Jacksonville Bold for 10.12.22: Let there be light

Acosta pride
Jacksonville can now show its pride with an impressive — non-controversial — light show.

Getting lit

Lighting Jacksonville bridges, once a fulcrum of culture war controversy, likely won’t be as controversial anymore.

That’s one outcome of the City Council’s decision to allow the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to decide on lighting schemes for bridges — though some may wonder how such a minor issue dragged out for more than a year.

Acosta Bridge with Pride Month display. Image via The Associated Press.

Following passage by the JTA Board, Resolution 2022-705 memorialized the City Council’s intent to let the JTA make decisions about the lighting. The bill summary notes that governments must, per FDOT, approve lighting schemes “by way of resolution.” Any changes sought by JEA to the list of approved lighting schemes would be presented to the City Council.

FDOT’s edict came after JTA freelanced, deciding in June 2021 to light up the Acosta Bridge in rainbow colors for Pride Month.

The Governor’s Office eventually allowed the lights, after a brief stoppage by the Florida Department of Transportation. (This was just days after DeSantis picked Jacksonville for a bill signing: a ban of transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports the Governor inked at a Christian school on the city’s Westside.)

The bill would not have even been heard by the full City Council at all, were it not for Al Ferraro’s vote in a committee last week.

Ferraro, a mayoral candidate, objected to the JTA board choosing lighting schemes because they were appointed and not elected. That argument didn’t sway colleagues in committee, but the no vote meant this resolution was off the consent agenda last week because it was not unanimous.

Ferraro was the only “no” vote on the bill.

Discussion ahead of the vote involved whether JTA was given latitude to change the calendar without the City Council’s consent; ultimately Council members rejected an amendment that would tighten the language further.

Meanwhile, the lighting decision was only one major piece of JTA news out of Tuesday’s meeting, which also saw a former senior staffer of Mayor Lenny Curry moving onto the board to replace Kevin Holzendorf, who resigned after an arrest for impaired driving.

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Here to help

Though Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, its impacts were felt in this region, especially in low-lying and waterside areas of St. Johns County.

Affected property owners needing aid will get help toward it this week, via the St. Augustine office of Sen. Marco Rubio. Staffers will be at the Galimore Center starting at 10 a.m. until at least 2 p.m.

Attendees are urged to bring documents, including insurance information, documentation of damage, and financial and banking information.

St. Johns County continues to adjust to the latest tropical trouble.

As WJXT reports, the region suffered at least $37.8 million in home damage, with affected areas in downtown St. Augustine, near the St. Johns River, and beach areas like Porpoise Point, North Beach, Crescent Beach and Flagler Estates.

Talk talk

In Florida’s new — and heavily Republican — 4th Congressional District, with less than a month until Election Day, Democrat LaShonda “L.J.” Holloway is challenging Republican nominee and state Sen. Aaron Bean to a debate.

The request appeared to be a surprise to his camp.

“The future constituents in Clay County, Nassau County and Duval County should hear the issues, and they should hear from the candidates,” Holloway told WJXT.

LaShonda Holloway is looking to pull an unlikely upset in CD 4.

Contacted by the television affiliate, which offered to host such a debate, Bean campaign spokesperson Sarah Bascom said the debate request was news to them.

“This is the first we have heard from our opponent on this or anything quite frankly,” Bascom said. “Sen. Bean has been on the campaign trail nonstop since June and has done many interviews and speaking engagements.”

In a later Facebook post, Holloway said she would debate Bean anytime, anywhere.

Moody moola

Attorney General Ashley Moody looks to add to her financial advantage in her re-election effort against Orlando Democrat Aramis Ayala with a fundraiser Thursday evening at the San Jose Country Club.

Among the recognizable names on the host committee: State Rep. Jason Fischer and City Council members Randy DeFoor, Rory Diamond and Ron Salem. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will also be on hand.

Contributions can be to either Moody’s campaign or political committee, the latter of which can be of any amount.

As Election Day approaches next month, Moody is starting to spend, with $3 million of outflow from her Friends of Ashley Moody political committee in the week ending Sept. 30.

Road warriors

JEA crews are offering to help in the wake of Hurricane Ian, with a deployment to Sanibel Island on Monday to assist in restoring wastewater services to Sanibel Island following the storm’s massive destruction.

