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ALACHUA – Final preparations are underway as the City of Alachua kicks off the Legacy Park Concert Series beginning in May.

The concert series is a free, two-month event that will feature some of the best music talent in the region performing in the beautiful Legacy Park Amphitheater.

The Saturday, May 1 event features two rising stars on the Country/Southern Rock Music scene, Cliff Dorsey and Jamie Davis. Taking the stage for the June 5 event will be the top Funk/Soul bands in the area, Fastlane and The Stagers.

Food trucks, vendors and general concessions will be available in a smoke-free environment at Legacy Park , located at 15400 Peggy Road in Alachua. Pets are not allowed and social distancing protocols will be observed.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ A City of Hawthorne employee complaint sparked a Special City Commission meeting Tuesday night after the employee contacted city commissioners about an incident with City Manager Ellen Vause.

Concern over the reason for the Special Commission meeting was so strong in the community that the meeting room had more citizens in attendance than could be accommodated, with people standing in doorways, against walls and in an adjacent room. Some had heard rumors about the meeting and others expressed concern that the posted agenda was vague and City employees referred callers to the mayor when they asked for details.

Vause, who has been City Manager for approximately eight years, had reprimanded a City Public Works Department employee because she believed that something he was doing would adversely impact the City’s ability to obtain a grant; something she had been working to obtain for the City.

It is the city manager’s authority to hire, fire and reprimand employees, but the issue between the two became heated and Vause finished her reprimand by swearing. At issue also was that the employee was reprimanded in front of other employees; something Surrency and others suggested might better have been done privately.

Commissioner Jacquelyn Randall brought up instances in which she believed Vause had either been inconsistent or negligent in her procedures. She further expressed concern that there were no negative notes in the City Manager’s employee file, which she believed should have been there.

Surrency suggested that a letter be placed into Vause’s file regarding the way in which she handled this interaction with her employee so there would be a paper record available and to help the Commission determine if improvements were made following this incident.

Vice-Mayor Deloris Roberts-Cheatham suggested the City’s Charter should be changed to reflect grievance procedures. The City Attorney suggested instead that those issues would be best spelled out in the City’s Employee Manual as a change in the Charter was a lengthy process.

Commissioner Patricia Bouie-Hutchinson said she hadn’t been aware of some of the issues Commissioner Randall raised and wants those issues addressed. The City Attorney reminded the Commissioners that the purpose of the meeting was this one incident and that her advice was not to address other issues.

Several citizens addressed the Commission to express their feelings about the issues. Comments offered both supported and opposed Vause.

At Surrency’s suggestion, commissioners unanimously approved three measures, one of which would be a letter he composes to be placed in Vause’s file, and would bring back to the next Commission meeting for final approval.

Surrency also offered that an evaluation process should take place to establish a base line and he offered to work with the City Clerk to review criteria from other similar cities and provide it to Commissioners before the next meeting.

He also suggested that the City schedule a policies workshop to evaluate the current policies.

Vause addressed the Commission, saying she would hold an employee meeting Thursday morning and provide each employee with an employee manual with the grievance procedures highlighted. She indicated she had done this previously, but would do so again.

Vause’s employment contract runs through August 2022.

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NEWBERRY – An updated plan to increase the size of the proposed Sandia Town Parc was presented to the Newberry City Commission at the April 12, 2021. Approximately 10 years ago a plan for Sandia Town Parc was proposed and approved by the then sitting City Commission. At Monday’s meeting, CHW’s Craig Frasier presented three related applications for Sandia Town Parc.

The developer is seeking approval to include an additional 312 acres. The requested expansion is to allow for additional economic development opportunities that could benefit from a larger footprint, as well as to provide direct access to the CSX rail line for light industrial uses. The project is located behind and to the south of Champions Park.

The conceptual plan includes four hotels, single and multi family residential units, retail space, recreation and golf areas, championship stadium, and in the southern portion of the development, light manufacturing.

Three quasi-judicial hearings were conducted following CHW’s presentation in which each application was heard and voted on separately. All three applications previously came before the Planning and Zoning Board and were recommended for approval as well.

The first application is a large scale Comprehensive Plan Amendment to modify the plan boundary. This is the original plan referred to as Phase I.

The second application, Phase II, is a Plan Development Amendment to Phase I for a rezoning change from Agriculture to Planned Development.

The third application is a Plan Development amendment application for Phase I to amend the existing Plan Development entitlements and layout.

The addition of Phase II to Phase I would provide 270 multi-family units, 70,000 non-residential and 200 hotel rooms. The two phases together would provide a net increase of 710 single-family detached and attached units, a 150,000 square-foot sports arena, a 1,000-seat stadium and 550,000 square feet of light manufacturing area.

City staff recommended approval along with the Planning and Zoning Board, but with suggested modifications to Ordinances 2021-13 and 2021-12, which deal with water and wastewater capacities.

Water and wastewater capacity for development is on a first come, first serve basis when final development orders are approved by the Commission. Currently, capacity to serve the proposed development exists based on the City’s present water and wastewater flow data and outstanding capacity reservations.

“As the City is in the process of expanding its wastewater treatment capacity it makes no representation as to available water and wastewater capacity at any time in the future,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas.

All three applications were approved by the Commission on first reading and will come back for consideration again at a future meeting.

In other business, the City Commission approved extending the allowable length of stays in RV resorts and campgrounds from 90 days to unlimited days and to increase the allowable number of park model RVs from 10 percent to 30 percent.

The City Commission also approved Ordinance 2021-02 that brings the City’s Code of Ordinances into compliance with recent changes to state statutes placing limits on local government regulations of mobile food dispensing trucks and providing for regulation of food trucks within the City limits.

Outgoing Commissioner Paul Norfleet received a plaque commemorating his service to the citizens of Newberry as a city commissioner. Norfleet did not seek re-election in the April 13 municipal election.

A proclamation in honor of Municipal Clerk’s Week was also read into the record. Mayor Jordan Marlowe thanked City Clerk Judy Rice for her service to the citizens of Newberry.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Get ready for some western style family fun. Every year on the fourth weekend of April, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce hosts the Pioneer Days festival to celebrate the town's colorful past. This year, the 44th Annual Pioneer Days Festival will be held in downtown historic High Springs on Saturday, April 24, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is held in and around James Paul Park, located behind City Hall in the heart of downtown.

