a re-inspection found critical violations down to five.

If you visit the Fortune Cookie, here from the official inspection report, is what you might find, or more:

Violation Observation
02-22-1 Critical. Violation: 02-22-1 Ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous food prepared on site and held more than 24 hours with not properly date marked. No date marking on premises .
06-01-1 Critical. Violation: 06-01-1 Observed potentially hazardous food thawed in an improper manner. Shrimp thawed in 3 compartment sink at room temperature . On callback 8/26/10 observed chicken in 3 compartment sink thawing at room temperature .
08A-23-1 Critical. Violation: 08A-23-1 Observed improper vertical separation of raw animal foods and ready-to-eat foods. Raw fish stored over ready to cooked chicken in walk-in cooler .
08A-29-1 Critical. Violation: 08A-29-1 Observed uncovered food in holding unit/dry storage area. No food in walk-in cooler covered, chicken , fish, shrimp, noodles , vegetables.
22-20-1 Critical. Violation: 22-20-1 Observed buildup of slime-like substance in the interior of ice machine. Removable with alcohol swab.

Port LaBelle Restaurant Closed

Pattern Of Failures For Port LaBelle Inn Restaurant

LABELLE, FL. -- One more restaurant has gone out of business at the Port LaBelle Inn. Olivia's Restaurant shut it's doors in August after a rough go by the out-of-state company leasing the space.

Food Masters, Inc. of Raleigh N.C., a food service and management company took over the restaurant from the Port LaBelle Inn owner, who had attempted to run it for a few months. The new company filed for incorporation in Florida February 17, 2010.

Four different Port LaBelle Inn owners have not been able to keep restaurant doors open through the last 10 years of the landmark hotel building near the shores of the Caloosahatchee River. 

Michael Lafferty of Naples, Fl and Arizona leased the restaurant room to Maine's Best Seafood, and then Lafferty went under foreclosure, forcing previous owner Richard and Mary ''Dotty" Seibel to take the property back. Maine's Best reportedly never made any rent payments to Lafferty during their year at the Port LaBelle Inn.

The Seibels then forced Maine's Best out and sold off the hotel to Ed J. Yasechko of Hubbard, Ohio, a truck stop operator.  Yasechko operated the restaurant a few months before leasing it to Food Masters in March, 2010.

Throughout the history of the restaurant it apparently never had a restaurant license or certified restaurant manager, and had been cited repeatedly by the state, until Food Masters took over. The latest chef, however was found to be working under an expired food manager license.

State Food Safety Violations From The Restaurant's Last Inspection On May 9, 2010:

(Improper storage temperatures, no chlorine in dishwasher, dirty shelves, floors, and no current certified food manager)
Critical. CERTIFIED FOOD MGR HEIN ROTT (license expired 12/15/09) SAFE STAFF (training lacking)

Hendry's Planning Chief Vince Cautero Leaving?

Planning Director May Be Heading To Citrus County

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry county's Planning Director Vincent Cautero may be leaving Hendry county for the same job in Citrus County, sources say.

Cautero has been shopping around for a new job and recently interviewed with Citrus County officials in Inverness, Florida, just north of Tampa. Reportedly, Cautero made it through a short list of candidates today, and may be confirmed officially on next Tuesday's Citrus County Commission agenda as the new planning director.

The job pays $97,000. Sources say he may get a bit more.

Controversy Over The Years

Although Bob Bott is the county's head of Building and Zoning, and state licensed as a Building Code Administrator, Plans Examiner, and Inspector, he takes his orders from Vince Cautero, the county's planner, who is not licensed by the state. When questions arise about the building or zoning code, it seems Bott gets his guidance and marching orders from Cautero, even though Cautero is not licensed as a building official.

Cautero does have certification from the American Planning Association as a planner. To become a certified planner, APA members must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass a written examination, given twice a year, in May and November. Cautero has been a member of the Association since 1986.

While Cautero was working in Collier county, Collier County Commissioner Frank Halas called Cautero the "darling of the developers," bending or ignoring rules to allow developers to get their wishes. Cautero resigned from his Collier county "development czar" job after allegedly not collecting $2.4 million in required impact fees from golf course developers, while his department employees were enjoying free rounds of golf at developer's golf courses.

Update: Cautero Denies Responsibility

In a communication from Mr. Cautero on September 13, he clarifies that he has been a member of APA since 1981 and certified by their certification division AICP in 1991. (The 1986 membership date in the article was provided to the Sunday Morning News by the APA office.) Cautero also notes that Collier Commissioner Halas was elected after Cautero left his job in Collier county.

In the same email Cautero denies responsibility for the failure to collect developer impact fees while he worked for Collier County, ''I did not have the responsibility to assess impact fees in Collier County. Three members of the Engineering Dept. were responsible for assessing these fees on golf courses.''

This statement seems contrary to the findings of a special audit report ordered by the Collier County Commissioners in 2001, investigating county official's failure to collect golf course developer impact fees.

The report (on page 9) says: ''Once an impact fee ordinance was enacted, the responsibility for assessing and collecting and impact fees lay in the Community Development Division and the Revenue Department, respectively.'' Cautero was the head of the Development Division, charged with assessing the fees.