Flood Prep, Updates on Haynie and Zucaro, and Our Blue Ribbon Winners

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South Beach Park in Boca Raton

Boca Raton has picked a good time to focus on the twin issues of flooding and flood insurance.

The Carolinas still are trying to recover from Hurricane Florence, which soaked that part of the Atlantic coast like Harvey soaked Houston last year. Florence was a wet storm that stalled and brought biblical rains. Parts of Florida—especially the Jacksonville area—flooded in 2016 and 2017 because of Matthew and Irma.

Next week comes the annual King Tide, when the lunar pull is strongest because the moon is so close to the sun. At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Scott Singer will issue a proclamation declaring October Flood Prevention and Protection Month. It’s part of the push to make the city safer and save residents some money.

flooded.jpgThe Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rates cities and counties according to how well they seek to prevent and lower the risk of flooding. For all the legitimate worry about wind, flooding and storm surge have become as dangerous—if not more dangerous—hurricane threats. In addition to Harvey and Florence, we had Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012.

In FEMA’s rating system, 10 is the worst and one is the best. Communities can earn points to raise their rating. Boca Raton’s is eight. So is Delray Beach’s. King tides are especially problematic in Delray Beach.

Those ratings save flood insurance policyholders about $22 on coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Florida has allowed private carriers to write flood policies, but most homeowners still insure themselves through the NFIP. New floodplain maps came out last year.

Based on information compiled by Boca Raton, the savings would increase to $31 if the rating rose to seven and $43 with a rating of six. Savings are higher for those in FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas. Only one city—in California—has the top rating. Only six—none in Florida—are rated two.

Communities can earn points by increasing their outreach program. The city has hired a consultant to offer ideas. He met with city officials in August. Among them was Keith Carney, Boca Raton’s floodplain manager.

According to a staff memo, merely reminding residents about the dangers of flooding isn’t enough. Residents need to hear the message often and from several sources “before they will change their behavior.”

Change can take many forms. Residents may realize that they need flood insurance even if they consider their neighborhood safe. A city spokeswoman said 20 percent of flood claims come from outside high-risk areas. There are about 16,000 federal flood policies in Boca Raton and nearly 8,000 in Delray Beach.

Residents also may pay more attention to keeping neighborhood canals clear. This region’s flood-control system has three tiers. The top includes the large canals and pumps of the South Florida Water Management District, the middle includes the facilities of the Lake Worth Drainage District—more about that agency in a moment—and then the neighborhood canals. If those aren’t clear, water can back up quickly and the upper tiers won’t help.

Awareness may not please everyone. One way to prevent flooding is by having sidewalks and swales. The spokeswoman says Boca Raton has heard from complaints about drainage problems from residents of Old Floresta, which doesn’t have those protections.

Every coastal city in Florida should make flood protection a priority. Seas are rising, and our current president and governor don’t acknowledge climate change as an issue. A furor broke out in 2014 when Congress changed the flood insurance program and raised rates dramatically in some places, especially in the Tampa Bay area. Congress delayed some of those increases, but no natural disaster has been more costly in the United States over the last decade than flooding.

Boca Raton residents who have questions can call Carney. Notices about the information campaign will be going out in water bills. As the ocean continues to rise, so must awareness of the threat.

FEMA claw backs

A tree torn out of the earth by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by David Shuff)

Speaking of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, South Florida cities and counties have griped that FEMA tries to “claw back” reimbursement for hurricane expenses many years after a storm and hit local government with unexpected bills. It happened after the four storms of 2004 and Wilma the next year.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel issued a statement saying that Congress passed legislation that sets a three-year limit on those claw backs. The change, Frankel said, will prevent “surprise payments” while giving FEMA adequate time to audit expenses for possible fraud.

Lake Worth Drainage too aggressive?

Despite the importance of the Lake Worth Drainage District to flood control, the agency remains unpopular in Boca Raton and Delray Beach because of what some residents consider a needlessly aggressive approach to flood control.