The event is presented by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce. Admission and parking are free. There’s something for everyone this year including Kids Korral with many free activities, and pony rides for a fee, plus a bounce house that will be sanitized regularly throughout the day, face painting and more. Other attractions for the weekend-long event include over 60 crafters, artist and various vendors as well as seven food vendors featuring a wide variety of food and deserts.

High Springs is now known for its peaceful small-town charm with antique and art shops, eateries and recreation areas. People come for the unique nature that surrounds the town with the rivers and springs for swimming, boating and scuba diving. But the town’s beginnings had little to do with recreation.

One of the earliest settlements in the vicinity was established at Crockett Springs, located about three miles east of present-day High Springs. Settlers and ranchers moved into the area during the 1840s, but no town developed in the area before the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1884, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad was extended from Live Oak to Gainesville, passing through High Springs. A post office and train station were established in the town, which grew due to the rail lines. In the next few years, High Springs boomed as a result of the development of phosphate mining in the area as well. In 1892, the town was incorporated. During the next year, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad completed its South Florida Division which connected High Springs with Port Tampa. By the beginning of the twentieth century, High Springs had become an important railroad center.

The railroad and mines brought a lot of workers into the area, along with vices, entertainment and services they required, along with general merchants, an opera house, hotels and boarding houses came the saloons, gambling halls and houses of prostitution. Early High Springs was a wild rough town with a bad reputation. The first sheriff was shot down in the street and a few years later another one was ambushed and wounded.

By the early 20th century, a large railroad terminal was located in the town. There was a huge roundhouse, machine shops, two large water towers, a two-story hospital and boarding houses that are all gone now. When the phosphate mines declined in the 1920s High Springs lost much of its population and businesses. By the 1960s the railroads had stopped running and High Springs reverted back to an agricultural and recreation based small town. It's a much quieter place than its wild past.

The annual Pioneer Days festival celebrates that rough and rowdy bygone time, while also holding a family friendly event. Free entertainment will include the popular historic cowboy gunfight reenactments from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on both days. The High Springs Museum, located by the police station will also be open for visitors. The historic St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, which is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, will also be open for tours.

There are also live music concerts in James Paul Park featuring four bands on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, April 24, featured performers are Wild Blue Yonder at 10:30 a.m. performing a combination of classic rock songs and originals. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, it’s The Imposters, which include a who’s who of Gainesville’s finest musicians. Some form of the band has existed for 37 years and the current lineup is comprised of Brad Bangstad, keyboard; Ron Thomas, vocals and bass; Don David, vocals and guitar; Mike Boulware, vocals and guitar; Rob Rothschild, drums; and Michael Derry on vocals and guitar. The Imposters will be playing a combination of classic rock and acoustic music from the 1960s -70s.

On Sunday, Sides-Morris Band takes the stage at 10 a.m. featuring a semi-acoustic vocal duo comprised of local favorite Barry Sides and recent Nashville transplant Gary Morse. The duo’s playlist encompasses The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Neil Young and Tom Petty, in addition to roots country and Americana.

Bringing the weekend festival to a close, local favorites Fast Lane will play at 1 p.m. with a unique combination of blues, rock & roll, funk, and soul.

For more information visit the Chamber website at www.highsprings.com, or call the chamber at 386-454-3120.

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GAINESVILLE – The Santa Fe College chapter of the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) will be holding a food drive Thursday, April 29, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the parking circle by the Santa Fe College Police Department. The community is invited to participate to help food-insecure people in SF’s service district, and all of the food that is collected will go to SF’s Food Pantry. Preferred items include canned meats (tuna, chicken), canned fruit and fruit cups (pop-tops), individually wrapped snacks and toiletries. 

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, as many as one out of every five people, and one of every four children in the community did not have reliable access to food. The economic strain brought on by the pandemic has not only continued to impact the most vulnerable in the region, but also those who had never needed to rely on food donations have now found themselves in need. 

Santa Fe College is also in the process of expanding their food pantry. In addition to a portion of the food pantry housed in the Santa Fe College Police Department, the college is working on moving the other food pantry, located in Building H to a larger and more accessible facility in Building S. The new facility will also allow for refrigerated items, providing more variety and healthier options for food-insecure individuals. 

The SF chapter of AFC thanks the students, faculty, staff and community in advance for helping those most in need.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs to Newberry Rail Corridor was once again under discussion as the High Springs City Commission and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners discussed the project on April 8 at a joint meeting. The corridor was originally considered by the County commission several years ago. However, the County did not reach an agreement with CSX, the corridor’s previous owner.

According to the County’s Transportation Planning Manager Chris Dawson, CSX consummated a Trail Use Agreement with Georgetown and High Line Railway (GHL). Dawson said attempts to contact GHL have not been successful.

High Springs Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina asked the County for help in revisiting the project. Should the trail be completed, it would join Newberry on one end and connect to the Santa Fe River on the other end.

The County Commission voted unanimously to have staff work with High Springs and Newberry to determine if grant funding can be found to pay for the purchase of the corridor, if it becomes available.

One of the funding mechanisms to help purchase the corridor was Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) funds. Those funds have since been allocated throughout the County for a variety of projects. However, High Springs would like to have the WSPP program extended and realize it wouldn’t be until 2024 before those funds, if available, could be allocated to this project.

County Commission Chair Ken Cornell said that a strategic plan was held in early March. At that time a number of County and small city needs were discussed. One need was for affordable housing. Another was infrastructure such as roads, and a third was to extend the WSPP structure. “We have asked staff to see if citizens would be in favor of a one cent infrastructure tax which would provide some funding for WSPP, which could lead to some future funding and grants,” said Cornell.

Regarding the extension of, concern was expressed about extending the WSPP issue to a one cent amount and using the funds for more than just the one issue of recreation.

“It was clear as to how the funds would be used when the citizens approved the WSPP tax,” said City Commissioner Ross Ambrose. He expressed concern that there could be voter backlash if there isn’t a level of transparency. He said there may be confusion on the part of the voters if the funds are to be used for a number of different projects. “It could be detrimental.”

