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Gobble up those Thanksgiving dinner traditions

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By Lee Scott

There was a recent talk show on television where the host introduced his mother, who was going to prepare their traditional Thanksgiving dessert. 

The mother began by melting two cups of chocolate chips and mixing them with a couple of eggs and powdered sugar. Then she folded a quart of softened chocolate mint ice cream into the chocolate mixture and poured the combination over a graham cracker crust which she had already pressed into a Pyrex dish. Then she placed the dish in the refrigerator.  

She explained that on Thanksgiving morning she always prepared it early so it would be ready for that afternoon’s dessert.

As we sat there watching this program, I said to my spouse, “I don’t recall the pilgrims having chocolate chips available.”

To which he replied, “I was actually wondering where they stored the chocolate mint ice cream.”

This prompted a conversation regarding the dishes we considered traditional for a Thanksgiving dinner. 

We agreed on the nice fat turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce and of course, pumpkin pie. But if you look back into history, some of those items were probably not served at the original feast back in 1621. 

Cranberry sauce as we know it now was not served until much later and it is presumed that there was probably a lot of shellfish served since it was so abundant at that time.  

The Wampanoag Indians who showed up for the celebratory meal loved to hunt deer. It would make sense that venison was part of the menu too. 

Then we started to explore some of the non-traditional foods incorporated into our own Thanksgiving dinner over the years. My mother-in-law served sauerkraut with their turkey, which was something I had never heard of before. And I like to cook up some mild Italian sausage to mix in with the turkey stuffing. And both of our mothers would prepare whipped cream by beating the cream up in a cold metal bowl and adding a little vanilla extract. There is nothing like it when served over pumpkin pie.

We both love to eat crab dip as an appetizer before dinner, and he loves apple pie for dessert. We also have family members who smoke turkeys instead of roasting them in the oven. Which, when you think about it, is probably more traditional than putting it in an oven.    

This all led us to the conclusion that maybe the chocolate mint ice cream pie was not so unusual after all. It was a dish the family had embraced as part of their Thanksgiving tradition and that was all that mattered. 

So, bon appetit! Enjoy whatever is on your Thanksgiving table this year. 

How should society deal with mass shootings?

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy

By Bill Rauch

As the tolls from mass shootings in the U.S. escalate (the death toll is twice in 2017 what it was in 2016) the proposed remedies from lawmakers continue to fall tediously into two categories. 

Republicans focus on the mental health problems from which the shooters are said to suffer, and Democrats focus on stricter gun control measures. 

There is today no consensus on what to do to confront what has become a national epidemic.

Our local law enforcement professionals are an exquisite case in point. Last week I sent an eight yes/no-question questionnaire to the five men we count most upon to keep our community safe: Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Jasper County Sheriff Christopher Malphrus, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy, Bluffton Police Chief Joseph Manning and Port Royal Police Chief of Police Col. T. Alan Beach.

Only one — Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy — would go on the record with his responses.

Why?

Because this is controversial stuff and — like the lawmakers in Washington, Columbia and elsewhere — in the absence of a clear way forward they prefer to avoid the controversy.

So what were the eight questions four out of five of the pros chose to duck?

Here they are:

1. Several of those who have recently engaged in mass shootings told psychologists that they have regular “homicidal thoughts,” but the psychologists didn’t tell anyone in law enforcement. Should it be required that such information be shared with law enforcement?

Chief Clancy answered YES, observing that “psychological issues are the one common factor in these crimes.” Clearly in my view to prevent future occurrences the medical and law enforcement communities must work together more closely. I have no problem with professional consequences for those who fail to cooperate with law enforcement. Government has already placed way too much mental health work in the laps of our police officers and those in the corrections community. The relationship should be a two-way street.

2. Had the Air Force notified the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of the Texas shooter’s criminal background, he’d have been prevented from purchasing legally the firearm he used in the church. Should there be criminal penalties for those failing to make such notifications?

Chief Clancy chose the word “oversight” over “criminal penalties.” My experience in government causes me to believe there’s a paper trail that leads to the desk of the person in the Air Force who should have made the notification that instead “slipped through the cracks.” A little jail time for a couple of bureaucrats who let the wrong one slip, and there’ll be a lot less slipping. Let’s not forget, the lives of innocent women and children have been lost because someone somewhere neglected to file the proper paper. The Texas church was not the first time. 

The Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in which our Clemente Pinckney lost his life was also conducted with a military style fully automatic firearm that the shooter would have been forbidden from purchasing had the proper papers been filed. 

Last week, providing a glimmer of hope in the area of a bi-partisan approach to the epidemic, Sen. Tim Scott and seven of his colleagues (four of them Democrats) introduced a bill that would do some of this. I favor it, but am under few illusions it will become law. 

3. Should the sale and use of assault weapons be banned except for their use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy believes fully automatic rifles are sufficiently regulated. I say until the reporting side gets better about notifications slipping through the cracks (what lawyers call “negligent entrustment”) the stakes are too high. In 2014, one in five of the police officers who were killed in the line of duty was shot with an assault rifle. 

Having used automatic weapons on the target range, I freely admit they’re a kick to use, and tens of thousands of responsible Americans use them responsibly every weekend. Bring back their sale when the system works better.

4. Should high capacity magazines be banned except for use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy says NO. I respectfully disagree. Bring them back when the system works better.

5. Should bump stocks be illegal?

 Chief Clancy says they should be regulated under the National Firearms Act. That would be a good start.

6. Should Muslim extremist groups be more closely monitored and their sympathizers be banned from entering the U.S.? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that he would expand the ban to “all terrorist groups of foreign or domestic origin.” 

I agree, and appreciate the chief’s religious sensitivity. We end up in pretty much the same place. To quote a recent story in The Orange County Register: “… let’s not pretend we don’t know who attacked the Pulse nightclub, Fort Hood, two Chattanooga military bases, the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino or who drove the deadly truck in New York City. The answer is Muslim immigrants or first-generation Muslims radicalized by Islamist extremist groups.”

7. Should the entertainment studios and video game manufacturers that portray for-profit gun violence be held criminally liable when it can be shown that their message contributed materially to a shooter’s decision to kill? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that these prosecutions have to date all failed. I say, take heart, plaintiff lawyers. Remember Big Tobacco!

8. Should we celebrate news organizations that at the expense of lower ratings neither profile nor even use the names of mass murderers? 

This is a tough one for both Chief Clancy and me. The chief notes that “giving these killers attention is counterproductive.” Everyone with any sense agrees with him.  

But in a free society with a free press, how can reporting on events such as mass killings — events with which the public is clearly fascinated — be curtailed? 

The only idea I have heard that addresses this obvious need is that there be a “gentleman’s agreement” among news organizations not to use the names, nor do profiles of the individuals, who commit these crimes. Reporters would instead refer to these individuals as, for example, “The alleged Mother Emanuel AME church shooter” when reporting on the tragedy.

Reporters, gentlemen? I can say this because I got my first job as a newspaper reporter when I was 17. Did you ever eat with one?

But Beaufort Police Chief Matthew J. Clancy?

Yes.

And a stand-up guy too.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Can you have too much company stock?

in Business/Contributors/Wells Fargo by

Many companies offer their employees a stock purchase plan, enabling them to purchase company stock at a discounted price and invest in the company they work for. 

While this can be a great way to invest in the stock market, as an investor you need to question whether it’s good to load up too much on your company’s stock — or any company’s stock, for that matter. 

Investing in your company may be a good idea, but you need to make sure you set some guidelines and strategies to diversify your holdings not only among individual stocks other than your company’s, but among industry sectors as well. 

Although diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against loss, doing so may help reduce the effects of the price fluctuations that will undoubtedly occur in your portfolio. 

As you decide whether to participate in your employer’s stock purchase plan, keep in mind that owning too much of any single stock is rarely a good idea. While you may be confident of your company’s prospects for success or you want to demonstrate your loyalty to your employer, you need to recognize that you may take on additional risk if you don’t diversify. 

Also, as you evaluate your holdings, don’t overlook the potential danger in concentrating your investments within one industry, even if you spread your investments among several stocks in that industry. Oftentimes when bad news hits one stock in an industry, it can also have a similar impact on other companies within the same sector. 

So, how can you help reduce the risk in your portfolio? One way to help protect yourself is to diversify your portfolio among several stocks. In addition to your company’s stock, you should try to broaden your equity holdings to include 20 to 30 stocks in at least six to eight industry sectors with different investment characteristics. 

