Last year at this time I announced, with a big smile on my face, that the 2012 Annual Meeting would be the last one to showcase the progress of the A1A project. That it would be completed by October 2012. Boy! – was I wrong! Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control the date for completion is now June 2013 – with fingers crossed! There are many rumors floating around about the project. Later tonight you will get the complete and accurate information from Tracy Telle the project manager – and the Jetty Park project as well.
In an attempt to keep you fully informed, we sent you 12 email Newsletters over the past year – 3 dealt the Charrette and 7 dealt with the FDOT/AECOM proposals for the Port along with other items. I’ll talk about the Charrette in the Planning Department report and a review of activities relating to the Port will be covered in some detail at the end of this Overview report.
Code Enforcement and Animal Control Officers are not the most popular people in the City – until you need them! 118 different properties on the beach were reported as being in violation of code during 2012. Some properties had 5-8 different violations! These violations ranged from landscape maintenance and lot clearing, to non-operable vehicles parked outside, to doing business without a business tax receipt and many sea turtle lighting issues. Our Code Enforcement officer for the beach has an area that runs all the way to 10th Ave. on the mainland – including US1. A seemingly impossible task. If you see something that doesn’t seem quite right please call our Code Enforcement Officer, Shawn Coss at 467-3151 – that’s his direct line – 467-3151. It is better to find out something isn’t a violation than to let something fester. In the past, the SBA has had a liaison person working with the Code Enforcement Department. This person made the rounds on the beach once a month, reported obvious violations and was the person residents could call if they were reticent about calling the City directly. If you would be interested in being this person, please see me at the end of the meeting.
Animal Control is a somewhat recent addition to the Code Enforcement Department. Over the past year 23 animals from birds, to dogs and cats to raccoons were impounded or found deceased on the beach. No citations were issued on the beach. How many of you have a dog or cat? How many of you have registered your pet with the City? You may not be aware of the requirement that dogs and cats be registered annually. Amazingly only 56 such pets are currently registered on the beach! If your pet is sterilized, it is only $10 a year and if it gets loose, and is found, it can be returned to you rather than impounded. Now admittedly, the need for registration is not currently advertised adequately and the process to do so is not one that encourages compliance. You must go to two separate offices in City Hall – you cannot do it by mail – there is no renewal reminder. I recently experienced the process myself. My pet is still not registered as I didn’t know that I had to bring my rabies certificate – that is – my cat’s rabies certificate. I strongly voiced my concerns about the process to Peggy. She assured me that they plan to revamp the entire procedure. When we know that something user friendly is in place – we will let you know.
If you have any questions/concerns about Code Enforcement or Animal Control see Peggy Arraiz at the end of the meeting.
Last year at the Annual Meeting we announced our intention to secure banners for the double light poles along A1A that have projections to hold them. We asked for your input. You have all seen the results of our efforts – actually the efforts of Christine Coke who chaired the project. Three different banners welcoming people to enjoy our beaches and park areas. Evidently some people felt they were so attractive that they helped themselves to a number of them. Now this took a tall ladder or bucket truck. If any of you know of the whereabouts of any of the missing banners, please see me at the end of the meeting – no questions asked. We wish to thank Public Works for getting the banners up so quickly after we donated them to the City.
This year we did not make a contribution to the annual City Holiday lights on Melody Lane. We concentrated our efforts at the Harbour Isle roundabout and South Beach park. Next year we will include the roundabout at Seaway and South Ocean. We had planned to do it this year but you all know what happened. Christine headed this project as well – she just loves Christmas decorations – and we received many, many compliments. Christine particularly wants to thank Public Works for all their help above and beyond the call of duty on the project.
There is a small group of people who work around the year to make the Island a more attractive place to live and play. They are the Beach and Park Volunteers Clean Up crew headed by Arden Peck. Public Works has provided tee shirts that say “Keep Fort Pierce Beautiful”, caps and “grabbers” to pick up trash in our parks, along roadways and the beach. They also clean tables in the parks and report if anything is broken or needs some professional help. Over the past year they logged 878 hours or an average of 73 hours per month. Let me thank them by name – if you are here, please stand. Bill Arbaugh, Christine Coke, Devon Cothen, John and Jane Donlon, Joe Doster. Lisa Fasnacht, Lee Keller, Otto and Patty Knechtel, Frank and Terry Longo, Suzee Mcdermott and Arden Peck. If you want to join this group, please see Arden at the end of the meeting. Give them all a hand.
Now for the Port. I will try to be succinct so try to stay with me as I go through this section. For those of you who have not been following this as closely as we have, let me set the scene.
FDOT – The Florida Department of Transportation
AECOM – The consultant firm hired by FDOT to
conduct the proposed update of the Port
of Fort Pierce Master Plan.
The Master Plan – A document completed in 2002 after many 1000.s of hours work, meetings and compromise adopted by St. Lucie County and the City of Fort Pierce that shifted intended uses at the Port from exclusively cargo to a mix of recreational, commercial and industrial uses with the focus on marine industries such as the mega yacht industry as the anchor tenants with continued support for “limited” cargo. In an earlier referendum, St. Lucie County voters overwhelmingly supported such a change.
THE DECISION MAKERS
St. Lucie County Commission – Has the overall responsibility for the management of the Port and has designated Don West as Port Director.
Fort Pierce City Commission – As the Port is within City limits, the Commission is responsible for all zoning, site plans and code issues at the Port.
