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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua is celebrating the completion of a long-awaited project to protect the Mill Creek Sink system. The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project began several years ago and the finished natural stormwater management system includes a filtration system that collects and treats runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures.

On May 31, City of Alachua commissioners and staff along with representatives from SRWMD gathered with the public to celebrate completion of the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the completed wetlands project. Offering comments were Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Interim City Manager Mike DaRoza and Alachua Public Services Director Rodolfo Valladares. They were joined by Alachua City Commissioners Ed Potts, Dana Miller, Shirley Green Brown and SRWMD Governing Board Chair Virginia Johns to cut the ribbon and officially open the natural wetlands collection barrier system.

Located behind Sonny's Restaurant on U.S. Highway 44, the Mill Creek Sink system is an algae-covered placid sinkhole that is a virtual open window into the Floridan Aquifer, an 82,000-square-mile reservoir that holds billions of gallons of the state’s fresh drinking water. Mill Creek Sink, downhill from I-75, collects streams of rainfall runoff laden with nitrate-nitrogen pollutants, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and an array of suspended solids. In addition to runoff from I-75, which accommodates upwards of 65,000 vehicles through the area every day, runoff from nearby commercial business parking lots also drain, unimpeded, into the area leading directly to the sink.

Although the aquifer water lies hundreds of feet below the ground, it is not entirely protected from sources of pollution at the surface, which seep into the water supply through sinks like Mill Creek. Wetlands on the surface help filter the water that will end up in the aquifer and help protect springs and drinking water. Groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer is the source for more than 1,000 springs in North and Central Florida and provides water for over 90 percent of the people who live here.

The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project had its beginnings as City of Alachua officials, County officials, environmental engineers and the team at the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) began formulating a voluntary state-of-the-art avoidance, minimization and mitigation plan. The project’s goal was to create a collection barrier between these contaminants and Mill Creek Sink, providing nature time to do what it does best—slowly filter groundwater by percolating through loose, sandy soils and porous limestone bedrock.

The project provides a natural stormwater management system to create additional treatment for runoff flowing into the Mill Creek Sink system through three lined conveyance swales, two pre-treatment basins and a treatment wetland basin designed to collect and treat runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures. Also adding to the filtration system are the 1.2 acres of 15,000 planted native vegetation species to process nutrients as well as provide appropriate habitat for use by wildlife species.

Along the northern limits of the project, three basins provide additional stabilization, surface water containment and access for management activities and public educational and recreational viewing on several trails surrounding the project. The innovative water treatment system provides a natural and low-maintenance process to improve the health of the sink and the water supply

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NEWBERRY ‒ Michael Duane Johnson, Jr., 30, was arrested Tuesday, May 31, after investigators charged him with possessing and transmitting a pornographic image depicting a child.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office investigators, acting on a CyberTip from 2021 about child pornography transmitted on the social media platform MocoSpace, traced an account to an address in Newberry. Pictures linked with the account reportedly matched Johnson, who lived at the Newberry address.

Contact was made with Johnson, who was not detained at the time and agreed to speak with the investigator. He reportedly said he used MocoSpace at one point “to speak with other males his age,” but he had not used it in some time, and he “did not have intent to exploit children on the site.”

The investigator asked to search Johnson’s cell phone and Johnson provided written permission. The investigator reportedly found an image of a nude 7-9-year-old girl in a sexual position in the “Recently Deleted” folder on the phone. Johnson was then arrested.

Post Miranda, Johnson reportedly admitted to downloading the image with the intent to send it to other online users. He reportedly denied knowing the child in the image was a minor, but when the investigator asked whether his grandmother would agree it was an adult, he said he didn’t think so.

Johnson also reportedly said the investigator might find more photos, including “teenage boys,” on the phone. He reportedly said he did not use the image for sexual gratification, but he could not explain why he had it.

Johnson has been charged with possession and transmission of child photography. A further search of the phone may result in more charges. He is currently being held in the Alachua County Jail on $300,000 bond.

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NEWBERRY ‒ On May 24 the City of Newberry held a Special Commission meeting followed by a Board of Adjustment hearing at 7 p.m.

Barbara Boyd, CPA and Partner at Purvis, Gray, Inc., the firm that conducted the audit for the year ending Sept. 30, 2021, reviewed the auditing process and delivered an Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. She termed their opinion of the City’s records as “clean” and said there were no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting.

Following her overview of the audit and a list of positive findings, she pointed out that two material audit adjustments were made by the City. She remarked that there was something that “broke down in the control process which meant that those errors weren’t identified ahead of time.” She suggested that management go back and review these processes and see what can be done differently to make sure that doesn’t happen again and that these items are caught before the next audit.

Finance Director Dallas Lee said the City has hired a forensic accountant to help identify some issues that occurred years ago that have plagued the accounting process. He said they have looked into it, but cannot identify where the issue is based, and so have not been able to correct it.