Keep in mind that no more than 25 percent of your total portfolio value should be invested in any one sector. 

Another good rule of thumb is to have no more than 15 percent of your total portfolio — including investments in your 401(k) and IRA — invested in one single stock. 

You should strive to maintain a balanced asset allocation with not only stocks in different industries but also bonds and other investment vehicles as well. Keep in mind that an investment in stocks will fluctuate in value and when sold might be worth more or less than the original investment.

Once you have reviewed your portfolio and evaluated your investment objectives, you may realize that you have a “concentrated position” — that is, you have too much of your holdings in a single stock or you are heavily invested in a single industry sector. If this is the case, it is a good idea to contact a financial advisor and discuss strategies for reducing your concentrated holdings. 

There are a variety of strategies that can help you reduce the risk involved in having concentrated positions in both taxable and tax-deferred accounts.

Your investment objectives, risk tolerance and time horizon will help dictate the appropriate asset balance for your financial situation. 

Because each and every investor has different investment needs, seeking professional assistance is usually the best alternative to avoid keeping your eggs all in one basket.

This article was written by/for Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Whitney McDaniel, financial advisor in Beaufort at 843-524-1114.  

Any third-party posts, reviews or comments associated with this listing are not endorsed by Wells Fargo Advisors and do not necessarily represent the views of Whitney McDaniel or Wells Fargo Advisors and have not been reviewed by the Firm for completeness or accuracy.

Investments in securities and insurance products are not FDIC insured and may lose value.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me…

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By Lee Scott

Fifty years ago, in November of 1967, I turned 14 years old. It was that same year that the Beatles released a song on their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album titled “When I’m 64.”  

Now 50 years later, here I am, walking around my house singing “When I’m 64.”

It’s hard to imagine that my 14-year-old self would ever guess she would someday turn 64. I am of the generation that did not want to be older than 30. But somewhere along the way, 30 seemed kind of fun, and then came my 40s, 50s and now my 60s. Each year brings new adventures.

But Paul McCartney’s words seem foreign in many ways now as I look around at all the men and women I know who are in their 60s and 70s.  

These are vibrant active people. Many are still working, not willing to stop and just take a “ride on a Sunday morning,” unless it is in a golf cart. The lyrics suggest something of an end-of-life connotation as if there is nothing else left. 

“He can be handy mending a fuse.”

“You can knit a sweater by the fireside.”

The song lyrics also do not suggest that Paul, at 25 when the song was released, would have every guessed that 50 years later he would still be performing concerts.  

According to his website, he is going on tour next month in Australia, performing five concerts in Australia and one in New Zealand. 

It did appear that he planned on growing old with a spouse. But his wife Linda died at the age of 56 after being married to Paul for 29 years.  

Sometimes, life throws a curve ball, and things you planned when you were young are not able to happen. But happily, his wife Nancy, 57, will be with him for a while.

No, I am not “losing my hair,” and neither is my spouse, but I do expect “birthday greetings with a bottle of wine.” And although we do have many grandchildren, not one of them is named “Vera, Chuck or Dave.” Still the song is sweet and appropriate for me to be singing as I welcome this birthday turning 64. 

And so, as I sauntered up behind my spouse yesterday and once again sang the last line of the song, which ends with this question, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

My spouse turned to me and said, “Yes, only if you promise not to spend the next year singing that song.” 

We shall see. 

Looking for fall foliage, finding a hurricane

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

Having grown up in the north, I am used to seeing rolling hills of colorful leaves this time of year.  

Although the live oaks in my yard have shed their fall leaves and are replaced now with green leaves, they never provide me with colorful fall colors. 

So my spouse and I decided to go in search of some fall foliage.  

The warm fall we have had delayed some of the leaves changing in the South Carolina and North Carolina mountains, so we headed farther north. But even Maryland was behind in changing seasons and we only saw a few trees with colors. 

The decision was made to go farther north until we hit Quebec City in Canada. There, at the end of October, we finally entered fall-like weather with its colorful foliage. 

It was so much fun to walk on the sidewalk, look down and see the fallen Canadian maple leaves. We decided to try our luck and head farther north. As we traveled around Saquenay, Quebec, we realized we we had gone too far. The bare trees reminded of us of why we moved south to our beautiful Palmetto trees and live oaks. Winter can be so dreary without any leaves on the trees.

