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Last updateWed, 17 Dec 2014 11pm

Chain Dirt Dogs see action at Nations Park

W_-_Nations_Ball_Park_Trent_Simmons_1_copy NEWBERRY – Action was happening this weekend at Nations Park in Newberry. The heat did not stop the games and teams from far and near played all day. Trent Simmons from Newberry and Trey Drummond from Chiefland played on south Georgia’s "Chain Dirt Dogs."  Simmons said he enjoyed meeting the other kids and working together to form a good team. Playoffs are schedule for this week, so if you want to watch them play head out to the ball field south of Newberry.

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Biomass plant an opportunity for local timber company

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The Columbia Timber Company is one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  The timber company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests and other related activities.  Shown here are deck hands working at the logging ramp.

GAINESVILLE – When the Georgia-Pacific plywood mill in Hawthorne closed last November, about 400 jobs were eliminated and a void was left in the local timber industry.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center may provide a chance for local companies to make up for this loss.

Columbia Timber Company, which has been in operation since 1989, has recently been selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  Columbia Timber Company was one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the plant.

Though the new 100-megawatt biomass plant scheduled to go online in 2013 has received criticism for the financial ramifications on local resdients, the financial impact for the local timber industry may fill gaps left by the recession.

Columbia Timber Company owner Jib Davidson said the plant will also affect land owners with timbered land. Davidson said he has been politically neutral in the debate surrounding the plant but sees the economic benefits of the deal.

Although a group of Gainesville residents calling themselves Gainesville Citizens CARE has recently filed a lawsuit against Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, Davidson said he is not too worried.

According to the Florida Forest Service, the state’s forests and the forest product industries have an annual economic impact of $16.5 billion. Columbia Timber Company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests, and many other related activities.

Columbia Timber Company plays a vital role in the economic chain that brings consumers products. Nail polish, football helmets, bandages and eyeglass frames are some of the products from Florida’s forests.

Davidson and his business partner, Norman McRae, are degreed foresters from the University of Florida.  Davidson also has a Bachelor’s of Science in business with a major in finance and minor in real estate. Eventually, the company expanded to doing environmental services under the name Columbia Environmental Services. It was a natural expansion, as the owners already had the necessary skills to delineate wetlands and working with newly founded environmental regulations, Davidson said.

The Hawthorne plywood plant closing was not the only hit that the company has taken over the years.

In 2006 business started to dry up as the effects of an economic downturn were felt almost overnight. In a four-week period in August, five major projects pulled out.

Davidson remembers wondering, “What’s the deal?”

That’s when the company moved into another facet to their business. This time, the company began to work in real estate as Florida Timberlands.

Who better to find timberland than foresters, Davidson said.

Now, the company has joined with United Country Real Estate and operates under United Country Land and Lifestyle Properties.

The real estate business has gotten the company through when times were tough economically, and he said that now is the time to buy land.

“I haven’t seen prices like these in 20 years,” Davidson said.

With several local saw mills closing and a recession, the deal with the biomass plant gives the company a chance to make up for economic hits throughout the years.

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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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Local executive recognized for volunteer contributions

W_-_Colson_copy ALACHUA – Kathy Colson, Senior Vice President of Finance of SunState Federal Credit Union is the recipient of the 2012 ABLe Award.

Each year, the Alachua Business League bestows the ABLe award on a deserving member of the organization. To receive the award, a member must show great activity in the community, show extraordinary belief in others, must lead with style, and must exemplify the Alachua Business League values.  This year, the organization feels Colson, of SunState Federal Credit Union, is most deserving of the recognition.

Growing up outside Alachua, Colson, was born and raised a true GRIT (Girl Raised In The South).  When speaking with her, you think of the soft-spoken, yet strong, confident women for which the South is famous.   Yes, she loves to cook and values Southern hospitality, but don’t make the mistake of thinking she’s meek or passive.

Colson, while serving as CFO of SunState Federal Credit Union, still manages to actively participate in numerous community activities, demonstrates her belief in others through genuine inclusion, leads with a style of strength and gracious professionalism.  SunState Federal Credit Union is involved with many events in the communities they serve. They also help promote events for many nonprofit organizations in the area. Colson leads the enthusiastic ABL with professional guidance and respect for all members.

The Alachua Business League, Inc. began in 2003 with a mission to bring residents, visitors, families, and friends to discover the charm of “beautiful downtown Alachua,” to coin a Rick Robertson phrase.  Annually, since 2003, the ABL presents two festivals, the Alachua Spring Festival and the Alachua Harvest Festival, both of which play host to thousands of visitors.  The festivals showcase the friendly, shaded and rustic ambiance of Main Street Alachua, as well as the goods and services of local entrepreneurs.

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Alachua I-75interchange construction to begin in 2014

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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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