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Ep. 26 - Take the Pledge to go Plastic Free

Ep. 26

Plastic Free July is an annual challenge to reduce the many ways we use disposable plastics in our daily lives and raise awareness about the amount of single use and disposable plastic is around us. The Office of Sustainability is challenging residents to try the low-plastic lifestyle for this month and see what habits can stick throughout the rest of the year. Hear from Sustainability Manager, Lindsey Nieratka and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Manager, Leanne Welch as they discuss the benefits of going plastic-free and not only how it helps our environment but our wildlife as well.


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Ep. 26 - Take the Pledge to go Plastic Free Transcript

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: Hey everyone and welcome to Boca Behind the Scenes -- a get to know you podcast where we talk to city staff to get details and information about new programs, events and projects that are taking place right here in your city. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, public relations specialist with the city's communications and marketing division, and as always I am happy to be your host today.

[Upbeat theme music fades out]

So wherever you may be listening to this podcast right now, I want you to take a moment and think of all the ways you may use single use plastics...

[Sound of plastic items being touched]

Plastic silverware, plastic water bottles, plastic food containers, plastic bags, now go ahead and think of all the people in this entire universe that use those very same items.

[Sound of plastic items being dumped]

It's kind of overwhelming to think about, right?

[Ominous music plays in background]

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing our environment and it's starting to gain a lot of attention. On a regular basis, images appear on our social media feeds of overly polluted oceans, turtles entangled in plastic and ingested plastic particles in pieces by various marine life. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. So in an effort to increase awareness of the everyday ways that we as a community here in Boca Raton use and throw away single use plastics, the City's Sustainability Office is challenging all residents, yes you, to make changes this month during Plastic Free July. Plastic Free July is the global yearly challenge where millions of people give up single use plastics to raise awareness of the amount of disposable plastic items that we use every day in our lives and challenges people to do something about it. So last year we spoke to you our City's Sustainability Manager, Lindsay Nieratka, about this very initiative so let's hear from her again about Plastic Free July.

[Ominous music fades out]

Lindsey: So Plastic Free July is just it's a it's an awareness event and it is an international event that was started in Australia in 2011 and it started as just an office initiative but since then over two million people have opted to participate from over a hundred and fifty-nine different countries. What Plastic Free July does is it challenges participants to take a look around their lives and figure out the places where they're using plastic unnecessarily or not recycling it properly and to then implement some changes to reduce the plastic waste that they're producing.

Anne Marie: Some of you may fully understand the benefits of going plastic free and some of you may not right now and that's totally okay. Honestly, I'll admit, it wasn't until I started working very closely with our sustainability department that I started to take notice and really take a look at the amount of single use plastics that I utilize in my life every single day.

[Plastic bags being rustled]

For those of you that may be in the same boat, let's listen to Lindsey as to the benefits of going plastic free and why it's so important.

Lindsey: We've learned a lot in the last few years about the impact of plastic on the environment and just the amount of plastic that we have been producing. A study came out, I think last year, that looked at all the plastic that's been produced since 1950 and what has happened to it all and the results were surprising to even the people doing the study. We produced over eight billion tons of plastic since 1950, seventy percent of that has been disposed and of that only ninety or sorry only nine percent has been recycled. Which means that it is somewhere and sometimes that's going to be in places we don't want it like in our oceans. So all the plastic that's ever been produced still exists and ninety one percent of it has not been recycled. So we have this logical disconnect between this material that lasts forever and a use of it which is for disposable products.

[Sound of ocean waves]

Anne Marie: And if you've been to the beach lately, I am sure you have seen our many turtle nests blocked off within the area. Being a coastal community, not only is our community important to us but our wildlife that inhabits our environment is as well. Having a world-renowned turtle rehabilitation center within our city has opened our eyes first hand on how plastic affects our marine life, especially our sea turtles. Gumbo Limbo Manager Leeanne Welch was able to put this into perspective.

Leanne: Two-thirds of our planet is covered in water, so it makes sense that two-thirds of our plastic that has not been recycled has wandered in the ocean and we see that in the most remote islands in the Pacific that man has never set foot on and they get there and it's just littered with plastic waste. We see it up close and personal at Gumbo Limbo, especially in our turtle rehabilitation facility. Every year there's tens of thousands of baby turtles, hatchling turtles that are born on our beaches and they're they're little, they're smaller than the palm of your hand and they're born with all of the knowledge they need to be an adult turtle. There's no, mom doesn't come back and take care of them and when they're born they swim for about two days they get out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and wind up in these giant weed patches, these sargassum weed lines. And from there at they're preprogrammed to eat pretty much anything that fits in their mouth. A lot of them wind up back in our rehabilitation facility. They're weak and they get washed back up on the beach occasionally some of them do die and we do a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, and what we find is a hundred percent of them have plastic in their stomachs. Two-thirds of the animals in a rehab facility are also impacted by plastic, whether it's an entanglement in fishing line or rope. Occasionally, we have to do an imputation of a flipper for that, so I mean we're just seeing it up close and personal everyday.

