Mary Kate Leming's Posts (120)

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By Jane Smith

Delray Beach commissioners were flabbergasted at their Jan. 19 meeting when they were told about a draft report that details a nearly $3 million fine for violations in the city’s reclaimed water program.

“The draft is sending the public into a tizzy,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said.

Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez said she just saw the draft about an hour before the start of the 4 p.m. meeting. The draft letter was addressed to her on Jan. 7 by Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County branch of the Florida Department of Health.

Commissioners agreed they need to send communication out on the city’s various social media platforms to let residents know that the letter was just a draft and not a final list of violations.

“We have drafts floating around all of the time,” said Lynn Gelin, city attorney. “It is not the final letter. It’s a bit reckless to publish it.”

Before the DOH’s violations become final, the state Department of Environmental Protection will have to approve the letter, Gelin said. Then, the city has a right to contest the findings.

Alvarez stepped away from the meeting to take a phone call from Rafael Reyes, environmental public health director at the DOH. He said there was no fine or consent order, Alvarez told the commission.

“He will meet with us to discuss the findings. Then, I will let the commissioners know,” Alvarez said.

The last time city officials met with the local DOH leaders was in October, Alvarez said.

The city’s outside counsel made a public records request that was filled on Jan. 14. Because DOH included the draft letter in its response, it is now a public record, Gelin said.

The biggest fine, $2.9 million, was for failing to ensure adequate backflow protection at 581 locations where Delray Beach provides drinking and reclaimed water. The city may be dinged $5,000 for each of the locations, according to state rules.

The Jan. 14 CityWatch column written by Randy Schultz put out a breaking news email blast about the draft letter. Delray Beach commissioners found this paragraph troubling:

“As part of the proposed consent order with the state, Delray Beach would have to issue this public notice: “The City of Delray Beach cannot assure utility customers that the drinking water produced and distributed met the standards of the Safe Water Drinking Act for the period from inception of the reclaimed water service beginning in 2007 to the time reclaimed water was deactivated on February 4, 2020.”

The DOH has been investigating the city’s reclaimed water program for more than one year.

In early January of 2019, a South Ocean Boulevard homeowner called the DOH to complain about a cross connection found at her house in December 2018.

The city was forced to turn off its reclaimed water system on Feb. 4 to avoid a citywide boil water order, triggered by the 801 S. Ocean resident’s complaint.

The city's utilities department hired inspectors to review each reclaimed water location for cross connections in which drinking water pipes were mistakenly connected to ones that carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater but is suitable only for lawn irrigation.

Then the city examined each site for backflow preventers. In all, 194 backflow devices were found to be missing on the barrier island. Backflow preventers are needed to stop the reclaimed water from flowing back into the city’s drinking water supply.

In May, then-City Manager George Gretsas said the program was botched from its start in 2007.

Delray Beach used outside contractors to design, build and inspect the system. In the most recent area of the barrier island where 801 S. Ocean is located, 21 of 156 locations did not have backflow preventers.

The city hired a consultant to do a forensic study of its reclaimed water system. The city paid $20,000 for his report, which was supposed to include determining responsibility for installing and inspecting the backflow devices.  

He did not find a culprit.

Instead, according to his Oct. 23 report, he found that Delray Beach did not have a point person in charge and lacked “institutional control” over the reclaimed water system.

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8427592084?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach resident Debbie Miglis was one of the first town residents to receive a shot on Jan 15. She was accompanied by two of her friends. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

More photos from Highland Beach vaccine event

 

By Rich Pollack, Jane Smith and Mary Hladky

As cities and towns in southern Palm Beach County scrambled to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of their residents, most people rushing to make online appointments left frustrated by the inability to secure a precious time slot.

It took less than 60 seconds for 150 appointments to evaporate in Delray Beach as scores of mostly seniors flooded the sign-up web address.  It took just 97 seconds for 50 open appointments in Highland Beach to vanish. In Boca Raton, 200 appointments were gone within three minutes.

Those who were able to get through got their shots quickly. By the end of the day Friday, about 400 people got a shot in either Boca, Delray or Highland Beach.

Local officials said the process went quickly with most residents in Delray Beach and Highland Beach getting the shot while sitting in their cars. Those receiving a shot in Boca went into a city building.

“Within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine, every shot was in somebody’s arm,” said Chris Bell, Delray Beach’s emergency manager, who coordinated the effort in Delray and Highland Beach.

Among those receiving the vaccine in Highland Beach were Linda Weissman, 78 and her husband Michael, 81.

“We feel blessed to have gotten the shots,” Linda Weissman said.

One of the rare husband and wife couples to both get the vaccine, the Weissmans of Highland Beach said they enlisted their seven grandchildren to go online when appointment times became available.

Others said they just had good luck when it came to getting an appointment.

“I feel like I won the lottery today,” said Debbie Miglis, 65, whose husband got her an appointment but was unable to get one of his own.

Overall, residents said they were pleased with the ease of getting the shot once they had an appointment.

“This was run exceptionally well,” said Boca Raton resident Joan Lerner, who rushed to get a vaccine because her husband’s health is compromised. So far, he has not been vaccinated.

Still, the challenge for local governments wanting to meet the demand is the continued scarcity of vaccines.

“Right now, the demand for shots is far outpacing the supply,” said Delray Beach Fire Rescue Chief Keith Tomey, whose department vaccinated people in Delray and Highland Beach. “We have only 200 doses and thousands of people who want them.”

Tomey said the process of signing up for appointments went smoothly on Thursday but still the inability to get an appointment led to frustration.

In Boca Raton, some residents took to the city’s Facebook page to let off steam, complaining that they didn’t see emails from the city regarding the signups and also expressing frustration over the small amount of vaccine available. One person called the appointment process a “degrading and a horrible frustrating failure.”

That sentiment was also apparent in Highland Beach where a small number of residents called to voice concerns about not being notified of the process and of the difficulty getting an appointment.

“We share in their frustration,” said Town Manager Marshall Labadie. “We just wish we had more supply but we have to wait for state and federal government.”

Highland Beach, which contracts fire and paramedic service from Delray Beach, received about 50 of the 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine that Delray was allotted.

In Boca Raton, which also received the Moderna vaccine, Mayor Scott Singer expressed concern over the lack of availability.

“We continue to press for more vaccine,” he said. “This is a start. It’s not enough but it’s better than nothing.”

Like their counterparts in other area communities, Boca Raton officials have been repeatedly in contact with county and state leaders hoping to secure vaccines.

“We don’t control the allocation of the vaccines but we’ve made it be known that we stand ready to get vaccines out there if we receive more, as have many private entities in our city.”

Local departments are hoping to hear early next week if more vaccine is available and if they’ll be able to provide more shots.

In Boynton Beach, which provides fire service to Briny Breezes and Ocean Ridge, officials announced Friday that they would be giving out 160 doses of the vaccine through the city website later that afternoon. Appointments were filled after 40 mintues. People able to make appointments will receive the vaccine at the Boynton Beach Senior Center on Jan. 21.

Highland Beach’s Labadie said he is hopeful that the success of what he calls a decentralized distribution system, in which vaccines are given in several local Points of Distribution as opposed to one large location, will lead to state and county officials increasing supplies.

