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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > St. Lucie County

Port St. Lucie saw year of change
Rating: 1.44 / 5 (18 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Dec 28 - 06:59

By Dawn Krebs


PORT ST. LUCIE -- As 2012 comes to a close, looking back over the past 12 months shows Port St. Lucie residents experienced both the good and the bad.

Here, in no particular order, is a small sampling of what city residents witnessed, as 2012 becomes part of the history books.

Digital Domain closes

One of the biggest shocks to the city happened on Sept. 7, when Digital Domain Media Group closed its doors, putting more than 300 people out of work instantly.

Within weeks, the parent company filed for bankruptcy and was sold to Galloping Horse America, a division of a Beijing media company, as well as Reliance MediaWorks, an Indian company. But the deal did not include the building in Port St. Lucie.

Instead, the office equipment and supplies inside of it have been auctioned off, and the building is currently on the market looking for a new tenant.

Crosstown Parkway direction decided

At a January city council meeting, the council unanimously agreed to take the next step in the Crosstown Parkway construction by completing a final environmental impact state for the Federal Highway Administration.

It was decided to extend the parkway along West Virginia Drive, west of the north fork of the St. Lucie River, to the existing intersection of U.S. 1 and Village Green Drive. It is estimated the final extension will be about 2 miles long and help relieve congestion on Prima Vista and Port St. Lucie Boulevards.

City manager fired

In March, the Port St. Lucie City Council met in a special meeting to discuss the accountability of a number of city officials.

The actions of then-city manager Jerry Bentrott, city attorney Robert Orr and Port St. Lucie Police Chief Brian Reuther were called into question after city police stopped an assistant city attorney for erratic driving.

The attorney was driven home and did not receive any citations or field sobriety tests. Afterward, she was suspended without pay for five days, and then later fired.

During the special meeting, the council voted to fire Mr. Bentrott, and then named Gregory Oravec, who was currently the assistant city manager, as the interim. Mr. Oravec was later named city manager.

New police chief hired

A new police chief came to Port St. Lucie, but it took a few months.

After Police Chief Brian Reuther retired, a nationwide search began for the next chief. The city council officially chose Craig Novick after an exhaustive interview process in June. He first turned down and then accepted the position. But by July, he had declined it again, calling the politics in the city "brutal."

But in August, acting Police Chief John Bolduc, a long-time officer in Port St. Lucie, was officially given the title by Mr. Oravec.

Bus accident stuns community

The community came together in shock and compassion on the afternoon of March 26 when a collision between a St. Lucie County school bus and a semitrailer carrying sod collided at the corner of Okeechobee Road and Midway Road in western St. Lucie County.

The bus was traveling from, among other schools, Francis K. Sweet Elementary in Fort Pierce.

One student on the bus, Aaron Beauchamp, was killed, and 14 other students were injured, along with the bus driver, Albert Hazen.

In September, Mr. Hazen received a six-month license suspension and a $1,000 fine.

Elections show new face, some stumbles

Following a close election for more than one member of Port St. Lucie government, after the dust settled, Ron Bowen took the title of city councilman. He replaced retiring councilman Jack Kelly.

The other local official who also ran this year was Michelle Berger, who was able to retain her seat as a city councilwoman.

The elections this year, however, had a few stumbling blocks when machine and vote counting issues came to light in Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker's office. The issues led to a recount of the Fort Pierce mayor's race, as well as a heatedly contested race for congress between Patrick Murphy and Allen West. Mr. Murphy prevailed.

State election officials who traveled to the county afterward stated the need for better equipment and training.

But the city also saw the residents of Beau Rivage, who reside in the southern part of St. Lucie County, vote in August to officially become part of Martin County. The boundary change for the 129-acre community will become official by July 2013.

Emails lead to censure of mayor

Emails written more than a year ago got Mayor JoAnn Faiella into a little hot water in July.

It began when a Port St. Lucie resident spoke out at a city council meeting, and read portions of private emails that were written by Mayor Faiella to a private citizen last year. In the emails, the mayor referred to a city attorney as well as a state investigation.

The mayor later issued a public apology, saying "politics is a tough and humbling arena."

But the city council asked for an official reprimand, and got it when an official censure reprimanding the mayor for her actions was received.

World Trade Center beams find home at civic center

In February, the city council voted unanimously to keep two pieces of steel from the World Trade Center housed at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center.

The larger piece, about 20-feet long, now resides in a permanent display in front of the civic center that was built this year in time for the Sept. 11 memorial services.

The smaller piece, approximately 3-feet long, is now used as a "traveling" artifact, and is housed inside the civic center when it is not being shown at local schools and other organizations.

The steel came from the Port Authority of New York, and brings the total number of steel pieces in the county to four. The other pieces are at the Mets stadium and in front of the fire department.

Schools close, others open

It was a time for saying both hello and goodbye to schools in Port St. Lucie this year.

Citing budget cuts, Florida Atlantic University closed its Treasure Coast campus in Port St. Lucie in June. The campus was used by both FAU and Indian River State College, and had been a presence in the city since 2004.

Since that time, IRSC has announced it would use the buildings left by FAU for expansion of its own classes and programs.

Nearby, the College Preparatory Academy of the Treasure Coast opened its doors for the first time in September. Starting with just ninth-grade students, the school will expand as the students move up in grade level.

This is the third charter school to be opened in Port St. Lucie and the first to offer high-school classes.

Road connects old to new

While only two-tenths of a mile long, the final completion of Fairgreen Road in Port St. Lucie from Salvatierra Boulevard to Crosstown Parkway ended years of aggravation for residents.

In May, the city council voted to finish the road, left undeveloped by developers, using money from the city's budget for resurfacing roads.

Spearheaded by Port St. Lucie Councilwoman Shannon Martin, the project cost approximately $200,000, and will shave minutes off rescue vehicle response times.

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