Utility Companies Drop Millions On Last-Ditch Effort To Pass Deceptive Florida Solar Initiative

On Tuesday, former Florida Senator and Gov. Bob Graham (D) added his voice to the growing chorus against Florida’s Amendment 1, which asks voters to support a utility-backed initiative that could make it more difficult for the solar industry to develop.

“There is an amendment on the ballot that isn’t what it appears to be,” Graham told reporters.

The amendment has increasingly come under fire in the past few weeks, especially after a recording surfaced of a conservative policy wonk praising the initiative. A vice president at the James Madison Institute referred to Amendment 1 as “political jiu-jitsu,” that used solar’s own popularity as a way to earn support for a measure that would not actually help grow solar in the state.

Even before then, utilities — and conservative groups tied to utilities — had poured more than $22 million into backing the initiative. Last week, the alliance — a group called Consumers for Smart Solar — spent another $3.5 million on ads in the state. Of that, $3 million came from Florida Light & Power and Duke Energy, two major southern utilities.

An audit of donors to Consumers for Smart Solar found that of the only 12 individuals who had donated, 11 had direct ties to the utility industry or one of the conservative groups supporting the organization.

Meanwhile, support for the amendment seems to be falling, as solar supporters have coalesced into an alliance of their own. As recently as late September, the amendment was polling with 66 percent support (a constitutional amendment in Florida requires 60 percent of the vote to go into effect). But a more recent poll put support at only 40 percent — and that poll was conducted in the days before the revelations about intentionally misleading voters.

Supporters of the amendment argue that it is important to enshrine policies that protect non-solar customers from cost-shifting — that is, when some customers have to pay more than others to maintain the grid. Most evidence, though, does not support the theory of cost-shifting, because of the broader benefits of distributed solar generation.

“The economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers. Far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit — for the utility and for non-solar rate-payers,” the Brookings Institute concluded recently.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Graham put it even more strongly: “There have been a number of studies on [cost-shifting],” he said. “In virtually every instance… the result is, ‘No,’ but even more, ‘Hell no.’”

“The installation of solar saves customers money because it avoids having to build additional generating capacity,” Graham said.

Travel: This Haunted Road Trip Will Lead You To The Scariest Places In Florida

Halloween is right around the corner. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend Haloween, why not try a haunted road trip? We’ve got several of Florida’s most haunted spots mapped out for you, so gas up the car and get ready for some ghost hunting.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

lighthouse

Let’s start our journey in the nation’s oldest city, which is also one of its most haunted. Since the lighthouse was constructed in 1874, several people have passed away in or near the lighthouse. The most famous story is that of the Pettee girls. Their father was hired to work on the lighthouse, and the girls, one 13 and one 15, got in the construction cart and it rolled into the Bay. No one could reach them quickly enough, and they drowned. Children’s laughter and footsteps on the stairs, among many other occurences, are often reported here.

Cassadaga

cassadaga

Our next stop is a little town that has long drawn visitors who were fascinated with the paranormal. This town is called the “Psychic Capital of the World,” because it has a large number of resident psychics and spiritualists. There are several places in Cassadaga that are rumored to be haunted, from the Cassadaga Hotel to the Devil’s Chair in the Lake Helen-Cassadaga cemetery.

Launch Complex 34

launch

The third stop on our trip was the site of a tragedy in space exploration. Complex 34 was envisioned as a major launch pad for NASA, until tragically, three astronauts died in a cabin fire here in 1967. The launch pad was shut down and stands as a memorial to the fallen astronauts. Paranormal activity has been reported here, from mysterious screaming to a sudden overwhelming sense of dread. It can be visited as part of a special tour offered through the Kennedy Space Center.

Ashley’s Of Rockledge

ashleys

You’re probably hungry after all of that ghost hunting, so luckily, our next stop doubles as a pub.The main spirit here is tied to a story that is truly gruesome. It has been verified by local reports from the time. A young woman, Ethel Allen, was last seen at the restaurant (then Jack’s Tavern) before her body was found near the Indian River. Workers and visitors have reported being tapped or pushed, seeing objects move on their own, and a woman in period clothing.

