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Last updateFri, 26 Sep 2014 6pm

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North Florida nightfall brings out diversity of bats, biologists

W_-_Bats  Photo special to Alachua County Today/Florida fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/ Bats by the pound, as a volunteer weighs a bat

 FLORIDA – As night falls over north Florida, a band of 66 men and women split into small groups to find bats in damp, mosquito-rich places in the Panhandle, like Apalachicola National Forest, Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

To ensnare the bats, biologists hoist nearly invisible “mist nets” as tall as trees. They wait for hours in the dark. They have equipment out on portable tables, so they can quickly log in any bats they capture. The bats will be identified, measured and weighed, and a sample of guano will be collected before they are let go.

“It’s best to think like a bat” when scouting for bats, explained Melissa Tucker, wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Bats are not evenly distributed across the landscape. Some areas are more important for foraging and roosting, and we’re still figuring those things out,” she said. Sites over water or with features such as fire lines or forest trails that funnel flying bats into the nets are usually good choices.

The grand total of bats captured over three nights: 246.

Eight of Florida’s 13 native bat species were identified in this survey: the Southeastern myotis, Seminole bat, red bat, Brazilian free-tailed bat, evening bat, big brown bat, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat and tricolored bat. Natives like the threatened Florida bonneted bat live only in the southern end of the state.

“It was a lot of bats. We were really pleased about the number and the diversity. Finding eight species was exciting to us,” Tucker said. “It was an amount of information about bat species in north Florida that our staff couldn’t have gathered on our own or in such a short amount of time.”

The “Bat Blitz” was conducted for three nights in late May as biologists from the FWC and the University of Florida joined forces with Apalachicola National Forest staff, as well as students and volunteers from throughout the southeast United States and as far away as Oklahoma, Kentucky and Ohio. The blitz, sponsored by the Florida Bat Working Group in conjunction with the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network, was held for the first time in Florida.

How are bats doing in Florida?

“In general, we have a sense in Florida that our common species of bats are probably doing OK,” said Tucker, acknowledging, “We do not have a lot of baseline information to draw from.”

The deadly white-nose syndrome that has decimated many cave-roosting bat species throughout the eastern United States has not been detected in Florida. The disease is caused by a fungus found in cold caves and affects bats as they hibernate. With Florida’s relatively warm winters, few bats hibernate here, so there is hope bats in the state won’t experience its devastating effects.

Still, to prevent a potential spread of the fungus, “Bat Blitz” biologists were extremely careful about decontaminating equipment between every bat examination and at the end of every night, as well as forbidding anyone from bringing in equipment from out of state.

Florida bats play a major role in insect control, consuming moths that destroy crops and dining upon mosquitoes. Some bats also pollinate flowers, although all bats in Florida are insectivores.

How to help bats?

“Use insecticide sparingly and with caution. It’s always nice to put out bat houses,” Tucker said. “And if you come across bats in tree cavities, palm fronds or Spanish moss, step back and give them their space.”

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Alachua I-75interchange construction to begin in 2014

W_-_I75_improvements-2_copy 

Shown as it is currently configured, the FDOT plans to add a second southbound access ramp (asindicated by the leftmost arrow) to the Interstate-75 in Alachua, which will limit the need for opposing traffic streams on 441 to cross paths before connecting to I-75.

ALACHUA – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held a public workshop on Thursday, May 31 for the planned improvements to the Interstate 75 interchange at U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

At the workshop, held in the City of Alachua commission chambers, residents viewed plans for the improvement to the interchange, made comments and posed questions to the attending FDOT staffers, who also gave a presentation describing the project’s estimated cost and timetable.

The FDOT has committed $11.9 million to the right-of -way, design and construction of the project’s first phase, which will add a second southbound access ramp to the interstate, limiting the need for opposing  traffic streams on 441 to cross paths before connecting to I-75.

