Tampa Bay Businesses Seeking Drivers

Tampa Bay Businesses Seeking Drivers

Tampa Bay Businesses Seeking Drivers

Tampa News No Comments

If your boss is driving you crazy, you might be thinking of finding a new job. You might consider driving for self-employment income. It has the benefit of being work you can do outside of work hours to see if you should pursue it full-time. There are many Tampa Bay businesses who are looking for drivers who will work as self-employed individuals. These four types of jobs will open up the road to your self-employed spirit.

Delivery Drivers

You might be thinking you’re too old to work as a pizza delivery driver, but there are places that you can work that aren’t your traditional delivery driver positions. Sites like Monster, Indeed and Jobs.com have delivery driver jobs that don’t require you to be an employee. Amazon is getting in on the action too. With their promises of delivering items quick, Amazon has delivery jobs for local drivers through Amazon Flex. They promise $18 to $25 per hour for deliveries.

Couriers

As a courier, you’re delivering packages from one location to another. Many companies have the need for this service from lawyers to realtors. You have the option of working for yourself and garnering your own customers or working as an independent contractor with a larger company. They both have their pitfalls. If you work for yourself, you are responsible for all your advertising and marketing to find businesses in need of your services. When working for someone else, you’re at the whim of their policies and procedures. You can check out Courier Express to become an independent contractor.

Uber or Lyft Driver

There’s been much on the news about these two ridesharing companies. Independent workers use their own vehicles to pick up and drop off passengers. They are paid by the company for this service. The company bills the riders and transfers payments to the driver. There are some rules in place for this service. Drivers have to have a great driving record, have been driving for at least 3 years and have a vehicle that is newer than 2001 depending on the city.

Moving Billboards

While this isn’t a job by itself, people who drive a lot for work or take one of the jobs above, they can become a moving billboard. There are plenty of businesses in the Tampa area willing to pay drivers to carry signs on their cars in exchange for money or gas cards. If you’re doing a ton of driving each month, wearing a billboard on your car or truck can help you pay for the gas involved. You’re essentially renting out ad space on your car. The business will supply the magnetic signs to stick to your vehicle.

If you have a car and love to drive, one of these driving jobs might be right for you. You can set your own hours. In the case of Uber and Lyft, driving people after work or on weekends are the peak hours for making money. You may decide you love it so much that you’d be willing to quit your current job.

Best Kid-Friendly Weekend Activities in Tampa

Tampa News No Comments

We all struggle with that sinking feeling accompanied by, “What am I going to do with the kids this weekend?” You want to plan an elaborate, fun-filled kid-friendly weekend full of activities. We’ve got you covered. Here are some of the best weekend activities with the kids in the Tampa Bay area:

1. Adventure Island

A water park is a great way to beat the heat and get the kids (and you) having a blast.

2. The Big Red Balloon

Take the kids for a ride in a hot air balloon this weekend. No, really- right here in Tampa!

3. DFAC Children’s Art Museum

Spend an educational weekend with the kids at one of Tampa’s best children’s museums.

4. Big Cat Rescue

Tour Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue and get up close and personal with some REALLY big cats!

5. Bay Area Renaissance Festival

Dress up, eat some turkey legs, and cheer on knights with your kids at the Bay Area Ren Fest.

6. Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise

Most kids have a pirate phase. Make a weekend experience they’ll never experience and take them on a real pirate cruise that’s perfect for families.

7. Weeki Wachee’s Mermaid Show

Not into pirates? Bet your kids would love to see a mermaid right here in Tampa.

8. Tampa Theatre

Tampa Theatre has regular kids’ shows that are perfect for a rainy Florida weekend indoors.

9. Heritage Village

Step into a history with this historically accurate village and sneak in some weekend learning while having fun!

10. Busch Gardens

Don’t overthink it. Take the kids to Busch Gardens, ride every ride twice, and eat a bunch of junk food.

11. Lowry Park Zoo

One of the best zoos in the country is located right here in Tampa- get wild!

12. TECO Line Streetcars

Ride in one of Tampa’s historic streetcars and give the kids one of those fun “first” experiences.

13. Spinner’s Rotating Restaurant

For a special dinner, take the family to Spinner’s and take in a gorgeous 360-degree view of Tampa like no other.

