- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 5

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on preparing for Hurricane Matthew:

As Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida’s Atlantic coast, it’s not time to panic, but to be prepared.

Just because you take precautions doesn’t mean you’re flipping your lid or buying into media hype. Ignore the cool kids making snarky remarks about everyone wasting their time scurrying around battening the hatches and stocking up on supplies when the storm is still at least a day away from reaching us, its path uncertain.

They’ll be the ones asking if they can borrow a flashlight and a couple jugs of water.

Matthew is a big enough hurricane -and it’s predicted to come close enough to our neighborhood - that it deserves to be taken seriously. If you wait until the confidence level approaches 100 to act, it will be too late. Store shelves will be depleted, gas pumps will be closed, evacuation routes will be choked with vehicles - or worse, made hazardous by deteriorating conditions.

Ideally, living in Florida, many people will have set aside potable water, canned goods and non-perishable food, batteries and other items even before hurricane season began June 1. That should be an annual strategy. The next-best move is to have begun that process Tuesday, when forecasts began showing Matthew inching westward and toward us. It’s not too late to start now.

Hurricanes can be fickle. They are notorious for bobbing and weaving just before making landfall. Sometimes they stall; other times, they pick up speed. The timing can make a significant difference in the size of the storm surge and resulting flooding. The decision to stay put and do nothing can be hazardous if that guesswork proves wrong.

If you take precautions and the storm misses us, that’s actually good news. Breathe a sigh of relief and be satisfied that you have supplies on hand for the next threat. Or if you can’t keep them in storage, donate them to a homeless shelter or food bank.

Those outcomes are far better than being caught unprepared by a hurricane that, even if it doesn’t score a direct hit, can still cause a lot of damage. Several areas of Volusia and Flagler counties are susceptible to flooding. Indeed, it doesn’t even take a named storm to make streets impassable and neighborhoods water-logged. In May 2009, for example, a record week of rainfall - 20 inches total, 6 inches more than the previous high - caused $59 million in damages to the two-county area. Some residents had to be evacuated from their flooded homes.

In September, just before Labor Day weekend, Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 1 storm, but that was enough to knock out power to 100,000 residents in Tallahassee for several days.

That was the first time since 2005 that the state had been hit by a hurricane, an incredibly fortuitous run of luck. That respite, coming on the heels of the horrific 2004 and 2005 seasons in which Florida was battered by seven hurricanes, allowed the property insurance market to recover and put the state on a sounder financial footing. But that length of inactivity, with hardly any close calls, also may have eroded some memories and caused some complacency. Hermine, and now Matthew, are reminders that Floridians should always be on guard and ready to take action. That time is now.




Oct. 3

Orlando Sentinel on Florida’s future growth and development:

A new study on Florida’s future growth and development called Florida 2070 should be required reading for leaders throughout the state. We’d suggest copies go first to the four Orange County commissioners - Ted Edwards, Scott Boyd, Victoria Siplin and Bryan Nelson - who voted in July to pave the way for two massive new developments east of the Econlockhatchee River.

The study - conducted by the University of Florida, the state Department of Agriculture and smart-growth advocates 1000 Friends of Florida - forecast that the Sunshine State’s population will grow from about 20 million today to nearly 34 million residents by 2070. And if the current relationship between population growth and development in Florida persists, developed land will increase during the same period from less than 6.4 million acres to 11.6 million acres, or from less than 20 percent to 33 percent of land in the state.

Growth’s footprint will expand even more in Central Florida. The percentage of developed acreage in this region will nearly double from 26 percent to 48 percent - from about a quarter to half.

However, if leaders here and throughout the state direct more new houses, apartments, office parks and strip malls to property available in or adjacent to existing communities, almost 2 million acres will be spared from development. More in-fill development in Florida will help preserve agriculture, protect wildlife, keep water supplies cleaner and maintain recreational opportunities for residents and tourists. All these benefits will help sustain the quality of life that Floridians expect and deserve.

Denser development also will reduce costs to taxpayers for an array of government services - including roads, public safety, water and sewer - that won’t have to be stretched to accommodate sprawl. It’ll shorten commutes and other time spent stuck in traffic.

