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Alachua County Today

Sun01222017

Last updateMon, 16 Jan 2017 3pm

Feeding a Community

W - HS Foodshare IMG 2498

 

C.M. WALKER/ Alachua County Today

 

  The High Springs Civic Center was t he site of a Farm Share food giveaway last Saturday. L-R: High Springs Chamber of Commerce President Eyvonne Andrews and High Springs Vice-Mayor Gloria James loaded food into bags for distribution. 

 

HIGH SPRINGS – Farm Share was in town Saturday to deliver a truckload of food to people in need in the greater High Springs area.

A non-stop line of cars could be seen stretching all the way around the perimeter of the Civic Center and out into Santa Fe Blvd. Car after car received food placed into their vehicles or trunks by a group of approximately 30 local volunteers.

While volunteers kept the cars rolling through quickly, High Springs Police Officers managed to keep regular traffic flowing around vehicles on Santa Fe Blvd.

“By the time all 42,000 lbs. of food had been distributed, volunteers had managed to provide food for 1,812 individuals in 397 households,” said Dave Reynolds, Quincy Farm Share Facility Manager.

Food items included bread, baked goods, juice, frozen chicken, potatoes grown in Gainesville at Blue Skies Farms, okra and green beans grown in Florida and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Commodities.

“We had just the right amount of food for the number of cars that came through the line,” said Reynolds. “We finished and packed up everything a little before noon and left shortly thereafter.”

The USDA purchases food from farmers each year as a form of price support. In Florida the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (FDAC) works with regional not-for-profit food banks to receive and distribute the USDA product to the local food banks, soup kitchens and other emergency food providers.

Farm Share is the regional food bank for the Northeast Region consisting of 11 counties as well as the Southeast region consisting of two counties.

High Springs is the fourth city in Alachua County to receive food distribution through Farm Share this year. “The first one was on June 4 at the Santa Fe Community College parking lot in Gainesville,” said Reynolds. Hawthorne, Waldo and now High Springs have benefited from Farm Share food distributions.

“Through all four distribution points, 168,000 lbs. of food have been distributed thus far in Alachua County,” Reynolds said.

Food distribution volunteers included High Springs Mayor Byran Williams, Vice-Mayor Gloria James, Commissioner Sue Weller, City Manager Ed Booth, Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., Police Lt. Antoine Sheppard, Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham and members of the High Springs Fire Department, High Springs Chamber President Eyvonne Andrews, members of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe and missionaries from the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints serving in Gainesville.

“We usually help out Farm Share whenever they need help,” said Missionary Sister Mansfield. “We have been helping Farm Share for years. Usually we help out once a week on Saturday mornings whenever they need volunteers.”

St. Madeleine Community Outreach (SMCO) is the standard local distributor for food from USDA Jacksonville, said Lucille Gabriel. “I'm sure some of our clients participated in Saturday's food distribution,” she said. “This [distribution] was for individual households. We actually are a USDA food distribution point for Alachua County. We distribute USDA food to anyone who comes to our office and says they are from Alachua County.”

There are other USDA food distribution sites in High Springs, but SMCO is the only High Springs location serving Alachua County five days a week.

To learn more about the history of the program visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/fdd-history-and-background.

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County, City at Odds over Road Repairs

ALACHUA - The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and City of Alachua Commissioners demonstrated sharp disagreement regarding county road repairs at a joint meeting held Monday, July 11.

The discussion was one of a few agenda items covered by both commissions and was initiated when City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. brought the poor condition of two county roadways to the BOCC's attention: County Roads 2054 - also known as Peggy Road - and 235A.

“There's nobody on the County Commission who doesn't understand that there are roads in terrible condition,” BOCC Chair Robert Hutchison replied.

“We hear all the time about it, we are scraping together every spare nickel we have to put into road repaving, but it’s also true that we’ve put three referenda out there, and all three have been defeated."

The referenda Hutchison referenced were three separate attempts by the BOCC – one each in 2004, 2012 and 2014 – to approve a sales tax that would fund county road repairs. Each referendum was voted down by county voters during elections.

“There's virtually no pure government anywhere in the State of Florida [that] doesn't have the infrastructure surtax for their roads,” Hutchison added. “We're the only county our size that doesn't have that additional money.”

Hutchison stated that, without additional tax funds, the BOCC has barely been able to fund approximately one tenth of the total needed to adequately maintain county roads. He noted that the regular BOCC budget does not have sufficient funding to cover road repairs.

