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Orange County Dems pick Wes Hodge as new chair

Political operative Wes Hodge was elected Saturday as the new chair of the Orange County Democrats after laying out a detailed platform for.

Hodge was elected by acclimation after his opponent, longtime Orange County Democratic activist Lonnie Thompson withdrew and threw his support behind Hodge while paper ballots from their contest were being counted.

Hodge takes over from outgoing Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Juan Lopez and will have an entirely new team of leadership with him. Also elected Friday were new vice chairman Nuren Haider, Lorraine Touliano as state committeewoman, Doug Head as state committeeman, Deborah Ryan as secretary, Dawn Curtis as treasurer, Tiffany Namey as female at large member and Tim Ayers as male at large member.

“I listened to you guys. This room is the room that asked me to run for chair. I didn’t do it because you know I have a personal ambition or I wanted it to be a stepping stone for something else. I did it because the members of this organization came to me,” Hodge said. “It’s a very humbling experience.”

Behind-the-scenes issues loomed. Democratic voter growth has exploded in Orange County over the past decade yet the Orange Democrats have had only limited success in county and state elections. Democrats hold a 3-2 advantage in voter registrations. There also is the matter of potential backing of one of their own, Susannah Randolph, to become chair of the state party. She’s campaigning but isn’t yet qualified to run; she’ll need to hold one of the elected positions from Saturday’s county elections, meaning someone would have to resign to open a job for her.

Hodge indirectly addressed the less-than-overwhelming election success Orange Democrats have enjoyed, and the limited participation seen in county meetings, Saturday’s notwithstanding. The 125 or so committee members who attended Saturday may have been the largest gathering in 20 years, Thompson said.

“We’re Democrats. We’re the largest party in this county, and it’s about time we acted like it,” Hodge said.

Hodge, 38, was born in California to an Air Force family, but moved to Florida at age 8 and spent most of his childhood and adult life in Orange County, including a college career at the University of Central Florida. He is a three-time cancer survivor who said public funding helped him afford treatment, and so he committed himself to finding ways to pay back the public after his second battle.

305 claims approved for Pulse nightclub victims’ fund

fficials with a fund created from donations for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting say they will distribute $29.5 million on 305 claims when the process is completed.

Officials with OneOrlando Fund said Friday that $27.4 million has been distributed for 299 claims so far.

Officials say six claims remain unpaid because family members haven’t agreed about who should get the money.

Fund officials say 348 claims were submitted but 43 claims were deemed ineligible, primarily because the claimant wasn’t inside the nightclub.

Forty-nine people were killed and dozens of others injured in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Estates of the deceased patrons each received $350,000. Cumulatively, they received more than half of the fund, or about $17.1 million.

Surviving patrons got anywhere from $25,000 to $300,000 each, depending on whether they were injured and the extent of their injuries.

Thirty-six patrons who required hospitalization got a total of $6.5 million, including eight patrons who were hospitalized for more than 24 days and each got $300,000.

Twenty-nine patrons who required outpatient treatment were paid more than $1 million, or $35,000 each.

There were 186 patrons without injuries who were each paid $25,000 for a total sum of $4.6 million.

Orlando named ‘Gay City of the Year’ by gay travel site

Orlando has been named “Gay City of the Year” by the gay travel site GayCities.com, which praised the City Beautiful for its outpouring of compassion and unity following last summer’s horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub and then noted Orlando had been a strong city for gays all along.

“GayCities honors the city & community of Orlando for its compassion and resiliency in the wake of the horrific Pulse Nightclub massacre of 2016,” the site declared in announcing the annual award. “We salute your bravery and spirit in the face of unspeakable cruelty & adversity, an example to us all.”

An earlier post on the site, since apparently removed, described Orlando as a place that has long been welcoming to the LGBT community, and noted the gay-tourism outreach provided by VisitOrlando, Orange County’s convention and visitors’ bureau. The Bureau publishes a “Gay Travel Guide” among its specialized-market efforts.

The official announcement is set for Dec. 12.