Although the issue was discussed, no action was taken at this meeting.

Priest Theater

High Springs City Manager Stathatos addressed the issue of the Priest Theater. She said the City was still in the due diligence phase of looking into this, but asked if the County would consider advancing Community Redevelopment dollars as an early loan.

The City is in the process of obtaining an appraisal but the asking price is $390,000. “With a 10-year repayment to the County of $39,000, the County’s CRA obligation to High Springs would be reduced to approximately $51,700 in fiscal year 20-21, using FY20-21 Ad Valorem contributions as a baseline.”

While County Commission members seemed supportive of historic preservation of the building, some had questions about intended use. City Manager Stathatos said one thought was to establish a partnership with a developer where the City would specify allowed use. Another idea was to send out a request for proposals to see what people involved in the arts or other areas might suggest. Establishing a committee to help determine a plan for use and to help obtain funding is another option. However, Stathatos said she wanted to see if the County would be interested in advancing CRA funds to purchase the property and reducing the amount of CRA funds it sends to High Springs each year.

Cornell asked that the City return in 60 days with a plan after the committee has met and established a use and any other funding options to help with the purchase.

Fellowship Church Purchase

The County has an option for 60 days to purchase Fellowship Church on U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs. The church grounds consist of 9.682 acres and the asking price is $3.3 million

The County needed the 60 days to obtain a survey and do due diligence on the purchase.

Should the County decide to purchase the property, it is considering using it as a center for facilities to serve the people of High Springs, Alachua and Newberry with medical and other services. Transportation to Gainesville for medical services has proven difficult for some residents without reliable transportation. It is hoped that this facility will minimize transportation issues for people seeking medical and related services.

Emergency Services Radio System

Another item discussed was a trunk radio system for all of the County’s emergency services. Alachua County Fire Chief Harold Theus addressed this item and explained that the 20 year contract with GRU.Com for radio services expired September 30 of last year. Attempted negotiations have failed. Based on Florida Statutes Chapter 164 that deals with intergovernmental conflict, a resolution needs to be determined so the County can negotiate with GRU.com.

Based on the County Commission’s direction, Theus said they were also looking at a county-wide communications system which would be administered by the County. The current estimate to set that up would be approximately $14 million. As this was primarily a status report, no decision was made on this issue.

Housing

Missy Daniels from County Growth Management addressed the issue of a residential rental unit permit and inspection program. Daniels explained that the City of Gainesville has enacted such an ordinance and is contracting with a company out of Miami which proposes using University of Florida Engineering students.

Should the County administer this program in-house, Daniels said they would need to hire four more codes officers and one licensing clerk/staff assistant. The cost the first year is estimated to be $454,000 and ongoing, the cost is estimated to be $345,000 annually.

Based on a survey the County did on non-homestead exempted properties in High Springs, Daniels estimated that the City has eight duplexes, three triplex or quads and 574 single-family united without Homestead exemptions. She pointed out that it is unlikely that all of these are rentals but she presented the numbers to give the City someplace to start on the number of possible rentals in High Springs.

Although City Commissioners are generally in favor of standards for rental properties, some expressed concern about how much it would cost the City, whether permit funds would go to the individual cities to offset costs, how to deal with historic homes and ways in which the City might be able to resolve issues between their citizens and the County should the need arise.

Currently, the County is attempting to determine the interest level of all of the cities in the county and will eventually present an ordinance for consideration.

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Nationally, EPA Awards $10.5 Million to Clean Up 473 School Buses in 40 States

ATLANTA – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a total of $360,000 to replace 18 older diesel school buses in Florida. The new buses will reduce pollutants that are linked to asthma and lung damage, better protecting health and air quality in communities across the country.

"The rebates provide children with a safe and healthy way to get to school by upgrading older diesel engines in our nation’s school buses," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, EPA is equipping local school districts with cleaner-running buses, helping them along the route to healthier kids and communities.”

"By promoting clean diesel technologies, these rebates help to reduce the impacts of diesel emissions as children ride to and from school," said EPA Acting Region 4 Administrator John Blevins. "Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funding helps to improve air quality and human health while advancing innovation and creating jobs."

Florida 2020 DERA school bus rebate recipients are:

Okaloosa School District                        5 buses                        $100,000

School District of Lee County                 10 buses                       $200,000

Volusia County School Board                 3 buses                        $60,000

Nationally, EPA awarded $11.5 million to replace 580 older diesel school buses. $10.5 million to replace 473 older diesel school buses. The funds are going to 137 school bus fleets in 40 states, each of which will receive rebates through EPA's Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funding.

The 2020 Rebates are the first year in which EPA is offering additional funds for alt-fuel and electric bus replacements. This year, five fleets plan to replace 16 old diesel buses with electric buses.

Applicants scrapping and replacing diesel buses with engine model years 2006 and older will receive rebates between $20,000 and $65,000 per bus, depending on the fuel type of the replacement bus.

EPA has implemented standards to make newer diesel engines more than 90 percent cleaner, but many older diesel school buses are still operating. These older diesel engines emit large amounts of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which are linked to instances of aggravated asthma, and other health effects or illnesses that can lead to missed days of work or school. 

Since 2008, the DERA program has funded more than 1,300 projects across the country, reducing diesel emissions in more than 70,000 engines. A comprehensive list of the 2020 DERA School Bus Rebate recipients can be found at www.epa.gov/dera/awarded-dera-rebates.

For more information about the DERA program, visit www.epa.gov/dera

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~Fees changing for overnight reservations and camping utility use~

TALLAHASSEE – In order to continue its tradition of award-winning visitor experiences and affordable nature-based recreation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) state park system will implement changes to its fee schedule for camping/cabin reservations and related utility fees beginning Wednesday, May 5, 2021. 

Currently, fees are collected for making, changing and canceling reservations. There will be no change in these fees under the new fee schedule, and they will continue to be collected at the time reservations are made, changed or canceled. Utility fees, which are currently collected from day campers using park utilities, will be extended to cabin stays and overnight campsites using electric and water. The fee will be assessed daily.