“We plan to show that this is the best way to distribute the vaccine,” he said.  

Delray Beach’s Tomey said that the success in both Delray Beach and Highland Beach showed that the distribution system was efficient and effective.

“We could do 400 to 500 shots a day if we had the vaccine,” he said.

Highland Beach Mayor Doug Hillman said that by having local distribution sites, communities can make it easy for seniors who otherwise might have to drive long distances to areas they’re not familiar with.

“It makes a lot of sense to do something this close,” he said. “People were frustrated that they weren’t able to get the vaccine but they’re looking forward to being able to get the vaccine close to home.”

In the meantime, Hillman urged patience and added a little perspective.

“This Moderna vaccine was only approved a month ago,” he said. “This thing is moving lightning fast.”

Tomey said he is hopeful the state will replenish the supply soon but in the meantime he urged residents to follow the same precautions that have been in place for months.

“Stay home if possible, and if not, wear your mask,” he said. 

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8427547690?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach police managed traffic and residents' frustration with not being able to register and receive a COVID-19 vaccination on the first day they were offered in Highland Beach. While 50 individuals were admitted into the parking lot for their shots, police had to turn away dozens of curious residents who were not able to register for an appointment.

8427549268?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach resident Debbie Miglis was one of the first town residents to receive a shot on Jan 15. She was accompanied by two of her friends.

8427552092?profile=RESIZE_710xBoca Raton resident Joan Lerner was all smiles when she was able to receive her shot but was frustrated because her husband was not able to register in time to receive his.

8427553279?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach residents Michael and Linda Weissman receive their shots from Delray Beach firefighter Tyler Adams and paramedic Chris Hutchinson.

8427554661?profile=RESIZE_710xJust before giving her a shot, Delray Beach paramedic Chris Hutchinson talks with one of the first Highland Beach residents to receive their vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
 
Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

 

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Joe Farrell, a 20-year Lantana resident and an alternate on the town’s planning and zoning commission, has ended his run for mayor. The election will be March 9.

8419441066?profile=RESIZE_180x180Town Clerk Kathleen Dominguez said she received written confirmation of Ferrell’s withdrawal on Jan. 12. His name will not appear on the ballot.

On a Facebook post from Ferrell, the 58-year-old flooring distributer said he was getting out of the race because he wouldn’t be able to commit 100% to the position due to family obligations.

With Ferrell out, it’ll be a two-man contest between incumbent David Stewart, 67, and Robert Hagerty, 56.

Hagerty is a retired police officer who has been a Lantana resident for 24 years.

Stewart is an air conditioning consultant who has been mayor for 21 years and has lived in the town for 43 years.

Ferrell said, in his Facebook post, that he will be supporting Hagerty.

Mary Thurwachter

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By Charles Elmore
 
Confusion and limited supplies in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout have left residents and municipal leaders frustrated to know who can have the jab — and when.
"It's the hottest subject for all," said Highland Beach Mayor Doug Hillman.
Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie noted in a Jan. 5 meeting: The town of Palm Beach "miraculously pulled a rabbit out and came up with some vaccines" when they were not widely available across Palm Beach County.
After an initial explanation that Palm Beach was uniquely prepared to start delivering 1,000 doses,  Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, later blamed "miscommunication."
The state's delivery plan is designed to prioritize residents over age 65, along with frontline health workers, but it has come under fire as seniors in some counties have been left waiting in line for hours.
In Palm Beach County, health officials said a telephone appointment line was "full and closed" and recommended emails to request vaccine appointments at chd50feedback@flhealth.gov. Recommended: List full name, date of birth, address including zip code, and telephone number.
Alonso warned appointment requests will likely take "months, not days or weeks" to fulfill.
By Jan. 11, state records showed more than 42,000 Palm Beach County residents had received at least the first of two vaccine shots, joining nearly 588,000 statewide.
Unfortunately, the federal supply of vaccine to the state has been about half of what was initially promised, said Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer in Jan. 7 statement. 
"With nearly 1.5 million people and 400,000 seniors in our county, that’s nowhere near enough," Singer said.
The city had not received direct shipments of vaccine though Boca Raton Regional Hospital, for example, has been giving shots, he said.
At the Jan. 5 Boynton Beach City Commission meeting, the mayor and vice mayor asked the city manager and new fire chief to come up with a plan for vaccinating seniors over 65.
Mayor Steven Grant asked city leaders to write Alonso to let her know Boynton Beach wants to be part of the vaccination program. 
“Look at what the town of Palm Beach did and find out how we can be part of the program,” Grant said. 
In Boynton Beach, an estimated 21 percent of its population is 65 or older. 
In Delray Beach, Chris Bell, emergency manager with the city’s Fire Rescue Department, wrote to Alonso on Jan. 4 asking for 2,000 doses to vaccinate older residents. 
“We will work with leadership among our local clergy to identify those who meet screening criteria,” Bell wrote. “The City will conduct screening, scheduling, administration, and documentation of these vaccinations with no added workload for the Department of Health.”
For the past five years, Delray Beach has had a Closed Point of Distribution agreement with the Department of Health, Bell wrote. 
“We have the facilities and plans to conduct drive-through administration and a medical-grade freezer that would allow us to meet the storage and preparation requirements of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine,” Bell wrote. 
Ocean Ridge told residents in a Jan. 7 newsletter it did not meet the qualifications to operate as a  Closed Point of Distribution including lacking cold storage, but it was exploring a partnership with Boynton Beach.
Highland Beach was exploring a similar arrangement with Delray Beach.
"We all deserve health and safety, need peace of mind, and want to return to normal as quickly as possible," Boca Raton Mayor Singer said.
 
Rich Pollack, Jane Smith and Mary Hladky contributed to this report.
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8408692458?profile=RESIZE_710xAbout half of the pedestrians observed on Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue on the morning of Jan. 6 were not wearing masks. Employees at shops and restaurants appeared to be in compliance with Palm Beach County's mask ordinance. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Jane Smith

Delray Beach city commissioners are hoping to break the Florida governor of his one-size-fits-all policy for cities and towns during the pandemic.

“We need to make sure our governor understands each city is different,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said at the Jan. 5 City Commission meeting. “Not all Florida cities have the nightlife like Delray has.”

Other commissioners agreed.

“The vast majority of visitors are not wearing masks downtown. We are not allowed to fine people who are not wearing masks,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said at the meeting. “We need to get the word about what we are allowed to do and strike a balance between supporting our businesses with keeping our residents safe.”

The result was a resolution, signed Jan. 8 by interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez, stating, “The City of Delray Beach is a unique, tourist friendly locale with a vibrant downtown that attracts visitors to its array of restaurants and nightlife located on Atlantic Avenue.”

The resolution urges Gov. Ron DeSantis “to rescind the provisions of Executive Order 20-244 preempting local governments from enacting COVID-19 legislation.”

COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is sometimes fatal. Wearing face masks and standing at least 6 feet apart help to limit the spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Delray Beach also sent the resolution to the Florida League of Cities and the county League of Cities.

At least two other South Florida locales are urging DeSantis to give them local control over COVID-19 mitigation.

