JEA, funding for Murray Hill light project, discussed during town hall

JEA, funding for Murray Hill light project, discussed during town hall
State Rep. Wyman Duggan and City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor discuss a variety of topics during a town hall at the end of January

The now-canceled push to sell and privatize the Jacksonville Electric Authority, mooring overnight in the Ortega River, a public art project made of light that recently netted funding, and reports of crime in the neighborhood were a sampling of the issues discussed by District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, and during a well-attended town hall at Ortega United Methodist Church Jan. 30.

Also attending the meeting was At-Large Group 4 Councilman Matt Carlucci, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief W. Mike Johnson, zone 4 commander, Hampton Ray of the Florida Department of Transportation, Jacksonville Traffic Engineer Chris LeDew and Nancy Veasey of JEA.

“I’ve only been in office for six months, but it feels like six years,” DeFoor joked. She celebrated the cessation of talks to sell JEA. She said she had joined part of a City committee that would investigate the nature of the sale and its leadership, and that the committee would begin its work in February. Both she and At-Large Group 4 City Councilman Matt Carlucci, who also attended the meeting, got a lot of applause from the crowd of about 100 for their role in stopping the sale.

“I will do my best to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Another person who got some appreciative applause was Johnson. He attended because of reports that violent crime was up prodigiously over the past year. The bottom line of his talk? People here don’t have to worry.

Violent crime        

“We are in zone 4 and zone 4 has a lot of activity,” he began, noting zone 4 contains not only Riverside, Avondale and Ortega, but also all the Westside. Last year, Jacksonville saw more homicides than it had in over a decade, and many were in zone 4, however, only a small percentage of people are committing most violent crime, which is driven by drug-related retaliatory shootings, he said.

“I can tell you, if you are not involved in drugs and gangs and running with people that are, the chances of being a victim of violent crimes are low. Most of it is group-related incidents,” Johnson said.

As of Jan. 30, there had been no homicides, however a man was shot and killed in the early hours of Feb. 16 in Riverside. Johnson does give out the traditional advice that keeps people from becoming victims of theft: “Lock your vehicle. We had 400 guns taken out of vehicles in the city last year.”

Johnson said he’d also like to see more police officers patrolling the area, and invited people to give their opinion about that at the sheriff’s watch meeting on the fourth Thursday of every month, to be conducted at the church at 7 p.m. in the Boyd Chapel.

Abandoned vessels

A hot topic for residents along the Ortega River has been what to do about vessels that are abandoned and left to float in the area. Florida Representative Wyman Duggan, who represents Ortega, said at the meeting that had introduced legislation that would make it illegal to moor in the river overnight, in hopes of keeping the waterways clear.

But many residents that live on boats in the river don’t agree with the proposed legislation because it would directly affect them. Several attended the meeting, which turned somewhat contentious when the topic came up.

Duggan said that the derelict vessels that were in the river have been removed, at a cost of about $20,000 per vessel, which is paid for with tax money. He said his legislation would add the Ortega River to a list of rivers in which overnight mooring is prohibited.

Part of the reason for that is to move along people who live in houseboats that are not moored at a marina, and who are not disposing of their sewage properly, said DeFoor, who agrees with the pending legislation.

“I have volunteered to sunset that legislation after two years,” Duggan said. “We are not trying to prevent legitimate boaters from using that waterway. We are trying to get that waterway back to a pristine condition.”

But Alex Madsen, who owns Ocean Oaks Painting and Construction LLC, said he has three boats and can’t afford the expense of having marina slips for all three.

“You’re worried about three people out there pooping in the water. What about all the sewage that got flushed into the water after Irma because there is no resiliency?” Others went on to dispute the legislation.

DeFoor pointed out that this was obviously a contentious topic, and eventually tabled discussion for the time being.

Murray Hill Light Project gets funding

In less controversial news, a public art project with a lot of public support recently got funding, DeFoor said. The City of Jacksonville and the Florida Department of Transportation are working on a $4.4 million project that would transform Edgewood Avenue from U.S. 17 to the Lenox Avenue intersection and beyond. Part of the project includes cleaning the Roosevelt overpass, and local art lovers and community advocates had hoped that it could then become a canvas for public art.

Specifically, they had hoped San Antonio-based artist Bill Fitzgibbons could be hired to install multi-colored, programmable public lighting to transform the concrete. He could make the colors static or dynamic, set them to one program or 15 to 20 programs so the lights change. When he spoke to The Resident in December, Fitzgibbons said community input would determine the final design.

Now, the project will proceed with $50,000 in funding, DeFoor said. For information about his light displays, visit

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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