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HIGH SPRINGS – Commissioners unanimously approved a license agreement between the City of High Springs and Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures to provide interim management assistance and shuttle services for the Canoe Outpost. Anderson’s will provide those services until the City can work through the request for proposal (RFP) process and get a long-term operator under contract.

“Anderson's Outdoor Adventures has a piggyback contract with Alachua County and the state of Florida that the city could piggyback on,” said City Manager Ashley Stathatos. City staff is currently in discussion with Anderson’s and working to complete an agreement.

City Attorney Scott Walker reported that although the company has a $500,000 insurance policy with the County, the City also will have responsibility for insurance as well. Parks and Recreation Department Project Manager Brian Langston will be overseeing the facility.

The Commission unanimously approved Resolution 2021-P, which formally adopts the donation of a conservation easement over and across the property to Alachua Conservation Trust, Inc.

In other City business, commissioners voted unanimously to award the construction loan for Well #3 to Truist Financial Corporation Governmental Finance, Charlotte, North Carolina. The bonds will be secured by a first priority pledge and lien on the net revenues of the water and sewer system.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham reported that the water well cost came in at $667,700. The city is requesting $850,000, which is around 20 percent additional for any possible change orders that may arise during the project.

The Commission also unanimously approved an application by Leslie and Luke Lynn for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) 21-01 in a quasi-judicial public hearing. The approval is the first step in allowing them to brew beer and other beverages on site. The business is to be called River Rise Brewery and will include an area for consumption.

The proposed location is within the High Springs Industrial Park, located off of Northwest 182nd Avenue. The area is zoned Industrial, with a future land use of Business/Industrial. Though the original application included both Lots 1 and 2, it was later revised by the applicant to include only Lot 2.

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council reviewed the documents and found the proposed use was in compliance with the standards outlined in the city’s Land Development Code. This includes items like adequate drainage, ingress/egress, parking, screening, zoning requirements and lighting.

In other business, Commissioners considered and approved the final plat and construction documents for Springfield Subdivision, a 30-lot rural subdivision located on the south side of Northwest 182nd Avenue, west of Cinnamon Hills subdivision. The 50.15-acre property will have one-acre lots and will be serviced by septic tanks and city water. The Preliminary Plat was previously approved by the Commission on Sept. 10, 2020.

Under unfinished business, Commissioners unanimously approved a Traffic Light Maintenance Agreement with the City of Gainesville for emergency repairs and preventive maintenance. The City of High Springs is compensated by the Florida Department of Transportation for the maintenance and operation of the two traffic signals located within the city. The City has an interlocal agreement with the City of Gainesville to perform the maintenance and operation of the traffic signals.

In past years, the City of Gainesville has fulfilled this agreement at a 33 percent-discounted cost. For fiscal year 2022, the discount has been eliminated and the full cost is being charged.

The traffic signals are located on US 441/US 41 and County Road 236 and at US 27 and State Road 20, both of which are on High Springs Main Street. The City of Gainesville also maintains the school flashing lights on County Road 236 for the High Springs Community School.

The fiscal year 2021 – 2022 agreement is for $10,995, but the agreement also includes possible additional costs up to an additional $13,047.

Gillingham reported that half of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding has been received by the City. He asked commissioners to consider several projects and to provide direction at the Nov. 18 commission meeting. Suggested items the funds can be used for include cardiac monitors, cameras for the police department, broadband internet, and items related to water and/or sewer. The City has until 2024 to spend the funds.

The City’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project is out to bid. AMI meters consist of water meters that communicate directly with the City and can easily be read by the customer online to determine their water usage. The system eliminates the need for in-person water meter reading every month and more accurately measures water usage.

Commissioner Scott Jamison was the recipient of an eagle commemorating his service to the city’s recreation program through the years. The award, which was presented by Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina, is called the “Lifetime Award for Dedication and Leadership in Recreation for the Communities in North Central Florida”. Prior to issuing the award Messina talked about the many ways in which Jamison has served the recreation community in the area.

Area resident Bruce Borders made an announcement that on Nov. 11, veterans, fire fighters and police officers are invited for a dinner at Galloping Gary’s in Alachua any time from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ The simple act of buying a pumpkin in Gainesville can feed a child in Guatemala.

Buy a Pumpkin Feed a Child, a nonprofit project organized by the Gainesville Church of God, effects change by feeding over 500 Guatemalan children per week with proceeds from its annual pumpkin patch.

About two-thirds of the Guatemalan population live on no more than $2 per day, according to the World Bank. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America.

The pumpkin patch returned for its eighth year at 7003 N.W. 39th Avenue, welcoming guests from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31 with tractor rides, photo opportunities and freshly baked pumpkin bread.

The patch offered free admission but encouraged guests to buy a pumpkin or pumpkin bread to support its cause.

The church partnered with Flames of Fire Ministries, another local religious organization, to build its first feeding center 20 years ago in Chiquimula, Guatemala, said Marla Johnson, a missionary who frequently travels to distribute food at the centers.

