Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Toys

But this is serious, too. I like to stay in touch with beaches issues, which brought me to this.

There’s not a lot you can do in a minute, but rather than always writing, I thought “why not leverage YouTube to talk about some of the issues here at the beach?” Like any reel, the first one isn’t always what you might want it to be. but I thought I’d go ahead and put it up and see if anyone enjoys it.

If you have an idea for a Beaches Minute, please let me know. I’ll try to make this a regular feature. Media is changing. Let’s change with it.

Beaches Minute: Mayport Ferry

I hope I’ll hear from you, and we’ll see you around the beach.

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Filed under Beach Living, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, Video

Mayport Ferry Update

Ferry DockingWe heard from Councilman Bill Gulliford Monday night at our First Coast Republican Club meeting on the status of the Mayport ferry. While nothing’s been resolved just yet, Councilman Gulliford said there is a great deal of activity going on in an effort to keep the A1A connection … connected.

The bad news is that the ferry needs some $4 to $4.5 million in repairs. That doesn’t go at all to operating costs. Councilman Gulliford seems to think that there may be some untapped grant money out there that can go towards getting the boat back up to par.

We heard about the responsibility of the state to maintain a contiguous A1A. The short ferry ride connects a state highway, which would have to be re-routed around to the Dames Point bridge. And it’s pretty well understood that any Mayport revival will be nearly impossible without the traffic the ferry brings.

A1A SignBut the ferry is also considered historic by some. It was mentioned that it might be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only auto ferry between Miami and Ocracoke Island in north Carolina. It is a unique resource which everyone loves, but no one apparently wants to pay for.

A question was asked how high the fare would have to be to make the ferry self-sustaining. Mr. Gulliford said it would have to double to $10 each way and maintain its current ridership … which if the fare were doubled is pretty unlikely. How much would ridership increase if the fare were rolled back to $2.50? Maybe not enough, but some.

From his position on the council, Gulliford is advocating an umbrella organization that would take responsibility for running the ferry. The citizens of the beach, he said, poke their heads up to save it every time it’s threatened, and once a “band-aid” is applied, go back to napping on the issue. That, he says, is part of the problem. There seems to be a feeling that the band-aid will somehow not need to be changed at some point, and we’re surprised when it does.

There is a lot of activity. Former Council President Elaine Brown is chairing a task force to save the ferry, which will have an organizational meeting Monday night at the Mayport community center at the launching ramp in the village. Mr. Gulliford said he was going to bend the Mayor’s ear at a breakfast Tuesday morning.

Floirda SealIn Tallahassee, representative Janet Adkins, who lives in Fernandina Beach, held a meeting to discuss the issue. The Florida Times-Union reports that Adkins advocates a public-private partnership to operate the ferry, but it should be paid for by stakeholders. Those would include several city and county governments, as well as the state.

“As you are getting your budgets together, as if you would be willing to fund a little piece,” she said, according to the paper. The president of the Friends of the St. Johns River took a different, and somewhat more pessimistic tack. The loss of the ferry would “(leave) the businesses along these routes to a slow economic death,” he said.

But  everyone is crying poverty. From FDOT, which arguably should maintain the boat because it connects a state highway, to the city of Jacksonville to the port, no one says they have any money for the ferry. The state, through JTA, seems to have no trouble subsidizing the Skyway, which has never realized anything close to its ridership potential. But to move 100,000 cars across the river every year, not a dime.

The good news is, the community is not going to let the ferry go down with out fight. It’s worth saving. But councilman Gulliford is correct. We should do a better job this time so that we don’t wind up a few years down the road having to go through the entire exercise again.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Local Government, Local Issues, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, State Budget

South Carolina Shocker

I was surprised to wake up this morning to see that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had won the South Carolina primary. And won it convincingly.

Newt Gingrich by Gage SkidmoreThe final tally showed Gingrich winning the primary by 12 points over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and it puts what the Romney camp had hoped would be a quick march to the nomination into serious question. Romney has the backing of much of the Republican power structure. He’s already spending millions for advertising in Florida, which votes a week from Tuesday.

I’ve been watching Gingrich since he ascended to the Speakership in 1994. I was working for C-SPAN at the time, and Gingrich was famous for his “Special Orders” speeches, conducted in the House after the close of official business. The speeches, which could last as much as an hour, were delivered to a mostly-empty house chamber, but recorded and aired by the house television system and read into the Congressional record. It was one of the tactics that brought the speaker national recognition.

Now Gingrich, who many had discounted as unelectable, won by a substantial margin, and turned the nomination process into a horserace. He went on the offensive with the news media a debate the day ABC news aired an interview with his second ex-wife in which she asserted he had asked for an “open Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmoremarriage,” which under many circumstances could have spelled the end to his campaign. He blasted CNN for opening the debate with a question about his personal life, and said it was “despicable” for them to do so. By doing that, it’s possible he raised his standing with many of South Carolina’s conservative voters who have a pretty low opinion of the national news media. It’s certain that his debate performance  on that issue was a factor, and maybe a major factor, in his win Saturday. It can’t, however, be discounted that voters do not register by political party in South Carolina. Democrats and independents are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. It leads one to wonder how many Democrats may have turned out to cast a vote for Gingrich because they saw him as the weaker candidate, more easily defeated by Barack Obama in the fall. But President Obama would underestimate former Speaker Gingrich at his own peril.