14. Dinosaur World

How many kids can say they saw a giant (animatronic) dinosaur up close? Take your little paleontologists to explore Dinosaur World.

15. Paleo Discoveries

Speaking of ancient history, your kids can go hunting for fossils at Tampa’s Paleo Discoveries this weekend.

16. The Florida Aquarium

Another kid-friendly gem that’s located right here in Tampa, the Florida Aquarium is a surefire way to make a memorable weekend activity fun for the kids.

17. Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center

There aren’t many kids in the U.S. that can take a weekend trip to see manatees in the wild. Your kids are lucky. Teach them more about Tampa’s ecosystem and foster an appreciation for the environment.

18. Ghost Tours of Historic Tampa

Want to scare the daylights out of the kids? Take them on a ghost tour just in time for Halloween. They’ll probably be way braver than you.

19. Tampa Bay Water Bike Company

That’s right- a water bike. Tour Tampa a new way with the kids this weekend.

20. Drive-In Movies in Tampa

You’d be surprised at the number of old-fashioned drive-in movie theatres in the Tampa Bay area. Pack up the car and let the kids experience a piece of iconic American history together.

Tampa’s Best Locals-Only Spots

Tampa News No Comments

Tampa hasn’t always been at the heart of Florida tourism. Competing with markets like Miami and Orlando, Tampa was left in relative peace as a place where locals could simply enjoy everything the city has to offer without having to fight tourists to get in. More and more people are headed down toward Tampa these days, but the locals only scene still survives, and it’s the key some of Tampa’s biggest and best. If you’re really looking to do Tampa like a local, here are some of best spots off the tourist trail:

Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que

Alright, so this one isn’t the most hidden spot in the city, but it’s worth the mention. Why? Because it’s everything barbeque should be. Diners have their choice of chicken, pork, sausage, turkey, beef, or ribs, and a variety of sides from the classic mac and cheese to the why-don’t-they-serve-this-everywhere yellow rice and chicken. These guys know what real barbeque should be. They slow cook their meat in a smoker out front, they dry rub their meats and use a Tennessee-style tomato-based sauce, and they cook absolutely everything fresh. With all apologies to Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and the Carolinas, this might just be the best barbeque out there.

Fred Howard Park

You’re going to have to go a bit outside of Tampa if you’re looking for a great beach, but if you can manage the 30 mile trip to Tarpon Springs, you’ll find an island connected by causeway that’s nothing but beach and sun. It’s not going to look like an undiscovered beach when you get there, but the crowds are true Floridians, the type that are spoilt for choice when it comes to surf and sun, and still regularly choose to come back. The bulk of the park is beach, with plenty of space for sunbathing and swimming, along with rentals for kayaks and paddleboats. Sunsets here are legendary, and if you’re out in the water long enough, you’re likely to meet some friendly marine life. Seahorses, starfish, and some of Florida’s most unique seabirds all frequent the area.

Cigar City Brewing

Every city seems to have an overabundance of craft breweries these days, and Tampa is no exception. Cigar City outshines in two ways. First, they don’t shy away from bold beers. In places like Florida, it’s easy enough to get away with making everything light and fruity. After all, it’s hot and a crisp, cold beer is one of the best remedies out there for endless summers. Cigar City has those, but they also have things like an imperial stout flavored with coconut and berries, and a German-style sour with salt and coriander. Add onto that their brewpub just around the corner, with dishes like yucca fries, shrimp and grits, and ropa vieja, and you get a much better taste of Tampa there than you would at any other brewery in town.

Datz

There’s a slight sense of self-denial in Tampa, the kind that has the city looking to seem more like The Keys than another Gulf city, but a Gulf city is what it is, and at Datz, they embrace Southern-inspired soul food that has long been a tradition in the north of the state. Choose from dishes like a chicken and waffles BLT, mac and cheese stuffed meat loaf, and stone cut grits, or go for something more adventurous like a head of buffalo cauliflower. Wash it all down with some apple pie moonshine, and don’t forget some of their famous money bread for dessert.

