State Road 7 construction money moved up two years earlier to 2017

Construction money for the controversial extension of State Road 7 has been moved up to 2017, two years earlier than previously planned, according to a proposal by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The $50.7 million for the 2-mile link, which would connect 60th Street North to Northlake Boulevard, still would need to be approved by the state legislature.
But the DOT’s latest proposed five-year work program is a positive development for residents in the central western communities who view the extension as a way to relive traffic.

Last year, money for construction was scheduled for 2016 but was bumped back three years to 2019.

The city of West Palm Beach has been fighting the project because officials are worried it will hurt the city’s water drinking supply.

The proposed link runs along the western edges of Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square-mile marsh formerly known as the Water Catchment Area because it captures and holds rainwater to feed the city’s drinking water system.

The DOT’s proposed 5-year work program for Palm Beach County 2017-2021 can be viewed on the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization website.


Check out the new trees planted by Publix on Belvedere Road

IMG_4130 IMG_4131 IMG_4132 IMG_4134

As close-watchers of the Publix grocery store rising east of Interstate 95 on Belvedere Road undoubtedly are aware, new trees started going in last week to replace about a dozen mature mahoganies and black olives that shaded the sidewalk until workers axed them in August.

Here are some photos of the babies. The landscaping plan called for buttonwoods and crape myrtles but you tell me what these are.

Will the street be better off?

Fitting a 351-mile train track in a hotel ballroom: “This is not Thomas the Train stuff!”

At first glance, it looks like a bunch of adults playing with toy trains, which in some ways it is.

But upon closer inspection, it’s really a work of art – the miniature model railroad replicating all 351 miles of the Florida East Coast Railways track from Hialeah to Jacksonville.

With his optivision goggles, Gregg Stoll looms large over the tiny FEC locomotive
With his optivision goggles, Gregg Stoll looms large over the tiny FEC locomotive

The model – at 1/160th scale – wraps around the Salon 3 ballroom at the Embassy Suites hotel on Belvedere Road, where train hobbyists are gathered this weekend for the Florida East Coast Railway Society’s Fall convention.

The model railroad will be open for the public to see Sunday at an open house from 9 a.m. to noon.

“This is not Thomas the Train stuff,’’ says a laughing Gregg Stoll, one of more than 20 hobbyists who worked from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday to put together the model railroad together.

End to end, it stretches 183 feet long. But it was modified Thursday with curves and curls to fit inside the ballroom. It’s made up of more than 50 pieces, with the smallest about 3 feet long.

The pieces are owned and made by eight different model owners around Florida who take their sections home after the convention and store them in garages, dens and attics until the next convention.

It’s all powered electronically via computer. It might take a model locomotive about 10 minutes to travel the mini track – light years compared to the 9 ½ hours it takes a real locomotive to travel from Hialeah to Jacksonville.
The Jupiter section has a drawbridge that goes up and down. A section at the Daytona Beach Golf Club has tiny golfers and a little alligator lounging by a water hazard.

“Good old Gomez Addams in his basement with his trains going kaboom? We can do that!” Stoll said with a laugh, recalling a famous scene from a 1964 episode of The Addams Family.

But there’s no damaging this train set, which one hobbyist guessed might have cost a collective $30,000 to make.

Bob Arceneaux takes pliers to the railroad tracks at the FEC’s southern terminus known as “the Hialeah balloon”.
Headless Tommy Chaffee checks electronic connections beneath the tracks
Headless Tommy Chaffee checks electronic connections beneath the tracks
The track finally complete, Bob Arceneaux and Byron Hartunian watch the maiden voyage of FEC locomotive on Thursday.
The track finally complete, Bob Arceneaux and Byron Hartunian watch the maiden voyage of FEC locomotive on Thursday.

Yogi and Me: Photo op with Yogi Berra ain’t over till it’s over

My moment with Yogi Berra, the legendary Yankees catcher who died Tuesday at the age of 90, lasted all of perhaps nine seconds.

It was a photo op that Yogi wanted no part of. He barely had time to react.

Yogi Berra and a Palm Beach Post writer in 2006
Yogi Berra and a Palm Beach Post writer in 2006

It was in a large suite at Yankee Stadium on June 24, 2006 – Old Timers’ Day. All the Yankees old-timers were mingling at a pre-game breakfast reception that turned into a mob scene because it was raining, forcing more people than expected inside.

The game would end up being rained out and made up as part of a double-header the next day.

That meant there was time for a Marlins beat writer to kill.

Into the crowd of Yankees greats we wandered, two South Florida scribes who might as well have been invisible as we pushed past New York writers, photographers, season-ticket holders, hangers-on and, of course, fabled Bronx Bombers of years gone past.

In the distance, I could see their partial heads and faces — Reggie Jackson and Lee Mazzilli and Moose Skowron and Whitey Ford. And Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, a moment captured in a famous photo of Berra, in his number 8, jumping into the pitcher’s arm after the final out.

