County names new health officer

Glades County Commissioners moved ahead with the Moore Haven Canal project, named a new Health Department Administrator, approved two comprehensive plan amendments, and endorsed a research center for Citrus greening at a busy meeting Tuesday morning.

Commissioners honored Imogene E. Higgins upon her 100th birthday. The Lakeport woman celebrated the birthday on December 5th. She is a former newspaper editor for the Centerburg Gazette in Ohio. She also is a breast cancer survivor. She was accompanied by her daughter Jo Randolph who thanked the county for this recognition.

“I think it’s wonderful, I’m very pleased that the county would do this for her. She spent 99 years in Ohio but decided last April that she wanted to live here permanently.”

She thanked the county commission for being generous and kind for presenting her mother with this award.

Higgins said she was really startled because she didn’t know this was going to happen, “I thought I was going to appear before a judge or something.”

She worked as a typist, reporter, columnist and book keeper during her newspaper career. She said reporters learn the hard way but she really enjoyed her work in print.

Her niece, Anna Mae Lockhart said Imogene had a popular column called ‘On the scene with Imogene’ that was very popular in Ohio. A 60 unit RV Park was approved in Lakeport. The land use and zoning was changed in a (5-0) vote. There was no public comment.

The Commission also granted approved for the J.J Wiggins Trust to allow a 22 acre commercial project on US 27. The zoning was changed from residential agriculture and agriculture residential to commercial. Five acres would be used for commercial use. Two residential lots would remain as a buffer to Rodeo Road. Planner Inga Williams said it would expand businesses and is consistent with the comprehensive plan objective to provide employment opportunities in the County. Commissioner Donna Storter Long said it was logical to have commercial along US 27.

Attorney Steve Ramunni represented the Wiggins Trust. He noted the comprehensive plan amendment must be submitted to the State for approval. He mentioned the residential buffer as a way to help neighbors. He said site built homes would be constructed on the two lots.

“The only access to the property will be on the east side of the property off US 27,” he added.

The property affected includes the existing buildings. No specific use has been requested. Mr. Ramunni said the use would not negatively impact residential uses nearby.

The project would provide support services to new business and growth planned along US 27.
There was no public comment in opposition at the hearing.

The application was adopted (5-0).

Ramunni said the group felt very positive about the approval. He said it is the result of several years of work. “I think if you look today what is happening along US 27, and maybe compare it to several years back, it’s a lot more tangible in terms of the need for a commercial center to serve the surrounding area and the actual development that is going on.”

Glades County must hold another public hearing on the comprehensive plan issues and the zoning part sometime in 2016. Ramunni said he was not sure when construction would begin.

He said his client would not construct a lounge or anything that was offensive to the surrounding community or create noise at night. Arbor Tree and Land was selected to be the contractor for the Moore Haven Canal/Moonshine Marsh Overlook Park project. Nearly 70,000 cubic yards of sediment and a berm will be removed and relocated to the opposite side of the canal. This decision allows the County Manager to negotiate a contract with the firm. Commissioners Stanley, Ahern, Pryor and Long ranked Arbor Tree and Land as the most qualified.

Dr. Joseph Pepe was confirmed as the new Administrator for the Hendry-Glades Health Department. A national search was undertaken. He served as interim director for the past six months. Commissioner Beck said Dr. Pepe has a lot of drive and enthusiasm for the position.

Dr. Pepe said the county has been very supportive. He said he plans to expand health services.

“I’m excited for the county. Bringing in an integrated health system to Glades County will magnify the resources we can provide the community.”

Dr. Pepe has been the interim director for the past six months which gave him the opportunity to study the community and learn its desires and needs. He said Glades County is a highly engaged community where residents really care about one another.

“There are a lot of resources that we can bring here and fill gaps in the service,” he added.

He also thanked the community health care agencies and Veterans Administration for their support at the Moore Haven Health Department. He said the biggest issue they face is transportation and they are working with Good Wheels to expand access to health care.

An assessment on transportation needs is now being studied by the Hendry Glades Task Force.
Dr. Pepe also has started a dental program in elementary schools that is free of charge. All fifth graders can have their adult molars sealed at no cost.

“I look forward to getting input from the community and anyone who wants to reach out to me is welcome to catch me at the health department,” he added.

Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Kim Barnhill said every health department is very important to the overall department. She said Dr. Pepe was an excellent choice and she appreciated the Commissions endorsement and support.

“We have the ability to provide services and get resources from across the state and bring them to these areas,” she added.

The Commission also supported the surplus of the BOMA project which could be leased to the University of Florida for a citrus greening research center.

Commissioner Beck said this center will benefit agriculture and the county. A 260 acre parcel on SR 80 is the location for the center.

The Governing Board of South Florida Water Management ruled they must include some form of water management research on this property. “Our focus is on water quantity and water quality,” SFWMD Agriculture Director Jeff Sumner said.

Mr. Beck said he would watch this closely and didn’t want something sneaking up on him.

“We all need clean air and water, we felt we were being thumped a little bit,” he added.

Commissioner Storter-Long said they are losing tax revenue and just wanted to be sure the community is benefitted by the project.

Sumner said there never was any intention to not have a citrus greening facility on this project.

Calvin Arnold with the University of Florida said they have not changed their stance. “You will see citrus research going on.”

Dallas Townsend said the citrus industry is hanging by a thread, with the forecast crop only 32-percent of peak production expected this year.

Commissioner Paul Beck reported a good turnout for the Lakeport Christmas Celebration last Saturday.
Christmas on the Caloosahatchee is set for this Thursday. Commissioner Weston Pryor said the Sierra Club continues to fight sugar cane burns in the county. They recently made a presentation to the Ortona Community Association. The Commission hosted the annual holiday luncheon for County Employees on Tuesday at the Doyle Conner Building. The commission also pulled from the agenda a renewal contract proposed with Positive Medical Transport to continue to provide ambulance and EMS services to Buckhead Ridge and northeastern Glades County. The contract cost for one year was $65,000.

The Commission also approved a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation to encourager safer rail cars that transport toxic substances.

Special to Glades County Democrat

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