Discover more from Stet Media Group
🚦 SR7 at crossroads
☀️ Cue the sun! How about this weather? For you today, a high-stakes trial for West Palm Beach; Lake O on the rise; quiz answer; and a weekend film festival.
Today’s newsletter is a 5-minute read.
🚧 State Road 7 extension on trial
Decades in the making, the knock-down, drag-out courtroom fight over the extension of State Road 7 next to West Palm Beach’s Grassy Waters Preserve began Monday in the main hearing room at the South Florida Water Management District’s headquarters.
On one side before Administrative Law Judge Francine Ffolkes, lawyers from West Palm Beach. On the other, lawyers from the Florida Department of Transportation, Palm Beach County and the water management district.
They have nearly 2,000 exhibits and 100 witnesses ready to go.
At issue is the environmental resource permit granted in April 2021 by the water management district to allow FDOT to build the road in two phases from Okeechobee to Northlake boulevards.
The trial is expected to last three weeks but lawyers on Monday suggested it might go longer. They would extend it by pushing back a second, one-week trial on the project’s water use permit scheduled to start Nov. 13.
A ruling likely is months away.
Both sides have engaged private law firms. For FDOT, Fred Aschauer of West Palm-based Lewis, Longman & Walker. For West Palm, Edward de la Parte of Tampa firm de la Parte, Gilbert, McNamara & Caldevilla.
Why it’s important: The road has long been promised to The Acreage, a bedroom community of more than 15,000 homes, as an alternative to Royal Palm Beach Boulevard and other roads. But it’s opposed by West Palm Beach because it would run along the west side of the city’s surface water source, the 23-square-mile Grassy Waters Preserve.
Yes, but: In a city of key voting blocs, West Palm politicians have long known never to cross residents of the 1,850-home Ibis Golf and Country Club, who opposed the road as it would run for three miles on the community’s eastern edge.
What would be built? The first phase calls for widening SR7 from two to four lanes from Okeechobee Boulevard to 60th Street. The second calls for building a new four-lane road from 60th Street to Northlake.
Work would have started this year but with the permit under challenge, FDOT pushed the project back to 2029. It would have cost $87 million in 2023 but FDOT puts the future cost at $134 million.
🐟 Lake O inches higher, risk of harmful algae release grows
💧The number to watch as algae-plagued Lake Okeechobee rises: 16.5.
To offset flooding risk, the Army Corps of Engineers has signaled 16.5 feet is the benchmark depth for a possible discharge of Lake O waters.
As of Monday, Lake O was at 16.3 feet, according to the Corps.
Why we care: Lake O discharges are linked to toxic algae crises. Marine industries, small businesses and tourism spots pepper county waterfronts. Residents live at the edge of canals likely to be on the receiving end of Lake O’s discharges. All depend on clean, safe waterways.
But Lake O is awash in algae.
In June, a bloom covered more than half of its 740 square miles. Now 100 square miles, it is still more than 10 percent of the lake’s size.
Samples taken throughout the summer — and one taken as recently as Oct. 4 — found the algae contains toxins capable of killing pets and wildlife and sickening humans.
The same toxins have previously flowed into local waterways in Lake O discharges.
In 2016, businesses in Martin County shuttered. Beaches closed. In 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency declaration for seven counties. In 2021, Palm Beach County’s Department of Health issued back-to-back health warnings for multiple canals and waterways winding through residential neighborhoods.
Better news: “We are at the tail end of the rainy season,” said Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades. Drier weather would slow or reduce lake levels. Fall robs algae of warmth and sunlight.
The $1.5 billion fortification of the Herbert Hoover Dike has left the flood-minded Corps less “trigger happy,” said Samples, who is cautiously optimistic a release can be avoided.
Yes, but: There’s still seven weeks of hurricane season ahead. And lower water levels won’t solve the twin problems of fertilizer runoff from nearby sugar cane farms and a network of failing septic tanks.
