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AlachElemVetFor 20 years Alachua Elementary students have honored veterans at the school's Veteran's Day observance.  That tradition continued Wednesday morning as over 75 area veterans attended the school's celebration, which included speeches and patriotic songs.

ALACHUA – Carrying on a tradition than spans some 20 years, Alachua Elementary students honored veterans Wednesday at a school wide celebration.  Over 75 area veterans were recognized at the school’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.

Invited as personal guests of students, staff and teachers, school principal Eva Copeland welcomed each veteran by name to Wednesday’s service held in their honor.

The annual ceremony dates back 20 years, and became a reality at the urging of longtime Alachua resident and D-Day veteran, the late Glynn Markham.  Markham died in May 2007, but his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

One of the reasons the ceremony is held is to make sure the students know why they have the day off, Copeland said.  “We are glad we can do this to help our students understand what Veteran’s Day means, who our veterans are, and why they are important to all of us.  We look at this as a teachable moment,” she said.

Three weeks prior to the ceremony, students took home a newsletter notifying parents about the ceremony.  Students invited their “veteran” to the ceremony and each student was introduced along with the sponsored veteran.  The 75-plus veterans attending the ceremony represented service from the 1940s through 2000 and were the mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, spouse or friend of a student, teacher or staff member of the school.  As each veteran’s name was called, he or she received a rousing round of applause thanking them for their service.

Getting into the patriotic spirit, many students were decked out in red, white and blue, while some boys wore their Boy Scout uniforms and several girls wore Girl Scout uniforms.

Officially kicking off the ceremony was the University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard, conducting presentation of colors, which was followed by the pledge of allegiance.

Leading up to the event, the school conducted an essay contest with a patriotic theme.  Kayla Tyndall’s essay, “Proud to be an American,” was the winning essay, and she recited it Wednesday for the 500-plus students in 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, staff and guests.

Colonel Jack Paschal, Commander of the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron, Florida Air National Guard, shared information about the Guard’s mission of providing homeland defense and hurricane recovery for the State. He also brought oversized plaques displaying photos of actual projects the Guard conducted, and asked student volunteers to carry the plaques throughout the audience so they could better see the photos.

Shane Moore led the students in singing “God bless the USA” and the enthusiastic youngsters waved miniature flags in the air.

The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps” in honor and remembrance of the many veterans who served.

After the ceremony, Copeland invited veterans and their hosts to join her in the school’s cafeteria for a reception sponsored by the school’s Safety Patrols.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs may lose $1.6 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, backing up the city’s five-phase sewer project for the foreseeable future.

In a letter received Oct. 24, USDA Area Director R.C. Quainton II informed the city that it plans to de-obligate, or take back, money granted in 2005 for the second and third phases of the High Springs’ sewage system. While the project was originally assessed at a cost of $10 million, the expansion actually cost about $8 million.

“The Phases Two and Three project has been fully completed at a cost significantly less than originally estimated by the project engineer,” Quainton said in the letter. “When there is a significant reduction in project cost, the applicant’s funding needs to be reassessed.”

The city planned to use the extra money to pay the costs of hooking up residents to the sewage system. However, the letter explained that grant funds must be used within five years of issuance, a timeframe the city failed to meet.

Then city commission candidate, and newly elected commissioner Bob Barnas said at the Nov. 3 commission meeting that he contacted United States Senator Bill Nelson about the sewage system, concerned that “waste and mismanagement” had occurred in the commission’s handling of the project.

The USDA said upon reviewing the information, “We found that the allegations are not substantiated.”

Barnas also said High Springs staff members knew about the possible loss of funding in September, before they received the USDA letter. He said Mayor Larry Travis secretly planned to meet with Nelson about the issue at the President’s Box at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during a football game.

Travis said contact had been made with Nelson’s office to set up a meeting to discuss options, but it never occurred. He said they also discussed meeting in Washington D.C., a trip Travis would have undertaken at his own cost.

“There were no secret meetings,” he said. “I go to the President’s Box because I’m invited there. I have a pretty good reputation at the university. I haven’t seen Mr. Barnas there.”

Interim City Manager Jenny Parham admitted that the Rural Development agency requested one meeting at the end of August about the issue with her, Travis and City Attorney Thomas DePeter. However, she said that at thes Sept. 12 meeting they were told no action should be taken until official notification was received.