Following the audit presentation, Commissioners approved a request by JBPro, acting as agent for M3 Avalon Woods, for final plat approval on Phase 1B of the development. This phase is located on the east side of U.S. Highway 27/State Road 45, adjacent to the Easton Newberry Sports Complex and consists of 49 lots.

Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas said this is the second sub-phase in the Avalon Woods Development. He reported that the plat had been reviewed by the City Surveyor and was revised accordingly. To obtain final plat approval the developer has to provide a surety agreement, which the City Attorney must approve.

Unfortunately, the only person that can provide that agreement has COVID and is stranded in another country. He is unable to come back and provide the agreement until he’s well and is allowed to leave.

Thomas checked with the City Attorney prior to the hearing and was told that the Commission is allowed to approve the plat on the condition that a surety device will be provided to the City in the near future. “Approval allows the developer to pull residential building permits while infrastructure is under construction,” Thomas said.

Commissioner Mark Clark made a motion to approve the final plat for Phase 1B with the stipulation that the surety device is provided to the City soon. Commissioner Tim Marden seconded the motion and the item passed unanimously.

An item added to the agenda was the appointment of a liaison to the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council to attend meetings. Following discussion, Commissioner Tony Mazon moved to appoint Commissioner Rick Coleman and appoint the City Clerk to act as his proxy to attend the meetings. Marden seconded the motion, which passed in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Monty Farnsworth casting the dissenting vote.

With no further business before the Commission the meeting was adjourned.

Board of Adjustment

During the Board of Adjustment meeting Board members took part in two quasi-judicial public hearings.

The Board first considered an application for site and development plan approval presented by Kimley-Horn, acting as agent for (Carolina Holding, Inc.) CHI-Newberry, LLC. The company proposes to build a shopping center plaza on approximately 9.37 +/- acres located at 101 N.W. 242nd Street in Newberry. The property is currently in the Commercial Automotive “CA” Zoning District. The plan calls for space for a grocery store and one other tenant.

Board members unanimously approved the application with the stipulation that delivery trucks are not permitted to exit the property onto State Road 26/Newberry Road. Instead, they must exit onto County Road 235. The applicant agreed to post signs on egress points leading to SR 26 redirecting trucks to the CR 235 exit.

The second application was for site and development plan approval to allow construction of a 3,000 square foot area pole barn on a portion of the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center. Normally, permitting is not required to build a pole barn on agricultural zoned property. However, the Agricultural and Equestrian Event Center is a planned development.

Board members unanimously approved the application. The pole barn is to be used to protect emergency rescue equipment from the elements.

With no further business before the Board, the meeting was adjourned.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua’s police department is currently seeking accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA). A team of assessors from CFA will arrive on Tuesday, July 19 to examine all aspects of the Alachua Police Department’s (APD) policies and procedures, management, operations, and support services.

The Alachua Police Department must comply with numerous standards in order to receive accredited status. Many of the standards are critical to life, health, safety issues, and best practices. As part of the assessment, agency members and the general public are invited to offer comments to the assessment team.

“Accreditation is a highly prized recognition of professional excellence,” said APD Chief Jesse Sandusky. “While seeking accreditation is a voluntary process, I believe that it’s important to be held to the very highest standard in law enforcement.”

A copy of the standards manual is available on the CFA website at www.flaccreditation.org under the standards tab. For more information regarding CFA or for persons wishing to offer written comments about the Alachua Police Department’s ability to meet the standards of accreditation, send correspondence to: CFA, P.O. Box 1489, Tallahassee, Florida, 32302, or email to flaccreditation@fdle.state.fl.us.

The accreditation program manager for the Alachua Police Department is Detective Fernando Zaragoza. The formal assessment team will be composed of assessors from similar agencies. The assessors will review written materials, interview individuals, and visit offices and other areas where compliance can be observed. Once the Commission’s assessors complete their review of the agency, they report to the full Commission, which then determines if the agency is to receive accredited or reaccredited status.

If awarded, the Alachua Police Department’s accreditation is valid for three years.

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ALACHUA ‒ Downtown Alachua and Criswell Park were the sites of beautification efforts this past Saturday. The beautification and cleanup event was part of the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup Day.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) was formed in 1953 to develop and promote a national cleanliness ethic. Its mission was to provide the expertise, programs and resources to help people end littering, improve recycling, and beautify America’s communities. Much of the focus was on educating the population and bringing more awareness of the growing problem littering and waste. Today, the organization has nearly 700 community-based Keep America Beautiful affiliates, millions of volunteers, and the support of corporate partners, municipalities, elected officials, and individuals

The Great American Cleanup kicked off in 1998 with renewed focus on littering, recycling and community beautification. During the months of April and May an estimated 20,000 communities nationwide hold events where volunteers dedicate a day to cleaning up and beautifying their communities.