🍹 The juice
🎵 Singer/songwriter and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, who died Sept. 1, filed his will in Palm Beach County last month, but it does not contain a public inventory of his assets. (The New York Times 🎁) You can read the will here.
🎖️ PBIA ranks No. 4 on a new list of favorite U.S. airports. (Conde Nast)
📈 NextEra Energy stock watch: The wild ride of the past two weeks may be slowing for the Juno Beach parent company of Florida Power & Light. NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE) closed Monday at $54.37; a far cry from its 52-week high of $88.61, but still higher than this month’s $47.15.
📚Quiz answer: 1,406 is a whole lotta books
Last week we asked: How many Florida book ban cases were reported for the 2022-2023 school year?
PEN America’s Florida numbers: 1,406 book ban cases, easily eclipsing former front-runner Texas (625) and Missouri (333).
PEN’s definition of a book ban case includes not only previously accessible books being removed, but challenges that lead to access restrictions.
“Florida isn’t an anomaly,” wrote Kasey Meehan, lead author of Pen America’s recent report on growing book censorship in schools. “It’s providing a playbook for other states.”
PEN plans to open a Florida center by year's end to oversee anti-censorship campaigns here.
Spearheading the effort: Best-selling author Michael Connelly and his wife, Linda.
“We have been astonished to see books ripped off the shelves and students forced into the middle of a fight they didn’t ask for or deserve,” said Connelly in a statement.
The couple has donated $1 million. Another $2.6 million has been raised from other authors with blockbuster titles to their name, including those whose works have been targeted in Florida: Jodi Picoult (“19 Minutes”), Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”), Amanda Gorman (“The Hill We Climb”) and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”).
Closer to home: The Florida Freedom to Read Project last month wrote about the Palm Beach County 13: Books restricted, then returned, to shelves.
🍿 561 insider: 69 films in three days
Carol Strick of West Palm Beach has been curating prison art since 1994. Her journey is captured in a documentary that will kick off the second annual Subculture Film Festival this weekend.
“Ask Her About The Art,” local filmmaker Karin Dakkon’s first documentary, will be shown at the Norton Museum of Art on Friday as part of the museum’s popular Art After Dark program.
But that’s not all: The festival features 69 films and continues Saturday and Sunday at the G-Star School of the Arts, 2030 S. Congress Ave., Palm Springs. Cost to attend is $20 and includes an open bar.
Other films: “Pomp and Circumstance,” a sarcastic homage to ‘60s underground cinema and ‘90s indies; “Manifest,” about a man looking after a rural house who unknowingly manifests his greatest fear; and “Monarcas,” in which two Guatemalan day laborers in Homestead are transformed by their fight against wage theft.
The headliner: As Joe Capozzi relates at ByJoeCapozzi.com, Dakkon’s film highlights how prisoners create art from raw materials (ketchup and mustard to make paint). But it’s also a personal story for Dakkon, 29.
Growing up in West Palm Beach, he spent much of his childhood at Strick’s house, crammed with the prison artwork that inspired the film.
Dakkon and Strick will speak after the screening and prison art will be on display.
As it’s made by a West Palm Beach filmmaker about a West Palm Beach woman, “Ask Her About The Art" is a perfect kickoff for the festival, said Noelia Solange, the film fest’s co-director.
“We are trying to bridge the gap between West Palm Beach and Miami and Fort Lauderdale and bring the counties together and start making interesting waves around the country,’’ Solange said. “That local homegrown focus was very intentional and very much in partnership with our entire goal as a festival, which is to highlight South Florida filmmakers and South Florida stories.’’
🏈 So close: Joel thought for a few minutes Sunday night that the New York Giants might amount to something and knock off the Dolphins’ reviled rivals from Buffalo. But for lack of one yard at the end of each half, the Giants maintained their losing ways. The Dolphins, meanwhile, took care of business defeating the winless Carolina Panthers, 42-21, to remain in first place, one game ahead of Buffalo.
We are supported by our paid and free subscribers. Please help us grow by sharing this newsletter.
Do you have a story idea or a news tip? Reply to this email or write to firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us.