Anne Marie: So now that we have all this really great information, why not go ahead and take the pledge to go plastic free this month? The City's Office of Sustainability created a pledge tracker that you can use at your office or at home to hold you accountable. And what's so great about it is that it's not just a one size fits all challenge. You can go ahead and pick initiatives that work well for you as well as your family. And looking at the pledge tracker, that actually have right now in my hand, it lists all the different ways and items to avoid. So there's things such as plastic retail bags, bottled cleaning products, disposable coffee cups, plastic cutlery and foam take out boxes. But then it provides you with different ways to avoid it. So for example, for the plastic retail bags, remember that you can use reusable shopping bags or even a cardboard box if you don't have them when bringing your groceries or items home. For plastic straws, when you go out to dinner, refuse the plastic straw or opt in for a paper straw if they have that available. Or you can even go online and purchase your own reusable straws and bring them with you. For plastic cutlery, you know go ahead and support businesses that are offering compostable alternatives like bamboo or fiber cutlery, or bring your own reusables or sit and enjoy dine-in. So there's so many different ways that you can get involved with this pledge. And what's really awesome too is once you see all the things you can avoid and how to avoid it, you can also look at the impact that you would have on the ocean, waste reduction and climate and kind of what level of impact you would have on those three. So it's a really great initiative that you can get involved in. You can go online and print it off of our website, it'll be on our social media channels and there will also be a display at the library where you can go ahead and get the pledge, and at the bottom you will put your name and information and you can leave the section below to get updates and be entered to win a sustainability price. So, it's really something to definitely look into and make it a challenge within your home with your family, friends and see you know what you can do, not only now during this month but how you can implement that long term. And this isn't the only way that you can participate in Plastic Free July. What's really awesome is the Office of Sustainability and our Recreation Services Department is hosting an intracoastal kayak / canoe clean up on July 27 at Spanish River Park canoe launch to celebrate Plastic Free July as well as Parks and Recreation Month, which I'm sure you'll be seeing more information from us about that and the and the possible podcast, and attendees are able to bring their own canoes or kayaks or you can borrow one but there are limited supplies available so make sure you R. S. V. P. soon to get yours. Or you can even join in on the, on an on-land beach cleanup and clean up plastic from the Intracoastal side of the barrier island. So there will be more information posted about this event and it's coming soon so make sure that you stay connected with us. And these are only two ways for you to practice sustainability. I mean, we have so many initiatives. If you go on to our sustainability web page you can read up all about them. We have our Coastal Connection Restaurant Program that kind of goes hand-in-hand with this. So be sure to go ahead and get involved. Use this as a way to you really propel yourself into sustainability within the city and incorporate these practices into your everyday life. So go and get creative and you know come to the beach cleanup, learn more about sustainability in your city on an ongoing basis, make the pledge and be a part of this great community effort.

[Upbeat theme music plays]

So for more information as always go ahead and follow us on social media -- we're always posting information about initiatives like this and we are everywhere. We're on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, I think I said Twitter, Instagram, you name it, Nextdoor, we're there. And you can also visit the city's website at and if you go to the search bar and look up sustainability, you'll go to that home page and it'll list all this information and more. So thanks so much again for tuning in to Boca Behind the Scenes and be sure to tune in next time.

[Upbeat theme music fades out]


Ep. 24 - Tree Maintenance for Hurricane Season

Ep. 24

In the episode, Boca Behind the scenes takes listeners through the necessary steps to prepare your trees and vegetation for hurricane season. Hear from Nora Fosman, the City's Senior Environmental Officer, on the proper way to prune your trees, how to properly maintain your trees throughout the year and how to prepare yourself, your property and your home for a potential storm. Listeners will also learn more about the Clean and Cut program, free additional bulk and vegetation pickup program provided by Sanitation Services in order to assist you in preparing for hurricane season through the month of June.


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Ep. 24 - Tree Maintenance for Hurricane Season Transcript

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: Hi everyone and welcome to Boca Behind the Scenes, a get to know you podcast where we talk to city staff and get details and information about new programs, events and projects that are taking place right here in your city. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, Public Relations Specialist with the City's Communications and Marketing Division and as always, I am happy to be here today.

[Upbeat theme music fades out]

Well everyone, it's almost June first, and you know what that means. Hurricane season is right around the corner. This is the perfect time to not only get yourself, your family and your pets prepared, but it's also a time to ensure that your properties are safe as well. It's the perfect opportunity to start cleaning out your garage and throwing away that pesky old patio furniture that keeps you from fitting your car in there. It's the perfect time to trim your trees and other vegetation on your property, especially those close to your homes and powerlines. Now you might be listening to me right now and rolling your eyes and thinking that you have plenty of time to get this all done, or you won't even bother, but before you brush me off completely, let me tell you a little story.

