Inside track on toll roads | July 5
Connect dots on sleazy dealings
I appreciate this attempt by the Times to alert the public to what may rank as one of the most sordid tales in Florida's history. First, Billy Buzzett plays a leading role in dismantling growth management while serving as director of the Department of Community Affairs. Then, Chris Corr helps rubber-stamp Florida Polytechnic while serving as a member of the Board of Governors. Who could be more qualified to craft a transportation vision for Florida's future than this dynamic duo of political insiders?
Your article noted that Polytechnic would be located near the northern end of the proposed Heartland Parkway; explained that the Heartland project was awarded $31 million for design work by the 2012 Legislature; and listed 10 of the major landowners that Buzzett and Coor will "interview" for their thoughts about the proposed highways. These landowners stand to profit tremendously from development of the Future Corridors.
You made it possible to see how the many threads come together to weave a tale of dirty politics, but you failed to tie off one critically important dangling thread. Alico was one of the 10 large landowners you listed. The people of Florida should understand that Alico is none other than JD Alexander, the budget chief who strong-armed creation of Polytechnic and put forward the budget that included the Heartland funding.
Does anybody out there still fail to see that our state government has become little more than a tool for the shameless pursuit of narrow self-interest?
Eugene Kelly, Brooksville
Scientists look to get funds from oil spill fine July 6
Funds will help to protect, revive Gulf of Mexico
Tucked into the massive federal transportation bill recently passed by Congress was the Restore Act. In a remarkable display of bipartisanship, Gulf Coast legislators convinced their colleagues of the importance of reviving and protecting the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystems following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The Restore Act provides a formula for the use of 80 percent of the fines that BP and other responsible parties will pay. Given the billions of dollars likely from the final settlement, their use in the gulf provides a historic opportunity to address long-standing ecological problems as well as additional degradation to marine resources owing to Deepwater Horizon.
In Florida, we need to protect relatively pristine sea grass meadows in the Big Bend region, restore mangroves along the west coast, and protect beaches and salt marshes in the Panhandle, among other priorities.
A total of 5 percent of the funding will be used by Florida and other gulf scientists to develop an observing system that will allow us to better monitor the health of fisheries populations, ecosystems and environmental conditions that constantly vary. Addressing long-standing needs to better assess fish stocks should provide more precise and timely information upon which commercial and recreational fishers and fishery managers depend. Enhanced ocean science also will allow more informed debate on the merits of oil and gas exploration in gulf waters off Florida.
William Hogarth, director, Florida Institute of Oceanography; and Steven Murawski, Peter Betzer Endowed Chair of Marine Science at USF, St. Petersburg
Schools must engage people as they are July 9, commentary
Fix policies that hurt boys
Heartfelt thanks to David Brooks for his piece on how boys, as a population, are failing to thrive in school. As the mother of an energetic, joyful and exploratory little boy, I have seen firsthand that many boys attract negative attention beginning on their first day of preschool because the culture, structure of the day, and behavioral expectations favor girls. For many, this trend continues throughout their K-12 educational career, where normal boy behavior is effectively pathologized, which over time can result in the disengagement from school that Brooks highlights.
It isn't easy to be an educator, particularly with so many county, state and federal mandates coming at teachers and administrators from all directions. Among other things, these mandates have resulted in a more sedentary school day with the elimination of recess. Policies like this don't just hurt boys, they adversely affect all children. But we know a lot more now about the plight of our boys, and we simply must find ways to be more "boy-friendly" and inclusive if we are to salvage their educational futures.
Aunna Elm, Palm Harbor
Signs of the times
I regularly run marathons, and as an added challenge I enjoy training on trails in Pinellas County. Our trails are well-kept and safe, but I'm aware that when budgets get tightened, maintenance of recreational areas is often one of the first things to get cut. I support recently passed legislation that allows sponsored signage in Florida's seven state-owned trails, because it provides a steady stream of revenue to keep the trails runner-friendly.
Even though we don't have a state-owned trail in St. Petersburg, I think Pinellas County should consider allowing trail sponsorship, as suggested by a citizens' committee in April, with the same strict guidelines for size, wording and location of the sponsorship markers as the state legislation dictates. The trails will benefit from the revenue, but they will still retain their natural beauty, making them safe and pleasing for my fellow runners.
Anna Mixon, St. Petersburg
Markets need oversight
The global financial crisis, JPMorgan's $2 billion trading loss, and now the LIBOR scandal demonstrate that deregulation does not work. How can anyone have confidence in deregulated financial markets or politicians who constantly endorse such policies? Until there is better oversight of the financial industry, I'll place no more of my limited savings in markets that appear to be manipulated to enrich the rich.
Joe Whetstone, Valrico
Calif. bullet train advances | July 7
Bad idea for Florida
Flat-broke California liberals not only have busted their state, they want everyone to go belly up. So once again they yell "hogs to the trough," since they don't know the word "no."
Thank goodness Gov. Rick Scott understood what a bad investment a high-speed train would have been for Florida as he provides new ideas to balance the state's budget.
Bob Kinder, St. Petersburg