The Florida Park Service has not increased any fees since 2009. Subsequent increases in utility fees are proportionate with increasing costs of electric power, water, sewer and utility maintenance. The increase in revenue will enable Florida's award-winning state parks to continue providing high-quality recreation in an unmatched natural setting. 

Entry fees for Florida’s state parks and trails will remain unchanged.

The new fee schedule is as follows.

 Reservation Fee 

Non-refundable reservation fee per reservation for reservations online or using the call center; fee collected at the time of reservation; reservation fees do not apply to primitive sites. (No change in fee.)

 $6.70

 Cancellation Fee

Cancellation fee assessed for each reservation cancelled; visitors canceling on the day of arrival assessed a cancellation fee and the first night’s use fee. (No change in fee.)

 $17.75

 Transfer Fee

Visitors charged a transfer fee when making reservation change. (No change in fee.)

 $10.00

 

 Utility Fee

Non-registered, day-use sites per unit per day, all campsites with electric and water service and all cabins. Does not apply to primitive tent sites or to sites that do not use electric.

  $7.00

Park fees are deposited into the State Park Trust Fund and appropriated annually to support park operations and maintenance. Utility fees help cover increased utility costs, repairs and improvements. Improvements include repairing or upgrading electric connections, and improving and operating wastewater and water systems, including connection to municipal water and wastewater systems.

“Utility payments and improvements are a large and growing cost of park operations,” said Eric Draper, director of the Division of Recreation and Parks. “We are proud of continuing improvements to campgrounds and cabins to make overnight stays comfortable by providing safe and reliable electric, sewer and water service.”

Under Rule 62D-2.014(2)(d), Florida Administrative Code, user fees become effective after they are advertised in a statewide news release, and, if requested, are reviewed at a public hearing and approved in writing by the Secretary of the department. Copies of the current fee schedule may be obtained from state park offices or by writing to the Division of Recreation and Parks, MS #500, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. The current fee schedule and additional fee information can be found at FloridaStateParks.org/fees.

If requested, a public hearing on the proposed fee schedule will be held via electronic teleconference on April 30, 2021, at 10 a.m. Interested parties who wish to receive a copy of the proposed fee schedule, request a public hearing or participate in the electronic teleconference should contact Bryan Bradner, Assistant Director, Florida State Parks, at 850-245-3046 or Bryan.Bradner@FloridaDEP.gov.

For more details on prices for individual state parks or general information about the Florida state park system, visit FloridaStateParks.org.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ “Expanding the eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccines is an exciting milestone in our community’s battle against COVID-19,” stated Paul Myers, Administrator of the Alachua County Health Department. “The benefits of receiving this safe and effective vaccine, developed through a rigorous and transparent process, is a significant step towards a return to normal.”

Effective Monday, March 29, 2021, those 40 years of age and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, and this qualification expands to those 18 and older on Monday, April 5, 2021. All Alachua County residents 18 years of age and older who have not registered at Alachua.FloridaHealth.gov are encouraged to do so immediately. Once you are eligible, the system will automatically send you text and email alerts inviting you to make an appointment at a time and clinic location that is most convenient. If you are already registered, there is no need to do so again. If you have already been vaccinated, then please visit the site to opt-out of notifications.

For more information, visit http://www.alachua.floridahealth.gov/

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding beachgoers they can help protect nesting sea turtles by practicing some simple tips.

Each year, thousands of sea turtles nest on Florida’s beaches. Because our state is so important to these special animals, beachgoers can help keep our beaches clean and dark so sea turtles nest successfully. Everyone benefits from clean beaches and, since most of Florida’s sea turtles nest at night, it is important to keep our beaches dark because bright lights can disorient nesting turtles.

Stash the trash! Obstacles on the beach can prevent sea turtles from nesting as they crawl from the water, across the sand, to lay their eggs. They can also prevent sea turtle hatchlings from reaching the water once they emerge from their nests. Beachgoers can help sea turtles by properly disposing of all trash, filling in holes in the sand, and putting away boats, beach toys and furniture. Fishing line can be deadly to sea turtles and other wildlife, so be sure to dispose of it properly. To find a monofilament recycling station near you, visit mrrp.myfwc.com.

Lights out! Bright lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, leading them away from the ocean and toward potential danger, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Anyone living along or visiting Florida beaches can do their part by turning out lights or closing curtains after dark to ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. If lighting could still be visible from the beach, be sure it is long, low and shielded

“As beachgoers, we can all do our part to help sea turtles survive,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who heads the FWC’s sea turtle management program. “By keeping beaches dark and clearing the way at the end of the day, we can help ensure that these amazing animals keep returning to our beautiful state.”

Other ways to help sea turtles include reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

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GAINESVILLE – Today, Congresswoman Kat Cammack (FL-03) led a letter to Secretary of Defense Austin with Rep. Val Demings (FL-10) signed by all members of the House's Florida delegation regarding more equitable funding and resource allocation for the Florida National Guard in the FY2022 Defense Budget.

The letter describes how the Florida National Guard's deployment to aid with Florida's pandemic response and vaccine rollout has supported the statewide delivery of vaccines and food distribution, ensuring more than five million Floridians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date.

Given the tremendous efforts of the Florida National Guard over the last year, the letter highlights the disproportionate force structure allocation for the Sunshine State. With a population expected to grow by five million in the next decade, the letter spotlights the inadequate guardsman to citizen ratio for the state, which currently employs 12,000 guardsmen instead of the proportional 21,000.

The letter urges Secretary Austin to review the force structure proportionality study required in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that the Florida National Guard has the force structure and resources necessary to keep Florida safe and secure.

The full list of the letter's signees includes Reps. Cammack, Demings, Gaetz, Dunn, Rutherford, Lawson, Waltz, Murphy, Posey, Soto, Webster, Bilirakis, Crist, Castor, Franklin, Buchanan, Steube, Mast, Donalds, Hastings, Frankel, Deutch, Wasserman Schultz, Wilson, Diaz-Balart, Gimenez, and Salazar. 

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LAKE CITY ‒ The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)’s District 2 will begin a districtwide school zone safety improvement project that will include enhancements at more than 150 school zones across Northeast Florida.

