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Only prudent course was delay sand mining vote

The two companies that had Baker County in a turmoil in recent months seeking to bring their sand mining operations to sites south and east of Macclenny did last week what they had to do.

Both withdrew petitions for zoning exceptions pending environmental review by two state agencies — St. Johns Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Opponents were loaded for bear before the hearings cancelled at the last minute the evening of August 21 — a petition with 2000 names and warm bodies to fill the large second-story courtroom at the county courthouse.

Alas, it was all for naught, at least for the present.

The controversy isn’t about sand mining, after all. It’s about water supply, and one could argue convincingly that the environmental impact portion of this should have preceded the zoning exception request.

But it didn’t, and we need to deal with what is.

As mentioned before, the plans of Old Castle Southern Group of Tampa and E.R. Jahna of Lake Wales broke into the public consciousness at an inopportune time — right on the heels of the medical waste incinerator request (also at Trailridge and environs) that turned into a fiasco.

The public perception with all three projects — rightly or wrongly — was that they screamed out “environmental hazard!” foisted on the public after groundwork was laid in secret.

That’s not exactly accurate, but it didn’t matter — perception is everything.

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County board, by nature, is more volatile

Looking at this week’s primary results in local races, it appears to be a good year for incumbents — if you’re on the Baker County School Board.

For the Baker County Commission, not so much.

Both Dwight Crews of Sanderson, a seven-term incumbent, and Patricia Weeks of Glen St. Mary, who has been on the school board 20 years, easily won new terms on Tuesday in a primary that brought out 36 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Michael Crews, on the county commission a single term, was ousted by James Croft, himself once a one-term commissioner defeated for a second ride in the 1980s.

Before Tuesday, there was a lot of buzz suggesting that 2012 is rife with anti-incumbent sentiment. People are fed up with government, with career politicians, with wasteful spending, with government that doesn’t seem to respond to the people.

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Local dialogue mirrors national, state

After last weekend’s candidate forum, voters should have a good sense of where the candidates stand on classic issues like taxes and spending as well as more recent hot-button ones like sand mining, medical waste incinerators or the closure of Barber Road.

What struck me about the forum were its parallels to the intense political battles at the state and national level. As Theresa Rhoden points out in her letter this week, the local candidates’ messages sound very similar to those emanating from the campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Obama; and I don’t think that’s coincidental.

“The incumbents are failing us,” all the challengers say. “We’re improving, not as much as we’d all like, but things are progressing and the sky’s not falling,” seems to be the call of those in office.

It’s like we’ve become so politically polarized, and there’s so many ways to be exposed to the propaganda of the right and the left, that realistic solutions to the day-t0-day challenges of local government get lost in this giant echo chamber we’re all stuck inside thanks to the Internet, social media, cable television and supped-up smart phones.

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Are ‘live signs’ really a hazard?

The City of Macclenny would be well advised to dump the proposed ordinance bannng “live signs” and instead concentrate on ridding its streets — most notably busy South 6th — of the hodge-podge of ugly signage that is truly a distraction to motorists and the eyes of anyone driving, riding, walking or in the case of late night bar patrons, stumbling along the thoroughfare.

The city commission believes “live signs” that feature warm bodies waving them for pawn shops, restaurants, cellphone companies, etc. pose a danger to motorists because they are often waved directly at oncoming traffic.

Maybe so, but they’re no worse than electronic signs that grace several financial institutions and, more lately, the health department office on Lowder St. Those are  placed in attractive settings and except for one are close to the ground — at eye level — and don’t constitute eyesores.

The commission passed the proposed ordinance on first reading on July 10 and it’s scheduled for a second hearing and final passage on August 14.

Hopefully, business interests affected by the ban will show up, along with others who see this is a further intrusion by government on private small businesses at just the wrong time.

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