Key West just passed an update of its face mask ordinance on Jan. 5. The update strengthened the city's face mask policy to be able to fine patrons for not wearing masks when not seated and eating in its restaurants.

In Miami Beach, police do not fine people who are not wearing face masks but hand them a free mask and a citation for violating the mask mandate.

Palm Beach County has an enforcement team visiting businesses for compliance with the county's mask mandate and will fine a business if they have been there multiple times and not seen compliance, wrote John Jamason, deputy director of public affairs.
 
To date, the visits have been for education purposes only, according to the county dashboard. No businesses have been fined for patrons not wearing masks, although the county's ordinance allows such fines.
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2021: Health, freedom top wish lists

And so 2021 has arrived, still dragging some of 2020’s tragedies, absurdities and challenges with it, but full of hope for better days ahead.
Bright and early on Dec. 17, we set out down State Road A1A, asking folks in the 10 Coastal Star communities from South Palm Beach to Boca Raton about their hopes and expectations for this new year.

A sampling of what
people are saying:

 

8366169493?profile=RESIZE_710xSouth Palm Beach
“I’m hoping for health to everybody and for the vaccine to work well, because I lost my grandfather to COVID in April, on Good Friday. And I’m looking forward to going back to my boarding school in New Jersey. They closed early, so I’ve been away since November.” — Lisa Patalano, jogging down South Ocean Boulevard

 

8366171092?profile=RESIZE_710xLantana
“I’m just hoping for peace. My friend’s a sheriff’s deputy in West Palm Beach and my daughter’s a 911 dispatch operator. I just want everyone to work together and get along. We’re all in this together.” — Maria Wells, with Teddy, a Yorkie, and Buddy, a poodle mix, at the Dune Deck

 

8366197863?profile=RESIZE_710xManalapan
“I’m hoping the media will develop a positive mental attitude and stop feeding us all that garbage. And the consumers stop buying it.
“If it’s a negative news story, don’t click on it. I don’t even watch the local news anymore. I’m afraid to turn it on.” — Tom Sparks, finishing breakfast with his wife, Linda, at John G’s in Plaza Del Mar

 

8366172098?profile=RESIZE_710xBoynton Beach
“Things will probably continue on the same as 2020. The vaccine is kind of wait-and-see for effectiveness. They’ve had test trials, but I think all the experts have been baffled. It’s still unproven. “I’m looking forward to the sunrise. That’s a certainty.” — Ronald Wong, fishing off Boynton Inlet pier, where the fish weren’t biting

 

8366174055?profile=RESIZE_710xOcean Ridge
“I’m looking forward to an end to the whole coronavirus pandemic, but I expect it will last a few years, even though the vaccine has come out. And I’m curious to know what Biden is going to do next. What difference is he going to make?
“But personally, I just moved here from Virginia, so I’m looking forward to purchasing our first home.” — Lisa Alix, on her regular morning bike ride along Old Ocean Boulevard

 

8366176073?profile=RESIZE_710xBriny Breezes
“I’m hoping to be a bit more calm than I’ve been in 2020 — for so many reasons.
“The absence of the tension I felt about everything COVID, I really feel hopeful to be able to survive another year and travel again. My partner and I had cruises scheduled.” — Bob Smith, strolling the town

 

8366176457?profile=RESIZE_710xGulf Stream
“Oh, my God, I’m hoping for so many things. Probably first, we get our arms around the COVID, and the political turmoil gets put behind us, and we find some semblance of cooperation.
“Personally, I just want continued good health for my wife and kids and grandkids. You know, you can always get a job, but if you’ve got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, nothing else matters.” — Bob Burns, with his wife, Sally, on their morning walk along Gulfstream Road

 

8366176483?profile=RESIZE_710xDelray Beach
“For 2021 I’m hoping that the government doesn’t tell me what to do. I want to eat in a restaurant, sit at a bar, work out at a gym, have some normal social interaction.
“It’s about finding the balance between being safe and acting crazy.” — Morgan Toner, from her lounge chair on the sand

 

8366176890?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach
“I want more travel freedom next year, but it’s going to be like this at least until September. It’s going to take a long time to get enough people vaccinated. What’s the population, about 320 million? Think about vaccinating 1 million a day, and that isn’t happening. It’s going to take time.” — Jeff Cohen, walking Cleo and Ollie, his Bouvier des Flandres dogs, on Highland Beach Drive

 

8366177281?profile=RESIZE_710xBoca Raton
“I miss people being able to go outside. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail around Rangeley, Maine, this year, and it was pretty much empty. I’ve hiked about 1,200 of the 2,200 miles of the trail, and this year all the hostels were closed.
“You can’t shut the world down. Locking yourself inside and throwing away the key has never been the solution to anything.” — William Riddle, with his skateboard at the beach pavilion by Palmetto Park Road

 

Interviews by Ron Hayes,
Photos by Tim Stepien/
The Coastal Star

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Sea turtles come out of the cold

8366126457?profile=RESIZE_710xThe team at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center treats a rescued Kemp’s ridley flown in from Massachusetts. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Stunned reptiles arrive for treatment at Gumbo Limbo

 

By Larry Keller

Quarterback Tom Brady isn’t the only New Englander who moved to Florida in 2020. The latest expats are 20 sea turtles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Seventeen Kemp’s ridley turtles and three loggerheads were flown from the Bay State to Boca Raton Airport on Dec. 13 after volunteers found them and many others stranded and cold-stunned on beaches there. They then were transported to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center for treatment.
Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit that provides air transportation when endangered or threatened species are injured, provided the free flight.
The New England Aquarium, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, arranged for the chilly 20 and others to be transported to Gumbo Limbo and to other rehab facilities around the country.

8366145294?profile=RESIZE_710xKristin Child, environmental program coordinator at Gumbo Limbo, rushes one of the stunned Kemp’s ridley turtles to an exam room at the rehab center. The Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest sea turtles, flew to Boca Raton in banana crates.


“The cold stun makes them very lethargic. Some of them are almost catatonic,” said Leanne Welch, Gumbo Limbo’s manager. “Many of them … when they take a breath, they’re weak and lethargic and they can’t lift their heads all the way out of the water. They do end up … breathing in sea water. That usually results in pneumonia.
“We treat them just like you would treat your kid, with a nebulizer,” Welch said. “We’re continuing to give them fluids and antibiotics.”
They also were weighed, had blood drawn and X-rays taken. They were kept in dry bins until a staff veterinarian determined it was safe for them to be placed in water at Gumbo Limbo’s tanks.

 

8366149686?profile=RESIZE_710xThree of the cold-stunned sea turtles from Cape Cod getting treatment at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center are loggerheads. The turtles’ arrival drew local TV coverage. The Massachusetts rehab sites ran out of room and sent them. Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star


Eight days after arriving, all 20 turtles were alive and swimming in tanks, although still sick. “Some are eating. Some are not,” Welch said.
Many of the tanks had dividers placed in them, creating four-plexes for smaller groupings, Welch said. That makes it easier to keep tabs on individuals. Not that the turtles object. “Sea turtles aren’t very social,” Welch said.
In addition to the Cape Cod refugees, turtles that already were undergoing treatment are in tanks.
“It’s definitely tight,” Welch said. “Very few of our turtles have their own room.”

