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ALACHUA Feb. 26, 2024 - On Tuesday, February 27th, at approximately 10:00 AM, CSX will conduct road maintenance on the railroad crossing at CR 235 and CR 235A (NW 173rd Street). This maintenance will have CR 235A (NW 173rd Street) inaccessible from CR 235 until the morning hours on Wednesday, February 28th. Please plan accordingly.

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GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA, Feb. 26, 2024 at 5:45:21โ€ฏPM EST – The last of 12 federal defendants was sentenced for drug-trafficking and firearm charges related to a joint federal and state investigation into the 4K criminal street gang in the city of Alachua, Florida. The sentences were announced by Jason R. Coody, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

“Our law enforcement partners’ concerted investigation and prosecution of violent crime – here acts of murder and retaliatory gun violence by rival gang members – is central to our mission to protect the public,” said U.S. Attorney Coody. “The sentences imposed in this investigation, some spanning multiple decades, illustrate our shared resolve to keep our communities safe and the significant consequences associated with gun violence by gang-affiliated drug traffickers.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Safe Streets Task Force began an investigation of the 4K gang following a number of gang-related shootings in the city of Alachua in 2018.

The FBI worked with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Alachua Police Department to investigate the initial shooting and numerous other shootings thereafter. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) aided through investigation of 4K’s drug-trafficking activity.

Between Feb. 22, 2020, and May 20, 2020, the United States Attorney’s Office, FBI, and DEA obtained six court-authorized Title III wiretaps on cellphones used by members of the drug-trafficking conspiracy. On May 20, 2020, federal search warrants were executed, and four individuals were federally arrested, with others being indicted in June and August 2020.

The federally sentenced defendants, which included 4K gang members and associates, as well as people selling drugs to the 4K gang, were:

Roddrae Antonio Williams, 32, Alachua, Florida, 480 months in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release.

Elboric Quadarius Robinson, 32, Alachua, Florida, 336 months in prison, followed by 8 years of supervised release.

Decoda Kadarrell King, 36, Williston, Florida, 168 months in prison, followed by 8 years of supervised release.

Eric Jermaine Williams, 42, Gainesville, Florida, 104 months in prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release

Daniel Heath Willis, 30, Alachua, Florida, 96 months in prison, followed by 8 years of supervised release.

Morris Cordell Robinson, Jr., 58, Alachua, Florida, 78 months in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release.

Gregory Lavough Williams, Jr., 44, Yorba Linda, California, 48 months in prison, followed by 4 years of supervised release.

Rakeidra Alexandria Neal, 33, Gainesville, Florida, 14.5 months in prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release.

Rayme Herhandez, 47, Morriston, Florida, 12 months and 1 day in prison, followed by 8 years of supervised release.

Tomeka Necole Bryant, 44, Gainesville, Florida, 12 months and 1 day in prison, followed by 2 years of supervised release.

Edward Lashawn Garrison, Jr., 27, Fort White, Florida, 10 months in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

Lorenza Durr, 33, Alachua, Florida, 8 months in prison in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

“The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office recognizes the grave threats posed by drug trafficking and firearm violations,” said Sheriff Emory Gainey. “We understand that multi-agency cooperation is not merely a strategy but an essential approach to addressing these challenges.  Together, we stand united in our mission to protect our neighborhoods and uphold the rule of law.”

“The sentencing of Roddrae Williams brings to a close a years-long joint investigation involving multiple law enforcement and investigative partners.” 

“The cooperation between these agencies resulted in the successful prosecution of these 12 individuals who terrorized our local communities,” said Alachua Police Chief Jesse J. Sandusky.  “We are thankful for the assistance we received from our partners and hope that this can help bring closure to the victim's families."

Charges by the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office were brought against the following:

Hakiem Brockman, 25, West Palm Beach, Florida, pled nolo contendere to second degree murder with discharge of a firearm causing death, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and four counts of attempted murder in the first degree with discharge of a firearm. Brockman was sentenced to 35 years in prison, 25 of which will be served day-for-day.

McKenzley Edwards, 30, Alachua, Florida, pled nolo contendere to six counts of attempted second degree murder with discharge of a firearm and actual possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, tampering with a witness, victim, or informant, and one count of conspiracy to commit first degree murder (premeditated) and attempted murder. Edwards was sentenced to 25 years in prison, 20 of which will be served day-for-day.

Kenzel Edwards, 28, Alachua, Florida, pled nolo contendere to three counts of attempted second degree murder with a firearm and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, 10 of which will be served day-for-day.

Jeffery Robinson, Jr., 29, Alachua, Florida, pled nolo contendere to accessory after the fact to the murder and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Roddrae Williams pled guilty to conspiracy to commit first degree murder (premediated) and is pending sentencing

“Each of these violent felony offenders posed a significant risk to the safety of our community.  Thanks to the professional, expert work of this task force and our prosecutors, this community will be protected from further violence by these offenders,” said Brian Kramer, State Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit.

