Last updateWed, 21 Sep 2016 10pm


Competitive Florida picks Newberry

NEWBERRY – The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced that the City of Newberry has been chosen as one of four communities participating in the pilot program for the Competitive Florida Partnership, a new rural community development initiative.

The City of Newberry, the City of Port St. Joe, the City of White Springs and Desoto County were the first four rural communities chosen to participate in the program.

The Competitive Florida Partnership focuses on improving local economic development activities, particularly in the rural areas of Florida. The DEO will assist Newberry in creating a strategic economic development plan that is tailored to the community’s unique character and vision.

One facet of the program will be to create a community asset inventory that will be available to local businesses wishing to expand, as well as potential businesses interested in moving to Newberry.

Governor Rick Scott praised the program.

“The Competitive Florida Partnership provides our rural communities with the tools they need to work together and encourage economic development throughout the state,” he said. “Port St. Joe, the City of Newberry, the City of White Springs and Desoto County should be congratulated for being the first communities to participate in this program, and for their commitment to creating jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

The Competitive Florida Program will help Newberry to market the community’s local assets and to set realistic goals for advancing the city’s economic development vision. The program will help Newberry develop an economic development strategy that promotes partnerships, community design and a vibrant local economy.

Asset-based economic development is a bottom-up approach that focuses on developing and promoting existing local resources, such as the available workforce, buildings and land, public infrastructure, transportation networks, education, political advocacy and civic organizations to strengthen the local economy.

This approach focuses on leveraging a rural community’s assets and economic advantages into sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

The DEO will work with Newberry to identify and market these assets and facilitate promotional opportunities to bring economic development to their community.  

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Alachua secures $25,000 tourism grant

ALACHUA - The City of Alachua is the recipient of a $25,000 grant from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council.

The grant will be used to make renovations to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, including the installation of new press boxes near the softball fields.

A total of $100,000 in grants was up for grabs, which is evenly split among the top four applicants based on the ability to draw in tourism.

“We have a clear track record of bringing in out-of-town folks and promoting sports tourism,” said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager, explaining why Alachua got the grant. “Alachua has a very strong reputation in making good on what we say we're going to do. It's undeniable what we bring in.”

The City of Alachua pledged $10,000 in matching funds to help with the project, Boukari said.

The current press boxes are at least 20 years old, he said. By enhancing them, it will help the city to retain the Babe Ruth Softball World Series and other large events. The Babe Ruth Softball World Series brings in thousands of visitors per year to the county.

“Any time you can use funds to enhance community facilities, it's a win,” he said. The press box is in desperate need of an upgrade, he said.

Some of the money will also be used for new signs around the complex to help direct visitors around.

Seven entities applied, the cities of Gainesville, Alachua and Newberry, as well as the Hippodrome State Theatre, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce, the Alachua Historic Trust and Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. The City of Newberry withdrew its application before the grants were awarded.

The top four were the City of Alachua, the City of Gainesville, the Hippodrome State Theatre and Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

Alachua almost didn't make the cut. The first time it submitted the application, it received a score of 52.92 out of 74, placing it outside the top four. It resubmitted and later got a 59.92, second to only Kanapaha.

The criteria of the scores included whether the city would match the funds, how well the application process describes the project, whether the project is sustainable in the long-term and eight other factors.

The money for the grant came from an increase on the Alachua County bed tax in 2010, which raised the tax on renting hotel and motel rooms from three cents on the dollar to five cents on the dollar.  

Alachua was awarded the grant because it has proven itself capable of holding large events, such as the Babe Ruth Softball World Series, said John Pricher, of the Tourist Development Council. The key questions are whether there would be a return on investment for tourism in the county and how the money will help encourage tourism, he said.

“Alachua is doing an excellent job in answering both those questions,” Pricher said.

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High Springs Fire Department renovated

W - HS FD IMG 0225HIGH SPRINGS – Looking at the building for the fire department in High Springs, it might be hard to believe the department has been around for a century.  

For 100 years now, High Springs has been able to lay claim to their own fire department housed by their own station. The building has only been around for about 46 years of the department’s long history, but a recent facelift makes it look even younger.

The remodel included a 1,867 square-foot addition increased and improved storage, added a server room, hosts enhanced laundry services and has a lobby for the public’s convenience, said Bruce Gillingham, chief, High Springs Fire Department.

The department unveiled the new addition and renovations in a ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, open to anyone to attend. The construction project was funded by a donation from Clora Belle Watson Simpson in memory of her husband, Harry H. Simpson Jr., a former member of the department.

The original structure was built in 1967 and due to state and local regulations it did not meet the requirements to house the department. One of the notable improvements that were necessary was changing the storage facility for the equipment.

“Prior to the remodel, firefighting equipment was kept in the bay with the trucks,” Gillingham said. “This was not only using a majority of the space, it is unsafe for the crew to have their equipment stored where it can be exposed to the truck exhaust like that.”

Gillingham referenced a study that linked the uniforms being housed in the exposed manner and a higher possibility for testicular cancer among the firefighters. Now, not only will that risk bereduced, but also the station will be able to preserve their gear better as well, he said.

