Category Archives: Florida

Homer Simpson once derided Florida as “America’s Wang,” and while it’s true we prefer “The Sunshine State,” it’s also true we do tend to stick out when it comes to weirdness, whether political or not.

In Florida, almost everything becomes political — even hurricanes. Government here is always looking for a new way to get into your pocketbook, and every new money-raiser begets new regulators, too.

Biggest Manatee Count Yet

[This was originally posted in 2017. Manatees are no longer “endangered,” but remain listed as “threatened.” Management of the critter remains mired in 1990s theories — which were wrong then, and even more wrong now. We’re working on new data analysis tools to help foment new thinking about waterways management.]

Bob Atkins of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways and I had queried the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), about this year’s manatee count just this past weekend. The results were released today. 

It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten turnaround THIS fast!

Another record “minimum population” count — 6,620*. Yet, manatees remain on the endangered list, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), violating yet another court order to update its official classification. WHY?

We are now firmly in the world of the surreal. The FWC press release doesn’t say “record number counted”. They are simply “encouraged” by the count.

Manatees have more than doubled in 15 years and
have more than tripled in 30 years.

By comparison, Florida black bears number 4350, and are no longer on the FWC imperiled list AT ALL. http://www.tampabay.com/…/florida-black-bear-popula…/2270659

In support of removing bears from its list, FWC noted the bear population has grown 60% in the past 14 years. They allowed bear hunting in order to reduce the rate of growth! Curious minds will note than 60% over 14 years is less than 100% over 10 years. A lot less, in fact, although still quite robust.

Also by comparison, there are 1800 giant pandas. They are now OFF the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) endangered list, and are considered “vulnerable”, akin to our “species of special concern’ in Florida.
http://www.worldwildlife.org/…/giant-panda-no-longer-endang…

WWF says the panda population has increased 17% in the past decade. Curious minds note again…. 17% over a decade is barely one-tenth the rate of growth of our Florida manatees.

It took 14 years for wildlife managers at FWS and FWC
to act on their recommendations to reclassify manatees
as “threatened” from endangered. 

We have been waiting since 2003, when FWC first recommended reclassification, and since 2007, whenFWS did the same — for….. nothing. Seriously, what is WRONG with these people? WWII began, was fought, and won by us in LESS TIME than it’s taken FWS to fulfill its own recommendation.

Years ago, before the Manatee Forum started, Ken Haddad of FWC and Sam Hamilton at FWS, came up to me — and, I suspect, others — and asked, “If we update all the studies you think are not accurate, what will you do if the science says that boats are an extinction threat?”

I responded, “We will find a solution. We will follow where sound science leads.” We have kept that pledge.

Dammit, I should have demanded they agree to do the same!!

Sam, a good guy who ran the Southeast Regional FWS office, died at a young age a few years back. Ken, also a good guy who headed FWC, retired a couple years ago — in part because he was disgusted with the political interference over this very manatee issue.

This is just plain ridiculous. This is an all-too-perfect example of why we are fed up with government.

_______
* Applying recently developed peer-reviewed abundance calculations to this “minimum count” is a bit of a stretch, but just a little bit. I estimate there are at least 8,000 manatees in Florida and likely close to 10,000. But, whether it’s 6620, 8000, or 10,000, there has never been this many in the state. Never. In some places, it’s accepted there are likely too many, drawn to places they shouldn’t be, such as warm water discharges at power plants, by good-intentioned but wrong-headed regulations. No one in the regulatory world ever imagined there could be this many manatees in Florida.

Triple Match? By Who?

Every email inbox is deluged by requests, and often demands, for campaign contributions.

Many of them promise to MATCH, DOUBLE MATCH, or TRIPLE MATCH my contribution. Here are just three from today.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-31-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-57-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-09-13-pmSo: who, exactly, is making the “Match?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

I get the idea behind the match — I tell my kid that if he saves $100, I’ll give him $200 more. A good incentive!

But, this isn’t Dad teaching Junior how to be responsible. This is someone who wants my money telling me that someone I don’t know is promising big bucks to their candidate, if the candidate can squeeze out some greenbacks from folks like me.

cj9hjrhuyaeel-iWho is offering the match?  What does the “matcher” get for their big wad o’ dough? SHOW ME THE MONEY! TELL ME WHOSE MONEY IT IS! HOW MUCH WILL THEY MATCH?