The Biltmore Hotel, Miami

biltmore

This road trip probably takes several days, so it’s a good thing we have a couple of hotels on our route. The most famous legend at this historic hotel is of a mobster killed in a gambling dispute, who is said to remain here in spirit. Visitors and employees have seen lights turn on and off by themselves and the elevator repeatedly going to the wrong floor. This resident spirit has also been known to hold doors open for servers in the hotel’s restaurant.

The Opera House, Arcadia

opera-house

Next, we’ll head to this tiny town to check out this historic Opera House. This 1905 theater is currently occupied by an antique store and museum. The theater has been rumored to be haunted by a little girl who some say jumped out the second story window. Phantom footsteps and laughter have also been heard here.

Tampa Theatre

tampa-theatre

Then we’ll head to Tampa to visit this beautiful 1926 theater that is still in use today. Many employees have experienced paranormal events when alone in the theater. It’s supposedly haunted by the longtime projectionist who worked in the theater from 1930 to 1965 and died of a heart attack in the projection booth.

May-Stringer House (Hernando Historical Museum Association), Brooksville

may-stringer-house

Last but not least, we’ll head to the Victorian house that is often called Florida’s most haunted. It’s rumored to be occupied by past residents who passed away on the property. The historic house is now a museum displaying antiques and artifacts of the Victorian era. At night, it hosts adult-only haunted tours and groups of paranormal researchers.

So what do you think? Are you up for this road trip? Let us know your thoughts!

Florida’s Deceptive Solar Amendment… What You Need To Know Before You Vote

Solar companies usually back solar amendments.

But they have all lined up solidly against Florida’s Amendment 1 — “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” which, despite its title, is not about consumer rights or choice. In fact, it would effectively work against solar, by allowing utilities to add special charges for solar customers, the same type of charges that gutted the rooftop solar business in Arizona. It would also make solar leasing more difficult or impossible.

In the Sunshine State, solar energy is pretty popular, but a late September poll showed 66 percent of voters backing Amendment 1, despite the implications.

Why a majority of voters are supporting the measure seems to come down to two key factors: money and misinformation. The utilities and groups backing Amendment 1, which goes to voters November 8, have significantly outspent their opponents, and a coordinated misinformation effort has confused many voters.

Three utilities, Duke Energy, Gulf Power, and Florida Light & Power, have spent nearly $14 million on direct funding for the campaign, which is being led by a group called Consumers for Smart Solar. The nearly $14 million does not including money that utilities have donated to other groups which have, in turn, funded the campaign.

In addition to the money, which has funded a tsunami of TV, radio, and robocall advertising, the backers of Amendment 1 are depending on a solid — and admitted — misinformation campaign.

The attempt to mislead voters started at the very conception of Amendment 1. As soon as it was put on the ballot, the wording of the measure was the subject of a court challenge, led by solar supporters. The state supreme court eventually accepted the measure’s wording, but not before one justice wrote that it was “the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’”

In fact, it’s unclear whether anyone supports the measure who isn’t tied to the utility industry or a conservative group supporting Consumers for Smart Solar, the advocacy group behind the measure.

For over a year, local newspapers and national magazines have been warning Floridians that Amendment 1 is not a pro-solar measure. By now, just weeks before the election, every major newspaper in the state has come out against the measure.

There is a single letter to the editor re-posted on Consumers for Smart Solar’s Facebook page that was not penned by someone who works for the campaign. ThinkProgress contacted the author, Florida resident Virginia Nelsen, who said she no longer supports Amendment 1.

I read [the measure] and it sounded really good to me — and I thought I knew what I was talking about,” Nelsen told ThinkProgress. “Now I’m completely confused.”

Nelsen said no, she is not worried about cost-shifting — which is when the behavior of one group, such as solar users, drives up costs for other users. And while she doesn’t have solar and isn’t planning to get solar, she said she doesn’t think it’s anyone else’s business where you get your electricity. She was also troubled by the fact that the measure is being supported by the utilities, who she said are just trying to protect their monopoly.

