Last updateTue, 22 Jul 2014 9pm


Alachua's renovation of Main Street continues

W - Alachua Renovations

CARL MCKINNEY/Alachua County Today

City workers clear a street before installing new trash bins. This was one part of the city's plan to make improvements to downtown Alachua.

Add a comment Add a comment

Pinewood Derby races off in Alachua

W - PineWoodDerby 2 

Photo special to Alachua County Today

Local Cub Scout Pack 88 poses after the Pinewood Derby event. The three boys holding up certificates are the top three winnners. Jesse Chambers took third place, Timothy O'Quinn took second and Micah Hooper took the top spot.

Add a comment Add a comment

Sinkhole could be contaminated

HIGH SPRINGS – A sinkhole located in the James Paul Park behind High Springs City Hall could be contaminated.

City Manager Ed Booth said the main culprits are arsenic and benzene, but an assortment of other pollutants was also found in lower amounts.

Two dry soil samples were taken on Dec. 5 last year and analyzed for 40 possible contaminants by Advanced Environmental Laboratories, Inc., a Gainesville firm. The analysis cost $1,022, said AEL project manager Beth Elton.

While the area around the outside of the sinkhole and along the sides have been the locations of many events in High Springs over the past few years, including the Music in the Park series, it is only the very bottom of the hole that was found to be contaminated, Booth said.

The contaminated soil is thought to be the result of water runoff from the surrounding roadways. Booth initially contacted the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) office for this district about a year ago to ask them to perform tests. Booth said he realized the agency would not address the issue immediately, and the city could not afford the expense at the time, so he took several soil samples and sent them to the University of Florida at no cost to the city.

The university tested for nitrates and some other pollutants, but not the wide assortment that was tested for this time, Booth said. The tests showed there were no problems at the time, he said. A year later, the FDOT had still not done the requested tests, prompting Booth to take more samples to send to AEL.

He spoke with FDOT engineer Greg Evans a year ago. Evans said at the time that if contaminants were found, his recommendation would be to install a rain garden and fence off the area to prevent people from accidentally walking through the contaminated area. He advised Booth not to disturb the soil.

Rain gardens are designed to capture the flow of storm water and prevent pollutants from gathering and flowing directly into waterways through the ground. Native plants are sometimes used because they can tolerate both wet and dry soil. Plants can act as filters for contaminants, by changing them into harmless substances before the water reaches the aquifer.

While AEL’s recent test results have not been forwarded to the local FDOT’s district office in Lake City, they soon will be, Booth said. He will also request for the FDOT to pay for the rain garden and fencing, along with a barrier to be placed on the pipe funneling water from the roadways into the sinkhole.

FDOT public information officer Gina Busscher said that when the report finds its way to her office, it will be forwarded to their geotechnical engineers for analysis and recommendations.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@

Add a comment Add a comment

Newberry talks Nations takeover

NEWBERRY – The Gainesville Sports Commission (GSC) is in the process of ironing out a contract with the City of Newberry to run Nations Park under the proposed title “Sports Venue Enterprises.” This subsidiary of GSC could operate and manage Nations going forward. The contract is similar to the one already in place with Nations, but with a few modifications.

One change is that the city is required to post $100,000 for the first year’s operating expenses. The hopeful expectation is that the county will release the rest of the 1 percent bed tax, about $75,000, that was dedicated toward the project from the beginning.

The city also signed a contract with Coca Cola that will provide operating revenue for Sports Venue to run the park, worth around $40,000 for the first year.

Lou Presutti, who was once a major player in the park’s operation, will be a tenant under the new contract, essentially an organization that comes in and puts on tournaments. The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSA) will be a tenant, along with other interested parties, such as female softball and little league baseball. Tenant revenues will be contributed to Sports Venue Enterprises for operation as well.  

USSA has already booked up the spring, selling out the first of three tournaments. Saturday, Feb. 22 is the first tournament, with about 80 teams signed up and ready to play. The second and third tournaments take place in the first and second weeks of March.

“That’s a lot of people the park is already projected to bring in. Quite frankly, we are wondering where everyone will park,” said Commissioner Joe Hoffman at the workshop meeting.

As far as the timeline, for everything to be locked down with Nations, City Manager Keith Ashby said he is optimistic.

“I think the pace is right,” he said.

“Any new business takes a lot to get off the ground. This one is getting under its feet, and we are seeing the tournaments come in.”

