Buzz: Right Whales, Airport Tower, White Oak and More

Watch for Whales

Researchers report that about 20 North Atlantic right whale calves were born off the coast this winter. That’s better than the seven born last year, but a lot fewer than what researchers would like to see for an endangered species trying to make a comeback. Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale project, told the St. Augustine Record that paddleboarders are a new danger to the whale. She said vessel strikes and gear entanglement are hindering the whale’s recovery. Federal law prohibits getting any closer than 500 yards to the whales. There are an estimated 509 right whales living in the wild.


Airport Tower in Trouble

St. Augustine’s Northeast Florida Regional Airport board of directors has voted to spend $51,550 from its reserves to keep the control tower operating. The Federal Aviation Authority is ending funding on April 7 as part of the sequestration cuts. In a 3-2 vote, the board said the funding would keep the tower going for a month longer, the St. Augustine Record reported.  Board member Bob Cox said the measure was just a way to buy time. NFRA controllers monitor a takeoff or landing every 1.6 minutes in a 14-hour day; officials there said closing the tower might hurt local economy by $500 million.


White Oak in New Hands

A company managed by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter has paid $16.9 million for the 7,400-acre White Oak conservation facility, resort and conference center, according to the Jacksonville Daily Record. The Howard Gilman Foundation announced the sale to Mark and Kimbra Walter on March 19. White Oak is near Yulee, about 30 miles north of Jacksonville. The facility has hosted Bill Clinton and ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, among others. “Our primary mission is to build upon the work already underway at White Oak to create an international model for the humane and effective breeding and repopulation of endangered species,” Walter said.


Restricting Street Artists

If a new law is enacted in May, street performers and art vendors will be banned in a 12-block area of downtown Fernandina Beach, and two Centre Street pocket parks, the News Leader reported. The new ordinance, which must be approved on a second reading in May, requires street performers to have $300,000 in liability insurance and a $300 permit. Merchants complained performers and artists blocked doorways and disturbed pedestrians. Musicians argued the permit fee would stop many of them. The law wouldn’t affect artists, performers or vendors at the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, because they have special event permits.


Nonstop to Chicago

Southwest Airlines’ nonstop flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport, originally scheduled to begin Sept. 29, will now start June 3. The flight will depart JIA at 8:15 a.m. and return at 9:55 p.m. It’s the first nonstop service from Jacksonville to Midway, the company said. American and United Airlines fly to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from JIA.


Bus Bragging Rights

A Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus driver and a team of mechanics won top honors in this year’s Florida State Bus Roadeo held here March 23. For the second year in a row, Ramón Farfán took first place in the operator competition, beating out 11 drivers from other state public transit authorities. The team of JTA mechanics — William Lovelady, James Ratliff and George McGarry — won their competition against six others. Farfán and the mechanics compete in Indianapolis’ International Bus Roadeo in May. JTA is the Florida State Roadeo Grand Champion for the second year in a row.