Category Archives: Neptune Beach

St Johns River Ferry Task Force

Update On The St. Johns River Ferry Service Task Force

Latest on the efforts of the task force working to preserve the St. Johns River Ferry. The Port Authority is meeting February 27th, and we hope to be able to convince them that we need more time to work on this issue.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Jacksonville Beach, Local Issues, Neptune Beach, St. Johns River

Preserve The St. Johns River Ferry

It’s amazing, sometimes, how you can find yourself in the center of something that can really make a difference in your community. Such is the case with the task force to save, and then preserve, the St. Johns River Ferry Service.

Ferry Task Force Beaches WatchThe ferry, often referred to as the Mayport ferry, is in danger of being permanently docked. And as 13th district councilman Bill Guliford said at Wednesday night’s Beaches Watch meeting, if the service ends, it will be very difficult to resurrect it. So, led by former council president Elaine Brown, long a champion of beach community issues and beaches businesses, we are embarked on a mission to see that it is not allowed to come to that end.

Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson Nancy Rubin says that the ferry carries an annual operating deficit of some $600,000 to $700,000, and is in immediate need of about $4 million in repairs and upgrades to the berths at either end of the short trip across the river. JPA executive director Paul Anderson has said that the continued operations of the ferry is not consistent with the port’s business model, and is not sustainable in its present form. At a meeting on February 27th, he will ask the board for guidance as to how to proceed, but he has been very clear that he hopes to return the ferry, and the associated land, to the city. The city has been reluctant at best to agree to consider re-assuming responsibility for the service. The state, which most believe should be the entity operating the ferry, washed its hands of the service several years ago. Basically, it’s like they determined that they were no longer going to pay to maintain a bridge over a waterway that connects a state highway … which the ferry does.

Ferry DockingAll of that to say that, I’ve been asked by Elaine to lead the media and PR efforts for the task force. We will have a website, Facebook presence, and other social media components to the effort. If you ride the ferry, occasionally or regularly, you can expect to see very shortly volunteers at both landings asking you to take a brief survey and sign a petition. I’ll be posting about the issue here, and producing some video pieces to illustrate the issue.

If you care about the ferry, and there are a multitude of reasons for you to do so, from its historic significance to the economic impact is has on Mayport, the beaches communities, and many other businesses that line A1A between St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, consider signing a petition, making a donation, contacting the Mayor’s office and your representative of the City Council to make your opinion known. Do keep in mind that all e-mails sent to the Mayor and City Council are public records. If … I probably should say when … we go to the city for funding for the ferry, it will require the votes of 10 council members to get it back in the budget.

But most importantly, tell your friends. I can’t imagine the First Coast without the ferry. Let’s see that it doesn’t happen. (Pictured L-R Elaine Brown, Task Force Chair; Val Bostwick, President, Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry; Nancy Rubin, Jacksonville Port Authority spokesperson; Sam Floyd, Mayport Waterfront Partnership Chairman; Councilman Bill Guliford presenting at Beaches Watch)

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Filed under Atlantic Beach, Beach Living, City Budget, City Council, Florida Budget, Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville City Council, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, Neptune Beach

Stimulus Projects At The Beach

Money to the north of us, money to the south of us, but Neptune Beach is left with a shrinking tax base, but still too much money to get anything from the federal stimulus. I wonder if we’re the only little town in the nation to not get a dime.

Mayport FerryTo the north, the Mayport Ferry is slated for $3 million for upgrades to the ramps that get the cars on and off the ferry. Ports spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said every dime will be spent on the ramps. It doesn’t seem like you could spend $3 million on ferry ramps, but I suppose it’s possible. It’s really a pity that some of that can’t go into operating, because it won’t matter how nice the ramps are to get on and off the boats if the boats aren’t running, but I know that’s not the way the stimulus money works. Operating a ferry is not a “shovel ready” project that puts people to work. Hiring contractors to build new ramps is a “shovel ready” project, so new ramps it’ll be.

Still, that’s not necessarily bad news. It does mean there’s a commitment to the ferry, and that’s been an open question for a while. I don’t think they’d pump that kind of money into the ramps if they planned to stop running the boat. But then, it might be the only thing they were allowed to spend the money on.

To the south, there’s $5 million to be spent on 9th street south from 1st Avenue South to Osceola Avenue. Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and drainage. Not that 9th street doesn’t need it, it does. It’s a pretty major thoroughfare between Beach Boulevard and South Beach Avenue. It runs through an area of Jacksonville Beach known as “The Hill”, which is not the best part of town.  Drainage in the area is bad, and anything resembling a heavy rain floods the streets. It’ll be worthwhile to have work done on 9th street.

