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BY JENNIFER CABRERA/Alachua  Chronicle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In an order issued today, Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey granted the defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment against the City of Gainesville’s claims that HB 1645, the bill creating the GRU Authority, is unconstitutional.

Read the order here.

The City filed the lawsuit in July against Governor Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Secretary of State Cord Byrd, arguing that the Governor does not have the authority to control a municipal utility, the bill assigns legislative powers to an appointed body, the bill impairs the City’s ability to enter into contracts, the bill required a referendum, and municipal functions may not be transferred to an appointed board.

The City filed a motion for summary judgment on August 18, and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment on September 15. The defendants argued that they are not proper parties to the lawsuit, the City lacks standing, and all claims made by the City are barred by sovereign immunity. The Attorney General and Secretary of State also argued that the City failed to state a legally sufficient claim.


The judge ruled for the defendants on every point.

Each defendant is an improper party

Judge Dempsey wrote that the City did “not allege, much less demonstrate” that the defendants are charged with enforcing the statute; the state official charged with enforcing the statute is the proper defendant in any lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law. Judge Dempsey wrote that the GRU Authority enforces the statute in this case, not the Governor, Attorney General, or Secretary of State.

The City made the claim that the Governor is a proper party because he appoints the members of the Authority and that his appointment power makes him the “manager or supervisor” of the Authority; Judge Dempsey wrote, “Neither is true.”

The City lacks standing

Judge Dempsey wrote, “To challenge the constitutionality of a statute in Florida’s courts, a plaintiff must show that his constitutional rights have been infringed by the challenged statute.” When determining a plaintiff’s standing, courts consider three elements: the plaintiff must have an “injury in fact,” must establish a causal connection between the injury and the plaintiff’s conduct, and must show a substantial likelihood that the requested relief will remedy the injury. On top of that, as a municipality, the plaintiff must show that its claims are not barred by the Public Official Standing Doctrine.

Judge Dempsey ruled that there can be no injury at this point because the Authority has not yet been seated, so “nothing can or will change unless and until the Authority, once established, makes a change.”

Public Official Standing Doctrine

Judge Dempsey wrote that all the City’s constitutional claims are barred by the Public Official Standing Doctrine, which provides that public officials may not challenge the constitutionality of statutes affecting their official duties.

Sovereign Immunity

In Florida, Judge Dempsey wrote, “sovereign immunity is the rule rather than the exception… Indeed, Plaintiff has not refuted this argument.”

City failed to state a claim as to each count

The City’s complaint contains eight counts. The first is that the law is “unconstitutionally vague,” but Judge Dempsey wrote that the City’s arguments were invalid; for example, the City argued that the term “municipal unit” is undefined, but “the term is not used in the law.” In addition, precedents hold that any conflict between the law and a special charter provision is settled in favor of the special charter provision.

The second count is that the statute affects the contract for the sale of the City’s Trunked Radio System and its bond resolutions. Judge Dempsey wrote that “no such contract exists” for the Trunked Radio System and that the statute complies with provisions in the existing bond resolutions.

The third count is that a referendum was required to change the City’s charter, but Judge Dempsey wrote that the law requires a municipality seeking to amend its charter to engage in the referendum process but not the legislature.

The fourth count is that the statute violated the notice provisions in Florida’s constitution and statutes. Judge Dempsey cited evidence showing that City officials, including the Mayor, were well aware of the basic provisions of the law in March 2023 and thus had adequate time to gather information about the bill or “persuade the legislature to change its substance.”

The fifth count is that the Governor does not have the authority to appoint members of a municipal board, but Judge Dempsey wrote, “the Constitution is a limitation of power, not a grant on power” and “Plaintiff has not cited any constitutional provision that expressly or impliedly states that the Governor cannot appoint the members of the Authority.” Citing previous court cases, Judge Dempsey added, “It is clear that the Legislature has the authority to create this type of independent governing body.”

The sixth count is that the statute improperly creates a municipal legislative body that is not elected, but Judge Dempsey wrote that the Authority is not a legislative body.

In the two remaining counts, which argued that provisions in the law conflict with other statutes, Judge Dempsey wrote, “To the extent that any conflicts exist, the provisions of [HB 1645] are controlling.”

City Commission has already approved $500k for lawsuit

The City Commission recently allocated an additional $250,000 to the lawsuit, on top of an initial $250,000, in response to bills from the Akerman firm. The firm has been billing the City between $70,000 and $98,000 per month, with $219,135 billed so far and another $150,000+ anticipated by the end of this month.

Clemons: “This court order is a strong message… to put aside any differences”

Representative Chuck Clemons, who sponsored the bill, sent Alachua Chronicle the following statement: “This is a great day for the ratepayers and employees of GRU! It is my sincere hope that this clear and concise order issued by Judge Dempsey once and for all lays to rest the campaign of false narratives launched by detractors of this critical legislation. Throughout, it has been my unwavering commitment to return GRU back to its founding principles of providing the best and most affordable power to its customers. It was the pleas of those very customers who were the catalyst for this change in governance, and this court order is a strong message for all stakeholders to put aside any differences and work towards building a strong utility.”   