“These sentencings demonstrate the FBI's relentless determination to eradicate drug-fueled gang violence that is plaguing communities,” said FBI Jacksonville Acting Special Agent in Charge Mark Dargis. “Disrupting organizations like this one is a critical part of the FBI mission, and we will use every legal means available to hold accountable those who threaten our neighborhoods. The rule of law is not optional, and we want to make clear to other gangs operating in our communities: the FBI and our local, state, and federal partners are coming for you, and the violence won't be tolerated.”

“DEA’s top priority is protecting the safety and health of our Florida communities.  Drug trafficking and associated violence puts our communities in danger,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Deanne L. Reuter. “The DEA Miami Field Division remains committed to working with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to reduce violent crime, remove dangerous drugs from our streets, and hold those responsible for distributing this poison in our communities accountable for their actions.”

These convictions were the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Alachua Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, University of Florida Police Department, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ocala Police Department.

The federal cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James A. McCain, and the state cases were prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Daniel Owen.

This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.

On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

As part of its PSN strategy, the United States Attorney’s Office is encouraging everyone to lock their car doors, particularly at night. Burglaries from unlocked automobiles are a significant source of guns for criminals in the Northern District of Florida. Please do your part and protect yourself by locking your car doors.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s Republican-led Legislature passed a sweeping bill Thursday in Tallahassee that would ban all kids under 16 from using social media – even with a parent’s permission – and would require everyone else in the Sunshine State to prove they are adults to continue using their online accounts.

Within hours of the Senate’s vote, Gov. Ron DeSantis resurfaced his own objections over banning high school students who are 14 or 15 and whose parents might want to give their children access. “Parents need to have a role in this,” he said at a news conference. He added, “We can’t say 100% of the uses are bad.”

“It’s still under negotiation,” DeSantis said. “We’re working.”

The Senate voted 23-14 to pass the bill, a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner and one of the most consequential and far-reaching pieces of legislation considered this year by lawmakers. The House voted later in the day 108-7 to pass the Senate’s version of the measure and send it to DeSantis for signature.

“We know that there are pedophiles and sexual predators on these platforms and children can be groomed in less than 45 minutes,” said Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, who championed the measure in the Senate. “The sale of human beings is happening with our most vulnerable children in these platforms.”

Grall said Thursday that she hasn’t discussed concerns with the governor or his representatives.

“I haven’t communicated with the governor’s office on the bill, at all,” Grall said.

Under the bill – and an amendment by Grall that passed late Wednesday – adults in Florida would be required to submit proof-of-age documents or evidence to third-party, U.S.-based companies to prove to social media companies they are old enough to use their accounts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X, Snapchat, Reddit and others. 

The bill would require that these companies immediately delete copies of any age-verification information at the end of the process and assure the anonymity of anyone who submitted it. It did not specify what documents or evidence would be acceptable to prove age, but legislative researchers said options include government-issued records such as drivers’ licenses, credit or banking records or even biometric tools that use facial recognition to estimate a person’s age.

It would go into effect July 1. 

The Senate vote was largely along party lines, except that five Republicans voted against the bill and two Democrats supported it. Debate on the Senate floor was rancorous. In the House, the only lawmakers who opposed it were Reps. LaVon Bracy Davis of Orlando, Daryl Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, Anna Eskamani of Orlando, Ashley Viola Gantt of Miami, Angela Nixon of Jacksonville and Felicia Simone Robinson of Miami Gardens – all Democrats.

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said the bill – if enacted – would almost certainly be blocked by legal challenges. Critics said it interferes with the First Amendment rights of social media users. A similar law in Arkansas was blocked after a judge ruled that it placed too high a

burden on adults and children attempting to access protected content.

“We are walking ourselves into a judicial defeat, and I’d like to know who’s paying for that,” Polsky said. “We’re cutting our budget; we’re cutting our programs. We’re going to spend another million dollars on defending a case that we all know is unconstitutional.”

NetChoice LLC, a trade organization for major social media platforms, said the age-verification requirement for adults in Florida raised serious privacy concerns. 

“The terrifying component of this bill is a requirement that private businesses send and export sensitive personal information of users to another company,” said Carl Szabo, the group’s top lawyer. “That’s really scary that my most sensitive personal information would be required by Florida law to be sent to a third party to verify I am who I say I am.”

The bill identifies social media services as having “addictive features,” which Grall compared to drug addiction. The bill wouldn’t apply to email providers, streaming services, photo-editing applications, news sites or other popular digital services.

