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Q - Newberry Fire 20160903 155806

The garage and several vehicles were a total loss in Saturday's fire. (Photo special to Alachua County Today/Kevin Mangan)


NEWBERRY – A Newberry homeowner lost their garage and several modes of transportation in a fire on Saturday, Sept. 3.


Members of the Newberry Fire Department responded first to the fire, which was located at 27608 N.W. 46th Avenue, Newberry. Fire fighters and a tanker responded to the call for help, followed closely by multiple units from Alachua County Fire/Rescue and a second tanker from the High Springs Fire Department.


The cement block garage structure was detached from the house. “It was nearly 2,000 sq. ft.,” said District Chief Mick McAlhany, who is from District 5, but was working District 6 that day.


“Thanks to the Newberry Fire Department's quick response to the scene, the garage fire did not spread to the home,” he said.


Although the garage was detached, McAlhany said it was close to the house. “If Newberry hadn't arrived when they did, it could have caught the house on fire,” he said.


The garage had a bathroom and a workshop/garage area in half of the structure and vehicles in the other half of the building. The homeowners lost a Polaris ATV, motorcycle and a car in the blaze. The roof was entirely burned off, McAlhany said.


As to how the blaze started, “The homeowner said he parked his motorcycle in the garage after riding it. It backfired once,” said McAlhany.


The owner went into the house. When he returned he found the garage on fire and called for assistance.


It took approximately 20-30 minutes to extinguish the fire and check for hot spots to make sure the fire wouldn't flare up again.


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Q - SM IMG 2576

Father Sebastian K. George delivering a sermon and Communion at St. Madeleine Catholic Church, High Springs. (Today Photo/C.M. Walker)

HIGH SPRINGS – Drivers flowing past St. Madeleine Catholic Church off of U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs may see a new sign by the roadside announcing that the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche has been created.

While the shrine itself is new, the building housing it is anything but.

The lovely white chapel with a cross on top was originally built in 1925 at what was previously known as 140 Northeast Second Avenue and Second Street in High Springs. It was moved to its present location on Dec. 26, 1979, and is set back from the front of the property.

A much larger church was built for the crowds of people who attend church on Saturdays and Sundays. The little white building is used throughout the week for smaller groups of people.

As with all old buildings, it was in need of refurbishing after it was moved. After considerable effort, it is now a sparkling white stained-glass structure surrounded by lush green grass, flowers, gardens, cemeteries, benches and other ancillary structures.

A sign on one of the doors to the shrine, both of which are adorned with flower wreaths, reads “Holy Door of Mercy.”

The Diocese of St. Augustine has named the Shrine as one of the sites designated to welcome visitors during the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, Dec. 8, 2015 - Nov. 20, 2016. Visitors during this time will receive the special graces available during the Jubilee Year.

The shrine is open daily and Minerva Couret and others have a wealth of information to share with visitors, referred to as pilgrims, who stop by to pray, walk the paths laid out on the property or just sit in contemplation.

On December 5, 2015, the most Reverend Filipe Estevez, Bishop of St. Augustine, bestowed a special privilege on the parish of St. Madeleine Catholic Church by designating the renovated chapel as The Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. This allowed for the faithful in the western-most reaches of the diocese who have a devotion to Our Lady to have a place of pilgrimage and spiritual refuge without the need to travel to St. Augustine.

History of a Shrine to Our Lady of La Leche

According to tradition, the Milk Grotto, not far from Bethlehem, is the site where the Holy Family took refuge during the Slaughter of the Innocents before their flight to Egypt. While there, the Virgin Mary nursed the child Jesus. Some drops of milk sprinkled the walls, changing the color of the stone to white.

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus dates back to the 16th Century in the Spanish city of Madrid where she is called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery).

In 1598, the image was rescued from irreverent hands and placed in the home of a married couple. The woman and her unborn child were thought to die during childbirth, and her husband prayed intently to our Lady of La Leche to grant his wife a safe delivery. Our Lady heard his prayer and thereupon, his dying pregnant wife and child were saved.