 This project is part of a statewide effort to improve school zone safety in response to House Bill 493, passed during the 2017 Regular Session. This includes implementation of a specific, uniform system of high-visibility markings and signage within one-mile of all schools on arterial and collector roads.

As part of the $1.5 million project, FDOT District 2 will upgrade 141 school zones in 13 counties with enhanced school zone signage and, in some locations, flashing beacons. Those counties are:

  • Alachua, 6 school zones
  • Baker, 1 school zone
  • Bradford, 3 school zones
  • Clay, 15 school zones
  • Columbia, 6 school zones
  • Duval, 67 school zones
  • Gilchrist, 1 school zone
  • Levy, 3 school zones
  • Nassau, 10 school zones
  • Putnam, 13 school zones
  • St Johns, 9 school zones
  • Suwannee, 3 school zones
  • Taylor, 4 school zones

FDOT has hired ACME Barricades to handle the work on the project and expects it to be completed by Summer 2021.

Upgrades at each school zone are expected to take less than a day to complete, and then crews will move to the next location. Minimal traffic impacts are expected during construction hours.

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Remember the old adage “April showers bring May flowers?” In Florida, April is typically a dry month when water demands are higher due to springtime planting and low rainfall amounts. For 22 years, April has been recognized as Water Conservation Month in Florida, a designation to heighten public awareness about the many ways we can reduce our water use until summer thunderstorms arrive.

Each spring, a renewed focus on our lawns and landscapes make it an ideal time to inspect our automatic sprinkler systems and timers. The St. Johns River Water Management District’s seasonal “Did You Set It and Forget It” message is a timely springtime reminder to give your automatic sprinkler system a checkup for leaks, timer adjustments, replacing the rain sensor battery and other maintenance.

The District’s annual Water Less outdoor water conservation campaign promotes easy ways to make water conservation part of your regular routine at home.

Consider this: More than half of all residential water is used outdoors for lawn and landscape irrigation. Studies show that up to half of that water can be saved and isn’t necessary for native and Florida-friendly plants to thrive.

Individually and collectively, you make a big difference when you take control of your water use. In fact, between 2010 and 2019, gross per capita water use in the St. Johns District decreased 12 percent, from 132 gallons per person per day to 116 gallons per person per day.

Changing old habits doesn’t have to be hard. Just follow our five easy ways to save water outdoors: Adhere to the District’s watering restrictions. Give your sprinkler system regular checkups and turn it off if there is rain in the forecast. Use water-efficient smart irrigation technology and replace thirsty landscape materials with drought-tolerant “waterwise” plants. Our waterwise plant database at www.sjrwmd.com/water-conservation/waterwise-landscaping is simple to access and use, too.

Year-round water conservation is an important way to help meet the state’s water supply needs, and you can still maintain a healthy and beautiful Florida landscape.

We’re grateful to all those helping us raise awareness of the small behavior changes that can lead to big water savings. I ask you to spend a few minutes visiting the District’s water conservation campaign website, WaterLessFlorida.com, to learn how you too can make a difference.

Ann Shortelle, Ph.D.

Executive Director

St. Johns River Water Management District

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In the early 1900s on the south side of Chicago at a local tavern called the Lone Star Saloon, a well-to-do customer walked in and ordered a drink. The bartender prepared the drink as usual, but covertly included William Garst HSan additional substance to it. He then nodded to the barmaid and prostitute, “Gold Tooth” Mary Thornton, who served it to the unsuspecting customer, who was soon rendered unconscious. He was then robbed, and other local patrons dumped him in the alley at the back of the Lone Star. After a considerable period of time the stranger woke groggy, confused, and unable to remember what happened. This scenario played out many times, but finally the saloon manager was caught. His name was Michael Finn (nicknamed Mickey) and the substance added to the drink was chloral hydrate. Thus, chloral hydrate knockout drops became known in American vernacular as the “Mickey Finn” or “Mickey” for short.

The story of chloral hydrate began many years earlier in 1832, when Justus von Liebig synthesized chloral hydrate in his laboratory. Von Liebig was a German scientist who made major contributions to agriculture and biological chemistry. He was one of the principal founders of organic chemistry and considered the “father of the fertilizer industry.”

Chloral hydrate is considered the first “sleeping pill” because it has very few actions other than causing drowsiness and sleep. However, more than being the first in the class of drugs known as hypnotics, it was the first completely synthesized and widely used drug. Presumably it never existed on earth in any form until it was made in the laboratory, and in the early 1800s this was a big accomplishment because up until that time all drugs were from a natural resource and no one believed that a chemical outside of nature would have effects on a living being.

In the 1850s it was discovered that chloral hydrate could be converted into a sweet-smelling liquid called chloroform, the fumes of which could render a person unconscious. The substance was used to sedate people for surgery because it could be administered by being inhaled into the lungs. However, it was difficult to use during surgery and too much could be given resulting in many accidental overdose deaths.

Chloral 

hydrate is a solid at room temperatures, but quickly dissolves in alcohol to form an easily administered liquid. Thus, during the 1800s chloral hydrate became a popular “party drug” and was known to be the first “date rape” drug.

Today chloral hydrate is still available but only as a compounded medicine (made in a pharmacy) from crystals because it is not produced commercially any longer by a pharmaceutical company. Barbiturates (phenobarbital) in the early 1900s, and benzodiazepines (Valium and Librium type drugs) in the 1960s replaced the use of chloral hydrate for use as sedation medications, though as late as the 1990s it was still used in hospitals to sedate children before a procedure. It is rarely used anymore, but when used must be compounded by a local pharmacy or hospital pharmacy.

In an earlier column I noted that the difference between a harmful substance and a beneficial medicine is the dose. Too much of the substance is harmful, but the right amount can have beneficial effects. In this case, the difference between a substance used for harm and a beneficial medicine is the intent of the use.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

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William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at communitypharmacynewsletter@gmail.com.

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Each year, thousands of Florida children enter foster care due to domestic violence.

And each October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, children's advocates like me remind the public that this scourge devastates children, families and communities – and we must respond.