“This has been equated to digital fentanyl,” Grall said. “This is a different version of drug use than most of us have ever seen, but it is just as bad and it affects their brain development and it affects their ability to participate in society.”

Polsky unsuccessfully offered an amendment late Wednesday that would exempt teens under 16 in Florida who could show a reasonable need to use social media, such as young entrepreneurs, dance or recording artists or prospective athletes who showcase their talent to college coaches online. 

On the Senate floor, Polsky read from a news story published earlier Wednesday by Fresh Take Florida, a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, that included interviews with teens who ran businesses or advocacy groups before they turned 16.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, said parents, not the government, should control what their children can do online. 

“If you need 40 people hanging out in Tallahassee for 60 days to be able to teach your kids, or restrict them from something, you need to seek help,” Pizzo said. 

Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who voted against the bill said it could prevent children from watching popular cartoons on YouTube Kids. 

Szabo, the lawyer for NetChoice, said his group or others would seek a preliminary injunction in court to block the bill from taking effect if signed by the governor. 

“We can do that on First Amendment grounds because when it comes to free speech, the chilling of free speech, the limiting of free speech, even the threat of losing the opportunity of free speech is a harm unto itself,” Szabo said.

Grall said she believed Florida’s new law would hold up to court challenges because it targeted social media platforms with addictive features, not specific online companies. Such features include “autoplay,” when a website plays videos automatically in succession, or “infinite scroll,” when a website serves up content endlessly.

“This language is very different from some of the other states,” she said. “Some of the other states have specific exclusions for specific platforms. Those make it look like we’re targeting one platform over another versus focusing on the addictive harms that our children are facing.”

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GAINESVILLE, Fla., Feb. 21, 2024 – Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, celebrating its latest expansion project: a four-level, 418-space parking garage and intermodal transportation center.

County and City leaders, agency officials, hospitality partners and well-wishers gathered at the construction site of the facility and heard from airport and community leaders about the Gainesville Garage Groundbreaking A2benefits the project will bring.

“This project has been years in the planning and promises to be another important milestone in our continuing efforts to provide high quality air services and passenger facilities to our region,” said Allan Penksa, GNV’s Chief Executive Officer.

Gainesville Alachua County Airport Authority (GACRAA) Board Member Todd Chase remarked, “This four-level facility provides approximately 420 new parking spaces and will help meet our parking needs for years to come. The intermodal center portion of this project, with major funding by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Program, will result in less curb congestion during busy flight times, improving safety.”

The intermodal center will provide a convenient place for waiting city bus riders and those meeting Uber, Lyft and taxicabs, reducing loading and unloading directly in front of the terminal. The facility will also include convenient restrooms and covered seating for travelers awaiting pick-up.

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward commented on how far the airport has come since he was a child and consisted of several portable buildings, “so every time we add something else to this, I feel real good about it.”

Gainesville Alachua County Airport Authority (GACRAA) Board Members break ground on the airport’s 418-space parking garage Feb. 20, 2024The approximately $13 million dollar facility will be funded by three entities. The $1.8 million-dollar intermodal transportation center portion of the project, which includes staging areas for ground vehicles, covered walkways, a bus canopy and restrooms, will be funded 90% by a federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) grant administered through the FAA. The balance of the project costs are to be funded equally by GACRAA and grants from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

Mr. Chase commented that GNV is in the midst of approximately $52 million dollars in improvements currently in development with more to come, thanks to the support of state and federal partners and airline passengers through collection of passenger facility charges (PFCs). Recent projects include $21 million of investment in existing airfield taxiways and aircraft parking aprons, expansion and renovation of airline ticket offices and the first phase of a new baggage handling system, which will soon break ground.

The project construction team will be led by Scherer Construction, as design-builder. Team members include Michael Baker International (design and engineering); Coreslab Structures (precast parking structure); VoltAir Inc. (mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering); Cal-Tech Testing, Inc. (geotechnical engineering); JBPro (surveying and permitting support) and Blue Leaf Landscape Architects.

The anticipated timeframe for the project will be 10 to 12 months.

For a rendering of the parking garage and intermodal transportation center, please visit: Gainesville Garage – A2

About Gainesville Regional Airport:

Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) serves North Central Florida and the Heart of Florida through all facets of aviation: commercial airlines, general aviation, military operations, medical missions and air cargo. Located in Gainesville, Florida, just minutes away from the University of Florida, GNV provides a close, convenient and competitively priced “gateway” to the Heart of Florida. The airport currently operates 12 daily departures on American Airlines, Delta and Silver Airways with nonstop service to the international hubs of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, providing access to hundreds of destinations around the world in one stop. GNV is served by a full-service fixed base operator, University Air Center (UAC). With more than 400 part- and full-time employees and tenants at the airport, GNV has an annual economic impact on North Central Florida of $556 million. In 2023, 547,457 commercial passengers flew in and out of GNV. For more information, please visit flygainesville.com

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This information is public record and the booking report is provided by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Department of the Jail.  The charges listed are at the time of arrest and and all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. For more details on a specific inmate use the Sheriff’s Office inmate search (for inmates currently at the jail). More specific information on charges is available by searching court records.  Jail booking logs are removed from the Alachua County Today website after 30 days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Below are the updated City of Gainesville traffic impacts scheduled for Feb. 23-March 1, 2024. 