The most recent Great American Cleanup created 15,000 opportunities for millions of volunteers picking up millions of pounds of litter, cleaning over 100,000 acres of public spaces, and tens of thousands of miles of roadways and shorelines. The community greening and beautification efforts range from new tree plantings that provide shade and sequester carbon to planting flower gardens that create vibrant gateways to shopping and entertainment districts as well as creating community gardens that help feed the hungry and educate young gardeners.

The City of Alachua has been participating in the Great American Cleanup Day for over 15 years. Each year volunteers dedicate a day to helping clean up and beautify specific target areas. The program is a combination of volunteers, business sponsors and the City of Alachua, including a number of city staff joining in the effort. This year they focused on cleaning up around the Swick House and Criswell Park and planting shrubs and flowers along downtown Main Street.

Close to 70 volunteers met at the City Hall at 8:30 a.m. on May 14 to enjoy a breakfast provided by Mi Apa restaurant and Duncan Donuts. The crews rolled up their sleeves, gathered tools and headed for their assigned areas with the expectation of two to three hours to complete the job.

Downtown Main Street was lined with over 1,000 potted plants provided by Landscapes Unlimited. Owners Mike and Erin Gianikas provided the plants at a discount rate, which was paid for by 20 sponsors that provided services and funding. Landscapes Unlimited also provided staff to help direct proper location, planting and design.

After the work was done and Main Street was boasting new greenery and flowers, volunteers were treated to a lunch by Domino’s Pizza.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ Germikque Robert Doby, 41, was arrested late Friday night, June 3, and charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling and simple assault after he allegedly broke a motel room window while threatening an occupant of the room.

According to the arrest report, Doby allegedly sent a text to the victim that said, “If I have to find you hunt you down I’m going to f*** you up if you just please call me and let’s talk I love.”

Doby later found the victim at the Days Inn on Southwest 13th Street and allegedly pursued her as she ran into a room where she had been staying with another person, the witness in this case.

The witness reported that Doby began to yell aggressively through the door and hit the door, then struck and broke the room’s window with his hand. The witness said that Doby reached through the window and tried to unlock the door from the inside. The witness reportedly confronted Doby with a walking stick and Doby did not enter the room. During this time, the victim was hiding in the bathroom.

Post Miranda, Doby reportedly admitted to sending the text and said he was angry emotionally at the time and sometimes says things to the victim “to get a response.” Doby said he and the victim have been in a dating relationship for over a year.

Doby is a convicted felon who has served eight state prison sentences since 2001. He was most recently released in June 2021 on a case in which he was convicted of two counts of simple battery. He is being held on $50,000 bond.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Yard sales are an opportunity for people to buy goods at an affordable price and for other people to clear out space in their homes and garages. For the Deeper Purpose Community Church, a yard sale is also a way to help people in the community. This past Saturday on May 28, the church held its Annual Spring Charity MEGA Yard Sale from 9 a.m. to noon.

The sale brought out people to peruse through mountains of donated items that seemingly included just about anything one could need, including jewelry, girls and boys clothing and toys, baby items, furniture, office, household, and kitchen items. Many of the items were donated from Just Between Friends of Gainesville (JBF), but many items were donated by church members and local residents who filled truckloads of items.

“We partnered with JBF and received donations of items that consigners didn’t sell during the JBF Mega Sale. In the fall we had a free yard sale event, where we gave away countless items to families in the community, but this go round, we are selling the items donated to us at low prices to help fund the free programs we offer, as well as to help raise money for our building fund for our community complex,” said Church Pastor Adam Joy.

Monies from fundraisers and donations support a variety of church programs including the Deeper Purpose Kids Academy, which is a Christian Nursery and Preschool. Other programs support children including before and after care for school aged children and additional programs for families during the summer, Thanksgiving, spring and winter breaks.

The church has purchased 13 acres of land that will eventually house their church, school, youth, community and outreach centers in phases. Additional funding for the buildings was part of the Building Purpose Campaign 1,000. The campaign goal was for 100 people, families, businesses, churches, silent/ anonymous donors, individuals, or organizations to donate $1,000 within 100 days for the church’s Capital Fundraising Campaign. In just 16 days, they raised $31,000 in financial contributions for the building project and another $14,000 in pledges.

“We are a spirit-filled and purpose-driven, multicultural non-denominational Christian church,” said Joy. “We welcome anyone regardless of background, ethnicity or situation, to be a helping hand to those in need. Our mission is to serve the community, help those that need it and spread the word of God.”

Over the course of the year, the church holds food drives for the needy as well as special events such as the Easter Egg Hunt and Back the Blue event. A portion of the money raised by the yard sale this year will also go toward a Senior Citizen Outreach Drive on Wednesday, June 1. They hope to reach senior citizens who have come across difficult times and who are on a fixed income. “Most of them get very little income and by the time they pay what bills they do have, the truth is, they don’t have much left to spend on gas or food,” Joy said.

To help out, members of the church and High Springs community raised roughly $1,000 worth of groceries, ranging from canned goods to hygiene products. For the third year in a row, those goods will be taken to those who need them the most.

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