Together, the couple spread the news to other families about Our Lady's power with God. Soon after, the devotion became famous throughout Spain.

Becoming aware of Our Lady's intercession, King Philip III, who was the ruler during that time, personally undertook the erection of a shrine in honor of Our Lady of La Leche.

Present day benefits of the Shrine

From December 2015 – September 2016, more than 29 group pilgrimages (836 people) have made the journey to the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Visitors from 34 Florida cities have signed into the Shrine's register. Visitors from a similar number of out-of-state locations have come from as far away as Sitka, Alaska. International visitors have traveled from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, China, Australia and England to pray at the Shrine.

“We have had people stop in because they saw our billboard on I-75 and decided to come in and pray,” said Teresa Glaser, a helper at the shrine and the person who is in charge of public relations. “Our signs have garnered interesting comments,” said Glaser. “’I love your shrine to Our Lady. Thank you for putting up the highway billboard so that I and all travelers can find this Holy Gem!’ said one person. Another wrote, ‘Saw the sign from the freeway. Just came for a visit from Michigan...what a wonderful shrine for Our Lady!’”

Needless to say, members of the St. Madeleine's Catholic Church are proud of what has been accomplished in such a short time and the numbers of people who visit the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. They welcome all who want to stop in for whatever reason, no matter what their religious preference, and enjoy getting to know new people and helping wherever they can.

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Alachua Pub Ser Ops GB IMG 1203


Photo special to Alachua County Today


City of Alachua elected officials and staff were joined be representatives from the construction and architect firms in turning the soil marking the official start of the project. L-R: Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari, City Manager Traci Gresham, Commissioner Gary Hardacre, Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr., Vice Mayor Robert Wilford, Mayor Gib Coerper, Commissioner Shirley Green Brown, Concept Construction President Brian Crawford and Walker Architects Senior Designer Joe Walker.


ALACHUA – Construction began in August to ultimately combine the City of Alachua’s five public services divisions under one roof. Different divisions are currently housed separately, but often need to interact and communicate with each other directly.

When the new Alachua Public Services Operations Center is completed in July 2017, the facility will allow the divisions to be more efficient and provide a good home base for field personnel, say City administrators.

More than 30 personnel from the Water, Electric, Meter Reading, Facilities and Public Works Divisions will be housed in the facilities section, while main parts and infrastructure items will be located in the warehouse.

“We discussed this in our strategic planning meetings, and it's great to see it finally come to fruition,” said Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper. “They will have the materials, vehicles and equipment they need in one place, which should streamline their work considerably,” he said.

City Manager Traci Gresham agrees. “The facility is a great opportunity for the City to consolidate several operational locations that will encourage collaboration and realize operational efficiencies.”

The building, which will cost $4,026,911, is being built by Concept Construction, a Gainesville area builder. Walker Architects, another area business, designed the building.

“The new building will also be the primary facility for storm or disaster response for the City,” said Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari. “The city has in place very good response plans for storms or natural disasters. This facility will allow us to improve upon the plan and facilitate a more efficient response,” he said.

A Groundbreaking Ceremony took place on Thursday, Aug. 25, at the facility location, 13144 N.W. 104th Terrace, just off of U.S. Highway 441, in Alachua.

Mayor Gib Coerper, Alachua City Manager Traci Gresham, Boukari and Alachua City Commissioners were on hand to welcome various business leaders, members of area Chambers of Commerce, design and construction team members and interested members of the public.

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Q - Clemons 8-30-16unnamed

Photo special to Alachua County Today

State House District 21 candidate Chuck Clemons celebrates his Republican primary win Tuesday evening.

ALACHUA COUNTY – Incumbents ran the table in three highly-contested political races during Tuesday’s 2016 Primary Election.

The Democratic candidacies for two Alachua County Commissioners and the Alachua County Sheriff were at stake for the Nov. 8 General Election.