Jet City Espresso

No matter where you are, it’s hard to beat a good cup of coffee. Jet City Espresso knows that, and they know their coffee, too. This walk up to go coffee counter is the type of place where the Americano is every bit as revered as the flavored specialty drinks, and where you can get a Cuban style café con leche if you’re looking for a real kick. With two locations in the city, you can stop in for your daily fix at Hyde Park, or stay awhile and sip while you enjoy a house baked scone or fresh sandwich in Seminole Heights. Both locations are Paleo and gluten-free friendly, too, if that’s your kind of thing.

Crowbar

There’s no shortage of live music in Tampa, but if you’re looking for a locals-only spot that caters to all tastes, no place beats Crowbar. The venue regularly features a rotating lineup of rock, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, metal, ska, dubstep, and more. It’s tight, it’s crowded, and it’s strung with knickknacks hanging of string lights fastened to the ceiling. The bar selection is better than some places though nothing to write home about, but the service is on point. Most importantly, though, it’s a place to get completely overcome by the music. Take a break on the patio if you must, but don’t shy away from coming back in. Cover is always nominal, and the acts are always excellent.

Historic Kenwood

So, this is another not-technically-Tampa spot, but if you’re looking for a place to stay, take a peak just over Gandy Bridge at this historic St. Petersburg neighborhood. The area is filled with beautiful bungalows that date back to the 1920s, some of which you can rent out on AirBNB to live like a local during your vacation. The neighborhood is also filled with celebrations of the arts, and is an ideal retreat or daytrip for someone looking to do more than just sit in a hotel on their vacation.

Is Giving TIF Money to St. Petersberg Good for Floridians?

Tampa News No Comments

It’s time to rethink the way TIF money is being used in St. Petersburg. The tax increment financing in question was originally created in 1982, and is currently set to expire in 2032. But some city council members wonder if it’s past time to revisit the TIF district and put the money to better use; hopefully actually benefiting Floridians.

Tens of millions of dollars have already been thrown into the downtown beautification of St. Petersburg, while south St. Petersburg and other neighborhoods are suffering. City council members like Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton, and Karl Nurse have all expressed their concern over how the TIF money is being used. Their fear is that the TIF funds will all be dumped into minor (but expensive) projects in the downtown area when other parts of St. Petersburg need the money for more practical uses.

Some city council members say it’s time to consider winding down the potentially unnecessary TIF within the next five years, then refocus and restructure efforts on improving St. Petersburg. Others suggest keeping the TIF alive and well, but instead, set aside roughly $10 million to more urgent projects than sprucing up… such as much-needed sewer repairs.

Several city staff members recently estimated it would take $350 million to fix damaged and quickly aging pipes and make other necessary improvements to St. Petersburg’s sewer and drainage system. But starting with some of the TIF money could be a good start.

Just last month, heavy summer rains overloaded the city’s outdated drainage system so severely that they were forced to dump more than 16 million gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, as well as Boca Ciega Bay. So tell us again why we need new landscaping in downtown St. Petersburg when the bays are being covered in raw sewage?

According to St. Petersburg city council member Nurse, “It’s about trying to get downtown to carry its overhead, instead of downtown ‘pretty’ projects.”

When so many areas of St. Petersburg are combatting poverty, crime, homelessness, unemployment, and aging city systems that negatively impact the health and happiness of Floridians, many are having to receive car title loans just to get by. Nurse says the original TIF plans no longer make sense. He is one of the many who support reallocating some of the project funds to more sensible (if not as flashy) upgrades to the city.

Meanwhile, the newest additions to the downtown waterfront master plan is expected to require tens of millions more before it’s completed. The goal is to improve the St. Petersburg downtown area leading up to the Pier, which is also in need of TIF project funds. While this contributes to the beauty of St. Petersburg and encourages tourism and more high-rise development in the area, it’s not really contributing to the welfare of Floridians.

With more construction going up in the St. Petersburg downtown and pier district, and with more TIF-funded projects on the way in the same area, it might be time to revisit the St. Petersburg TIF plans. Winding it down or reallocating the existing money… whatever the solution, it’s more likely to improve the lives of lower-income Floridians than a new waterfront bike path aimed at the wealthy.

Tampa’s Year Round Festival Lifestyle

Tampa News No Comments

Tampa Bay is a place that has gorgeous weather year round, so it is no wonder this Florida location is a great place for travelers and locals alike. Because of the weather, you can attend a new festival almost every weekend. Floridians will give any excuse to have a good time, so of course this means that Tampa Bay is well known for their year round festivals. We will take a look
at some of the most popular festivals you can attend, throughout any season!