FDOT, with AECOM by their side came into town in late 2011 announcing that the State required that our current Master Plan was old and that it was required to be updated. That, with the expansion of the Panama Canal, smaller ships would be forced out of the major ports in Florida that would now service these larger cargo container ships. That, ports, such as Fort Pierce, should expand their cargo operations to meet this need. And if we did, they had a pot of money to pay for this expansion and the cost of updating the Master Plan. In effect, initially they said – no expansion – no money.
Originally, the SBA planned to be “information givers” to you the members, so that YOU could provide knowledgeable input at the public meetings that were supposed to be conducted by FDOT/AECOM. At the 2012 Annual meeting we told you that we had no idea of how or when they would attempt to assess public attitudes about the Port. They suggested that attitudes might have changed to be more accepting of increased cargo at the Port. Directly after our meeting we sent you an email Newsletter so you could access the Port Master Plan – both the 16+ page document and the 370+ page document, the latter containing what I call the legislative history of the development of the plan. We also posted these on our website. You can still access these documents on the SBA website.
As February moved into March and April was looming, there was increasing concern that AECOM might not solicit general public opinion and, if they did, that it might occur in late April when many of you would have left for the season or traveling. Thus, the SBA Board decided to take a position on the issue of increased cargo at the port to insure that your voices would be heard. We developed a position – with rationale – that supported the current Master Plan as to a “mixed use” facility with “limited” cargo operations, such as currently exists, and did not support the expansion of cargo operations at the Port. We sent this position to members by email on March 26, 2012 and said, “If you agree with the position you need do nothing. If you disagree or wish to make a comment please respond”. This is an “opt out” provision often used in informal polls. The result – with well over 600 members including 36 businesses – less than 1% of the membership indicated their disapproval of the proposed SBA position. We felt very comfortable in reporting that the SBA membership was overwhelmingly opposed to increased cargo operations at the Port. We reported this to the City and County Commissioners on April 17, 2012. Subsequently, FDOT/AECOM announced 3 public meetings to be held in May 2012.
I did express the SBA position at the meetings. While there were many who spoke with reasoned, well thought out opinions on both sides of the issue, there was a vocal minority in favor of increased cargo that resorted to name calling and
castigating anyone who spoke in opposition to their position. Their primary point was that increased cargo would bring jobs to the area. Many numbers were stated without validation. In fact, as ports expand and handle more cargo, they become more mechanized with “less boots on the ground”. They had no appreciation of the number of jobs recreational, commercial and industrial marine industries could bring. They seemingly had no concern for the preservation of the Indian River Lagoon. Suffice to say, this was not a pleasant experience. In fact, I felt personally threatened at times. However, we did, and will continue to take the “high road” in our presentations. Two of these meetings were televised and you can still view them if you wish – May 2, 2012 on the County website and May 16, 2012 on the City website. You may be surprised at what you see and hear.
Trying to make a long story short, in mid July FDOT/AECOM presented a report to City and County Commissions and were given the go ahead to prepare a Phase 2 Scope of services for an update of the Port Master Plan. Now there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there must be a review and revision or update of the Plan. It is over 10 years old and State regulations require such a review. However, there is no requirement that basic provisions must be changed.
The FDOT/AECOM Scope of Services – Tasks, Actions and Deliverables was accepted by the City and County Commissions in early January of this year. One of the items is their development of 4 scenario’s for cargo at the Port – 1. To enhance the existing 11 acres where Indian River Terminal (IRT) is located. 2. Take the 11 acres plus the county owned 20 acres at the north end, the latter being reserved for public purpose by a bond issue 3. Use of the full port property adding the privately owned land to the 31 acres. 4. Do nothing. It appears that these 4 scenarios will be the focus of public participation work sessions to be held. One fact that complicates this issue is that our port is the only one in Florida that has any privately owned land and, in the past, that owner has stymied attempts at development.
It is interesting to note that, since this process started, cargo operations at the Port have virtually stopped. There are only a handful of workers simply maintaining the 11 acre site. At the height of operation IRT employed about 50 workers – less than 5/acre. This has been diminishing over time and IRT has not been working to capacity for a number of years. Some of the reasons given for the downturn include: Overall economic conditions, Bahamas operations, which comprised the majority of activity, have ceased, Drifting conditions in the inlet may have limited some vessels from entering. At the current time, maintenance dredging is being completed. It would appear to me that scenario 1, the enhancement of the existing 11 acres, is compatible with the SBA position of “limited” cargo. And IRT is a business certainly in need, deserves our support. In fact, there seems to be a softening to the “no expansion – no money” of the initial FDOT approach. That, in fact, enhancing the existing 11 acres and bringing IRT back to a viable enterprise could meet the cargo expansion requirement. Also, there appears to be general support to develop the infrastructure to meet he needs of whatever finally goes there – rail, drainage and the like. That to move forward with those items all can agree on, would make it possible to attempt to secure funding in the very near future. FDOT/AECOM will also explore what they call “non-traditional port urban improvement” such as parks, outdoor cafes, dining, museums and a maritime training academy – an educational component – not just increased cargo.
There is a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, February 8th, to determine the dates for the public meetings. Preliminary documents suggest there will be a series – the first perhaps in late February, the others in April and May. The later these occur, the more likely some of you will be gone once again. As soon as we know we will inform you by email. We will also include a link to the entire Phase 2 Scope of Work.
So – what can you do? Become as informed as possible. Review the Master Plan. Reread our rationale. Both are on our website. Read the Scope of Work that we will send. Then roll up your sleeves and go ready to participate in the first meeting. It is extremely important that we get a good turnout at that meeting. The decision makers are here tonight. See your City and County Commissioners at the end of the meeting. Let them know what you think.
(remarks as prepared by Carole Mushier)