HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Local families and friends came out to play at the 4th Annual Kiwanis Family and Friends Mini Golf Tournament, held on May 4, 2024, at the Pink Flamingo Diner. There were five specialty holes for a chance to win cash, ice cream, and free mini golf game certificates.

Seventeen teams showed up for fun and excitement and friendly competition in the Family, Adult and City divisions. Teams consisted of four player and their total scores were added together to determine their finale score.

The Adult competition ended with two teams, the Redeemers and Decades, tied for first place. The Redeemers redeemed themselves, after a loss to Decades in last year’s tournament, in an extra hole playoff. The Winners team took third place.

Another tie for first in the Family competition between the Patriots and Gators ended with Gators winning in the extra hole playoff. The Honey Bees took third place.

In the City competition, the High Springs Fire Department held on to the trophy they won last year by defeating the High Springs Police Department by 23 strokes.

This event was sponsored by: The Pink Flamingo Diner, Portaserve, Cutter Networks, Inc., Waste Pro, Alachua Today Newspaper, The Kronholm Family, The Barber Group, Hilife Projects, Johns Autobody, Campus USA Credit Union, Decades on Main, Thomas R. Weller Esq. and Drop Top Customs.

Tournament prizes for first second and third place were donated by local business: Watershed Restaurant, Florida Creamery, Unique Notions, New York Pizza Plus, Steak-Out, Hardees, Jewelry Works, High Springs Brewing Company, Winn Dixie, Publix Supermarkets and Mrs. Dorsey Travis.

Funds from this event are used immediately for support of needy children and families in Alachua and High Springs

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~Food distributor Ben E. Keith, Co. warehouse to serve Florida, southeast, and eastern seaboard~

ALACHUA ‒ Commissioners in the City of Alachua unanimously approved an application for a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from Florida Commerce, formerly the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity that would be used to serve a proposed $100 million food distribution warehouse.

The grant funds would be used to extend Northwest 115th Avenue and install other public infrastructure improvements necessary to support the proposed 680,810 square-foot distribution center. The grant would be combined with another roughly $1 million from WACO Properties, Inc. for a total of approximately $2.537 million.

In addition to the extension of Northwest 115th Avenue, the grant project proposes to include the placement of medians on Northwest 115th Avenue. Finance and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti said, “This project will provide increased infrastructure facilities to an undeveloped area including expanded sewer and water service.” The infrastructure improvements are expected to open up properties other than the Ben E. Keith, Co. site for development.

Bonetti said he expects construction on the proposed infrastructure to begin within the next 10 months, “contingent upon the design schedule.” He expects the infrastructure will be completed within one year after it begins.

Ben E. Keith, Co. will bear the approximately $100 million for land, site development, building construction, and other development costs. The current projection is that the warehouse facility will be open by the third quarter of 2026, depending on grant funding and completion of the infrastructure. Bonetti said Ben E. Keith, Co. has committed to begin construction of its facility prior to, or shortly after construction of the grant-funded public infrastructure begins.

As part of the qualifying for the grant, Ben E. Keith, Co., as the owner and manager of this Distribution Center, will create and retain a minimum of 44 full-time equivalent permanent new jobs within the two-year CDBG grant period. Positions created are to include transportation personnel, warehouse associates and other personnel, sanitation associates, forklift operators, non-DOT drivers, and inventory control associates.

According to Bonetti, the 44 new job creation and retention estimates are based on a market analysis and other Ben E. Keith, Co. forecasts and projections. A minimum of 23 full-time equivalent new and retained jobs must be held by individuals from low-to-moderate income households. If more than 60 new full-time positions are created, at least 51 percent of the total new jobs created must be filled by members of low-to-moderate income families to meet the CDBG national objective of benefiting low-to-moderate income households.

All full-time jobs are to be provided with company-sponsored healthcare, Bonetti said. Where necessary, Ben E. Keith, Co. will provide training to persons from low to moderate-income households to ensure they have the necessary skills to obtain and perform the job for which they have been hired.

The breakdown of grant dollars per job created is less than $35,000 of grant funding per job created. “That is an incentive to the state and federal government to give [the City of Alachua] these funds. It is a lot of bang for the buck,” Bonetti said.

In February 2022, Ben E. Keith Company purchased all of the assets of Florida Food Service, which was headquartered in Gainesville and served customers in northern and central Florida and Georgia. Florida Food Service was founded in 1948. According to its website, Ben E. Keith Company was founded in Fort Worth, Texas in 1906 and is a “complete broad line distributor.” The acquisition of Florida Food Service created “the ninth division of Ben E. Keith Foods across 15 states.”

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Michael P. Mauer, Silver Award winner in the 2024 Veterans of Foreign Wars National Publications Contest

ALACHUA ‒ A Life Member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Alachua County Post 2811 won an award for top feature article in the 2024 Veterans of Foreign Wars National Publications Contest.

