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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering free hunter safety internet-completion courses in 10 counties during August. Hunter safety courses are designed to help students become safe, responsible and knowledgeable hunters and learn about conservation.

Students who have taken the online course and wish to complete the classroom portion must bring the online-completion report with them.

All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.

The date and times are:

Alachua
Aug. 7 (8 a.m. until complete) Gainesville

Baker
Aug. 28 (8 a.m. until complete) Macclenny and range to immediately follow in Lake City

Bradford
Aug. 26 (6 to 9 p.m.) Starke
and Aug. 28 (8 a.m. until noon) Graham

Citrus
Aug. 7 (9 a.m. until complete) Lecanto

Aug. 21 (9 a.m. until complete) Lecanto

Clay
Aug. 19 (6 to 9 p.m.) Green Cove Springs
and Aug. 21 (8 a.m. until noon) Graham

Columbia
Aug. 21 (8 a.m. until complete) Lake City

Duval
Aug. 26 (6 to 9 p.m.) and Aug. 28 (8:30 a.m. until noon) Jacksonville

Madison
Aug. 21 (1 p.m. until complete) Madison

Nassau
Aug. 7 (8 a.m. until complete) Fernandina

Suwannee
Aug. 14 (8:30 a.m. until complete) Live Oak

The specific location for these classes will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/hunting, then clicking on “Hunter Safety” or by calling the FWC’s regional office in Lake City at 386-758-0525.

Youth between 12 and 17 years old who successfully complete a hunter safety course can learn more about conservation and experience hunting through the FWC’s Youth Hunting Program. Check out the calendar for safe, educational, mentored youth hunts. In addition, hunter safety course graduates can participate in the Youth Hunter Education Challengeprogram. YHEC events are designed to teach youth aged 18 and younger about leadership, safety and conservation while building skills and knowledge related to hunting, map and compass, wildlife identification and target shooting. Find and register for YHEC events.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As students begin to return to Gainesville for the start of the fall semester at the University of Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) wants to remind all road users of recent changes made to the roadway so they are able to navigate it safely.

Speed tables were installed in May at four locations on West University Avenue (State Road 26) as a means of slowing traffic along the roadway. Motorists are advised to slow down when approaching speed tables, as they are designed for speeds of 25 mph or less.

Additionally, the speed limit between just east of Northwest 21st Terrace and Northwest 13th Street (U.S. 441) was lowered to 25 mph at the end of May. Other safety improvements, including signal retiming and enhanced crosswalks, were also completed in the spring for the safety of pedestrians.

FDOT will begin additional improvement projects in the coming months dedicated to improving safety. These include installation of two signalized pedestrian midblock crossings just west of Northwest 14th Street and at the stadium entrance, as well as the signalization of both Northwest 16th Street and Northwest 19th Street.

FDOT reminds all pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists to obey all traffic laws to help keep everyone safe on the road.

Stay informed about lane closures and roadwork in your area by following FDOT District 2 at @MyFDOT_NEFL on Twitter or at MyFDOTNEFL on Facebook.

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ALACHUA ‒ An Obrien, Florida man was killed in an accident in Alachua o July 21. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of an overturned truck on Northwest U.S. Highway 441 near Northwest 104th Terrace at 5:09 p.m., on Wednesday, July 21. The crash stopped traffic in the area for several hours as investigators and emergency response teams were on the scene.

FHP reports that the 39-year-old Obrien, Florida driver of a white 1995 Ford pickup truck was northbound on Northwest U.S. Highway 441, approaching Northwest 104th Terrace, when he lost control of his vehicle. The truck ran off the roadway to the right and overturned.

The driver was pronounced deceased at the crash site. His passenger, a 59-year-old man, also from Obrien, was transported to the hospital for minor injuries.

According to the FHP, the crash is still under investigation. Neither man was belted in at the time of the event.

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ALACHUA ‒ There may be some relief in sight for Turkey Creek residents concerning flooding in the area due to Tropical Storm Elsa and other flooding issue from streams located in the Turkey Creek neighborhood.

At the July 26 Alachua City Commission meeting, Commissioner Robert Wilford, the City of Alachua’s representative at the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), reported that northwest Alachua County received up to seven inches of rain in the span of one day with the average rainfall throughout Alachua County standing at three inches.

