Rip current risk elevated all week

Along our coastline Monday there is a moderate risk for rip currents. According to the National Weather Service, rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and in the vicinity of structures such as groins, jetties, and piers.

Tonight coastal winds will build dramatically out of the northeast. The onshore flow of wind will make for large and rough surf, increasing our risk for rip currents. The risk for rip currents on Tuesday and most likely on Wednesday will be high.

Rip currents are defined as relatively small-scale surf-zone currents (usually 50 to 100 feet wide), moving away from the beach. They can be thought of as small rivers in the ocean, moving away from shore. Rip currents can form along any beach or coastline where breaking waves occur, but are most common near low spots or breaks in sandbars, and near structures such as groins, jetties and piers — especially a few hours before and after low tide.

They form as a result of breaking waves trapping water between the beach and a sandbar or other underwater features. In order to return to sea, the trapped water converges into a narrow channel moving away from the shore at a high speed.

One way to stay safe from the threat of rip currents is to try to identify them before entering the water. While rip currents can sometimes be difficult for the average beach goer to identify, here are some clues you can look for:

A channel of churning, choppy water
An area with a notable difference in water color
A line of foam, seaweed, or other debris moving steadily out to sea
A break or discontinuity in the incoming wave pattern

When looking for rip currents, keep in mind that not all of these signs will occur with all rip currents. In fact, it’s possible that a rip current will exhibit none of these characteristics.

If you choose to go in the water with the risk of rip currents, you should swim near a lifeguard, pay attention to flags and posted signs. If you are caught in a rip current most importantly you should remain calm. Do not fight the current, instead swim parallel to the shore.

The rip current itself does not pull you down- it pulls you out, people drown in rip currents because they try to swim against it and become exhausted. If you swim in a direction following the shoreline you will eventually swim past the pull of the rip current and be able to swim back to shore. If you cannot escape, just float and tread water until the rip current weakens. If you need help wave your arms to try to attract attention from the shoreline. On top of all of that, one way to get out of the rip current is to lay on your back and try to float out of it. Another approach to get out of the rip current is to lay on your back and you will eventually float out of it.

​According to the National Weather Service office in Jacksonville, every year, dozens of surf zone fatalities occur at beaches across the United States.Over two-thirds of these fatalities are drownings due to rip currents.

These drownings occur when swimmers are pulled away from the shoreline and are unable to swim to shore or keep themselves afloat because of poor swimming skills, fear, panic and/or exhaustion. Rip currents can be particularly dangerous because many swimmers either aren’t familiar with or don’t fully understand them.

Final stretch of State Road 9B on schedule to open in summer 2018

A much anticipated roadway in St. Johns County will open in summer 2018.

The final stretch of State Road 9B connecting Interstate 95 to St. Johns Parkway is on schedule.

With all of the new development in Durbin Creek and Bartram Park, S.R. 9B is expected to alleviate a lot of traffic along Race Track Road and Bartram Park Boulevard.

Cranes and cones placed along Race Track Road are visible reminders of the progress being made to S.R. 9B in St. Johns County.

“A lot of these people that are impatient and running really fast and crowding out everybody will, hopefully, get alleviated,” said Tim Dobbs, who lives in the Bartram Park area.

People living in Bartram Park said Monday that they can’t wait to have more wiggle room on the road.

“Every morning, it’s a crapshoot,” said Kathleen Merritt, who lives in Bartram Park. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

The North Florida Transportation Planning Organization reports more than 21,000 vehicles use Bartram Park Boulevard every day.

With new neighborhoods and businesses popping up in Durbin Creek, Dobbs said, “it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse.”

“(There’s) way too much development, not enough road and timing of traffic lights,” Merritt said.

Some drivers told News4Jax that they were hoping for more convenience. When the project is complete, they’ll have to get off of Race Track Road and use a connector road just to access S.R. 9B.

The Race Track Road connector is about a mile long — just south of Bartram Park Boulevard.

There will be traffic lights added to each end of the connector.

Convenient or not, drivers in the area said, if S.R. 9B alleviates just a little bit of traffic in the area, it is well worth it.

On Monday, Sky 4 captured work being done on the four bridges over Russell Sampson Road, Durbin Creek Boulevard, Race Track Road and the connector.

The final stretch of S.R. 9B is expected to open next summer.

Florida TV tax fight taken to US Supreme Court

Pointing to “protectionism,” a major satellite-television company is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a constitutional challenge to a Florida law that sets different tax rates for cable and satellite TV services.