Now, the campaign comes to Florida, where only Republicans can vote in the primary. There is a debate here in Jacksonville at UNF January 26th, and I’m expecting that my phone will start ringing incessantly with robo-calls not later than Monday. But unlike South Carolina, Florida is not a traditional “southern” state. There is an extensive diversity of thought here. The Panhandle and northeast Florida are more conservative, like the “traditional” south, which may give Gingrich and advantage. But the central and southern areas, largely from the I-4 corridor to south Florida will be more moderate, and potentially more favorable to Romney. It’s possible the Florida can make the decision, but it’s just as likely that the nominating campaign will go deep into the spring. It does appear now that the field has been winnowed to two, though former Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul will probably hang on as long as money continues to come in. We will see in a week if the Florida balloting swings the momentum back to Romney, or gives Gingrich an additional boost. Let the robo-calls begin. (Photos from Wikipedia by Gage Skidmore)

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Filed under Elections, Politics, Primarys, Republican Party

That’s A Plane On The Beach

I got a call from a friend today that a plane had landed on Atlantic Beach. I almost didn’t go down there, but then how often do you get to see an airplane on the beach.

iPhone video of a plane which landed on Atlantic Beach

The pilot reportedly took off from Jacksonville Executive Airport at Craig Field, and had a fuel issue. My friend had been there earlier, and had said that the pilot apparently landed on the hard packed sand at low tide. Local officials managed to pull the plane up the beach to a spot above the high tide line.

The plane looked undamaged. No obvious signs of fluid leaks, and apparently the landing gear worked. FAA records indicate it’s a 1970 Mooney M20F. The only other soul on board at the time of the incident was the pilot’s dog. Both were reportedly just fine.

I’m also very impressed with the video quality from the iPhone. It’s the first little b-roll clip I’ve shot with the phone, and while it’s not full HD by any estimation, it’s not bad for video shot on a phone.

Mooney On The BeachNo, it’s not every day you get to see a plane on the beach. It happened to Andie’s dad once, back in his flying days. The NTSB finally determined that the A & P who had done the annual on his airplane had not put the oil system back together properly, and the engine threw all it’s oil. Fine during preflight, but during the flight, suddenly the prop has stopped. He landed safely on St. Augustine beach, and as far as I know has not flown as pilot in command since. The family story is that it was his third unscheduled arrival, and he figured he’d quit before his luck ran out.

Walking back to the car, a gentleman walking towards the plane pointed and said “What’s that?” I couldn’t resist. “It’s an airplane,” I replied. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor. “I see that,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be there.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. He asked what I knew, and I told him. It’s just what I’d read online before heading down to the beach. The NTSB usually has a preliminary report out in 10 business days following an incident such as this. It’ll be an interesting read, I’m sure.

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End Of The Road For The Mayport Ferry?

It was not a huge surprise when the Jacksonville Port Authority this week announced that it could no longer subsidize the Mayport Ferry. Short of an extraordinary rescue effort, the shortest distance between two points connecting Florida A1A may be severed.

Ferry DockingJaxport took over the ferry operations in 2007 as part of the negotiations to acquire several parcels of land where it intended to build a cruise ship terminal in Mayport village. With the cruise business now low on the Port Authority’s priority list, it looks like the ferry is as well.

In operation since 1948, the ferry has seen declining ridership in recent years. The number of cars taking the shortcut across the river fell to under 300,000 last year, in part because of a substantial fare increase from $3.00 to $5.00 each way in 2009. But there are a variety of reasons for the decline. Completion of the Wonderwood bridge and expressway have reduced the time it takes to drive around to Heckscher Drive. But it’s still a long way over to re-join A1A to get up to Big and Little Talbot Islands from I295. And when the ferry goes out of service for maintenance, which any vessel seeing as much work as the Mayport ferry does needs regularly, there is no backup. The backup ferry (pictured below)  was retired a few years back, and so people are forced to make the drive when the MV Blackbeard is in dry dock. Once they get out of the habit of taking the ferry, many never return. A replacement for the backup boat would cost as much as $13 million by most estimations. So when the Blackbeard needs maintenance, there will continue to be interruptions in service.

Former Backup FerrySo the Port Authority says it can no longer afford to continue to prop up the ferry, and do the maintenance on the boat or the dock facilities. They say they will return ownership of the ferry to the city, which their contract to operate the service allows them to do. But Mayor Alvin Brown almost immediately said it would be very difficult for the city to operate the boat. Local activist who led the charge to save the ferry the last time it was threatened say that it will be a long and difficult lobbying effort to pull that off again. The state is facing a $2 billion deficit in its upcoming legislative session, and money for the ferry would be nothing but an earmark at the federal level. We all know there is no room for (most) earmarks in the federal budget.