Eastman: “Now we’re left with a vague and poorly drafted bill”

City Commissioner Bryan Eastman sent the following statement: “Unfortunately, the court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of this clearly unconstitutional takeover by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the courts simply punted on the substance of the case. Now we’re left with a vague and poorly drafted bill, creating a clearly unconstitutional board, being ran by appointees who reside illegally outside of our city, and without any clarity on whether this is legal or not.”

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PUTNAM COUNTY ‒ Mathew Daniel Temael, 23, an inmate in the Putnam County Jail, has been charged with the first-degree murder of Louis Stackhouse, 69, of Hawthorne. Temael has no known address.

On March 5, emergency crews responded to a mobile home fire at 115 Cottonwood Drive, Hawthorne. A body was found in the master bathroom of the home and was later identified as Stackhouse. The death was later ruled a homicide.

At the time of the fire, neighbors told deputies a 2008 Silver Saturn Sky was missing from the home. On March 10, the car was found in Tampa. Police attempted to perform a traffic stop, the driver refused to pull over, and officers used stop sticks to affect the stop.

Temael and a woman exited the car and began to run. Both were caught and arrested on the charge of grand theft and were transferred to the Putnam County Jail. The woman, Tatiana Munioz, was released on bond.

The fire at Stackhouse’s home was determined to be arson. Putnam County Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach held a press conference on Sept. 11 to announce the arrest in the case.

The sheriff says the victim sustained several stab wounds and the fire was an attempt by Temael to cover up the murder.

While the sheriff did not detail how Stackhouse, a sex offender, and Temael knew each other, he did clarify that Temael was not one of Stackhouse’s victims.

DeLoach indicated that Temael was always a person of interest, even prior to Tampa Police stopping the car. He also said that they are still looking at Munioz to determine if she was also involved in the murder.

“While I do not condone Mr. Stackhouse’s prior crimes, I cannot allow murderers to roam free,” said Deloach. “Mr. Stackhouse’s family and friends deserve closure and justice, and I am proud of my detectives for this incredible effort and to give his family some peace of mind.”

Temael is being held on no bond at the Putnam County Jail on charges of homicide and arson and $250,000 each on vehicle theft and burglary.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A Conditional Use Permit allowing a prospective vape shop failed to pass the High Springs Plan Board Monday evening after officials and residents expressed concerns about the business’s proximity to the High Springs Civic Center Park.

Vape Dimensions, Inc., is to be located in the former Alice’s Parkside Restaurant location at 19358 N.W. U.S. Highway 441. The 0.52 +/- acre property is located directly across the street from the park at the High Springs Civic Center.

Store owner Daniel Deal was present to answer questions and discuss the purpose of his shop, which he said was to help people stop smoking. Deal said he is a 40-year resident of Alachua County and that the vape shop is a family-owned business. Deal opened a store in Alachua in 2016, one in Lake City in 2018 and a third in Gainesville in 2019.

Deal said store hours are proposed to be 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday-Saturdays. He said they card everyone who enters the shop and anyone under 21 years of age would not be admitted. Deal also said he would be selling CBD items and a small amount of glass pipes as well.

A lengthy discussion focused on the detrimental vaping items sold in convenience stores and what Deal said the differences are between those (imported from China) and what he sells.

Jackie Davis, a former nurse and Deal’s mother, addressed the Board, saying that carbon monoxide is present in many of the other vaping items available for sale, but not in their products. She also talked about the results she has seen with people that have used their products to reduce or eliminate their tobacco habit.

During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, Jennifer Lee, who said she was a former teacher, said she knows of kids who started smoking because they started vaping. She talked about three cases she knows of where there has been permanent lung damage to kids who were vaping.

Deal said that those kids were likely using vaping items purchased at convenience stores rather than the products he would sell.

Lee then referred to comments she said were made online by Pastor [Adam] Joy expressing more than 200 people who were against vaping shops.

Joe Nelson expressed concern that the shop would be selling glass pipes and said he didn’t think it was okay for kids across the street at the playground to be exposed to a vape shop.

The city attorney referred to state regulations saying that alcohol could not be sold within 500 feet of a school, but that there were no limitations related to playgrounds.

Bobbi Nelson said that she moved to High Springs because of the small-town atmosphere. She said she didn’t think vaping was good for anyone, let alone 14–15-year-old kids.

The portion of the City regulations on Conditional Use Permits that seemed to be problematic for Board members was Item #8 that deals with the permit not adversely affecting the health, safety or welfare of the community. The city attorney explained that it was up to the Board to decide if the application met those criteria or not.

Although the city attorney explained that the Board could approve the application with whatever restrictions it wanted, such as signage or a limitation on selling medical marijuana, Board members denied approval of the application outright.

Although the Plan Board voted against giving its approval to the Conditional Use Permit, the application will be heard by the City Commission at the Monday, Sept. 25 meeting.

