Anne Lindberg - 6/50 - SaintPetersBlog

Anne Lindberg

‘Mr. Lealman’ Ray Neri dies

Ray Neri, the man who put the unincorporated Lealman area on the map, died Tuesday at Northside Hospital.

Neri was taken to Northside on Monday. He had fallen earlier in the day.

Neri was a well-known community activist whose persistent lobbying brought attention to the problems in his community. With the light he shone on Lealman came help. His activism resulted in, among other things, a renovated park, a new park, and Pinellas County’s first community redevelopment area designed to solve the problems of poverty that permeates the community.

Lealman is located between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg on the north and south and between I-275 and Park Street on the east and west. Kenneth City divides the area into two. Most of Neri’s activism centered on the portion of the Lealman area to the east of Kenneth City.

“He’s Mr. Lealman to me,” Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala said Tuesday. “Who in the world is going to keep the focus on that community?”

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said, “Ray was a character who could drive you nuts but you never minded. He was so persistent in his efforts to make things better for children, specifically the children in Lealman, that you always came away admiring the way he kept pushing us forward.

“He was one of those folks that you just assumed would always be there. Hard to fathom things without his input.”

Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said, “Such a tragedy for our county and the Lealman area. … There’s a lot of things that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him.”

Neri served on the Juvenile Welfare Board, the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area Citizen Advisory Board, the Police Athletic League and was a member and former head of the Lealman Community Association.

Details about arrangements were not available late Tuesday.

Trump Resistance Roadshow, Earth2Trump, coming to St. Pete

Earth2Trump, a cross-country roadshow heading to Washington, D.C., that organizers say will build a vast network of resistance to incoming President Trump is coming to St. Petersburg.

The tour is organized by the Center for Biological Diversity in coordination with Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club, Service Employees International Union, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Caloosa Riverkeeper, and many more local groups.

Beginning today in Oakland and Seattle, a pair of Earth2Trump roadshows plan to  tour the country, stopping in 16 cities as it progresses toward the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. The shows will feature national and local speakers, musicians, and an opportunity to join a growing movement of resistance to all forms of oppression and all attacks on the environment.

The St. Petersburg event will include music performances by Lyla June, Casey Neill, and Mountain Holler.

“When we all speak together with a single voice of resistance, our power grows – and so do our chances of defeating the Trump administration,” said Blake Kopcho, an organizer with the Center. “People in St. Petersburg will have a crucial role to play in building this movement and we’re excited to get there.”

The Earth2Trump roadshow of resistance will be 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Ale and the Witch, 111 Second Ave. NE.

Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence passes away

James J. Lawrence, Lt. Col., USAF Ret., who served for 10 years as Indian Shores mayor, died Dec. 26 after a long battle with cancer.

He was 68.

The town issued this statement, calling Lawrence a “beloved mayor”:

“Jim’s life was the epitome of a dedicated public servant as evidenced by his career serving our nation in the U.S. Air Force followed by 20 years of service in Pinellas County and the town of Indian Shores.

“Jim was an inspiration to everyone and helped create a culture of volunteerism that makes the town of Indian Shores ‘a great place to live.’

“He will be greatly missed.”

Lawrence and his wife, Alice, also a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, moved to Indian Shores in 1993 after retiring from the military. He had been a command pilot who had flown in every U.S. conflict from Vietnam to the first Gulf War.

Lawrence was elected to the Indian Shores Town Council in 1998. Lawrence chaired the public services committee for two years and the planning, zoning and building committee for five years. Lawrence serves as vice mayor for five of the eight years he served on the council.

He also served for three years on the board of directors of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the last two as treasurer and vice chair. He represented Indian Shores on the North Beaches YMCA board of directors from its inception in 2003 until its dissolution in 2007. From 2005-2007, he was the chair of the NBYMCA advisory board.

Lawrence was unopposed when he ran for mayor in 2006 and served the town as mayor until his death. 2006 after running unopposed for that position and was re-elected without opposition in 2009. He had served a stint as president of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, also known as the Big C.

He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Alice; his son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Jennifer; two grandchildren, Cassidy and Gage; brother, Robert; and sisters Gini Boughner, and Pati Evans; and much-loved dog, Billy.

A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Jan. 9 at the Indian Shores Municipal Center Pavilion, 19305 Gulf Blvd.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to an animal shelter.

Dick Vitale joins St. Pete’s ‘Baseball Forever’ campaign

Dick Vitale has signed on to St. Pete’s “Baseball Forever” campaign.

The campaign is designed to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that their current site, reimagined and redeveloped, remains the best location for Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

To that end, Vitale is featured in a YouTube promotional video. In the video, Vitale, a longtime Manatee County resident, discusses the benefits of having Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg as well as the benefits of having a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark centrally located in St. Petersburg.

He also shares his thoughts on the City of St. Petersburg’s master plan vision for the Tropicana Field site.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Vitale says in the video. “I would say it’s awesome, baby.”