Three crew members left Sunday morning to assess the Sanibel Island area, with 36 JEA Water/Wastewater team members departing the following day. The crews began work on Sanibel’s municipal wastewater system on Oct. 11.

JEA will lend a hand to storm-ravaged Sanibel. Image via AP.

The service is part of mutual aid that utilities offer in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“When Ian hit Northeast Florida, mutual aid crews from Texas, Alabama and New England traveled to Jacksonville to assist JEA in restoring services. And now JEA is prepared to support our neighboring communities and restore service for their customers in Southwest Florida,” noted a JEA news release.

Sanibel’s utilities need comprehensive reconstruction, and crews from around the country are being ferried to the island in what will be a long process.

Dig it

New federal protections for Florida’s gopher tortoises won’t be coming, something notable throughout coastal areas of Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

“Efforts to improve conditions for the gopher tortoise have been effective, and it is important that scientists, experts and wildlife professionals continue to strategically use our best resources to help recover the gopher tortoise where it’s most vulnerable,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeastern Regional Director, in a written statement.

“The Service will continue to work with our partners to support head-start programs, resource management plans and other conservation coalitions to help conserve this keystone species.”

A gopher tortoise ambles at Little Talbot State Park. Image via Wes Wolfe.

USFWS determined the tortoises’ “distinct population segment” in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama not only don’t meet the criteria for listing, but “are robust.” The western segment, in western Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, will remain under threatened status.

Gopher tortoises are a keystone species because their burrows provide homes to more than 360 different species. Before Florida legislators passed a state law against the practice, developers would entomb and kill tortoises in their burrows. Development and habitat loss is presently the No. 1 threat to the species’ survival.

“State programs, particularly in Florida — the heart of their range — are just not working,” said Elise Bennett, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in comments to The Associated Press before the announcement. “Florida is largely just moving them out of areas under development and into smaller and smaller habitats. And fragmentation is a problem already.”

A public information session on the decision, by way of webinar, is scheduled for Dec. 13, 7-9 p.m. Registration is available on the USFWS website.

Trash day?

Unless you have a few goats handy, dealing with yard debris left over from Hurricane Ian can be problematic, especially if the local government isn’t handling the issue.

In one Fernandina Beach neighborhood, the problem is serious enough that one of the residents asked the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners for an ordinance to do something about it.

More of this, please.

“Due to storm Ian, we’ve had a solid layer of storm debris in our streets and in the islands — we have four islands on our street,” Henna Kerins said.

“We’re an area of large and numerous oaks. We neighbors have raked the road and cleaned the islands of limbs and debris, gathering in neat piles, expecting the county to pick up the storm debris. However, the county decided not to pick up the storm debris this time, so now we have two problems. One, we have piles of debris that we’ve located on the islands, in the county property. Someone will have to arrange disposal and absorb the cost of that removal.”

Some folks aren’t waiting, and just burning their yard waste instead, which Kerins would like the Commission to ban.

“This has been a problem because, in a residential area, that smoke becomes very offensive,” Kerins said. “I’ve had to put towels and things around my door because I can smell the smoke coming in.”

Nashville bound

Members of JAX Chamber headed to Nashville this week to bring back ideas for Jacksonville’s downtown, returning to the Music City for its 41st annual Leadership Trip.

Discussions and presentations focus on the direction Nashville has moved over the past few years, with a focus on the next steps Jacksonville leaders can take.

Breakout groups include discussions on greenways planning and development, workforce housing solutions; health care leadership strategies and economic impact; updates on development in and around the sports complex.

Attendees and speakers include several of the city’s top leaders, including Jaguars VP of Real Estate and Development Drew Frick, Brian Evans of Fifth Third, HCA Healthcare CEO (and incoming Chamber Chair) Brad Talbert and The Fiorentino Group Partner Mark Pinto.

During the event, HCA Healthcare announced a $50,000 grant to the city’s Lewis and White Business League to assist African American-owned businesses.

Paying the price

All three candidates who appeared at a Nassau County Chamber of Commerce forum for Fernandina City Commission Seat 4 said they see higher-density residential zoning in the city as a problem, despite the need for affordable housing for the people who work at Amelia Island businesses.