VisitOrlando President George Aguel boasted about the “City of the Year” designation Friday when he met with the county’s Tourist Development Council, which includes both Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

“It is nice to get that news. It continues to favor the opportunity we see to expand our awareness that this is a place for what is a huge travel market,” Aguel said.

Orange County and Orlando get rosy tourist numbers, forecasts

The horrific Pulse nightclub massacre, the specter of Zika virus, and the uncertainty of politics and national policies aren’t slowing down tourists coming to Orlando.

At least not enough to hurt.

The Orange County Tourist Development Council received sparkling reports Tuesday showing record receipts from tourist taxes in the past fiscal year and forecasts that 2017 is also likely to be rosy.

According to the Orange County Comptroller’s Office the tourist tax brought in $239.5 million in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. That’s nearly 4 percent more than the county budgeted for, and 6 percent higher than the bed tax brought in 2015.

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith added to the optimism by updating his previously pessimistic forecasts and projecting solid economic growth for the nation, the state and Central Florida.

“I take both of those presentations with great optimism,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said later.

The reports come just weeks after Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Dyer struck a deal and pushed it through to spend additional tourist tax money to fund the second phase of construction at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and other projects around town.

“It puts us in a really good place. We’ve got the $45 million that we pledged to the performing arts center,” said Jacobs, who chairs the Tourist Development Council.

The rest of the increased tax receipts will be looked at next summer when the Orange County Board of County Commissioners prepares its 2017 budget.

“My expectation is we’ll have excess TDT to begin looking at other capital projects,” Jacobs said.

The reports had some mixed numbers. The tourist tax receipts grew largely because the price of an Orange County hotel room increased. Not including Walt Disney World hotel rooms – which are not reported in the numbers – the average price of a hotel room night went up 4 percent to $124.

There also was an increase in the total number of hotel rooms in Orange County, reaching a record 119,815, up 2 percent from the year before.

Yet the actual hotel room occupancy rate went down slightly more than 2 percent, to 78.1 percent.

Sanford Burnham doubles down against state efforts to recoup incentive money

Ten years to create 303 jobs.

That straight-forward commitment was a core aspect of an agreement that allowed a California-based biotech nonprofit to secure $350 million in state and Orlando-area taxpayer support.

It didn’t happen.

Penned in 2006, time has now run out on Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute’s deal with the state. It’s 66 jobs short, according to state records.

But rather than pay back some of the money, the research institute is doubling down on its refusal to comply with the state’s accountability efforts – even goading state officials “to help preserve and create more jobs.”

In a letter to the Department of Economic Opportunity dated Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, Sanford Burnham’s senior legal counsel said he was “surprised” that the state had sent the organization a notice of default requesting returned incentive funds.

“Sanford Burnham is not in material default of any obligation in the agreement,” he said. “Please regard this letter as Sanford Burnham’s rejection of all the allegations, claims, and demands contained in your Oct. 28 (Notice of Default) letter.”

It was the second such correspondence in a month.

In addition to the lack of jobs created, DEO officials contend that representatives of the organization verbally indicated to the department that it intends to cease its Florida operations in the coming months and leave the state so it can consolidate operations at its California campus.

Since the incentive deal spans 20 years, DEO is seeking 50 percent of the $155 million contribution state taxpayers afforded the Orlando venture, as well as the return of equipment purchased with state funds.

Sanford Burnham’s Nov. 23 letter denied it would cease operations, calling DEO’s assertion an “erroneous belief.”

But Sanford Burnham management tried for months to hand over its troubled East Coast spin-off to the University of Florida, a taxpayer-funded public institution.

After a period of negotiations that initially left Gov. Rick Scott out of the loop, the university backed-out on Oct. 25. Three days later, Sanford Burnham received the notice of default.

Last week’s letter disputed that the institute’s commitment to create 303 jobs constituted a legal obligation, and added that the incentive contract only allows the state to withhold additional funding and recover unspent or unused funds, minus wind-down costs.

According to a DEO project summary, 99 percent of the $155 million has been paid out. Sanford Burnham says it spent the money “many years ago.”

“There is no additional remedy or obligation to refund monies that have already been spent in accordance with the terms of the agreement,” the letter stated.