Vitale is an ESPN college basketball analyst who joined the network during the 1979-80 season after a successful college and pro coaching career. In 2008, Vitale received the sport’s ultimate honor when he was selected as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (after being named a finalist in 2004, 2006 and 2007) as a contributor.

The “Baseball Forever” campaign is an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the desired goal is to have the Rays remain at their current site in a re-imagined Tropicana Field, the group is open to supporting the Rays, county officials, the private sector, and other stakeholders should the team identify a future stadium site adjacent to or impacting St. Petersburg.

The Baseball Forever group explains that it’s looking for people to sign a pledge:

“It’s time to take a stand to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. The city of St. Petersburg is developing a new ballpark proposal for the existing Tropicana Field site, and will soon be submitting this proposal to the Rays. The community’s support for this is essential.

“We now need to show our love and enthusiasm for the Rays, and ask that you pledge your support to encourage the Rays to build a new ballpark in St. Petersburg.”

The Baseball Forever pledge form contains five categories of support. It asks those signing to check all categories that apply to their commitment: “Continue commitment to the Rays as an existing supporter; purchase a suite; commit to becoming a Rays sponsor; commit to purchasing a Rays local business partner package; commit to purchasing (number here) season tickets.”

Environmental activists rally, march to stop Sabal Trail pipeline

A group of environmental activists gathered in Williams Park across from Duke Energy on Thursday to send a message: Stop the Sabal Trail pipeline.

The protest was spearheaded by volunteers from Greenpeace St. Pete and the Sierra Club. The St. Petersburg rally was one of five across the state Thursday. Others were scheduled in Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Orlando.

The 515-mile long pipeline starts in Alabama, crosses Georgia and will end in central Florida. It’s designed to bring natural gas to the needs of Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy of Florida by the end of June next year. Already under construction, the pipeline is scheduled to be completed by June.

The underground pipeline, a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp., NextEra Energy and Duke Energy, will carry natural gas. It’s a pipeline that Spectra says will be safe.

But those who spoke at Thursday’s gathering said that’s not the case. The pipeline does not carry pure natural gas, instead it carries fracked gas, they said. Fracked gas is pumped into pipelines at high pressures, making leaks, breakages or collapsed pipes more likely.

That, could be devastating for Florida because the pipeline will go through limestone substrate and the Florida aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. Leaking, breaking or collapsing would mean the gas would get into the groundwater and ruin drinking water for millions. It could also destroy the soil.

“All pipelines leak,” one speaker said, adding, “we are literally on top of Swiss cheese.”

Speakers urged the crowd not only to air their grievances against Duke and the other partners in the pipeline but also against the banks that are lending money to finance the drilling. Among those banks are Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.

Speakers urged the group to divest by taking their money out of those banks and letting the bankers know that’s why they were closing accounts.

After the speakers had finished, the crowd marched a one and a half mile route that took them to St. Petersburg City Hall. They also planned to pass several of those banks where they would use a special chant: “Defund, divest, people power at its best.”

Pinellas clerk to hold group Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony

Ken Burke, Pinellas County clerk court, has opened registration for his 11th Annual Valentine’s Day Group Wedding.

Up to fifty couples are expected to be joined together for one group wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day in the wedding garden at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.

“Our Valentine’s Day group wedding event is a memorable occasion many in the community look forward to and we are very thankful for the couples who allow us to partake in their special day,” Burke said.

A single ceremony will unite all couples in attendance. The couples and their guests will celebrate with wedding cake and refreshments provided by local sponsors. In addition, everyone will be serenaded with a cappella melodies performed by the Charmonizers Barbershop Quartet.

Burke has waived the normal $30 ceremony fee. Standard marriage license fees will still apply. To participate, couples must sign-up no later than Jan. 27.

In order to be eligible to register for the 2017 wedding event, application for a marriage license must be made between Dec. 19 and Feb. 10. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. in the wedding garden of the Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

Couples will receive a special commemorative marriage certificate, which will be mailed within one week from the date of the ceremony with the official certificate of marriage. All couples should arrive at the Botanical Gardens by 1 p.m. on the day of the event with their marriage license and identification.

Meeting will highlight proposed changes to Southwest sewer plant

St. Petersburg has spent much of this year being bashed over a run-down sewer system that was unable to handle heavy rains from two storms.

The failure of the system to handle the amount of rain resulted in the dumping of thousands of gallons of raw and partly treated sewage into Tampa Bay.

The city is kicking off the new year with a $10 million project designed to upgrade the Southwest sewer plant with the construction of four to five new injection wells and monitoring wells.

The first step in that project is a public meeting Tuesday to explain the project and to get comments and suggestions from the public. A second meeting will be held Jan. 11 at the Lake Vista Community Center.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Water Resources Complex, 1650 Third Ave. N.

Although the meeting is scheduled for five and a half hours, it’s not going to be going on for that length of time, said Bill Logan, the city’s public works spokesman.

The idea, he said, is to make it more convenient for people to come to the meeting. While there will be a presentation early in the time frame, city staff and officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection will be available the entire time to answer questions and make note of suggestions.