 

8366151668?profile=RESIZE_710xKemp’s ridley turtles, each with its own tub and medical file, await their turn to be examined by Kirt Rusenko and Emily Mirowski in the rehab facility at Gumbo Limbo. The turtles are likely to stay for at least a few more weeks.


Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and rarest of the seven sea turtle species. All seven are endangered or threatened. At 85 to 100 pounds, Kemp’s ridley adults are practically pipsqueaks. By contrast, the largest species — leatherbacks — can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. That’s more than some automobiles, or the combined weight of the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line.
Many of the turtles that checked into Gumbo Limbo are juveniles. “The biggest one was a loggerhead at 120 pounds. I’d say most of them are in the 10- to 20-pound range,” Welch said.
Kemp’s ridley turtles are seen in Florida, but seldom nest here. Most prefer a particular beach on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. They are seasonal visitors to the North.
“They spend their summers up there because loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys love to eat crustaceans,” Welch said. “If you’ve been to New England, you know there are a lot of crabs and lobsters in the water.
“When the water starts cooling off, they turn around and head south. But … Cape Cod sticks out in the middle of the ocean.”
The curved hook shape of the cape forces turtles to swim north before they can go south. Some don’t figure that out. “So they end up stranded in Cape Cod Bay,” Welch said.
It’s not always geography that stymies the turtles. Some get blown back to shore by strong winds. Others start to head north, find the water is colder and turn back, said Connie Merigo, director of the sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation department at the New England Aquarium.
Sea turtles depend on external heat sources to maintain their body temperature. When they’re exposed to colder temperatures for a sustained period, their heart rate and circulation may drop.
Cold stunning can also cause shock, frostbite and death. Well-organized and trained volunteers on Cape Cod brave frigid conditions to check beaches for distressed turtles, day and night.
Sea turtles on Cape Cod are stranded each year from late October through December or early January. “Sometimes they’re so cold you can’t detect if they’re alive or dead,” Merigo said of the initial encounters. More than 80% of those brought to the aquarium survive — this season the success rate is better than 90%, she added.
When the New England Aquarium and a second turtle rehab site on Cape Cod get overwhelmed, they send some of their cold-stunned patients to other qualified facilities around the country, such as Gumbo Limbo. The aquarium sent out only a little more than 100 turtles last year to rehab partners, Merigo said.
This year it’s been around 500, she said, and will probably end up being the busiest season ever by the time it ends.
Gumbo Limbo has treated cold-stunned sea turtles in the past. In 2014, 11 Kemp’s ridley turtles were transported there from Cape Cod after a sudden drop in water temperature.
The nature center had a larger crisis originating closer to home in January 2010, when an unusually bitter winter left thousands of mostly juvenile green sea turtles stunned in North Florida bays and estuaries. By month’s end, 177 turtles had been admitted to Gumbo Limbo. Most were released within days after warming up, but the last patient was there for about five months.
Gumbo Limbo’s veterinarian will determine when the current patients are strong enough to return to the ocean.
“It could be anywhere from a few weeks to upwards of six months,” Welch said. Exactly where is up to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Wherever it is, the New England visitors won’t be racking up frequent flier miles. “Most, if not all, will be released in Florida,” Welch said.

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8366054467?profile=RESIZE_710xJeffrey, Zoe, 2, and Jude Simon enjoy the holiday tunes played by Nicholas Laraque on a Saturday afternoon at Mizner Park in Boca Raton. The mixed-use venue opened 30 years ago this month. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

 

Related story: IPIC theater owes $635,000 in back rent, Mizner Park landlord says

 

By Mary Hladky

Mizner Park, launched as a visionary redevelopment project that transformed downtown Boca Raton, is about to turn 30 years old.
Its Jan. 11 birthday is a significant milestone for the 30-acre Mizner Park, one of the first mixed-use developments in the country that included shops, restaurants, offices and apartments when it opened in 1991.
The concept developed after city officials recognized they had a problem. The Boca Raton Mall on what is now Mizner Park land was a nearly empty eyesore shunned by residents.
The problem was not unique to Boca Raton. Across the country, stores were fleeing downtowns for the suburbs. The Town Center mall on Glades Road, opened in 1980, had siphoned customers away from downtown businesses.

 

8366064481?profile=RESIZE_710xA worker changes the marquee at the Boca Raton Mall’s AMC 6 Theatres before the mall was demolished to make way for the construction of Mizner Park.


The city, through its Community Redevelopment Agency, launched a years-long effort to replace the decaying mall and then revitalize the rest of downtown.
Developer Tom Crocker, architect Richard Heapes and the late land use attorney Charles Siemon and his law partner Wendy Larsen were among key players in the
effort.
As plans firmed up, Boca Raton residents backed a new vision of what the Boca Raton Mall site could be by agreeing in a referendum to spend $50 million on infrastructure improvements and $68 million in bond financing to start the project.
On the day of Mizner Park’s grand opening, then-CRA chair Jamie Snyder proclaimed, “Our downtown now has a heart.”

 

8366066492?profile=RESIZE_710xShoppers stroll the newly built Mizner Park in 1991. Photos provided by Boca Raton Historical Society


Even so, Mizner Park got off to a rocky start, with City Council members second-guessing whether they had made the right decision to build it, according to media reports at the time.
But as early tenants such as Liberties Fine Books, Music and Cafe and Max’s Grille drew enthusiastic customers, Mizner Park achieved city leaders’ goal: It gave people a reason to go downtown.

8366058095?profile=RESIZE_710xMax’s Grille, an original tenant of Mizner Park, draws a crowd to its outdoor bar and seating areas on a Sunday afternoon. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star


It also helped spur other hoped-for redevelopment.
Over the last 10 years, the downtown has gained new condominiums, apartments and the Hyatt Place hotel. The Mandarin Oriental hotel and residences are now rising from the ground.
“Mizner Park was very visionary for the city to do,” Larsen said. “It certainly acted as the catalyst it was intended to be.”
As a mixed-use project, “it was a trailblazer,” she said.
Today’s city leaders say Mizner Park remains as important now as when it opened.
Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke, a longtime downtown resident and former chair of the CRA, said she always was a big supporter of Mizner Park.
“It was a great contribution to the community,” she said. “It was an upgrade that was the beginning of downtown redevelopment.
“I think it is a definite attraction and creates a sense of place for the downtown.”
Mayor Scott Singer agrees. “Mizner Park set the stage for the thriving business, residential and cultural district that downtown Boca has become,” he said. “It remains a key part of the fabric of our city today.”
Mizner Park now has 39 businesses, including 14 restaurants, five women’s and three men’s clothing stores, and two shoe stores.
Two of its major tenants are Lord & Taylor, which in 2020 filed for bankruptcy court protection and announced that it was closing all its stores nationwide, and IPIC theater, which has fallen behind on its rent, according to court filings.
The city owns the land on which businesses sit, and leases it to Brookfield Property Partners.
The city also owns the land north of the shopping and dining area that is leased to the Boca Raton Museum of Art and owns and operates the next door Mizner Park Amphitheater.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brookfield plans no celebratory events to mark Mizner Park’s birthday.
“Brookfield Properties is committed to Mizner Park remaining a cornerstone to Boca Raton as a premier shopping, dining and lifestyle destination,” Brookfield Senior General Manager Michael Cook said in a statement. “As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we remain focused on delivering a high-caliber tenant mix. …”
New tenants coming to Mizner Park in 2021, Cook said, are Calaveras Cantina, serving Mexican cuisine; Anna Zuckerman jewelry; Hotworx fitness studio; Strike 10 bowling center and sports bar; and Egg New York, a children’s fashion store.
Bigger changes could be on the horizon.
Brookfield has not yet announced how it will redevelop the significant amount of land now occupied by the Lord & Taylor building and parking garage.
But Larsen, who represents the leaseholder, said that “what is planned is not retail.”
Mizner Park originally was envisioned as including a strong cultural component, a goal that has been only partially realized.
That could change if an ambitious proposal by a cultural arts group becomes reality.
The Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corp. hopes to build a cultural complex across from the Museum of Art.
The group proposes completely renovating the existing 3,500-seat amphitheater and adding a new theater building, additional indoor and outdoor performing arts spaces, a rooftop terrace and more parking.
The City Council and the arts group are in negotiations to reach a deal that would allow the $121 million project to launch. Brookfield supports the project.
Another important matter is unresolved.
Brookfield is considering exercising its option to buy much of the land underneath Mizner Park from the city.
But the CRA and Brookfield are at odds on how to calculate the fair market value of the land. That issue is being litigated in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