If true, state taxpayers could take a total loss.

The institute blames its financial woes on a lack of federal research funding and philanthropic donations, and the Great Recession.

Records show about 240 jobs were created with the funding. The rate of return for the project was supposed to yield $1.63 for every $1 the state committed. The actual rate of return is left blank on the project summary.

The controversy couldn’t come at a worse time for Scott, who is engaged in an intra-party battle to replenish funding for Enterprise Florida, the state’s chief taxpayer-funded incentive organization.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, led a successful effort to block a $250 million Enterprise Florida appropriation last year, and stands opposed to Scott’s $85 million funding request for 2017.

Sanford Burnham says it is committed to remaining in Florida for the next year, assuming its current circumstances remain unchanged. It’s also exploring other long-term sustainability plans, according to its recent letter.

A spokesperson for the Department of Economic Opportunity told Watchdog in an email that DEO “remains committed to holding Sanford Burnham accountable for all taxpayer monies received and will continue to investigate our options for any repayment necessary of incentive funds that were provided to Sanford Burnham.”

Via FloridaWatchdog.org.

Orlando-based attractions in Tennessee recover after devastating wildfire

Two Orlando-based attractions are dealing with the aftermath Thursday of a wildfire that spread through Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Employees from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa were forced to evacuate Monday night when high winds sent the fire through the resort area.

Both attractions have headquarters in Orlando.

Ripley employees were forced to leave behind more than 10,000 animals, when the fire crept just 50 yards from the attraction Monday night.

Ryan DeSear, Ripley’s regional manager, said 14 of his employees are homeless after the fire and the company has placed them in hotels and prepared a relief plan.

“There was a wall of flames but it stopped at our concrete parking deck, which served as a big firebreak for us,” said DeSear, who was the last to leave the aquarium at 7:45 p.m. Monday. “That ugly deck saved the aquarium and all our animals.”

He said he had to force many of the workers out of the building because they didn’t want to leave the animals alone. A team of Ripley biologists is working in the aquarium around the clock to support the animals while the attraction is closed. DeSear added that they were lucky because the building never lost power.

DeSear choked up when asked about his employees. He said not all of Ripley’s 400 employees have reported in but most are safe in their homes.

“I’ve got my wife and son and my dogs,” DeSear said. “I have no power, no gas but I have a home by God. The company has given us carte blanche and told us we can buy anything we need to help our employees.”

DeSear credits firefighters and first responders for saving the city. He said they worked night and day fighting the fire through high winds and tough conditions.

“Gatlinburg and the aquarium will be open and we will be bigger and better than ever within a week,” he said.

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa was not as lucky.

More than 800 units were destroyed and 69 of the resort’s 90 buildings were lost to the blaze, which originated in the Great Smoky Mountains. The resort was at 70 percent occupancy with about 1,200 registered guests when the first building caught fire. All were evacuated and there were no injuries.

Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate Resorts, traveled from Orlando to Gatlinburg to assess the damage. The resort employs about 1,100 people.

The fire did not touch another 323 units in 17 cabin buildings and a lodge. The resort’s water park, grocery store, check-in building and a restaurant were also undamaged.

Westgate Resort officials told the Orlando Sentinel they plan to reopen the resort in the next two weeks.

‘The girl rescued at sea’ Stephanie Murphy rides that humanitarian service into Congress

An event in Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy‘s infancy keeps redirecting her life, a life that has the 38-year-old business professor heading to Washington to represent Orlando and Central Florida as the first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress.

When she was six months old, her family fled Vietnam on a refugee boat. Stephanie, her mother, father, brother, and dozens of mostly strangers, all yearning for freedom and better lives, went adrift when their boat ran out of fuel. Supplies were running low. This was on the South China Sea, in thousands of square miles of open water.

Along came her hero, the U.S. Navy, which intercepted their little boat, provided fuel, food, water and other supplies, and helped them make the crossing to Malaysia. The Lutheran Church took it from there, getting them from a Malaysian refugee camp to America, where her family settled in Virginia.