[Sound of wind from a hurricane]

In September 2017, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the history of the Atlantic was projected to come barreling through the east coast of Florida. Packing a hundred and eighty-five mile an hour winds, Hurricane Irma, a category five storm, caused complete devastation and destruction to everything in its path. As the storm inched closer to home, Floridians kept a very close eye on the ever-changing hurricane track, hoping for the best but eventually preparing for the worst. Unfortunately, because of the uncertainty, many residents around the City of Boca Raton left hurricane preparation for the very last minute, which included cleaning out their garages and pruning their trees. Items such as mattresses, patio furniture, old appliances and mounds of palm fronds and vegetation piled up in front of people's homes waiting to be picked up and disposed of by the City of Boca Raton's Municipal Services Department. With the abundance of items that were thrown away, dump sites and transfer stations became inundated with bulk items and debris, eventually reached maximum capacity, and no longer accepted any additional waste. Municipal Services had no other choice but to suspend operations leaving hazardous materials vulnerable in hurricane force winds and residents dissatisfied and extremely frustrated. Fortunately, the city sustained less damage than anticipated, this time around. But the sanitation challenges that the city faced before the storm prompted them to create the Clean and Cut program, a free bulk and vegetation pickup program for all customers within the city. The city will be offering this program again in June after seeing such great participation within the community. Last June over four thousand tons of garbage and bulk items were collected and over one thousand tons of vegetation. This increased from June 2017's pickup by almost twenty percent, with close to an additional eight hundred tons of waste that was picked up from residents. Not only will Clean and Cut help the city's sanitation services run more smoothly before a storm, but it can also help prevent trees falling on powerlines and cutting out your power. One important aspect of getting prepared for this Clean and Cut program is to prune and trim your trees. I was able to speak to Nora Fosman, our City Senior Environmental Officer, and she provided me with some great information on how to prepare and protect your vegetation and property before hurricane season begins.

Anne Marie: I am here with Nora Fosman, our Senior Environmental Officer. Thank you so much for being on the show today. So just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do as the Senior Environmental Officer for the city.

Nora: Well I've been with the city for 18 years. My degree is in environmental horticulture, and I do a lot of things but mainly I work in the development services department so when somebody comes in either to build a single family house or to demo a house or they want to come in for site plan approval or to do something on the beach, I review those plans and give them comments related to whether it's true preservation or environmentally sensitive land protection or protection of listed species; in a nut shell.

Anne Marie: Very cool, so to start off why should residents prune their trees? I know that we're getting ready for hurricane season, but I know this is something that you know we should be doing all year round, so why is it beneficial for residents to prune their trees?

Nora: Um trees are like children, if you want them to grow and be part of the community and be strong, you have to start training them early. And the secret to doing that is if you start early, the tree is much smaller that you don't need a lift truck or ladders, you don't need big pruning equipment and so once you get that structural framework and it's strong then just like your children, as the children get older you can allow them to do their own thing because you've got that that framework already built in. But all of that framework is there in place and the tree will be ready to withstand a storm.

Anne Marie: And what about if people you know weren't aware of that and they do have more mature trees on their property?

Nora: Yeah, absolutely. So, the best thing to do is when you hire tree company, when they come to your house, don't trust that they actually know what they're doing. So, you want to have in mind what exactly you want them to do before they touch your trees. So, we have a tremendous amount of resources that are available on the sustainability website about tree care and tree training. You can call me or my coworker Smith Amisial and we'll be happy to talk to you about you know proper tree care. But the main thing that you want to do is many of these tree companies want to lift the bottoms of the trees and they want to thin the canopies and that's exactly the opposite of what you want to do. On a mature tree, two thirds of the foliage should be in the lower half and I'm gonna say that again, because you rarely see that. So, two thirds of the foliage should be in the lower half of the tree and the reason for that is you want that low center of gravity. So, a tree that has all the weight in the top half, and I've seen it where the foliage is all in that top twenty five percent of the tree, itโ€™s top heavy. So, it's ripe for either snapping or falling over.

Anne Marie: And I know that you had mentioned if you start early you don't have to prune every year but if you do you have more mature trees how often should you prune them?

Nora: Correct. So, the structural pruning you know, you can't, if you have a tree that's grown, and it's been growing on its own, it's never been touched for you know, ten or fifteen years, you can't correct everything all at once. So, you probably would have to go into a yearly pruning cycle, but I would have the tree company come in and address only those structural issues, nothing else. And so, after you get those structural issues taken care of, then you can go to the three to five-year cycle.

Anne Marie: So, what are, I guess, the proper ways to prune trees? Are there like specific steps that you should be following prior and during?

Nora: You want to look at the tree again as I said you should make the decision on what you want to do with the tree. So, there are basically five specific types of pruning and again if you go onto our website you'll see pictures and then you can look and go that's my tree and that's what I need to do to it.

Anne Marie: That makes it easy. And how much should you cut away from like your if you have power lines on your property or from your home? How far should trees be, or their branches be?

Nora: So that is determined by the National Electric Safety Code. So, anything that is within ten feet of a conductor, which is that closest wire, the power can either arc over into that that tree or that branch, and one of two things will happen; it'll either energize the tree; trees are filled with sap and water so they really make good conductors. So, the dangerous thing about the trees close to the power lines is you can be walking by and when that tree is energized the roots of the tree are energized and you wouldn't have any way of knowing that. The other thing that can happen is the tree can catch on fire and what happens is, you know, our fire department will come out and respond except it's not safe for them to enter your property until FPL has time to come out and cut the power. So, it's really, really an important thing to follow the right tree right place. They are working into the National Safety Code and it is for a good reason. The other thing that's not as dangerous but more annoying, especially with palm trees, is if you have palm trees that are near those power lines, palm trees can bend, the fronds straighten out, they slap that wire. When they slap the wire, it shorts it and then you take out the power to your neighborhood, so if you want to be a good neighbor or if you really don't want to lose power during the storm keep an eye on those trees. And then if you do have trees that you feel are growing too close to the power lines call FPL. The number is on your bill and alert them and they'll come out and take care of the situation.