Winter

Many people dread the word winter because they think of snowy, cold weather. Tampa Bay has generally dry, mild winters. Some locals might claim it is freezing, but the Northern part of the United States finds it a great getaway in the winter months. During the holiday season you might like to attend one of the many outdoor festivals. The Rough Riders Parade and Santa Festival allows individuals the opportunity to watch a fun, holiday parade, followed by a Christmas Market, ice skating, and pictures with Santa. Another Christmas filled festival to attend in the winter months is the Winterville Festival. Kids can come take their picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus while other Christmas characters walk around. There is no shortage of hot cocoa and cider, while guests sit back and enjoy a holiday show.

Nearing the end of the winter season, why not attend the Gasparilla Pirate Festival? This festival takes place from the end of January to the middle of March. This festival gives tribute to Tampa Bay’s last known buccaneer, Jose Gaspar. Some even say his treasure is still buried along Tampa’s coast. Because this festival is a couple of months long, there is nearly something new
and fun, relating to pirates, every day. Adults and children alike will find fun in street parades, film festivals, and a farewell voyage back to sea by some local pirates!

Spring

In spring the weather begins to stay consistently warm, thus creating more outdoor festivals that are fun for all. Feeling artsy? The Tarpon Springs Fine Arts Festival, held in April gathers over 200 local and national artists, who can show off their work. Guests can view millions of art pieces for purchase, while watching live entertainment, and enjoying an assortment of food and drinks.

Another fun music festival, suitable for kids and adults, is the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. It will be held April 8-10 of this coming year. The event is held at the waterfront along downtown St. Petersburg. Musicians gather to sing and play exciting classic and new blues music. Of course no festival is complete without a variety of foods and premium beer. Local food favorites, such as Cuban cuisine, barbecue, and seafood, are all available at the Blues Festival. The festival continues for three days, so you have plenty of time to catch a great blues show.

Summer

Around the United States, summer is host to many food and music festivals around the country. Tampa Bay is no different. They are host to The Big Guava Music Festival. Last year’s acts featured Hozier, Pixies, Passion Pit, Ryan Adams and The Strokes, along with several other up and coming artists. This event is held at the Florida State Fairgrounds and MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater, and is a two day event. Next year’s lineup is sure to be as amazing as it was in 2015!

For beer drinkers there is the WaZoo Beer Fest, which was placed in the Top 10 Greatest Beer Festivals in the country! The event takes place at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Of course guests must be at least 21 years old to enter. A selection of over 275 beers and other drinks are available, as well as food and entertainment. For the safety of all involved, it is important to note, animals will not be on display during the event!

Fall

What a gorgeous time of year, especially if you live in Tampa Bay. With Halloween right around the corner, there are tons of festivals to celebrate this favorite season. If you want to attend a spooky and fun Halloween festival, then Guavaween Halloween Festival is in its 30th year. This year’s theme is based on a post-apocalyptic world. The event takes place at the Cuban Club Courtyard, and features plenty of fun for adults. There will be a costume contest, plenty of scary theatrics, and live entertainment. This is definitely a festival to attend if you love Halloween. Don’t forget the costume contest comes with a $1000 prize for the best costume!

If you are looking for a more family friendly event, visit the Pumpkin Palooza Family Fall Festival. This event will take place in the beginning of October and is located at the Northside Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. The best part about this festival is that it is free! A pumpkin patch, inflatable jumping station, arts & crafts station, face & hair painting station, and game station will all be set up for kids of all ages to enjoy. The only thing guests pay for is food and drink, which there is plenty of. If you are feeling generous, the church will be collecting boxed and canned food for those in need.

This is just a small sample of the types of festivals going on year round in Tampa Bay Florida. Visiting the Tampa Bay Tourist Bureau can help you find the exact festival you are looking for! When you are in Tampa Bay, you can never say there is nothing to do, because guaranteed, there is a festival any time of the year, perfect for you!