‘The girl rescued at sea,” as a congressional campaign flyer dubbed her, will not forget the humanitarian assistance the sailors provided. Nor does she want to disappoint them.

Fast forward 22 years and Stephanie Dang was a young strategy consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Washington D.C. when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. Through her parents, that South China Sea rescue had driven into her a deep sense of wanting to help others, to serve the public, she said, and the 9/11 attacks awakened that desire. She quit her job and went to graduate school at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. And when she got out she was hired at the U.S. Department of Defense as an analyst.

She worked on a Navy service budget staff, and with the combatant command and the Pacific command. Eventually she moved up to the secretary of defense’s office as a policy analyst, and was chief of staff to a global strategic guidance planning effort that won her a Defense Department Medal for Exception Civilian Service.

But it was an earlier effort there that defined her. She helped organize the U.S. Navy’s rescue, relief and recovery assistance to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that swept through south Asia, particularly Indonesia, in late 2004. The effort was critical to U.S. foreign diplomatic and strategic defense interests because Indonesia is the world’s most-populous Muslim country. Through the effort, the U.S. may have made new, strong and lasting inroads into relations. But set that aside. For her the effort was, in many ways, a full-circle trip from when the Navy rescued her family just a few hundred miles away.

“I always say it was the greatest honor of my life, to be able to work alongside uniformed men and women, knowing that they rescued me at sea,” Murphy said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “And then to be working alongside them, rescuing other people in southeast Asia in the aftermath of such a devastating tsunami, the long hours, getting home in the middle of the night, and then turning on the TV, and seeing U.S. men and women in uniform delivering water and caring for the people who had been injured, it was incredibly satisfying, and something I’m so proud of.”

Along the way she married a Winter Park guy she had worked with at Deloitte, Sean Murphy, and when he got the opportunity to come home from Washington to set up a small company, she came too, leaving her public sector career. And she landed a job with Sungate Capital in Winter Park, part of her husband’s family’s myriad of business interests in the Orlando area, most notably as principals in the for-profit Full Sail University.

She and Sean had two children, Liem, now 6, and Maya, 2. She got involved in some local efforts, particularly mentoring disadvantaged young women in college and business. She also won an appointment to Rollins College as a business professor in the school’s social entrepreneurship and business program, which allowed her to continue plugging into that humanitarian-aid, public service spirit that awoke on Nov. 11, 2001.

And then politics happened. Early in 2016, Bill Phillips, the Democrats’ candidate running against Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, withdrew from what had been a foundering campaign. That left the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee scrambling to find a replacement. And it was a priority for he Democrats, because the committee believed Mica was highly vulnerable. Murphy initially was one of the people advising the DCCC as it tried to assess other potential candidates. But as one after another either declined or washed out in the vetting, the DCCC started looking at its own advisor.

In some sense it may have appeared preposterous. Murphy was not even a Democrat yet, registered until mid-June as no party affiliation voter. And though her husband’s family had long been active in politics, and she had played the role of government affairs advisor, her political profile was low in Central Florida, while Mica arguably was the most plugged-in politician in town. He had won 12 terms, the last 11 easily. And she could have only four months to campaign. Still, she bore an impressive resume and deep, thoughtful convictions, and was positioned to be packaged as a bright, hopeful, attractive representative of the young, diverse constituency within the newly-defined CD 7.

She remembered what those sailors had done, and the legacy sense of duty and giving back which they and her parents had given her. She thought of her political idols: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, whom she admires for their lifelong commitment to humanitarian causes. How could she say no?

Murphy’s campaign was turbo-powered by $8 million in Washington money that turned a long-shot bid into a sometimes nasty and overwhelming campaign against Mica. Regardless, she herself turned out to be an aggressive, hard-working, and articulate candidate who learned quickly from the savvy Democratic campaigners who joined her on her trail, such as Nancy Pelosi, Wendy Davis, Gwen Moore, Nydia Velazquez, and Val Demings, who won her own election in the adjacent Florida’s Congressional District 10.

Murphy 51, Mica 49.

Now what?