In other Board business, a second application for a Conditional Use Permit for a Tobacco/Vape Shop (AASHI, Inc.) was heard. The proposed store is located in Gator Plaza, 18467 N.W. U.S. Highway 441, across from Bev’s Better Burgers. The property owner was in attendance to present this item as the business owner and proposed tenant was unable to attend the meeting.

The property owner said there is a daycare center in the shopping center, which has children ages five and under. As the store owner was not on hand to answer Board questions, a motion was made to table the application to allow the proposed tenant to be present to answer questions. The matter was tabled to the Oct. 16 Plan Board meeting and will not be heard by the City Commission until it has been heard and acted on by the Plan Board.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has tentatively set its Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget at $17.5 million. The City Commission on Sept. 14 also tentatively set ad valorem taxes at 6.9900 mills, which results in an increase to residents of $100 annually per $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. The current millage rate is 5.9900 mills. The final millage rate will be set at the City Commission meeting scheduled for Sept. 25. At that time, the Commission can reduce the proposed millage rate.

Speaking to the City’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget, City Manager Ashley Stathatos said that departments made cuts in all areas. “Any further cuts would result in a decrease in level of services to city residents.”

One resident suggested the City should forcibly annex areas served by the City that are not providing taxable income to the City such as enclave properties and Camp Kulaqua. Currently, the City of High Springs does not forcibly annex properties. However, the Commission said that it was something to consider for the future, but wasn’t currently allowed.

Another resident pointed out that the City has budgeted $1.2 million for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system that isn’t in place. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham explained that the [water] meters are in and will be deployed beginning the following week. He also said that Town Hall meetings would be announced soon to help educate citizens on the new system.

In a 4-1 vote, the Commission approved the 6.9900 millage rate with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

An ordinance adopting the 2023-2024 fiscal year $17.5 million budget was also approved in a 4-1 vote with Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

The budget’s General Fund expenditures for Fiscal Year 2023-24 are $7,218,646. Departments taking the higher percentage of the General Fund are Police at $2.8 million, followed by Public Works (streets, facilities and cemetery) at $900,144; IT at $404,622; Parks and Recreation at $395,864; and the City Manager’s office at $382,079.

The top Special Revenue Funds are Fire at $2.5 million; Wild Spaces Public Places at $954,461; Transportation at $518,258; CRA at $447,540; and Building at $412,750. One-third of the Fire expenses come out of the General Revenue Fund. The balance is made up by the Fire Assessment and fees charged to Alachua County when the High Springs Fire Department responds to calls outside the City limits.

The Enterprise Funds include water, sewer and solid waste. These operating expenses are $1.5 million for water, $2 million for sewer and $1.8 million for solid waste.

Residents also expressed concerns about the City’s use of vehicle leases and internet services. One citizen commented that interest rates charged on leased vehicles was not cost effective and that the City should wait until they could afford to buy vehicles outright before purchasing new ones through a leasing program.

Gillingham responded that the City does not purchase vehicles through a regular leasing company, but instead through a government purchase at a rate comparable to buying the vehicles. He also explained that the vehicles could be purchased at the end of the leasing period if the City decides to do that; so the City would then own the vehicles outright and could sell them.

Gillingham said that vehicles purchased were to replace those that were costing the City money in repairs every year due to their age and the amount of use they routinely receive, especially police and fire vehicles.

In response to a comment about the “high end” types of vehicles the City has, Gillingham said that automobile dealers were unable to fulfill the City’s original orders for lower-end vehicles. Instead, the dealers provided higher-end similar vehicles at the lower-end price in order to satisfy the City’s original order.

Stathatos said that the City has changed the contract with its IT service provider for a monthly set amount. High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan provides some IT services, but he said that security issues limit the issues he is able to help resolve.

Some Commissioners said they would like to address the amount paid to the City’s IT provider in a future workshop.

In other City business, Turnsole Builders LLC requested and unanimously received a zoning change from R1 to C3 on two tax parcels totaling 2.39 +/- acres, for an expansion to the applicant’s storage facility. This item was heard on second and final reading. Staff recommended approval since the parcels next to the property are C3, and the property is along a commercial corridor.

Commissioners unanimously approved a professional services agreement between the City and Megrath Consulting, Inc. for general planning and grant services. Allison Megrath was the City’s consultant during the Comprehensive Plan rewrite when she worked with Kimley Horn.

The Commission commended City employees for their work to get water back on line when a construction crew hit a water line the previous week. Public Works Director Thomas Henry said the City has billed the company for the cost to repair the break and that businesses are working directly with the company to obtain reimbursement for their business losses during the downtime.

Commissioner Byran Williams recommended that citizens not rely on social media and word of mouth on information relating to City government, but rather to come directly to the City to get their information.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose reported that a software glitch in a computer system was responsible for traffic accidents in High Springs not showing up on the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) website. FDOT was under the impression that High Springs had no traffic issues or accidents, thereby negating any requests for traffic lights or other traffic-related issues. Ambrose said that the oversight is now being corrected.