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By Mary Thurwachter

With availability of vaccines for many in the area not expected until spring, Lantana has changed the date of its Centennial Celebration from April 24 to July Fourth.
The decision came during the Dec. 14 Town Council meeting at the suggestion of Manager Deborah Manzo.
“Why not combine our big celebration with our traditional Fourth of July celebration with fireworks and everything?” she suggested.
The council agreed.
“Ms. Manzo and I talked about this before the meeting,” Mayor Dave Stewart said. “I said that in April we’re not going to be able to put 1,500 people over there (Bicentennial Park) and keep 6-foot distance, so why not combine it with our July Fourth celebration?”
With money set aside for fireworks for both the centennial and the Fourth, Stewart said the town could have “a Macy’s level” pyrotechnics show.
“This is a once-in-100-year event, why not make it really special?” Stewart said.
Residents will each receive a copy of a new book on Lantana’s history, free food and music, and get to see the unveiling of a 16-foot sailboat sculpture in the park.
The event will be between 3 and 9:30 p.m. in Bicentennial Park at 321 E. Ocean Ave.
Fireworks, which had to be canceled in 2020 due to health safety concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, will begin at 9:05 p.m. In other business, the council:
• Learned that it had spent $247,000 to combat flooding problems in the Sea Pines neighborhood in 2020. The money will be taken from the town’s undesignated reserves. Tackling the issue required action by the state, county and town.
• Approved a 1.5% annual raise for Manzo, from $157,000 to $159,000. “Everybody thinks the world of her,” said council member Karen Lythgoe. “Wish we could give her more.” Town employees were also given 1.5% cost-of-living increases.
• Agreed to spend up to $20,000 to rebuild a retaining wall at the Lantana Nature Preserve. The old wall is damaged and beyond repair. Money for the project will be borrowed from reserves.
• Authorized a box lunch holiday party for town employees. The cost may exceed $1,000.

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By Mary Hladky

8365582887?profile=RESIZE_400xCity Council member Monica Mayotte has drawn a challenger as she seeks a second three-year term in the March 9 city election.
Brian Stenberg, vice president of the Boca Raton medical office real estate management firm the Greenfield Group, will also try to win Seat D. He is well known for his leadership roles in the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations, Rotary Club and Boca Square Civic Association.
He was among 31 unsuccessful applicants to replace Jeremy Rodgers on the City Council until Rodgers’ term of office ends on March 31 or he returns from overseas military deployment.
On his website, Stenberg said the most pressing issues facing the region are clean water, including eliminating fertilizer and pesticide runoff, traffic congestion, education, recreation and open space.
8402799074?profile=RESIZE_584xThe City Council appointed longtime volunteer Yvette Drucker to temporarily fill Rodgers’ seat on Oct. 27. She is seeking election to that position in March, and her appointment potentially gives her an advantage over three other candidates for Seat C — Constance Scott, Bernard Korn and a newcomer to the race, Josie Machovec.
Machovec drew attention last summer as one of four plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn Palm Beach County’s mandate that masks be worn in public places. She has said she can’t wear a mask because she has asthma.
The lawsuit, filed June 30, describes masks as “harmful medical devices” and states, “The absurdity of the mask mandate is revealed by overwhelming scientific evidence showing masks can’t stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes tossed the lawsuit in July, saying the plaintiffs had failed to show their constitutional rights were violated.
“The right to be ‘free from governmental intrusion’ does not automatically or completely shield an individual’s conduct from regulation,” he wrote in his order. The case is now on appeal.
Mayotte, a strong proponent of environmental protections and sustainability, was first elected in 2018. She also serves as chair of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Mayotte loaned her campaign $50,000 as of Nov. 30. She listed no contributors.
Stenberg has not yet filed a campaign finance report.
In the race for Rodgers’ seat, Scott is director of local relations at Florida Atlantic University. She served two terms on the council from 2009 to 2015 and was deputy mayor during her final year in office.
Scott raised $42,093 as of Nov. 30 from a long list of contributors, including many well-known names such as architects Derek Vander Ploeg and Juan Caycedo and political consultant Rick Asnani.
Perennial candidate Korn is a real estate broker who has twice lost elections to Mayor Scott Singer.
Questions about where Korn lives cropped up in the 2018 and 2020 city elections. If he does not live in the city, he is not eligible to run.
The uncertainty prompted the City Council later in 2020 to require that all candidates provide proof that they live in the city.
Korn complied by submitting a driver’s license and voter registration card showing he lives at 720 Marble Way on the barrier island just west of State Road A1A.
Both those documents don’t completely clear up the mystery about his domicile. The home at that address continues to be owned by real estate broker Richard Vecchio, county property records show. The records also show that Korn and his wife still own a home and claim a homestead exemption for 19078 Skyridge Circle, which is outside the city limits.
And as was the case with the last election, Korn lists his address as a P.O. box in the city’s downtown post office on his campaign financial reports.
Korn lent his campaign $11,500 and donated $100 as of Nov. 30 and listed no contributors.
Drucker is chair of the Boca Raton Education Task Force and previously served as vice chair of the Boca Raton Historic Preservation Board. She has been active with the Boca Raton Historical Society and Junior League of Boca Raton.
She raised $27,718 as of Nov. 30, including a $5,000 contribution she made to her campaign.
Candidate qualifying for the March election ended on Dec. 10.