“When we first moved there, we found out that 150 children had recently died from malnutrition in that area alone,” she said. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

A majority of children in Chiquimula live off a single tortilla per day; the luxury of eating meat is a rarity. The organizations use proceeds from the pumpkin patch and year-round donations to provide a balanced meal of meat and vegetables for children three times per week, she said.

“These kids are crying themselves to sleep at night — not because they don’t have a new pair of the latest name-brand tennis shoes — but because they literally haven’t eaten all day,” she said.

Guatemalan children suffer from stunted growth, impaired motor function and hair and teeth loss due to an inaccessibility of food, said Joshua Lounsbury, head coordinator of the pumpkin patch.

These children struggle to learn effectively in school and are often too physically weak to take on trade skills like farming, he said.

“We see kids who start in the feeding center at age two, and we watch them grow up to 12 or 13,” he said. “You can actually see the difference in size between a kid who has been in the feeding center and a kid who hasn’t.”

The church opened its ninth feeding center in Guatemala in July. The centers are primarily stationed in places across Chiquimula, but the church has expanded its efforts over past years to feed several hundred children in other countries suffering from malnutrition, including Venezuela, Cuba and Uruguay, he said.

Each year, the pumpkin patch has doubled in attendance, garnering far more revenue than expected. Because of the patch’s success, the church has looked for ways to give back to its own community, he said.

The church partnered with the Food4Kids Backpack Program of North Florida, a nonprofit organization that works with local schools to provide meals for students in need. Additionally, the church donates to the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch, an organization in Citra that feeds hundreds of abandoned or neglected children per week, he said.

The organizations also support communities across the U.S. by purchasing the patch’s pumpkins from a Native American reservation in the Navajo Nation and giving leftover pumpkins to local farmers to feed their livestock, Johnson said.

“People come here and pay a little bit more for a pumpkin than you would at Publix, but a lot of them actually thank me for using the money to help kids,” Lounsbury said. “It really does impact our guests.”

Raluca Velcu, first-time visitor at the patch and third-year political science major at the University of Florida, said she was moved by how the project gives back to children not only locally, but globally.

“I came in just wanting to explore the patch but left with a pumpkin, pumpkin bread and a feeling of gratitude for how my purchases can help a child in need,” she said.

Despite COVID-19, the church welcomed over 30,000 attendees throughout October 2020. Although it is too early to tell the number of this year’s attendees, Lounsbury said he predicts an even larger turnout.

Johnson said the Gainesville Church of God and Flames of Fire Ministries look forward to continuing the tradition to help as many children as possible.

“What we’re doing is a life-altering endeavor,” she said. “It’s something that literally gives life to the kids.”

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HAWTHORNE – A Hawthorne student has been charged with making a false bomb threat. On Thursday, Oct. 21, Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a bomb threat that was directed at Hawthorne High School. The call came in just before regular dismissal time and deputies stood by and assisted with the dismissal.

Detectives arrested Jayden Ingle, 14, of Hawthorne and charged her with making a false bomb threat and using a two-way communications device to commit a felony.

Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. said in a press release that he would like to reiterate his commitment to keeping schools safe and providing all investigative efforts to stop these threats. “This kind of disruption has no place within our schools.”

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ALACHUA ‒ A 16-year-old is dead and a 19-year-old has been arrested. On Sunday, Oct. 31 at approximately 1:45 pm, Alachua Police Department (APD) officers responded to a report of a person shot at Maude Lewis Park located at 15731 N.W 141st Street.

Officers located a juvenile victim suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The victim, 16-year-old Stoney Shine, Jr. of Gainesville was transported to UF Health Shands Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

APD reports that a preliminary investigation revealed that Shine, another male, 19-year-old Adrian Cushion, and multiple other individuals became involved in a physical altercation at the park.

At some point during the altercation, Shine walked away and retrieved a firearm. Shine began walking back toward the crowd when Cushion produced a firearm and fired at Shine striking him multiple times.

Cushion was apprehended a short time later and placed under arrest for the shooting death of Shine.

APD says this is an on-going investigation and further information will be released as it becomes available

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ALACHUA ‒ It’s that time of year when scarecrows invade Alachua’s downtown and the annual celebration begins. For the past 16 years the Alachua Chamber of Commerce has hosted Scarecrow Row on Main Street as businesses and organizations sponsor light poles decorated in celebration of Halloween and the fall season.

Corporate sponsors either partner with a Main Street business or purchase their own pole to decorate with a decked out scarecrow. The money raised goes toward programs and events hosted by the Chamber of Commerce to help promote business on Main Street and provide services and facilities to the community, including events like the Trick or Treat on Main Street and the annual Christmas Parade.

The Alachua Chamber of Commerce sponsors these events to “raise public awareness of local downtown businesses, bring more tourist and consumers to the area, and create a sense of community and partnership within the local business community as well as providing free events for the community to enjoy.