The city is fast-tracking the project, Logan said. If all goes as planned, drilling for the reclaimed injection wells would begin toward the end of January or beginning of February. The new wells are expected to help add capacity, which could help prevent another overflow. Construction would be complete before the summer rainy season arrives.


Environmental activists to protest construction of Sabal Trail pipeline

While many eyes were turned to Standing Rock as Native Americans and others protested the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, others were fighting a pipeline closer to home.

The Sabal Trail underground pipeline starts in Alabama, crosses Georgia and winds its way down Florida to its endpoint in central Florida. The 515-mile natural gas pipeline is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp., NextEra Energy and Duke Energy. The goal is to bring services for the power generation needs of Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy of Florida by the end of June next year.

It’s a project that Spectra and the others say is safe.

“It is well established that natural gas transmission pipelines are the safest method of transporting energy products, and at Spectra Energy, we have a strong safety record,” the company says on the project’s website. “Over the past five years, the incident rate for Spectra Energy’s United States onshore natural gas pipelines and facilities has been roughly half the rate of the industry average.”

It adds, “Safety is at the forefront of everything we do. Our dedication to continuously improve our operational safety practices stems from our relentless focus on protecting the people within the communities where we operate, our employees and the environment. While we already have a strong safety record, our goal is zero incidents, as no incident is acceptable.”

But environmentalists and others say the hazards are serious and severe. To begin with, said Megan Weeks of Greenpeace St. Petersburg, the pipeline will cut through the Floridan Aquifer. The Floridan supplies drinking water to about 10 million people. A spill or leak or leaching gas would be a catastrophe.

In such a catastrophe, Weeks said, taxpayers would be on the hook for compensating and cleaning up contaminated drinking water.

The concern is real, she said. A similar pipeline spilled 336,000 gallons in Alabama this past summer.

Other concerns include the effect on sensitive conservation areas of the construction of the pipeline. A 50-foot to 100-foot scar will be left in the wake of construction.

That’s why Greenpeace and Sierra Club volunteers are gathering in St. Petersburg, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee and Jacksonville on Thursday to protest the pipeline.

The St. Pete protest is expected to start at 4 p.m. in Williams Park opposite Duke Power. Protestors then plan a short march to banks that are helping fund the project.

The immediate goal of the protests, Weeks said, is to call attention to the pipeline and the potential hazards. The hope is others will add their voices to oppose the pipeline. The ultimate goal is to stop the construction.

Incumbent, newcomer take office in Kenneth City

The two open seats on the Kenneth City Town Council were filled without an election when only two residents qualified for office.

Incumbent Joanne DeSimone will take one seat. Newcomer Robert J. Howell will take the other.

DeSimone formerly served on the Redington Beach council. She was first elected to the Kenneth City council in 2010, but lost a 2012 bid to become mayor. She was again elected to the council in 2013.

Howell is a retired businessman who is a native of Indianapolis, Ind. He moved to Pinellas County in 1970 at the age of 19. He moved to Kenneth City eight years ago.

He is married and has three children. His wife, Fran, and son, Ryan, have taken over the family business, American Dream Carpet Cleaning and Janitorial Services.

“I see Kenneth City getting better and better and better,” Howell said. “I want to be part of it.”

Howell said the town has “vastly changed” since the form of government changed from council as manager to a council-manager format in which an appointed professional manager oversees daily activities while the council passes a budget and sets policy.

“The new way is perfect,” Howell said. “I just want to be a part of it.”

There’s a lot to be a part of in the coming year.

Town Manager Matt Campbell said renovations to the community hall and police station are underway and expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2017. Solar lighting is being installed to highlight the new palm trees along 54th Avenue N.

The town is about to award a bid for the renovation and updating of James Ernst Park. Improvements include an enlarged basketball court, poured surfacing and upgraded play equipment. That project is expected to take about nine months.

Plans for 2017 include renovating the town’s public works building, Campbell said.

Kenneth City has a five-member council. The mayor is elected for a three-year term. Council members serve for two years.

Pinellas sets swearing-in for constitutional officers

Swearing-in of Pinellas County’s incoming constitutional officers will be Jan. 3.

The ceremony, which will be open to the public, will be at 5:30 p.m. in the historic Pinellas County Courthouse located at 324 S Fort Harrison Ave. in Clearwater. A reception in the courthouse lobby will follow the reception.

Two of the constitutional officers are being sworn in for the first time. They are Mike Twitty, who will succeed outgoing property appraiser Pam Dubov. Dubov is leaving to enter the ministry. The other newcomer is Charles W. Thomas who will take over the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s office from Diane Nelson, who is retiring.

The other four constitutional officers are returning: Bernie McCabe, state attorney; Bob Dillinger, public defender; Ken Burke, clerk of the circuit court and comptroller; and Deborah Clark, supervisor of elections.

Clark and Burke were re-elected without opposition this year.

Constitutional officers provide critical services for the residents of Pinellas County. As established by the Florida Constitution, they are elected every four years to serve at the will of the people.

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