“People in Florida are pretty confused,” Nelsen said.

By any measure, there seems to be scant support for Amendment 1 among ordinary Floridians. An audit of donors to Consumers for Smart Solar found that of the only 12 individuals who had given, 11 of them had direct ties to the utility industry or one of the conservative groups supporting the organization.

Over the weekend, another Florida voter, 84-year-old Barbara Waks, called the Miami Herald to say she had just heard about leaked audio from a conservative conference in which a lobbyist appears to brag about how the amendment leverages voters’ support of solar to help the utilities.

“Your article came one day too late,’’ Waks told the paper. “I read it and I almost cried. I’m one of the stupid people who was duped. I voted incorrectly. Is there anything I can do?”

Waks said she voted early. “I’m furious that they would put something on the ballot that would deliberately confuse people and I’m furious at myself,” she said.

A conservative advocacy group for retired Americans, known as 60 Plus, has launched robo-calls supporting the measure featuring Pat Boone. This isn’t the first time the group has gotten involved in an anti-solar campaign. In 2013, 60 Plus became caught up in an investigation in Arizona, after the state’s utilities regulatory commission admitted it was funding groups that were running anti-solar ads.

Billing itself as a “conservative AARP,” 60 Plus has close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and to other Koch-funded groups. A spokesperson for the group did not return email or phone messages asking for comment.

How the Feds Will Spend $1 Billion to “Protect America” From Zika

The Senate finally approved funding for fighting the Zika virus last week, seven months after President Obama asked for it, and $800 million short. The disease, which is spread by mosquitos and can cause severe birth defects, has already infected more than 25,000 people in the United States and its territories. Here’s how the federal government announced on Monday that it would spend $1.1 billion to combat Zika:

Clinical Trials for Vaccines

Right now, there are nine vaccine candidates being developed. A Phase I clinical trial started in August that will test the safety of one of those vaccines. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters Monday that a vaccine will start a Phase II trial, to test efficacy, “no later than January, and hopefully a little bit earlier.”

Some of the funding will come from a $245 million award to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and will help get vaccine candidates to the trial stage. Funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about $152 million, will also go to vaccine development.

Long-term Studies

Because Zika is so new, we have no idea what the long-term consequences are for those who become infected. “The more we learn, the more concerned we are,” says Tom Friedan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We don’t know how children will fare if they are infected in the womb, or if the time of infection during their development matters. Not all infected women give birth to children with noticeable symptoms, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected in some way. A study that will track a group of pregnant women and their babies for one year is in the works.

The CDC will spend about $350 million to start or extend research on the effects of Zika on women and children, as well as methods for controlling and tracking the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.

Reimbursments

Agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC and the NIH reallocated over $433 million from other programs, such as research on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental health, and even Ebola. The HHS will be using just $34 million to reimburse some of these programs, so not everyone is getting their money back. That means cancer, malaria, and Ebola researchers will be short on cash because Congress refused to give the full $1.9 billion in funding that was requested.

New Poll Shows 70% of Floridians Support Medical Marijuana Amendment

A medical marijuana ballot initiative continues to enjoy strong support from Floridians.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday shows 70 percent of likely Florida voters said they supported the 2016 ballot initiative. That’s up from a similar survey conducted in March, which found 65 percent of voters said they supported the ballot initiative.

The 2016 ballot initiative allows individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician to use medical marijuana. It also calls on the Department of Health to register and regulate centers to produce and distribute marijuana and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.

The amendment defines a debilitative condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

A similar initiative received 58 percent support in 2014, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

The poll found strong support across most demographics, including 81 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independent voters, and 55 percent of Republicans.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 744 likely voters between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6. The survey had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

Floridians Overwhelmingly Support Solar In Tuesday Vote

Solar advocates finally got a win in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, as voters approved a measure to get rid of property taxes on solar equipment.

With more than 1,970,000 Floridians checking ‘yes,’ the measure, known as Amendment 4, received more support than the state’s two U.S. Senate primary winners, Marco Rubio (R) and Patrick Murphy (D), combined.

