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DeWitt: 2012 in review, with updates

2012 Revisited: The annual look back at and update of selected columns from the past year.

New Year's Eve reminder …

Maybe you plan to go out and have a few drinks Monday night. Maybe you'll tell yourself you can hold it together long enough to drive home.

And maybe you'll be able to push thoughts of the possible consequences of that decision — killing someone on the road — to the back of your mind.

Barry Marcone has taken on the job of keeping those thoughts front and center.

In 2007, his son, Chris, killed 13-year-old Shelby Hagman in a drunken driving wreck. Marcone went on a one-man crusade, telling people the lesson of this tragedy — that a few moments of carelessness can lead to a lifetime of guilt.

I watched Marcone, whose organization is called Driving Sober to Save a Life (drivingsober.net), talk to a rapt audience of Hernando High students on the fifth anniversary of Hagman's death in April.

Marcone, a truck driver who lives in Ridge Manor, has talked to many more groups, giving a total of 43 presentations around the state and working with the nonprofit Florida Safety Council to help persuade people who have been convicted of driving drunk to never to do it again.

"I haven't gone away, and I'm not going away," he said last week.

Debby mellows with age …

People in charge of state roads and the county Public Works Department blamed the flooding in June not on road and drainage design, but on the sheer magnitude of Tropical Storm Debby's rainfall.

A "100-year storm," they called it.

Given Debby's modest winds, I initially couldn't believe this label was correct.

It was, and I wasn't.

A rain gauge near a flooded stretch of the Suncoast Parkway in northern Hernando County measured a colossal 12.24 inches of rain on one day, June 24, easily meeting the state standard for a 100-year storm. And the three-day total at that gauge was higher than any ever measured at a weather station that had been operated at nearby Chinsegut Hill since 1890.

Yes, this did a lot of damage to roads and neighborhoods, some of which remained flooded for months.

But, on the positive side, Debby helped refresh rivers and lakes that had seemed to be going extinct due to pumping and recent years' subnormal rainfall — refreshed them to the point that even after a dry fall, they hold more water than they have in many winters. Also, aquifer levels are still solidly in the normal range, according to the Dec. 21 report from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and nearly 3 feet higher than a year ago.

The aquifer is our drinking supply, folks. So, yes, that's a definite positive.

Speaking of Chinsegut Hill …

The weather station there that I mentioned closed down just weeks before Debby, one symptom of the stunning neglect of this environmental and historic treasure.

Years after its previous tenant, the University of South Florida, announced it planned to end its lease, the state hadn't found any other public occupants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also closed the cattle research station that had occupied 3,800 acres of surrounding pasture.

And most shockingly, in June, the state announced that the 114-acre hill and its 164-year-old manor house would be "surplused." In other words, made available for purchase by any bidder. Maybe a developer. Maybe even a rock mine.

There's no word yet on what will happen to the USDA land, but the story of the hill has taken a surprisingly encouraging turn.

First, a local group of volunteers announced it had received a state grant to help prevent the manor house's further deterioration.

Then, in November, the Hernando County Commission decided that if no other public agency would step up to care for the hill, it would.

It couldn't commit much money. But it could be the public partner that the volunteers need to accept the grant and apply for others.

One reason the county's interest is such a good sign: It seemed like a break with the tea party idea that we'd all be better off if government just sort of dried up and went away.

It wasn't good policy to stand by and let Chinsegut be devoured by somebody hoping to make a few bucks, the commission realized. And not even good politics.

Another picture of a tea party sunset?

The extreme right's darling in Hernando, Republican County Commission candidate Jason Sager, lost in the general election to Democrat Diane Rowden, though it probably wasn't his political views that cost him.

His campaign advertisements were full of made-up "facts." He casually fudged his military record. And he left a trail of pornographic emails showing he'd had an affair with his campaign spokeswoman, which had led to the end of her marriage.

That all this was fully revealed after Sager narrowly won his primary election could have made his more moderate Republican opponent, John Druzbick, feel as if he got an unusually raw deal.

He doesn't, he said.

Druzbick said he's concentrating on rebuilding his custom blind business and enjoying life.

"The stress level has dropped tremendously," he said.

And Sager? The only update I have on him is the most important one.

He's not a county commissioner.

Phil lives …

Of far less significance, except for our neighbors south of Brooksville, is the story of Phil the rooster.

He was the male we brought home in a batch of supposedly all-female chicks, and his amazing ability to crow at top volume nearly around the clock seemed a certain death sentence.

We took him from our home, where chickens are pets, to the agricultural compound of my friend, Dave Cock, where animals that don't serve an obvious purpose almost always become dinner.

"The crockpot is a still a definite possibility," he said.

But Cock and his wife, Chris, have also become uncharacteristically attached to Phil, and have been trying to find someone with hens that might be interested in keeping him for breeding purposes.

"He's a big, nice-looking bird, and he's learning to get along with my dogs," Cock said.

And if there's hope for Phil this New Year, I'd say there's hope for all of us.

DeWitt: 2012 in review, with updates 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 11:50am]
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