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HIGH SPRINGS – Qualifying for a special election in the city of High Springs opens Monday, March 5.  Anyone wishing to seek a seat on the High Springs City Commission must fill out the necessary documents in the qualifying packet available from City Hall, and submit them before the March 9 deadline

Any registered voter in the City of High Springs may seek a seat on the commission.

Set for Tuesday, April 10, the special election was scheduled after former commissioner Eric May resigned from the commission on Jan. 31.

The winning candidate will serve the remainder of May’s term, which is set to expire November 2012.

Qualifying documents must be submitted while City Hall is open between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. from March 5 through March 9.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry resident Matt Hersom said he had to yell to have a conversation with his neighbor over the fence to be heard over the music from a nearby restaurant.

Though he’s been told in the past to keep in mind that local businesses are trying to make a living, that is no excuse for the loud music, Hersom said at Monday night’s city commission meeting.

“I don’t think excessively loud music is necessary for this to occur,” Hersom said.

Newberry’s noise ordinance wasn’t on the evening’s agenda, but there was some discussion about the matter. City Attorney Scott Walker said he was hopeful that the first draft of the noise ordinance rewrite would be available at the next commission meeting.

Commissioners debated whether the phrase “plainly audible” would be included in the ordinance. Walker believed that if there was not a definitive, qualitative measurement, it would be difficult to prosecute based on the subjective language of “plainly audible.”

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Sergant Kaley A. Behl said her office has filed sworn complaints relating to the noise problem in Newberry. These sworn complaints were given to the City, which can not act upon them because of the subjective nature of the current ordinance.

Commissioners also expressed concern over using a decibel meter because there is only one meter at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. Though there is a decibel reader in Newberry, there is a limited number of people who can operate the machine in both the sheriff’s office and the city.

Commissioner Alena Lawson believes that law enforcement and city officials should be given more options to enforce the ordinance.

“It’s going to defeat the purpose if they don’t have at least two or three options,” she said.

Though there were no definitive results at the commission meeting about the ordinance, which Walker calls a “work in progress,” citizens’ comments showed that the issue is a problem.

Some people just want results.

“We have complained and complained and complained and complained and we’ve had no results,” Newberry resident Martha Palmer said at the meeting.

On the other hand, the owner of Rocky’s Place, Rocky Voglio, said that he is doing everything he can to accommodate the existing ordinance. The family-style restaurant was found in violation of the ordinance on a recent Friday night.

Voglio said he has spent $200 to order a decibel meter that he hopes to have in by this week. Despite his efforts, Voglio said he still thinks there will be complaints even when keeping within the noise limits because citizens have “zeroed in” on certain individuals.

“That’s all I can do is try,” the restaurant owner said. “But I don’t think it’s going to matter.”

Further discussion about the noise ordinance will take place at the next commission meeting on March 12.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An alcohol ordinance that has been reviewed and changed several times over the last year may get yet more changes.  During a brief workshop on Feb. 16, High Springs commissioners debated whether or not the city’s law governing establishments serving and selling alcohol needed to be adjusted again.

At issue is a rule in the ordinance that requires an establishment selling alcohol be at least 500 feet from a church and 600 feet from a public or private school.  Those distance requirements had been removed in the summer of 2011.  They were reinstated, however, at the behest of Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin during a Dec. 8, 2011 meeting.  Commissioner Sue Weller and then Commissioner Eric May opposed that measure.

Weller cited concerns at the Feb. 16 workshop that the current ordinance presents a problem to property and business owners.  Under the current law, if a church or school were to locate within the distance requirements of a business selling alcohol, that establishment could only continue to sell the alcohol as long as it is operated continuously and is not sold.  Weller contends that the city would effectively being tying the hands of businesses.

Davis, meanwhile, suggested that “temporary” churches would not have the ability to affect an existing establishment.

“We cannot expect as a church community for somebody to spend as much money as has been spent in High Springs on some restaurants, several million dollars, and then a little church move in next door to them and tell them they have to shut down,” Davis said.

He said distinguishing a church that might rent space as a “temporary church” would prevent any confusion.

Speaking to Weller’s concerns, Davis said, “I think it’s a non-problem,” adding, “We’ll deal with it when the problem comes up.”

Weller, on the other hand, said that by the time it comes up, it may be too late.

City Attorney Raymond Ivey agreed with Weller in part, noting that he also didn’t believe the City could make a distinction between a temporary church and permanent church.

As the discussions evolved, so too did the potential changes to the ordinance, as Barnas suggested creating a downtown zone that would allow a business selling alcohol to continue doing so even if it were sold or not continuously operating, even if a church were to locate within the distance requirements.

That begged another question from Weller.  “Why would we want to limit it to the downtown area,” she asked.

“What’s the difference between downtown and 441,” she further inquired.