Anne Marie: And are there any other tips you have, hurricane prepared, preparation-wise about you know, your foliage or the trees itself, any other vegetation and making sure that your property is safe and secure?

Nora: Well it you know, the best time to prune trees is actually in the winter for two reasons. The tree companies aren't as busy, so if you don't have a big demand you're going to get a better price and they're gonna be able to come out there quicker for you. The other thing is you don't have as much foliage on the tree during the winter and it's easier for them to work and it's less for them to take away, which they end up you know charging you for because I have to take it to the landfill. So the best time would be in the winter, but we're still early in the storm season now so people aren't really gearing into that so I would take a walk around the property look at those branches that are over hanging your house, look at branches that might be even if the branches aren't touching power lines now, keep in mind that those trees especially palm trees when the storms come they're going to bend those limbs are gonna straighten and again if you don't want to lose power this is the time to do it. So yeah walk around the house now and look at all those potential things and again if you have any questions feel free to give us a call.

Anne Marie: So, I hope all this information was a value to all of you, and it'll prompt you to get involved and participate in the Clean and Cut program. Be sure to get prepared now. Start by cleaning out your garages and storage areas and cutting and pruning your trees and vegetation. Flyers are going to be sent out to all residents serviced by the city sanitation department. They should be heading your mailboxes very soon if they haven't already and it'll provide you with information on pick up days. Or you can also visit the city's website.

[Upbeat theme music plays]

This information and so much more can be found by visiting the you We also have a really great podcast set up for you where we're going to be talking to our communications manager, emergency manager and deputy city clerk about hurricane preparedness within the city, the emergency operations center, how to stay connected and all really great information on getting you prepared before hurricane season. So, thank you again so much for tuning in to Boca Behind the Scenes and don't forget - be prepared Boca!

[Upbeat theme music fades out]


Ep. 23 - Accessibility in the City

Ep. 23

In this episode [FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] of Boca Behind the Scenes, Public Relations Specialist, Anne Marie Van Casteren and Communications Manager, Chrissy Gibson, chat about all the different facilities, parks, programs and resources for those in the community with special needs and abilities. Listeners, will also have the chance to listen to Recreation Services Director, Michael Kalvort and Community Events Specialist for Sugar Sand Park, Stacee Lanze, regarding new ADA accessible updates and enhancements the City's parks and about the upcoming Especially for Kids event coming up May 18. For more information, check out the City's website by visiting


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Ep. 23 - Accessibility in the City Transcript

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: Hi everyone and welcome back to Boca Behind the Scenes, the get to know you podcast where we get the privilege to talk to city staff to get details about all the really new exciting programs, initiatives, events, projects that they're working on. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, Iโ€™m the PR specialist with the City and I am joined by Communications Manager, Chrissy Gibson.

Chrissy: Hi everyone.

Anne Marie: And we're super excited for today's show. On this episode, will be talking about the City's innovative programs, parks and events for those with special needs and abilities. We were able to speak with Michael Kalvort, our Recreation Services Director, as well as Stacee Lanz, our Special Events Coordinator over at Sugar Sand Park, about all these programs and initiatives so you'll be able to hear more about our conversation throughout the show.

Chrissy: One of the reasons we thought it would be a great time to talk about all the fabulous programs and amenities and events that the City has for people with special needs and abilities, is because the 11th Annual Boating and Beach Bash, that's the nation's largest free, fun event with people for disabilities, and for those of you who may not know about the Boating and Beach Bash, it's a really special event. It began in 2009 with a group of volunteers and three boats, boats came out to give rides to attendees, people who have special needs and abilities, who had never been on a boat before and about 350 people came and now 10 years later the event is still going strong.

[Sound โ€“ Children playing and boat horns]

It hosts thousands of people and they had about twenty-five boats and yachts, big boats, little boats, that come out. People get on the boats, they go up and down the intracoastal and it's been dubbed the "Miracle on the Intracoastal." It's really, very, very tremendous and very special event.

Anne Marie: That's awesome. I actually had the opportunity to speak with Jay Van Vechten, the Executive Director, over the phone and he was just thrilled at what at successful and tremendous event it was. He said it was the biggest crowd to-date, all the parking lots were filled, nearly six thousand attendees that came, over two thousand boat rides were given in a matter of five hours, so it's really become a great staple in our community.

Chrissy: It's such a cool event and it's not just the boat rides, I mean, they have all kinds of resources there and games and fun for folks. It's, it's really cool. And the same volunteers, the volunteers who run this great event, have been really instrumental in working with the City to get us to provide beach access mats on our beaches and we do provide these beach access mats. It's for people who are in a walker, in a wheelchair. They are these rubber kinds of mats that roll all the way down to the ocean and folks who have trouble, you know, obviously walking on the sand makes it more accessible for them to get down. Unfortunately, we used to have to pull these mats up during turtle season, but we worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to get a permit this year, so we have a new pilot program where we can actually leave the mats down for the entire year on to two of our beaches, Spanish River and South Beach. And again, Jay and his team of volunteers were really instrumental in working with us to get that done so that's been pretty cool. And in addition to the beach mats, we actually have beach wheelchairs that are available for people as well, so if you talk to a lifeguard you can see if there's, if there's one available.

