County Officials Explain Jim Brandon Issues


Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of columns by Ellen Rosenberg on Tropical Storm Isaac and the equestrian community.

Horses and standing water are a bad mix. Hooves can rot, develop white line disease or thrush. Bacteria in the water can quickly turn a cut or wound septic. Legs get “stocked up,” filled with fluid, which is a painful condition and impedes blood flow. Biting mosquitoes abound, carrying West Nile and encephalitis. There can be submerged dangers, such as rusty implements, strands of barbed-wire fencing, boards with oxidized nails.

A horse’s sensitive skin can develop a fungal condition known as rain rot. Floating fire ant nests are a biting nightmare waiting to happen, swarming up a horse’s legs. There are poisonous snakes and hungry alligators. And how do you explain to a horse that he shouldn’t drink any of this filthy, contaminated water that’s all around him?

Kari Garber of Deer Run knows all about these dangers. Happily, her barn stayed high and dry during the flooding from Isaac; however, her training facility was badly flooded.

“No one expected this,” she said. “We had more water than we ever got from any of the hurricanes. I woke up and discovered I was living in Water World. Although my family was OK, a lot of my neighbors needed help.”

Garber is the emergency resource coordinator and chair of the Equestrian Committee for the Deer Run HOA. She helped coordinate with Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, taking care of all the stranded people and animals.

“We ran hay and feed back to them on airboats, and helped evacuate animals who needed drier places. Fire-Rescue was outstanding; they really helped with whatever we needed,” Garber said. “What impressed me most was the way a lot of people pulled together and helped each other. I love living here. There’s a strong sense of community, even when facing challenges. Thank God this didn’t happen during season when there would have been so many more horses.”

Garber expects that the experience will lead to changes. “I’m sure once we’re through this, a lot of time will be spent evaluating the situation, figuring out how it occurred and how to prevent a repeat. We’ll put a process in place so we can be better prepared, just in case,” she said. “In a crises, you have to stay positive, have some kind of hope. I’ve lost the majority of my income. There’s nothing I can do about that. But I keep a positive mind-set, which makes facing life a lot easier. Helping others gives me the strength to get out of bed every morning. I used to watch Swamp People on TV. I never thought my life would be Swamp People, with huge gators walking down the middle of the street. Some people see the glass as half full or half empty. I say, ‘Yay! I’ve got a glass!’”

John Herrick is director of special facilities with the Palm Beach County Department of Parks & Recreation, which includes the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center.

“The county does have a good plan to assist stabling horses in storms such as hurricanes,” he said. “However, Jim Brandon was never included in that plan. It’s not constructed to handle high winds and, up to a year ago when we did some drainage work, was also subject to flooding. Because of the way this storm happened, it stayed in good shape. If the rain had fallen farther east rather than west, the barns would have flooded.”

Herrick said that the other options were safer alternatives.

“I definitely understand people’s frustration at not being allowed to use this center, but there were a number of other stabling options. Again, Jim Brandon was never part of the overall plan. We weren’t staffed to handle it; we were supporting the humanitarian needs of residents who had no food or water,” he said. “Moving forward, the center will still not be available in a hurricane, but if it’s undamaged, it may be included in county emergency plans for temporarily housing horses who’ve been flooded out. We’d have to look into the logistics, which might include staging equipment and supplies, staffing, security and canceling scheduled events.”

Herrick plans to work with local organizations to study the idea.

“The Palm Beach County Mounted Posse horse club is currently our partner. I definitely plan to engage them with formulating these plans and using their volunteers,” he said. “I think we’ve learned a lot from this storm, which was so different from any others. Our goal is to help the community with humanitarian and animal issues.”

Eric Call is director of Palm Beach County Parks & Recreation. He spent much of the time during and after Isaac at the Emergency Operations Center. He also accompanied fire-rescue units as they ran supplies out to stranded homeowners in Deer Run on Sept. 2 and 3.

“A few people did speak to me, during and after the storm, about using Jim Brandon,” he said. “I was told there might be hundreds and hundreds of horses needing stalls, and Jim Brandon only has 128. Also, it was never part of any disaster program and wasn’t really set up to handle that kind of situation.”

However, Call stressed, there were other options available.

“Within a very short time, we had two large barns agreeing to take in a large number of horses: Palm Meadows and Sunshine Meadows. I thought that was a great solution, and I passed that information along. They were large enough to handle a lot of horses, and already staffed and equipped,” he said. “I didn’t quite understand why some people were upset that Jim Brandon wasn’t open. I was really puzzled. I felt like we’d bent over backward to help them, made these arrangements for their horses to stay someplace safe for free, and still they were bothered. I was more concerned helping the people who were stranded.”

Call feels that the county did a good job helping arrange temporary stabling at Palm Meadows and Sunshine Meadows.

“Jim Brandon would not have been big enough, and we would have had to pull resources and staff away from helping people to run it instead,” he said. “In the future, I don’t really know if Jim Brandon would ever be available for housing horses in an emergency. I never thought about it at all. It wasn’t designed for that use. I’m sure we’ll have some discussions about that, and will welcome input from members of the horse community. This may be a question for Animal Care & Control, rather than Parks & Recreation. It’s more of a horse/livestock issue. We just happen to have jurisdiction over an equestrian facility. I can’t make that kind of decision.”

“Palm Beach County is home to thousands of horses,” I pointed out. “Shouldn’t there be some sort of county horse emergency plan?”

“There should definitely be some discussion about that,” Call agreed.