We then headed over to Nova Scotia and there in Halifax found our fall foliage all around. It was spectacular! 

It was during our drive over to Peggy’s Cove, the sight of a spectacular lighthouse perched out on some large rocks, when my spouse said, “Did I mention to you that we’re getting a visitor here?”

“What visitor?” I asked. “Who do we know in Nova Scotia?”

“Phillippe,” he said calmly. 

“The hurricane?” I asked in shock. He nodded his head.

“Are you telling me that we traveled over 1,500 miles only to have a hurricane follow us?”

I have really had it with hurricanes this year.

But he echoed my sentiments when he said, “At least it didn’t go to Beaufort.”

Fortunately, Philippe was slowly dissipating so we were not impeded in our trip. However, those 70 mph winds coupled with a strong rainfall sure felt like a hurricane.

After the front came through and the leaves were stripped off the trees, we began our trek south. 

The Maine coastline did not disappoint us and one can guess why maple syrup is so popular in Canada and Maine. There were maple trees everywhere.

But the post-hurricane weather was followed by cold air and we began to layer on our clothes in the brisk fresh air.

Time to head south we agreed. Our fall foliage excursion was over and we headed home.

Long-term plan is already in crisis management

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
There are already more Hardeeville city votes in Sun City North (the portion of Sun City that is located in Jasper County) than in all the rest of Hardeeville. This chart from the City of Hardeeville’s website shows that will soon be changing.
There are already more Hardeeville city votes in Sun City North (the portion of Sun City that is located in Jasper County) than in all the rest of Hardeeville. This chart from the City of Hardeeville’s website shows that will soon be changing.

By Bill Rauch

A version of the notorious public company “quarter-to-quarter mentality” exists in local government. It goes something like this: “If the results cannot be seen by the next time I have to run, then I don’t really care about it.”

It is the prevalence of this status quo-preserving mindset among elected officials that accounts for why long-term planning is left to staffers and relegated almost always to the back burner. 

When the staff report finally gets presented to the elected officials, they nod cheerfully saying, “That’s very good work and good to know,” and then they groan: “But gosh doing that would be so expensive! Why, we had no idea. Where would we get all that money?”

At that the plan is put on the shelf to be admired occasionally when its name gets called.

Yes, there are exceptions. Mostly exceptions occur when officials learn a tsunami is coming.

A tsunami is coming.

It is headed for U.S. 278 between S.C. 170 and I-95.

Why?

Because a decade ago — just before the hard times — the City of Hardeeville annexed virtually all the timberland tracts that lay along that corridor, and with developers negotiated development agreements for these lands that, when they are built out will, according to Hardeeville City Manager Michael J. Czymbor’s estimate last week, put about 60,000 new residential units into communities that will feed into U.S. 278 along that corridor. Not to mention the shopping centers. That’s several Sun Cities. That’s a couple of Blufftons on steroids. Latitudes Margaritaville is just the flashy opening act.

Bringing additional seriousness to the matter is that the Jasper Port’s leadership says their facility will provide 900 construction jobs between now and when it opens 10-12 years from now, and a million jobs by 2040. That’s a lot of containers going somewhere … on roads that are not even dirt roads today.

All these big numbers have gotten the attention of the governments, most notably Hardeeville, Bluffton and Beaufort County. But Hilton Head Island, Ridgeland and Jasper County are also watching.

In a commendable effort to work toward regional solutions, Hardeeville’s mayor, Harry Williams, has pulled representatives of all these governments into a group called SoLoCo for the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board. In this, he says, he has been ably assisted by Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.

The group has begun sharing data and ideas on population projections, stormwater management, estuary preservation, venue shopping, vocational education, workforce housing and water and sewer needs. They say they are laying off transportation issues for the time being because another more formal group, the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study that works through the Lowcountry Council of Governments, is supposed to be working on those needs.

All this will have a familiar ring to longtime residents. It is reminiscent of the years after Beaufort County green-lighted Sun City Hilton Head. In those days plans for schools, roads and drainage improvements were initiated that regular readers of this column know have now cost taxpayers about a half billion dollars to build.

Hilton Head: This is what your success looks like.