Scarecrow Row has grown over the years and has become a well-known annual event that runs the entire month of October making sure the Halloween spirit is alive and well. Scarecrows run the gamut in creativity, only limited by the individuals crafting each installation. Early in October it was not uncommon to see groups of people gathered together working on their spooky creations. And throughout the month pole sponsors checked on their scarecrows to make sure they remained in good shape leading up to the annual judging. This year's theme was “Mad Scientist” and each scarecrow incorporated that theme. Some scarecrows were funny, some spooky, some simple, some extensive, but all creative and meant to amuse and entertain.

Each participating business designed and constructed their own display that was judged by a three-judge panel. Prizes, as well as plaques were presented for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Winners were announced at the annual Trick or Treat on Main Street held Saturday night. Boukari Realty took first place along with a $300 prize. Mebane Middle School came in second along with a $200 prize. Third place went to Dr. Douglas Adel along with a $100 prize.

The event has grown in popularity and the Chamber is considering expanding it so there are scarecrows beyond Main Street and possibly opening up entries to the public to increase participation.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Several southbound lanes of Interstate 75 were blocked on Thursday, Oct. 28, as a two-vehicle crash was reported in Alachua County. 

According to a Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), a 54-year-old Newberry woman driving a sport utility vehicle sustained minor injuries when her vehicle was involved in a crash with a pickup truck.  The truck driver was a 47-year-old man from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was pulling a trailer. 

The driver of the pickup truck was heading south on I-75 at approximately 3:20 a.m.  He was located south of the on ramp for State Road 222/39th Avenue when the right front tire on the truck blew out causing the driver to lose control. 

According to the FHP, the trailer overturned onto its side colliding into a light pole on the west side of the interstate.  The truck and trailer came to a final rest blocking the middle and right southbound traffic lanes.  The driver of the SUV was unable to see the overturned trailer.  Her vehicle collided into the underside of the trailer. 

The middle and right southbound lanes of traffic were blocked due to the crash.

Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash. The driver of the pickup truck reported no injuries. 

In Marion County, a 25-year-old Micanopy man was traveling west on County Road 316 when he lost control of his sedan.  The vehicle veered right onto the right grass shoulder when the front of his vehicle collided with a large Oak tree.

The Florida Highway Patrol reports that after the collision the vehicle in which he was driving caught fire and burned.  The driver was pronounced dead on the scene. 

According to the FHP, the driver was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ To celebrate the Halloween spirit, the Opera House at the Great Outdoors Restaurant became a dark and sinister place, terrorizing all who entered. A dark maze filled with body parts, ghosts, demons and serial killers. But it was all in fun, as the Great Outdoors hosted a haunted house for the holiday.

When Melissa Doring became event manager at the Great Outdoors in July and took a tour of the Opera House space, she saw the potential for it to host special events, especially around various holidays

“One of my first thoughts were that this space could make an ideal haunted house for Halloween. The idea stayed in the back of my mind for several months as I acclimated to my new job, and I finally pitched it to my boss who agreed to let me put it together,” Doring said.

Working with a limited budget, materials and help, she posted on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to help or contribute. “I got a response from Chris Scott, who wound up turning the concept into a reality in a really short time period,” said Doring. “This wouldn't have happened without his involvement.”

Scott has been putting on Halloween shows for over eight years. He was involved with the Madness and Mayhem Halloween specials for several years as well as other organizations. It is his passion rather than profession. “I do it because I love it, said Scott. “To me it’s creating a giant art installation for people to enjoy.”

Scott says that Halloween makes the perfect time for mixing in the heightened emotions of surprise and fear with the entertainment. Over the years he has collected a large number of props, including building a maze that can be adjusted to each different location.

Scott contacted Doring and restaurant owner Baram Kim to discuss combining forces to create a professional quality haunted house in the Opera House. Both welcomed his support. The biggest problem was time as Scott had only learned of Doring's Facebook post a week before Halloween, but the two worked together to make it a reality.

It took two full box trucks to bring all the materials and props Scott had to the Great Outdoors and take it all upstairs. It took Scott and his wife, Bobbi, three days to put it together.

Staffing was another issue since the Great Outdoors staff was busy with the restaurant on a Saturday night. Doring manned the entry point along with her father, Barry Searles, who was dressed as a vampire. Her mother was also one of the characters in the Haunted House. Chris, his wife and daughter were also members of the cast as were three friends and one Great Outdoors employee. There was a $10 entry fee to cover cost and give volunteers some remuneration for their work.

The Halloween theme was also carried over to the Pink Flamingo Diner, which is owned by the same company. The general manager for the two restaurants, Lynn Long, arranged for a red tractor to run hayrides between the two locations. The tractor brought people over to the miniature golf course at the Pink Flamingo to play on the decorated “haunted” golf course and back to their cars. Many of the participants were children in Halloween costumes.

“We put this together in a very short time and thanks to Chris's materials and expertise and the efforts of everyone involved it was a success. We saw 165 “victims” come in to be scared ….and they all came out happy as well,” Doring said.

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