Anne Marie: Awesome. Well getting back to Spanish River Park, there was a playground that was renovated last year that included some really innovative and accessible features to make it easier, more enjoyable for those with disabilities to actually go and enjoy, so I know the City has been really great in keeping up with accessibility trends in our facilities, our parks, and our playgrounds so we get to hear more about this and all the new features from our Recreation Services Director, Michael Kalvort.

Michael: Sure, well accessibility is really important to our department as well as the City, obviously, we're having a full podcast on it and educating our citizens on it. The new playground over at Spanish River has a pour and play servicing which allows easy traversal, we can have our wheelchair-bound patrons navigate throughout the entire playground area. There's also transfer stations which provide access up throughout that entire playground for our, for our community.

Anne Marie: That's great and are there any new projects or playgrounds that are in the pipeline that will include ADA accessible features?

Michael: Absolutely. We're actually in the process of building Hillsboro El Rio Phase 2 which is a new park located right off Dixie and Southwest 18th Street. A lot of our citizens are probably familiar with the northern part of our park, but the southern park is under construction. We'll have a very large, accessible playground, we'll have accessible restrooms that are there as well as a long walking path which will provide a lot of amenities for our able disabled patrons alike.

Chrissy: So not only are those new parks seeing some great new features, but the Sugar Sand Science Playground was designed to be a more inclusive experience for those with all abilities and they have some really unique features such as the Oodle Swing, sensory play roller table, the quiet nook, sign language alphabet board and all kinds of things. I know when my kids were little I could barely get in there to chase them around because the spaces were so small but now they've made them much bigger so kids with wheelchairs and parents can get in, you can keep an eye on your kids. It's such a great experience over there, but we can hear more about that from Stacee Lanz. She's Sugar Sand Park's Community Events Specialist and she's got all kinds of information about it.

Stacee: The Sugar Sand Park science playground it is a three story science playground with a lot of scientific features and some of the features that were updated to make it an inclusive playground are the flooring, which was changed to be the impact attenuating flooring, which is that sort of bouncy material that gives when you run, all of the ramps all the way up to the third floor are now wide enough to accommodate wheelchair access as well as the care givers, and also the hand rails that were put in for those people that need it. Really, they're added in order to build on the multi-sensory experiences to build physical as well as a cognitive strength. They benefit sensory, motor skills, cognitive skills and social and emotional skills so yeah, they really did a phenomenal job with this playground.

Anne Marie: In addition to all of those amazing features Stacee spoke to us about, Sugar Sand Park is hosting their Especially for Kids event on May 18th, as well as some really great spring break and April programs. I know she mentioned to me that starting in April, they have their parent lectures where they invite a speaker to chat about topics such as social skills, increasing communication skills at home, they have beginner and advanced level classes, so it's a bi -monthly program. It is starting in April, but they also have other programs that they host for families and kids with special needs throughout the entire year. But their Especially for Kids event is also a really tremendous event. They close down the park at around five thirty and then reopen it for family and kids with special needs to really come and enjoy all these features we are talking about and activities and really fun things to do so Stacee was able to give us some more information about that as well.

Stacee: In May we have our Especially for Kids event which is a family event where we close down the park at 5, we re-open at 5:30 and families get exclusive access to our amenities, Explorium, Explorium demos, free carousel rides. We'll have a petting zoo, dance party, family photos, arts and crafts, all kinds of different things for families to come. It is free, and they just have to register in advanced online.

Anne Marie: So, as we've been chatting about and hearing about, the City really does a tremendous job of trying to be innovative in its programming and services for those with special needs and abilities. I know when I first started here, I had the privilege of sharing a really great story with our community about our Patch Reef Tennis Center. They have a wheelchair program. It was actually named the 2017 USTA Grassroots Wheelchair Tennis Program, long title, but they were recognized nationally, which is really, really awesome. They host the South Florida Open which is a huge wheelchair tennis championship where players from all over the country come and play and they have some really great programs such as their weekly clinic where wheelchair players are paired with able bodied players so it's a really inclusive and amazing program.

Chrissy: You know, not only does the City have great programs but the county also offers a lot of great programs. I know you've probably seen this van around town, I know that I have. It's the Palm Tran van. Apparently, if you have special needs, they provide a door-to-door service and you can make arrangements online or with the county and they will come and pick you up so it's a paratransit service, itโ€™s a great resource. So, between the City and the county, we both are offering a lot of great information and resources for people with abilities and disabilities and I hope that we've been able to provide some new information to people today.

Anne Marie: Definitely, it's a lot of great information for our residents. I really hope everybody's really able to take advantage of these resources, facilities and more. So, thank you so much for joining me today Chrissy.

Chrissy: You're welcome.

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: So just to quickly recap, Sugar Sand Park will be hosting their Especially for Kids event on May 18th. The event is free for attendees but please make sure that you go online and register on their website. In addition, as you heard we have several accessible playgrounds around the City, beach mats and beach chair access at two of our beaches, athletic opportunities at the Patch Reef Tennis Center that people with special needs can enjoy so there's so many resources, so many services and so many facilities and amenities. You can find all the information on our website at And if you have any ideas or initiatives that relate to this topic or any other topic for that matter, that you think will really help improve the quality of life in Boca Raton, your city, you can attend one of the City's Community Advisory Panel meetings, which is the second Thursday of each month. And again, you can find all this information on our website. Thank you so much again for tuning in to Boca Behind the Scenes.