Tampa’s 3 Most Overrated Brewpubs

Tampa News No Comments

Tampa Bay is undergoing a craft beer explosion. That’s great news. We are choosing to drink good beer instead of bland, flavorless, watery macro brews from the big international beer conglomerates. However, with the good there is always some bad. Too many breweries are trying to cash in on the craze by stamping out the same line of tried and true boring beers coupled with pretentious service and paired with that horrible hipster attitude. The following three brewpubs have been selected by our panel of heavy beer drinkers as the most overrated, over-hyped, or just plain boring in the Tampa area. Keep in mind these places are not bad per se, especially when compared to macro beer one finds at a gas station. They are just the types of places that makes one ask “why did they bother brewing their own beer in the first place?”

St. Pete Brewing in St. Petersburg is new on the scene and has already been declared to be “the coolest in Tampa Bay“. The reason: beer is served in mason jars. They will even sell you an empty one for four bucks (not sure why anyone would buy one without beer inside). Patrons can also partake in such “cool” activities as playing an original Nintendo on premises. The entire thing is too gimmicky for our taste. The beer is okay but uninspired. The American Stout, for example, lacks body and head and the Summer Ale is drinkable but forgettable.

Sea Dog Brewing Co is an easy target. This multi-chain location stretches along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. Contrary to popular belief, we are not just picking this place because it’s a chain that crosses state lines. The beer is boring and unoriginal. From the Wheat Ale to the IPA to the seasonal and overdone pumpkin flavored ale, nothing is unique or worthy of a stand-alone brewing operation. The menu is even more generic: Buffalo Chicken sandwich, Caesar salad, you can probably guess the rest without even looking. The entire place is value-engineered and designed to appeal to the mass market: the antithesis of craft beer and everything it should be.

Coppertail Brewing Co in Ybor City is on the opposite side of Sea Dog on the brewery spectrum. Foregoing the restaurant concept altogether, Coppertail goes more for the “we are a beer factory” approach by featuring a “tasting room” in an industrial minimalist setting. It is the sort of place that beer snobs live for. It just so happens that beer snobbery annoys us almost as much as bad beer. Visitors are often greeted by a long night club-like line out the door in the middle of the afternoon, only to walk in and find empty tables. Some of the staff members have a “we are too good for you” aura. Most importantly, while the beer is good, it doesn’t warrant this level of artisanal snobbery. The Freedive IPA, for example, is a fairly standard take on a traditional beer and nothing worth standing in line for. On the plus side, they don’t accept Bitcoin.

Survivor of Mariel Boat Lift named HCC Dean of Students

Tampa News No Comments

By PENNY FLETCHER

Yaima Serrano’s story is somewhat like the one about President Abraham Lincoln growing up in a log cabin and studying law by candlelight.

It’s every bit as impressive because it shows how a child of refugees learned a new language and grew up to excel in a challenging field and now helps other students do the same.

Yaima Serrano has been named the new dean of Student Services at Hillsborough Community College’s South County campus. And that’s quite a change from her early life, which wasn’t easy. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the perseverance and fortitude of her parents, Vilma and Pedro Rodriguez, she could have ended up living in a tent in Cuba begging for food.

A survivor of the Mariel Boat Lift, now called by some the Freedom Flotilla, Serrano was one of the 125,000 Cubans who made it to Florida in 1980 between April 15 and Oct. 31 on small boats, rafts and anything else that would float.
She was a baby then, and now has no memory of the event, only the stories from her parents, who were also interviewed by email for this story.

“My mother was 17 and my dad was 21,” said Serrano in her HCC office with floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the front of the campus. “But even though they were married, in Cuba my mother still had to have the permission of her parents — my grandmother — before she could leave.”

Serrano’s office is a lifetime away from when she was taken below deck during the Mariel Boat Lift.

“The captain allowed my mother to take me below, because I was so young and people were vomiting.” There were no restroom facilities on most of the boats used in the lift either, so many got very ill.

Her parents remember that the weather was bad and the water very rough. But they said, “If we had to do it all over again we wouldn’t think twice. There’s nothing more important than a person’s freedom.”

Because of a poor economy amd people starving throughout Cuba, President Fidel Castro allowed more than 10,000 Cubans to take asylum with the Peruvian Embassy. But more had to be done.

An agreement between Cuba and the United States — and pressed by Latino Americans — gave permission for the boatloads of people to head from Cuba across the 90 miles of rough water to Key West.