Murphy campaigned on changing how Washington works, and she’s sticking to that. She said she’ll focus on efforts to create higher-paying jobs in the district and Central Florida, particularly in the rising high-tech industries in Lake Mary, the University of Central Florida’s Research Park, other areas, and the emerging private space sector.

She pledged a willingness to work across the aisle and that includes working with a Donald Trump White House, even though her campaign had demonized Trump in an effort to also demonize Mica by association.

“The campaign is over. And as I said throughout the campaign, I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with me,” she said. “That’s the approach I’m going to take with this administration.”

Together with Demings and Democratic Congressman-elect Darren Soto, who won the third major Central Florida seat in Congress, in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Murphy will be part of a rookie triumvirate serving Orlando. She dismissed concerns about their inexperience and lack of seniority clout, choosing instead to describe their backgrounds – an African American former police chief, a Puerto Rican civil rights attorney, and her – as a new way to represent the growing and diverse community.

“I think Val, Darren and I bring a really bring a really palpable set of life experiences to Congress. These are the types of experiences that truly reflect the diversity, the youth, the political leanings of Central Florida,” she said. “And so I really believe that Central Florida has elected a powerhouse trio, each with our own strengths that will help serve Central Florida very well.”

Orange County Commission approves UCF pedestrian plan

A $5 million plan to add mid-block crosswalks and other improvements to pedestrian and bicycle safety in the major roads serving the University of Central Florida was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

The plan aims at making sidewalks, bike paths and crosswalks more appealing and safer for the 50,000 UCF students and thousands of employees who may cross back and forth from the campus to the neighborhoods, apartment complexes and business areas surrounding the entrances.

UCF and Orange County have a long and increasingly difficult problem with the university foot traffic near the campus mixing with the heavy, fast-moving traffic on two major roads, Alafaya Trail, which runs north-south along the campus’s western edge, and University Boulevard, which runs east-west and becomes the primary entrance to campus when it crosses Alafaya.

Accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians and bicycles are common, a couple a month. Fatal accidents are not unusual, occurring almost once a year on average.

With this plan,  in the works for nearly two years, UCF and Orange County hope to reduce the pressures as much as practical, though little in the plans address attempts to reduce the speeds or volume of the vehicle traffic, except through some tweaks. Intersections will have tightened turning radii, so that drivers can’t just barrel through without looking. Some traffic calming techniques like median landscaping, which tend to make drivers feel more crowded and therefore drive more cautiously, will be pursued.

The university and county came together in a task force that produced the plans, and a development agreement in which they will partner in putting in the improvements. The commission adopted both the plan and at the agreement.

“I think the study really went to the heart of the matter and suggested some common-sense solutions,” UCF President John Hitt said afterwards. “It’s one of the major problems we’ve got.”

Much of the plan’s focus is on the sidewalks and crosswalks used by pedestrians. Where possible, sidewalks will be widened and enhanced to be more plaza-like, with benches and other adornments. Pedestrian-scale lighting will be added. Crosswalks will be better marked with colored and textured pavement. Fencing will be added to medians to discourage pedestrians from cutting across mid-block.

There are plans for a wide pedestrian and bicycle trail on the western edge of the UCF campus, along Alafaya.

The effort addresses part of a region-wide problem in Central Florida, which consistently gets ranked as among the most dangerous in the country for pedestrians.

“Pedestrian safety is extremely important, not just at the university but throughout Orange County, and throughout our country,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in urging the plan’s adoption.

The university has agreed to pitch in more than $3 million to help pay for most of the $4.8 million improvements, a contribution that outgoing Commissioner Ted Edwards, whose district includes UCF, praised because, he said, more traditional funding sources, gas taxes, would have slowed implementation.

The challenges are great, including some that may remain frustrating, such as the behaviors of college-aged men and women. How do you get them to obey traffic laws?

“Honestly, if we remember when we were that age, we thought we were indestructible. So I think some aren’t as careful as they could be. That’s understandable,” Hit said. “But my sense is we can provide them better sidewalks and better bicycle- and walk-ways, that would keep people on them longer, I think we’ll get away from some of the risks.”