“We could literally gut the county budget and put it all into roads, and it still would not cover the needs,” he said.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper claimed that the reason the referenda were defeated was due to the inclusion of added expenditures that had nothing to do with road repairs.

“There referenda that have been on the ballot, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's always been the caveat of taking more land off the tax rolls or buying conservation land - and there's nothing wrong with conservation land - but the idea is that, when I hear people talk, they want the roads fixed, and that’s all they want,” Coerper said.

“They don't want anything else, and yet it still gets proposed...when these other things are added to it, it’s what gets people’s dander up."

Hutchison strongly disagreed, stating that each proposed road tax did not include provisions for parks, recreation, or conservation land.

Boukari stated for clarification that, as he recalled, the point of contention many voters had specifically with the most recent 2014 referendum was the addition of expenditures to be made on bike paths, sidewalks, gutters, and other items that were ancillary to road repairs.

“The maximum that was going to be spent on bikes and...sidewalks was five percent," Hutchison responded. "And so because people don't like bike paths and sidewalks, they’re willing to throw away the other 95 percent of the money.”

Coerper said the BOCC's reputation with voters regarding the spending of tax money is ruined; therefore voters don't want to trust the BOCC with more funds unless it is for the one clear purpose of road repairs.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly countered that the BOCC still has plenty of credibility with voters when it comes to issues that people deeply care about, such as land conservation.

“[The people] trust the County to take their money and spend it wisely, and even in the depths of the last recession, agreed to tax themselves in order for the County to have land conservation funds,” Byerly said.

“I think what perhaps we need to accept is that, whereas we all hear anecdotally from people how important the roads [are], until people are willing to take out their wallets, it’s hard to take that seriously.”

Byerly had the last comment on the topic when he stated that the only solution the County has for repairing roads rests on the willingness of county voters to approve an additional tax to raise revenue.

“Until the county is willing as a group to put more money into this, things will keep getting worse, and eventually it’ll reach the point where people will realize it’s real, it’s not politics, it’s not posturing, we're not spending enough money on roads,” he said.

“When that day arrives, we'll get the votes we’re looking for.”

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MOMs WOWs with Smithsonian

Q -- MOMs IMG 0899

RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

  Families came together inside the Water Ventures exhibit to play games focusing on how to recycle waste items. 

Q - MOMs Inside Museum IMG 0861

 

RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

  Inside the Museum on Main Street, exhibits about local waterways illustrate the economic and social importance of maintain the health of area springs. 

 

HIGH SPRINGS – The Smithsonian Institution, the largest group of museums and research complexes in the world, is up and running in the High Springs Museum with an environmental exhibit that will run until Aug. 27, 2016.

Ed Booth, City Manager of High Springs, said it was a tremendous effort from various organizations to help put on the exhibit.

“Volunteers from several clubs, organizations and businesses played a big part in this effort,” he said. “We were just one of six Florida cities selected to display the traveling Smithsonian Water/Ways Exhibit in our museum. Of those six cities chosen, High Springs was only one of two locations in north Florida to qualify for this honor."

“To complement the Smithsonian exhibit, museum volunteers created fantastic displays which highlight our local springs and waterways," he said. “This type of exhibit is something you don't see every day and certainly not in smaller towns like ours.”

From families to advocates of nature, many different people attended the grand opening of the exhibit Saturday, which concluded a long organization process headed by Kristina Young, the Water/Ways Program Director.

“From application to the final display that visitors saw this weekend took about a year for approval, display creation, sponsor coordination and communication and coordination of the grand opening,” said Roger Chambers, High Springs Historical Society President. “It was a lot of work by a lot of people, but well worth the effort."

Various booths were set up with water as a theme throughout. Hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled as orders flowed in around lunch time. The Santa Fe High School band played “Under the Sea” in an ode to the natural beauty of High Springs and its wildlife. Various other bands serenaded passersby as they toured the outside tents, listened to speakers and entered the museum to check out the exhibit.

Al Clements, a member of the National Speleological Association, explained his reasons for visiting the exhibit with his wife.

“I want to see the cave exhibit,” he said. “I dive in caves with no ambient light and I, as well as a lot of other people, are highly interested in the technological aspect of cave diving.”

The exhibit placed an emphasis on diving gear, the importance of natural resources, recycling, and the natural beauty of the Florida aquifer.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she attended for a couple of reasons.