New Notices 

SW 10th Street: Southwest 10th Street between Southwest First Avenue and West University Avenue will have flaggers for northbound and southbound lanes. This will occur Monday, Feb. 26-Tuesday, Feb. 27 during daytime hours.

SW Third Ave.: Southwest Third Avenue between Southwest Sixth Street and Southwest Fifth Street will have flaggers for eastbound and westbound lanes. This will occur during daytime hours until March 1. 

Continuing Notices 

SE Fifth Ave.: Southeast Fifth Avenue will be closed with detours between Southeast Third Street and Southeast Sixth Terrace until Feb. 23.

NW 12th Drive: Northwest 12th Drive from Northwest Fifth Avenue to Northwest Third Avenue is currently closed northbound, but is open as a one-way street heading southbound. This is expected to end March 1.

SW 52nd Street: The eastbound right turn-lane onto Southwest 52nd Street from Southwest 20th Avenue is closed until March 25.

Southeast First Ave.: Southeast First Avenue (eastbound only) will be closed between South Main Street and Southeast First Street until April 1.

Clark Butler Blvd. area: The new traffic signals at Clark Butler, Southwest 62nd Boulevard, Southwest 43rd Street are turned on (in flashing mode). The traffic is guided through the intersection with traffic control devices.

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WILDWOOD, FLA.-Yesterday, a Trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) conducted a traffic stop intercepting a suspect and safely recovering a child following an AMBER Alert issued earlier in the day by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for an abducted 7-year-old child from Rivera Beach.

The Trooper, who had recently received a Be-On-The-Lookout (BOLO) identifying a location in his area for the suspect vehicle, a 2019 BMW 440I with Georgia Tag TBZ4664, positioned himself in a manner that would allow him to see if the vehicle crossed his path.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Trooper observed a vehicle matching the description of the suspect vehicle exiting State Road 91 onto Northbound Interstate I-75. With the help of a Sumter County Sheriff's K-9 Unit, the Trooper conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle. After confirming the suspect's identity, the child was unharmed, recovered, and returned to his mother.

The suspect, Jean R. Simeus, 44, of Macon, Georgia, was arrested on an out-of-county warrant for kidnapping and was transported to the Sumter County Jail without bond, where he was booked without incident.

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WASHINGTON DC - The US Food and Drug Administration has reported a recall issued by Trader Joe’s on Feb. 7, 2024. 

Trader Joe’s of Monrovia, CA is recalling certain products containing cotija cheese, as the cheese used to make these products has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriage and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The cotija cheese that was used to produce the products below was manufactured by Rizo-López Foods, Inc. On 2/5/2024, Rio- López Foods initiated a recall of dairy items, including cotija cheese, under multiple brand names. As a result, Trader Joe’s is recalling all codes of the products listed below that were manufactured with cotija cheese.

The recalled products were sold in Trader Joe’s stores nationwide.

Recalled products include all lots of the following products:

  • Trader Joe’s Chicken Enchiladas Verde (SKU 58292)
  • Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad Dressing (SKU 36420)
  • Trader Joe’s Elote Chopped Salad Kit (SKU 74768)
  • Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad (SKU 56077)

No illnesses have been reported related to these products, to date.

If you purchased any of these products, please discard them or return them to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

Customers with questions may contact Trader Joe's Customer Relations at (626) 599-3817 [Monday through Friday, 6:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time].

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced the preservation of three family farms in the Florida Wildlife Corridor through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The K-Rocker Ranch, a 707-acre ranch in Polk County, the Los Niños Farm, a 998-acre timber and cattle operation in Putnam County, and the Kuder Ranch, a 525-acre cattle ranch in Polk County, are being preserved through rural land protection easements for $3,200,000, $1,798,000, and $3,900,000, respectively.

“With the preservation of these three ranches and their over 2,200 acres of productive agricultural land, in addition to the more than 36,000 acres we've permanently preserved in the last year, we are working to protect Florida’s valuable agricultural lands as efficiently and effectively as possible – and before it’s too late,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program is a win-win-win for the state as it not only protects productive agricultural land and our food security, but it does so in a fiscally responsible way by keeping the property on the local tax rolls and requiring property owners to maintain the land and its natural resources according to best management practices.”