The next City Commission meeting will take place on Monday, Sept. 25, at 6:30 p.m. to set the final millage rate and budget.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission talked budget, finances and water rates at the Sept. 6, City Commission meeting, tentatively increasing electric and water rates. All proposed budgets and rates were tentatively approved with a final vote set for Sept. 25.

The Commission approved a tentative millage rate at 5.9000 mills for the City for Fiscal Year 2023-24. The current 2022-23 fiscal year millage rate is 5.9244 mills. Millage is a tax rate assessed for each $1,000 of value; one mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.

The Commission also approved a proposed budget for the City for Fiscal Year 2023-24 with revenue and other financing sources of $43,167,065. City officials say that increased financing sources include an increase in grant funding, implementation of impact fees by the Newberry City Commission and an infrastructure sales surtax.

“The proposed operating budget expenditures are 22.84 percent more than last year’s total,” said Assistant City Manager and Chief Finance Officer Dallas Lee, which he said relates to new grants and the infrastructure sales surtax passed by voters.

These amounts were determined following five public hearings on the proposed property tax and operating millage rate.

Although these rates were approved tentatively, a final vote will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25, at the next scheduled City Commission meeting.

Electric and Water Rates Increased

The Commission unanimously approved increasing residential electric rates by approximately three percent. City officials estimate that the average residential impact will be an increase of $3.42 per month. There were also slight changes to solar interconnections. “Even after these proposed rate changes, the City will offer competitive rates when compared to other utilities,” said Lee.

Also unanimously approved on first reading was Ordinance 2023-27, which approves a seven percent increase in the water charges.

Regarding wastewater, Ordinance 2023-28 was approved on first reading which increases residential customer charges from $9.18 to $10.10 per month. Non-residential customer charges increased from $13.84 to $15.22 per month.

Wastewater usage charges for residential service for Tier 1 (all consumption) increased from $5.98 to $6.58 per thousand gallons (capped at 15,000 gallons). Wastewater usage charges for non-residential (commercial and industrial services) for Tier 1 (all consumption) increased from $7.21 to $7.93 per thousand gallons.

City officials say that additional requirements placed on the City of Newberry by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are a primary driver of the rate increases in the wastewater system.

Water Storage Project Funding

The Commission also unanimously approved Resolution 2023-51 concerning a loan application for additional water storage capacity that is estimated to be needed within the next five years.

Last year the City of Newberry was awarded funds from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) to complete a Water Facilities Plan. Of the three alternatives evaluated for providing additional water storage capacity, construction of a new 500,000-gallon elevated water storage tank was the most cost-effective.

The resolution authorizes the City to submit a loan application for project design funds for $566,178. The project will also include construction of a 12-inch water main.

In June 2023, the City was awarded $1 million in a State of Florida Legislative Appropriation, which will be used to pay off the remainder of the planning loan through SRF at $179,300 as well as the engineering design and project management/administration during design fee at $566,178.

The remaining $254,522 from the Legislative Appropriation will be applied toward the estimated $5 million construction phase of the project. City officials say they plan to apply to other funding sources to help defray the construction costs. A waste compensation study was also included on the agenda, but was tabled to the Sept. 25 meeting.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua County Area Association of Pharmacy along with the American Pharmacists Association and the Florida Pharmacy Association were recognized Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, by the City of Alachua Commission by proclaiming October 2023 as American Pharmacists Month. The proclamation read as follows:

Whereas    pharmacists are the most accessible health care providers delivering critical services to patients and contributing to the health and well-being of all people; and

Whereas    pharmacists are best positioned to be the health care provider that ensures optimal medication therapy outcomes, and helps to ensure patients are adherent to their medications; and serve as providers during public health emergencies; and

Whereas    with a community pharmacy located within five miles of nearly all Americans, pharmacists and pharmacy personnel are best suited to work collaboratively with other health care providers and are making an impact in helping patients overcome illness and live healthier lives through chronic disease management and the fully effective use of their medicines; and

Whereas    today, there are over 300,000 licensed pharmacists, over 400,000 pharmacy technicians, and 47,000 student pharmacists providing care and serving as patient advocates for ensuring access to the best and safest therapy to the patients they serve; and

Whereas    the American Pharmacists Association, Florida Pharmacy Association and the Alachua County Area Association of Pharmacy have declared October as American Pharmacists Month.

Now, therefore, be it resolved that I, Gib Coerper, Mayor of the City of Alachua, representing the City and City Commission, do hereby proclaim October 2023 as American Pharmacists Month and urge all our citizens to acknowledge the valuable services of pharmacists to provide safe, accessible, affordable, and beneficial patient care services and products to all residents and protect the public health of our communities.

In witness whereof , I have hereunto set my hand the 11th day of September 2023.