Michael P. Mauer, a Desert Storm veteran, won the Silver Award for his article, ‘Flag finds way back to Alachua County VFW Post 2811.’  The submission appeared in the Nov. 23, 2023 edition of the Alachua County Today, and placed second in competition after a judges’ review by two non-VFW affiliated journalism professionals.

This is Mauer’s fifth VFW writing award in nine years, and his first for the VFW Department of Florida.

Mauer has written scores of articles about the VFW and veterans over the last three decades.  These stories have been printed in local, regional and state-wide publications.  Last year, Mauer won the Grand Award, and in 2022, the Bronze Award.  In 2020, he won his first Silver Award for best feature article in the VFW National Publications Contest, and in 2016, his first Grand Award.  He has been a life member of the VFW since 1995.  He has also received citations for his work over the years with the VFW from both the Pennsylvania State Senate and the House of Representatives.  Additionally, he was appointed a VFW National Aide-De-Camp in 2006.

He is a member of Military Veterans in Journalism.

A Bethel Park Pennsylvania native, Mauer’s name is one of hundreds inscribed on the Veteran’s Memorial near the borough’s municipal building.  He attended Bethel Park Senior High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from Point Park University in 1984.

Mauer won the Army’s highest journalism honor, the Keith L. Ware, in 1991.  He was also awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions as a military reporter in Operation Desert Storm. 

In 2010, Mauer was inducted into the Southwestern Pennsylvania Veterans Hall of Fame.  He is also a graduate of the United States military’s Defense Information School, and the Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, Okla.

Mauer is employed with the United States Veterans Administration and lives in Gainesville, Fla. He has been married to his spouse, Marsey, for 38 years.  They have two daughters, Sarah and Rae.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An emergency landing by a small, single-engine airplane on Memorial Day ended safely with no injuries reported. At 10:28 a.m. on Monday, May 27, the High Springs Fire Department responded to a distress call at Oak Tree Landing Airport, an unmanned, paved landing strip located on the Gilchrist/Alachua County line.

Upon arrival, firefighters discovered the aircraft at the end of the runway. The plane, carrying three individuals, had been forced to make an emergency landing due to unspecified mechanical issues. The pilot successfully navigated the plane to Oak Tree Landing.

“No injuries or other fire hazards were reported,” said Kevin Mangan, Public Information Officer for the City of High Springs.

Assisting on the call were several fire and law enforcement resources from Alachua County Fire Rescue, City of Newberry Fire Department, Alachua County Sheriff and Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office.

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ALACHUA - A heartwarming rescue unfolded last week in Alachua on Northwest U.S. Highway 441, where Alachua Police Department (APD) Officer Stanfield discovered a kitten in peril. The tiny feline was lying in the middle of the busy road as vehicles whizzed by dangerously close.

Officer Stanfield stopped his patrol vehicle to rescue the kitten. His efforts were bolstered by a driver from Mi Apa Latin Cafe, who used his truck to block traffic, aiding in a safe rescue. Office Stanfield was able to remove the kitten from the hazardous situation without incident.

In another fortunate turn of events, APD has since revealed that the rescued kitten has found a new home with one of their dispatchers. The dispatcher, touched by the kitten’s ordeal and rescue, decided to adopt the little feline, providing it with a loving forever home.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission has put the brakes on an ordinance establishing Bridlewood Subdivision’s Community Development District application. The Commission opted instead to hold a workshop with the City Commission, the Planning Board and any interested citizens to discuss the application further.

Questions arose during the May 23, 2024 City Commission meeting as to whether facilities within Bridlewood would be available to citizens of the community and if so, at what cost. Originally, the Bridlewood developers agreed to set aside land for a school and either a police department or fire station for the City. However, some expected that all of Bridlewood’s amenities would be available to the entire community.

Jere Earlywine, the attorney for the developer, was on hand to explain the benefits to the City of approving a Community Development District (CDD) as opposed to a Home Owners Association (HOA) to manage the Bridlewood facility. Earlywine said a CDD provides financing, operation and maintenance based on Chapter 190 Florida Statutes. He said it was similar to a HOA, but with more rights.

Earlywine added that a CDD would allow the developer to take advantage of bond money to produce a better-quality amenity package, better quality entry features, landscaping, “because they can afford to do it with competitive home pricing.” He said that a CDD is a better than an HOA in terms of managing the infrastructure (i.e., roads, stormwater ponds, hardscape and landscape).

Commissioner Tristan Grunder suggested tabling the issue for the night and scheduling a workshop to hash out the details. Once seconded by Commissioner Andrew Miller, the commission voted unanimously to hold a public workshop with the City Clerk scheduling it with all parties concerned.