The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program purchases the development rights to the agricultural properties through voluntary rural land easements, which prevent the future development of the land and allow agriculture operations to continue to contribute to Florida’s economy and the production of food, timber, and other resources vital to the prosperity of Florida.

K-Rocker Ranch II – Polk County
The 707-acre K-Rocker Ranch has been in business near Lake Wales since 1952 and the third generation of the Keen family now grows Bahia sod as its primary operation. The upland portion of the ranch comprises about 87% of the project, and the remaining wetland areas contain a mosaic of oak and cabbage hammocks along with intermittent wetland sloughs, scrub, and native hardwoods along Catfish Creek. This project fills a gap in the protection of the Lake Wales ecosystem, where it is surrounded by Lake Rosalie and Kissimmee River State Park, the Alan Broussard Catfish Creek State Preserve, the Bombing Range Ridge, and the United States Air Force Bombing Range.

Los Niños Farm – Putnam County
Lying just a half mile off the St. Johns River, Los Niños Farm consists of 998 acres of managed pine timberlands and was one of the first Florida properties to receive a designation under the American Tree Farm System. A small Angus cow-calf operation is also managed on the property, and the Smith family has farmed in Putnam County for nearly a century. Situated across the river from the historic farming town of Hastings, Los Niños Farm continues the rural agricultural traditions of the area and protects important wetlands bordering the river floodplain with intact basin swamps, baygall, and hydric hammocks.

Kuder Ranch – Polk County
The 525-acre Kuder Ranch is a cross-bred cattle operation located just southwest of the Green Swamp within the Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem. The improved pastures are interspersed with ponds, remnants of pine flatwoods, and wetlands that are a mix of baygall, basin swamp, and basin marsh with large cypress trees. In addition to the cattle operations, the Bryant family hosts hunts for wounded veterans on the property, as well as wildlife viewing trips. Wildlife on the project includes turkey, roseate spoonbill, sandhill cranes, alligators, bald eagle, swallowtail kites, osprey, bobcat, and fox. Rare and endangered species also occur on the property including indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, HB 1279 was signed to support the department’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program by no longer requiring the department to submit a purchase agreement to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund for approval for projects with a purchase price of less than $5 million. In early January, Commissioner Simpson announced the first acquisition of a permanent rural land protection easement through the department’s sole authority.

Commissioner Simpson recently highlighted the historic interest in the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the results of the 2023 application cycle. Landowners from over 180 properties – representing over 200,000 acres – submitted new applications to be considered for funding. In December, the Governor and Cabinet also formally approved the program’s project acquisition list, which ranks over 250 eligible properties for acquisition, estimated at over $1 billion in value.

Commissioner Simpson has been involved in Florida’s land conservation policy issues long before becoming Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture. As Senate President, Commissioner Simpson championed the successful passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which directed the state of Florida to better protect and connect Florida’s natural areas and wildlife habitats and to preserve working agricultural lands from future development. As Senate President, Commissioner Simpson also secured $300 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

For more information about Commissioner Simpson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FDACS.gov.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday to decide whether a proposed state constitutional amendment aimed at protecting abortion rights will be on the ballot this year.

The amendment asks Florida voters to “limit government interference with abortion” before a fetus is considered viable, which is at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. It reads in part, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” 

The measure provides for an exception requiring that parents be notified before their minor children can get an abortion, which is already in the state constitution. 

Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is seeking to block a vote on the amendment, has contended the wording of the amendment and its description of fetal viability would be “too ambiguous.”

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Nathan Forrester argued in court that the use of certain words, such as “prohibit,” would be misleading. 

The court also heard challenges during the hour-long hearing over whether the amendment meets Florida's requirement that a constitutional amendment deal with only one main issue. 

Forrester argued that the mention of “prohibit, delay, or restrict” signals multiple issues being raised by the amendment.

Courtney Brewer, the attorney for Floridians Protecting Freedom, which supports abortion rights, said Florida’s top court has ruled previously in favor of amendments that include multiple categories, as long as they are “two sides of the same coin.”

“It is clear that this amendment has a single purpose, which is to limit government interference with abortion,” Brewer said at a press conference afterward.

Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz questioned whether the amendment was a “wolf dressed in sheep’s clothes” and later added that it was a “wolf that comes as a wolf.” He also questioned whether it assumed that the Florida constitution’s definition of “natural rights” and “personhood” does not include the rights of the unborn.

Forrester said the amendment could confuse Florida voters. Muñiz disagreed..

“The people of Florida aren’t stupid, they can figure this out,” Muñiz said. “It’s pretty obvious that this is a pretty aggressive, comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue.”

Floridians Protecting Freedom collected more than 900,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

The justices are expected to rule on the proposed amendment by April 1. If it is placed on the ballot, it would require the support of at least 60 percent of voters to pass. 