Serrano’s parents were among the first to leave during the first month of the boatlift.

They were fortunate, they said, to be in a boat that had a captain. They said many people paddled on homemade rafts and anything else they could find or build.

When the boat riders first arrived, there were so many people there was no shelter for everyone, so many, including the Serranos, were sent to California with the help of churches. There were no real living quarters for them there either.

They said it was difficult to find even enough tents for so many people at once.

“My mother says it was just like the beginning of the movie Scarface, with tents and people everywhere” Serrano said.
Her parent’s early lives were instructive, she said, and taught her never to give up.

After only a few years of day labor, her father found a permanent job at Sears, and later he was able to transfer to Tampa.

“They feared the earthquakes in California,” she said. “Especially the big one, I think it was around 1987,” she said.

Her father later opened his own landscaping business and also worked as a subcontractor for Sears. He learned English on the job, but Serrano learned in school.

“I remember being in classes where they were speaking English and not knowing one word that was spoken,” she said.

Serrano said she can’t praise the ESOL (English as a Second Language) program enough. Gradually, the English words began to make sense.

“I still think in Spanish,” she said — without any accent or hesitation.

Four years after they arrived in the States, her brother Pedro was born. The family continued to progress, Serrano said, and that she was mentored by Virginia Perez, an educator. “She’ll never know what it meant to me to have someone help and mentor me so much,” she said.

Both Dr. Allen Witt, president of the South County college, and Kimberly French, community relations manager at HCC, praised Serrano. She was appointed dean pf Student Services on Jan. 17.

Each campus has two deans, and Dr. Craig Hardesty is academic dean.

A letter from Dr. Witt explains to the faculty that Serrano was chosen after serving as assistant dean under the campus’s founding dean of student services, Steven Stancil.

“Ms. Serrano has served the college for more than 13 years in progressively responsible positions of Student Services,” Witt said.

According to Serrano’s resume, she began as a clerical aide in 1998 and the following year was promoted to Student Assistant, helping parents and students through the financial aid process. From there she became a financial aid technician and, by 2005, a financial aid counselor. By 2008, she was managing the Financial Aid Department, and then became Student Services Manager in 2011.

She has been acting dean of Student Services throughout most of 2013.

“Ms. Serrano is one of the most talented student services professionals that I have ever worked with,” Witt said. “She rose through the HCC ranks, through talent, intelligence and old-fashioned hard work. Our campus is fortunate that she applied to lead our student services team. Any community college would have been lucky to find her.” Witt said he credits Stancil with recognizing that she could head the department after his retirement.

Serrano’s goals include allowing staff to be as innovative as possible, letting people “think outside the box” to find new ways of accomplishing goals and also promoting more staff and faculty interaction with students in their projects.

“I am open to suggestion and anxious to move forward,” she said.

Florida texting and driving ban goes into effect Oct. 1

Tampa News No Comments

Some claim victory to a dangerous practice, others complain the law is too weak. State officials have generally been quiet about the whole thing.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

According to Distraction.gov, a U.S. Government website dedicated to educating the public about distracted driving, particularly cell phone use and texting while driving, at any given moment in America, 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone or an electronic device while hurtling down roads filled with traffic, bicycle riders, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Despite increasing public campaigns to stop texting and driving, that statistic has held steady since 2010.

On Oct. 1, Florida will become the 41st state to ban the practice of texting while driving. Some have labeled the ban as a first step, others have described the new law as weak and difficult to enforce, but for those who still text and drive, the fact remains that, at least while a vehicle is in motion, it will be illegal for a driver to send a text message, with some exceptions.

At this time, the state of Florida appears to be making little effort to educate the public about the new law, beyond plans to post warnings about texting and driving on overhead freeway message signs. Last week, overhead signs on Bay Area freeways were telling drivers that text messages can wait, don’t text and drive.

Most commuters on Tampa Bay area freeways have witnessed the effects of texting and driving but for a vivid image, simply talk to almost any motorcyclist. Driving a more vulnerable vehicle that requires intense concentration on the road and surrounding traffic, bikers are witnesses to the erratic behavior of drivers distracted not only by texting, but also by those simply talking on the phone while at the wheel. Swerving across lanes, speeding up and slowing down are a frequent sight on area highways, and are indicators of a driver that is not entirely focused on the task of maneuvering a large, heavy vehicle amongst other vehicles on the road.