Dish Network in September filed a 39-page petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, nearly five months after the Florida Supreme Court sided with the state and the cable industry in upholding the law.

The long-running battle focuses on the state’s communications-services tax, which is 4.92 percent on the sale of cable services and 9.07 percent on the sale of satellite-TV services. Dish Network contends the different tax rates are a form of protectionism that violates the “dormant” Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars states from discriminating against interstate commerce.

“In particular, it forbids a state from taxing or regulating differently on the basis of where a good is produced or a service is performed,” said the Dish Network petition, posted on the SCOTUSblog website, which closely tracks the U.S. Supreme Court. “That’s exactly what the unequal Florida tax does. It puts a heavier duty on pay-TV programming that is assembled and delivered without using massive infrastructure within the state.”

But the Florida Supreme Court, which sided in April with the state Department of Revenue and the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, rejected the notion that cable was an “in state” interest that was being protected by the law. Justice Peggy Quince wrote, for example, that Florida’s largest cable providers are headquartered out of state, as are the satellite companies.

“Cable is not a local, in-state interest any more than satellite,” Quince wrote. “While it may be true that cable employs more Florida residents and uses more local infrastructure to provide its services, the Supreme Court has never found a company to be an in-state interest because it had a greater presence in a state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court only agrees to hear a relative handful of the thousands of appeals filed each year. Responses to the Dish Network petition are due Nov. 13, according to a court docket.

(Disclosure: The News Service of Florida has a partnership with the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association for the Capital Dateline news show.)

In the petition, Dish Network argued that the “practical effect of Florida’s unequal sales tax is to benefit local economic interests associated with cable,” including state and local government.

“What possessed the state to adopt this unequal excise on competing services? In a word, protectionism,” the petition said. “Though cable and satellite may be interchangeable from the viewer’s perspective, they have very different relationships with the local economy.”

Contractor swindles local homeowners

Two local homeowners say they paid a Jacksonville contractor tens of thousands of dollars for work he never finished. They want him held accountable so it does not happen to anyone else.

Susan Setser said she paid Sid Baskin, owner of BHI Construction and Custom Windows USA, $62,000 to replace windows and remodel her Jacksonville home.

“He was really, honestly, Johnny on the spot. He had good ideas and he sounded like he knew what he was talking about,” she explained about when she met him to get a quote to replace the windows in her home near San Marco.

See Oct. 16 update to Setser’s complaint against Baskin

She found his name in an advertisement in TheHomeMag, a home improvement magazine.

“[The advertisement] looked legitimate. It has the Better Business Bureau seal and a license number,” she said.

Still, to make sure she was getting the best price, she called two other window installers for quotes. She said all three were similar, so she decided to hire Baskin — since he was also a licensed contractor and could replace the A/C system, flooring and electrical wiring.

“It just made sense,” she explained.

She has copies of the contracts he signed along with three checks she wrote Baskin’s company totaling $50,000.

Work began last year, but stopped abruptly after the electrician knocked on her door telling her he had not been paid in three weeks.

“He said Baskin told them that I didn’t want to write them a check. I was floored because I knew how much money I had paid,” said Setser.

When she called Baskin, she said he told her, “I’ll take care of it.” But, more than eight months later, that has not happened.

“I mean really nothing that makes sense comes out of his mouth. If his lips are moving, he’s lying,” Setser said.

Setser called police, hoping they might be able to arrest Baskin. She said the officer told her he doubts the State Attorney’s Office will charge Sid Baskin, suggesting it is a civil matter and not a criminal case.

‘In [the police officer’s] seven years of doing this, he said he didn’t really think that the State Attorney would be very interested in pursuing that. That didn’t make sense to me because if you walk into the bank, and rob a bank, and you run off with $42,000, I think that would be something someone would care about,” Setser told the I-TEAM.

She said she has yet to receive any follow up call from the officer or from the State Attorney’s Office. Sid Baskin is not charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

With a dumpster still sitting in her yard, Setser then filed a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). That was at least two months ago.

“Someone there [DBPR] called me, I missed the call. I called her back four times since and still no return call,” said Setser, who is frustrated that Baskin’s license to work as a contractor is still active. “I’m still wondering how it is that you can have a license to work which continues to put you in a position where you can continue to rip people off.”

The I-TEAM tried to get some answers from the DBPR as to why it is taking so long. Kathleen Keenan, Deputy Director of Communications, told us under state statute, the department cannot confirm or deny the existence of any complaints or investigations against licensed professionals until 10 days after probable cause has been found.