“How many people can we fit in the city and on the island and can the roads, highways, sidewalks, bike paths, support the number of people you’re going to squeeze in here?” said Mayor Mike Lednovich, who is running for re-election to the Commission. “I’m staunchly opposed to a couple of developer strategies. One strategy, which I’ve seen in my four years (on the Commission) is rezoning property, and the example I can give you are the (Vintage) apartments on 14th and Lime.”

Sign of the times?

Chris Nickoloff, a retired fire service professional, generally agreed with Lednovich on the island’s density pressures.

“I think we need to take a good, strong look at the land development code, and that’s the way to change the density,” Nickoloff said. “Certainly, we need to oppose any changes in zoning from commercial to residential, or residential to commercial.”

He said developments off-island are a concern as well, between Wildlight and other similar plans in progress.

Dr. James John Antun suggested an approach of not encouraging higher-density projects, but not exactly saying no to whatever an existing property owner would like to do.

“We certainly do not need to be increasing the capacity, if we’re already zoned (at a parcel) for 19 units and jumping to 49 units,” Antun said. “That being said, the units that are there, growth will be inevitable for people to come buy a lot and build a home.”

Chelsey Lemire was invited to the forum but declined to attend because of a schedule conflict.

Sign scrap

Fernandina Beach Mayor Mike Lednovich voiced his displeasure with actions by county officials, in a tourism and marketing capacity, taking away what he sees as one of the desirable features of the city.

Lednovich became aware of the sign situation after receiving an email sent by City Manager Dale Martin about the welcome sign at 8th and Lime streets.

“We received an email that the county had approved hiring a party to design our sign,” Lednovich said at the City Commission’s latest meeting. “And, my first thought was, ‘Who asked you? It’s our sign.’ So, this is more of the county trying to make the whole place look the same. Is that what we want? It’s not what I want.”

The sign in question.

He said he previously lived in the Newport Coast community of Southern California, which he doesn’t want Fernandina to emulate.

“It all looked the same,” Lednovich said. “High end — ‘This is a rich people’s island,’ or community.”

No matter how you look at it, aspects of standardization built into countywide marketing concepts would bring consistency and some appearance of sameness to Amelia Island.

Lednovich asked Martin to express his concerns to Nassau County officials.

“I’m hoping, in your communication with the County Manager, that we set the record straight that we’ll design our own damn sign,” Lednovich said, “that fits the flavor of our community and what our city wants.”

See ya Ciera

One of the region’s governmental affairs professionals is taking her talents to South Florida starting Nov. 1.

Ciera Smith will be taking over the Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie Realtors® governmental affairs Director position, after having served since February as the Government Affairs Coordinator for the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors®.

Palm Beach-bound Ciera Smith reups with Realtors.

She also served for more than two years as a district aide to Rep. Al Lawson, whose three terms serving the Jacksonville area will end after the 2022 elections.

Smith also had leadership positions with the Duval Democratic Party, including as a committee person and in the Jacksonville Young Democrats. Northeast Florida’s loss will be Palm Beach’s gain.

Top marks

Congrats to the St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller office, which was recognized with high marks in a recent report on Passport Acceptance Facility Oversight.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Acceptance Facility Oversight regularly conducts independent oversight inspections with a focus on protecting the integrity of the federal passport issuance process.

This inspection is St. Johns’ sixth since September 2010 — with stellar results!

St. Johns Clerk of Court office delivers stellar customer service.

The report highlights the important responsibility of Clerk of Court offices nationwide to preserve the records and provide vital services to local communities — helping with your official records, marriages and ceremonies, and passport applications and photos.

For more information on the assorted services available in St. Johns County, please click here.

Y’all means yawl

One-hundred forty-eight years ago, the St. Augustine Lighthouse was lit for the first time, and a unique commemoration is set for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Fittingly, it will be a boat launch — but not just any boat.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum plans to unveil and launch a replica 1760 Royal Navy ship’s dinghy or yawl boat. And the workmanship is done in-house, via the Heritage Boatworks volunteer program.

Ready for launch?

“The 14’ eighteenth-century design is based on original lines from the British Archives and obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. This type of watercraft was common in the waters around St. Augustine during the British period from 1763 to 1783. Its keel and posts are made of live oak and planked by cypress; local materials used by boat builders in St. Augustine during that time,” a news release from the Lighthouse explains.

