GUEST COLUMN: Growth win a battle, not the war

Harold J. Barend


St. Augustine

How sad! Four years ago, on our first visit to St. Augustine, we fell in love with the city and St. John’s County. It was quiet, classy and proud of its heritage and religious roots. Much has changed in those four years.

Thousands of new families have arrived, bringing more vehicles to the poorly designed infrastructure system, more children to the schools, and more crime to the community. History is a wise teacher. Unfortunately, the lessons of history are quickly forgotten via politics and money.

As interest rates continue to rise builders continue to build. This

euphoria, which has been the catalyst for the rapid expansion of St. Johns County, will end as history reflects. In time, the county commissioners, who approved the over-building, will blame the greedy homebuilders, while the builders attempt to sell their inventory at fire sale prices.

In addition to a potpourri of ongoing problems — portable classrooms, poor traffic control, failure to obtain the necessary rights-of-way to widen roadways and install sidewalks and bicycle paths to ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists, and the unaccountable impact fees.

Why isn’t a major portion of the money used to upgrade the infrastructure where the fees are derived?

Nine months ago, St. John’s County had a test when Hurricane Matthew visited. Some residents believe it passed while others say no.

There is no question that the residents of St. John’s County did a remarkable job of getting the work done, but the St. Johns County government administrators were slow to act. Instead of waiting for FEMA to arrive and conduct their preliminary disaster assessment, the county should have retained the services of an independent disaster consulting firm to prepare a thorough PDA before FEMA arrived. The federal government reimburses a major portion of the consulting fees. The PDA is the framework for the disaster assistance budget. Failure to include items in the

PDA can result in millions of dollars left on the table for the taxpayers to eat.

Although it does not come under a government disaster assistance program, Mission Nombre de Dios suffered a considerable amount of damage. The Mission is an integral part of the St. Augustine community and repairing the damage and quickly reopening the mission should have been a top priority of the Catholic

Dioceses. Unfortunately it was not. Nine months after the hurricane, fencing prohibits anyone from using the bridges to enter Mission grounds.

One of the first places we visited in St. Augustine was the Mission. It combines history with an open, natural beauty to provide a wonderful place for communion with God. Its towering cross can be seen for miles. Now, after nine months, it was announced in the St. Augustine Catholic magazine that a fence would be constructed around the mission. According to Joanna Stark, executive director, “This is not a public park. Mission Nombre de Dios is sacred ground, the site of the founding of St. Augustine and a shrine.”

Fences are made to either keep people in or out. What would Christ say about a fence?

From 1998 to 2013 Harold J. Barend was employed by the federal government in natural disaster-related work and worked as a disaster consultant for private corporations. He worked on 39 major natural disasters in 15 different states