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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Last hurricane column ever (we hope)

Hurricane Welcome
Click to enlarge
Let's hope that this "Sandscript" column makes the last mention of hurricanes in a long, long time.

We've had four storms, three of them major hurricanes, in about as many weeks in Florida.

Tropical Storm Bonnie struck the Big Bend area on Aug. 12.

Powerful Hurricane Charley targeted the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Aug. 13 before veering into Upper Captiva and Punta Gorda and then exiting the state near Melborne.

Hurricane Frances hit the West Palm Beach-Melborne area on Labor Day weekend before it exited north of Clearwater, backslapping the Island with wind and waves as it moved to points north.

Hurricane Ivan, with 135-mph winds, struck Gulf Shores, Ala., Sept. 16. The damage to Pensacola, Destin and other coastal communities was devastating - as well as storm damage in Grenada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Cuba.

Basically, no part of the Sunshine State was spared some type of damage caused by the four storms.

Enough already!

An article in the Tampa Tribune by John W. Allman pretty much hit the highlights of the damage.

Power outages statewide topped about 6 million customers in total. Florida Power & Light, which provided electricity to the southern half of the state plus a narrow coastal band up to almost Jacksonville, had 5.5 million customers without juice during Charley and Frances.

Gulf Power Co. in the Panhandle is still trying to get a handle on the problems caused by Ivan, but about 90 percent of its customers are without electricity. To bring the matter into some kind of perspective, Gulf has about 1,580 miles of transmission lines; 790 miles of those lines have been destroyed.

As one Gulf executive put it, "The electric system it has taken us 80 years to build was basically destroyed in eight hours."

School damage was extensive across the state just in raw damage to buildings. Charlotte County is looking at upwards of $200 million to fix schools; Palm Beach County $30 million.

Agriculture damage figures are still coming in, but it's been pegged to date at better than $2 billion. Not counted is the 94,000 acres of cotton that was just about ready for picking in the Panhandle. Figure the cotton crop to be pretty much a total loss up there.

And then there are the long-term impacts to tourism and construction. Island resort owners, already reeling with huge tax increases as their property assessments have been driven up, are now looking at fearful tourists who may well decide that Scottsdale, Ariz., may be a better place for a couple weeks in the sun than Southwest Florida.

And construction costs, also already high, may be driven even higher with the run on plywood and other supplies as anxious homeowners descended on Home Depot and similar stores to buy material to protect their homes and, unfortunately in some cases, rebuild them.

Beach erosion and future beach renourishment projects will also be a key factor in the upcoming months and years. The feds are backpedaling on funding such projects of late. Additional beach renourishment may be needed there, further dipping into a rapidly diminishing pot of money for such efforts.

Another area of worry
And just when you thought it couldn't get worse ... it does.

Eric Ernst had an interesting column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune the other day regarding some sudden tax hits rebuilding homeowners may have to face.

Floridians approved a Constitutional amendment in 1995 that capped homesteaded property to assessments of no more than 3 percent of its value annually. The Save Our Homes initiative was targeted to keep spiraling property values, and spiraling taxes, from forcing homeowners to sell their property because they couldn't afford the taxes.

However, a little clause in the language of the law calls for any improvements, even through an "act of God," that are greater than 125 percent above the appraised value of the home, to void the tax break.

If your house is valued at $40,000 - that's just the house, not the property - and you get hit with damage that would cost more than $50,000, you lose the Save Our Home tax break, and your taxes will be assessed based on the estimated value of the new or improved house.

Granted, they will be capped at no more than 3 percent a year after that, but that big hit could really hurt.

There has been talk in Tallahassee about holding a special session of the Florida Legislature this fall to deal with hurricane issues. Let's keep an eye on the suggested legislation and see if lawmakers are willing to address the Save Our Home conundrum.

... and on the lighter side
This e-mail, sent from a friend living in Paris, France, may help lighten the Ivan load a bit. I'll make no claims of its accuracy.

"This is the message that the Pacific Palisades High School (California) staff voted unanimously to record on their school telephone answering machine. This came about because it implemented a policy requiring students and parents to be responsible for their children's absences

missing homework. "The school and teachers are being sued by parents who want their children's failing grades changed to passing grades even though those children were absent 15-30 times during the semester and did not complete enough school work to pass their classes.

"This is the actual answering machine message for the school:

"Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting the right staff member, please listen to all your options before making a selection:

"To lie about why your child is absent - Press 1.

"To make excuses for why your child did not do his work - Press 2.

"To complain about what we do - Press 3.

"To swear at staff members - Press 4.

"To ask why you didn't get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to you - Press 5.

"If you want us to raise your child - Press 6.

"If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone - Press 7.

"To request another teacher for the third time this year - Press 8.

"To complain about bus transportation - Press 9.

"To complain about school lunches - Press 0.

"If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework, and that it's not the teachers' fault for your child's lack of effort - hang up and have a nice day!"

Sandscript factoid
Hurricane Ivan has been attributed to 128 deaths: 45 in the United States including 16 in Florida, as well as 15 in Jamaica, five in Haiti, two in the Cayman Islands, 39 in Grenada, one in Tobago, one in Barbados and four in the Dominican Republic.

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