It’s not surprising that the measure passed, although the overwhelming support was a morale boost for the industry, which has faced hurdles in Florida. Amendment 4 received 72 percent approval overall — and needed only 60 percent to pass.

“The passage of Amendment 4 is a victory for Florida’s taxpayers and businesses” — Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R)

The amendment was the culmination of a bipartisan effort from the state legislature to make solar more affordable, especially for big box stores and for solar companies that offer leased equipment. While homeowners themselves were already exempt from paying property tax on solar equipment that they owned, businesses were on the hook.

“The passage of Amendment 4 is a victory for Florida’s taxpayers and businesses,” State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R) said in a statement. “Floridians will benefit from lower taxes, reduced energy costs and the increased security of a diversified energy portfolio.”

Rodrigues cosponsored the bill putting the amendment on the ballot, along with fellow state representatives Lori Berman (D) and Dwight Dudley (D). The amendment had broad support from solar industry groups, environmental groups, and traditional business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Florida Retail Federation. The amendment will now go back to the legislature to be enacted into law.

“With this Florida amendment, the economics of solar have improved.” — Ragan Dickens, Walmart

Supporters are hoping the tax break will spur companies such as Walmart, IKEA, and Costco, which have made massive investments in solar elsewhere in the country, to install solar panels on their Florida stores. It will also allow solar leasing companies such as SolarCity to improve their margins.

“While we don’t have any onsite solar installations at our stores in Florida right now, we’re always looking at opportunities to add solar at stores across the country where it makes economic sense,” said Ragan Dickens, director of sustainability communications for Walmart. “With this Florida amendment, the economics of solar have improved, and we’ll certainly evaluate our opportunities there.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group, Florida has the third-most potential for solar in the country, but it is only 14th in amount of installed solar — even while installing 90 percent more solar in the past year. Massachusetts, Colorado, and North Carolina all have more installed solar.

“It’s clear Floridians want better access to affordable, clean energy options and this vote is a significant step in the right direction,” SEIA vice president Sean Gallagher said in a statement. “Now it’s time to keep the momentum going. To ensure a bright solar future for Florida, customers should vote NO on Amendment 1, the anti-solar amendment that will be on Florida ballots this November.”

Amendment 1 was certainly the dark cloud on the horizon during the Tuesday’s Amendment 4 party.

If Amendment 1 passes, it will prohibit Floridians from selling their electricity to third parties. In effect, it would do away with Floridians’ rights to lease solar panels, since, in that situation, the owner of the panels generally sells the electricity to the homeowner. Leasing solar systems has been an effective and popular way to allow homeowners to go solar without paying for the system up front.

Opponents have argued that the measure is designed to limit rooftop solar in Florida, and, as written, is intentionally confusing to voters, who might not understand what they are voting for.

“[Tuesday’s vote] is a big step forward for Florida, removing a longtime barrier to solar adoption, and the wide margin shows voters want rooftop solar,” said Will Craven, a spokesman for SolarCity. “But Amendment 1 in November could be three steps back, as it aims to trick these voters into supporting something that sounds pro solar, but would actually put a thriving solar industry further out of reach. Only monopoly utilities will benefit from a Yes on 1 vote, everyone else will lose.”

The state Supreme Court ruled against that argument in March and allowed the measure to go to voters during the general election.

Amendment 1 will also face a 60 percent threshold for approval, but there is expected to be a significant media campaign encouraging people to vote yes on 1.

State of Emergency Declared in Florida as Tropical Depression Nine Flooding Begins

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency as parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast begin to flood ahead of Tropical Depression Nine, which is currently in the Gulf of Mexico but closing in on the state.

“It is crucial that every Floridian has a plan in place to ensure their families, homes and businesses are fully prepared,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday morning. “By declaring a state of emergency in advance of this storm, we are ensuring that state, regional and local agencies can work together to meet the needs of our communities.”

The National Weather Service has already reported cars stranded in flood waters in St. Petersburg, and Bay 9 News reports numerous roads flooded in Pinellas County.

The Florida Highway Patrol is urging motorists to use caution on Tampa’s Skyway bridge due to high winds.