Flooding in the Turkey Creek subdivision has been a longstanding issue. In 2019, SRWMD staff met with several Turkey Creek Master Owner’s Association (TCMOA) board members and other residents to discuss ways to alleviate the subdivision’s ongoing flooding issues. The TCMOA cannot directly apply to the SRWMD for grants, but City of Alachua may do so as a possible solution to address the longstanding flooding. Plans are underway for the City of Alachua and TCMOA to consider the best course of action.

In other business, developers of Briarwood Phase 1, a new housing development on CR 235A near Santa Fe High School, are requesting an amendment regarding sidewalk construction. On Nov. 9, 2020, the City Commission approved the Final Plat and Subdividers Agreement for the subdivision, which called for sidewalks. The developer, Troon Creek, LLC, now requests to amend the previous agreement to permit the construction of sidewalks after completion of the homes within the Subdivision.

The previous agreement required that all infrastructure, including all sidewalks, be completed by the Developer and approved by the City before final building inspections can be scheduled for any homes. The proposed amendment would permit construction of sidewalks after completion of the homes. The remaining infrastructure has not been completed by the developer, but is subject to the current Common Law Performance Bond of $4,131,891 held by the City of Alachua.

The Commission also heard a request for a replat of a five-acre property in the Red Oak Estates subdivision to modify the drainage easement for a more suitable location of a single-family residence and accessory structures. The lot lines are not being amended and building setback lines are not being reduced.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses were in Surfside, Florida, recently where therapy horses Sweetheart and Magic comforted families and first responders involved in the aftermath of the June Champlain Towers South collapse.

The horses and their trainers, Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, left for south Florida on July 16 after they had been contacted by several families with loved ones involved in the building’s collapse. The couple and their mini horses had been conducting summer outdoor reading programs for Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership and sheduled their trip between the two weekly Thursday reading sessions.

“We had to fit it in somehow,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “It was tight, but we really wanted to be there for those families and the emergency personnel involved.” The pair and their horses returned to north Florida the night of Wednesday, July 21, in time to do the reading program in Ocala the day after.

Describing the situation in Surfside Debbie Garcia-Bengochea explained, “The whole scene is a crime scene. Emergency personnel have come in from other places to help with the work and trucks are in and out of the area all the time removing debris to other locations.”

When the horses were not meeting with people, they had a private place to stay so they could have some quiet time. “The people were great. The beach is a place where they normally don’t allow animals, but they allowed our horses to run on the beach at Surfside to help them get some exercise,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “Although parking is at a premium in that area, people made sure to leave room for our van.”

While Garcia-Bengochea didn’t know the exact number of people or families they met with, she said it was a lot. “We met with a lot of first responders more so than the impacted families.”

The couple went to Surside with bags of stuffed horses for the children. As it turned out, first responders’ families were not on the scene, and they sent the stuffed horses home to the families, making sure they provided for each child in the family. Jorge Garcia-Bengochea and Magic also left a stuffed horses at the Memorial Wall in tribute.

After their poignant visit, horses Magic and Sweetheart are taking a few days off. “They are running around and playing with the other horses,” said Garcia-Bengochea.

As for the other horses, they will continue visiting assisted living outdoor programs, hospice programs in the courtyard and outdoor reading programs in outlying libraries in Live Oak and Perry. “

“We have been at this for more than 22 years now,” she said. “We do all we can to help promote reading, kindness and other good qualities.”

One of the ways the organization earns money to continue their program is through the sale of books they have written about the miniature horses. They use the books during the reading programs and bring along the horse the story is written about to make the stories even more exciting for the children.

The latest book, “Mini Horse, Mighty Hope: How a Herd of Miniature Horses Provides Comfort and Healing” is available nationally through Amazon for preorder now, but will officially be released on Oct. 19. And in 2022, a documentary film about Magic is slated to premiere.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A decision about a zoning request to the High Springs City Commission has once again been delayed. At the July 22 City Commission meeting, a zoning change application submitted by J.H. Londono, agent for Safeca Ltd., was rescheduled to the Sept. 20 meeting.