[Upbeat theme music fades out]


Ep. 22 - Understanding Water Modification

Ep. 22

On this episode of Boca Behind the Scenes, host Anne Marie Van Casteren chats with City staff members about the water modification process, where the City of Boca Raton's water comes from and how it's processed and addresses resident concerns. Utility Services Director, Chris Helfrich and Laboratory Director, Ashton Wydock, provide more information on the City's water utility while Sustainability Manager, Lindsey Nieratka discusses plastic water bottles versus city tap water from a sustainability standpoint. For more information about the water modification or utility services, visit


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Ep. 22 - Understanding Water Modification Transcript

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: Hey everyone and welcome to Boca Behind the Scenes, a get to know you podcast where we talk to city staff to get details and information about new programs, events and projects that are taking place right here in your city. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, Public Relations Specialist with the City's Communications and Marketing Division, and as always, I am happy to be your host today.

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Water is essential to all aspects of life. It sustains our families and communities and supports economic productivity. The average human can only survive about four or five days without water according to most experts. And the typical American relies almost entirely on their water utility to provide them with this vital sustenance. In order to maintain the high quality of drinking water for our residents, the city's Utility Services Department undergoes a water modification process where the city's water system is disinfected by slightly increasing the chlorine level periodically over two weeks. This helps clean any and all bacteria that might be in our water systems and keep our community ahead of any potential risks. This process is a widely recognized standard practice that meets, and in our city's case exceeds all federal, state and local standards of safety. However, through each modification process there are more and more resident concerns. These include concerns about the slight chlorine smell in the tap water, questioning if it's safe to drink or even cook with, if the water can turn their hair orange while in the shower and all of these concerns are legitimate to have. I mean, look at the events and occurrences that have happened in places like Flint, Michigan and Hinkley, California where Erin Brockovich uncovered documents that led to the discovery of water contamination. However, this modification process that has been implemented in Boca Raton, along with other cities and counties across the entire nation, has been going on for decades. During this episode of Boca Behind the Scenes, you're going to hear from the City's Utility Services Director, Chris Helfrich and Laboratory Director, Ashtan Wydock about the modification process, the importance of it, about your city tap water and they'll even be able to address some of the concerns that you might have. But before we hear from them I'm joined by our Sustainability Manager, Lindsey Nieratka to chat about something we hear residents refer to quite often during the modification process, and that's the immediate need to go out and buy cases of plastic water bottles to drink during the two week modification process because they feel that the city tap water isn't safe to drink during that time.

Anne Marie: Lindsey thank you again for being on the show. Very happy to have you as always.

Lindsey: Happy to be here.  

Anne Marie: So, let's get right into this issue.

Lindsey: Well obviously plastic water bottles have the issue of coming in plastic and so you have in addition to the water you have that waste that's that's a part of it and plastic water bottles take petroleum to produce, it takes more water to produce a bottle of water than it's contained. They're transported so there are a lot of environmental issues and the reason a lot of people choose that water is because they believe that it's safer and that's not necessarily true. Here in Boca Raton, our utility is making sure that our water is safe to drink. That's part of the process that's going on right now. And so, it's really using bottled water is a personal preference. And a few things that I think about with bottled water versus tap water are things like there are studies that have shown some bottled waters have higher levels of bacteria than tap water. That it's possible for plastic -- chemicals in the plastic to leach into the water. And so that's all going to be of course a function of how the bottles have been stored and transported. Whereas our water one thing that I've learned about the water here in Boca Raton is that when it comes out of your tap it's within twenty-four hours of having been extracted from the aquifer, so you know that it's been you know fresh it hasn't been sitting around for a long time. And another thing that I always think about is that about twenty-five percent of all bottled waters are filtered tap water, and it's a lot more affordable to filter your tap water yourself.

Anne Marie: And you know keeping with the sustainability issue, I mean plastic water bottles you know we are coastal community we're always promoting to keep it clean and preserving it, so you know bringing more plastic water bottles into our community you know what kind of effect does that have?

Lindsey: So, we've been promoting reduction of plastic through on that I think the last two times I was on the podcast talking about plastic free July and talking about our Coastal Connection Restaurant program, both of which were pushes to reduce to use a single-use plastic. Plastic water bottles are as a big contributor to a single-use plastics, and so you know we see at the beach we have beach cleanups on average once a week, a little bit more and there's constantly plastic that can be picked up. So, any ways that we can reduce even by a little bit the single-use plastic is really good. And we're all doing our best efforts for recycling I know I talk to a lot of people who say well but I'm recycling it, and it's really important to recycle whenever you can but it's also important to to know that not every plastic water bottle is getting recycled. According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, the recycling rate for plastic bottles is only around twenty nine percent. So even with best efforts the system isn't collecting everything.

Anne Marie: And so, is it just the way thatโ€ฆ is there a certain way that you have to throw out plastic water bottles? Do you have to remove the cap? Like is it people not putting in the correct bins or?

