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ALACHUA – Neither drugs nor alcohol were contributing factors in an August accident that claimed the life of a High Springs firefighter, Alachua police say.

High Springs Firefighter Chad Hood, 35, was killed on Aug. 2 while riding his motorcycle when the driver of a minivan reportedly pulled in front of him.  The accident happened around 6:37 a.m. near a Sunoco gas station in the area of the Turkey Creek neighborhood.

Hood was driving a Suzuki motorcycle northbound on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua when he collided with a Volkswagen minivan being driven by Jason Davis.  The minivan reportedly pulled out of the Sunoco gas station and crossed in front of Hood’s line of travel, presumably to turn southbound on U.S. 441, Alachua Police Department spokesman Jessie Sandusky said.

Hood reportedly struck the side of the van.  He was transported to Shands Hospital where he was pronounced dead.  Hood was believed to be wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

Toxicology results received by APD last week indicate that neither alcohol nor drugs were a factor in the accident.

Blood tests conducted on both Hood and Davis showed no signs of alcohol or drugs in either of their systems, Sandusky said.

Davis was cited with a violation of right of way, a civil infraction as a result of the accident.

Hood was on his way to work at the High Springs fire station when the accident occurred.  He was a Gainesville resident and graduate of Buchholz High School.  He had been with the High Springs Fire Department since 2007.

Hood left behind a wife, Susan, and a young son, Wyatt.  High Springs residents Linda Gestrin and Robyn Rush have established a memorial fund to benefit Hood’s wife and son.  Contributions may be made to the “Chad Hood Memorial Fund” at Capital City Bank.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Six of eight proposed High Springs charter amendments will be on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.  The amendments address a variety of issues, ranging from clarifying the duties of the city manager to adding a preamble to the city charter.

The High Springs City Commission debated which amendments would be included on the ballot for an up or down vote by the electorate. Several amendments were approved unanimously, while two were rejected, and will not be on the ballot.

Currently, city commissioners cannot be employed by the city until a year after their term expires. An amendment will be on the ballot disqualifying commissioners from working as contractual employees for the same time period.

The city manager’s duties could be further clarified by an amendment to be put to vote, including giving the individual the power to sign contracts for the city.

If one of the proposed amendments passes, the city commission will be required to review the charter every eight years. This means the charter would have to be reviewed in March 2016.

Mayor Larry Travis said this does not mean the city must wait eight years before reviewing the charter. He explained that under the proposed amendment, the city is still permitted to review the charter at any time.

“The commission is trying to be proactive,” he said, “to do some things with our charter that are more in line with where we are today.”

The commission is also putting to vote an ordinance requiring commission candidates to run for specific seats. Commissioner Eric May pointed out that every other city in Alachua County uses a designated seat system.

High Springs commission candidates run for a general seat. If two seats are open, the top two vote getters win the seats, with the individual receiving the most votes claiming the seat with the longest term.

The final unanimous decision approved the consideration of an amendment allowing citizens to initiate petitions to propose city ordinances. Under the amendment, citizens gathering 50 electors of the city can bring a petition to the city commission for consideration.

Also approved was an amendment adding a preamble to the city charter, expressing the purpose of the municipal government to serve the governed, and not the governing.  Mayor Travis voted against the amendment.

The vote was split on an amendment requiring the commission to approve the appointments of certain public safety officials. Currently, these officials are hired by the city manager without commission approval.

Travis and Commissioner Sue Weller voted against the amendment, speaking in support of the city manager form of government High Springs has. The amendment will not be on the ballot.

An amendment asking for the limitation of municipal borrowing to 7 percent of the city’s property value also did not meet commission approval. May urged his fellow commissioners to approve the amendment.

“I want some sort of a debt ceiling in place,” he said. “I think it sends a good message to the voters that we’re trying to be responsible fiscally.”

He further explained that the ordinance would still allow the commission to ask to borrow more money if it became necessary.