By most accounts, losing the ferry would be a death knell for the village of Mayport, and a couple restaurants and other small businesses on the west side of the river would certainly struggle. With no drive-through traffic taking the ferry, businesses like Singleton’s Sea Food could lose a substantial percentage of their patrons. Safe Harbor seafood might make it for a while, but their retail business might certainly fall off with no drive-through traffic using the ferry. With no reason for people to go to Mayport, the village might well wither and die.

If it goes, I’ll certainly miss the ferry. A trip to Big or Little Talbot island, the Timucuan Preserve, Kingsley Plantation, Fort Clinch, or Amelia Island won’t be the same without the short ride across the river. Adding 20 miles to get back  to A1A for one of the most scenic drives in the state, particularly in a convertible, will mean we’ll go less often.

Ferry WheelhouseI hope the ferry will be able to make it. It’s one of the things that add character to our island, and as someone who has spent a lot of time on the water, I’m consistently impressed with the seamanship demonstrated by the ferry captains as they fight wind, tides, and current in a boat that is far from the most maneuverable on the river to slide it into its slip time after time. It’s never the same twice, and it was the rare ferry ride that ended in anything but a gentle nudge against the dock. And it was always a pleasure when BJ was directing traffic onto or off of the boat.

Councilman Bill Gulliford is holding a town hall meeting January 19th to discuss the ferry issue at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach. I’d be there but I’ve already paid for a ticket to the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that same evening.

It will be a sad day if the Mayport ferry is forced to stop its trips back and forth across the river. Add my voice to those who support maintaining the ferry, and hope it can be preserved. I’m not sure where the money comes from. City governments from Jacksonville to the beach communities are strapped for cash, and the ferry is a low priority. Like so many things in life, the Mayport ferry may be one of those things that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

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Why Not A Moderate?

With the New Hampshire primary today (Tuesday), South Carolina on the 21st and Florida on the 31st, the nation is deep into its quadrennial process of selecting a President. With only token opposition to President Obama’s reelection (sorry, Darcy), even his failure to file a slate of delegates in  New Hampshire and problems with the Georgia ballot over birth certificate issues are unlikely to derail his path to the nomination.

On the Republican side, the national media has been almost obsessed with the “flavor of the month.” Each of the “not Romney” candidates has had his or her flirtation with being the candidate who can beat the former Massachusetts governor. And all the talk is “who is the true ‘conservative’ in the race?” They seem enthralled with who has the backing of the Tea Party.

But more important is, who can get things done?

The political parties have become increasingly polarized. Run to the right (or the left) for the nomination, and then to the center to win the general. The conventional wisdom leaves many voters wondering which candidate is the real candidate. The hard-line conservative or liberal who wins the nomination, or the more moderate candidate who might win the general.GOP elephant

Which begs the question … when did it become a sin to be a moderate in a primary election?

Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Is it possible that more people might turn out for a primary election if they thought there was a candidate in the race that appealed to them? So often, it seems, the moderates who will come out in the general election are voting for what they consider the least objectionable of two candidates because that candidate has expressed views they find distasteful pandering to the extreme of one side or the other to win the nomination. Is it any wonder why so many people say they have not enthusiastically voted for a candidate in years, if ever, maybe at any level.

In 1969, Richard Nixon called on what he referred to as the “vast silent majority” to support his plan to end the war in Vietnam. That silent majority still exists today. The majority of Americans who want to be involved in politics, but also have the priority of keeping the mortgage paid and the kids in school and food on the table and gas in the car. They want Washington, and Tallahassee (or insert your state capital here) and even city hall to do what they do and mostly leave them alone. They don’t turn out for primary elections because, if they’ve paid attention at all, they’ve heard a lot of far left or far right rhetoric and phony talking points that are absolutely as canned as they sound … and so what’s the point? It’s always for “the children” or “working Americans”, and, depending on party affiliation,  against “corporate fat cats” or “tax and spend liberals.” And both sides serve up a health dose of vitriol for the dreaded “Washington insiders” and “career politicians.”

The candidate that appeals to the moderate Republican is one who will be fiscally responsible and doesn’t want to impose his or her morality on the rest of the nation. I want a candidate who supports a strong defense, truly equal opportunity for all … including middle-aged white males who are trying just as hard, or maybe harder than anyone else to support their families. I’m a proud moderate Republican. I think there are maybe millions more like me, and it’s time we started voting in primary elections. I do, for no other reason than to tell whomever has run to the far right that we’re here, and we do vote.

I VotedThe good news, for me at least, is that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2012 appears to be a moderate. To me, the rest of the field has been fairly weak, though some candidates had their appeal. Speaker Gingrich is almost always the smartest person in the room, but Governor Romney is the candidate who thinks most like I do.

The bottom line is, moderates have to stop being afraid to speak up when they disagree with the hard-liners. I can’t be the only one who is tired of being told I’m not “Republican” enough. If Republicans truly want to be a majority party, and not just “not Democrats” occasionally, it’s the moderates who will take them there.

Make room in that “big tent,” … you’ll be glad you did.

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Filed under Moderates, Politics, Republican Party