Gib Coerper, Mayor

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~17,145 fatal doses of Fentanyl recovered~

ORLANDO, Fla.- Last week, Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) troopers from the Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU), in collaboration with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI), arrested four individuals in Orange County, FL, following an investigation that resulted in the seizure of Heroin (10.28 grams), Cocaine (6.4 grams) and 34.29 grams of Fentanyl-equivalent to 17,145 fatal doses.

On September 14, 2023, while on patrol in the early hours, FHP CIU observed a grey Kia driving in a residential area without headlights, failing to yield to a stop sign at an intersection. After conducting a traffic stop, troopers discovered the driver, Michael Ramos, 27, of Orlando, had a suspended license, and the passenger, Reina Mary Mora, 28, of Orlando, inadvertently exposed contraband within her purse when providing her ID to troopers.

Following a K-9 deployment, troopers were alerted to the further presence of narcotics within the vehicle, which, upon recovery, was discovered to be a white powdery substance that tested positive for Fentanyl.

Before transporting Ramos and Mora to the Orange County Detention Center, troopers received information leading them to a known Fentanyl dealer in Orlando. After arranging to meet the individual to order additional narcotics to sell, Ramos and FHP CIU members drove north of the original traffic stop to meet with the dealer.

Upon arrival, FHP identified Jose Luis Colon Melendez, 37, of Orlando, and Josue Joel Gomez, 40, of Longwood, wearing orange and yellow construction vests, driving without headlights. FHP conducted a traffic stop, and a K-9 alerted to narcotics in the vehicle. Before being transported to the Orange County Detention Center, Melendez agreed to speak with law enforcement and provided consent to enter his apartment and turn over all his narcotics to troopers.

The individuals arrested in connection to this investigation and the charges are as follows:

Reina Mary Mora

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance without a Prescription
  • Felony Drug Paraphernalia

Michael Ramos

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance without a Prescription
  • Felony Drug Paraphernalia

Jose Luis Colon Melendez

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Heroin)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Cocaine)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Fentanyl)
  • Possession of Heroin with intent to sell
  • Possession of Cocaine with intent to sell
  • Possession of Fentanyl with intent to sell
  • Felony drug Paraphernalia

Josue Joel Gomez

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Heroin)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Cocaine)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Fentanyl)
  • Possession of Heroin with intent to sell
  • Possession of Cocaine with intent to sell
  • Possession of Fentanyl with intent to sell
  • Felony drug Paraphernalia

After transport to Orange County Detention Center, upon fingerprinting Melendez, it was discovered that he had an active warrant out of Pennsylvania for a parole violation related to the sale of Heroin; he had absconded from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections since 2015. This investigation remains active, and additional charges are pending.

Total Recovered:

  • Fentanyl 34.29 grams
  • Heroin 10.28 grams
  • Cocaine 6.4 grams

Individuals actively viewing a crime or criminal activity should dial *FHP (*347) or 911. If you have information or would like to provide an anonymous tip about a crime or about criminal activity from anywhere in the state dial **TIPS (8477). Dialing **TIPS from any cellphone will automatically route the caller to the Crime Stoppers office in the region where the call is generated.

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Major Interstate 75 (I-75) and U.S. 301 Projects Ready to Start Construction in 2025

 OCALA, FL– Today, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced important updates on the Moving Florida Forward Infrastructure Initiative, including expected construction timelines for the following projects: I-75 from State Road 44 to State Road 326 in Ocala and U.S. 301 from County Road 470 to Florida’s Turnpike.

Proposed to the Legislature in January 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis’ Moving Florida Forward Infrastructure Initiative will accelerate priority infrastructure projects across the state through an investment of $4 Billion from the General Revenue Surplus starting in the 2023-2024 budget year. These projects are slated to address congestion, improve safety, ensure a resilient transportation system, enhance the supply chain and economic growth, and address future needs as the state continues to experience rapid growth.

“Accelerated timelines for projects included in the Moving Florida Forward Initiative will help alleviate congestion on our roadways much sooner as our state’s population continues to grow exponentially,” said FDOT Secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E. “With Governor DeSantis’ bold vision and backing from the Legislature, FDOT and our partners stand poised and ready to begin these projects within the next four years to bring the relief that communities have been asking for.”

“I-75 is a critical route for our state, for tourists visiting Florida, and for the freight industry serving our businesses and residents,” said Lt. Patrick Riordan, Florida Highway Patrol Troop B Public Affairs Officer. “Data shows at least one lane of I-75 is closed every 16 hours due to crashes, and the addition of these auxiliary lanes will help with traffic congestion and make the interstate safer, not only for our FHP members but all road users.”

Interstate 75 (I-75) from State Road (S.R.) 44 to S.R. 326: This project involves adding auxiliary lanes to I-75 in each direction between S.R. 44 and S.R. 326. It will include interchange modifications and right-of-way acquisition for future widening. Construction starts in Spring 2025.

U.S. 301 from County Road (C.R.) 470 to Florida’s Turnpike: The project will reconstruct U.S. 301 from C.R. 470 to Florida’s Turnpike between the cities of Sumterville and Wildwood to increase the roadway capacity, respond to future travel demand, improve overall safety, and accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. The project includes realigning the roadway around the City of Coleman to avoid impacts to the City’s downtown businesses. Construction starts in Fall 2025.