Lindsey: With our recycling system here and in the City of Boca Raton, we have our blue bins and our yellow bins, and the plastic water bottles would go into your blue bin, and you can leave the caps on. That's something that's changed and so not everybody knows that but as long as the, if the bottle is plastic and the cap is plastic, they can stay together. So in fact it's better if they do because then they're connected. You just have to remove the bottle cap if it's a different material from the bottle.

Anne Marie: So, not many people are really familiar as to where our city water actually comes from and how it's processed. So, let's hear a little bit from Ashtan Wydock as she explains more of the process.

Ashtan: Okay so the Utility Services Department, we provide safe and clean drinking water and wastewater services to the hundred and thirty thousand residents of Boca Raton. We also service some areas that are unincorporated such as some areas in Palm Beach County. We serve not only residential, but we also service commercial and industrial sectors as well. We are a full-service utility; we receive our water from the Biscayne Aquifer. It comes in through a series of wells, we have fifty-two wells, comes into the drinking water plant where it's treated and analyzed by the laboratory and then goes out to our Boca residents and it comes back to the plants and we have a waste water plant and it comes there and we treat it again and it goes out as reclaimed water. We are a hundred percent reclaim facility.

Anne Marie: So as any product or service that we buy, there are always consumer concerns. And being in the communication department we do receive a lot of those concerns through our various social media platforms and Report a Concern module from residents. And our Utility Services Department also speaks with residents over the phone that call and to hear them out about certain issues or questions that they may have with their water services. So, let's listen to Ashtan and Chris chat a little bit about the common concerns the department gets from our residents and how they provide the best quality service to deal with the certain situations.

Ashtan: So, some consumer concerns, as a laboratory director I've been very fortunate. I've had the opportunity to interact with a lot of the residents of Boca. Occasionally, we will get a phone call from a resident at about a water quality issue. An example I have is actually a couple weeks ago I received a phone call, and the customer had black particles in their water. And the first thing that we do is we get their address, we go out, we take a sample from outside their house, we investigate the service lines to make sure that everything looks okay. We also check for a water filtration system; sometimes residents have a filtration system that they don't even know about actually. Sometimes residents don't maintain these filtration systems, and if you don't maintain a filtration system you're not really seeing a water quality that is representative from our water plants.

Chris: I think one of the kind of one of our strategies, and it's also kind of a business strategy, is  that we're problem solvers. So, when people call us up and say gosh I have an issue, we go one step further and also try to figure out what is the issue.

Ashtan: The residents of Boca, they have confidence in us. In the laboratory, we run forty-three thousand tests a year -- awful lot of testing. And our job is to communicate with the water treatment operators and also the waste water operators. If we noticed any small issue in the results we're going to communicate with them immediately, and this helps prevent a larger issue.

Anne Marie: So, going back to the whole discussion of city tap water versus plastic water bottles, you were able to hear from Lindsey about this issue from a sustainability standpoint, but what about from a health and safety standpoint? In speaking with our Utility Services Department about this issue and all those questions we get asked to whether resident should go and purchase plastic water bottles during this modification process, Ashtan had some really interesting research from being in the laboratory and running tests on bottled water that really made me rethink my choice about drinking from plastic water bottles ever again. So, let's learn more about this.

Ashtan: We actually tested some different types of bottled water and some of the bacteria levels I see there I would not want to be drinking that water. I mean when you think about it, bottled water is stored in plastic which contains industrialized chemicals produced and sits in a warehouse exposed to hot and cold temperatures. And it just doesn't receive the amount of testing that's needed, and those chemicals that are in the plastic for the water bottles their potential carcinogens, and then that bacteria level I would definitely not want to be drinking that.

Chris: You kind of think about a timeline of waters and and you know if they produce Zephyrhills water in Zephyrhills, Florida, it's sitting on the shelf, we figured probably by ten weeks you may be drinking that water. In our case, the water is to you within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

Anne Marie: So, we hope this podcast is able to provide you with some answers to the questions that you might have regarding your city water and why the modification process is so important. If you go on the Utility Services website, you can actually find more information about the whole process. The modification will start on Sunday, May 5th until Sunday, May 19th, so you might smell or taste a slight chlorine odor in your water. But as mentioned, that this is all part of the disinfection process and it won't cause any adverse health effects.

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There are some precautions for those on kidney dialysis machines, owners of tropical fish aquariums and managers of stores and restaurants with fish holding tanks, but we definitely advise that you go ahead and call up our experts at the Utility Services Department to have any of your questions answered and to find out some more information. You can contact them by calling 561-338-7310 or again you can visit our website at The city will also continue to flush fire hydrants during this period, so you might notice some flowing water in streets and swales, but again this is all part of this modification process. So, thank you again so much for tuning into Boca Behind the Scenes.

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Ep. 21 - SpringFest

Ep. 21

Continued from Episode 20 featuring Spring City events, Public Relations Specialist, Anne Marie Van Casteren, chats with City staff to talk about a new and exciting event called Spring Fest, that will help celebrate the start of the Spring season with egg hunts, face painting, lawn games, a petting zoo and even a green market with fresh produce, flowers, locally made products, recycling activities and educational booths to promote sustainability in conjunction with Earth Month. Check out more of our upcoming City events by visiting


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Ep. 21 - SpringFest Transcript

[Upbeat theme music plays]

Anne Marie: Hi everyone, and welcome to Boca Behind the Scenes, a get to know you podcast where we get to talk to city staff to get details about new programs, events and some projects that they're working on. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, and Iโ€™m the Public Relations Specialist for the city, and I'm really happy to be back as your host today. On this episode of Boca Behind the Scenes, we're going to be talking about some upcoming spring events, a fun and exciting new event called SpringFest. So today on the show will be hearing from Oyuki Poletz, our Programs Services Librarian. Oyuki welcome again, I know you've been a veteran on the show, so glad to have you back. And Emily Petford, our Community Events Specialist, this is your first time on the show so welcome, glad to have you. So if you want to get started, just introduce yourselves their roles at the city and how long have you been here and what you guys currently do.