The other challenge is the auto traffic. Alafaya carries 40,000 vehicles a day and University 50,000. The speed limits are 45 mph on each, but drivers typically drive faster.

“Anytime you’ve got traffic moving at that speed, your margin of error is small,” Hitt said. “You’ve got a mix of pedestrian and bicycle traffic along with automobiles and trucks. Anything we can do to get better control of the speed and provide more safety measures for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, we’ll be well-rewarded.”

 

Swiss company RUAG setting up satellite shop on Space Coast

Swiss-owned RUAG Space announced Tuesday it will develop a factory in Titusville to provide component parts for satellites to be created by OneWeb Satellites, which announced its presence on Florida’s Space Coast last spring.

RUAG, owned by the Swiss government, is a globally-recognized leader in engineering and manufacturing of components for space vehicles. It is moving into a newly-opened Port Canaveral Logistics Center-Titusville warehouse complex developed by the Canaveral Port Authority just outside the Space Coast Regional Airport.

There it will build the satellite structures – essentially the chassis of the spacecrafts – to support OneWeb’s plans to build and launch 900 satellites into space from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Local authorities and those of Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of the Space Coast hailed the commitment not as the coming of a big player, but rather as one of the necessary supply-line, medium-to-small companies needed for their plans to re-invent the Space Coast economy around private space operations independent of NASA and the federal government.

“This celebration today is what we hope will be one of many new aerospace companies that will locate here for supply chains and key manufacturers,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello.

“I certainly believe this is the start of a new Titusville,” said that city’s new mayor Walt Johnson.

RUAG Space calls itself Europe’s leading supplier of space products, but it only recently has entered the United States. Two years ago it set up a two-person shop in Denver. It then developed a factory in Alabama. The Titusville factory came about as both a surprise opportunity and a dream location, according to Holger Wentscher, senior vice president of RUAG Space.

“Being here in Titusville, this is where everything started. This is the birthplace of human spaceflight,” Wentscher said. “This is the area you think about when you think about spaceflight in general. To be here. To be part of that, some of that inspiration… it’s really so amazing.”

Theme parks mimic nature’s bioluminescent glow

Bioluminescence, the sparkly glow that lights up the ocean and local rivers, is coming to a theme park near you. Both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld have unveiled plans to use technology to create nature’s glittery display.

Walt Disney World will offer a ride down a river in a bioluminescent rain forest called the Na’vi River Journey at Pandora, Animal Kingdom’s newest land. Electric Ocean will debut next summer at SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Diego with bioluminescent lighting and music “immersing guests in a glowing sea of wonder,” according to a SeaWorld spokesman.

The theme parks are mimicking the natural phenomenon marine organisms use to confuse predators, find a mate or light up the area so they can attract prey.

“To see the real thing in the natural setting is very different than what you’ll see at a theme park,” said Ashley Covart, lead tour guide at A Day Away Kayak Tours in Titusville. “A lot of people say it looks like the stars, some think it resembles fairy dust. We just had an 8-year-old kid say ‘it’s like I’m holding the stars in my hands.’ ”

Bioluminescence occurs through a chemical reaction that produces light energy within an organism’s body. Some fish light up to attract prey, while some types of squid shoot out bioluminescent liquid, instead of ink, to confuse their predators. Worms and tiny crustaceans use bioluminescence to attract mates.

Humans can watch the sparkly sheen of bioluminescence when it’s triggered by a physical disturbance, such as the ocean’s waves or a boat moving through the water.

During the cooler months from October through March, bioluminescent comb jellyfish congregate in the Indian River Lagoon. And in the heat of the summer, the river is alive with microscopic dinoflagellates, marine plankton that live in fresh water. Covart said thousands participate in their bioluminescent tours during the busy season summer and hundreds take the kayak tours in the winter at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. She said the tours and the theme parks’ new bioluminescent attractions should raise awareness of how important sea life is to sustaining our ecosystem.

In October, Brevard County voters passed a half-cent sales tax per dollar to pay for the cleanup of muck and algae, which kills many sea creatures like plankton, in the Indian River Lagoon. The tax, which begins Jan. 1, is expected to raise $302 million during the next 10 years.

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