Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 6/29/17

What’s That Smell The heavy rains brought to the area by Tropical Storm Cindy overwhelmed the stormwater system one block from Pensacola City Hall.

Dr. Gloria Horning reported to the city’s 3-1-1 service that raw sewage was flowing from a manhole cover on South Devilliers Street. City officials were unresponsive, according to Horning.

The Escambia County Utilities Authority’s Tim Haag reported that the cause of raw sewage overflowing in the Tanyard neighborhood west of City Hall was the result of a deluge of stormwater into its wastewater treatment system.

Emerald CoastKeeper Director Laurie Murphy reported feces, vomit, toilet paper and other untreated sludge flooding DeVilliers Street from Main to Government streets. The contaminated water was so high Wednesday, June 22, that Horning used her own car to block the roadway and rescued an old lady trapped in her vehicle in the flood waters.

Murphy questioned the city’s commitment to cleaning up the Tanyard neighborhood, pointing out four stormwater outfalls exist for the area bordered by Main and Garden streets. She also cited low roadways and other issues.

“Engineers need to do a study on ways to solve this problem,” Murphy said. “It’s like the city paid all their money on entertainment and forgot to pay the bills. If I was mayor, my first priority would be the health and welfare of the citizens and resolving the infrastructure problems we have.”

Inweekly obtained an email exchange between ECUA board member Lois Benson and ECUA Executive Director Steve Sorrell regarding the health hazard.

Sorrell told Benson, “The City of Pensacola stormwater system failed and overflowed into and overwhelmed our sanitary sewer system. Our pump station did not fail, and neither did any our downtown systems …The City system failed and drained stormwater into our system.”

He further explained, “The downtown streets were flooded because of a failed stormwater system. This surplus stormwater drained via manholes and other openings into the ECUA sanitary system causing our sanitary sewer system to surcharge. Our pumps and pipes worked perfectly, but will never be able to control that amount of drained stormwater.”

The city officials did not return Inweekly’s calls but did post the following on the city’s Facebook page:

“You may or may not have seen reports of breached manhole covers, raw sewage flooding the Tanyard area, and inaccurate reports of the City of Pensacola stormwater system failing.

“These claims are incorrect. In fact, properly securing manhole covers is an ECUA function. The stormwater system did not fail. The system reached capacity and was overwhelmed due to the nine inches of rain in the last 48 hours. No stormwater system is expected to properly function under those extreme conditions.

“Again, the downtown streets were flooded not because of a failed stormwater system. It was because we received nearly nine inches of rain in 48 hours.”

By Friday afternoon, ECUA workers had cleaned and applied a biocide to the area. Haig told Murphy that Tanyard overflow was the only one experienced inside city limits.

Navy Wants OLF-8 Swap In a special county commission meeting June 19, the board voted 5-0 to move forward with the multimillion-dollar land exchange between Escambia County and the U.S. Navy involving OLF-8 in the Beulah area.

Congressman Matt Gaetz and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Facilities Jim Balocki asked the commissioners for final documentation of the exchange that has been in the works for decades.

“The ask of the county is to contemplate the cost of the project given the reduction and new requirements and for the board to memorialize any changes made to put us on a better path to continue forward,” Balocki said. “I also think it’s hopeful that we started to move in the right direction to reduce cost for the taxpayers by $1 million to $2 million.”

The Navy was authorized to make the swap thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. But Gaetz, Balocki and county commissioners finally confirmed the details despite the swap’s $5.5 million gap the county must cover to complete the project.

“When we speak of the remaining gap, some of that is the consequence of inflation,” Gaetz said. “We’re building in a lot of different places in Escambia so the cost of labor has gone up. And the gap isn’t the county’s fault or the Navy’s fault.”

He added, “So with our legal teams working on making final changes, my hope is we can move forward.”

The OLF-8 will be used to promote growth in the private sector, while OLF-X in Santa Rosa County will be used as a helicopter pilot training for the Navy.

“I’ve supported the project since it started,” Commissioner Lumon May said. “I am a big advocate for manufacturing jobs, and although this is not in my district, these jobs will help all of Escambia County.”

OLF-8 is in Commissioner Jeff Bergosh’s district. Bergosh campaigned to complete the land swap and won the three-candidate GOP primary by 11 percentage points. He asked the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, “Is this something the Navy wants?”

“Let me say, unequivocally, yes,” Balocki replied. “This would help training at Whiting Field; it helps our aviators, it helps our national security. It helps provide strength for our nation. What more do you need?”

Commission chair Doug Underhill, who has criticized the project and its supporters, expressed concern that while the project is mutually beneficial for both Escambia County and the U.S Navy, Escambia County is the only partner investing dollars in the deal.

“This is a unique arrangement, it’s a one-off if you will,” Balocki said. “But it’s a mutual advantage. Yes, it’s a one-sided equation in terms of the cost, but I’m anticipating the county expects a lot out of this development, and it will result in revenue that will enhance employment and economic development.”

Commissioner Underhill has told county staff that he voted for the project so that he bring the issue back up later.

More Trolleys for Air Show Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA) hopes to decongest traffic during the Pensacola Beach Air Show by increasing public transportation along the island that weekend.

On Friday, July 7, the SRIA’s three, free open-air trolleys will begin transporting patrons starting at 9 a.m. The trip circles Casino Beach from Park East, located at lot 29.5 along CR 399 approximately 1.5 miles east of the Portofino Resort towers, and Park West, located at lot 21N on Fort Pickens Road just before the entrance to the National Seashore.