The request is for 89.69 acres located east of Bailey Estates be changed from R-1A (low and medium density single-family residences) to R-3 (medium density single-family detached residences). If approved by the Commission, it would be consenting to a minimum lot size of 4,500 square feet.

The application has been continued for several months to finalize a development agreement with Londono. The City has provided a draft development agreement to him, but the applicant proposed that 40 percent of the lots be 5,000 square feet minimum and the remaining lots be 6,000 square feet minimum.

In a second revised version, the applicant proposed all the lots be 6,000 square feet minimum. “City staff did an analysis of all the lots in Bailey Phase I and found that the majority of lots are in the 8,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet range,” said Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham.

The City has said they could not support a development agreement with a lot size starting at a 6,000 square foot minimum. “Staff is not in favor of this zoning request because it is not compatible with surrounding land uses,” Gillingham said. Londono does not want to increase lot size, putting the rezoning request at a standstill.

Although the City Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval of the proposed zoning change on Sept. 22, 2020, the Commission did not approve the request when it was first presented to them at their Oct. 8, 2020 meeting. Londono was then asked to present an amended plan. The ordinance was read and adopted on first reading at the Nov. 24 meeting, but was continued at the Dec. 10 meeting and has been continued several more times. A request at the July 22, 2021 meeting to extend second and final reading to Sept. 20.

Area residents spoke about the rezoning request and expressed a strong desire to limit further continuations of this application past Sept. 20.

In other city business, the third amendment to an agreement between the City and Prochamps, which originated in 2015, received a unanimous vote to extend the agreement for another two years. The company, which is based in Melbourne, provides registration and tracking of homes in or about to go into foreclosure. There were no changes to the agreement, which will now expire on Aug. 31, 2023.

The purpose of the agreement is to provide a system of registration and tracking of foreclosed homes and homes in default with personal contact information of the party who may be responsible for remedying Code violations.

Law enforcement mental health and wellness is the subject of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)between High Springs and Gainesville.

Gainesville was awarded the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Grant. The grant provides for implementation of a multi-jurisdiction law enforcement mental health and wellness peer support program.

The collaboration of Peer Support Programs (PSP) within each agency will prove cost effective and could serve to be beneficial in its ability to break down the stigma and stereotypes associated with the profession of policing and mental health services.

In budget matters, the Commission approved Resolution 2021-F, which fixes the proposed tentative ad valorem taxes for fiscal year 2021-22. While the current rate is 5.88 mills, the Commission voted unanimously to raise the proposed tentative rate of taxation to 6.25 mills.

Most municipal governments set their tentative rate of taxation higher than their previous year’s rate because they have not yet gone through the budget process. The City still has the option to lower the taxation rate once they have completed the budget process.

Following up on the latest Farm Share food distribution in High Springs, Commissioner Byran Williams said that 671 households were served. He thanked everyone who volunteered their time to hand out the food.

High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard announced that National Night Out will be held on Aug. 3 this year.

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GAINESVILLE - Due to rapidly rising COVID cases in the community and among employees, Alachua County Public Schools will require indoor masking by all employees, vendors and visitors at district facilities. The requirement will be in place regardless of vaccination status.

The requirement will take effect Tuesday, August 3 and last through Friday, September 17. The district will then reassess the COVID data to determine if the requirement should remain in place.

Florida recently recorded the highest number of COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The state also has the nation’s highest hospitalization rate. Cases among ACPS employees have risen significantly over the last two weeks, and one individual passed away this past weekend due to COVID-related complications.

“With rates as high as they are, I felt the district had to take action to reduce the spread of COVID in our community and schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon. “The state has taken some options out of our hands, but this is something we can do to protect students and staff.”

The district will continue to work with the Health Department to offer free vaccinations for students and staff. That includes vaccine clinics at schools during the school day. The district is also working on an agreement with the Alachua County Education Association, which represents district employees, to offer a $100 incentive for employees who are already vaccinated and those who get vaccinated by September 17.

“By taking these steps, I believe we can keep more of our students in school and more of our employees at work,” wrote Simon in an email to employees. “More importantly, we can reduce the number of people affected by COVID. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

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