Commissioner Dean Davis said according to the letter received from USDA, the city has known about having to spend the extra money for a year. However, he said he was not aware about the situation until the recent controversy.

“I am as surprised as anybody about what we just went through as a city commission,” he said.

He said High Springs has missed similar government grant deadlines before and has never had leftover money de-obligated.

“They’ve never done this before,” he said. “They’ve always let us use it.”

Resident Thomas Weller said he suspected complaints about the project led to the ruling. He said he found it interesting that Barnas received a response to his letter merely three days after the city was officially informed of the de-obligation.

“You know, when you rock the boat, people get ticked off, and they just find it easier to say no,” he said.

Other citizens blamed former City Manager Jim Drumm, Parham, DePeter, Travis and engineering firm Jones Edmunds for the situation. Resident Ron Langman said both Drumm and Jones Edmunds, the city’s sole contracted engineering firm at the time, should have informed the city that time was up on the funds. However, he also said the current commission had an obligation to inform the city of the issue, calling for the resignation of Parham and DePeter.

“It’s either you guys up there are covering this up, all five of you, or four of you are clucks, sitting up there watching it happen,” he said. “It’s seamy, it’s despotic and it’s not okay.”

DePeter said the city’s options are to ask for an informal review, mediation or an appeal. He recommended the city ask for an appeal, though he thought the odds of winning the suit were “less than 50 percent.”

Former Mayor John Hill was on the commission when the sewage project was approved. He said the first three phases were essential for the city because the Santa Fe River was being intoxicated with nitrates.

The final two phases were planned based on the population increase suggested by the 1990 census, Hill said. The USDA put the fourth phase of the project on hold because the level of new development in High Springs has “significantly decreased” since projections were made in 2008.

“The City of High Springs will be required to submit to Rural Development a wastewater system rate schedule and operating budget that supports project and system financial viability,” the USDA’s October letter said.

The project was originally approved in 2001 with an expected cost of $26 million. DePeter explained that it was designed in five phases so that the city could complete the project using a funding split of 55 percent loan and 45 percent grant.

The undertaking was proposed in a redevelopment plan prepared by the University of Florida in 1986.

“Lack of a city-wide sewage plan is a severe health hazard for High Springs,” the plan read. “Due to the inevitable contamination to the water supply if a leak occurred in the septic system, the health of all High Springs residents would be at risk.”

The plan further explains that citywide septic systems may be a factor slowing the growth of High Springs because businesses do not want to open in a city without wastewater facilities.

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of requesting an appeal. Davis voted against the action.

 

 

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newsflashHIGH SPRINGS -  Election results are in for the City of High Springs election.  Newcomers Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin have been elected to the commission.  Barnas received 469 votes, Gestrin received 511 votes, Larry Travis received 276 votes and Byran Williams received 313 votes.

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Only minutes prior to learning they had won election to the High Springs City Commission Tuesday night, Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin are engaged in conversation with a supporter.

HIGH SPRINGS – Two challengers beat the two incumbents in the High Springs City Commission election Tuesday night.

Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas received the two highest numbers of votes, overtaking current Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. Neither Gestrin nor Barnas have previously held political office.

Travis had not been defeated since his election in 2005. Williams has served on the commission for six years, though he briefly lost his seat in 2009.

While local resident Leda Carrero had said the election was a “cliff hanger” for the city, the final results were not close. Gestrin received 511 votes, and Barnas received 469. Williams earned 313 votes while Travis came in last with 276.

William Ross, a poll watcher, said the turnout was “better than most.” He attributed that to the tight race which was “very close and very contested.”

The election remained controversial up until the last minute, and beyond. At 7 p.m. when the polling location closed, officials locked both the public and poll watchers out of the High Springs Civic Center.

Citizens and poll watchers banged on the doors to the center, demanding they be let in. Joyce Hallman said she and the other poll watchers were supposed to be inside to watch the vote tallying.

“There’s nobody in there watching,” she said. “They could be doing anything. They could be tampering with the machines.”

Police officers spoke to the officials and escorted citizens into the building about eight minutes after the doors had been locked.

Williams, Barnas and Gestrin waited in the room with the public, speaking to supporters and carefully watching the tallying. Travis was not present for the final count.

Upon hearing the results, with a huge smile on her face, Gestrin hugged her husband. She said while she was excited and honored to be elected, there is little time to rest. The real work begins now.

