SRIA MELODRAMA It was a full house on Feb. 9 for the Santa Rosa Island Authority board meeting. Many came to see the showdown between Five Flags Tourism Group and the board over the group’s request to move their DeLuna Fest concert to the first weekend of October 2011. There were no fireworks. Whatever conflicts that existed two weeks ago between the SRIA and the concert organizers had apparently healed.
When it came time to discuss DeLuna Fest, Chairman Ed Guernsey let Five Flags Tourism Group co-founder Scott Wheatley address the board: “While you are coming up, I want to say thank you very much for the nice card that you sent to me last week; I really appreciate your comments—sincerely, thank you.”
This is the same Ed Guernsey who had strongly suggested that the organizers pay off the Santa Rosa Triathlon and other groups that also wanted to host events on the first weekend of October, if DeLuna Fest had any chance of moving their event to the same weekend.
Wheatley apologized, “I would just like to say that our intentions for changing the date were pure of heart. We did not want to push anybody around, we did not want to squash anybody, and we felt there were economic advantages for everybody to do so. That being said, it did cause quite a bit of problems. And, we do apologize for that.”
Then cryptically, Wheatley said, “We have decided that, after looking at all of our options, we found a new way to improve DeLuna Fest and we are looking for the same weekend that we had last year, last October.”
He said they had a new plan that needed a couple days to review with SRIA and that they would announce it on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“Thank you very much, Scott,” said Guernsey. “We are thrilled you are going to be keeping it on Pensacola Beach.”
“Thrilled to be here, we love it,” replied Wheatley, who then left the meeting without answering any questions from the media.
Tuesday, Feb 15 passed without any press conference by Five Flags Tourism Group. Rumor has it that concert organizers may move the festival away from Casino Beach to another spot on Santa Rosa Island. Stay tuned.
BEYOND RECOVERY Speaking at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 9, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, talked about moving the Gulf Coast beyond recovery: “The task at hand in the Gulf is about recovery—recovery of the environment, recovery of the economy, recovery of equity and recovery of the vibrant spirit of the citizens of the Gulf.”
Lubchenco is one of the trustees who oversees the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process that guides the restoration of natural resources along the Gulf Coast. NOAA already has one NRDA project underway at Bayou La Batre. It’s to install submerged breakwater reef along two stretches of shoreline, protect more than 18 acres of habitat for submerged aquatic vegetation, and create almost two acres of oyster reef.
Escambia County has put together its wish list that totals $72 million. The biggest ticket items are $28 million for beach nourishment on Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key, $10 million to purchase additional public access areas and enhance public access to the beach, $10 million for stormwater upgrades and $10 million for the design and construction of 20 miles of stream and shoreline restoration projects in the Pensacola and Perdido Key watersheds.
Other items include $4 million for wetland restoration, $2 million for artificial reefs, $2 million for wildlife monitoring and $1 million for human health studies.
REWARDING TEACHERS State Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) was the superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County before he was elected to the Florida Senate. The IN asked him about the latest proposal to link teachers’ salaries to their students’ scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
“I believe teachers should be rewarded for doing an excellent job,” said Gaetz. “An excellent job isn’t just being fortunate to have the smartest students who score well on a test. An excellent job is taking on a tough challenge with disabled kids or kids that are behind the curve academically and helping them progress as much as they can progress.”
Gaetz believes any bill that ties compensation to test a student’s progress must take into account the student’s capabilities. “Progress for a student with an 80 I.Q. is different than progress for a student in the International Baccalaureate program.”
However, Gaetz does believe in rewarding teachers who make a discernable difference. “I don’t think test scores are the only way to evaluate that,” said Gaetz. He has backed legislation in the past that establishes that half of any performance-based pay plan be based on objective indices that are standardized and statewide.
“But there is much more involved here,” said Gaetz. “We need a system that helps a child who grew up in a house without a bookshelf and (for that child to) be able to get into an AP class and do well.
“We need to reward school districts that open doors to more students taking more rigorous academic courses.”
MORE FEINBERG Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, told the IN that there is an appeal process for claims under the Oil Pollution Control Act, but rarely has a claim decision been overturned.
“If there is anybody over the past five months who feels that they have been denied eligibility or have been granted eligibility but have not been paid what they think is fair, they always have the right to appeal immediately, or 90 days from the filing of their claim, to the Coast Guard,” said Feinberg. “The Coast Guard has received 507 appeals from Pensacola and elsewhere. In every single appeal so far, everyone so far, the Coast Guard has agreed with GCCF.”
The IN also asked Feinberg about community banks along the Gulf Coast that have been hit hard by bank regulators because the value of the properties that they have as collateral have declined sharply.
“As I’ve said before—no business, no profession, no occupation is automatically disqualified because of status,” said Feinberg. “Whether a claimant is going to provide enough documentation to justify a claim is another question. If the banks have claims, I will look at it.”