After meeting with 40 citiy agencies Tuesday night, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry advised residents to be ready for potential power outages, stock up on food and water, and most of all pay close attention to the developing weather situation, WJXT reports.

Schools in Duval County remained open on Wednesday, but canceled all after school activities, WJXT reports.

“District officials will continue to monitor the storm’s intensity and work closely with Duval County’s Emergency Operations Center,” district spokeswoman Laureen Rick said in a statement.

Schools were open around the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday as well, though officials are keeping a close eye on the weather for possible early dismissal or closures on Thursday, WTSP reports.

“Some of our schools are in low-lying areas'” Hillsborough County School District Spokesperson Tanya Arja told the station. “We do think about students out at bus stops in the morning. We do not allow our buses to go out when there are sustained winds over 39 miles an hour.”

On Tuesday, Pasco County officials urged people in low-lying areas to leave before the storm hits, WFLA.com reported, though no mandatory evacuation orders have been issued.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that the State Emergency Operations Center has elevated its activation status to Level 2 in preparation for potential impacts from Tropical Depression Nine.

“It is important for Florida families and businesses to prepare for heavy rainfall, gusty winds and flooding,” Scott said in a statement Monday.  “Now is the time to get prepared, since we know our state will likely be impacted over the next few days.”

The Florida Keys received some rain from the system as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico, and officials closed Dry Tortugas National Park amid concerns that the storm could “spin up quickly,” according to the Miami Herald. The park will remain closed until the storm passes.

Assuming the system does strengthen further, high surf would begin to build along the Gulf Coast of Florida by Wednesday, according to weather.com meteorologist Jon Erdman.

“The heaviest total rainfall from this tropical system appears to line up over western Cuba, South and central Florida, including the Florida Keys,” said Erdman. “Many locations look primed to pick up at least 3 inches of total rainfall.”

Park officials in the Everglades have closed at least one campground, the Miami Herald also said, and are urging visitors to check weather reports before heading to the park, since the storm could trigger localized flooding.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday, ESPN.com reported, but that game has been moved up to Wednesday night due to anticipated severe weather. For a complete list of canceled events, check the Tampa Bay Times website.

The system will accelerate to the northeast starting Wednesday, Erdman said.

“That faster forward motion will mitigate the heavy rain threat somewhat,” he added.

It’s National Dog Day! So What Are The Best Breeds For Florida’s Climate? We’ve Got The List…

Humans can slug a cold glass of water, sweat profusely, or chill in front of the AC. Dogs, however, don’t have it so easy when it comes to cooling down in a super hot environment. Their survival depends on their coat and fur, along with how much energy they are putting out. “Keep an eye on humidity levels as well as temperature,” says Dr. Amara Estrada of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and a diplomat for the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine—Cardiology. “Animals use panting to take heat away from their bodies, and if humidity is too high they are unable to cool themselves.”

Not all dogs are created equal when it comes to staying cool, though. If you want a happy companion on your next summer adventure, consider these ten breeds that perform well in hot weather, especially if they can hop in a nearby river.

German Shorthaired Pointer

This is a dog that can do anything—track, hunt, point, pull sleds, detect bombs, and of course, join you on a hike or a run on a warm summer’s day. Pointers vary greatly in color, but are easily recognizable in their instinctual pointing stance with a hard gaze, head down, a lifted paw, and tail up.

They were bred for water retrieving and have a short, flat water-resistant coat that helps them regulate their temperature and also repels dirt. These pointers are great athletes (they love to jump) and have heavy, durable nails to keep trucking through dirt and rocks. Hyper and energetic, these pups need space to play and roam, but live a long life—often up to the to mid-teens.

American Water Spaniel

This pooch is another breed that is perfect for warmer climates and will love the hot months. The medium-sized dog has a stocky, strong build and needs both physical and mental exercise. American Water Spaniels are very vocal dogs and have a unique, wavy coat with curls that helps protect them against water, weather, and briars getting stuck as they run through the woods. Similar to a Cocker Spaniel, the American Water Spaniel sports longer, curly ears.