Today’s FaceBook invite was, therefore, somewhat refreshing. Donald Trump Jr wants me (and everyone) to contribute — while specifically noting that his dad will match for up to $2 million!

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-20-43-pmThis is the first time I’ve ever read who is offering the match, and how much they’ll add.  No matter what else you may think about the candidates, amid the trashy stink of campaigning, this little whiff of clean air is refreshing.

 

 

Beware the Trees!

OK, let’s tell the truth. See the picture below, of the solar panels nestled amidst the trees? Bucolic as all heck.

The truth is: trees are the enemy of solar — and, I contend, of grass!trees The only thing green underneath those solar panels is the teeth of the winos and meth-heads comatose on the bare ground.

My house? No solar on it. Not just because it’s a hundred-year old historic home where I’m supposed to jump through hoops before even repairing a window. No. It’s because the trees block the sunlight so solar panels won’t work. And because these are big, tall, trees, on my neighbor’s land — I can’t cut them down! 

Sure, they provide shade and natural cooling — but they also mean no solar for me.

Evil trees. Pure evil. I could have those cool glass and steel boxes strewn all over my rooftop instead of shingles or shakes. But no.

Trees are confounding my energy independence.

And why do you suppose trees oppose solar energy? Why, for the same reason they are GLOBAL WARMING DENIERS! Because they are ADDICTED to sunlight, just as they are ADDICTED to CO2!

Oh, yes. They will do ANYTHING to get their fix of sun and CO2. Anything.

We’ve all seen trees twisted and turned, desperately reaching for more sun.

Disgusting.

And it gets worse. Why did Tallahassee languish without power for days after a storm with winds that barely exceeded a panting dog’s exhales?

Suicide trees. 

Despite the heroic efforts of the city administration, surely as nearly perfect an effort as we have ever seen, the trees just kept pulling themselves up by the roots, breaking off branches, splitting their trunks.

Trees don’t just want the sunlight and CO2. They want the soil and water, too. Global warming means more rain, more CO2, and shorter winters, all things that trees want.

eviltreesAnd if you’re a tree and you have all the sunlight, CO2 and water you can use, then what do you crave?

Fertilizer. And there’s 7 billion bags of it walking around the earth right now.

Believe me: trees are evil. They are out to GET YOU. If we’re EVER going to defeat the man-made CO2 monster — we must look the enemy in the leaf, fearlessly.

Hurricane Hermine & The Fix

Tallahassee, FL — state capital and university town (go ‘Noles!), is a fairly liberal city, with a Democratic slant. It’s also a city where a minor hurricane shut the whole place down for five days, from the evening of September 1 until Wednesday morning, September 7, when schools finally reopened.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-5-20-19-pmAbout 100,000 people lost power when Hurricane Hermine passed by.  Even as I write, several thousand residents are still without power.

Many Tallahasseans joke that this is a city where even a sneeze can cause lights to flicker. I suspect most people knew power outages would be widespread with Hermine. But most people also thought the City was better-prepared to fix what breaks.

Tallahassee is called the “City of Trees.” Decades ago, the City and its residents began a commitment to preserve as many of its beautiful trees as possible and as a result, Tallahassee is a very attractive Southern city, situated atop and nestled around a series of rolling hills, under a lovely green canopy.

BUT

What the City did not do over the past decades is either develop a plan to minimize the damage those big ‘ol trees could cause in a storm, or maximize the scale of the recovery effort. In other words, if you’re too cheap to put key utility lines under ground, or to harden the poles and lines, then you better have enough trained and equipped workers ready to tackle a major storm aftermath.

This should have been relatively easy to accomplish. Possibly because it is a “liberal” city, Tallahassee’s electric power is provided by its own municipal utility. The City therefore calls the shots when it comes to electric policy — a fact that could and should have been a strategic advantage (especially since Tally electric power is not cheap).

So why didn’t the City have in place a bona fide strategic plan that would preserve trees while protecting the power supply — especially since the last hurricane to hit the City happened some 30 years ago?

This is Florida, home of football Hurricanes and real life ones, too. A hurricane isn’t something that MIGHT happen. It is something that WILL happen.