Five of the top court’s justices were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed into law a six-week abortion ban in 2023. The law has not gone into effect, as the previous 15-week ban is currently being challenged by a group of the same organizations forming Floridians Protecting Freedom.

A couple hundred protestors on both sides of the issue gathered outside the court in Tallahassee.

One side held signs that read “Stop political interference” and “Let us vote,” and chants of “My body, my choice.” Others carried signs that said, “enshrining abortion in the Florida Constitution is wrong.” They also prayed. 

Mathew Staver, who represented the groups Florida Voters Against Extremism and Liberty Counsel, which both oppose the amendment, said it was so broadly written that no law restricting abortion could be enacted.

“That includes parental consent, health and safety regulations with regards to clinics, how abortions can be done safely and where they can be done, or the kind of qualifications that are necessary for a doctor to have an abortion practice,” Staver said.

Lauren Brenzel, the campaign director for the abortion rights group, said, “We worked incredibly hard to develop language that is constitutional.” She added, “Quite frankly, we have people that no matter their stance on abortion, they don’t want politicians interfering in their lives.”

Florida is one of a number of states in which voters may have a direct say this year on abortion measures.

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BOWLING GREEN, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis awarded nearly $223 million to expand broadband internet access to Floridians, including small and rural communities. This funding includes $135 million in state funding through the Broadband Opportunity Program and $86 million in federal funds through the Multipurpose Community Facilities Program. Awards through the Broadband Opportunity Program will support 54 projects in 33 Florida counties for broadband internet expansion that will provide internet to over 27,000 unserved residential, educational, agricultural, business and community locations. Awards through the Multipurpose Facility Program will support 29 community infrastructure projects including health clinics, schools and workforce development programs providing internet to Floridians across 18 counties. To learn more, click here
 
This funding comes as the Federal Communications Commission recently enacted new rules relating to private companies’ broadband expansion efforts, aimed at preventing “digital discrimination of access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin.” Through rules like this, the Biden administration is directly disincentivizing private companies from providing services like broadband internet to rural communities because they don’t meet certain diversity quotas. Florida will not enforce these discriminatory strings attached to federal funding that drive investment away from small and rural communities that are already underserved. 
 
"Connecting Florida’s small and rural communities to broadband internet will help them find jobs, access education resources and expand their businesses,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. "We will continue to make investments in broadband internet that support long-term growth for our communities, without federally imposed strings attached."
 
“Under Governor DeSantis' leadership, Florida's economy has grown at a persistent pace. Today's strategic awards help maintain Florida’s forward momentum," said FloridaCommerce Secretary J. Alex Kelly. "By connecting Floridians with centrally located community hubs, residents have increased access to find their next professional opportunity, upskill for future jobs and access telemedicine resources through a steady broadband internet connection."
 
“Thank you, Governor DeSantis, for your leadership and for investing in our community,” said Representative Kaylee Tuck. “The need for reliable broadband access has never been more prevalent, and the strain on rural communities like Hardee County has never been felt more than it is today. This investment will be incredible for our area.” 
 
Today’s awards build on Governor DeSantis’ earlier announcement of more than $226 million awarded for projects across 53 Florida counties, connecting more than 250,000 homes and businesses through the Broadband Opportunity Program. Additionally, Governor DeSantis awarded more than $247 million through the Broadband Infrastructure Program, connecting more than 59,000 unserved and underserved businesses, homes, farms and anchor institutions like hospitals and libraries to high-speed internet.
 
The federally funded Multipurpose Community Facilities Program supports the construction and rehabilitation of community facilities that provide important resources to Floridians to support workforce development, educational opportunities and access to healthcare in small and rural communities. Projects include community centers, health clinics, schools and workforce development programs serving Floridians across 18 counties.
 
Administered by FloridaCommerce, the Broadband Opportunity Program funds the installation and deployment of broadband internet infrastructure in unserved Florida communities, providing valuable access to telehealth, economic, educational and workforce development opportunities to offer a brighter future for all Floridians.
 
For a list of projects awarded through the Multipurpose Community Facilities Projects Program, CLICK HERE.
   
For a list of projects awarded through the Broadband Opportunity Program, CLICK HERE.
 
For more information on Florida’s broadband initiatives, visit the Office of Broadband's webpage.

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SELINSGROVE, PA (Jan. 15, 2024) –– BrightFarms has issued a voluntary recall of spinach grown by its supplier Element Farms in their Pompton Plains, New Jersey farm and distributed under the BrightFarms brand because the spinach has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Due to potential cross-contamination, BrightFarms is also issuing a voluntary recall of a limited quantity of four salad kit products (shown below) from its Selinsgrove, PA facility.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriage and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were distributed to retailers in seven states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The products come in 4-oz, clear, plastic containers. Information about the “best by” date, UPC, and facility code can be found at the bottom of the package. Pictures to assist customers in identifying the recalled products are found at the end of this announcement.

