FeatureVetCeremony_DSF2749Dozens of military veterans were recognized a day early at Alachua Elementary School’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony. 

Invited as personal guests of students, staff and teachers, school principal Jim Brandenburg welcomed each of the veterans by name to Wednesday’s service held in their honor. 

Brandenburg recounted the beginnings of the annual ceremony.  At the urging of longtime Alachua resident and D-Day veteran the late Glynn Markham, Alachua Elementary School began recognizing veterans some 19 years ago, Brandenburg said.  Markham died in May 2007, but his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

“Veteran’s Day marks an important occasion for the Alachua Elementary family,” said Brandenburg, noting the large number of veterans who are part of that extended family.

One of the reasons the ceremony is held is to make sure the students know why they have the day off, Brandenburg said.  “Tomorrow is not just a day to goof off, but a time when you should take a few minutes to remember that veterans have made that day possible,” he told the students as they were gathered underneath the outdoor pavilion.

Officially kicking off the ceremony was the University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard.  Following a choral reading by “Uncle Sam,” everyone joined in for the Pledge of Allegiance.

A small group of chorus members led the school in several patriotic songs including “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Grand Old Flag.”  The school also sang Markham’s favorite, “God Bless America.” Closing out the ceremony were rousing renditions by the all of the school’s students of “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless the USA.”

After the ceremony, Brandenburg invited veterans and their hosts to join him in the school’s cafeteria for a reception and breakfast also in their honor.

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No children were hurt when the school bus taking them home from High Springs Community School was hit Monday afternoon.

Around 2:30 p.m., 96-year-old Howard T. Doucette of High Springs was driving west on NW 182nd Avenue when he braked and swerved to avoid a truck stopping in front of him.

Doucette was unable to avoid the vehicle, and his Chevrolet Impala struck the back of the Toyota Tacoma truck stopped in front of him.  The truck, driven by 57-year-old Mary Kitchel of Lake Wales, Fla., was propelled forward into the stopped school bus with eight school children and the driver inside.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the school bus had stopped to let children off the bus and the bus stop signs were extended and red lights were flashing.

Both Doucette and Kitchel were wearing seatbelts, and suffered minor injuries.  The bus driver and the children reported no injuries.

The Florida Highway Patrol estimated the crash caused $4,000 worth of damage to Doucette’s car and $9,500 to the truck he hit, as well as $1,000 in damage to the bus.

Doucette was cited for careless driving, and that he “failed to drive in a careful and prudent manner.”

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Dedication ceremony to be held Nov. 16

A piece of the land and waters he was passionate about is going to be named in honor of Wes Skiles.

In wake of his recent death, a longtime friend of his, Mimi A. Drew, Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, initiated a request to have a Florida state park renamed for Skiles.

A High Springs native, Skiles spent his life exploring, mapping, photographing and filming springs and underwater caves in North Florida and around the world. He also avidly promoted the preservation of Florida’s natural ecosystems — especially its unique springs.

He died in July while filming at a reef a few miles off the South Florida coast. Fellow divers found him on the ocean floor motionless after he had indicated he was surfacing, and the official cause of death is still unknown. He was 52.

On Nov. 16, there will be a special ceremony to reopen Peacock Springs State Park, which is located in Luraville, near Live Oak, with its new name.

According to Florida Park Service information director Jessica Sims, the event will include guest speakers and the unveiling of the park’s new sign.

The ceremony starts at 11 a.m. and will take place near Orange Grove Spring in the park.

The event is open to the public but space will be limited.

The Skiles family, she said, has been instrumental in arranging it and will be participating in the event.

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A once operational battery plant along U.S. Highway 441 is on the path to annexation by the City of Alachua.

The 146.23-acre site broken up over three tax parcels got approval on first reading from the Alachua City Commission Monday.  Although the battery manufacturing facility is considered by many to be in the City of Alachua, the one-time major employment center has never been within the city’s corporate limits.

A concern among city leaders about contamination at the site has long been a major factor in keeping the property outside of the City of Alachua’s boundaries.

About half of the nearly 150 acres is contaminated.  City of Alachua Planner Brandon Stubbs said cleanup efforts on the site date back to the 1970s and still continues.

The half of the property now known was Phoenix Commercial Park is said not to be contaminated, but is designated as a “Brownfield site” because of the perception of contamination.  That designation lends itself to incentivizing use of the park by companies wishing to take advantage of the already industrialized site.

When asked about pending environmental or legal issues associated with the site, Stubbs and City Attorney Marion Rush said the city would not be taking on the liability by annexing the property.

Mayor Gib Coerper said he wants absolute confidence that annexing the former battery plant site will not lead to a liability for the city in future years.

Meanwhile, Coerper also lauded the Hipp family who purchased and opened a part of the site as Phoenix Commercial Park.

“The Hipp family has done a terrific job of with the Phoenix park,” he said.

General Electric (GE) opened the plant in1963.  Years later in the late 1980s, it sold to Gates Energy Products.  By 1993, Energizer Battery purchased the plant and property and added additional capabilities such as lithium ion battery cell manufacturing.

