Scrub-jay survey at preserve east of Eustis too little, too late

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Strap yourself in, dear reader.

Tidbits of additional information about recent column topics have been trickling this way, and it's time to catch up on them.

First, a recent column criticized Lake County for spending about $8,000 to pave a parking lot on public land and for paving where threatened scrub jays had been documented several years ago.

County staffers said they had looked around and didn't see scrub jays at the Lake May Preserve east of Eustis. Neither did volunteers who annually count the threatened birds. But neither of those methods is approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission.

After the carelessness of Lake staffers was exposed, the county decided to conduct an official scrub-jay survey. Cost: $4,552.50.

Sigh.

That brings to $12,552.50 the total amount that the county has spent needlessly so far on the property, probably the gem of the land-buying program.

Paved lots aren't necessary on preservation land. And the jays? It seems pretty unlikely that they'd be around after six or eight big pieces of screeching, stinking machinery spent several days paving right where the birds last were seen.

Surveys for endangered animals are supposed to be conducted before the habitat is destroyed. The parking lot is there now, so what's the point?

Last week's column also noted that state biologists hadn't replied when asked about gopher tortoises on the site. Although she missed the deadline, the gopher tortoise north regional conservation biologist did send a reply.

Daphne McCann of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Lake didn't need a permit for development if paving the parking lot didn't come within 25 feet of a gopher-tortoise burrow or if there wouldn't be enough habitat left over after the development.

The latter concern isn't a problem. The parking lot was only 4,000 square feet in a 136-acre parcel that makes up the Lake May Preserve.

Gophers do, indeed, live on the Lake May property, but they are between about 50 and 25 feet from the lot, no closer.

Search for yourself

A technical assistant from the University of Central Florida's library jumped in with a tidbit about B.C. Wilcox, the chief deputy at the Lake County Sheriff's Office who was shot in 1919 while trying to apprehend a suspect in an attempted rape.

In the process, she highlighted a wonderful little website for genealogy enthusiasts who are trying to run down information on relatives in Central Florida.

Becky Hammond pointed out that the UCF library has a manuscript collection called the Carey Hand Funeral Home Records. Carey Hand was among the oldest funeral homes in Central Florida, and it has since split into several companies and donated its records to the university.

Portions of the collection are online, thanks to the university, the Orange County Regional History Center and the Orange County Library System. A description of what's available is at library.ucf.edu/SpecialCollections/FindingAids/CareyHand.xml.

And users can access the collection at cfmemory.org.

The database shows that Carey Hand billed a Clermont man named C.P. Roe for Wilcox's embalming and casket. The chief deputy officially was declared dead by a Lake County judge.

School district is maddening

In a cost-saving measure, the school district is consolidating principals and staffers into just a handful of schools throughout the county for the summer and closing them entirely for one week in July.

The district estimates that it will save $745,000 in utilities alone.

Yes, nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. That was not a typo. Can you imagine? The school district proudly issued a press release last week announcing the change.

Sigh.

The school district needs money to better educate students — I am convinced of it. Just look at the types of programs and quality of education in other parts of the country. Students get shortchanged here in a big way.

But no bureaucracy with taxing power works harder to repulse supporters than the Lake schools, and this press release is a perfect example. Taxpayers are willing to increase funding when a government is doing everything possible to save and can show that it deserves more. This school district doesn't do that.

For that much money annually, Lake should have been doing this all along. The money would have paid the salaries and benefits of more than 50 teachers' aides, and few expenditures are so effective in allowing a teacher to work directly with students rather than spending time keeping order.

Sometimes it seems that the Lake school district is the king of lost opportunity.

Lritchie@tribune.com Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laurenonlake.

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