According to Distraction.gov, sending or reading a text message while driving removes a driver’s focus on the road and surroundings for an average of 4.6 seconds, or roughly the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour entirely blind. Approximately twenty percent of teenage drivers and 10 percent of parents have admitted to having multi-text extended text conversations while driving. And that number consists merely of those who admit to doing it. Even reaching for a cell phone, let alone using one to dial a number or type a text message, increases the risk of getting into an accident by three times.

According to a privately run website, www.textinganddrivingsafely.com, using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other news sources, 23 percent of all auto collisions in 2011 involved at least one driver using a cell phone — that amounts to 1.3 million crashes.

According to state Senator Nancy Detert of Venice, the sponsor of the new law, approximately 11 teenagers die each day in the United States while texting and driving.

Governor Rick Scott signed Florida’s new texting ban into law last May, an act that drew praise from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible decisions a driver can make,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Florida is sending a strong message that it wants all drivers to be distraction free.”
Major cell phone providers have also been supportive of texting and driving laws.

Critics, however, have complained that the Florida law is too weak. The new law, taking effect on Oct. 1, will make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning that drivers cannot be pulled over on that basis alone, but as part of another offense, such as weaving in traffic. Additionally, the ban allows drivers to text while stopped, whether in a traffic jam or at a stop sign. Drivers can also send a text message to report the commission of a crime. The fine is $30 for a first offense and law enforcement officers will not typically be allowed to confiscate the cell phone.

For the past several years, well prior to the new law, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has included a check-off box on accident reports if a deputy knows or suspects that distracted driving may have contributed to an accident or an infraction.

Last year, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles data suggested that more than 4,500 accidents were caused due to drivers distracted by the use of electronic communication devices.

For the text of the Florida Senate bill on the new law, visit http://tinyurl.com/observer-texting. For information on distracted driving from the NHTSA, visit www.distraction.gov.

$4.5 million Gibsonton wetlands restoration project almost complete

Tampa News No Comments

By KEVIN BRADY

A massive project to restore wetlands in Gibsonston should be completed next month.

Almost a decade in the making, the program started last summer to restore mangroves at two plots along U.S. Highway 41.

“We should be finished on schedule next month,” said David Townsend, an assistant vice president at Mosaic.

Work on restoring 10 acres of mangroves and adding new oyster reefs, part one of the project, started in July at Giant’s Camp, a stone’s throw from the Alafia River Bridge on U.S. Highway 41. Part two, a similar project just north of the Giant’s Camp on U.S. Highway 41, began in the fall.

Mosaic, the world’s largest phosphate company, is footing the bill for the project as part of a compensation package the firm worked out with the federal government after a dike at its Riverview plant broke and contaminated local waters in 2004.

Heavy rains from Hurricane Frances that year broke the back of the company’s dike, sending 60,000 gallons of contaminated water into Archie Creek, killing vegetation and fish. The creek flows into Tampa Bay.

Mosaic has since spent $30 million to improve water-storage capacity at the Riverview fertilizer plant. “We can now handle up to 80 inches of rain,” Townsend said.

One of the largest agro-chemical companies in the world, with mines in Central Florida and North Carolina, Mosaic provides fertilizer to farmers in 40 countries. Most of the fertilizer used in the U.S. comes from Florida phosphate mines, much of it mined by Mosaic in Polk County.

The restoration project includes digging a 1,500-foot-long by 50-foot-wide channel through the mangrove habitat, breathing new life into the mangroves. The mangroves are currently cut off from any real tidal flow by a marina built in the 1950s and since abandoned.

Tidal flows are the lungs of mangroves; without it, the plants grow in on each other, eventually leading to a “mangrove heart attack” that kills the mangroves and turns them into mudflats. One acre of the property, clearly visible from overhead photos, has already turned into a mudflat.

“Mangroves are the heartbeat of Tampa Bay,” said Roy Lewis III, president of Lewis Environmental Services, the Riverview company that designed the restoration project. “It’s where juvenile fish hang out and mature and move into the bay. Tampa Bay has lost 40 percent of its mangroves over the last 100 years, and, as a direct result, commercial and recreational fishing have declined.”