Incumbent County Commissioner Mike Byerly narrowly defeated challenger Kevin Thorpe for Commission District 1 by roughly 52 to 48 percent, or a difference of 1,250 votes. Byerly won primarily by the strength of his showing within the City of Gainesville, as Thorpe carried the vote in the rest of the County. Byerly will face write-in candidate Craig Herda in the General Election.

In the Democratic Primary for County Commission District 3, incumbent Robert “Hutch” Hutchison secured a solid victory over challenger Larry McDaniel by approximately 63 to 37 percent of the vote and will next face write-in candidate Susan Bliss.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell resoundingly won the Democratic nomination over former Alachua County Detective Zac Zedalis 72 to 28 percent and will face Republican and former Alachua County Lieutenant Jack Jacobs in November.

In a three-way race for the Republican nomination for State Representative of District 21, Chuck Clemons held off Wenda Lewis 44 to 36 percent while Tim Rogers secured 20 percent of the vote. Clemons will run against Democrat Marihelen Wheeler, who was unopposed during the Primary.

Other local contests saw incumbent State Representative Elizabeth Porter secure the Republican nomination for District 10 over Carol Daugherty. Porter will face Jerry Bullard, who soundly defeated Rick Schutte in the Democratic race.

Incumbent Alachua County School Board member Eileen Roy defeated Juliun Kinsey in a non-partisan race for the District 2 seat, while Kim Barton won the race for Alachua County Supervisor of Elections over William Boyett and Jeremy Clements.

Voter turnout was nearly 25 percent, as 41,357 ballots were cast out of 165,596 eligible voters according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections web site.

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W - HS Park Picnic Table IMG 2545

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has been working diligently to improve its parks and playground equipment for the past few years. Its efforts to obtain grants to help pay for those improvements are bearing fruit.

City grant writers have submitted grant requests to the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) to help bring playgrounds and playground equipment up to a higher, safer standard in High Springs.

An FRDAP grant in the amount of $150,000 has been awarded to the City, along with a 25 percent match by High Springs, to create a handicapped accessible playground at the Civic Center.

“Although anyone can use the playground,” said City Manager Ed Booth, “it will be designed as a state of the art facility to better accommodate anyone with physical limitations.”

This playground will extend the recreation area at the Civic Park when it is completed.

Three other FRDAP grants in the amount of $50,000 each have been awarded to the City to improve playground equipment at the Civic Center Recreation Center and Park located on U.S. Hwy. 441 between Northwest Second Street and Fourth Street; Catherine Taylor Park, located adjacent to Lee's Preschool on Southeast Douglas Street between Adams and Taylor Avenue; and Walter Howard Park, located on Northwest 13 Street and Second Ave.

The only remaining task to bring the first two parks up to standard is some rubber matting, said Booth.

Walter Howard Park improvements have not been started.

“We still need to go out for bid on that park,” said Booth.

The Land and Recreation Grants staff administers grants to local governments through the FRDAP and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These are competitive, reimbursement grant programs which provide financial assistance for acquisition or development of land for public outdoor recreation. Eligible participants include all county governments, municipalities in Florida and other legally constituted local governmental entities, with the responsibility for providing outdoor recreational sites and facilities for the general public.

In addition to the FRDAP grants, the City was also recently awarded Suwannee River Water Management District grants to improve the city’s centralized sewer and water systems.

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ALACHUA and NEWBERRY – Two local cities displayed reservations regarding the County’s proposed amendments to its stormwater regulations at their respective commission meetings Monday, Aug. 22.

The Alachua City Commission heard an extended presentation from engineering consultant Rory Causseax of Causseax, Hewett and Walpole (CHW) that highlighted many issues CHW had with the County’s proposed Advanced Stormwater Treatment Design Manual, while the Newberry City Commission unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the suggested changes.

“I’m happy to support our resolution along with nine other city managers within the County,” said Newberry Commissioner Tim Marden. “I believe when the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] came to us before, there certainly was no negligible difference and impact on the stormwater…and I pointed out the fact that this only had to do with development and controlling development and controlling growth and had nothing to do with water.”