Gestrin meanwhile said she didn’t want to specifically address the alcohol ordinance.  “We are dealing with the land development code and Comprehensive Plan issues, not just this one ordinance,” Gestrin said, adding, “I feel like we need to address the whole pie.”

Gestrin, who approved the latest round of changes to the alcohol ordinance, appeared to regard the issue as a low priority.

“We need to keep this on the back burner and move forward with the things that are crucial,” she said.

Ivey said he would review the ordinance and the land development code and return to the commission with suggested changes that might remedy the matter.

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ALACHUA COUNTY -- Repairs to both northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 75 in Paynes Prairie are scheduled for Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with up to two lanes closed just south of mile marker 379, or about five miles south of Gainesville, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

 Beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, weather pending, the southbound middle and outside lanes will be closed while about 400 feet of the pavement is removed and replaced. A small section of the outside paved shoulder will also be resurfaced.

 After the southbound lanes are completed, asphalt crews will move to the northbound lanes to resurface about 150 feet of the middle and inside lanes. Both sides of the interstate should be completed before 6 a.m. Thursday.

 The repairs are needed after the pavement was burned and gouged in a series of crashes that took place Jan. 29.

 Anderson Columbia Company of Lake City was hired by FDOT to make the repairs at a cost of $69,000. In the event of rain or unexpected colder temperatures, the work will be postponed until a later date.

 This section of I-75 from Gainesville south to the Marion County line is not funded for resurfacing in the next five years.

 The speed limit will be reduced to 60 mph during the lane closures and motorists are reminded to slow down and use caution in the area when workers are present.

 US 441 is an alternate route that motorists may use between Williston Road (State Road 121) (Exit 382) and County Road 234 (Micanopy) (Exit 374) during the lane closures in the event traffic backs up.

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ALACHUA – In the future, the City of Alachua may see an easier method for electric and water billing for both the consumer and the city’s public service department.

During a Tuesday workshop, the Virginia-based company Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) presented a plan for the city to implement a Smart Grid, which would bring improvements to the city’s operations and increase energy efficiency.

According to the United States Department of Energy, “Much in the way that a ‘smart’ phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means ‘computerizing’ the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid.”

If the city agrees to the company’s plan, SAIC would cover the initial costs of deploying Smart Grid technology to Alachua’s nearly 8,000 electric and water meters located throughout the city. For SAIC, this means replacing nearly 80 percent of the current meters and updating the remainder. The company would also be responsible for managing and gathering the data that the new meters would produce.

The process of considering a move to smart grid technology is still in the preliminary stages at the city. SAIC will provide a business plan for city staff to examine, and the plan would have to be approved by the Alachua City Commission. Once approved, SAIC said it would take about four months for the company to deploy the Smart Grid infrastructure, and the city to see benefits.

The city would be responsible for paying SAIC either through a five-year or a seven-year plan. Steve Root of SAIC said the Smart Grid would cost the city an estimated $3.3 million. If the city chooses to continue with the SAIC management and security after the initial contract expires, the city would pay an annual fee.

Mike New, the Public Services director, said that the plan intends to be implemented without passing any costs to consumers and without firing any current employees.

SAIC installed a Smart Grid in Lakeland, Fla., and the city experienced an estimated 14,000 ton carbon footprint savings. It is also estimated that the grid technology could save the city an estimated $400,000 a year. SAIC also provided the Smart Grid technology to four Alaskan villages, including Kipnuk.

The Smart Grid increases meter accuracy, remotely connects and disconnects electric accounts and remotely reads water and electric meters. The technology will allow the city to deploy fewer servicemen to houses for meter-related needs. Smart Grid technology provides hourly updates so a utility company can be ready to bill a customer on a day-to-day basis, unlike current systems in Alachua that require a 10- to 15- day window.

With the system, the city will be able to see instantly the moment an outage occurs. Currently, the public service department waits until a call is received to find out that an outage has happened. With the Smart Grid, cities can be proactive instead of reactive, said David Smith of SAIC. The city would also receive tilt alerts if the meter was tampered with or moved. Tilt alerts can be triggered by a person attempting to tinker with the system or a tree falling on the meter.

Concerns were raised by the City Commission about security issues. SAIC said that the security provided was top of the line, that they work with the Department of Defense and Department of Energy and employees work to ensure that no one can hack into the system. The Smart Grid system requires three forms of identification to access the program.

“I’m excited as can be because I’m a technology guy,” Mayor Gib Coerper said.

He said he firmly believes that giving the consumers the ability to go online and manage their own electricity and water usage would be a good tool to have in the community.

The Smart Grid system allows customers to access their own website that would provide hourly, daily and monthly electricity use. From this site, customers can see how different energy-saving ideas, such as cutting off all the lights or keeping the AC off, can lower daily energy use and save them money.