The restoration project will bring new life to the mangroves, securing their future for hundreds of years, Lewis said.
“When it’s done, there will be four tides a day flushing through the property, and when the tide is ripping, you will see a significant amount of fish coming through,” Lewis said.

Reopening the mangroves to the natural flow of the tide will also involve dredging a 1,000-foot- long and 5-foot-deep channel in the existing waterway, bringing a healthy flow of water into the area. Engineers also built a bridge over the new channel.

While the tides will breathe new life into the mangroves, the new oyster beds, also part of the restoration project, will help clean that water before it enters the area.

Some 5,650 square feet of rock will be used in the project for the oyster beds.

After residents’ uproar, county seeks ways to delay Bloomingdale development

Tampa News No Comments

By KEVIN BRADY

They wanted Riverview’s Winthrop Town Center but Brandon-area residents fear a new development in their backyard will end being just another anonymous suburban sprawl eyesore bringing traffic migraines and lowering property values.

Now County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is asking a developer to listen to resident’s concerns over the proposed development slated for Bloomingdale Avenue and Lithia Pinecrest Road.

Residents say they want the project stopped and while they are glad to talk to the developer, they have also retained their own attorney to research grounds for a lawsuit should the development proceed.

“If the developer declines to meet with the community and address our concerns there will be a lawsuit,” said Dan Grant, a member of Coordinated Active Neighborhoods Development Organization (CAN-DO). The group has mobilized hundreds of homeowners against the project.

Commissioners voted June 11 to ask the county attorney to research delaying approval for the project for up to six months. The vote came on the heels of a meeting the night before where Commissioner Higginbotham got an “earful” from more than 400 “furious” residents.

“I am not trying to shut down a project but it is a 180-window where they can review,” said Higginbotham who cautioned against “false hope” during the review.

The extra time would allow commissioners to make sure “we got this right, and there’s enough indication from the community, from (commissioners), including myself, did we get an accurate picture of what is going in on that site?” said Higginbotham.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was “fed up” with the developers.

“I believe this developer has operated in bad faith. I have never heard of a situation where a developer has refused to meet with the community and anything we can do to hold their feet to the fire I 100 percent support.”

“The 180-day delay would be a good thing. It gives us time to mobilize,” said Grant who expects to enlist more than 1,000 homeowners from Riverhills, Bloomingdale and Mason Oaks, to the campaign in coming weeks as the issue gains more publicity.

“Everywhere we go people ask the same thing: ‘What is the reason for this development?’ There is no good reason.”

The owner of the 43-acre plot, Redstone Properties, plans a 158,800-square-feet shopping center, three restaurants, a bank, 261 apartments and another 6,000-square-foot retail center on the land, according to papers submitted to the county earlier this year. Blueprints call for one entrance to the shopping center on Lithia Pinecrest with two on Bloomingdale, one of which, at Blowing Oak Street, would have a traffic light.

Residents say the plan would only worsen congestion in an area already notorious for bumper to bumper traffic with Bloomingdale Regional Library and Bloomingdale High School within a stone’s throw of the proposed development.

“This will reduce the home values and increase traffic around a high school that houses over 3,000 of the local children of which two thirds drive to school,” said Scott McFee. “There are two other elementary schools in adjacent neighborhoods and Bloomingdale is the major corridor for children going to Burns Middle School.”

Citing nearby supermarkets and existing commercial space in the area, Kim Hauser said the area also doesn’t need more high-density housing.

“There’s no way this part of Bloomingdale Avenue can handle a high density housing complex. Look at how bad traffic is on Bell Shoals and Lithia roads. We need a park, not another Walmart Super Store.”

The developer’s plan, which meets the requirements of the county’s Land Development Code, was approved Feb. 28, however, commissioners said that plan called for a development more akin to Riverview’s Winthrop Town Centre not a shopping center dominated by a Walmart. Winthrop has been praised for its mix of commercial and civic uses with the large anchor store, Publix, sharing frontage with smaller specialty stores.

While frustrated they were not being listened to in the past, Grant said residents now appear to have the ear of county commissioners.

“Listening is the first step. Now we need action.”

A recommendation from the county attorney on the legality of delaying county approval for the project is expected later.