FWC Rules: "Chain Saw" Jack Berry & Gov Scott's Board Must Save Tree with Hawks Nest, For Now
Posted May 5, 2016 11:40 am
Mid April photo of hawk in tree scheduled for demolition by Chain Saw Jack and the Gov's Board. (courtesy)
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Two days ago, the Observer received a call that there were nesting hawks in a tree scheduled to be felled under the orders of political operative Jackson P. "Jack" Berry, the Manager of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority and the real leader of Gov. Scott's rubber-stamp Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board. The Board had previously approved the clear cutting of the only stand of trees in an area around Lake City's downtown Lake DeSoto Circle Drive. It was reported that the hawk was first seen on April 1 and Manager Berry was aware of the hawk, a raptor, which is a federally protected species.
The source, fearful of the wrath of the legendary Berry, the former republican leader, would only speak under the condition of anonymity.
It was reported that Mr. Berry came back a week later, claimed that "he hadn't seen the bird" and said that he "wanted to move forward" with the felling of the trees.
At this time the hawk's nest was clearly visible in the tree.
The hospital is on the left. The hawk's nest is in the left hand stand of pines (the tall trees). The nest could be seen from the ground. Manager Berry wants all the trees cut, except 4 or 5.
On February 8, 2016, the Authority met for its monthly meeting. Manager Berry, who prepares the Authority agendas, left off that he was looking for approval to clear cut the trees at the back of the hospital and along Circle Drive. After a brief presentation by Manager Berry, which included no facts and figures to support the clear cutting, Board member Dr. Ron Foreman wasted no time and led the charge to remove the trees. "Get on the hill," he told Mr. Berry.
On March 14, 2016, ("Chain Saw Jack" Berry & Gov's LSHA Board Vote to Cut Down Lake DeSoto Trees) after a discussion and a clearly bollixed bid process, which did not come close to the state purchasing procedures and the Authority's own purchasing policy, the Authority Board approved the bid to chain saw the trees. Authority contract attorney, Fred Koberlein, who had charged the Authority to prepare for the meeting, did not know that an RFP was not written or advertised.
On March 15, 2016, Manager Berry visited Lake City's Building & Zoning Department and incompletely filled out an application for a permit to remove the trees. A building official issued Mr. Berry the permit and stamped Building & Zoning Director Bob Hathcox's name on the application.
On or about March 17, after Barbara Lemley requested a copy of the permit, Director Hathcox left a message on her phone stating a permit to cut down the trees was not issued.
On March 29, Ms. Lemley received a copy of the permit.
On March 30, Ms. Lemley asked Mr. Berry why he didn't completely fill out the permit. "I was told he didn't have to," she said.
On March 31, your reporter spoke with Director Hathcox about the permit.
The City tree ordinance states:
The administrator and the landscape supervisor, utilizing such technical assistance as may be required, shall review all applications for tree removal and determine from among other considerations what effect the removal will have upon the drainage, topography, natural resources, ecology of the area, public safety and welfare, aesthetic value, and the reasonable use of the site for development and shall consider these factors in granting or denying said permit application. (emphasis added)
Mr. Hathcox is the City's administrator and the landscape supervisor. Your reporter asked why, considering the sensitive nature of the tree removal, he didn't utilize any other technical assistance.
Mr. Hathcox answered, "In my opinion it was not necessary to utilize any other technical assistance other than myself."
Your reporter followed up, "The aesthetic part of it. Is the City Jack Berry's handmaiden, or do they actually go and look at the property and make a value judgment?"
Mr. Hathcox responded, "As far as I'm concerned the trees that are there are water oaks and a few pine trees. The value of them is not as significant as if we were dealing with a bunch of live oaks and heritage type trees."
Altogether there are about 50 trees scheduled for the chain saw.
Hawks in the Trees: Nesting Hawks 4 of the Last 5 Years
Yesterday at noon, the hawk. ++ Enlarge
Two days ago, the Observer received a call that there were nesting hawks in a tree scheduled to be felled under the orders of Jack Berry, the Manager of the Lake Shore Hospital.
It was reported that the hawk was first seen on April 1 and Manager Berry was aware of the hawk, a raptor, which is a federally protected species.
The source, fearful of the wrath of the legendary Berry, the former republican leader, would only speak under the condition of anonymity. "You know how Jack is," he said.
