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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Trillions of quagga mussels carpet Lake Michigan ... pulling back on San Francisco's citywide broadband ambitions … and New Mexico’s brain drain.
Good morning, it’s Friday, July 6. Some “simply moronic behavior,” as one U.S. senator put it, leads Route Fifty’s roundup of state and local government news from across the nation, which also includes stories from Portland, Oregon; Honolulu, Hawaii; Rochester, New York; and Fort Collins, Colorado.
DRONES | Firefighters battling the West Valley Fire in the southwestern Utah had to ground their aircraft due to an unauthorized aerial drone flying over the blaze, prompting this important reminder: “If you fly, we can’t. Help us keep our firefighters safe!” Law enforcement are trying to find the drone’s owner. It’s not the first instance—and certainly won’t be the last—of a recreational drone impeding firefighters. Recently introduced federal legislation, sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet of Colorado, would make it a felony to fly a recreational drone over a wildfire. In a recent radio interview, Gardner noted an incident in his tinder-dry state where firefighters battling the Spring Fire had to suspend air tanker operations. There have been other reports of drone intrusions this fire season in Colorado, including with the 416 Fire in the southwestern part of the state. "This is simply moronic behavior, and it’s got to stop," Gardner said. [@UtahWildfire; Colorado Public Radio; Durango Herald]
BROADBAND | When San Francisco’s interim mayor, Mark Farrell, leaves office on July 11, the dream of offering low-cost internet across the city—which had long been vision of the tech-minded Farrell and the city’s late mayor, Ed Lee—will likely fade away as Board of Supervisors President London Breed moves into the mayor’s office. In June, Farrell backed away from putting an initiative on the November ballot to raise $1.7 billion in revenue to fund what would be the largest-ever municipal effort for high-speed internet access. But recent polling showed soft support for the ambitious measure due to cost and concerns that other priorities in the city need more attention. Farrell did, however, secure $750,000 in the new city budget to continue studying municipal broadband. So the dream isn’t dead yet. [San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner]
Meanwhile in Fort Collins, Colorado, progress on Connexion, the city’s voter-authorized broadband network, continues. City Manager Darin Atteberry, in an article for the Coloradoan newspaper, noted two major milestones in recent weeks: a successful bond sale and receiving $142.2 million to fund the project. “I believe Connexion will be a cornerstone of Fort Collins’ legacy. We have not jumped into this carelessly,” Atteberry wrote. “It has been many years of intentional and deliberative work, as well as thoughtful direction from the community and City Council, that has brought us to this point.” [Coloradoan]
- Portland, Oregon: A massive auto scrapyard fire that sent “toxic, oily smoke” into one of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods in March is raising questions about state oversight of scrapyards, which “operate largely outside government scrutiny.” [Willamette Week]
- Ann Arbor, Michigan: In Lake Michigan, there are 10,000 invasive quagga mussels per square meter, “basically carpeting the bottom of the lake.” There are some upsides—they appear to reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria that can contaminate beaches. But there’s a much bigger downside—“trillions of quagga mussels are sucking the life out of the Great Lakes.” [Michigan Radio]
- Rochester, New York: After the principal of University Preparatory Charter School for Young Man prevented Jaisaan Lovett, the school’s first black valedictorian from speaking at graduation, Mayor Lovely Warren invited him to deliver his speech on the city’s official YouTube channel. [Democrat & Chronicle; City of Rochester / YouTube]
- Jacksonville, Florida: A waterfront “festival marketplace” built in the 1980s could be torn down and replaced with something new since city leaders and the Landing’s owner don’t seem interested in spending the money needed to pull off a successful renovation of the existing complex. [Florida Times-Union / Jacksonville.com]
- Honolulu, Hawaii: In an effort to ease the state’s chronic teacher shortage, a new initiative in Hawaii is offering “scholarships and support to help long-term subs become licensed teachers.” [Honolulu Civil Beat]
- Montpelier, Vermont: A recently released state audit says that Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets needs better “monitoring and data collection to show what measures are most effective” to reduce phosphorus pollution from farms. [Vermont Public Radio]
- Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment continues to struggle with its brain drain. “When a state starts losing its qualified workforce, economies contract, unemployment rises and more people join the out-migration. It is a vicious circle.” [Searchlight New Mexico]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.
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