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AP to consider contamination cleanup options

AVON PARK — An industrial site at the Avon Park Executive Airport requires further cleanup of soil that was contaminated with arsenic by an aircraft-related business.

At its Monday meeting, the City Council will consider a few options for the environmental cleanup.

In a May 7, 2020 letter, to an environmental company working with the City of Avon Park, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection stated the area with arsenic levels above commercial/industrial levels was not addressed. DEP wanted clarification of how this area will be cleaned up.

The council agenda notes that contamination assessments were completed in 2014/2015.

The presentation provided by Environmental Consulting & Technology Inc. states the environmental cleanup at the Ag Flying Services location is completed, but the Poole Hangar location requires more work to be completed.

The site history notes that Poole Industries, Inc. operated an engine testing and repair company at the site. An engine test rack was observed on an outdoor concrete pad with oil-stained concrete and surrounding soil.

In April 2015, the City of Avon Park removed the concrete slab and excavated soils beneath the pad. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection subsequently required a site assessment.

Environmental Consulting & Technology offered two cleanup options for Unrestricted Land Use – removing impacted soil with an estimated cost range of $150,000-$200,000 and removing impacted soil and soil blending with an estimated cost range of $100,000-$150,000.

Also, there are two cleanup options for Restricted Land Use – cover impacted soil with two feet of clean fill with no cost listed for this option and pavement over impacted soil with an estimated cost range of $75,000-$100,000 with annual operating costs of $2,000-$4,000.

An airport budget summary related to the contamination cleanup shows the airport received a general fund loan of $300,000 along with a settlement payment of $40,000 for a total cleanup budget of $340,000.

The cleanup costs to date total $220,230.50, which does not include the legal services costs that totaled $41,558.85.

The total remaining cleanup budget is $119,769.50.

Bad railroad crossing replaced

LAKE PLACID — It has been a long time coming but the railroad crossing at Lake Drive East is being repaired. No more teeth jarring or undercarriage scraping and no more going airborne like the Dukes of Hazzard as vehicles traverse the railroad.

Construction began on Thursday and is slated to be wrapped up today, weather permitting. Motorists and especially parents that drive their children to and from work will be overjoyed on Monday.

The railroad crossing is on a highly traveled street with the middle, elementary and high schools some 300 feet to the west. Most of the town’s children walk to school and walk via sidewalk but the sidewalk stops on the north and south sides of the crossing. When students cross the tracks, there was 220 feet on the side of the road where there was no traffic control before getting to a sidewalk on the other side.

Town Administrator Phil Williams has been talking to property owners South Central Florida Express, Inc. since 2016 to get repairs done. In 2018, after traffic studies and loads of paperwork, the town partnered with SCFE and applied to the Florida Department of Transportation for a grant to help defer the cost of repairs. The grant was denied.

Many people were in agreement for the repair of the crossing and wanted the sidewalks to meet for the students’ safety. Highlands County Engineer Clinton Howerton and School Board of Highlands County Superintendent Brenda Longshore wrote letters of support for the grant.

The project contractor was R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor, Inc. Williams was unsure what the project ended up costing, but in 2018 there were two bids for the railroad crossing replacement. Excavation Point, Inc. came in at $26,757 and R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor at $82,472.

Williams will probably be relieved to see this project completed. He had a discussion with R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor Vice President Clint Lalla via emails that seem to assure Williams that the crossing would include a sidewalk “for the crossing length.” Lalla said the crossing would be 60 feet and should be enough room for a three feet utility strip and a five-foot sidewalk.

“As soon as the crossing is improved I intend to see what’s needed and follow up,” Williams promised. “Those are our children crossing there and that’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Fairgoers forgo face masks

SEBRING — It has been mostly a maskless affair at the 2021 Highlands County Fair amid the ongoing pandemic that ushered in a period of recommended social distancing and, in some cases, mandated mask wearing.

While trips to the store, airports and other public places still require masks as a precautionary measure, it was business as usual at the fair.

It appears a very small percentage of fairgoers have been wearing masks or abiding by the safety practice of social distancing.

Avery Niccum, 19, was among the majority who weren’t wearing a mask Thursday at the fair.

“I don’t wear a mask here because the environment is basically mask-free,” he said. “As a Christian, I will wear a mask if others are wearing one.

“If I am surrounded by people who are afraid of it [COVID], who it could affect, then I will wear a mask, but in this environment I am not very afraid of it so I don’t tend to wear one here.”

Willie Brifil, 34, who wasn’t wearing a mask at the fair, said he had to wear one at his job at a power plant.

The masks are irritating, he said.