Another new feature of the improved station is the creation of a lobby as guests enter the building. When they first walk in, there will be a proper waiting area that welcomes people, with access to the chief’s office as well as a way to signal for assistance, Gillingham said.

“When I walked through the doors, it hit me, this was much needed,” said Linda Clark Gestrin, city commissioner. “This is why you have a government, to provide safety, and we are now able to better serve the people of High Springs.”

It has been a very busy time over the last two years and this moves us leaps and bounds closer to where we want to be, Gillingham said. The living facilities have also been vastly improved to accommodate staff.

The renovation would not have been possible without the funding from Mrs. Simpson, Gillingham said. The station placed a plaque above the entry on the outside of the building to honor the donation.

Even though the building saw its original construction in 1967, the department’s formation dates back to 1913, with the station being moved since then. Having and supporting a fire department is something not every city can claim.

Commissioner Gestrin reflected on the significance of the new building.

“The intention of this makeover is to keep the fire department self sufficient,” Gestrin said. “We wanted to be able to enter the 21st Century with our fire station the way it needed to be.”

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Agricultural law enforcement officers rescue girl after Amber Alert, arrest mother

TALLAHASSEE – Agricultural Law Enforcement Officers with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services rescued 7-year-old Crystal Riemer last night and arrested her mother, Christine Riemer, on a felony warrant from Lee County for interference with custody after an Amber Alert was issued yesterday.

“I am proud of our agricultural law enforcement officers who stay vigilant to protect Floridians every single day,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Last night, they rescued a young girl from a dangerous situation and she is now safely back where she belongs.”

An officer on duty at the agriculture interdiction station on Interstate 75 observed a Budget rental truck failed to stop and submit for inspection around 11 p.m. yesterday. The vehicle matched a description for a possible Amber Alert out of Fort Myers. The Amber Alert was classified as a special needs child who required medication.

Agricultural law enforcement officers attempted to stop the driver at the 448 mile marker, but the driver refused to stop. After a short pursuit, these officers along with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office safely stopped the vehicle at the 462 mile marker near the Georgia border.

Christine Riemer was arrested at 11:22 p.m. and charged with felony interference with custody, along with failure to stop and submit for inspection, driving while license is suspended or revoked, and resisting an officer without violence. She was booked into the Hamilton County Jail.

Crystal Riemer was located in the cab of the truck and safely taken into protective custody. She was taken to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office where representatives with the Florida Department of Children and Families took custody of the child.

The Fort Myers Police Department is investigating Crystal’s abduction, which occurred during a court-ordered supervised visit at a local foster care agency.

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Tighter water regulations just around the bend

HIGH SPRINGS – A study conducted by the Suwannee River Water Management (SRWMD) will likely lead to tighter regulations on water use and consumptive use permits according.

Speaking at the July 11, 2013 High Springs City commission meeting, SRWMD Assistant Executive Director Jon Dinges discussed a project his agency has been working on to establish minimum flows and water levels of the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers. This project is referred to as The Lower Santa Fe River and Ichetucknee River and Priority Springs Minimum Flows and Levels (MFLs).

Florida Statutes direct the state’s water management districts to establish a baseline of the minimum amount of water required to keep rivers healthy for fish, the passage of fish through the river and recreation, as well as to continue to provide water to communities.

Dinges identified the study area as the lower Ichetucknee, Worthington Springs to Leon State Park and down to the Suwannee River. “The area is chock full of springs that need to be protected as well as the rivers,” he said.

Dinges mentioned several ways in which the SRWMD obtains comments from the public and anyone interested in knowing more about the study, how it was conducted and what it is designed to do.

The SRWMD held a science exposition at their district headquarters July 2, 2013, answering questions about the work and their methodology and requested input from attendees. A stakeholder advisory committee meeting of the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership was scheduled for July 15 at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. A July 17 meeting at the University of Florida Water Institute for peer reviews had also been scheduled.

“The degree of public involvement is very high,” said Dinges. “We continue to seek input from the public through our web site and will continue peer review and public input through mid October.”

Dinges encouraged anyone interested in providing feedback to use their online comment form or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Although they will not be responding to public comments individually, the water management district will complete responses to public comments at the same time responses to the peer review are completed.

Once the minimums are established, Dinges said Senate Bill 244 gives the water management districts the ability to hand off the data to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for adoption. It will establish the distribution of water use across north Florida, he explained.

Once approved by DEP, it will be considered as a flow level standard. “It is expected to provide a mechanism to help the water management districts work together on each water body,” said Dinges. With the effects of rainfall and water withdrawals, actual flow has dipped below minimum water levels in the past.

Dinges expects that consumptive use permitting will be an important component of water regulations. “Instead of issuing 20-year duration permits, they may be issued for a shorter time period,” said Dinges.

Applicants may be required to provide more stringent water recovery projects as a condition of being issued a permit. Applicants may also have to start participating in water management projects financially. They may have to design and implement their own mitigation projects and have them in place before a permit is issued. “We have to very carefully look at allocations of water and could require an estimate of water use from anyone wishing to drill a well that is 8 inches or larger,” he said.

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