On Saturday, July 8, the SRIA will have buses in addition to the open-air trolleys running along the island. Service will begin Saturday at 6 a.m. Eight buses will depart from Park West, and five buses will depart from Park East. Both routes will travel back and forth to Casino Beach throughout the day. Busing service ends at 6 p.m.

Passengers will only be picked up and dropped off at the SRIA’s designated trolley stops.

The three open-air trolleys will resume normal operations again at 5 p.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday. And the busing services will end at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Santa Rosa Island Authority provides the free trolleys and Escambia County Area Transit does the expert driving. More information can be found at visitpensacolabeach.com/trolley-information.

Coughlin Selected Mayor Ashton Hayward will have to replace another key employee.

His assistant airport director, Matthew Coughlin, has been selected to fill the vacant Escambia County Assistant County Administrator position. Coughlin’s duties will include oversight of departments and their strategic plans, along with development of clear performance benchmarks to meet the commission’s objectives.

Coughlin joins current Assistant County Administrator Amy Lovoy, as the two most senior positions under County Administrator Jack Brown. His first day with the county is Monday, July 24. He replaces former Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons who left the county for a similar position at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office late last year.

“It is an honor to be selected,” Coughlin said in a county a press release. “I hope that my experience and enthusiasm to serve can help advance the county’s mission to enhance the quality of life for all its citizenry.”

At the Pensacola International Airport, Coughlin was responsible for the daily management of the Small Hub FAA part 139 certified airport, with a $26 million budget. Prior to his time with the city, he had a successful 24-year career as a Naval officer and aviator. His final tour was as Naval Air Station Whiting Field’s base commanding officer from 2011 to 2014.

While at Whiting, he oversaw a workforce of more than 3,000 personnel and managed an infrastructure that encompasses over 13,000 acres of property and 4,500 nautical square miles of airspace and airfields that equated to 14 percent of all Naval flight hours flown worldwide.

A native of Greenfield, Massachusetts, Coughlin holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Western New England University, a Master of Science in management from the Naval Post Graduate School and a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University.

Over 250 applications for the assistant county administrator position were received, and 10 people were interviewed.

Not a Good Sign The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is projected to be about the size of Vermont, according to researchers.

Each year a hypoxic water mass forms in the bottom water layers of the northern Gulf of Mexico continental shelf. The low oxygen conditions threaten the ecosystem and inherently all who consume fish, shrimp, and crabs.

Nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, fertilize the Gulf’s surface waters, which creates excessive amounts of algal biomass. That biomass decomposes and becomes the bottom layer, which leads to oxygen distress and even organism death in the Gulf’s richest waters. Various models use the May nitrogen load of the Mississippi River to predict the size of this July’s hypoxic zone. This prediction is based on one of these models.

The predicted hypoxic area is about the size of Vermont and 93 percent larger than the average of all years, including years with storms. Efforts to reduce the nitrate loading have been unsuccessful. And if the area of hypoxia becomes as large as predicted, it will equal about five times the size of the goal of the Hypoxia Action Plan.

The Gulf Restoration Network called the prediction “disheartening, to say the least, especially in the light of the Trump Administration’s attempts to dismantle our environmental laws.”

In the press release, GRN spokespersons said, “A Dead Zone that is predicted to be five times the goal of the Hypoxia Taskforce is a wake-up call. If we are going to fix the Dead Zone, we need a combination of strong pollution protections, dedicated funding, and corporate accountability.”

Death Penalty Sought State Attorney William Eddins said in a press conference June 20, his office would seek the death penalty for 38-year-old Robert Letroy Howard who was arrested earlier this month for the murder of Naomi Jones.

On June 5, Jones’ body was found in Eight Mile Creek in Pensacola after she had been reported missing for almost a week.

“This is a very serious decision,” Eddins said. “But we don’t commonly see 12-year-olds kidnapped and killed. That was a real factor in our decision.”

Howard is being charged with first-degree murder as well as kidnapping. He is also a repeated sex offender, which added to the request for the death penalty.

“The defendant in this case was previously charged in Alabama with other offences,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said. “They both involve sexual, violent offences by the use of force to individual that were under the age of 18.”

The Escambia County Grand Jury indictment stated the official cause of death was suffocation and/or other homicidal violence. Eddins would not confirm whether Jones was sexually abused before or after her death.

Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen has been assigned to prosecute the case having previous experience trying death penalty cases. The trial will take place between 18 and 24 months from now.

Eddins added that the final jury vote must be unanimous to ensue the death penalty.

“This is probably the most emotional type of case we receive,” Eddins said. “It is my understanding that the Jones family is pleased we have obtained the indictment and are proceeding with the death penalty, so we feel like this is the appropriate decision.”

Short Films Sought The organizers of the Kite Film Fest are seeking short film submissions for their second annual festival set for Nov. 11 at Club LA in Destin.

Short films of all genres are welcome, however, they must be either in or subtitled in English. To submit, email KiteFilmFest@gmail.com with a downloadable link, a brief description, running time, and the submitter’s contact information. There is no charge for submissions.

The deadline for submission is Sept. 1. Shorts will be reviewed by a committee, and then the selections will be notified and screened as part of Kite Film Fest.