“We need to assess where we’re at,” she said. “We need to re-evaluate the sewer project. We must bring economic development. We need a fresh, new direction.”

Barnas said his first priority is to find out what can be done about the sewage project. He said he wants to sit down with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Rural Development agency to discuss alternatives to get back the $1.6 million in funding that might be revoked.

High Springs staff members were informed in an Oct. 24 letter from the USDA that the agency planned to de-obligate grant funds approved in 2005 for the second and third phases of the city’s sewage system expansion. While the project was originally assessed at $10 million, it ended up costing closer to $8 million.

The city intended to use the extra funding to cover the costs of hooking up users to the system but failed to meet the five-year time limit placed on grant money.

Barnas said the commission needs to explore alternatives, including negotiating a joint venture with Alachua allowing High Springs to use pre-existing wastewater facilities.

Also on the ballot were six city charter amendments. All passed, leading to some significant changes in city policy.

From now on, commission candidates will have to run for specific seats. They also can no longer serve as contractual employees to the city in the year after their election.

City ordinances can now be proposed by citizens. An amendment passed giving them the authority to petition before the commission if they receive signatures from 50 voters.

The number of ballots tallied was 826, including absentee ballots and provisional votes. Due to four contested votes, the results will not be certified until Thursday at 5 p.m.

Interim City Manager Jenny Parham said the public is welcome to attend the meeting of the canvassing board and hear the official results.

The new commissioners will be sworn in on Nov. 17.

Local schoolteacher Billye Dowdy said before the election she went with a partner to pray at every entryway sign to High Springs, hoping for “a favorable outcome.”

“We prayed that God would show favor to this community and restore righteousness,” she said. “Righteousness, honesty, decency and wisdom. Just wisdom.”

Gestrin hopes that with her election, High Springs will be able to move forward economically. She said by finding common ground and working together, the town can do what needs to be done.

“There’s so much potential here,” she said. “I’m interested in handing off High Springs to future generations in the condition like it was given to us.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs commissioners struggled to get to the root of whether the City should be fluoridating water for residents.

While water in the town is currently fluoridated to a level of 0.42 parts per million, well within federal public health guidelines, Commissioner Eric May initiated discussion of the elimination of the additive to the Sept. 22 meeting. He said he heard concerns from citizens about the issue.

Mayor Larry Travis said he also received citizen requests.

“My concern,” he said, “is that we're putting this chemical in the water that people don’t want.”

University of Florida senior water treatment training specialist Ronald Trygar gave a presentation before the commission supporting the removal of fluoride. He said he is not against people having healthy teeth, but the benefits of fluoride are not enough to outweigh the risks.

He said High Springs has naturally occurring fluoride already, helping to protect the teeth of the residents. Trygar explained that too much fluoride exposure leads to fluorosis, causing white spots to appear on teeth.

As a water treatment trainer, he quoted the manual he uses to teach his classes.

“It is important to avoid overfeeding,” he said. “It can cause illness and bad public relations. The operator must pay close attention to maximum dosages.”

He said a monitor must be installed at the water treatment facility to notify staff if over fluoridation occurs. If the dosage goes above the maximum, the water system must be shut down and completely cleaned. Public health officials have to be notified.

The commission is uncertain if such a monitor exists, and operators are only required to be present for three hours a day at the facility.

Trygar said that many other products are commonly available with fluoride in them. Pulling out a box of toothpaste, he pointed to a warning label.

It said that one should call poison control if excess product is consumed. He said this was because of fluoride, a chemical listed in his manual as dangerous for ingestion in its pure form, leading to corrosive burns in the mouth and digestive tract.

He also explained that the Department of Health suggests that parents do not mix infant formula with tap water because of the danger of fluorosis.

Upon questioning by May, Trygar explained that while the maximum level of fluoride suggested was lowered to 1.2 parts per million, there is no required minimum level. It’s an elective process, he said.

He also said that the process incurs costs the town does not pass to consumers. The high cost of water service in High Springs has become a major point of contention in the commission race.

However, Trygar said, “You’re probably undercharging for the amount of water you produce. Don’t yell at me for that, but it’s true.”

May said the cost is not the issue.

“It would save us about $3,000 a year to eliminate fluoridation,” he said. “That’s not something we’re going to jeopardize public health over.”