Great Dane

A great dane might not join you on a hike, but will certainly snuggle up with you. They love to laze around on the couch, the bed, or even your lap and they love to lean on you, but they especially love the heat. “They are obsessed with heat, whether it be the heater vents or the fireplace—they are right next to them if they’re on,” says one owner of two Great Danes, Bella and Gabby. “When it’s 90 degrees outside, they will lay right where the sun is beating down and we have to beg them to come in and cool down.”

These gentle giants are part of the Mastiff family and aren’t actually from Denmark—the breed was developed in Germany. Danes are one of the tallest dogs but have one of the shortest life expectancies.

Border Collie

“When I think of border collies, I immediately think of frisbees!” says Estrada. “Border collies are so perfect for the park in any warm climate.” This breed is extremely energetic, acrobatic, smart, and athletic. Not ideal for apartments, collies need plenty of space and nice weather to run around in. They are one of the most intelligent breeds (hello, Lassie!), but with that, they’ll need to be trained or else you’ll be dealing with a terror of a dog—this breed isn’t good for first time owners or families who won’t have time to deal with obedience.

Estrada says that border collies herding instincts, along with trainability, speed, agility, and stamina, have allowed them to dominate in dog activities like flyball, frisbee, and disc dog competitions. Ultimate four-legged frisbee anyone?

Australian Cattle Dog

Another top herding dog, the Australian cattle dog thrives on change and new experiences, says Estrada. This breed is recognizable by its blue or red color, and often has a “mask” on its face with a dark patch over one or both eyes. They have extremely high energy, which makes them perfect for hiking—even if you might get winded, they never will. Be sure to bring plenty of water for not just yourself, but your pooch, too, and try to take breaks in the shade. If your dog is in the sun for a long time, consider some doggy sunscreen, says Estrada, for their ears and other exposed (furless) areas such as tummies.

This breed is devoted, dedicated, and loyal to its owners, and is considered a very athletic dog. And if you live in a rainy state or have a long rainy season, the Australian Cattle Dog is perfect with its rain-resistant double-coat that allows for water to simply bead off.

Airedale Terrier

These extremely smart dogs are much like humans—crazy smart can often lead to getting bored really easily. The largest of the terriers, make sure to keep Airedales busy with toys, exercise, and running around in the woods, your yard, or a park, but be wary of the shining sun. “Watch out for hot flooring,” says Estrada, “and remember that dogs don’t wear shoes, so hot surfaces like rocks or plastic playground equipment can be really dangerous to their paws.”

The breed is a hunting breed for both on land and in the water, but are still playful and a bit goofy, too, with plenty of endurance for summer exploring. Airedales’ coats make them extremely easy to take care of in hot climates—strip their coat down a bit further when the temps rise, and if it gets chilly in the winter, just let it grow out.

Golden Retriever

Another popular dog, and one that’s great for families, is the Golden Retriever. This breed was established near Loch Ness in the 1860s and hasn’t yet lost its love for the water—or retrieving. Head to the park for an endless game of fetch, or hike near a pond with this natural swimmer who sports a water-resistant coat and webbed feet.

“Goldens are very smart and social dogs that typically gets along with other breeds very well,” says Estrada, which is important when doing activities where many dogs might be present, like heading to the park in the summer, so that you don’t need to worry about negative interactions. “When I think of Goldens, the first personality trait that comes to mind is an eagerness to please, so they are great at obedience and agility training but also amazing service dogs who thrive in a situation where they are working alongside their owner.”

Be warned that with all the running and jumping Goldens do, they are often prone to hip dysplasia, which needs to be treated lest you want a pooch that is suffering in pain.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Another water-loving pooch, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large dog that looks similar to a labrador. Vets warn, though, that the Chessie personality is much more standoffish and has a stronger temperament than the Lab, and is also extremely hard to train—don’t get this breed as your first dog and be prepared to spend some time training hardcore. This temperament and will to work lead to a breed that performs the best when it comes to hunting waterfowl, even in icy, cold conditions. The dogs will even use their broad and strong chest to bust through the ice. Whether it’s in the winter or in the summer, Chessies dry quickly because of their waterproof, oily coat.