However, on the same day we called DBPR, Setser said she received a return call from an investigator and is now providing the department with the information it says it needs to move forward with her complaint.

A portable toilet, along with that dumpster, still remain at Setser’s home. Electrical wires are sticking out of holes in the walls of the dumpster and A/C ducts are laying on the floor of unfinished rooms.

“I have $42,000 still unaccounted for and no windows,” she said.

Setser now has to find — and pay — someone else to do the work.

TheHomeMag has now cut ties with Sid Baskin and told the I-TEAM, “We strive to ensure that all advertisers are not only appropriately licensed and insured, but want every one of them to be incredibly skilled.”

Local contractor previously in trouble

The I-TEAM discovered a Ponte Vedra Beach couple also paid Sid Baskin, owner of BHI Construction and Custom Windows USA, to remodel their home in 2009, and he did not finish all of the work either. The St. Johns County couple does not want their name made public, telling us they are afraid of possible retribution. But, they told us over the phone that Baskin was a smooth talker who earned their trust.

They told us they paid Baskin more than $150,000 and also signed a contract for the work. They were told he would need four months to complete the job, but it took two years and it had to be finished by another contractor.

They said they were “swindled” out of $49,742 in work never completed and expenses. They also wanted Baskin arrested, but said they were told it was a civil matter. However, that changed when they discovered Baskin himself cashed a $10,000 check that was written to a wood supplier. He was charged with forgery and grand theft, but agreed to pay restitution to avoid prosecution.

According to court documents, while Baskin did repay the $10,000 in monthly installments, he still has not paid back another $20,039 owed to the couple.

“He was scheming to defraud, and we were two vulnerable senior citizens,” the couple wrote in court documents.

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation was notified about Baskin’s prosecution and restitution order in 2013, but the Deputy Director of Communications told the I-TEAM the complaint is still in analyst review because it was never completed by the claimant. Baskin’s license as a contractor is still active.

Subcontractor not paid

“I finished the job and he looked at me and he said the check is in the mail and I said great, and I expected to see it and never did,” said Robert Bramuchi, owner of Bramuchi Acoustical Ceilings.

He told the I-TEAM Sid Baskin hired him to replace ceilings inside a unit at the Roosevelt Commerce Center on the Westside last year.

“It was a hand shake job, as it always has been with him. I’d never had a problem with him before,” said Bramuchi.

But now, he said he’s out $2,200 dollars.

Bramuchi is suing Baskin, who he said never showed up for the first court hearing.

Local contractor facing several lawsuits

The I-TEAM also learned, Sid Baskin is being sued for $10,395 by the owner of The Chariot at Eastpark office building off St. Johns Bluff Road on the Southside of Jacksonville. According to court documents, Baskin entered into a rental agreement last July for 60 months, but failed to pay rent and other charges for the office space.

Susan Setser is now suing Baskin too, for the $42,000 she paid him for work that was never completed.

We tried to get some answers from Sid Baskin and give him a chance to explain. We found him outside his home, but all he told us was “no comment.”

OCT. 16 UPDATE: Setser received a letter from the state earlier this month notifying her that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations has filed a formal administrative complaint against Baskin. If DBPR finds he violated state rules, he could lose his license. If he does not dispute the charges, that punishment could come sooner.

Protecting yourself and your money

Susan Setser regrets she didn’t do a background check on Sid Baskin before she paid him.

She said, “It’s not enough to just know that it looks like they have a Better Business Bureau Endorsement. It’s not OK to just know that they have an actual valid license. You have to run a background check because if I had done that, nowhere in a million years would this have happened.”

Tom Stephens, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, suggests you always Google a person or company’s name. If Setser had done this, she could have found a notice from the BBB explaining Baskin’s companies are not accredited members of the organization.

It’s important not to assume that an advertisement has been vetted by an advertiser or home magazine.

3 additional steps to protect yourself

There are three additional steps you can take to protect yourself when hiring a company or contractor:

Search the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s website to confirm the person or business has a valid license and to check if any complaints have been filed.
Most remodeling work requires a permit. Call the county where you live to confirm that the contractor or business performing the work has pulled the appropriate permits.
To search any criminal or civil cases against a person or business most counties, like Duval and St. Johns, have an online portal giving the public access to claims or charges that have been filed.

Duval County Clerk of Courts: CORE
St. Johns County Clerk of Courts

The I-TEAM wants to hear from you. If you know of any contractors who you think are ripping people off, email us at ITEAM@news4jax.com or call 479-NEWS.