News Cast 2/3

News Cast for February 3rd:

Governor announces $144 million for broadband

High speed internet expansions were announced for rural Florida.

Among the communities to get new fiber optic cable and faster speeds are unincorporated Okeechobee, Lakeport, Moore Haven, Palmdale, Venus, Ortona, Yeehaw Junction and Kenansville.

Governor Ron DeSantis announced the grants in Milton, Florida.

“This is our first broadband expansion in the state of Florida.  In fact, we will award today 41 counties, 58 different projects, $144 million in broadband access grants.”

These funds from the federal government.  The governor also included $400 million in his state budget proposal this year for broadband.

Okeechobee is scheduled to receive two grants.  One is for $2.06 million that would deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,312 unserved households.  The second is for $984,350 to serve 1,290 unserved households.

The Glades County area grant includes $2.94 million for 4,651 underserved locations in Moore Haven, Lakeport, and Ortona.  Another $5 million grant would serve Clewiston, Moore Haven, Pioneer, Montura, Palmdale, Port LaBelle and Venus and serve 4,231 unserved locations in parts of Hendry, Glades and Highlands.

Developments overnight in the disappearance of a Lyft driver headed to Okeechobee Monday.

The vehicle was found in Rutherford County, North Carolina last night, and a suspect was captured after a high speed chase.

35 year old Matthew Flores is wanted for a homicide in Wauchula from last month.  He faces a charge of second-degree murder.

The Kia stinger owned by the Lyft driver, he was driving was seen in Okeechobee at Park Street and Parrott Avenue at 4:30 pm.

74 year old Gary Levin, the Lyft driver, remains missing.

The Florida Cabinet approved the conservation of the Triple Diamond Ranch in Okeechobee.  2,529 acres will be conserved as a cattle ranch into the future.

The state paid $8.2 million for the conservation easement.  The US Air Force expected to contribute close to 3 million.

DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said this benefits the environment and the Air Force bombing range.

“Acquiring less than fee simple of this property will help protect habitat, surface water, functional wetlands, and groundwater recharge of this area and further sustain the mission of the Avon Park Bombing Range.”

The Okeechobee School board honored seniors who help provide meals for needy kids.

The back pack program called ‘End the Hunger’ serves 210 Okeechobee kids each weekend.  Some 420 bags are filled by seniors each Friday and then delivered to every school in the county.

Coordinator Wendy Reister said the communities raises $50,000 each year to help fund the program.

McDonalds restaurants recently provided a $10,000 grant for the program.

Reister said it really teaches the students good lessons about life.

“They really get a sense of community and they are very passionate about what they do.  It just puts the reality that there are people in this community that have hunger and food insecurity.  Its is good to understand that so when they become adults they will be still wanting to help.”

The village of Indiantown is looking for a clerk.

Susan Owens resigned days after being criticized for helping to delete date stored in village computers.

The issue came to light when she ignored a directive from the majority of the council to secure the computer of the former village manager, after he resigned.

Owens said all of the data on the computers were restored and not lost forever.

Vice Mayor Guyton Stone blamed the new interim manager Taryn Kryzda and complained she hadn’t called him in her two weeks on the job.

“I would like to know what exactly happened with Susan Owens?”

Kryzda said Owens tendered her resignation and denied that she was forced to.

Stone said the clerk didn’t seem ready to resign.

Kryzda said it is not uncommon for employees to leave after a change in leadership.

“You understand this is a temporary position.  Are you going to try to fire everybody,” Stone asked.

Kryzda responded it was an inappropriate comment.

“As a manager I have the authority to hire and fire individuals period.”

Stone also complained Kryzda hadn’t contacted him during her first few weeks on the job.

Kryzda said she works at village hall and likes to schedule regular meeting with council members.

Councilmember Carmine DiPaolo said Stone’s criticisms about communication with the manager were unwarranted.

“It’s a two way street out there.  I have spoken to Ms. Kryzda.  I know what she is doing because I chose to make myself informed.  She has been very busy.  For the council to sit here and blame her for not calling them is a pretty sad excuse.”

DiPaolo said he had talked with law enforcement about the computer issue and said it may be a criminal offense.

4 South Florida men arrested in Okeechobee on charges of conspiracy to sell fentanyl.

The Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force set up a deal outside a fast food restaurant and allegedly seized 44 capsules worth about 1 thousand dollars.