Federal Money Can be Used for Beach Projects, Scott Says
Gov. Rick Scott talked about meeting thresholds in order to get federal money to help renourish beaches in the wake of Debby damage at an economic development discussion with Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos and leaders in the hotel, sports and transit
Wearing a black suit, his signature black cowboy boots and a white shirt sans tie, Gov. Rick Scott slid his way through the circular theater at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium shaking hands and introducing himself to government officials and representatives from different elements of the tourism industry.
Each got a chance to talk economic development and tourism with Scott.
Mayor George N. Cretekos, representatives from the hotel industry, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Jolley Trolley shared concerns and issues about economic development and tourism at the recent roundtable discussion.
They talked about beach renourishment, developing a state strategy to retain sports franchises and expanding the use of compressed natural gas.
Like a business meeting, they tossed around words like return on investment and buy and sell.
"We just want to make sure we get a return. If we do well we get more dollars,” Scott said. "Every project has a good return and there will be more and more dollars."
Cretekos took the chance to talk to the governor about the importance of beach renourishment not just for tourism but for safety in the wake of flooding and other damage wrought by heavy rainfall and rising waters by Tropical Storm Debby.
“Beach renourishment is vital to us,” said Cretekos, who lives on Sand Key, which was hit hard by Debby. “This last week shows that.”
Scott agreed. He said that the state needs all the money it can get to help with beach erosion and renourishment projects including reaching thresholds to get federal money to match.
Scott said that he has been in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency since the start of Debby. A state assessment of damage costs determines the amount the federal disaster relief agency will chip in. Just this week President Barack Obama said Pinellas County is one of several in the state to be eligible for federal aid.
Cretekos also asked Scott about increasing enforcement agents to help investigate beach dune destruction.
He also said that the area can not solely rely on tourism to pay bills. They need incentives to lure other businesses to diversify the economy.
“The oil spill showed that to us,” Cretekos said.
Alternative Fuel for Jolley Trolley?
Bob Longenecker, president of the Jolley Trolley, talked about the single compressed natural gas vehicle they use.
Longnecker said that ridership has improved from 64,000 in 2009 to 200,000, and the trolley has reduced its reliance on public support to 43 percent.
Longnecker said the fuel is efficient and effective, but conversion and other facilities are not. He would like to use more alternative fuel vehicles, however, the costs of conversion are too high.
Longenecker asked the governor about getting more government fleet vehicles to run on compressed natural gas to help lower costs.
“If we could get over that through grants or federal money,” Longnecker said.
Scott said companies are teaming up with counties to convert government fleet vehicles.
“It’s happened all over the state,” Scott said, including in Leon County.
Keeping Sports Teams in Florida
John Timberlake, the general manager of the Threshers, the minor league affiliate for the Phillies, dropped a couple numbers on Scott.
The Phillies have a 66-year presence in Clearwater and an $80 million a year economic impact. There are 500 part-time employees and more than 45 full-time at Bright House Field.
Timberlake is worried about the flocking of teams from Florida to Arizona. Timberlake suggested developing a strategy to help retain and even lure other major league teams to the state.
“Building stadiums is something that must be done,” Timberlake said. “Across the state of Florida we have to keep our teams.”