The state dog of Maryland, these retrievers won’t disappoint with a game of fetch, especially if you’re by the water. Known to be strong, powerful, and a bit intense, this breed comes with a lot of energy and needs space to run around, rather than a quick trot around the block.

Labrador Retriever

Labs are a special mix of toughness and playfulness that can thrive in both cold and hot temperatures, but if you think your Lab loves to play in the yard or roll around in the snow, just get him near a lake or ocean. “Labs typically love anything that has to do with water—lakes, pools, beaches,” says Estrada. “When I think of labs, I think of a fun-loving and boisterousness along with a lack of fear of anything so they are always game for new adventures. Labs are high-energy dogs who never seem to tire and are constantly looking for activity with their owners.”

The breed actually comes from the Newfoundland breed, so the water-loving gene make sense as Newfies are known for being rescue water dogs. Estrada notes that Labs are not only great around the water, but they are also the perfect breed to take running on the beach. Got a bright orange floaty toy and a lake? You and your four-legged friend will be set for hours.

Labs have webbed paws that make it easy to stay afloat and swim for quite a distance, as well as a water-resistant, slightly oily coat and a rudder-like tail to propel the pooch along.They are also great jumpers and can fly off a pier without a problem.

American Foxhound

The American Foxhound is one of America’s few native breeds. In fact, George Washington himself bred these tall hunting dogs with lots of energy. A walk twice a day will suffice, though a yard to run around in is ideal. “Exercise in the early morning or early evening and avoid hottest times of day,” recommends Estrada.

The Foxhound’s coat is made up of short hair, which helps keep the breed cooler in hotter temperatures. Don’t be fooled by it’s cute look and pleasing attitude—this breed can often be stubborn, so it needs to be trained, but it does get along well with families and other pets.

Cuba Gives Final Approval For First Commercial Flights From Florida

If you’ve had your bags packed and been ready to go to Cuba, there’s good news: the island nation’s government has have given the final go-ahead for commercial flights taking off from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

JetBlue and American Airlines are now cleared to start commercial service to several airports on the island, reports the Miami Herald. It’s good timing, too, since JetBlue has a flight scheduled to Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood-International Airport on Aug. 31, nabbing the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to Cuba in more than 50 years.

American is next up, with its first flight from Miami International Airport to Cuba starting on Sept. 7. Eventually, JetBlue is hoping to add service to Holguín and Camagüey in November, again, after it receives approval for those airports. American has received approval to land and take off from all five Cuban airports already, and will offer 56 weekly flights to Cuba total.

Thus far the Department of Transportation has only given preliminary approval to American, JetBlue, and the other airlines that applied to fly 20 daily routes to Havana. That approval is expected to land later this year, while Cuba’s will have to sign off on those flights as well.

Florida Absolutely Sucks When It Comes To Pedestrians

As any pedestrian in Florida knows, walking in this car-obsessed state can be as tranquil as golfing in a lightning storm. Sidewalks are viewed as perks, not necessities. Crosswalks are disliked and dishonored. And many drivers maniacally speed up when they see someone crossing the street.

Then there are the long, ever widening arterial roads — those major thoroughfares lined with strip malls built to move cars in and out of sprawling suburbs.

It is no wonder that four Florida metropolitan areas, led by the Orlando region, ranked as the most dangerous places to walk in the country, according to a recent survey by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization.

“So much of Florida has been built up so quickly in that era of the automobile-oriented design; it’s this sort of the boomer phenomenon,” said David Goldberg, communications director for the organization. “The tendency there has been to build the big wide arterials; you have these long superblocks and you can get up to a good speed.”

The Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions, with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009. This translates to an annual fatality rate of 3 per 100,000 people. Second was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach.

Researchers used 10 years of pedestrian fatality data and census figures to make their calculations relative to the amount of walking in a given area. Using that scale, New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, home to the highest number of people who walk to work, is considered one of the safest cities for pedestrians. Anyone walking across Queens Boulevard may beg to differ.