According to Causseax’s presentation in Alachua, the County’s stated purpose in proposing new stormwater requirements is in response to studies that have reported that current stormwater treatment requirements are insufficient in protecting groundwater from rising nitrogen levels.

High nitrogen levels directly impact water quality and can lead to overgrowth of algae.

“If there’s truth that nitrogen entering the groundwater shows up in a spring,” said Causseax, “then really the regulations we’re heading to now [state] we need to remove nitrogen to a level 25 times higher than is in the current regulations.”

Causseax noted, however, that the source of 73 percent of nitrogen found in the Santa Fe River stems from agriculture, such as with the use of fertilizer and presence of animal waste. Of the remaining nitrogen, 17 percent comes from septic tanks, nine percent from land development and only one percent from wastewater treatment plants.

“I make these points because really, the regulations the County is looking to propose regulate development,” Causseax said. “They do not regulate agriculture – agriculture is above that level of legislation – and they are not specifically regulating wastewater, as well. So the regulation that’s in play regulates what now is nine percent of the nitrogen loading to the Santa Fe River.”

Causseax also stated that the County’s proposals would impact even less than the nine percent of nitrogen coming from developments, as the proposals would not reduce nitrogen from existing developments but only impact new developments or redevelopment of existing sites.

Causseax said that, even despite the small amount of nitrogen that would be removed under the proposed County regulations, everyone wants clean water, but the cost of the County proposals was prohibitive. As a specific example, he stated that reduction of nitrogen from agricultural sources – if enforced by the State – would cost $1.03 per pound removed, while the County’s proposals would cost $4,989 per pound removed if applied to a Dollar General site located off Archer Road or $6,391 per pound removed if applied to the Oakmont Phase 2 development.

“What would be the effect if all new development in Alachua County fell under this regulation?” Causseax asked. “We might move the needle 1 percent, 2 percent. That’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not moving very fast, and if it were cost effective, one might could get behind it, but the exorbitant amount of cost makes it hard to understand that this is the only way we can get cleaner water.”

Alachua commissioners echoed Causseax’s concerns, as well as those mentioned by Newberry Commissioner Marden.

“It seems they’re [the County Commission] trying to rush this through quite a bit without the full knowledge of what this actually means,” said Mayor Gib Coerper. “We met with the new Suwannee River Water Management head, Mr. Noah, and I asked him the specific question if they were on board with this…and he said “No, not at all.”

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W - HS Linda Jones

HIGH SPRINGS –Linda Jones will fill High Springs City Commission Seat #3, previously held by Sue Weller.

Prior to the end of last Thursday's qualifying period end time of 6 p.m., Weller withdrew her name, thereby leaving Jones with no opposition and the City with no need for an election.

Most recently, Jones was active on the City's Charter Review Board, which she said rekindled her interest in the workings of her city. She also has been active in the Edgemoor Home Owners Association.

Formerly a Gainesville resident, Jones moved to High Springs with her husband nine years ago.

“I used to attend many of the city commission meetings until other family-related duties took up more of my time,” said Jones. “Now I'm excited to be able to be more active again. I guess the Charter Review Board got my juices flowing again. I had to do more background research in order to recommend changes to the Charter. It was very interesting and exciting for me.”

Jones said she has no particular agenda except to help the City of High Springs move along smoothly and progress in ways in which the citizens want to see their city grow.

Jones' work experience has been in Gainesville with two different engineering firms. She worked her way up through the ranks during her 15 years at CH2M Hill, followed by 20 years at Jones Edmunds.

Husband Bob Jones was a teacher at Gainesville High School for 37 years. Both are retired now and are enjoying living in High Springs along with her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

“I know I have big shoes to fill with Commissioner Weller stepping down from her seat,” said Jones. “I have never served as a commissioner before, but I think the City is doing a very good job and I'd like to be part of that.”

Jones will be sworn into office during the November reorganization meeting.

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