For children, witnessing intimate partner violence can cause lifetime harm. It makes them more prone to addiction and at greater risk for dating violence, academic problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, and chronic physical health and developmental problems. They find it harder to interact well with peers, partners and, ultimately, with their own children.

They worry about the safety of their parents – which no child should have to do. Yet millions of children witness the abuse of a parent or caregiver each year. And males who batter their wives batter their children 30 to 60 percent of the time.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement data for 2019 show 105,298 domestic violence incidences and 66,069 domestic violence arrests. That year, according to the Department of Children and Families, there were 87,546 allegations of household violence or intimate partner violence received by the Florida Abuse Hotline.

In the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties, there were 169 dependent children from violent homes in the system as of August.

We also know violent households often involve substance abuse or mental illness as well, and that the combination heightens the harm done by each. What's more, child witnesses of intimate partner violence are at increased risk to become abusers or victims themselves.

So the cycle must be broken, and that is what we are trying to do at the Guardian ad Litem Program. We know the single most critical factor in how children weather their exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving, supportive adult in their lives.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent abused and neglected children in dependency court. We know their challenges. We also know children can recover from trauma given the right services and supports, and we advocate for trauma-informed, evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment.

We also work to support the child's relationship with his or her non-offending parent. For most children, a strong relationship with that parent is a key factor in helping them heal.

And as their advocates, we work to tell children the violence is not their fault and to show them they are lovable, competent and important.

Help us break the cycle.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or become a volunteer, please contact Riley Ashmore-Volunteer Recruiter at (352) 384-3167 or visit www.GAL8Circuit.org.

To get help, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119, or find your local domestic violence program at www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml. Florida's 41 certified domestic violence centers served more than 10,000 victims between March and June 2020, and they remain open and available to serve.

Angela Armstrong, Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties

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During this very stressful time—not only in Alachua, but all over the world—we have been forced into situations that we have never faced before, and I would like to say, “thank you” City of Alachua and “The Goodlife Community” for your patience, understanding, and most of all, your great common sense.  

I’m so proud to be your mayor and want to say, “Please keep up the wonderful work you have accomplished so far.”

Gib Coerper

Mayor, Alachua, Florida

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Editor’s Note: High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham is also the Emergency Management Coordinator in High Springs, a position he has held for nine years, and he is the key contact between the City and other agencies regarding the Coronavirus. He meets remotely with Alachua County Department of Health three times per week, the Department of Health EMS twice weekly and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association weekly. He is knowledgeable about the Coronavirus pandemic, and periodically he will be writing about the pandemic and updates on best practices.

“Uncharted territory.” “Unprecedented times.” “Flatten the curve.” All phrases we have heard way too often. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Businesses have closed. There are now lines at grocery stores and millions out of work. To a certain extent, a modern day Pearl Harbor: “A [time] which will live in infamy.” (President Franklin Roosevelt)

As we continue to learn about this deadly virus, I encourage us all to do our part. The Stay-At-Home order is in place to protect your family and mine. Unless you need to travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or going to an essential job, try to stay home. The only way to prevent the spread of this virus is to wash our hands often, wear a mask when in public and maintain social distancing.

As a department, we are taking extra steps to ensure our firefighters remain healthy and safe. Our lobby remains closed and new cleaning procedures, both for equipment and our personal gear, are in place.

While we manage a new normal, we are also trying to focus on a certain area of our community that is impacted the most by COVID-19—our seniors. Those are the people who may live alone, and who now find themselves in near total isolation with the cancellation of countless services and programs once available to them.

We recently launched the Caring Card Drive. With the help of members of our own community who are creating thoughtful and encouraging “caring cards,” we plan to deliver these cards to those in need in an effort to bring a moment of joy, and to remind them they have not been forgotten. This is the perfect activity to do with the kids. Cards can be big or small, simple or elaborate. Cards can include a saying, positive words, a poem or whatever card creators think fits best. A bin has been positioned outside of the main High Springs Fire Station lobby as a drop off location for cards. The address is 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs.

In closing, let us remember to all do our part. We are in this together and we will persevere.

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During this time of crisis, America’s courageous patriots in uniform still deserve our utmost respect and admiration for keeping us free and safe from the bad guys of this world.

They are fulfilling an undying and faithful commitment to ‘'duty, honor, country” for every American no matter how they look or what they believe.

Today, these military heroes are joining countless millions of other American heroes in the brutal war against an adversary we call “Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The list of these patriotic heroes is long and consists of American warriors from every walk of life. They include:

  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and support personnel,
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies,
  • Law enforcement and first responders,
  • Truckers and warehouse stockers,
  • Supermarkets and local grocery/convenience stores,
  • Restaurants and fast food chains who are finding creative ways to feed us and provide some degree of normalcy in our lives,
  • School systems for developing creative methods to teach our children,
  • Volunteers who are courageously putting others above self,
  • Corporations and small business who are “retooling” operations to make respirators, masks, and other personal protective equipment,
  • City, county, state, and national government bodies,
  • Broadcast and print media outlets, and
  • The millions of Americans who are faithfully committing to “social distancing” to combat the spread of this insidious and deadly disease.

Got the picture? We are all in this battle together. Sadly, just like every other war: “Some are giving some while others are giving all.”

Let us continue together as “One Nation Under God” in faithful commitment to “duty, honor, country” in fighting this war against humanity.

I am confident we will defeat this brutal enemy and come out stronger with renewed respect for one another. I know we can do it; I have to believe; I can do no other.

God Bless America!

Robert W. Wilford

City of Alachua

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ALACHUA - COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country, so this year’s holiday season may be quieter than usual. Gone are the guests, but there are still plenty of seasonal things that can be troublesome for your pets. Human holiday traditions such as food, decorations and plants that may seem harmless can be dangerous and even life-threatening to dogs and cats.  

“Our pets are naturally curious and love new things. The holidays provide a whole new world for them to explore that can lead to a potential illness or injury,” said Erin Katribe, veterinarian and medical director, Best Friends Animal Society. “Since many veterinary offices have limited hours and services during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s crucial to keep your pets as safe as possible, as a trip to the vet won't be as easy as in previous years.” 

