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Wrecks keep responders busy Saturday

SEBRING — Three wrecks within one hour Saturday afternoon had county and Sebring city responders busy clearing roads and tending to injured.

One of the wrecks temporarily closed U.S. 27 just south of Lake Josephine Drive. Five patients were transported, but all injuries were minor, according to Highlands County Fire Rescue.

Units from Stations 19, 17 and 36 were dispatched shortly after 4 p.m., including Engine 19-1, and Medic Units 17-1, 17-2 and 36-1.

Battalion Chief 2 also responded to the wreck.

Meanwhile, Sebring city police and firefighters had to contend with a 17-year-old who lost control while traveling fast down Lakeview Drive, just south of Kenilworth Boulevard.

Police Cpl. Sean Bueford reported that the driver lost control on the wet pavement in front of Jimmy’s Greek American Grill, just north of Villa Road.

The boy’s Chevrolet Colorado truck hit a tree and then an old power pole. Fortunately, not only was the driver not seriously injured, the wreck did not cause a power outage.

Bueford said the driver was cited for careless driving.

Shortly after that, at 4:53 p.m., Sebring police and HCFR crews out of West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department, Station 9, responded to a T-bone wreck at Sebring Parkway and Memorial Drive.

Bueford said a family, including a small girl, were southbound on Memorial in a silver Toyota Corolla sedan and collided with the passenger side of a westbound dark red Ford F250 crew cab pickup on the Parkway.

With both Florida Highway Patrol and Highlands County sheriff’s deputies otherwise engaged, Bueford said Sebring police would investigate the wreck, with charges pending.

Fortunately, he said, no one reported any injuries, but the wreck did leave the sedan blocking the westbound lanes.

Bueford, another officer and two firefighters pushed the Toyota from the road into the parking lot at Alligator Pack ‘N Ship, from which it was towed.

Within a little more than half an hour, the Parkway was cleared and all lanes reopened.

Recycling real and artificial Christmas trees

SEBRING – The presents have been opened, the leftovers are almost gone the piles of wrapping paper corralled to the garbage. Now it’s time to relax. Or so you thought, the tree that took so long to put up and decorate stands as a reminder it has to be dealt with.

Should it just be taken down and tossed out for the yard debris or cut up for firewood? After spending the money on a real tree, it seems like getting an alternate use justifies the price. However, if you do decide to toss a real tree in the yard debris, Highlands County’s Waste Connections said to make sure it is under 6 feet and they will pick it up on the normal yard debris day. When tossing the artificial trees, Waste Connection said to make sure it is also under 6 feet in length and put it with bulk.

An artificial tree can be given new life with spray paint and an imagination. It can be left out all year and decorated for the corresponding season.

A more eco-friendly way to handle a real tree is to make a bird or fish feeder out of it. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the first step is to make sure to strip the tree of any ornaments, bows and tinsel, etc. To make a bird feeder, prop the tree against a fence or leave the stand in place and bring the tree outside to a nice spot in the garden. The tree will act as a bird sanctuary. As the needles fall off and the branches become brittle, they should be able to be snapped off and tossed into a mulcher or into the yard debris pile.

Another site suggests neighbors renting a mulcher together and having a mulching party. The chipped trees can be used as mulch in planting beds and pathways.

The National Christmas Tree Association suggests using the trees to fight soil erosion near lake shorelines. Turn the tree into a fish buffet in a private lake or pond by sinking the tree, as algae forms on the tree, the fish dine.

Many people, especially living in rural areas will burn their real trees. The Florida Forest Service put out some guidelines for safely disposing of trees. The release said dry and brittle needles and branches can literally add fuel to a fire. The FFS tips for burning trees are:

• Check local ordinances for county burn bans and requirements for outdoor burning;

• Never burn on dry, windy days;

• Only burn if significant rainfall has occurred in the last three or four days;

• Select a burn location that is at least 25 feet from your home, 25 feet from natural areas, 50 feet from paved public roads and 150 feet from other occupied buildings;

• Remove all decorations from the tree before burning;

• Cut the tree into manageable sections;

• Clear the area around the tree down to bare soil to prevent the fire from spreading – free of leaf litter, pine straw and other flammable materials;

• Keep a water source and a shovel or suppression tool on-hand;

• Never leave a fire unattended;

• Completely extinguish a fire before leaving;

• Never burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove;

• Immediately call 911 to report any fires.

“With a few simple preventative steps, everyone can take a proactive role in wildfire safety,” said Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service.

Alligators, pricey bananas and naked people: 2019 in Florida

ST. PETERSBURG — In 2019, Florida Banana managed to eclipse Florida Man. From alligator antics to naked people doing wacky things, Florida did not disappoint in the weird news department this year.

In December, a Miami couple spent more than $100,000 on the “unicorn of the art world” — a banana duct-taped to a wall — during Art Basel. The piece was widely copied and mocked on social media, and then someone at the art fair ripped it off the wall and ate it.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan sold three editions of “Comedian,” each in the $120,000 to $150,000 range.

“We are acutely aware of the blatant absurdity of the fact that “Comedian” is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable piece of produce and a couple inches of duct tape,” one couple that purchased the banana said. “Ultimately we sense that Cattelan’s banana will become an iconic historical object.”

Florida is known for many things. Sunshine, beaches and oranges. The magic of Disney and the glamour of South Beach. It’s also known for having the most bananas news in the United States.