“The 31 miles of new auxiliary lanes will be a positive step toward improving mobility and safety on I-75 through Marion and Sumter counties,” said FDOT District Five Secretary John Tyler. “While Moving Florida Forward provides projects on major interstates such as I-75, it also addresses needs on arterial roadways such as U.S. 301 in Sumter County. This project will widen and realign U.S. 301 to increase capacity, respond to future travel demand, and improve overall safety.”

With construction soon beginning on projects across the state, motorists are encouraged to always drive with caution and slow down in and around work zones. Let’s get everyone, including our workers, home safely.

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LAKE MARY, Fla. – Florida homeowners with insurance policies covered by the National Flood Insurance Program are urged to file claims as soon as possible. Advance payments may be available for some policyholders.

Policy holders should call their insurance agent or provider and initiate the claim even if they do not have all necessary documentation because they had to leave the property after the storm.

Homeowners with damage from both wind and flood will need to file two separate claims: a homeowner’s insurance claim and a flood insurance claim. They should let adjusters for each policy know of the claim filed with the other policy.

If filing a flood claim, ask about advance payments. You may be eligible for an advance payment of up to $5,000 prior to a visit from an adjuster. Your insurer will need to confirm covered flood damage to your property and may request additional documentation to support the amount of the advance.

Policy holders may also be eligible for an advance payment of up to $20,000 if they have photos and/or videos depicting damage and receipts validating out-of-pocket expenses related to the flood loss, or a contractor’s itemized estimate.

If the flood insurance policy recently expired, ask your agent if you are still within a renewal grace period. You may be able to pay in full to renew and be covered for a loss during that time.

The Standard Flood Insurance Policy does not cover expenses for code compliance unless the loss qualifies for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage. Speak to your adjuster or insurer for more information.

The NFIP has additional information on for documenting your damage, re-entering safely, and rebuilding stronger, and where to go if you need additional assistance. 

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Purple Gallinule by Danny Rohan


TALLAHASSEE - When you want to know where to go in Florida to see native birds, butterflies and more, head for the Trail. Sites listed on the official Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail are selected for inclusion based on their unique wildlife viewing opportunities and ecological significance, educational opportunities, access for the public and resilience to recreational use. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has proudly selected 14 new sites to receive this distinction.

The Trail is a network of more than 500 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state. Every year, millions of people, residents and visitors alike, participate in wildlife viewing activities, contributing billions of dollars to Florida’s economy but the ultimate goal of the Trail is to encourage conservation of Florida’s native habitats and species.

The new sites are described below, organized by county. Follow the included links for site-specific photos and more information on visiting each location.

  • Alachua County: Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville is a well-known hotspot frequented by rare birds and home to iconic Florida species.
  • Indian River County: Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area in Vero Beach is a newly-opened site adjacent to Round Island Riverside Park and Conservation Area, extending the area available to birders looking to explore Indian River Lagoon.
  • Leon County: Lafayette Heritage Trail Park in Tallahassee is part of an extensive trail network connecting Tom Brown Park to the west, L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife Management Area to the east and the J.R. Alford Greenway to the north, creating a valuable and extensive habitat for birds and other wildlife in an otherwise urban area.
  • Manatee County: At the mouth of the Manatee River, Robinson Preserve in Bradenton is a popular recreation area where more than 200 bird species have been recorded.
  • Marion County: Ocala Wetland Recharge Park is a constructed wetland that recharges the Upper Florida Aquifer. Birders and wildlife viewers will enjoy its diverse wildlife, easy walking paths and many educational displays.
  • Palm Beach County: This county has six new sites. The Bureau of Land Management’s Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area offers excellent year-round birding and wildlife viewing at the confluence of the Indian River Lagoon and the Loxahatchee River. Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management manages the remaining sites; Cypress Creek Natural AreaNorth Jupiter FlatwoodsPine Glades Natural Area in Jupiter, Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm Beach and Yamato Scrub Natural Area in Boca Raton. These sites showcase a range of habitats (including cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, wet prairies, uplands and scrub) where visitors can experience south Florida’s abundant birdlife and wildlife.
  • Polk CountyThe Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve in Lake Wales harbors rare plants and animals found only in central Florida. Over 10 miles of hiking trails let visitors venture safely into this remote wilderness.
  • Saint Johns County: Named for a prominent civil rights activist, Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park in St. Augustine is a favorite with its local Audubon Society. This small park on the tip of a peninsula overlooks an expansive salt marsh and the many birds that live there.
  • Santa Rosa CountyEscribano Point Wildlife Management Area is perfect for those seeking an outdoor experience off the beaten path. Fall and spring migration are the best times to go birding at this coastal site.

The Trail is a program of the FWC, supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Fish & Wildlife Foundaton of Florida, and is possible thanks to dozens of federal, state, and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private landowners.