Sun City Hilton Head — located of course many miles from Hilton Head Island — was a summer afternoon boomer compared to the tsunami that’s blowing down Hardeeville’s pipeline.

How will Hilton Head Island residents get to I-95? Hardeeville has plans to improve the interchanges at miles 5 and 8 on I-95, but there are no plans to improve — much less pay for — the corridors to those interchanges. Hilton Head’s preferred route, Exit 3, to be reached by an extension of the Bluffton Parkway, “has no viable legs at this time,” Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley said last week.

How will we keep the Okatie, the May River and Calibogue Sound vibrant? Who will build all this public and private infrastructure, and where will their children be educated?  

SoLoCo’s planning efforts are, as is all-too-often the case in government, crisis management. And, unfortunately for the taxpayers, we won’t have the luxury of putting their plans on the shelf.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Train vs. car? I’ll take the train

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By Lee Scott

If you have driven anywhere along the I-95 corridor, you have no doubt seen the increase in traffic. 

In addition, you may have noticed there are more accidents and construction projects than ever before. 

Having endured so many trips up and down I-95 myself, I decided to do something completely different. I bought an Amtrak train ticket. Instead of driving 650 miles to Towson, Md. (approximately 10 hours), I decided someone else should do the driving. 

The Palmetto is the Amtrak train that passes through Yemassee. It travels from Miami to New York City, making numerous stops, including the Yemassee Depot. 

I really did not know the Yemassee Station was operational until I started to ask people. Turns out I’m not the only one tired of the car drive.  

When my spouse dropped me off at the train station, I entered the building and realized some of my neighbors were on the same train heading up to Annapolis for the Navy Homecoming. 

They travel by train a lot and enjoy it. They pointed out the black and white photographs of soldiers going off to war hanging on the walls. According to the Yemassee website, from 1915 to 1965, the station was the first place where potential Marine recruits stopped before reaching Parris Island. 

In 2011, a British reality show filmed in Yemassee, and they did a full cosmetic renovation of the depot’s exterior including a new gabled roof, siding and a wrap-around porch.  

In 2016 the town received funds that allowed the interior to be redone. The building has a new restroom, classic wooden benches and a new electrical system.

The ride from Yemassee to Baltimore is estimated to take around 12 hours (give or take). Not knowing what to expect, I brought a book to read, but I never picked up the novel. I chatted with people, had lunch and dinner in the café and took naps. The stops didn’t bother me because they reminded me to get up and stretch my legs.

Looking at the people on the train, I was reminded of a quote from “Murder on the Orient Express” made by M. Bouc: “All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages.” This was true of the Palmetto Train also.  Yet, unlike the Orient Express, there was no murder mystery to solve except the one in my unread novel. 

I would personally recommend the train for anyone tired of driving. The staff was helpful and friendly and they added to the overall enjoyment of the trip. On top of everything, I arrived at my destination well rested and of good humor.

Being outdoors may reduce kids’ risk of nearsightedness

in Contributors/Dr. Mark Siegel, MD FAAO/Health by

By Dr. Mark Siegel

Spending time outdoors is one of childhood’s delights. Now, eye research suggests it may also be a key to our eye health, as long as we avoid over-exposure to sunlight. 

Although spending too much time outdoors without protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light can damage eyes and skin, new studies show that natural light may be essential for normal eye development in kids.

Encouraging children to spend more time outdoors may be a simple and cost-effective way to improve their vision as well as general health, according to several recent studies. They add to the growing evidence that spending time outdoors may lower the risk of nearsightedness in children and adolescents. 

Nearsightedness is more common today in the United States and many other countries than it was in the 1970s.

One of the new studies showed that for each additional hour children spent outdoors per week, their risk of being nearsighted dropped by about 2 percent. 

Nearsighted children in this study spent on average 3.7 fewer hours per week outdoors than those who either had normal vision or were farsighted. The study investigated whether children who logged more outdoor time also spent less time performing near work, such as playing computer games or studying, but no such relationship was found.

A second study found that when schoolchildren were required to spend 80 minutes of recess time outdoors every day, fewer of them became nearsighted when compared to children who were not required to spend recess outdoors. 