Gina Busscher, the public information director for FDOT, said the $11.9 million of state and federal money has been committed based on a FDOT study, which estimated the cost of the project.  Busscher said the actual cost of the project will not be known until the FDOT opens bidding to contractors in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.

Much of the traffic congestion surrounding the I-75 interchange in Alachua is due to interstate accesses and exits being constrained only to the north side of U.S. Highway 441.  But improvements proposed by FDOT would overcome some of those limitations.

“The department is interested in these improvements because they would reduce traffic congestion and accidents caused by motorists entering and exiting the interstate in that area,” Busscher said in a previous interview.

The “ideal interchange” as determined by the FDOT would add access ramps which enable opposing traffic streams on 441 to remain completely separated before connecting to I-75.  These additions would cost a projected $16.5 million more, bringing the estimated cost of the “ultimate build-out” to $28.4 million.

Busscher said the remaining $16.5 million has not yet been committed by the FDOT, but might be in the future depending on what funds are available to the department.

Bill Henderson, district planning and environmental manager for the FDOT, said after construction begins on the project in 2014, Alachua residents can expect to be able to use the new interchange ramp within 18-24 months.

A part of the proposal also includes the construction of a park and ride facility in the same vicinity as the proposed access ramp.

If opened in 2016, the new ramp would be estimated to serve some 4,800 vehicles per day according to an FDOT analysis.  A 2009 study of the interchange showed that each day, roughly 24,000 vehicles traveled along U.S. 441 in the vicinity of the interchange.  Meanwhile, 55,000 vehicles were logged on I-75 just south of the interchange.

Henderson said the FDOT has looked into adding a new interchange to I-75 at Peggy Road/County Road 2054, and that the project has an estimated cost of $31.1 million.

Busscher said the Peggy Road interchange is a plan reserved for several years in the future.

“That project is not yet funded and isn’t even thought about right now,” Busscher said.

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Alachua I-75interchange construction to begin in 2014

 

By DANIEL ELSESSER

Today Reporter

 

ALACHUA – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held a public workshop on Thursday, May 31 for the planned improvements to the Interstate 75 interchange at U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

At the workshop, held in the City of Alachua commission chambers, residents viewed plans for the improvement to the interchange, made comments and posed questions to the attending FDOT staffers, who also gave a presentation describing the project’s estimated cost and timetable.

The FDOT has committed $11.9 million to the right-of -way, design and construction of the project’s first phase, which will add a second southbound access ramp to the interstate, limiting the need for opposing  traffic streams on 441 to cross paths before connecting to I-75.

Gina Busscher, the public information director for FDOT, said the $11.9 million of state and federal money has been committed based on a FDOT study, which estimated the cost of the project.  Busscher said the actual cost of the project will not be known until the FDOT opens bidding to contractors in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.

Much of the traffic congestion surrounding the I-75 interchange in Alachua is due to interstate accesses and exits being constrained only to the north side of U.S. Highway 441.  But improvements proposed by FDOT would overcome some of those limitations.

“The department is interested in these improvements because they would reduce traffic congestion and accidents caused by motorists entering and exiting the interstate in that area,” Busscher said in a previous interview.

The “ideal interchange” as determined by the FDOT would add access ramps which enable opposing traffic streams on 441 to remain completely separated before connecting to I-75.  These additions would cost a projected $16.5 million more, bringing the estimated cost of the “ultimate build-out” to $28.4 million.

Busscher said the remaining $16.5 million has not yet been committed by the FDOT, but might be in the future depending on what funds are available to the department.

Bill Henderson, district planning and environmental manager for the FDOT, said after construction begins on the project in 2014, Alachua residents can expect to be able to use the new interchange ramp within 18-24 months.

A part of the proposal also includes the construction of a park and ride facility in the same vicinity as the proposed access ramp.

If opened in 2016, the new ramp would be estimated to serve some 4,800 vehicles per day according to an FDOT analysis.  A 2009 study of the interchange showed that each day, roughly 24,000 vehicles traveled along U.S. 441 in the vicinity of the interchange.  Meanwhile, 55,000 vehicles were logged on I-75 just south of the interchange.