Moltech Power Systems purchased the facility in 1999 but went bankrupt about two years later.  That was the last major manufacturing the site has seen since much of the original battery production equipment was transferred to a Chinese company which purchased belly-up Moltech Power Systems.  The Chinese company was blocked from transferring the $150 million lithium ion plant originally built by Energizer. 

The lithium ion manufacturing facility remains at the site today and has since been in use on a smaller scale.  In its heyday, Energizer employed nearly 1,500 people at the site.

The annexation was passed in a 5-0 vote of the commission.  A second and likely final public hearing on the annexation is set for the city’s Nov. 22 commission meeting.

Other annexations

Commissioners also gave the initial okay for annexation of 225.46 acres known as the Jeffords property.  Located across from Santa Fe Ford along U.S. 441, the property is currently zoned as agriculture and would remain that way upon annexation.

An application by 441, LLC to voluntarily annex 17.5 acres into the City of Alachua was also unanimously approved by the commission.  The parcel is located along U.S. 441, northwest of the entrance to Turkey Creek.  That property is also currently zoned Agriculture under the Alachua County zoning atlas.

All three annexations considered Monday are set to be reviewed at a second public hearing scheduled for the Nov. 22 commission meeting.

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The city’s proposed wastewater line connection to Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) was the leading topic of discussion Tuesday night as the Waldo City Commission received an update about the project.

The city will reimburse Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) the estimated $5 million debt the utility will incur when building the pipeline. Waldo City Attorney John McPherson compared the cost to paying a massive connection charge. However, the exact price had not been calculated as of the Tuesday meeting.

Both McPherson and City Manager Kim Worley said the cost is comparable to the city trying to build the line itself.

The city will pay for the wastewater line with a combined grant and loan through the Rural Development Department of the USDA. The city will be required to pay back the loan portion of the financing over a 40-year period.

Currently GRU is waiting for Waldo to receive the loan and grant financing to start work on the line.  Worley estimated that the line will be completed in three years.

Mayor Louie Davis voiced concern that others could tap into the line, providing GRU gave permission.  While GRU could do that, the utility provider is required under contract to provide Waldo with 200,000 gallons and cannot cut into the Waldo reserves.

“The only thing we should worry about is our capacity,” Commissioner Rodney Estes said.

Waldo’s current capacity is 75,000 gallons and the new wastewater line will increase that capacity to 200,000 gallons.

Worley’s main concern is that water rates will no longer be set by the City of Waldo.  “I’d rather deal with the City of Gainesville than anybody else,” Commissioner Estes said in response to the city manager’s concern.

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Latner---ASO10JBN012482Travis D. Latner

A man has been arrested in connection with a sexual battery incident that occurred in Newberry on Nov.5.

A woman reported that an unknown man held her at knifepoint and demanded sex from her, according to a press release from Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). The attack occurred on SW 252nd Street around 12:30 a.m.

Police identified the man as Travis D. Latner, 33, and arrested him on warrants for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, sexual battery with a weapon and larceny on Tuesday in Gilchrist County. Latner was transferred to the Alachua County Jail on Wednesday and is being held with a $655,000 bail.

In September, ACSO defended its strong presence around SW 252nd street, despite complaints of police harassment made by citizens.  Lt. Steve Maynard, a public information officer for ACSO, said that extra police coverage was needed because around 35 percent of its non-traffic related service calls come from the 10-block area surrounding 252nd Street.

This is the second attack that has happened in the area since officers said that they would try to improve their relationship with the community, but would not scale back their presence. James Moment III was arrested in September for shooting a man in the face in what was apparently a drug deal gone awry.

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SinkSmithGrahamNelsonDSCF2718L-R:  Alex Sink and Rod Smith ignite a rousing crowd of supporters Monday at Gators Dockside in Gainesville as they pushed through the area on a final campaign stop

Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and running mate and longtime Alachua resident Rod Smith made a final push through Alachua County Monday afternoon in hopes of tilting the scales in their favor.  By Wednesday afternoon, however, Sink, democrat, conceded the tight race to opponent Rick Scott, republican.

The razor thin margin apparently couldn’t be overcome as Sink pulled in 47.66 percent of votes compared to Scott’s 48.93 percent of votes statewide.  Sink and Smith did carry Alachua County with 59.21 percent of the vote. 

Flanked by big name supporters like former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and current Senator Bill Nelson, Smith and Sink spoke to a crowd of about 150 or more supporters at Gators Dockside on Newberry Road in Gainesville. 

Smith, a well-known local attorney, was elected to the State Senate in 2000.  In 2006, Smith sought to win the primary for democratic gubernatorial candidate.  Smith then returned to private practice where he serves as senior partner in Avera and Smith.  In 1992, Smith was elected as the State Attorney for the Eight Judicial Circuit.  He gained significant recognition regionally and nationally for his successful prosecution of the penalty phase of Danny Rolling, the man convicted in the 1991 murdering of five college students in Gainesville.

Smith and wife DeeDee reside on their rural Alachua County farm on the outskirts of the city of Alachua.

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