But here in Neptune Beach, we apparently didn’t have any “shovel ready” projects that qualify. There was an article recently in The Beaches Leader in which Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette said there was too much money in Neptune Beach for us to be in line for any stimulus, but goodness knows Florida Boulevard could use some drainage work, and to be widened with a turn lane, and maybe a couple of lights.  But apparently even with a 5 percent reduction in property values which will affect the tax base, we’re too wealthy.

It doesn’t seem that way at our house.

We’re here kind of in the hole of the donut. Most of the money would likely trickle down anyway. I don’t know that there are construction companies here in Neptune Beach that could get a contract to work on a road. But all those people have to eat somewhere, and we do have some nice restaurants, and they might need something from K-Mart or the drugstore. Still, the improvements would have been nice.

I don’t begrudge Jacksonville Beach or Mayport their stimulus projects. I drive on 9th street and I sometimes use the ferry, so I’ll get something out of it, as will most everybody at the beach. But I can understand Mayor Pruette’s frustration.

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I’m out for Oshkosh on Saturday, 8 days steeped in airplanes. I’ll try to keep up something resembling the blog, but can’t make any promises. It’s going to be an incredibly busy week, but I’ll let you know all about it when I get back.

With pictures.

Sig

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Filed under Beach Living, Federal Stimulus, Mayport, Neptune Beach, Thoughts

Local Government at its Most Local

I went to a couple of events tonight, both of which were good in the job search arena.  A Beaches Chamber of Commerce council mixer and then the special meeting of the Neptune Beach City Council … where Harriet Pruett, Kara Wade Tucker, and Eric Pardee were sworn in on the Council.

It was at the council meeting that I started thinking about the most local of local governments.  I covered a lot of Jacksonville City Council meetings when I first went to work at WJCT.  I mean a lot.  Every other Tuesday, I’d plan to spend most of the night at city hall, and the rest of it at the station writing a story for our morning magazine show.  The 19 member Jacksonville City Council can be unwieldy at times.  And sometimes the meetings could drag on, and on, and on, and on …

Tonight, the new and newly re-elected members of the Neptune Beach City Council were sworn in, and there were only three little items of business on the agenda.  At the JCC, there could be zoning discussions that could do on for what seemed like hours … and that was never the interesting part of the meeting I wanted for the show.  The agenda could run 15-20 pages, with supplemental and “emergency” items, plus public comments.  Meetings could be marathons.  They still are.

Tonight’s Neptune Beach City Council meeting had the swearing’s-in, and three bills on the agenda.  Three.  One was on first reading.

Doggy Dining passed on third reading.  Only one person spoke to the council in favor of Doggy Dining, and none against.  I almost went up and spoke against, simply to make it fair, and because I’m not really sure I’m all about having dogs underfoot at a restaurant, even outdoors.  But I hadn’t given the issue any thought, don’t feel that strongly about it, and didn’t want to seem like a dog-hater … so I let it go.  It passed unanimously.

The other bill, which was a technical correction on an existing bill, also passed unanimously.  The third was a first reading dealing with education funding.

That was it.  Half an hour, including the swearings-in.  30 minutes.  Local government at its most local.

Now, when the debate was whether WalMart should be allowed to come to town, it was a very different story.  The anti-WalMart crowd packed the tiny meeting room, and were very vocal about not letting them come into Neptune Beach.  Never mind that the zoning allowed it and they would have been paying taxes on a now-vacant strip shopping center.  Never mind they tried to be good neighbors and conform to the local architecture (such as it is) and followed all the rules.  People heard “WalMart” and were up in arms.  I still don’t understand how that happens.  WalMart won, of course, and then decided not to build it anyway.  As the arguing went on, the economy soured, and they decided it wasn’t going to be as profitable as they had originally thought.  So, the shopping center remains empty.

But now that I can, I should go to more local city council meetings.  Maybe volunteer for a board and get more locally involved.  I actually enjoy watching the sausage being made, and ever have ever since Illona Nickols talked about the federal legislature during C-SPAN orientation.  It was the civics class everyone slept through in high school made interesting in an afternoon … and now I enjoy the process.