Removed from the agenda was consideration of a Special Event Permit for the High Springs Brewing Company to hold a special event on Sunday, May 26. The matter was pulled as second reading of the ordinance to allow the Brewing Company to hold a special event has not been heard and approved on second reading. The City Attorney advised that the item could not go forward until the ordinance allowing the Brewing Company to open on Sundays with a Special Event Permit was actually approved by the Commission.

In other City business, former High Springs City Commissioner Sue Weller briefly reviewed the Charter Review Board’s recommendations on Charter Amendments. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Board’s recommendations and advised the City Attorney to draw up an ordinance for the next meeting so the Commissioners could formally approve the recommendations.

In other matters, an application by Judy Swoyer, Anytime Fitness, for a site plan received unanimous approval. This will be a 24-hour-a-day, 8,400 sq. ft. gym/fitness club located on 2.33 acres on U.S. Highway 441, just north of Tractor Supply and south of Board Ramp Road (Northwest 210th Lane).

An application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP 24-01) to add a car wash and non-ethanol fuel dispensary to the existing Sun Stop #348 also received approval. The location is near Poe Springs Road, Northwest 182nd Avenue. The Planning Board approved the application before sending it to the Commission, but stipulated that a fence should be placed on the south side of the property between the Sun Stop and a nearby residential home.

Two items put forth by Mayor Katherine Weitz for the City to put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for two positions failed to gain support from the Commission. The first was for the City Attorney and the second was for IT Support Services. Weitz said she thought the City might be able to save money by looking at the options available by other providers.

Although those two items failed, the same action for analytical laboratory services for both water and wastewater permit-required sampling and testing was unanimously approved. Currently the City is using Advanced Environmental Laboratories in Gainesville and will continue to use them for testing where tight time constraints are an issue.

Among the City Manager comments was an announcement that the City has received nearly $31,000 from the state for hurricane-related items and would go into the General Fund. The City also received $45,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance for the Suwannee Fire Fund, which will go into the Fire Department’s budget.

He also mentioned that the Wastewater Treatment Plan is a little over 40 percent complete.

The Douglass High Springs Reunion near the end of June will likely be held at the Douglass Community Center, which should be completed by the time of the reunion.

A joint meeting between the City of High Springs and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners is scheduled for June 6 at 6:30 p.m.

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GILCHRIST COUNTY ‒ Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz announced on May 28, 2024, the arrest in one of the shootings that occurred at Ginnie Springs over the Memorial holiday weekend.   The second shooting is still under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and assisted by the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO).

One shooting occurred during the overnight hours of Friday, May 24,2024, and another during the overnight hours of Saturday, May 25. Massive Memorial Day weekend crowds at the popular privately owned springs and campground were estimated by GCSO at 20,000 to 30,000 people.   The park was temporarily closed to the public while investigators were on scene of the shootings.

GCSO reported that at approximately 11:30 p.m., the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office responded to an attempted murder that occurred in the roadway inside Ginnie Springs between the Devil’s Spring and the tube launch. Law enforcement found a white male later identified as Koty Stewart of Jacksonville deceased on the ground. At that time both GCSO and FDLE were on the scene and were asking for witnesses and an “outstanding subject that was involved” to come forward.

Authorities were initially searching for a dark skinned, African American female, in her early 20s, approximately 5’10” to 6’0”, fit and muscular with long braids and light tinted contacts. She was described as wearing circular hoop earrings and multiple rings. She was also wearing a green bikini top or a dark and multi-colored patterned top and bikini bottoms or short shorts. She had been staying in this area all day and was last seen walking towards the exit of the park. GCSO later in a statement announced that it was no longer seeking the identity of the female individual.

The next evening, it was reported that a large fight erupted between two groups. FDLE agents reported that someone pulled out a gun and fired into the crowd striking three bystanders. Two of the injured were treated and released. One bystander remains hospitalized with serious injuries. FDLE is asking for assistance from the public into the investigation and requests that anyone with information to contact them.

On May 28, GCSO announced the arrests of two suspects in the first shooting. Fisher Dalton Watts was charged with first degree premeditated murder while Dallas Jordan Watts was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Authorities say Fisher Watts and Koty Stewart, 34, had an argument on Friday night in the bathhouse at Beaver Landing. Investigators say that following the argument, Fisher Watts shot and killed Stewart. Fisher Watts fled to St. Mary’s, Georgia and was later arrested in Camden County, Georgia. As of May 28, he awaits extradition back to Gilchrist County.

Numerous agencies have been involved in the investigation including the GCSO, FDLE, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Florida Highway Patrol, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Dixie County Sheriff’s Office, Gilchrist County Fire Rescue, Gilchrist County Emergency Management, and the 8th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office. Authorities say that as the investigations progress, additional information will be released.

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