As such, Best Friends Animal Society offers the following tips to keep your dogs and cats safe during this holiday season:   

  • Be aware that increased noise and lights can cause stress. If your pet seems agitated, turn down the music or consider placing your pet in a quiet, calm room with dim lighting. 
  • Curb the tendency to give your dog or cat human food. Any change in your pets' diet may give them indigestion, diarrhea or worse. Foods that people should avoid giving their pets include chocolate, grapes, onions, poultry bones, eggnog and fruitcake.  
  • Dispose of food trash in an outside receptable as soon as possible.  
  • Holiday plants such as lilies, holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are known to be toxic to pets and should be kept out of reach. 
  • The water a Christmas tree sits in is a breeding ground for bacteria and can be extremely harmful to pets. Keep water covered with a thick skirt so pets can’t get into it.  
  • Tape electrical cords safely to the wall and make sure that all electrical connections, batteries, and outlets are concealed. 
  • Tinsel, ribbon, metal hooks, plastic and glass can obstruct or perforate the intestine if ingested. Use an alternative such as paper and hang decorations out of reach from your pet. 
  • Quickly dispose of wrapping paper, packages and bows after opening presents and put children’s toys out of reach of pets after playtime to avoid accidental ingestion. 
  • Make sure your pets' identification and microchip are up to date in case anyone inadvertently leaves the door open during your holiday celebration. 

Some symptoms that your pet has become ill and should be taken to a veterinarian quickly include prolonged vomiting (more than three times in a row), dry heaves, a distended abdomen, sudden weakness or inability to stand, respiratory distress, change in gum color and/or seizures.  

“Pet owners should make a plan now in case their pets have an emergency over the holidays,” Katribe said. “Start by researching what veterinary offices will be open in your surrounding area and keep a list of their phone numbers handy to call ahead if your pet shows any symptoms.”

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ALACHUA ‒ As the baby boomer generation rapidly approaches retirement age, the U.S. is projected to experience a radical demographic shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one in five residents in the U.S. will reach retirement age (over 65) by the 2030s. For the first time in U.S. history, seniors will soon outnumber children under 18.

This aging of the population will have far-reaching economic and social ramifications, especially when it comes to healthcare needs. Specifically, diseases that typically affect the elderly will become more prevalent in the U.S. One of the most common illnesses among people over the age of 65 is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a neurocognitive disorder that affects a person’s memory. Alzheimer’s typically starts with mild memory loss and sometimes progresses to hindering a person’s speech, thought process, and ability to respond to his/her surroundings. It is an agonizing decline for both the patient and the family as they slowly lose their memory and recognition of their loved ones. The exact cause of the disease is unknown and it currently has no cure.

Currently more than 5 million Americans, accounting for 11 percent of adults suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of the disease usually occurs after the age of 60, and the risk of Alzheimer’s increases significantly with age. Unlike other medical conditions associated with aging, such as heart attacks, strokes or cancer, the development of Alzheimer’s disease is often a much slower insidious process. But the disease can still result in death. In 2017, more than 120,000 deaths were a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Of these cases, 80,000 were among Americans over the age of 85.

Alzheimer’s effects go far beyond the mortality rate. It's financial burden on society and families of the patient can be devastating. Not only does the disease affect individual patients, but also their family members and taxpayers who fund government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2018, the total cost of treating Alzheimer’s disease—including assisted living facilities, home health care, and other medical treatment—was around $277 billion. The association estimates these costs will more than double by 2035 and continue rising as the 65+ population reaches more than 85 million by 2050.

Florida has the third highest Alzheimer rate in America and affects 13 percent of the 65 or older population. People may live eight to 10 years after diagnosis, with some living as long as 20 years.

For the past 30 years, a nonprofit organization called Compassion & Choices has been working to improve patient rights and individual choice at the end of life, including access to medical aid in dying. Its primary function is advocating for and ensuring access to end-of-life options and allowing the patient to determine whether they want continued medical care in the condition they are in.

The organization provides end-of-life consultation for dying patients and their families at no cost. Professional consultants and trained volunteers work by phone or in person to offer assistance in completing advance directives, make referrals to local services, including Hospice and illness-specific support groups, advice on adequate pain and symptom management, and information on safe, effective and legal methods for aid in dying. But planning for end-of-life care with dementia should happen earlier before a dementia diagnosis, or at the early stages of a diagnosis, before thinking and speaking abilities fail.

Compassion and Choices President/CEO Kim Callinan became an advocate for the organization due to her own experiences. She watched her grandmother slowly lose all cognizant abilities and face critical health issues while prolonging the process through medical intervention. “We didn't recognize that we were simply extending the time because we were refusing to let her go even though she had no idea who we were.” Later she had the opposite experience when her grandfather passed in Hospice with an advanced directive to stop medical care when the conclusion was it would not improve life, but simply extend his suffering. “We were able to be there with him while he could still relate to us as he passed,” Callinan said.

Callinan spent much of her professional career as a communications and social marketing expert but felt that she needed to do something geared more toward helping individuals and families cope with long-term health issues. Her experience with her own family shaped the direction she wanted to go with a nonprofit agency. Five years ago, she joined Compassion and Choices to advocate for letting people choose their own path in the fight against Alzheimer and dementia.

The program allows patients and families to make advanced directives on how they want to control their end of life. Advance planning involves making thoughtful decisions, putting them into a written advance directive, and discussing those decisions with loved ones and healthcare adviser, someone they can trust to advise medical providers about care preferences if the patient is unconscious or mentally incapable of speaking for yourself.

To help families and patients determine what and when to make these critical decisions, Compassion & Choices has developed an online program called Dementia Values & Priorities Tool, to address the reality of the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s.

Through a series of questions, this free online resource helps patients and families identify and document their care preferences in advance of a dementia diagnosis. It then creates a dementia health care directive to attach to an advance directive, so their health care proxy can carry out their personalized care plan.

Creating a dementia-specific advance care plan lifts the burden off of loved ones or patients to make difficult decisions when they can no longer speak for themselves. It helps people determine their healthcare wishes in advance, should they be diagnosed with dementia and allows people with dementia to stop medical treatment if they want, so they can die naturally if that is their wish.