Most of the metropolitan areas that fared poorly in the survey were in the South and Southwest, although California’s Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario section was fifth on the danger index.

Hispanic and black residents — people who are the least likely to own cars — suffered the highest pedestrian fatality rates, according to the report, published in late May and titled “Dangerous by Design.” Bus riders are particularly vulnerable, mostly because bus stops are often between intersections on long, wide roads and are far from stoplights. People race across to get to the other side, rather than walk (in steamy weather or after a long day’s work) a quarter- or half-mile to a stoplight.

This is what Cindy Berdeguez did here the other day. Lugging plastic bags and a backpack, she frantically dashed across Semoran Boulevard, a six-lane state road where some cars and trucks whiz by at 60 miles per hour (the speed limit is 45). She paused briefly at the median and raced again. She and a friend had just left the food pantry at Catholic Charities, which sits squarely across the wide road from the bus stop.

“You’ve got to walk fast, you can’t talk and you keep your eye on the road,” she said, sweat pouring down her face. “There are no lights, no crosswalks and the bus stop is in the middle here.”

The nearest stoplight was far in the distance, too far for her to walk in the heat. So she gambled. Overhead there were no streetlights, a big problem in the evening. “Oh my God, the traffic here,” Ms. Berdeguez said. “People have no courtesy, no patience for human beings, no respect.”

At that moment, a mother grabbed her two teenage daughters and ran across the same spot. “Every day I do this,” said Nancy Tejeda, 38, shielding herself from the sun with a black umbrella. “Of course, I’m afraid. We all link arms and cross as quickly as possible. Drivers see you coming here and they speed up.”

Just down the street, the same scene played out repeatedly, only pedestrians raced across the road (where there was no median) to a neighborhood supermarket. One group included a child in a stroller. The road, like so many others, was built for cars and not people.

“Most accidents occur on the second half of the crossing,” said Brad Kuhn, the director of Bike/Walk Central Florida, a nonprofit group that supports safety for pedestrians and cyclists. “People bolt too soon. They misjudge.”

The problem is especially acute for children and the elderly, who have greater difficult judging distances and speed. Orlando city officials say that the data is somewhat skewed by the number of tourists who visit the state, which inflates traffic. So far, though, tourists remain largely untouched by pedestrian fatalities. All too often, pedestrians get blamed for reckless behavior when it is the outdated design of roads and the location of bus stops that are at fault, Mr. Goldberg said.

In Atlanta, a young mother, Raquel Nelson, was sentenced to probation after her son was killed in 2010 when the family got off a bus after a long day out and walked across an intersection rather than to a stoplight, a common shortcut. The 4-year-old ran across the road by himself and was hit by a car. Ms. Nelson was convicted of homicide by vehicle, among other things. She has accepted a judge’s offer for a new trial. The driver served six months in jail for hit and run.

The case galvanized pedestrian safety groups and the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P.

“This blame-the-victim mentality is common,” Mr. Goldberg said. “We don’t stop and examine how highway planning and land-use planning can contribute to this.”

The Orlando region, which also ranked first in the previous pedestrian fatality survey, issued in 2009, has taken the reports seriously, advocates say. The city is building miles of sidewalks and setting up audible pedestrian signals. It has also increased the number of traffic-slowing measures. One of its newest neighborhoods, Baldwin Park, was built as a walking and biking community, with shops and schools easily accessible, narrow roads that encourage slow driving, and bike trails.

The city also works to modify bus stops, create overpasses and improve lighting, when possible. The state’s road warrior culture will be slower to change, but nonprofits are starting education (or etiquette) campaigns here to modify behavior. But roads tend to stretch beyond local government. Semoran Boulevard is a state road, which involves a separate department and a denser bureaucracy. Kissimmee has its own local government. And rural areas fall into their own category. Uniformity is difficult.

“We are trying to change the culture and this thinking that is car-centric,” said Frank Consoli, Orlando’s traffic operations engineer. “Any death is too many. We don’t want to see that. We don’t want Orlando also to get a reputation that we have problems here. We want to make it as safe as possible.”