SAIC was established in 1969 by Dr. J. Robert Beyster and a group of scientists. The company now employs more than 40,000 people and works with the federal government and the military to create innovative solutions to a wide range of questions. SAIC is working to find cures for cancer, set up advance tsunami warning systems and build next-generation robotics that will help protect and support military troops abroad. The company aims to improve national security, health, cybersecurity and energy usage and environmental protection.

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Fall short 55-52

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The Newberry Lady Panthers defeated Wildwood in regional playoffs at Newberry High School Saturday night, sending the team to the final four state championship series in Lakeland, Fla.

NEWBERRY – The small town of Newberry has only one stoplight, but the size of the town doesn’t characterize the extraordinary success of Newberry High School’s girls basketball team.

The team won their regional finals and state semifinals in their Class 1A. They pulled up just short of bringing home the state championship Wednesday morning with a loss of 52-54 to Ponce de Leon High School. Though they didn’t win the state championship, their journey became a focus in the school and community.

As time ticked down in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s basketball game, it was anybody’s win. Though the Newberry Panthers were up at the beginning of the fourth quarter in the FHSAA girls basketball regional finals, Wildwood Wildcats were catching up.

Newberry managed to close out the game with a score of 49-40. Newberry High School player Jasmine Walker said the key to their team’s success is really their defense.

Dawntavia Davis, who scored 16 points in Saturday’s regional final game, said that part of the team’s strategy in the state semifinals and finals has to do with a state of mind.

“We have to go in with a positive head,” Davis said.

After the team’s win on Saturday night, they moved on to the next Class 1A State Semifinals at The Lakeland Center. At 3 p.m. Newberry residents lined the street to wish the Panthers good luck. Some had signs, others were dressed up in the school’s colors, but all had hope that the team would represent Newberry well in the state championship.

The Newberry Panthers were ranked No. 3 in their class this season. Coach Ray Parrish has been at Newberry High School for four years, and the success the girls had this season was four years in the making, he said.

“This isn’t something that just happened overnight,” Parrish said.

In the first round of the state championship, the Newberry Panthers defeated Hillard Red Flashes with a score of 49-45. Lasharrah Nattiel and Tayla McGee brought in over 75 percent of the points that game, with 19 and 18 points each, respectively.

On Wednesday morning, the team played in the state finals against the Ponce de Leon Pirates. The team lost 52-55.

Scoring 28 points in the first half gave Ponce de Leon a halftime lead of 19 points.

In the second half, the Panthers began to gain ground, scoring 43 points in the second half. When there were only 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Newberry managed to narrow the gap to 6 points. Only seconds later, Nattiel stole the ball and scored another two points to make the score 50-54.

With 33 seconds left on the clock, Newberry scored another two points, but unfortunately, the second half momentum was not enough to bring home the state championship.  The final score was 55-52, with Ponce de Leon wnning the game.

Nattiel was the team leader in the game with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 2 assists.

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Irby_100_6441_copyALACHUA – When life gave six-year-old Caleb the chance to save lives, he made lemonade.

For Irby Elementary School’s Jump Rope for Heart event, Caleb wanted to raise $100. Showing remarkable patience and business skills, Caleb sat outside his apartment for six hours, said Casey Ludlam, Caleb’s mother. When a particular location slowed down, Caleb would want to move.

He went through an entire container of Country Time Lemonade, but he raised $10. When he ran out of lemonade, Ludlam said Caleb asked if he could sell water.

In total, Caleb raised $140 for the cause.

But he was just one student among many at the elementary school trying to help those with sick hearts for the Jump Rope for Heart event that occurred on Feb. 15.  Overall, the school is working toward a goal of $8,000, although an actual total was unavailable as of press time. Last year, the school raised $8,787. The goal had been $7,000.

The school will honor the top individual in each grade with lunch at Moe’s with Ray Crone, Irby’s physical education teacher. The top class will be awarded a Planet Smoothie party. If the school meets its goal, the top five students from each grade will get a chance to dunk Coach Crone by throwing balls at a target.

The Jump Rope for Heart event is sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Since Irby started participating in the fundraising event, the school has raised over $100,000. For every $2,000 the school raises, Crone said the school gets $100 in physical education equipment. Lately, he said the school has been averaging $400 worth of equipment.

This year, the school has gained significant online support, said Aimee Pricher, Behavior Resource Teacher. Jump Rope for Heart has always had an online element, but this year’s superhero e-card increased internet donations, she said. Children were given a chance to place their face on the body of a superhero in the e-card for the theme “Be a Heart Hero” and then e-mail the card to long-distance relatives and friends.

“We’re extremely proud of our students for any amount that they contribute to the American Heart Association,” Pricher said. “The envelopes that are just 38 cents are important because that means the student went into his or her piggy bank or allowance.”

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