Oyuki: Well my name is Oyuki again. I'm the Program Services Librarian and I've been with the city for 11 years. One year as a part-timer and then 10 years as a full-time librarian. I started as a children's librarian, so this program something dear and near to my heart, and I oversee just a wide range of programs at the library from adults to children and special events as well.

Anne Marie: Very cool.

Emily: My nameโ€™s Emily Petford. I'm the Community Event Specialist for the city, and I've been here since last June. I did start as a part-timer and then I moved up to the Specialist, which is full time. So, I had the pleasure of working with Monika, and we not only continue to grow the events that we have already had in the past. We've also made new events and we're really excited to talk about them.

Anne Marie: Awesome, glad to have you both on the show again. As if we don't already have so many amazing events taking place throughout the city all year long, we now have SpringFest coming up, which is a brand-new event to help celebrate the start of the Spring season. So, Emily, would you like to tell everybody more about the event, what it is, whatโ€™s it about, where, when and all those fun facts?

Emily: Of course. So, we have this new even. We've titled it SpringFest and that's exactly what it is. It's a spring time festival and we really created it because there was a demand for something to do in the spring time, some event. There's a lot of families, a lot of younger families, that have moved to Boca Raton in the past 10 years or so and thatโ€™s what they really wanted. So, what we're doing is we are going to be at Spanish River Park on A1A and essentially there are three sections of the park. So SpringFest will take up the entire southernmost section, and the other two sections will be for parking. So, what we have is an entire day from 10 AM to 3 PM of awesome spring time activities. There are egg hunts for different age groups, there are five bands that are going to be on stage, we have Easter bunny photos, we have mermaid photos, which is a nice addition. We have face painting, we even have a petting zoo. So really there's a lot to do for the kids, but not just for the kids, we have an artisan market. So, what weโ€™ll have are people with flowers, plants, teas, honey, a lot of handmade crafts, so itโ€™s something for everybody. And also, April is Earth Month, so we have an Earth Month zone, and we have worked with the cityโ€™s Sustainability Department and they brought in a lot of organizations and they're going to be coming in and doing like gardening demonstrations and handing out information and really educate the public on how to live a more sustainable life. And another thing that we did is, of course, we are also going to have to food truck vendors there and they are taking the initiative to be sustainable and getting on the bandwagon of no straws, and no Styrofoam and everything so weโ€™re making as many efforts as we can to really focus on the Earth Month as well.

Anne Marie: Very cool. So, what about parking? Admission? Stuff like that. Where can people park?

Emily: So, admission is totally free, and parking is also free. So, there are three sections of Spanish River Park, as I mentioned, we will be taking up the southernmost section for SpringFest, and the other two sections will be reserved for parking.

Anne Marie: What about if you're a vendor that would like to participate in SpringFest? Do they contact you guys directly? Is there some sort of application that they have to fill out?

Emily: We actually do have applications. You can go to to learn more information. And if you do want to go directly to the vendor application we have two applications. If you would like to be a vendor at our artisan market you can go to And if youโ€™re a food vendor you can go to

Anne Marie: And you can find all this information like you said on the website, you guys have a Facebook, all social media.

Emily: We do, we have a Facebook if you want to go to and we also have our full-day schedule on there as well, so you can plan ahead.

Anne Marie: Awesome. Well it sounds like a really exciting event. I will definitely be there, so I'm looking forward to it. Again, for more information about the events you can visit the City special event page on the website as well as the Know Before You Go newsletter. I'm not sure listeners if you do not receive these emails they're really great in keeping you up to date on what's going on with our larger city events and provides you all the information that Oyuki and Emily spoke about. Letโ€™s you know times, dates, location, parking information, safety information, you name it. So, if you would like to sign up, please visit our City Connection page on our website. And on a side note, I know that you know with the month of April leading into this and all of our larger city events, we are really pushing for sustainability within our community. So, I know at both events it was mentioned that the Mobile Aqua Refreshing Station that our Utility Services Department actually built, it's called the MARS buggy or the MARS water unit, will be popping up at all of our larger events so be sure that you bring your canteens, reusable water bottles. It provides clean, cold, free, fresh city water, very very cold so it will keep you refreshed so you know make sure that you do bring that with you. But I want to thank you ladies again so much for being on the show and for all the information that you provided, and I wish you both very successful events.

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Oyuki and Emily: Thank you, Anne Marie.

Anne Marie: So just to recap, the very first SpringFest will be taking place at Spanish River Park on A1A on April 6th from 10 AM to 3 PM. For more information, you can follow the Boca Raton Special Events on Facebook or visit our website at Thank you all again for listening to Boca Behind the Scenes.

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