As they often do, alligators topped the list of odd stories. Perhaps the most visually interesting happened in October, when Paul Bedard, who is contracted with the state’s nuisance alligator program, responded to a call of a gator in a swimming pool in Parkland. Bedard “played” with the 8-foot long reptile until it became tired. Then he lifted it out of the water and held it over his head for an Instagram photo.

“I haven’t had a good-sized gator in a swimming pool in probably a year, so I was kind of looking forward to this when I got the call,” he said. The alligator was relocated to a wildlife park.

Humans tangled with gators in a multitude of other ways. One reptile knocked on a woman’s door the night before Thanksgiving in Fort Myers. In Martin County, two men poured Coors beer into an alligator’s mouth. They were arrested.

Alligators weren’t the only animals making headlines in Florida.

In August, a restaurant in Stuart canceled its “Monkey Mondays” when a 9-month-old capuchin named JoJo bit a child’s finger.

Also in August, a Lake Worth Beach man began feeding a kinkajou (a raccoon relative with a prehensile tail that’s native to Central and South America), but one day, it attacked his leg. “It was not a nice kinkajou. It was super aggressive,” the man’s girlfriend told The Palm Beach Post.

And a Labrador retriever somehow got behind the wheel of a car and did doughnuts in Port St. Lucie.

Some claim Florida’s weird news surfaces because of the state’s open public records laws, while others chalk it up to the fact that it’s the third largest state, with more than 21 million people packed on a peninsula — many wearing scant clothing because of infernal heat most of the year.

Whatever the reason, taking stock of the year’s strange stories in Florida is a time-honored tradition. This year’s no different, because the unusual is met with a chuckle and shrug precisely because it’s so normal. (Honestly. In 1986, the state’s official tourism slogan was “Florida ... The Rules Are Different Here”).

Consider Patrick Eldridge of Jacksonville, who parked his tiny Smart Car in his kitchen because he was worried it would blow away during Hurricane Dorian.

The owners of a Port Orange funeral home gave away a free cremation as part of its grand reopening.

A toilet exploded in Port Charlotte when lighting struck the home’s septic tank. No one was injured, and homeowner Marylou Ward expressed relief: “I’m just glad none of us were on the toilet.”

Folks attacked one another with all manner of items, including (but not limited to): pancake batter, Pop-Tarts, a fake Christmas tree, swords, McDonald’s condiment packets and roach spray.

In the city of Port Richey, two mayors were arrested in the span of 20 days — one on charges of obstruction of justice; the other, on allegations he was practicing medicine without a license in his home.

Lest you think all Floridians are strange, a few did some remarkably kind things.

Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack went to his hometown of Fort Pierce and stopped by a Walmart store in December. He paid off all the layaways, to the tune of $80,000, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A Florida 9-year-old gave his third grade teacher all the feels when he offered his $15 of birthday money as a solution to the problem of teachers being underpaid.

In Gulf Breeze, a 73-year-old man wanted to “take a little bit of stress out” of the season for his neighbors and secretly gave $4,600 to help 36 families pay their water and gas bills.

But it’s the weird that attracts the most attention here. A number of people were nude, or partially nude, when they made the news.

In Polk County in December, a Florida man was “buck naked” when he showed up to the front door of a home where an undercover sex sting operation was being conducted, sheriff’s officials said. A naked Florida man burglarized an elementary school in Apopka and spread feces throughout the building. Cops chased a lot of naked people through parking lots, swamps and stores, too many to list here.

In Miami in March, motorists captured on camera a nearly nude man wearing hot pink socks, sneakers, skimpy underwear and a pink headband, bicycling backwards down I-95.

As one does.

Office closing early Tuesday

The Highlands News-Sun will close its office at noon Tuesday, Dec. 31 and will be closed Wednesday, Jan. 1 in observance of New Year’s Day. The office will reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 2.

FEMA awards FDEP $37.8M for Irma reimbursement

SEBRING — More than two years after Hurricane Irma hit and left Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided funds to the state for debris removal.

Specifically, FEMA has awarded $37.8 million to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to help defray the costs of cleaning up after submerged debris left by Irma, under FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

These FEMA funds will reimburse the state for what it cost to remove and dispose of submerged debris from waterways statewide from Oct. 18, 2017 to March 3, 2018.

Contractors working for the state submitted 234 individual contract invoices for a variety of work including debris monitoring and removing an estimated 220,304 cubic yards of debris from waterways.

Funding for this Public Assistance (PA) project is authorized under Sections 403 of the Robert T. Stafford Act for Florida to cover Hurricane Irma-related expenses, reimbursing eligible applicants for the cost of debris removal; life-saving emergency protective measures; and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities like buildings, roads and utilities.

It is unknown if Highlands County officials would be making grant applications to FDEP, now that the state agency has been replenished of funding. Road and Bridge Director Kyle Green did express interest in submitting grant applications for a few projects, if possible.

Highlands County’s waterways were affected by Irma wind, rain and debris, resulting in some drainage culverts failing and/or washing out. The county did receive reimbursement for debris removal directly from FEMA, and reimbursement for repairs and replacement of drainage infrastructure, but not for the cost of upgrades, which both Green and County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. found necessary in some locations.

FEMA reports that its Public Assistance program provides grants to state, tribal, and local governments, and certain types of private non-profit organizations including some houses of worship, to help communities respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies quickly.