Another study, with Danish children, was the first to show that the rate of eye growth varies in relation to exposure to daylight. This is important, because if the eye grows too long, as measured from front to back, the child will be nearsighted. The children’s eyes grew normally during the long days of summer in Denmark, but grew too fast during the short days of winter.

Though researchers don’t yet know exactly why outdoor time is beneficial, they think it’s probably related to exposure to daylight rather than to playing sports or other specific activities.

At this time, scientists think that UV light is not needed for normal eye development. So, they think kids can gain the eye health benefits and other pluses of playing outdoors and at the same time protect their eyes from long-term UV damage. Just make sure they wear UV-blocking sunglasses and hats when out in the sun. This goes for teens and young adults, as well.

Future studies are planned to learn more about how time outdoors supports healthy vision. Questions include whether time spent on near work should be limited, and whether there are factors — like parents’ attitudes, access to safe playgrounds, or others — that may result in nearsighted children spending less time outdoors. More research is also needed to explain how much of the outdoor time benefit comes from daylight exposure and how much from exercising distance vision, since both of these may be key factors in preventing nearsightedness. 

Dr. Mark Siegel is the medical director at Sea Island Ophthalmology at 111 High Tide Drive (off Midtown Drive near Low Country Medical Group). Visit www.seaislandophthalmology.com.

Addiction to candy corn is severe

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

Yesterday, my husband asked me if I was going out and, if so, could I please pick up a few things at the drug store.

“No!” I yelled. “I cannot go in there!”

“Why not?” he asked.

“You know perfectly well,” I replied. “Candy corn is being sold now!”

I have no self-control when it comes to candy corn. I can smell it when I first walk in the door. The entire aisle may be filled with other Halloween candy, like Hershey’s candy bars and Kit-Kat bars. It doesn’t matter.  It is the Brach’s Candy Corn that I desire.  

For the purists like me, we buy only the traditional candy corn. We are not fooled by imitators.  

The original candy corn was developed over 130 years and has three colors. It has a large yellow bottom, a smaller orange middle and then is topped with a white tip. It is said the product is meant to mimic actual kernels of corn.  

There is also a correct way to eat them: one color at a time with the white going first, although, technically, this practice is not dictated by the makers of the product. 

I was explaining to some of the ladies at my Book Club about the ingredients contained in candy corn. There are two main ingredients: sugar and corn syrup. Oh yes, there are other ingredients, but do not fool yourself. This is candy. There are no vitamins listed on the package and there are 140 calories per 19 pieces. 

That is about a handful for me, which means if I go throughout the day and just eat a couple of handfuls, I will have eaten the caloric equivalent of a complete dinner.  

This is why I cannot buy a package of candy corn. I am much better off standing there at the nail salon counter shoving small handfuls in my mouth before the manicurist takes me.

Later, my husband returned from the drug store. He had also picked up some other items we needed and so while I was unpacking, I noticed a familiar smell. Sure enough, there in the bottom of a bag was an 18.5-ounce bag of Brach’s Candy Corn.

“Candy, little girl!” my spouse said in his scariest Halloween voice. 

“No,” I screamed like one of those victims in a horror movie. “Hide them!” Which he did.

Of course, it did not take me long to find the goods. The bag was hidden behind the soups and pastas. But Halloween comes only once a year and so I allowed myself to succumb to my annual Brach’s Candy Corn binge.   

Needless to say, there was no dinner that night.

A good year for the grapple guys

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Self-loaders lined up at the Naples, Fla., Debris Recovery Site known as "Recovery," where they unload their vegetative debris in advance of its being ground into mulch and sold for biofuel.
Self-loaders lined up at the Naples, Fla., Debris Recovery Site known as “Recovery,” where they unload their vegetative debris in advance of its being ground into mulch and sold for biofuel.

By Bill Rauch

In adversity there is always opportunity. The post-hurricane brand of adversity brings opportunity for three groups: landscapers, roofers and debris removal specialists.

Landscapers stay pretty local, roofers sometimes travel a hundred miles or so to set up their temporary shops, but debris removal specialists come from thousands of miles around. These are the enormous trucks and trailers with the hydraulic arm and claw situated at the rear of the truck’s high-walled bed with which debris can be picked up from the curbside and loaded into both the truck and the trailer. 

Most of the time these behemoths work in the land-clearing business, but they can make a lot more money cleaning up after hurricanes, and in the days and months after hurricanes they come from far and wide to help out … and to make those big bucks.