Yogi Berra jumps into the arms of Don Larsen after Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series
Yogi Berra jumps into the arms of Don Larsen after Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series

They were all too far away and not worth pushing through the packed crowd to attempt an interview. I turned to leave.

And there he was, Yogi Berra, the great catcher of the DiMaggio-Mantle-Maris Yankees, walking away from the buffet table with his wife, Carmen.

She held a plate of eggs and fruit and followed her husband, who was being stopped by person after person for hellos, handshakes and photo ops. Yogi wasn’t saying much. He was just trying to find a seat to eat his breakfast.

I was going to leave the old guy alone, but then he turned and walked right at me. I wasn’t about to drop the ball on this photo op. I handed my small camera to a reporter friend and asked Yogi if he’d be kind enough to take a photo with me.

He didn’t reply; I don’t think I gave him a chance to. I put my arm on his shoulder and smiled. Yogi didn’t say a word. I’m not even sure if he smiled, but he did look at the camera.

Faster than you can say, “It ain’t over till it’s over,’’ it was over. I had my picture with Yogi.

I thanked him but I don’t think he heard me. He turned and continued walking toward a table. Someone else moved in for a photo and I heard Yogi snap, “Now, that’s enough!”


Atlanta Braves flirt with Palm Beach County, but may build spring training complex on a landfill, this one in Pinellas County

West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium was spring home to the Atlanta Braves from 1962-1997
West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium was spring home to the Atlanta Braves from 1962-1997

The Atlanta Braves appear to have focused their search for a new spring training facility on a former landfill in Pinellas County, reducing even more the remote chances of the team returning to Palm Beach County.

The Braves would partner with former Marlins star Gary Sheffield and St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair to transform a 240-acre former landfill into Pinellas County’s third spring training complex, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The newspaper reports that Pinellas County appears to have interest in the project and that the Braves are open to expanding their project to accommodate a second team.

The Braves-Sheffield group, known as SportsPark LLC, has requested county funding of up to $10.5 million annually if two MLB teams end up at the site or $6.5 million each year if it’s just the Braves, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Braves have trained in Orlando since 1998, after training in West Palm Beach from 1962 to 1997.

But they have been looking for a new spring home on Florida’s east and west coasts because, among other reasons, they don’t want to be stuck in the state’s central corridor with just one team, the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland.

The Braves and Tigers will be isolated because the Houston Astros are leaving Kissimmee to share a new facility in West Palm Beach with the Washington Nationals, who are leaving Viera.

The Braves flirted with a return to Palm Beach County earlier this summer when general manager John Schuerholz reached out to at least one community, according to sources.

In March, an Atlanta real estate developer representing the Braves met with Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana to discuss the idea of the team returning to the county.

“They said, ‘What do you think about adding another team?’’ Vana said, recalling the March 2 meeting at the county Governmental Center in downtown West Palm Beach.

“I said, ‘You’re a little a late. It’s already done.’’’ She said one of the consultants replied that he wished he “would have gotten here sooner.”

A Braves return here is considered remote because the county struck a deal with the Astros and Nationals for a $135 million ballpark on a former landfill south of 45th Street. Construction is supposed to start next month with an opening planned for January 2017.


All Aboard Florida exec to speak at train hobbyist convention in West Palm Beach this week

All aboard for a convention to celebrate the joys of the railroad!

091315+trainspotter+06Train hobbyists will converge in West Palm Beach this week for the Florida East Coast Railway Society’s fall convention.

The convention is based at the Embassy Suites hotel on Belvedere Road from Thursday through Sunday.

It will include tours of railroad operations at the Port of Palm Beach and the Florida East Coast Railway yard in West Palm Beach where participants will be allowed to climb into the train company’s newest locomotive, the General Electric ES44SC.

An All Aboard Florida senior vice president, Eugene Skoropowski, is the scheduled speaker at the convention’s Friday night dinner.

On Sunday, the convention will host a public viewing of a model railroad from 9 a.m. to noon at the hotel.

For more information, go to the FEC Railway Society’s web page.




Porn at a local transportation board meeting? You’ll know it when you see it

“I’ll know it when I see it.’’

The quote has its own Wikipedia page, which explains how the phrase was “famously used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity.’’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

That’s what came to the minds of a group of elected leaders Thursday when the phrase was mentioned during a discussion by the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization about the Federal Railroad Administration’s train safety guidelines.

“In their minds, a sealed corridor is something they know when they see it,’’ said Kim DeLaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, refering to the FRA.

“Like pornography,’’ Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche said as MPO members chuckled when they heard the phrase.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, the MPO chair, laughed and teased her colleague: “That’s not something we talk about at the MPO, Commissioner Valeche.’’

Valeche smiled and quickly explained the phrase’s connection to the Supreme Court case.

County Commissioner Hal Valeche
County Commissioner Hal Valeche

The light moment lasted a few seconds and was all in fun.