Senior citizen Pauline Green and her husband, from Ontario, and another couple with them, from Pennsylvania, were all wearing masks.

“Absolutely,” Green said of her wearing a mask.

They normally come to Highlands County in October for the winter, but came down from Canada only two weeks ago, she said. The delay was due to the pandemic.

They haven’t opened anything up in Canada, Green said. To come to the U.S., you have to fly in and have your truck and RV transported over the border.

“That’s what we finally did,” she said. Their RV was transported 35 miles across the boarder and then they drove to Highlands County.

Kathy Couturier, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, wore her mask lowered below her chin.

“If I get close to people I put it on,” she said.

She noted that only about 25% of those attending the pageants on the weekend were wearing masks.

Photos from the Little Miss Highlands County pageant on Friday show the judges wearing masks, but only a few spectators with masks.

The Highlands County Fair Association addressed COVID with a disclaimer on its Facebook page, which stated: “COVID-19 exposure is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present: Guests should only attend after evaluating their own health risks.

“The Highlands County Fair Association cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit. Purchase of admission, tickets or ride armband and entry on to the Highlands County Fairgrounds constitutes your understanding of these risks and your willingness to undertake the risk of exposure.”

State passes 30,000 COVID deaths
  • Updated

Highlands County saw a good day in terms of COVID-19. The Florida Department of Health’s daily report Friday showed 24 new cases overnight. The new cases brought the overall total to 7,056 cases of COVID. Of the cumulative cases, 6,988 residents have been infected and just 68 non-residents have been infected.

Of the 24 new cases, three children were in the 0-4 age range for the second day in a row. That’s six cases in the age group that only has 111 cases. The six cases make up 5.4% of the total cases.

In addition, there were two more children in the 5-14 year-old range. The five new cases 14 and under cases on Friday make up 20.8% of the day’s new cases.

There has been two more deaths reported by FDOH. The death toll has risen to 294 people whose deaths have been attributed to COVID.

Testing remained low at 326 processed with 303 negative reports. The daily positivity rate was down quite a bit to 7.06% from the previous day.

There have been 557 hospitalizations so far. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there were 35 people hospitalized at 3:02 p.m. Friday. AHCA also reported the county’s adult ICU beds census was at 21 with five beds available.

The long-term care facilities gained another case of coronavirus and the total count sits at 650. Corrections was still at 116 cases of infection on Friday.

Statewide, Florida’s new cases increased by 6,683 infections. The new cumulative cases is 1,856,427.

The cases of infections are divided by 1,822,644 residents and 33,783 non-residents that have tested positive.

In Florida, deaths from COVID-19 shattered the 30,000 mark. Overnight, the deaths continued to rise and 224 deaths were attributed to the coronavirus. Of those 224 deaths, six were non-residents and 218 people were residents. Deaths throughout the pandemic are now 30,214 with 516 non-residents and 29,692 residents.

The state tested 113,577 people with 107,021 negative results. The state had a positivity rate of 5.85%, which is the best it has been since at least Feb. 5 (the last date shown on the report).

The state had 804 new cases in ages 14 and under.

Florida continues to lead the nation in cases of the UK virus variant. The Sunshine State has seen 433 of the 1,523 B.1.1.7 variant cases that have been detected in the U.S.

The CDC also reported Florida has its first case of the P.1 variant, or the Brazil variant as it is more commonly called. Just five cases have been seen in the U.S., with the variant appearing in four different states so far.

Cases continue to be low in the United States, as the COVID Tracking Project’s Thursday night report showed a total of 66,824 cases. The rolling seven-day average is now 72,589, which is down 25% from last week.

Deaths haven’t dropped at the same rate, however, and there were 2,616 new deaths reported. With several days featuring lower rates earlier in the week, the rolling seven-day average of 1,998 is 20% lower than last week.

Hospitalizations dropped several hundred and are now at 63,200, while testing was up a little at 1,356,782.

Numbers coming out of Texas are likely lower than the actual counts, as the state continues to battle the weather. Texas Health and Human Services addressed this on the state’s dashboard with the following message, “Winter weather is affecting the reporting of new COVID-19 cases and fatalities across many jurisdictions. New case counts will be artificially low until reporting resumes.”

Thursday evening, Texas reported 2,690 confirmed cases and 97 deaths.

Early numbers Friday don’t look much different than what has been seen the previous couple of days, with California reporting 6,798 new cases and 420 deaths, while Arizona checked in with 1,918 new cases and 145 deaths.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. has seen 27.94 million cases and had 494,151 deaths.

Globally, there have been 110.5 million cases and 2.48 million deaths.