However, Travis expressed concern that the amendment would be limiting in case of an emergency, and Weller said she did not feel comfortable putting the amendment to vote without more detail.

Travis and Weller voted against the proposition.

Passing of the amendment would have allowed the government to borrow $780,000 in the upcoming year without special approval.

Vice Mayor Byran Williams was not present at the meeting.

The approved amendments will be on the ballot for the general Nov. 8 election.

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Pumpkin Patch welcomes buyers and lookers

PumpkinPatchL-R: Nineteen month old Troy Webster and his 3 ½ year old sister, Aubrey, discover that navigating the 5,000 pumpkins in the First United Methodist Church Pumpkin Patch requires balance and determination as they make their way between the bright orange harbingers of fall.

ALACHUA – The crisp fall air wasn’t all that settled into the heartland communities last week as the First United Methodist Church unloaded some 5,000 pumpkins for its youth ministry’s annual “Pumpkin Patch.”

With the fall season in full swing and Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to get in the spirit than now.  And nothing says ‘fall’ better than pumpkins.

Whether for carving into jack-o-lanterns, baking in a pie or simmering in a stew, pumpkins of every kind are available.

The youth at First United Methodist Church of Alachua are conducting the month-long fundraiser that began Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 31.

The 11th annual Pumpkin Patch, located on U.S. Highway 441 just north of Hitchcock’s Market, is open for business Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 9 p.m.  Pumpkins of every size and shape are available, along with gourds.  Prices range from 50 cents for the smallest variety to $60 for a glowing orange pumpkin of which any doorstep would be proud.  Also for purchase are pumpkin cookbooks, pumpkin bread and hay bales, all just $5 each.  Or, show your “pumpkin patch” pride with a tee-shirt for $10.  Skip carving altogether with terracotta jack-o-lanterns for $10.

Pumpkins aren’t all the First United Methodist Church of Alachua’s patch has to offer.  Patch organizer Anne Gay said she is scheduled to host more than 650 children from area schools throughout the month.  Groups participating in scheduled events include Sidney Lanier, P.K. Yonge, Lee’s Preschool, Oak Hall, a local Girl Scout troop and numerous others.

Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until noon, the patch hosts the school children and others who stop by on a morning adventure that includes hayrides, storytelling, face painting, sack races and bean bag tossing.  The hayrides and activities are also available each Sunday afternoon until dusk and most Saturday afternoons until dusk.

“Every child that comes through this patch leaves with four things,” Gay said. “A pumpkin prayer bookmark, a pumpkin patch sticker, a lollipop and a smile.”

The public is also welcome to attend a fall festival this Sunday from 2-6 p.m. The event is free to everyone and will include free food, a bounce house, hayrides and numerous other activities.

“The festival is our gift to the community,” said Gay.

The pumpkin patch is a fundraiser for the youth ministry of the church to reach their financial goals, enabling them to go on mission trips.

“This pumpkin patch helps our youth go on mission trips so they can help other people…That’s what this is really all about, helping others who are less fortunate than we are,” said Gay.

The youth ministry participates in the Appalachian Service Project and went on a mission trip to Kentucky last year, where they joined with other groups from across the southeast in helping to repair homes from that area.

The pumpkins are grown and picked in New Mexico by Navaho Native Americans.  According to church officials, prices are set through Pumpkin Patch headquarters and are non-negotiable.

Although the patch is open through the end of the month, Gay said there isn’t a guarantee of a second shipment of pumpkins and she encourages folks to stop by sooner rather than later to have their pick.

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NEWBERRY – Easton Newberry Sports Complex is holding its first Harvest Hoedown, a family-friendly festival with music and Halloween-theme activities, on Saturday, Oct. 22.

Hay rides, face painting and archery are some of the activities offered with the purchase of a $15 ticket.

Tim Monday, Easton Foundations staff member, said the ticket will cost an extra $5 at the entrance gate. The gates open at 3 p.m. and the concert will start at 5 p.m. and last until 11. After 6 p.m., 6 year olds and under receive free admission.