The technical discussion went on another 10 minutes before ending, again with the obscenity reference, this time thanks to West Palm Beach City Commissioner Keith James.

James, who graduated from Harvard, wanted the MPO board to know that Valeche graduated from Ivy League rival Yale.

“I just wanted the record to reflect,’’ James said, “that it was a Yale man who injected pornography into this discussion.’’

Hours after kid struck by car on Haverhill, WPB commission excuses Astros, Nationals from safety improvements

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals were able to talk their way out of adding safety improvements for pedestrians at the entrance of their new spring training complex on Haverhill Road.

The teams argued Tuesday night to the City Commission that there’s minimal pedestrian activity along the complex’s border on Haverhill. Industrial and commerce parks take up most of the road’s west side, across the street from the ballpark’s main entrance.

But more than 12 hours earlier, an 11-year-old girl on her way to a school bus stop was struck by a car as she tried to cross Haverhill Road about a half mile south of the ballpark. Parents said the accident underscores the dangers facing pedestrians along the busy road.

The accident never came up during the City Commission meeting Tuesday night, but city commissiohome plateners approved the ballpark’s site plan without the traffic light, crosswalk or pedestrian lighting at the Haverhill Road entrance. The teams had said they could not afford the improvements.

City staff had recommended the safety features on Haverhill to help protect residents who might try to cross five lanes of traffic to enter the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

“We are just being overly cautious. We want to make sure the traffic works and there’s sufficient lighting and we have safety for pedestrians who are using the facility,’’ Rick Greene, the city’s development services director, told the city commission Aug. 31 during the initial presentation of the site plan.

The teams are trying to open the facility by January 2107 without going over the project’s $135 million budget.



Why are conservative bloggers posting photos of Riviera Beach mayor?

A picture of Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters is getting national attention – but not for a good reason.

It’s a picture of him with a cop-killer.

Last year, Masters attended the funeral for Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer sparked a wave of protests and a national conversation about police deadly force.

At the funeral, Masters, in his bishop’s attire, posed for a photo with a young man, Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks, who uploaded the photo to his own Facebook page.

According to his spokeswoman, Masters had no idea who the man was and didn’t ask. He didn’t appear to be tagged in Joseph-Shanks’ photo.

But Johnson-Shanks is now dead, having been shot and killed by police in Kentucky after being suspected of killing Kentucky State Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder Sunday night.

Johnson-Shank’s Facebook page has since been taken down, but not before many people saw and downloaded one of his pictures – the one with Masters.

The picture has since been posted on many rightwing websites.

“That person asked to take a picture with him and posted a selfie,” said Masters’ spokeswoman, Rose Ann Brown. “That happens to him frequently, particularly when he’s wearing that attire, that bishop’s attire.”

She said Masters didn’t know the man, but is aware the picture has been making the rounds online.

“You never know who’s asking to take a picture with you,” Brown said. “It could happen to anyone.”

Police union calls for WPB spokesman’s firing

FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. "My members are frustrated," he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. “My members are frustrated,” he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

The head of the county’s largest police union is calling for the firing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio’s spokesman in the wake of his accidental release of the names of undercover officers and confidential informants last week.

“If this happened by one of us, they’d be looking for our termination,” Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said today. “Putting this transparency thing out … that’s just not acceptable.”

In a press release, he said he expects the city will terminate Muoio’s spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who released the records to the city’s website.

“His release of personal confidential information about our members and their cooperating citizens has not only betrayed the trust of those citizens, but has jeopardized those citizens’ and our officers’ lives,” he wrote in a press release.

“We fear this breach is irreparable.”

Kazanjian said a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency has already been moved to a safe location after the names and addresses of informants and undercover officers were included in thousands of pages of emails the city released online last week.

The emails were part of an unrelated records request that Cohen, in a departure from normal city policy, released on the city’s website, under the heading “transparency.”

“Somebody needs to take responsibility,” Kazanjian said. “They circle around the wagons all the time and they come up with excuses. … To me, Elliot Cohen needs to go.”

The city isn’t backing away from Cohen, though.

“This incident revealed a flaw in our process, and it is not a personnel issue,” City Administrator Jeff Green said in a statement to the PBA. “Mr. Cohen remains a valued member of our leadership team here at the city. We understand your concern over this incident.”

However, Cohen played a central role in the release of the emails. Until yesterday, he handled all public records requests from the media. The city clerk handles all requests from the public, and Green said Tuesday that had the clerk handled the records request, the mistake probably wouldn’t have been made.

Cohen also posted the records on the city’s website, rather than sending them directly to the reporter who requested them. Muoio said the idea to post public records online was hers, but Cohen supported the idea.

Kazanjian said he wants to talk to the mayor about the problem. In the meantime, the release has damaged police relations with the community, he said.

“It’s going to be harder to do police work out there with the confidential informants,” Kazanjian said.