For more information on all things related to The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, visit There, you can plan your visits, pick up viewing tips, or donate to support the Trail’s mission.

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 ATLANTA – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced today that physical disaster loans are available in seven additional counties.

SBA’s low-interest disaster loans are available to Florida businesses and residents due to Hurricane Idalia, that began on August 27. The disaster declaration covers Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee, and Taylor County in Florida which are eligible for both Physical and Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the SBA.

Small businesses and most private nonprofit organizations in the following adjacent counties are eligible to apply only for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs): Alachua, Baker, Hillsborough, Leon, Marion, Polk, Sumter, Union, and Wakulla in Florida; and Brooks, Clinch, Echols, Lowndes, and Thomas in Georgia.

To assist small businesses and private nonprofit organizations with completing their applications and uploading documents, the SBA has established two Business Recovery Centers (BRCs) which will operate as indicated below:

Mobile Business Recovery Center: Levy County

Cedar Key Community Center, 809 6th Street Cedar Key, FL 32625. 

Opening: Wednesday, Sept. 6, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hours: Wednesday, Sept. 6 through Tuesday, Sept. 12 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Permanently Closes: Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m.


Business Recovery Center: Suwannee County

Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce, 212 N Ohio Ave Live Oak, FL 32064.

Hours: Monday through Sunday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m



Businesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets.


For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.

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TALLAHASSEE –Specialists are helping Hurricane Idalia survivors apply for FEMA assistance at these locations:

  • Levy County: Cedar Key Fire Station parking lot, 489 1st St., Cedar Key, FL 32625, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat-Sun
  • Suwannee County: Agricultural Coliseum Exhibition Building 2, 1302 SW 11 St., Live Oak, FL 32064, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat-Sun
  • Suwannee County: Dowling Park Church, 23500 County Road 250, Live Oak, FL 32060, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat-Sun
  • Taylor County: Winn-Dixie parking lot, 2057 S. Byron Parkway, Perry, FL 32348, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Sun.

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Today, we pause in reverence to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his unyielding courage in the face of adversity, his boundless love in the face of hate, and his servant leadership in the face of supremacy. This great American not only chartered a new course in the fight for civil rights, he also illustrated how we should boldly advocate for our causes while exhibiting grace and humility. 

 Our nation and the City of Gainesville are still grappling with many of the same issues Dr. King fought valiantly for more than 68 years ago. While we face serious matters – lack of affordable housing, poverty, racial and social inequities – I truly believe this community has the talent, heart, drive and resolve to find lasting solutions. Like Dr. King eloquently proclaimed in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits." I also believe we can pay our neighbors a living wage and provide desirable housing that is affordable for all. 
So, as we observe this holiday in honor of Dr. King, I implore you to commit with me to be stalwart in efforts to alleviate inequities in our community. Join me in protecting the unique charm of our beloved Hoggetowne, while building a city in which all its neighbors are able to thrive. Together, as One Gainesville, we can do this.
Harvey Ward
Mayor, City of Gainesville

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Alachua County Labor Coalition typically avoids weighing in on electoral contests. And we never endorse political candidates. But a recent dark-money mailer attacking one of our dedicated activists who is running for office and two of our signature policies he worked on requires us to speak up.

Residents of Gainesville Commission District 2 recently opened their mailboxes to find a cowardly postcard attacking Commission candidate James Ingle. It was paid for by the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc.—a dark money PAC. Two of three false claims made in the mailing are that Ingle “worked to limit our private property rights” and “fought for more government control over our wages.” These are references to the Alachua County Renters’ Rights and Wage Theft ordinances, respectively.

The Renters’ Rights ordinance does not limit private property rights any more than do laws prohibiting retail shops on your neighborhood cul-de-sacs or rats in restaurants. The reality is that the ordinance offers three simple, commonsense protections for Alachua County’s tenants. First, it requires universal inspections of rental properties. This merely ensures that landlords are adhering to the rules and regulations of the building code that ALREADY EXIST. Without universal inspections, tenants are forced to choose between blowing the whistle on hazardous living conditions or risking retaliation from a minority of bad landlords. Second, it requires landlords to inform tenants of the rights they ALREADY HAVE. Why should landlords be afraid of their renters knowing the law? Third, it sets reasonable water and energy efficiency standards for rental properties. These are necessary to lower utility costs for renters, reduce greenhouse emissions that cause climate change, and protect our aquifer. Why landlords would want to deplete our aquifer, unnecessarily spew harmful emissions into the air, and subject their tenants to unaffordable utility bills is beyond our understanding. But the bottom line is this: the landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship, not a relationship between a landholder and their serf, and it should be regulated as such.

Describing the Wage Theft ordinance as “government control over our wages” is possibly more bizarre. This ordinance merely provides an avenue for workers to ensure the contracts between them and their employers are enforced—an avenue much cheaper than seeking recourse in the courts. The ordinance does not limit how much an employer can pay their workers, which is what I presume the mailer attempts to falsely imply. What’s more, the program has been a smashing success! Since, 2014, the ordinance has allowed the Office of Equal Opportunity to win back over $100,000 of unpaid wages for 152 workers.