ProductOunceUPC
Codes
Facility
Code
Best-By Date
BrightFarms Baby Spinach 3.5oz 8-57062-00492-3 PEN8 1/11/2024,
1/13/2024,
1/18/2024,
1/20/2024
BrightFarms Mediterranean
Crunch Kit
6.35oz 8-50051-82501-1 PEN4 1/15/2024,
1/20/2024
BrightFarms Chickpea Caesar
Crunch Kit
6.50oz 8-57062-00415-2 PEN4 1/15/2024,
1/20/2024
BrightFarms Bacon Ranch
Crunch Kit
6.70oz 8-57062-00416-9 PEN4 1/15/2024
BrightFarms Southwest
Chipotle
5.85oz 8-50051-82500-4 PEN4 1/15/2024

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recall of spinach was initiated after routine sampling conducted by Element Farms yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes. Due to potential cross-contamination at BrightFarms’s Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania facility, BrightFarms is also recalling a limited quantity of four select salad kit products. No positive test results or reported illness have been received on those products, to date.

As a result of today’s recall, the company has temporarily suspended distribution of Element Farms grown spinach.

Retailers have been instructed to remove all recalled products from store shelves. Consumers who have purchased the affected products should not consume the products and discard them or present a photo of the product or receipt to their place of purchase for a full refund and then discard.

Consumers with questions are encouraged to call 1-866-857-8745 between 8:00am-6:00pm EDT or email info@brightfarms.com with the subject line: Recall.

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The Editorial Board of Alachua County Today has rarely taken to endorsing candidates in local political races; however, there are times when it becomes necessary. Such is the case in the City of High Springs commission races scheduled for Nov. 7, 2023. Up for consideration are four candidates in two races. In Seat 1, electors in High Springs will have the opportunity to select between the incumbent, Ross Ambrose, and Andrew Miller. In Seat 2, voters will consider incumbent, Gloria James, and Steven Tapanes.

For many years, the City of High Springs experienced considerable political tumult, so much so that it created harsh divisions within the community. Over the last few election cycles, voters have managed to regain control of their commission, placing on the dais community-minded, non-partisan commissioners who have been focused on moving High Springs forward, into a more fiscally sound and responsible direction.

Tax increases are rarely, if ever, welcomed by the taxpayers, but tax increases are sometimes necessary. The City of High Springs, like every other small town, is feeling the financial pinch of inflation. We all feel the financial pinch of inflation. Without an increase in taxes this year, the City of High Springs would be setting itself up for financial straits in the years to come. Simply put, the City has to pay someone to fix water pipes, respond to emergencies, put out fires, and maintain the City’s infrastructure. That is to say nothing of the business of running the City. There is no doubt that there are some, including former commissioners, who want to sow divisions, but these efforts are not productive for the citizens.

Some candidates, and one commissioner, who is not up for election this cycle, have criticized the incumbent commissioners for approval of the FY 2023-24 budget, which did include an increase in the millage rate. It’s easy for one commissioner to sit by and criticize, without solution, a budget which she knows will pass while she avoids the political hit by voting against it.

To be sure, there is always work to be done on tightening the belt on government, reducing waste, and finding new and innovative ways to deliver governance and the services the citizens have come to appreciate and expect. The City of High Springs does not exist in a vacuum however, and for that reason, there are simply some economic conditions the City cannot avoid.

It is because of the work done by commissioners like Ross Ambrose and Gloria James that the City has reached a state of stability, a posture that is allowing the City to get its legs underneath it. After years of political disarray and infighting, the City is finally beginning to make headway on projects that hold great promise for the City of High Springs and its residents.

This is not the time to pull the rug out from underneath the commission and management. Instead, voters should reelect Gloria James and Ross Ambrose while encouraging them to seek common ground on budget issues, attempt to increase efficiency, and hold themselves and management accountable.

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I am writing in support of Ross Ambrose for High Springs City Commission. First let me say that I have nothing negative to say about his opponent, and I’m grateful that we have wonderful people willing to serve our great little town. That said, I have plenty of positive reasons to support Ross in this election.

I have known Ross for at 15 years as a neighbor and friend in town. Ross showed his commitment to this town for years by serving on city boards before he ever ran for office. He has always taken anything he does seriously and professionally and that goes for the City Commission as well.

Ross makes it his business to understand every issue and the effects of city, county and state law on the issue, and how everything works together. When he makes a decision one way or the other on anything, I expect that he has researched it thoroughly. I feel like I don’t have to understand everything little thing that comes before the city, because he literally does that hard job for us. He has run a successful business for 10 years and he understands fiscal responsibility as well as investment and looking at the big picture to prepare us for the future. 