Henderson said the FDOT has looked into adding a new interchange to I-75 at Peggy Road/County Road 2054, and that the project has an estimated cost of $31.1 million.

Busscher said the Peggy Road interchange is a plan reserved for several years in the future.

“That project is not yet funded and isn’t even thought about right now,” Busscher said.

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There's an app for that

Parents can track student progress

AC_Beyond2012E

GAINESVILLE – Parents who use Androids can now access their child’s grades, test scores, attendance and other school-related information through a new app offered free of charge.

The app ties into the already existing Parent Portal system, which has been expanding throughout Alachua County schools for the last two years. Currently all local middle and high schools and all but one elementary school are on Parent Portal. The final school should be on the system by the end of this year, and the plan is to have Meadowbrook Elementary School up and running soon after the school opens.

An app for users of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices has been available since September.

About 5,700 Alachua County parents have signed up for the Parent Portal system. Nearly twice as many students have logged on to view their own data.

With the app, Android and iPhone users no longer have to log on Parent Portal through a browser on their laptops or desktops. The new app gives them quicker access from more places and it also allows those with more than one child in school to switch easily from one child’s page to another.

Another advantage of the app is that it allows parents to set their phones to receive alerts—when a new test grade comes in, for example, or if a student is absent.

Parents who have already logged onto Parent Portal can load the app for free by clicking on the Available on the Amazon App Store for Android icon on the Portal page.

Parents who have not yet signed up for the Parent Portal can do so by visiting their child’s school. They’ll need to fill out a simple authorization form, verify their identity and will then be provided with a secure access code. Parents do not need to have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to access the Parent Portal, just a computer with internet access.

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A dunk for a good cause

W_-_Hitchcocks_Military  Local Attorney Darryl Tompkins (right) winds up to throw a ball in hopes of sinking Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper (left) in a dunk tank during a Memorial Day celebration at Hitchcock’s Market on Saturday, May 26.  The humiliation was all for a good cause as proceeds from the event benefited the Military Support Group of Alachua County.  The celebration also featured an ice slide for youngsters to cool off in the Florida heat, a jump castle, hot dog wagon and fresh cooked ribs. Add a comment Add a comment

Recycled Latex Paint Giveaway Event

AC_Beyond2012E  ALACHUA COUNTY - The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department is holding the 18th Annual Recycled Latex Paint Giveaway on Saturday, May 5, 2012, beginning at 8 a.m., at the Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station (5125 NE 63rd Avenue, 2 miles north of 39th Avenue, off Waldo Road).

The recycled paint will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis and will be available in 5 gallon pails with six colors to choose from: off white, beige, gray, terra cotta, green and blue. There is a 10 gallon limit per resident.

The event will distribute 3,600 gallons of recycled latex paint to community organizations, civic groups and people with special needs, free of charge. The paint can be used for homes and businesses that cannot afford the cost of new paint. It is suitable for either interior or exterior usage. The latex paint is collected throughout the year by the Hazardous Waste Program and shipped to a paint manufacturer where it is blended and repackaged into a 75% post consumer paint.

"A total of over 62,000 gallons of recycled paint has been provided to Alachua County residents since the inception of the program in 1994" said Kurt Seaburg, Hazardous Waste Coordinator for the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. "The program began as a means of assisting homeowners and agencies beautify their property while recycling a product that still has value. The program has been highly successful and quite popular with County residents."

For any resident that is not able to attend the event, non-recycled free paint of varying quality and quantity which is dropped off by residents who no longer need it is available at the Alachua County Hazardous Waste Collection Center's Recycle/Reuse Area. Residents can pick up some of this paint and other household products during normal business hours: Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon.

For more information about the Recycled Latex Paint Giveaway, contact the Alachua County Hazardous Waste Collection Center at 352-334-0440.

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