There are about 300 self-loaders east of the Mississippi River, according to a story that ran in the Houston Chronicle in September as Houston was cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey and Florida was preparing to do the same in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

With all of the damage from Harvey, Irma and then Nate, this year the self-loaders have been in short supply.  That’s what the Houston Chronicle story was about: Texas’ fears that Florida was paying better rates and that therefore the self-loaders would be passing Houston by. The effect of that, it was feared, was that Houston’s clean-up would be slowed down, which would not only anger residents but could put Houston in the position of running past the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) 180-day limit after which, in Houston’s case, the federal government would no longer pay 90 percent of the cost of the clean-up.

Citizen complaints are one thing, but losing the federal match inevitably means a big one-time tax increase, a tax levy that comes when taxpayers are already financially stressed from dealing with the storm’s destructive — and expensive — wrath.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner faced the challenge doing the only thing he could do: He offered to pay the debris removal contractors more, thus in effect putting himself into a bidding war with some Florida communities. A few of those communities — including Naples, Fla. — answered the challenge by increasing their own per cubic yard debris removal rates. 

Debris removal rates are typically set long before the hurricane comes. Communities negotiate contracts with a general debris removal contractor who then hires in the days after the storm dozens of sub-contractors from as far away as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine. In Houston’s case the general contractor was DRC Emergency Services.  Naples used AshBritt, a firm made famous by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when, seeing his state was unprepared the day in 2012 that Hurricane Sandy moved on, he hired them that day for $100 million on a controversial no-bid basis.

But, according to truckers, the sweetest place to work this year was in the City of Key West, Fla. That’s not because Key West paid a handsomer base rate than any other community. According to Gary Volenec, the city’s engineer, Key West is paying $7.14 per cubic yard to AshBritt for debris removal which is just a little above average. Naples, Fla.’s base rate was $5.50, but the city council there recently added sweeteners that nearly doubled that rate. The City of Victoria, Texas, renegotiated after the storm with their contractor, AshBritt, to get to a $6-$10.65 rate. But Harris County, Texas — the county in which Houston is situated — stuck at $4.15 per cubic yard.  The clean-up there is progressing, but slowly.   

By way of comparison, after Hurricane Matthew last year Beaufort County paid a base rate of $8.29 per cubic yard to its contractor, Ceres Environmental. The contractor picked up and disposed of about 1,650,000 cubic yards of debris just under FEMA’s required 180-day deadline for providing matching funds, which in Beaufort County’s case was 75 percent, according to Eric Larson, Beaufort County’s Solid Waste and Stormwater manager. The State of South Carolina is picking up the remaining 25 percent of FEMA-eligible costs, county officials said.

So, why do the truckers prefer the Key West work?

Here’s how it works. Once the debris is picked up at curbsde it is taken to the city’s Temporary Debris Management Site where it is ground into mulch. But because Key West is just about built out, there is nowhere to put the mulch. Instead, from there the mulch must be trucked at a cost of $17.75 per cubic yard 125 miles to a landfill on the mainland just south of Homestead, Fla. Here’s the math on that. Let’s say the truck holds 75 cubic yards in the front and 65 cubic yards in its trailer. Ashbritt would be paid $2,485 per load with the trucker receiving about 85 percent of that payment or about $2,112 per trip up and back U.S.1. An owner-driver could make the trip on an average twice a day, although some  trucking companies used tag-team drivers so they could operate virtually around the clock, enjoying also the easier and more economical traffic flows on the narrow road in the middle of the night.

Of that $2,485 payment, if the paperwork is kept to FEMA standards, all but $621.25 will be reimbursed to Key West by the federal government. The State of Florida hasn’t yet said if they’ll pick up the $621.25, e.g. the remaining 25 percent.

One trucker — in from Alabama to help with the Collier County, Fla., clean-up — told me last week, “Yeah, this work’s OK … better than clearing land.  I’m netting about $2,000 a day. But if my truck hadn’t broke down I could have been working in Key West.  My buddy got there in time.  He’s making $50,000 a week.”

At that rate a trucker could pay for a new rig in three to four weeks. And have a few dollars left over for steak and beer.

It’s been a good year for the grapple guys.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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