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By Rich Pollack

Boca Raton’s innovative use of wastewater, its creative billing of reclaimed water customers, and its use of state-of-the-art monitoring technology are gaining national attention.
The city’s Utilities Department was recently named one of 65 departments nationally to be designated a Utility of the Future Today by the Water Environment Federation and several partner organizations.
The award, according to Boca’s Director of Utility Services Chris Helfrich, focused on the city’s reclaimed water program, which offers highly treated wastewater effluent to golf courses, other organizations and homes for irrigation.
“This award recognizes our use of cutting-edge technology to determine what we can do to make our system better,” Helfrich said.
The award recognizes Boca Raton’s designation as a 100% water-reuse facility, meaning that all treated effluent is used for irrigation, except in unusual circumstances. That results in several environmental benefits, including a recharging of the aquifer as the reclaimed water percolates through the ground.
By repurposing wastewater effluent for irrigation, the utility can avoid discharging the treated water into the ocean or going through the costly process of deep-well injection. At the same time, Boca Raton is able to conserve potable drinking water that might be otherwise used for irrigation.
The city estimates that it saves about 4.1 million gallons of water every year as a result of the reuse program.
Helfrich says that about 13 million gallons a day of reclaimed water goes to seven golf courses in the Boca Raton area, and is used for irrigation for the courses and some landscaping at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club. Reclaimed water helps irrigate lawns and landscaping at about 1,600 homes, including most east of the Intracoastal Waterway and south of Camino Real.
To oversee the water flow, Boca Raton uses a high-tech telemetry system that can monitor pressure in water pipes remotely and can ensure that water levels in golf course storage ponds aren’t too high or too low.
Boca Raton’s utility was also recognized for its innovative billing system for reclaimed water. Rather than charge its largest users a per gallon rate, the utility enters into a 10-year contract with the user where it charges a fixed monthly rate and in exchange, the user receives a 40% discount.
“This was something we brainstormed internally,” Helfrich says, adding that he isn’t aware of any other utility using a similar billing system.
With the billing system in place, customers know what their monthly bills will be and the utility knows how much revenue to expect from those users on a monthly and annual basis.
Helfrich said city leaders have been supportive of the initiatives and have been forward thinking when it comes to the water and wastewater treatment needs in the community.
Since 2016, the Utilities of the Future Today program has celebrated the achievements of water utilities that transform from the traditional wastewater treatment system to a resource recovery center. It also recognizes utilities that serve as leaders in the overall sustainability and resilience of the communities they serve.Ú

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8365576485?profile=RESIZE_710xThe winning proposal for the Mizner Park Amphitheater stage door mural depicts a musician on cello and a dancer. Boca Raton City Council members selected the work by artist Eduardo Mendieta from 29 submissions. Rendering provided by City of Boca Raton

By Mary Hladky

The Mizner Park Amphitheater stage doors soon will feature a large mural intended to be a focal point for downtown visitors.
West Palm Beach artist Eduardo Mendieta’s mural, titled “On Stage” and featuring a musician and a dancer, was selected by City Council members on Dec. 8 from 29 submissions.
The stage doors, consisting of six panels, are about 30 feet high and 60 feet wide. After reviewing the submissions, council members quickly settled on two finalists before unanimously selecting Mendieta’s mural.
“It is a compelling piece of art,” said Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke.
Council members thanked all the artists who submitted entries. “We appreciated your creativity, your vision and your desire to participate,” said Mayor Scott Singer.
Mendieta will get a stipend for expenses such as supplies, preparation and installation. The mural is expected to be completed by March 31.
The stage doors project is the latest effort by the city to feature art in public places, an initiative championed by O’Rourke.
Past projects by Mendieta, a well-known Florida artist, have included murals in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Hallandale Beach, Ocala and Bradenton as well as in other states.

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By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach town commissioners appear to be modifying a ban on Saturday construction work, a move highlighting the divide between many single-family homeowners and some condo associations.
Two years ago, in a move championed by residents of the Bel Lido Isle neighborhood, the Town Commission enacted an ordinance that prohibited “construction, demolition, alteration or repair of any building” on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, with few exceptions.
That same ordinance also prohibited construction work before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
Now, however, a new commission led by Mayor Doug Hillman appears to be focused on allowing “quiet work” on Saturdays and expanding the work hours during the week to 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday work would still be prohibited.
Hillman contends that the current ordinance is too restrictive and, in many cases, adds time and costs to construction projects.
“The net effect on large projects is that it took an 18-month project and made it a 24-month project,” Hillman said.
Hillman said he and other commissioners want to be fair to all residents and are focused on “the needs of the entire town.”
That, he says, is the rationale behind limiting construction to “quiet work.”
“We’re not going to let loud noise and major construction take place on Saturdays,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. If it does, we’re going to stop it immediately.”
Some residents of Bel Lido, however, aren’t buying it.
“This is about peace and quiet and enjoyment of our homes,” says Mayde Weiner, one of the community’s residents speaking out against changing the ordinance. “We get bombarded five days a week and we just want peace and enjoyment on Saturdays.”
Weiner says that Bel Lido is different from most of the rest of the town because it has narrow streets and many of the homes are on the water, where noise carries. She also points out that the community does not have a homeowners association, which can enact rules against noisy work.
Condominium communities, she says, can pass rules to ensure peace and quiet on weekends, while Bel Lido cannot.
Another issue for Bel Lido, she says, is that it is a very desirable community, with construction of new homes seemingly always taking place.
“It’s a constant cycle,” she says. “It rolls over from one project to another.”
She also contends that changing the hours won’t dramatically shorten the time to complete projects.
When it comes to enforcing the proposed quiet work on Saturdays, Weiner disagrees with Hillman on how effective enforcement can be.
The town has only one code enforcement officer and although Weiner says the Police Department is responsive on weekends, there are still times when work is done on Saturdays.
For example, she says, workers have cut tile inside a garage and people have put debris into a dumpster on a construction site on Saturdays.
Town Manager Marshall Labadie says that the code enforcement officer will work at least four consecutive Saturdays to ensure compliance if the ordinance is modified.
In a draft of the proposed ordinance, the town specifically mentions what work is not permissible and town officials have made it clear that the ordinance pertains only to work that requires a permit. The ordinance, for example, would not apply to painting a house since that does not require a permit.
Among the work that would be prohibited:
• Use of dump trucks, backhoes, bulldozers, cranes or similar equipment.
• Large-scale delivery or removal of construction material such that it requires unloading by a forklift or other machinery, or otherwise creates a noise disturbance.
• Use of compressors, nail guns and generators.
Commissioners last month delayed passing a revised ordinance on first reading after asking Labadie to draft a provision that would allow for some projects to proceed even if they did not comply with the quiet provision.
That request was prompted in part by a request from a condominium undergoing a large construction project that asked to allow work on Saturday before the bulk of residents return for the season.
“Our parking deck is torn up and we have nowhere to put our residents when they return for the season,” wrote Steve Sassone of Penthouse Towers.
While no formal vote has been taken on the ordinance, the commission appears split 4-1. Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who lives in Bel Lido, is against revisions while Vice Mayor Greg Babij, also a Bel Lido resident, supports the changes, as do some other residents of Bel Lido.
Hillman and Commissioners Evalyn David and John Shoemaker, who live in condominium communities, also support the changes.
Hillman says he hopes the commission will enact the changes to the ordinance and give it a chance to have an impact.
“If we’re wrong, we’ll change it,” he said.