So that was that.  I had the camera in the car and didn’t take it into the council chamber.  I should have.  But so many people don’t realize that it’s at the local city council meetings … particularly if you live in a town like Neptune Beach, where decisions are made that really effect your everyday life.   The President and federal congress pass and sign laws that sometimes seem so esoteric … but when you realize that it takes “an act of congress” at the local level to allow you to take your dog to the outdoor seating area of a restaurant … that’s where the rubber meets the road.  And it’s why everyone should pay far more attention to who their local representatives are.

It’s that important.

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Filed under City Council, Civics, Local Government, Neptune Beach, Thoughts

Fay, Fay, Go Away

Well, Jacksonville hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane since 1964.  Our luck my have run out with Fay.

Fay819 This is a particularly cool graphic from the National Weather Service  … one of the satellite composite loops with a bunch of other layers you can add and subtract.  Here you can see the average track based on the models … which would bring it onshore right about 30 degrees north latitude, pretty much St. Augustine.  Hurricane watches are posted up into SE Georgia.  But the upshot is that we may finally have our first landfalling hurricane on the First Coast in over 40 years.

Of course, that continues to change.  I’ll post and update after the 11:00 pm forecast from the national Hurricane Center goes up.

So, I’ve gotten the shutters down from the attic of the garage.  I’m not sure yet if I’m going to put them up, but it won’t take more than an hour should we decide to make that happen.  I’m really glad now that we bought these.  I don’t have to worry about wrestling big sheets of plywood or razor-sharp metal shutters.  These are the flexible Kevlar based panels that will go up over the windows with a bunch of wing nuts.  The anchors are already in the window frames, which are Hardy Board.  I really don’t think it would take more than about an hour to have the house completely shuttered.

Meanwhile, I skipped the wine tasting at PF Chang’s with JB this evening to come home and start getting the place secured.  I’ve gotten all the chairs in onto the back porch, as well as most everything else that can blow around.  We’re going to get some wind, no matter what.  It may be 74+ miles per hour, it may be no more than 20-25.

That’s the thing about these storms.  In the 8 years I’ve lived here, there have been several times that a big storm has been forecast, and all we’ve gotten is an hcane inch or two of rain.  But there have also been times that wind gusts have knocked down several of our fence panels.  Of course, the last bit thunderstorm we had that knocked down a couple of ship loading cranes over at Blount Island blew down a couple of panels, too.  It’s just difficult to say what’s going to happen.

But, I’ve got a couple of flats of water, gas in the car, stuff moved inside, shutter panels ready to go on, canned soup and other non-perishable food, charcoal, a camp stove, candles, batteries, oil lamps … I think we’ll be ok if the power goes out for a while.

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Fay819_11P Update:  11:24 PM

Here’s the 11 PM update for Fay.  It’s got her making a shaper turn after heading briefly out to sea.  The storm was weakening a bit, winds down to 50 miles per hour from a high of 65.  Hurricane force is 74, just in case you haven’t been paying attention.

So now, we still have a hurricane, but coming in further south.  Probably somewhere around Flagler Beach, which could be a disaster down there.  A1A is literally on the dune down there, and portions of it wash out with a good n’oreaster.  I expect if there are hurricane force winds down there, it could wash out chunks of the road.  Not to mention that it puts some houses very close to falling into the ocean in the strong northeast quadrant of the storm … with a WNW approach like this, the straight line winds will be coming almost directly onshore.  That will be bad news for South Ponte Vedra Beach.  We’ll see what happens.

It’s good news for us up here in Neptune Beach, however.  Still a hurricane watch, for us.  We’ll see what the update is when we get up in the morning.  For now, it looks like the shutters may not be necessary … but that could always change.

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Filed under Beach Living, Hurricane, Neptune Beach, Thoughts, Weather

Summer Storm

Nature provided the fireworks last night.

Lightning 1 med

About 11:00, a summer storm started to threaten.  I’d run to the drugstore to get Jenni some contact lens solution, as she’d managed to get to Florida without it.  They say you go on vacation to forget things, and when you get there, you find you usually have.

In any event, I’d been out on the porch talking to Scott Abrams about his new improv project, of which I hope to be a part, and I kept noticing flickers of light outside.  Our streetlights often work intermittently, and I just thought it was the light out on Florida Boulevard trying to come on.  But when I got in the ragtop, top down, of course, to go to the drugstore, I noticed the electrical discharges racing across the sky.  The storm was still several miles away, which I confirmed looking at the radar online when I got home, so I decided to try the same technique on the thunderstorm as I had Friday night on the fireworks at the beach.  I got lucky.