If only the four Orange commissioners had been more interested in these dividends in July. That’s when they voted to change the county’s comprehensive plan - its blueprint for growth - to allow two megadevelopments with more than 4,000 homes combined on 2,800 undeveloped acres in the Lake Pickett area east of the Econ River. Most of the property now primed for development by the four commissioners had been limited under the comp plan to just one home per 10 acres. It includes farms, ranches, wildlife habitat and recharge areas for the region’s groundwater supply.

For years, the Econ River was considered the dividing line between urban and rural Orange County. But together the two developments - known as Sustany and The Grow - will be larger than Waterford Lakes and Avalon Park.

Supporters have said the two developments are needed to provide homes and businesses to serve nearby employment centers, especially the University of Central Florida. But land west of the Econ was designated for that purpose years ago by leaders in Orange County and Orlando, and there’s still plenty of undeveloped acreage available.

While Sustany awaits state approval, and other minor procedural and administrative hurdles remain for both developments, the comp-plan change was a decisive step toward their eventual construction. It might not be possible to un-ring the bell at this point. But that’s not a good excuse for leaders to keep repeating their mistakes.

Florida 2070 also wisely suggests state leaders protect additional land from development through Florida Forever and other acquisition programs, and make greater use of incentives to persuade private owners of farms and other undeveloped land to preserve it.

Leaders throughout Florida have a responsibility as stewards of both the environment and taxpayer dollars to be smarter about managing growth and development. Otherwise, they’re mortgaging the state’s future.




Oct. 1

Miami Herald on funding to fight the spread of Zika:

We guess we should be grateful. Last week, Congress approved $1.1 billion to fight the spread of Zika. This grand act came:

? Seven months after President Obama requested $1.9 billion for the initiative.

? Three months after Congress took stab at a bill that was larded with unacceptable funding cuts for Planned Parenthood. The stab wound was fatal. Senate Democrats blocked it.

? Two months after Wynwood became Ground Zero for the local transmission of the Zika virus. By then, locally transmitted cases of the disease that causes serious birth defects had been discovered. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Wynwood a no-go zone for pregnant women or those working on getting pregnant.

? One month after Miami Beach became the new Ground Zero.

? Three weeks after Senate Democrats blocked another Republican back-door assault on Planned Parenthood.

? And just in time for the mosquito population to drop off because fall is here.

Remember when Republican lawmakers were hammering the Obama administration to come through with funding to fight Ebola? A dreadful disease plaguing distant shores - and which indeed needed to be kept from coming to the United States?

Many of these same lawmakers were content to let Zika, a clear and present danger - emphasis on the present, as in here and now - spread unabated domestically. Their actions were derelict and dangerous.

Last week, Congress finally provided $1.1 billion to battle Zika, less than what Mr. Obama requested, but, mercifully, not by much. The funds are part of a larger, short-term funding bill to keep the government operating until Dec. 9.

About $935 million will boost efforts to curb the spread of Zika in the United States, funding prevention initiatives, response to the virus and the developed of treatment. There is no vaccine - yet.

Another $175 million will target efforts abroad.

Now that the money is there, it’s imperative that it be allocated to the most affected regions - and that means Florida and, specifically, South Florida. As Sen. Marco Rubio said in a press conference in Doral, “The battle’s not over.”

It’s also time for the state to get its act together. It seems to be trying, but is still playing catchup. State labs processing Zika tests have reduced the wait time for results, but it has to clear a backlog of up to 900 cases; and the heavy-handed directive to Miami-Dade County to not reveal where infected mosquitoes were trapped on Miami Beach made no sense whatsoever. The county went along when it should have outed the state from the start, instead of providing cover for such nonsense.

The Herald sued to get the locations released. But the state relented after County Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that he planned to release the locations unless the state put its foot down. The governor agreed, and the community now knows where the infected mosquitoes were trapped.

Indeed, those carrying the Zika virus were found in backyards and near schools, All this after the state cut funds for mosquito control.

Great timing. Tell us again, Gov. Scott, what was the point?

Residents can’t be blamed for asking: Who’s in charge here? They deserve a credible answer.



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