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News Bites: Pothole Problems in St. Augustine; UNF Student to Blast Off

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POTHOLE PROBLEMS

If there is anything approaching a magic word in politics and public policy, that word would be “infrastructure.” This word carries extra weight in Northeast Florida, an area that seems to be perpetually under construction. Observers on all sides seem to agree that we could be doing a lot more in this situation. Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record reported on Wednesday, Aug. 8 about a harsh self-assessment from local officials regarding its infrastructure.

The city gave itself a C+, which is up slightly from last year’s C, but still cause for concern. “The report, with help from city consultant Four Waters Engineering, considers more than just the condition of the infrastructure to produce the grades,” she writes. “The assessment also takes into account factors such as the city’s funding versus the funding needs and public safety implications if the infrastructure fails.” This is a big deal in a city whose framework, particularly historic roads and bridges, constitute much of its appeal to the tourist market, so the report has already spurred some tough talk.

“Compared with 2015’s results, the water distribution system went from a C to a B-, the sewer collection system went from a C to a C+, the wastewater treatment system went from a C to a C+, and the stormwater system went from a D+ to a C,” writes Gardner. “ … the biggest gripes among residents are the city’s roads. They improved from a D+ in 2015 to a C this year.” She notes that 14 miles of those roads are ”in critical need of rehabilitation,” which will be addressed first.

The report estimates that bringing the city’s roads up to standards will cost about $10 million over the next few years. According to Deputy Public Works Director Todd Grant, “[T]he city tries to address the worst roads first. The Public Works Department creates an annual list of roads to pave. Officials coordinate paving with utilities projects.” The past couple years of storms led to flooding that exacerbated problems, but the visceral nature of the damage has forced city leaders to see reality, and it seems everyone is really on the same page, which is rare, but nice to see.

UNF STUDENT BLASTS OFF

“Space is the place,” said the late, great jazzman Herman Blount, aka Sun Ra. The rise of privatized space-flight companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic has reinforced humanity’s fascination with the universe since the beginning of time, a theme that’s influenced a generation raised on sci-fi films and weaned on communications technologies developed during the Space Race. The Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station have brought the mysteries of the cosmos into sharper focus, and blurred traditional boundaries among nations, and between the public and private sector. And now, with the president pushing the idea of a Space Force (drawing equal parts ridicule and rumination), Americans are thinking about the future of space exploration in a way we probably haven’t since the Challenger disaster 31 years ago.

Florida will always have a leading role in this, and local students are already playing a part. On Aug. 12, Spinnaker editor-in-chief Hannah Lee wrote about University of North Florida junior Lee Giat, pursuing a double major in astrophysics and multimedia productions, who’s now poised to go where no man has ever gone before—well, few men, anyway.

“At only 20 years old,” she writes, “he has his own pilot’s license, is the director of his own film studio, and now he’s going to study in Russia at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. ... The trip is a part of the Student Astronaut 2018 contest hosted by the Xploration Station. Xploration Station is a science-based television network that focuses on teaching teens and families about STEM careers and topics.” Giat applied last year, but didn’t make the cut. Undaunted, he tried again in July and was approved last week.

This is a fine achievement not just for Giat, but for the community that has nurtured his interests. “One of the reasons Giat entered the Student Astronaut Contest last year and this year was … his love of entering film contests,” writes Lee. “Besides learning about space and teaching it to kids at the MOSH Museum as a planetarium educator, he is also the creator and executive director of his company, Flying Ostrich Media.” Giat already has experience in Russian outreach, as part of the U.S.-Russia Youth TV Bridge a few years ago.

Giat will be in Russia from Sept. 28 through Oct. 5; he says his long-term goal is to film the first motion picture in space, which would make him an instant legend in film circles.

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