Boca Raton officials got the district to delay canal clearing in some southwest neighborhoods and to consider different methods after hurricane season. According to a city spokeswoman, however, no field tests have been conducted. The city council had been hoping for an update at Tuesday’s meeting, but that might not happen.

The district could earn some symbolic good will by repairing the damage it did along the canal south of Palmetto Park Road and east of I-95. The canal may be clear of obstructions, but the banks now resemble nuclear winter. Large gouges remain on the city-owned property where a fire station once stood.

At least in Boca Raton there’s talk of cooperation. During last week’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting, one resident complained that he and others had received “no compromise.” Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young said there was confusion about what constitutes a native tree. There was worry that the clearing might take out swimming pools.

Said Gardner-Young, “We’re trying to talk with the Lake Worth Drainage District. They’re not listening to us any more than they’re listening to the residents.”

Blue Ribbon Boca schools

This week. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the 2018 winners in the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. Among the 12 Florida schools to be honored were the K-8 Alexander D. Henderson University School and Florida Atlantic University High School, which are on the FAU campus.

The state first established Henderson as a lab school, with FAU High starting in 2004. The school calls “a fully-immersed, dual enrollment, early college program.” It boasts a perfect graduation rate and notes that 36 students who have earned a bachelor’s degree while obtaining their high school diploma. Seventy-three percent of graduates get a bachelor’s within two years.

No other Palm Beach County school was among the Blue Ribbon winners. The last one to get Blue Ribbon recognition was Delray Beach’s Morikami Park Elementary in 2014.

Haynie case update

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has filed notice of more supplemental discovery in the case against former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie.

Prosecutors told the court and Haynie’s lawyer that they have obtained additional documents from the Florida Division of Corporations and the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office. One can assume that the state records involve corporations owned now or previously by Haynie and her husband, Neil Haynie.

At the root of the seven charges is a property management company that had a contract with the master association of a Deerfield Beach condo in which James and Marta Batmasian own 80 percent of the units. Prosecutors say Haynie wrongly voted on four issues involving properties the Batmasians own.

And Zucaro judgment?

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Al Zucaro

Meanwhile, Haynie’s political nemesis has his own continuing legal issue, though this one is in civil court.

Al Zucaro, the twice-failed mayoral candidate who lost to Haynie in 2017 and Scott Singer, faces a new effort by a former investor to enforce a judgment against him. Nearly a decade ago, a Palm Beach County judge found that Zucaro had spent the $250,000 on personal expenses and ordered repayment with interest. The amount was $406,000 at the time. The investor’s attorney believes that the figure now is closer to $600,000.

Last spring, the attorney deposed Zucaro. On Monday, he will depose Zucaro’s wife, Yvonne Boice. The subpoena is broad. It instructs to Boice to bring documents regarding transfer of any “interest” from Zucaro to Boice and any “consideration” paid by Boice to Zucaro for such a transfer, documents related to the “transfer of any money or property” from Boice to Zucaro, documents related to any “gifts” from Boice to Zucaro since 2009, documents from transfer of any Boice-related trust accounts to Zucaro and bank statements for joint accounts or accounts in which Zucaro and Boice have “signing authority.”

After his 30-point loss to Singer, Zucaro posted on his BocaWatch website that he would take a “much needed sabbatical.” The site has been inactive since then.

Weinroth

Robert Weinroth
Robert Weinroth

Anyone who hasn’t seen former Boca Raton City Councilman Robert Weinroth recently would do a double take. I did.

Weinroth told me that he’s lost about 65 pounds. Why now? “I thought I needed to look more ‘commissioner-like.'” Weinroth is running for Palm Beach County Commission Seat 4 on the Nov. 6 ballot against Boca Del Mar resident William Vale.

Red Tide?

Late Wednesday, a news release said Boca Raton had submitted samples of inshore ocean water to the state for tests to determine if the water contains the bacteria that causes red tide. The city’s beaches remain open.

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