Lightning 2 med

Set up on the tripod, in full manual mode and with my remote shutter release, I waited.  I shot the first one at f5 at about a 1/2 second shutter speed and ISO 400.  The second, I stopped down to f8 but increased the exposure to 2 1/2 seconds.  Both were shot with a 28mm lens in manual focus mode.  I love the metadata the camera puts on the captures.  I was out in the driveway for about 30 minutes to get these two images, and about a dozen completely black ones.

I got this camera, in part, to get shots like these.  Please go look at the full size images on Flickr.

So today is Sunday, and we’ll be meeting Ann Hopkins for lunch.  She was Provost at Miami of Ohio before coming to UNF, and Jenni will be attending Miami in the fall, so I really wanted an opportunity to get them together.  Tonight is dinner with Busy, Tim, and Lucas. Tomorrow is a down day before the fun starts Tuesday.  In the business, we call that a teaser.  More later.

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Filed under Beach Living, Living, Neptune Beach, Photography, Photos, Thunderstorms, Weather

Quiet Rain

It was threatening to storm.  And it did storm to the north, south, and west of us here at the beach.  But the closer it got to the ocean, the more the intensity decreased, and now it’s just a gentle rain, the occasional flash of lightning, and grumble of thunder.  This is summertime at the beach.

A typical day this time of the year begins with a few clouds, calm winds, and a temperature in the mid 70’s.  This is why I so enjoy bicycling early in the morning Rain 3this time of year.  It’s cool, the wind is non-existent or light from the south or west, and the traffic is much lighter as well.  As the day wears on, cumulus clouds begin to tower, and my mid afternoon the alarms are going off at the station.  “The National Weather Service in Jacksonville has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for…” and Stephen Hawking goes on to list the counties and town in the path of the storm.  Pretty much like clockwork every afternoon. 

Sometimes they’re fast moving storms that cause a lot of damage.  Most of them start that way.  But often, if the wind is out of the west pushing the weather towards the ocean, we get a nice, gentle rain.  Just enough to chase the tourists off the beach.  Sometimes they wind up in the restaurants on 1st street, sometimes they just scramble back to their hotels and condos. 

I recall when I used to come down here in the summertime to visit from Indiana.  It gets plenty hot in Indiana in the summertime, but the rain was still cold.  It would tower 40 or 50 thousand feet into the clouds and fall cold even on the hottest days.  Down here, getting caught out in a storm was not much more than an inconvenience … unless you’re wearing nice clothes.  Sometimes, standing out in the rain, particularly in central and south Florida, can be like standing in a warm shower.  But you do have to be cautious of the lightning.

It’s odd that it can rain, and rain, and rain here and in only days be so dry that the weather service is issuing fire danger alerts.  Part of that is because what passes for soil is so sandy that the water can’t stay on the surface.  What isn’t absorbed quickly by the plants pretty much starts its trip to the aquifer in short order. 

By the time August rolls around, these afternoon thunderstorms will pretty much be a thing of the past.  We actually get pretty severe droughts here, sometimes depending on a nice, juicy tropical system to keep things green and growing.  August and September are the worst months for that.  And of course, with the beneficial rains come things like tropical storm and hurricane force winds, tornadoes spawned from the very unstable atmosphere, and sometimes way more rain than you can deal with.

It was fascinating sitting here during the tropical storms in 2004 watching the sky light up blue as rain driven into the transformers on poles shorted them out.  I’ll bet we watched 20 of them cook off from here … a much more blue light then the lightning that was nearly constant.  I could see the rain coming down just in sheets in the streetlights … until they went dark.  But to the credit of Beaches Energy, we were without power for only about 8 hours during Charlie and a couple of hours during one other storm.  After Charlie, there were areas of town that were powerless for more than a week. 

Everyplace has it’s severe weather.  Recent floods in the Midwest are a testament to that, as are more fires in California.  There are tornadoes in so many parts of the country, and they’ve been bad this year.  The north, northeast, and upper Midwest have blizzards and severe cold.  I’m sometimes not sue why some legislators and insurance companies are so resistant to a nationwide insurance pool for natural disasters.  Seems like no place is immune. 

Meanwhile, the rain has stopped for the time being.  Tomorrow is Friday, which means it’s show day and I have to plan to be at work at 7:30.  Saturday morning, I’m looking forward to sleeping in before going for my ride.  I’m I’m lucky, we’ll be able to take out a bank loan, buy some gas for the boat, and spend some time on the water. 

I’ll cross my fingers.

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Filed under Environment, Neptune Beach, Thoughts, Thunderstorms, Weather