I’m sure we’ll continue to hear bluster from City officials that they DO have a plan (apparently a secret one). But even if they do, it needs to be tossed.

It’s been reported that other power companies, notably FPL and Duke, offered to help restore power after the hurricane, but the City refused! At first, when challenged about this, the City claimed they turned away NO help. Later, they claimed they only turned away help they were unable to use effectively.

The way I read that, the City’s emergency restoration plan was woefully too small for the job.

We’ve also learned that many of the crews that were allowed to work had difficulty getting assigned, as confusion reigned among the “upper management” tiers.

I’m not very big on “upper management,” but it’s painfully clear “upper management” let down the workforce — and the public.

With all this as a frontispiece, here’s what new Mayor Gillum should have said as recovery efforts faltered:

“We need to do better. I am extremely angry that our city has failed to meet my expectations and those of all the people who call Tallahassee their home, and I promise you we will fix this.”

I would have cheered. But….He didn’t do that.

I suspect that as the revelations of poor planning and mismanagement continue to emerge — he’ll finally get there. When he does, here is what needs to happen.

Fixing the Problems

 

  1. Convene a task force — with a deadline to produce a series of recommendations. The task force should be comprised of managers from cities (counties, state agencies, utilities) with effective emergency plans. (Tampa comes to mind.)
  2. The recommendations must cover several key subjects:
    • Conduct a “forensic review” of what happened — where power went out, when and why.
    • Identify powerline “choke points” most susceptible to storm damage. Thomasville Road, a major tree-lined artery where wires are strung on wooden poles, comes to mind.
    • Identify fixed structures (relays and communications centers) that are inadequately protected, or simply inadequate.
    • Review the grid routing system — can power distribution be rerouted, either permanently or during an emergency, with fewer distruptions?
    • Grid maintenance and expansion. Are systems sufficiently redundant (backed up)?
    • Staffing and training. Are there enough supervisors to direct existing staff resources, as well as outside resources offering to help (so instead of being parked at a greyhound race track in nearby Monticello, waiting for permission to enter Tallahassee  that never came, crews from Duke Energy (or others) could be promptly and effectively put to work).
    • Command and control. It seems there wasn’t much.
    • Communication with the public — residences and businesses. This is likely the biggest complaint out there.
    • Material and resources. We’ve heard that not enough transformers, lines, and poles were on hand, for example.
    • Timing and priorities. Goals for restoration of power should be set, and priorities clearly stated. It’s not just power. Hospitals have back-up power, for example, but downed trees or lines mean ambulances can’t get there. And why was the Governor’s Square Mall a priority to repower, but not assisted living facilities?
    • Budgeting. How much should be committed to rebuild infrastructure to a better standard?
    • Resource pooling. More arrangements with others, whether it’s other utilities, tree/landscape services, waste management, or state agencies. (The latest rumor is that the city yard waste and garbage contractors are balking at picking everything up!)
    • Sharing information and plans with partners. The City claims it did not accept some help because it did not have sufficient staff to “embed” with the out-of-town crews. That problem could be reduced by sharing plans with partners beforehand. If I know where the switch is, I don’t necessarily need someone to take me to it.
  3. Have the recommendations reviewed by a citizen’s board. Try not to make this a stacked deck of sycophants, please, because the plan needs to pass “the giggle test”. Is it doable, or just a thick stack of paper? Is it going to cost an absurd amount? (One estimate claims $2 BILLION to put wires in the ground. That does not pass the giggle test.) Buy-in is a critical element for a successful plan.
  4. Implement the thing. Continuously test the communications system, and continuously train.
  5. Hire better people. And if the mayor doesn’t step up…. then elect a better mayor (and commission, too, while we’re at it).

Contrary to what some are saying, this is not a political issue. It is a governance issue, and the government did not do its job. Rather than deflect blame, they need to step up, identify the problems, and fix them.

The last hurricane to hit Tallahassee was Kate. It was a bigger, meaner storm, but power was actually restored faster 30 years ago than in 2016’s Hermine. Imagine how much more important the power grid is today than it was 30 years ago. And how much more important it will be in another 30 years.

Finger-pointing isn’t the answer.

This is.

Respectfully submitted September 8, 2016
by
Steven Webster, President