A unique and valuable environmental resource in Dunedin, Hammock Park, is getting some help, thanks to that city's success at winning grant dollars. The $40,000 U.S. Forestry Service grant will be used to slay invasive plant species that have taken over parts of the park, and then to plant native vegetation that should help keep the invasive plants from re-establishing there.
People who have never been to Hammock Park have missed an unexpected pleasure. The 80-acre preserve is one of the last Pinellas examples of a coastal forest, and it is a quiet, shady oasis surrounded by neighborhoods and busy streets. Located at the end of San Mateo Drive just east of Bayshore Boulevard, it is open to the public free of charge during daylight hours.
The park lost a lot of trees during the rough 2004 hurricane season, and when the trees fell, invasive plants thrived in the sunlight that reached the forest floor. The city applied for a grant to pay for removal of the fallen trees and destruction of the invasive species and was recently able to contract with a company to do the job. After that work is finished, volunteers will be sought to help put in new trees and other plants in the bare areas.
Invasive non-native plants are an enormous problem in Pinellas, and they threaten many of the county's preserves and environmental lands. With government budgets and staffs being reduced, it would be easy for local governments to put off the labor-intensive job of ridding these public lands of species like Brazilian pepper and replanting native plant species. However, the longer the work is delayed, the worse the problem will become, until our parks and preserves will become impenetrable thickets that no longer resemble native Florida landscapes.
Congratulations to Dunedin for finding a way to get the work funded in one of its most precious places.
What is this, a contest to see which public officials can stay awake the longest?
The Belleair Town Commission met Tuesday night with only one major item on its agenda: reviewing and voting on the preliminary plans and variance requests for the proposed restoration and expansion of the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel.
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. It ended at 3 a.m.
No one fell asleep. But there was a lot of crankiness exhibited in the meeting hall as the hour grew later. No wonder. Meeting attendees had to sit on hard metal folding chairs.
Last month, the Tarpon Springs City Commission convened one of its regular meetings at 6:30 p.m. Eight hours later, just after 2:30 a.m., the meeting was adjourned. The commissioners tackled several controversies on the agenda before launching into an unexpected three-hour debate on whether to replace their city manager.
Though very lengthy, neither of these meetings broke the local record for marathon nighttime sessions. That record is held by the Tarpon commission of 2005, which met for 12 hours and 25 minutes — from just after 6 p.m. on one day until 6:45 a.m. the next day — before approving a controversial Wal-Mart Supercenter project. People who cared were still sitting in the audience as the sun rose over Tarpon Springs City Hall that morning.
We demand a lot of the candidates who run for local government offices. We grill them about their positions on the issues and their backgrounds, and we expect them to be smart, informed and show good judgment.
Perhaps we also need to find out about their capacity for staying awake through all-night meetings.