Dr. Scott Tomar, professor at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, said the practice of fluoridation is not only crucial to protect the oral health of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, but it is the most cost-effective way of doing so.

“It’s one of the few public health measures that not only prevents disease but actually saves money,” he said. “It saves approximately $40 for every dollar spent.”

He explained that fluoridation strengthens the teeth of those citizens unable to afford sufficient dental care. He said children and adults living in fluoridated communities experience less tooth decay.

“Not only is it effective, but it’s safe,” he said. “It’s not really a controversy because these questions have been asked and answered. The World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Agency, they all recommend it.”

Paul Meyers, assistant director of the Alachua County Health Department, called fluoridation “one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century.”

Gainesville was the first city to fluoridate its water in Florida, starting the practice in 1949. Meyers said the action is based on peer-reviewed, solid science.

Newberry and Fort White do not fluoridate their water, while Alachua does.

Local resident Pat Rush said the town must trust the experts. He said he spoke to a dentist about the issue.

“He told me, ‘If we took out the fluoride in the water,’” Rush said. “‘I’d have three times as much business.’”

Commissioners admitted that there was a great deal of information on both sides of the issue. They decided to postpone their vote about fluoridation until they found out whether the water treatment facility had a monitor.

Commissioner Dean Davis said this precaution must be in place, or fluoridation has to be discontinued.

“If there’s any chance a baby could die, it’s not worth it,” he said Add a comment

ARCHER – Voters in the small town of Archer selected a new commissioner Tuesday.

Fletcher Hope clinched a seat on the Archer City Commission with about 73 percent of the vote.

Hope faced off against Laurie Costello, a former city commissioner.  Both were vying for a seat vacated in September when former commissioner Roberta Lopez resigned.

Hope picked up 146 votes in the election as compared to Costello’s 53 votes.  City officials have not yet verified three provisional ballots.

The election had a turnout of roughly 30 percent with 199 votes cast in the Tuesday election.

Hope will be sworn in as the town’s newest commissioner at Archer City Hall on Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.  He will serve the remaining one year of the term left vacant by Lopez.

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HAWTHORNE – On Tuesday night, the Hawthorne City Commission tackled the issue of whether a road, SE 76th Place, should be closed.

City Manager Ellen Vause originally proposed to place “do not enter” signs at the entrance of the road. She also said she spoke with a property owner that would be affected by the road closure.

After further examination, Vause now says six more property owners would be affected by the closure.  And it may mean that these property owners will be required to contribute money to shut the road down.

“I thought it would be a simple road closing, but the more you look at it, the more challenges we have,” Vause said.

Property owners are responsible for funding the fencing and barricading of each property, Vause said. However, because the road is a historical pathway, the legal question is who would be responsible for which tasks and costs.

The dirt road has occasionally been maintained by the City throughout the years. And there are water and sewer lines running down the road, but the City does not have a legal right to maintain them.

Chris Dawson, a city planner with Alachua County, said the issue of ownership of the road arises because the public is using private land as a road.

“The road runs on private property and the City has been maintaining it without any authorization,” he said. “The City will be using these owners’ land one way or another.”

Referring to the road closure, city attorney Audrie Harris said property owners should be required to pay for a portion of the costs, such as purchasing the barricades. Residents will not be compensated for use of the land.

“It is reasonable for the City to tell residents they need to help with these expenses,” she said.

Mayor Matthew Surrency said he believes property owners should take some of the responsibility for the costs of closing the road.

“If the property owners want something different, then it should be their burden to try and find out what they need to do,” he said.

If the road is closed, in order to give affected residents access to their homes, the City would have to construct two roads to the north and south of 76th Place.

Commissioner DeLoris Roberts said the addition of these two roads combined with the costs of closing down SE 76th Place would not be the best economic choice for the City.

“This would have a lot of expense involved, which our budget does not speak to at the moment,” she said.

Vause asked the City Commission for guidance on how to proceed with the road closing. The commission directed City staff to meet with each property owner individually to determine their use of SE 76th Place and how access to their homes would be affected.

The commission also advised Vause to secure a utility easement, or an entitlement from the owners of the land, for the use of the water lines and sewer system, to allow the City to use and maintain the utilities.

Once these tasks are completed, the issue will be brought back to the City Commission for further discussion. Surrency advised City staff to document the property owner’s decisions.

“We have to make sure it is recorded so we don’t get sued later,” he said.

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