See it for yourself Saturday afternoon at the Lighthouse Park boat ramp, found at 446 Ocean Vista Ave.

Secret menu

Looking to learn something new about Jacksonville’s rich history? Whether you’ve been here for decades or days, odds are good you’ll learn something on one of The Jaxson’s Secret Walking Tours.

After a pause, they will resume later this month, with local author and historian Bill Delaney taking the lead. Monthly events are slated through March.

Get to know Jax history the Bill Delaney way. Image via Bill Delaney.

“On Sunday, October 30, and continuing on a monthly basis, Bill is hosting the next in a series of walking tours of a few of the places featured in the book across Downtown. Hear the stories of Jacksonville’s underground tunnels, the locomotive buried beneath a skyscraper, a lost (and fictitious) Native American city, a long destroyed sculptural masterpiece that will soon be reborn in Jacksonville, underknown Jax music history and much more lying just off the beaten path. The tours begin at James Weldon Johnson Park and tickets are $20 (kids 12 and under are free).”

If you’ve read Bill’s “Secret Jacksonville: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” you know some of what to expect. And if you haven’t read it? You have a couple of weeks before Oct. 30 to work it in.

Cuppa water

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman was scheduled to speak at Cuppa Jax already, but Hurricane Ian had other plans. Now, Rinaman is set to speak to the community discussion group, with an unexpected few more stories to tell, thanks to the storm.

As an advocate and public voice for the river, Rinaman’s responsible for “holding regulatory agencies and those polluting the river accountable; identifying and advocating for solutions that will protect and restore the river; working with government entities, businesses, community leaders and citizens to resolve problems that impact the river’s health; and communicating with the media and the public to educate and raise awareness about important river-related issues.”

The recent hurricane delayed Lisa Rinaman’s talk.

She’s also played key roles in Jacksonville’s Manatee Protection Plan and efforts to fulfill the River Accord restoration plan for the lower St. Johns River.

The event is $15 and will take place at 8 a.m. on Oct. 19 in the Skyline Room of the Riverplace Tower. The Village Bread Cafe provides breakfast.

Call for artists

Local artists who want to be part of a new Cultural Council project that will bring art to a new Jacksonville Jaguars facility are on the clock.

The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville is partnering with the Jacksonville Jaguars “to infuse public art into the exterior spaces of the Miller Electric Center, the new home of the team’s football operations that is currently under construction adjacent to TIAA Bank Field. Public art plans for the space include two free-standing sculptural works on the main plaza, four exterior murals and two sculptural bike racks,” notes the Cultural Council in a release.

Rendering of the new facility via Cultural Council.

The Cultural Council has issued a call to artists, and they have until Oct. 28 to respond. Sculptors have some interesting concepts to play with, including two “three-dimensional (3D), ground-mounted, sculptural bicycle rack(s)” and a 15-foot-tall “three-dimensional (3D), ground-mounted sculpture to be installed adjacent to main entrances in the suggested mediums of metal, stone, glass, and/or other alternative or repurposed materials. Can include a light feature.”

Four murals are also sought, with the largest at 23 feet tall.

Colts therapy

If there’s any good news for the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars, who sit at 2-3 after giving the Houston Texans their first win, it’s that the 2-2-1 Indianapolis Colts are the next opponent.

It was a 24-0 thrashing of this same Colts team that got people talking and hopes up in Jacksonville for a season on the good side of acceptable. Then Philadelphia happened, and the toothless performance against the 1-3-1 Texans.

Quarterback and future of the franchise, Trevor Lawrence, is responsible for seven turnovers across the past two games.

A lot to think about. Image via The Associated Press.

“I have to look at the things that I have to do better,” Lawrence said. “You look at some of the stuff we did. We moved the ball great. Guys made plays downfield. I thought I was confident, ripped a few in there, had some good plays, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t win.

“There’s always a few plays that you go back and look, and you wish you would have gone somewhere else with the ball, taken a throw here or there. I think really, I missed a few throws today more so than anything. When you watch the tape, it’s going to be frustrating because you leave a lot out there.”

How do the folks in Vegas feel? The game opened with the Colts as a 7-point favorite, but the line was Indianapolis -2 on Tuesday afternoon, suggesting a swing toward the Jags.

Staff Reports


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