A second online tool is the Dementia Decoder which allows patients and caregivers the ability to generate specific questions for doctors, nurses or other health providers. The questions are designed to get them the complete information they need to deal with Alzheimer’s. This tool also addresses other fatal illnesses like cancer so the patient can be fully informed on their condition.

“Our goal is to provide information that most people would not know how to address and to control their own end of life decisions and not prolong their suffering,” Callinan said. Information on both these tools can be found at the organizations website at: https://compassionandchoices.org.

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TALLAHASSEE — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced $50 million for more than 20 statewide springs restoration projects to aid the recovery and provide additional protection for Florida’s springs. These projects work in concert with increased monitoring, enforcement, and other measures to ensure compliance with best management practices implemented under the Governor’s leadership to improve water quality across the state.

“Florida’s springs are integral to both our economy and environment,” said Governor DeSantis. “Our state is home to more large springs than any other state in the nation and they serve as a fun source of recreation for our residents and visitors to enjoy. The projects announced today continue our mission to restore and protect our water quality throughout Florida.”

“Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership, DEP is engaged in a broad suite of water quality improvement efforts across the state,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Of particular importance to the state are those projects tied to springs restoration. This diverse selection of projects will be complemented and enhanced by Department initiatives to increase facility inspections, water quality monitoring, and enforcement.

“Florida’s springs are among our most precious water resources,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Tom Frazer. “They reflect the quality of our drinking water and nourish some of the most iconic surface waters in the state. The projects announced by Governor DeSantis today are intended to increase spring flows and improve water quality so that these springs systems and the resources that they support can be accessed and enjoyed by generations to come.”

Springs provide a window into Florida’s vast groundwater system and are a barometer of the condition of the state’s primary source of drinking water. DEP and four Florida water management districts have identified a broad suite of projects that include land acquisition, septic to sewer conversion, and water quality improvement efforts, intended to increase aquifer recharge, improve spring flow, and protect downstream habitats all the way to the coast.

Many of the projects will benefit ongoing restoration efforts in springsheds. These restoration efforts reflect a collaborative effort with the department, water management districts, community leaders and local stakeholders. The contributions and cooperation of these agencies and individuals have been crucial throughout the development process. Combining and leveraging resources from various agencies across Florida allows for a more efficient and comprehensive restoration effort.

The more than 20 statewide springs projects include:

Northwest Florida Water Management District:

  • $1.1 million to extend central sewer service to the Tara Estates neighborhood located north of Marianna, including abandoning septic tanks proximate to the Chipola River.

 “We are so excited to help carry forward Governor DeSantis and DEP’s unparalleled commitment to the long-term improvement and protection of Florida’s priceless springs and other water resources,” said Brett Cyphers, Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. “The district, like the governor, is focused on tangible solutions and we are grateful for the opportunity to help deliver results.”

Southwest Florida Water Management District: 

  • A total of more than $8.3 million for projects in Marion County that will help protect Rainbow Springs, including Burkitt Road Septic to Sewer, Northwest Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Expansion, Oak Bend I-75 Water Quality Improvement and the 180th Avenue Package Plant Abatement. 

“Improving our five first-magnitude springs is a top priority for our District,” said Brian Armstrong, Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “Thanks to the ongoing financial support from the Governor, the Legislature and DEP for springs restoration, we are launching a new initiative to fund septic to sewer conversion projects that will reduce nutrients and improve the health of our springs.”

St. Johns River Water Management District 

  • $1.1 million for the Apopka West Reuse Storage Facility and Reclaimed Water Extension projectthat will provide nearly 3.48 million gallons per day of reclaimed water, benefiting Wekiwa and Rock springs.

“Protecting Florida’s springs is among our state’s highest environmental priorities,” said Dr. Ann Shortelle, Executive Director of the St. Johns River Water Management District. “The Governor’s increased focus is providing historic levels of funding to bolster district and local funds and enhancing our joint environmental initiatives. We are also grateful for FDEP’s commitment to helping us fund projects improving the health of Florida’s springs and their ecosystems.”

Suwannee River Water Management District

  • A total of more than $2.3 million for the acquisition of more than 3,600 acres of land to protect springs in Columbia County Grasslands (Ichetucknee Springs), Devil's Ear Springs Recharge (Ginnie Springs Group), Santa Fe Springs and Sawdust Spring (Sawdust and Devil's Ear springs). The acquisition of these lands will help improve aquifer recharge potential, enhance recreational opportunities and protect native species.

“As Florida’s Springs Heartland, it is critical for us to focus on the health of our springs and connect with our community partners to accomplish that effort. Funding these projects will help protect and restore our natural systems,” said Hugh Thomas, Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. “Thank you to Governor DeSantis, the Legislature and Florida Department of Environmental Protection for leading this initiative to protect our water resources.”

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TALLAHASSEE ‒ The Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ (DOEA) Serving Health Insurance Needs of the Elderly (SHINE) Program has received multiple reports of Medicare phone scams involving Durable Medical Equipment (DME). The Social Security Act prohibits suppliers of DME from making unsolicited telephone calls to people on Medicare. The reports indicate people have not only received unwanted sales calls, but other people have received unordered supplies including back braces. One case involves a person receiving twenty different items from five different companies.

People on Medicare should be aware that DME sent by a supplier needs to be prescribed by their doctor. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), fraudulent telemarketing and DME supplies contribute to the estimated $60 billion in fraudulent Medicare payments each year. To help put a stop to unsolicited calls and unordered supplies, you may consider the following actions:

  • If you receive a call that pressures you to buy medical equipment you don’t want or need, simply HANG UP.
  • If you receive items in the mail you didn’t order, refuse the delivery or send them back and report it to your local SHINE Senior Medicare Patrol Office at 1-800-963-5337.

With your help, we can stop Medicare fraud one case at a time.

SHINE is a program of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and is operated locally through Elder Options. Senior Medicare Patrols (SMPs) empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to prevent, detect, and report heath care fraud, errors, and abuse through outreach, counseling, and education. To receive help from SHINE, please arrange to speak with a trained SHINE counselor at 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337). For a listing of SHINE counseling sites and enrollment events, please visit www.floridashine.org.

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