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By Rich Pollack

For the second year in a row, Highland Beach will get at least one new member on the Town Commission without having an election.
At the end of the qualifying period last month only one candidate, newcomer Natasha Moore, had filed to run for the vice mayor seat being vacated by Greg Babij, who chose not to seek re-election.
8365554880?profile=RESIZE_180x180Also running without opposition was Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who will begin her second three-year term in the spring. 8365555065?profile=RESIZE_180x180
Last year Babij, Mayor Doug Hillman and Commissioner John Shoemaker ran without opposition, a year after the town went through a contentious referendum for a $45 million bond issue that was overwhelmingly defeated.
Although no one can say for sure why few residents choose to run for commission seats, after several years of contested elections, Hillman says it could be because calm has been restored to the commission dais.
“I suspect it’s a good sign,” Hillman said. “I suspect people are pleased with their representation and the way the town is being managed.”
Others say it could be a combination of the time commitment involved or just plain apathy that keeps people from running. The pandemic could also be a factor this year, Hillman said.
During a recent meeting, Shoemaker questioned whether raising the commission stipend, which is $1,000 a month, would help attract candidates.
As a result, the town will conduct a study of compensation for elected officials in neighboring communities.
For his part, Babij says his decision not to seek re-election stemmed from his need to devote more time to his role as CEO of an asset management company.
“I didn’t know how I could keep giving two Tuesdays a month,” Babij said, referring to the scheduled two commission meetings a month.
He said he will remain involved in the town but “on a much lower level.”
The time commitment also prevented Moore from running for office years earlier while she worked full time as a senior actuary and practice leader at NCCI in Boca Raton.
Moore, who now operates a real estate business with her husband and lives in Bel Lido Isle, says she has more time to get involved in the community.
She says the bond referendum in 2018 triggered her decision to get involved.
“It opened my eyes that I really needed to be more knowledgeable,” she said.
Moore applied for an open position on the town’s Financial Advisory Board and has been serving for a little more than a year. She is currently vice chairwoman.
“It worked out well being on an advisory board,” she said. “It forced me to get involved in the issues.”
A self-proclaimed numbers person, Moore believes her analytical skills, especially in the finance arena, and her knowledge of the real estate industry will be a plus for the Town Commission.
Moore says that she makes it a point to watch commission meetings to help her prepare for issues that might come before the Financial Advisory Board.
“Another important factor about being a commissioner is you have to be prepared,” she said. “I intend to be as prepared as possible.”
Gossett-Seidman also has put a premium on being prepared for commission meetings and doing all the needed homework.
She said her decision to seek reelection came after encouragement from residents and because she feels much remains to be accomplished.
“I feel my work isn’t done,” she said. “We’re partway there and we have a good team to carry it through.”
Moore and Gossett-Seidman will be sworn in during a March commission meeting. Ú

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8365505673?profile=RESIZE_710xRalph ‘Buddy’ Butler from Suez Utility Service Corp., of Perry, Georgia, puts the finishing touches on Highland Beach’s new logo on the west side of the town’s water tower. The seal updates the one that was first introduced almost 20 years ago and is now more modern and slightly less cluttered in appearance. Highland Beach resident Rodrigo Griesi designed the update and donated his services. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

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By Larry Barszewski

      The Coastal Star captured five first-place awards and eight other commendations in the annual Florida Press Club competition.

      The press club held the annual awards ceremony online Dec. 19. The Coastal Star won top awards in its class in five categories:

  • Breaking news writing: Ron Hayes, Jerry Lower, Tim Stepien and Rachel O’Hara and staff for their 2019 coverage of Hurricane Dorian.
  • Commentary writing: Mary Kate Leming for columns about helping the Bahamas following its Hurricane Dorian devastation, gratitude in the time of COVID-19, and a Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office “snowstorm” in South Palm Beach over providing police services.
  • Environmental news writing: Larry Keller for his story about Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s sea turtle crew.
  • Government news writing: Steve Plunkett for a compilation of beat stories he wrote out of Boca Raton and Gulf Stream.
  • Religion news writing: Ron Hayes for his story about two Sister Elizabeths — “Happy” and “Kind” — who came from Poland and teach at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and School.

      In addition, the press club awarded second-place awards to Lower for sports feature photography and Joyce Reingold for health writing.

      Third-place awards went to O’Hara and Lower for feature photo essay; to Rich Pollack for in-depth reporting; to Jan Engoren, Hap Erstein, Greg Stepanich and Sandra Schulman for arts news writing; to Mary Thurwachter for community news writing; to Mary Hladky for COVID-19 reporting; and to Brian Biggane for sports features writing.

      The awards marked the first state journalism competition to honor coverage of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in Florida.

      For nearly 70 years, the Florida Press Club, originally called the Florida Women’s Press Club, has honored the best in Florida journalism. Honorees have expanded into digital-only publications, but officials say what draws the judges’ eyes has remained consistent over the years: engaging storytelling.

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By Dan Moffett

South Palm Beach has postponed its Dec. 8 council meeting and restricted access to town hall after a town employee tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

Mayor Bonnie Fischer said the building is being sanitized and no rescheduling date for the meeting has been set. Fischer said the employee reported for work but went home after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. She said the employee was feeling better by the end of the week.

Town officials are urging residents to take advantage of free testing for the virus beginning at 9 a.m. on Dec. 11 in the town hall parking lot. The Health Care District of Palm Beach County is administering the tests and the town will offer free ice cream to those who attend.

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8241520282?profile=RESIZE_710xSurfer Bernard Micalizzi recently helped save two boys from drowning at the Boynton Inlet. Lt. Brian McManus (left) of Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue calls Boynton ‘the most dangerous inlet in the universe.’ Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack

Bernard Micalizzi had a split-second life-or-death decision to make.
A veteran surfer, Micalizzi was on his multicolored board in the water just north of the Boynton Inlet waiting to catch a wave when he heard shouting and saw a commotion among fishermen gathered near the ocean end of the jetty.
As he peered down to the water’s surface, Micalizzi saw two teenage swimmers struggling to stay afloat while being pushed out to sea by a ferociously fast stream of water. One of the boys was grasping part of a fishing line, which was of little help.
A strong swimmer who’s usually comfortable in the water, Micalizzi, 42, of Boynton Beach, took off toward the two boys, paddling about 75 yards.
“I knew I was putting myself in harm’s way,” he recalled. “But I said, ‘What am I going to do, let them drown?’”
With the help of another surfer — who, with his board, jumped off the jetty to assist — and thanks to Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue lifeguards, Micalizzi and the two swimmers made it back to shore safely.
Micalizzi, who plucked one of the boys out of the ocean just as he was going under and rested him on his surfboard, is certain that swimmer would have been lost had Micalizzi not reached him then.
“His head was under water when I got there,” Micalizzi said. “Another two or three minutes and he wouldn’t have made it.”
One of the lifeguards — who helped Micalizzi and the second of the rescued boys fight the current and return to shore using an inflatable rescue boat — says the boys were lucky others came to their aid.
“If those surfers weren’t there and they didn’t help, it could have been a very different story,” said Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Lt. William DeMartino. “This is a great outcome because somebody could have lost their life. The surfers that got in the water to help these people out are heroes.”