For more than 4 decades, Jack Berry's reputation has been that "Nobody tells him what to do." (see right column)
It was reported that Mr. Berry came back a week later, claimed that "he hadn't seen the bird" and said that he "wanted to move forward" with the felling of the trees. "He wanted to go ahead and cut down the trees," the source said.
At this time the hawks nest was clearly visible in the tree.
The source added, "Over the last five years I know of four nests that have been in those trees, not the same tree every year - but the same set of trees -- those big pines."
BERRY'S DREAMS: the "Jack Berry Highway"
For years, Jack Berry has dreamed of building a road from U.S. 90, through wetlands, to the back of the Lake Shore Hospital. The road, less than one mile is estimated to cost at least $2.5 mil. The road has been dubbed by many as the "Jack Berry Highway." Mr. Berry recently added moving the existing helipad a few hundred feet.
There has not been a demonstrated need for this road. Plans have not been approved and other than a grant by Governor Scott, the funding source has not been identified; the Authority has not asked for a preliminary site assessment from the Water Management District. Both Jack Berry and Representative Elizabeth Porter have claimed responsibility for obtaining the grant. There are rumors that DOT is getting involved.
On April 21, 2016, speaking under the condition of anonymity, representatives of Lifeguard Ambulance were asked about the need for a road to the back of the hospital.
The Observer asked, "How many runs a day [to the hospital] do you guys make?"
Answer: "At least 8-10 a day."
Your reporter followed up: "How many revolve around the helicopter?"
Answer: "Less than 2%. We average about 700 transports from 911 and less than 2% are air."
The Observer: "Do you guys really need that road?"
Answer: "No. Not really. We very rarely use the Lake Shore heli-pad."
The Observer: "You don't need the road to get to the emergency room?"
Answer: "No. They repaved Leon [another local road]. We're good with that."
One of the reasons Mr. Berry has used to justify chain sawing the trees is the path of the Jack Berry Highway.
The helipad is an added Jack Berry dream. There has been no demonstrated need to move the helipad; no written plans or proposals; and no requests from anybody, other than Jack Berry to move it; needed FAA approval is sketchy. Mr. Berry is using the heli-pad relocation as another reason to chain saw the trees.
Lake City Digs In
On May 3, and again on May 4, your reporter asked the City's Bob Hathcox to reconsider his permit to clear cut the trees in light of the nesting hawks.
Mr. Hathcox stood by his decision. He said, "Until somebody from the federal government tells me I can't cut down the trees, the permit stands."
FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Stepped In
FWC took the call seriously and began investigating. A short while later, FWC returned the call requesting more information.
At 4:19 pm, FWC Agent Fisher called and explained he had "just come off the river and was parking his boat in Fort White." He explained that regulations prohibit the tree with the hawks from being cut down, but all the other trees in the area could be felled. "Eagles require a buffer, but hawks do not," he said.
Agent Fisher said he wanted to be sure there were hawks in the tree and was headed to Lake City as soon as he parked his boat.
Your reporter explained which tree it was.
Agent Fisher asked for Mr. Berry's cell number. Your
Agent Fisher said, "I will ride up and take a look. I will call this Jack Berry from the Hospital Authority and let him know if there is an active hawk's nest in one of those trees that he can't cut the tree down. But that's not saying he can't cut the rest of the trees down."
CHS, CFO Rhonda Sherrod, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society
Besides leasing the Lake Shore Hospital, it leases the property with the trees that Jack Berry and the Governor's Board has ordered to be clear cut. Mr. Berry needs permission from CHS to cut the trees. A record of that approval has never been made public.
Yesterday afternoon, May 4, the Observer spoke with Rhonda Sherrod, the CEO of CMS's Shands Lake Shore Hospital. Referring to the trees and the hawks, she said, "As far as I know, the trees will not be cut down until the birds leave."
The Observer followed up, "As you know, CHS has control of the property through the lease. At this time, does CHS have a position on the clear cutting of the trees?"
Ms. Sherrod answered, "Not that I know of."
Later yesterday afternoon, your reporter was in contact with Sierra Club member Laura Dailey, who advised the Audubon Society of the Hawks-in-the-Trees.
By return email, the message was, "...they're ON IT!!!"
Governor Scott's Lake Shore Hospital Authority meets this Monday at 5:15 pm in Lake City.
Manager Berry and the Governor's Board are expected to be there, along with long time Board member Koby Adams, Representative Elizabeth Porter's Chief of Staff.