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Resolve to remember Hernando County's best of 2011

I’ve never liked celebrating the new year, never been able to look at it as a fresh start rather than as the passage of one more year.

Assuming that at least some of you feel the same way, I'll use this space to look back at events that might brighten the mood a little.

Not a lot, probably, because in 2011 the pickings were slim for good news. But maybe enough to temporarily divert our attention from the year-end rehashing of murders, political ugliness and economic misery.

With that modest goal in mind, here goes:

As inappropriate as it may be to compare an event as insignificant as finishing the Hernando Beach dredge with one as historic as Watergate, I can't resist paraphrasing President Gerald Ford's remarks on taking the oath of office.

Finally, our long county nightmare is over.

At the end of last week, the county reported that dredge contractor BCPeabody had achieved "substantial completion" of the dredge, a project that has dragged on for more than 17 years.

Most of the work was done in the past few months, after Peabody started doing this job the way they were done in the state's dredge-and-fill heyday: scooping up dirt with heavy equipment and floating it away on a barge.

This is still a good approach, apparently, unless you're a Hernando Beach homeowner with a vulnerable seawall or dock.

But it makes you wonder all the more why the dredge had to be such a big deal, why the county had to sink so many resources into trying to build complicated "dewatering" systems to accommodate even more complicated dredging systems.

We already know how much time all this wasted. Soon we'll know exactly how much money was squandered, and it's sure to be a sickening sum.

But for now, lift your Bloody Mary glass and toast the good news about the dredge: It's nearly done.

When looking for signs of hope, Partners in Health — the organization started by former Brooksville resident Paul Farmer — is a good place to start. That's true even though the agency works in some of the poorest, least hopeful countries in the world, including Haiti.

One of the most ambitious projects undertaken to help the country recover from its massive earthquake two years ago is a 320-bed teaching hospital that PIH is building in the town of Mirebalais.

Look at this page — pih.org/mirebalais — on the group's website to see photographs of the nearly complete, large, white building in a valley in the central plateau.

The cholera epidemic still represents a major threat to Haitians. And thousands of them still live in the tarp cities that appeared after the earthquake.

But after hearing about so much misery in Haiti, the fact that a modern hospital is due to open in just a few months not only seems like good news; it almost seems like a miracle.

If there was ever a local public employee who came close to showing Farmer's level of commitment, I would have to nominate Kristin Wood, the former director of the Chinsegut Nature Center.

She got a bum deal a year ago, getting forced out of this job after transforming the center, north of Brooksville, into a vital teaching facility with a core of enthusiastic volunteers.

What's good about that? The center survived a proposed budget cut by Gov. Rick Scott and was able to hire a replacement director.

Look for information about the center on the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website — myfwc.com — and you'll see it is still holding events such as Pioneer Day. It's still around and functioning, in other words.

Also, Wood has been hired part-time, developing programs at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell, which is good news not only for her, but anyone who plans to visit the park.

Finally, let's look at the continued slide in the local housing market. This is devastating for our economy and especially for the 13.1 percent of county residents who are unemployed.

But consider that last year the Legislature dismantled the Department of Community Affairs and the Hernando County Commission approved the Quarry Preserve, a so-called new city with room for 5,800 residential units far north of Brooksville.

Later in the year, the commission also did away with impact fees altogether. Right now, in other words, nobody in charge seems to know how to responsibly manage growth. If it were surging right now, with the current policies in place, it would be brutal on the economy and our public bank accounts.

In the spirit of desperately looking for a bright side, we can consider this lull in development good news.

Still, let's hope the market turns around — and, while we're at it, for some farsighted leadership.

Let's hope for a fresh start in the new year.

Resolve to remember Hernando County's best of 2011 12/31/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 11:43am]

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