Particularly treacherous
While the October rescue — which occurred during an outgoing king tide and a full moon — was dramatic, it was far from being an isolated incident at the Boynton Inlet.
Over the years, several drownings or near drownings have happened at or near the inlet, including several in 2014 that led the county to post warning signs throughout the area.
County lifeguards assigned to the public beach south of the inlet say they are called on a half dozen or more times a year to rescue swimmers, and about the same number of times to rescue boaters thrown into the water when inlet currents capsize their boats.
By contrast, lifeguards estimate about half that number of rescues take place at the Boca Inlet — in large part because of their different configurations. The Boca Inlet, for example, is wider and more difficult to access by car or on foot than the Boynton Inlet.
“The Boynton Inlet is the most dangerous inlet in the universe,” says Lt. Brian McManus of Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue, who has been working in the area for more than 30 years.
McManus and others say a number of factors make the area so treacherous, ranging from swift-moving currents to the unprotected beach to the north of the inlet that’s popular with younger swimmers.
“There’s all kinds of dangers at the inlet because of the structures there and because people disregard the warning signs,” says Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins, whose officers assist the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office with enforcement of safety regulations.
A man-made channel, the actual inlet is sandwiched between two jetties, both of which are used for fishing.
It is a narrow channel, with a curve at the end that can create problems for boaters unfamiliar with the area.
There have been so many rescues of boaters in the water, in fact, that YouTube has an entire collection of videos of boating mishaps — some as recent as just a few months ago, as well as some from almost a decade ago.
“It’s long and narrow and the energy makes it more precarious,” says John Ferber, who lives on the beach in Manalapan, just north of the inlet. “There’s a multitude of different dangers in relation to the inlet.”

8241522500?profile=RESIZE_710xA crowd watches waves crash north of the Boynton Inlet as a result of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Weather can be a factor
Ferber lives not far from the unprotected public beach wedged between Manalapan’s private beach and the north wall of the inlet.
Swimming off of that beach can be dangerous during certain weather conditions, lifeguards say, and the problem is compounded by teenagers jumping off the jetty or off the sand transfer station.
Lifeguards say that when the wind is out of the northeast, water is pushed against the north jetty wall, creating fast-moving rip currents.
“The rip currents are formed when the water is pushed against an obstruction,” said Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Chief Julia Leo. “They’re going to push someone out very quickly.”
Leo says that an especially strong rip current can push a swimmer out into the ocean as quickly as eight feet per second.
Compounding the problem is a deep pocket in the ocean floor created by the sand transfer station, which pumps both sand and water away from the north side of the inlet across the inlet to the sand-starved beach on the south side.
The inlet and the popular unprotected north-side beach also draw teenagers who disregard warnings and jump into the inlet from the State Road A1A bridge or from the jetty.
“We have some teens making bad decisions and jumping off the north jetty,” Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue’s DeMartino says.
Because the inlet and the north beach are in a county pocket, law enforcement in the area is the responsibility of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Ocean Ridge Chief Hutchins says that his officers and those of neighboring Manalapan work closely with the Sheriff’s Office while “discouraging” people who disregard the county safety warnings and regulations.
“Anyone who has jurisdiction to the south or north of the inlet understands the dangers and doesn’t turn a blind eye to the safety issues,” Hutchins said.

Making no headway
Micalizzi isn’t sure how the two swimmers he rescued ended up in the water, nor does he know how the grandmother of one of the boys ended up wedged against the jetty and needed help to get free.
He is sure that they were lucky that others were present to help them, including DeMartino and other lifeguards who arrived in an inflatable boat and helped Micalizzi and one of the boys get back to the beach.
Micalizzi says that after he pulled the first swimmer out of the water, he was able to get him onto the board of the other surfer who had jumped off the jetty. While they paddled to shore, Micalizzi headed to the second boy, who appeared to be a better swimmer.
With the young man on the board and Micalizzi swimming alongside, they headed for shore but couldn’t battle the current.
“I’m swimming and he’s paddling and we’re going nowhere,” Micalizzi said, adding that he feared the current would take them farther from shore. “I’m thinking this is really bad. Then out of nowhere comes Ocean Rescue to save the day.”
Micalizzi, who has been surfing for three decades, says he wouldn’t hesitate to come to the aid of swimmers in trouble again.
“Without a doubt,” he said. 

8241523699?profile=RESIZE_710xWaves engulf the jetty at Boynton Inlet as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida in 2017. Photo by Jim Rassol

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8241508100?profile=RESIZE_710xHighland Beach used a drone to take photos of 106 people who turned out at the planned Milani Park near high tide Nov. 18 in an effort to show the county that 42 parking spaces would be enough. The parking area is at upper left. Photo provided

By Rich Pollack

Some came from the south concerned that a county park with parking for 100 cars would create traffic problems.
Others came from the north concerned that a packed beach at the planned Milani Park in Highland Beach would lead to trespassing on neighboring private beaches.
In all 106 people came to a town-sponsored “sit-in” Nov. 18 designed to convince county officials that there isn’t enough room for all the people that a second phase of development — from 42 parking spaces to 100 — would allow.
The idea worked to the satisfaction of town leaders.
While aerial photos show the beach could handle the 100 visitors that town leaders expect would come with phase I, they say the photos also show the beach couldn’t hold the additional 145 visitors who would come with 58 more parking spots proposed for a second phase.
“We saw that with 106 people — without umbrellas and without coolers and without children — there’s barely enough room to accommodate phase I and certainly not enough room for phase II,” said Mayor Doug Hillman.
The presence of turtle nests during seven months of the year would add to the congestion, Hillman said.
“The aerial photos clearly show that phase II will not work,” he said. “Phase II would overpower the beach.”

8241518054?profile=RESIZE_710xFollowing a discussion at the Dec. 1 commission meeting, town leaders plan to set up a meeting with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call and possibly county Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth to discuss the finding.
In October, Call said that he is open to working with the town on additional compromises.
“This is just a first brush,” he said after a conception plan for the park was sent to Highland Beach officials. “We want to negotiate further and see if there might be something less intense.”
For more than 30 years Highland Beach residents have been battling the county, hoping to halt development of the Cam D. Milani Park, which encompasses 5.6 acres straddling State Road A1A at the town’s south end.
Sold to Palm Beach County in 1987 by the real estate developer’s family for close to $4 million, the property has been at the center of legal wrangling that resulted in a settlement a decade ago delaying development for up to 10 years.
In October 2019, county commissioners agreed to put off ground breaking for another five years, but asked the parks staff to begin making plans so construction could begin at the end of that period.

8241518093?profile=RESIZE_710xIn September town and county leaders came up with a plan for reducing the parking from 125 spots originally approved to the 42 spots. Hillman and other town leaders were surprised when they saw that the second phase of development of the park included an additional 58 spaces.
Using a calculation of 2.5 people per car, town officials estimate there would be about 250 people on the beach if every space were filled.

8241515853?profile=RESIZE_710xMayor Doug Hillman directs participants, including Town Manager Marshall Labadie, to spread out along the beach side of the planned Milani Park.

“The beach just can’t handle upwards of 200 people,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.
Residents on the beach for the sit-in included people from Parker Highland, the first condominium north of the park site.
“We already have people trespassing on our beach,” said Parker Highland resident Tonya Peer. “It’s going to be a thousand times worse if there’s a park there.”
Other residents say they’re concerned about the impact parking spaces would have on the environment.
“You would have to take away green space,” said town resident Felice Naide.

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