Perhaps the biggest reason I support Mr. Ambrose is that he is truthful, even when the truth is not what I want to hear. My example is that I emailed him about the proposed Bridlewood subdivision, coming out strongly against it. Like many in High Springs, I love our small town, and the surrounding open spaces. I don’t want the town to be swamped with traffic and see the beauty around us turn into South Florida-style crowding and sprawl. I want to protect the springs at all costs. I would be very happy to see zero new large-scale subdivisions here.

Ross took the time to email me back and carefully explain how the property that was Tillman Acres/proposed Bridlewood was zoned for crazy-dense zoning many years ago, and that the City can’t undo that and could be subject to a lawsuit if we tried. He was hoping to get the most palatable deal out of a bad situation.

He also told me about several other subdivisions: one along U.S.441, one adjacent to Bailey Estates, where the City had refused to allow an up-zoning to higher density for all the same reasons I state above.

I believe Mr. Ambrose wants to preserve the unique character of High Springs, but is also realistic in knowing you have to play the hand you were dealt.

I went to a candidate forum and one of the other candidates said High Springs needs better infrastructure before any new development is allowed. That sounds great but isn’t always possible, for reasons like the one above and the need to find funding for said infrastructure. I know that Ross Ambrose leaves no stone unturned in looking for funding sources aside from local tax revenue. The effort he puts into this job is Herculean.

Frankly I think we are extremely lucky to have such a dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working commissioner. 

Stacey Breheny

High Springs, Florida

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An election will be held in High Springs on Nov. 7. There are two seats up for election. Since this is an odd-numbered year, the turnout will be poor. Every registered voter in the city needs to read up on the candidates; do the research to see what each is for, and vote.

Things have been running smoothly in the city for some time. Voting for someone merely because they are new is not a good idea.

Ross Ambrose and Gloria James do their homework, are knowledgeable and make decisions for all of High Springs. They are not driven by politics but by what they think is best for the city. For the good of the city, let’s keep them doing what they’ve done so well. Just remember that you need to vote.

Thomas R. Weller

High Springs, Florida

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This letter is to express my support for Steve Tapanes and Andrew Miller for City of High Springs Commissioner.

I have watched several of the commissioner’s meetings on line and have noticed on several occasions that although the audience is jammed with people who are concerned about certain issues, that their concerns seldom make a difference in the decisions made because the decisions appear to have been made prior to the meetings.

I would like to see new blood on the board of commissioners as I feel the incumbents get in a rut and although they claim to have the best interests of the citizens in mind some of them don’t seem to be listening. The newer members seem to be the ones listening.

Steve and Andrew both have businesses in High Springs and I feel their freshness would more closely represent the majority of citizens’ current views.

It’s time for a change, time for the younger generation to have a say in what happens for High Springs’ future. Vote Steve Tapanes and Andrew Miller.

Leah Currier

High Springs, Florida

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The High Springs Chamber of Commerce would like to send a special thank you to all our volunteers and local businesses who gave their time, talents, and treasures to bring our community together for the annual Fall Festival.

Please support these businesses and tell them thank you the next time you see them. Decades on Main & Renee;

Oliver & Dahlman; Thompson Flower Shop; The Birds Nest; High Springs Church of God; LifeSpring Church; Plantation Oaks Assisted Living & Memory Care; Dawn Cross, Photography; McDonald's in Alachua; Ronald McDonald House; Hardee's in High Springs; Hillary Cowart the Magic Man; Line Dancing Debbie; Bryan's Ace Hardware in High Springs; Winn-Dixie in High Springs; Fort White Garden & Produce; Jennifer Lee & Caleb Henderson, The Perfect Home; Troop 69, Boy Scouts; Willard's Restaurant & Lounge; BlueStar Grill; Nancy's Bake Shop; Chantels' Cakery; Station Bakery & Café; Tom & Sue Weller, Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe; High Springs Police Department; Aunt Lydia Springs, Cake; Louanne Rigano, Cake; Vella Miller, Ballon; Don Decker, Trains; Museum for being open during the Fall Festival hours

There are so many who came together to make this year's Fall Festival one our community will cherish for years to come.

I love our quaint little town with all its southern charm.

Sharon Decker

High Springs Chamber of Commerce

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This letter is in support of Ross Ambrose and Gloria James’ re-election for High Springs City Commission.

Over the many years that we’ve known both Ross and Gloria, we’ve witnessed firsthand their dedication to the City of High Springs. They’ve served not only as commissioners but have been active in many service organizations. They are strong leaders in our community, and we need for them to continue to serve as City Commissioners.

We encourage you to vote for Gloria James and Ross Ambrose on Nov. 7.

Scott and Lynn Jamison

High Springs, Fla.

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