It should be clear by now that the folks over at the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc. are not trying to protect your freedoms. They are promoting serfdom!

Lastly, the mailer asserts that James Ingle’s leadership has “failed us.” While we cannot endorse James or any other candidate (and this letter is not an endorsement), readers should know this is as big of a lie as any other in the mailer. James Ingle has been a great leader in the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the AFL-CIO, and his own union—International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1205. In fact, the basic protections afforded to tenants in Alachua County and the over $100,000 returned to workers would not be possible without him. We thank him for his leadership on these issues. Perhaps the best description for James is, in fact, responsible leader.

Bobby Mermer, Gainesville, Florida, PhD, ACLC Coordinator


It’s high time the local business owners speak up. I am a small business owner in High Springs for seven years now, and before that, helped run the High Springs Art Coop for six years. As we all know, our area is growing at a crazy rate. People have discovered our area for the treasure it is, as we all have at one point, so we have to learn to accept change in a reasonable way. The key word is reasonable.

Landlord greed with unreasonable rents kills business, most of all small business. Even big business suffers. I remember a story before Covid of the famous Barney’s of NYC, an icon for years that closed because the owners of their building raised the rent. They were already paying a million dollars a month!

Locally, look how the lovely town of Alachua went from being a vibrant historic downtown that we in High Springs envied and now it struggles to make it. Why? I feel it is because of large land owners who own the majority of real estate. They get renters in the first year at a low rate and after a year jack up the rent. I was told by a previous store owner than they over charge for utilities, too. These small places can barely make $1,000 to $1,500 a month total and most don’t bring in a monthly salary for themselves. How are they going to pay over $2,000 a month rent? Shame on what has happened in that lovely town.

Micanopy is another depressed town because of unreasonable people and then just look at downtown Gainesville. I wonder how long all those huge apartment houses will sit empty because of the humongous rents they are charging.

We can still save High Springs. We can make it a model historic small-town success. Here we have a few local hero landowners who are logical, honest and smart business owners. They charge rents that these small businesses can sustain.

The Barber and Grady families in our town are a blessing to all who rent from them—unlike some of the newbies who have bought up some of our buildings. The newbies’ unrealistic expectations can kill small businesses, or no one will pay such high rents, so their structures remain empty.

For example, in downtown High Springs there is the corner spot where River Run Olive Oil sat. It is a prime location, and here it is another year that it sits empty. The original owners sold because they wished to retire.

Across the street from me is the largest group of modern local store spaces. There was a quilt store there for a bit, but she couldn’t sustain the high rent. The same with rentals on the other side of her, the buildings have sat empty for years now. The owner is from Miami and thinks she is going to get Miami prices. All of these are prime real estate, front and center on Main Street and empty.

The main inspiration to this letter is The Florida Springs Institute. It is our local nonprofit, which does so much good protecting and bringing awareness to our local waters. I understand they are being kicked out of their corner space by their landlord. I heard they weren’t even given the offer to stay at a higher rate. The landlord is going to put someone in there at a huge increase in rent.

Although the landlord professes to support the springs, it seems that is the bottom line is taking precedence. We will see if the “new” business can sustain the ridiculously high rent or will downtown have another empty store front?

I had to say something and bring attention to this issue, even though I don’t think there is much we can do. The town is at the mercy of landowners who decide the bottom line. We can only hope and pray that our little town of High Springs continues to grow with sweet businesses that add to our charm with newbies coming who want to add to our world.

We are not against “reasonable” change. We welcome new and younger people looking to share in our small-town dream. Younger entrepreneurs bring vitality and freshness. We are just asking new and old landlords to keep it real and not let the over inflated prices for everything else invade common sense business practices. We expect you to make “reasonable” incomes, just not overpriced ones.

The future is determined right now. We either jack up rents, run the little charming business out and we get replaced by offices, empty stores and decay, or we support the small-town flair, encouraging the entrepreneur and make a small local business possible for everyone.

Remember that a store that sits empty for years produces zero rent. The more spaces that are filled, the better it is for all businesses.

Tina Corbett

High Springs, Florida

It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.

Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.

Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.

On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.

By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.

We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.

Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting

Together, we can help #StopSuicide.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.

On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.

The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.

Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair

Florida Commission on Human Relations

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TALLAHASSEE — In a May 31, 2023 press release from the Office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it was announced that the governor signed the following bills:

CS/CS/HB 5 – Economic Programs

CS/CS/HB 657 – Enforcement of School Zone Speed Limits

CS/CS/CS/HB 799 – Property Insurance

CS/HB 881 – My Safe Florida Home Program

HB 1169 – Hamilton County

SB 662 – Student Online Personal Information Protection

CS/CS/SB 766 – Enforcement of School Bus Passing Infractions

CS/SB 7052 – Insurer Accountability

To view the transmittal letters, click here and here.

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