There will be another negotiation session to tighten up the language so the commission knows exactly what the City’s obligations and liabilities are before it approves the contract and sends it on over to the GSC’s board to be approved.

#     #     #

Email cgrinstead@

Add a comment Add a comment

Wastewater plant renovations finished

NEWBERRY – Sewage goes in, useful water comes out.

The City of Newberry had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of its newly renovated water reclamation facility on Thursday, Feb. 13.

“This is a very important project for the City of Newberry,” said Mayor Bill Conrad.

The upgrades expand the facility’s physical capacity from being able to treat 350,000 gallons per day to around 560,000 gallons per day, said John Horvath, the project design manager. Though the maximum physical capacity is 560,000 gallons, the complex will operate at about 495,000 gallons to keep the cost down. Water treatment plants shouldn’t operate at full capacity, Horvath said. When a facility is within five years of approaching its maximum capacity, it is required to start the planning process for expansion.

The project has been several years in the making and was completed for less than the city had budgeted.

City officials and employees of the engineering firm responsible for the endeavor, Jones Edmunds, gathered at Newberry City Hall before the ribbon-cutting at the treatment plant.

Mayor Conrad said the city was ahead of the curve in wastewater treatment.

“We’re leading the pack in cleaning up our wastewater,” he said.

The total budget was around $2.8 million, but the city ended up spending around $80,000 to $100,000 less than that, Horvath said.

“At the end of the day, we had to borrow less than we expected,” Mayor Conrad said.

Newberry got a Community Budget Issue Request grant from the state for $400,000, as well as a $2.4 million State Revolving Fund loan to finance the upgrades.

A new treatment plant was added to the facility, and two old plants were upgraded, Horvath said. New generators were installed, in case the facility loses power. Another 14.5 acres were added to the spray-fields, where the treated water is sprayed, allowing it to soak through the ground back into the aquifer. About 23 acres were gained to be used for the disposal of biosolids, organic materials that are a byproduct of the treatment process that can be recycled as fertilizer.

Wastewater treatment is vital for healthy economic development, though it’s invisible to most citizens, said Terri Lowery, vice president at Jones Edmunds.

“People see roads,” she said. “When was the last time you toured a wastewater facility?” she asked.

The upgraded facility puts the city in a position to grow by allowing the city to accommodate the utility and sewage needs of more and larger businesses, Mayor Conrad said.

“Sewage is something that’s very difficult for small towns to deal with,” he said. Conrad pointed to the difficulties High Springs has had pursuing a sewer system. By having better infrastructure and services, Newberry can appeal more to businesses, he added.

The extra capacity for the water treatment plant will also help keep nitrates and other pollutants out of Newberry’s drinking water, he said.

Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, agreed.

“Most of the benefit is going to be in terms of protecting water quality,” he said.

There is growing concern about how the springs in the area are going to be affected by nitrogen pollution, Bird said. Even Newberry, though it isn’t as close to a spring or river as some other communities in the county, has an impact, he added.

“We are finding out collectively we’re going to have to do a much better job of keeping the nitrogen out of the aquifer,” he said. “What Newberry has done is they’ve got a head start.”

Over the next few years, as the state and federal government re-evaluates its water standards, there is going to be increased competition for small towns to get funding for projects like the one Newberry has completed, Bird said. Most of the money will probably go to towns closer to springs or rivers, so it’s good Newberry thought ahead, he said.

“They understand that they’ve got some responsibility,” Bird said. When the city got started on the project, the concern for springs was not as big as it is today, and it’s going to get bigger, he added.

Newberry has planned for growth, but is doing so in a responsible way, allowing them to be in a better position to be a part of the solution for protecting the springs, he said.

Though Newberry has created a good foundation, there is still a question of what to do with the treated wastewater, Bird said.

“In my opinion, the highest and best use we’re seeing locally is really what Alachua is doing,” he said.

The City of Alachua pumps treated wastewater to Gainesville Regional Utilities so that it doesn’t have to draw as much from the aquifer.

Power plants, whether they are using coal, fossil fuel or nuclear power, require substantial amounts of water to operate, Bird said. Every gallon GRU gets from the City of Alachua’s treated water is one less gallon they have to take out of the aquifer.

The project to expand Newberry’s water treatment facility that started eight years ago represents a major milestone for the city, said the construction project manager, Troy Hays.

“It was great foresight by the city management,” he said.

#     #     #

Email cmckinney@

Add a comment Add a comment