“I came to see the vibrancy of High Springs and all the hard work they put into making this exhibit a success,” she said. “I think it’s very clever, and highlights the beauty of the springs. It’s educational but not overbearing; it’s really great for kids.”

The exhibit was the main attraction, but a traveling interactive exhibit entitled “Water Ventures” was also made available to the public. It highlighted the importance of conserving water and reusing waste water to conserve natural resources.

Jill Lingard, an activist who is involved with the Ichetucknee Alliance and Sierra Club, said invisible pollution is contributing to the degradation of rivers and springs and the aquifer itself.

“It’s the nitrates from mining and leaking septic tanks that mess up our waters,” she said. “A hundred years ago, swamps were considered bad and we drained them and now we’re seeing swamps play an important part in the ecosystem, and it’s a matter of undoing the damage that has been done.”

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Developing a Downtown Identity

E -Downtown DSC 0734

 

ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

 

Alachua's downtown area and the larger historic district will be beneficiaries of a public/private partnership between the City of Alachua and area businesses and organizations.

 

ALACHUA – A firm contracted by the City of Alachua to prepare a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) development plan presented its study to the city commission Monday night.

Redevelopment Management Associates submitted an 86-page report to the commission in which it explained the results of its market study and recommendations after taking into consideration public comments from a workshop held June 13.

The CRA district comprises 256 acres, focusing primarily on the downtown district adjacent to Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods.

The main emphases of the study were directed at establishing an identity for Alachua’s downtown.

Of 10 recommended initiatives, the first five centered on creating a cohesive vision for the downtown area, including the creation of a “branding, marketing and messaging program,” the hiring of a downtown coordinator as a new city staff position, and hosting community events by partnering with local businesses.

“While ‘The Good Life Community’ describes the city’s sense of small town charm and friendly atmosphere, a clearly defined targeted message with a strong comprehensive campaign is necessary to catapult the downtown area into a thriving hub of social activity,” the report states.

The report goes into detail regarding several possible options the city could pursue to assist in establishing a brand, from hiring a CRA marketing and events professional to creating an image committee and a Downtown Alachua website.

If every branding suggestion were followed by the city, the estimated annual budget could be as high as $175,000, per the report.

Other key recommended initiatives included implementing a façade improvement grant program (something common to other local community CRAs), improving wayfinding and directional signage downtown, and targeting a business hotel near the downtown area.

An additional point of emphasis the report noted concerned enhancing the customer base for local businesses and improving “public perception related to entertainment / social offerings and overall atmosphere in Downtown Alachua.”

One suggestion was to “create a monthly Downtown Alachua discovery tour event, activating the theatre pocket park [Alan Hitchcock Park] as the central gathering spot / information space. Consider wine and / or craft beer tastings in each business…Place sidewalk musicians through the downtown to draw people to walk the entire area and invite juried arts / crafts business vendors to set in front of vacant storefronts.”

The entire report is available at the City of Alachua homepage at www.cityofalachua.com.

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Alachua Main Street to See Changes

W - Alachua Main Street - Barnett IMG 0827

 RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

 A view of Alachua's iconic winding Main Street that will soon change as new landscapaing, including replacemenet of diseased trees, will refresh the area.

 ALACHUA – Main Street in Alachua will look a bit different by September.

The City of Alachua’s Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board (DRTB) met June 29 to present the details of a projected $70,000 renovation of the landscaping along the town’s historic street.

The most immediately noticable change will be the replacement of the Bradford Pear trees that line the street between NW 150th Avenue and NW 148th Place with new nursery-grown Bradford Pear trees.

The project will also include reworking of irrigation systems and the addition of new plants, flowers and shrubs in plant beds drafted by a professional landscaper.

Sidewalks will be pressure cleaned, and The Hitchcock Theater Park will be landscaped. New street striping will also be applied.

Existing, free-standing newspaper stands will be replaced with a uniform black box with cubbies for various papers.

The Bradford Pear trees are scheduled to be replaced because they have lived beyond their expected natural life, and replacement trees will be placed in locations that allow for better traffic view of businesses, entrances and signs.

The report comes as a result of efforts made by City of Alachua staff approximately two years ago, when the City contracted with landscape architects Buford Davis & Associates to perform an analysis of the condition of the landscaping along Main Street and make recommendations.

A neighborhood meeting was held on June 14, 2016 with current owners and tenants along the corridor to share the proposed project and receive input.

Construction activities are slated to conclude in September.

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