Trenton country artist Bryce Carlisle will be performing along with Root Redemption, a blues band from Gainesville. Monday said attendees should bring their own chairs and blankets, since the concert will be outside the building.

The event took around two months to plan, Monday said, and the staff is looking forward to not only hosting the fall event, but also the opportunity for people to become familiar with the two-year-old Easton Sports Complex.

Along with trick or treating and a haunted trail for kids, the center, which is known for its archery and sports, will offer these activities during the event.  “We want to see a bow in every kid’s hand,” Monday said.

Easton is located in Newberry at 24880 NW 16th Avenue. For additional information about the event or about the Easton Newberry Sports Complex, call 352-472-2388 Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS- Two High Springs City Commission candidates discussed issues ranging from economic development to the sewer system at a forum held Tuesday by the Gainesville Tea Party.

Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin are running for the two expired seats, currently held by Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. While the incumbents are both running for re-election, neither attended the forum.

Travis said he refused to participate in a forum held by a Gainesville group. He said he would participate in forums every night of the week if they were put on by High Springs citizens.

“I’m not going to participate with any program that is put on by an outside group that has nothing invested in our city,” he said. “I won’t do it.”

Williams said he was on vacation.

Bill Ross, a High Springs citizen, moderated the hour-long event. He said he asked the Tea Party to hold the forum because this is such an important election cycle for the town.

“A lot of citizens get sound bites or news clippings,” he said. “They never get to listen to the candidates themselves.”

He gathered questions from citizens and business owners to ask the candidates.

The forum started with the candidates introducing themselves to the 50 attendees and explaining their reasons for running.

Gestrin said her father always told her to discover her purpose. When Commissioner John Hill stepped down, she realized she wanted to get involved in the High Springs City Commission. She attended meetings for two years.

“It’s personal,” she said. “Everything I have done brought me to now.”

Barnas also emphasized his attendance at commission meetings, explaining that he is tired of being ignored by those currently served. He said he refuses to allow the city to remain the mess it is.

“I have asked questions; I have made suggestions and I have been told to sit down,” he said. “Trust is something you don’t give lightly when you vote someone in. It is time to restore that trust.”

As the forum continued, Clark and Barnas animatedly shared their plans for the city. They agreed on many issues, building on each other’s statements in their one-minute responses.

An important issue addressed at the forum was High Springs’s economic state.

Ross said the city has a reputation for being unfriendly to businesses and asked what actions the candidates planned to take.

Barnas explained that as a realtor, he has seen these problems first hand. He said the city must be available for businesses and ready to offer them help.

“Get them to come in, and then help them stay,” he said. “If that means paying their rent for two months or giving them a subsidy, we need to do it. We must give incentives.”

He said that bringing in businesses and building on the tourism potential of the town is crucial to future development. Barnas said the springs and rivers surrounding the area make High Springs unique and need to be shown to the world.

Gestrin agreed that the unique aspects of the town need to be given more attention. She called for a full-functioning downtown that would keep citizens from having to drive to Gainesville for goods.

To her, another important task is making use of the railroad again. She said it brought jobs to the city, bringing in the wealth-producing industries that are currently lacking.

“I do not want to change who we are, but we need jobs and we need revenue,” she said. “It’s time to roll out the red carpet and pull up the bed of nails. The whole town is just sitting there waiting to develop.”

Beyond bringing in new business, the candidates answered Ross about the town’s growing debt with a call for a new spending policy. Clark said the city is $5 million in debt, but the commission continues to spend money.

“We need to figure out what we can afford,” she said. “We need to live within our means. We have to re-evaluate everything we’re doing.”

Barnas said a logical action would be to tax the enclaves of Alachua County that High Springs surrounds. The city does not currently collect taxes from these areas.

The candidates also expressed their desire to stop the expansion of the sewer system. The project has been underway in High Springs for five years.

Clark explained that she does not feel comfortable with the city completing an electric sewer system, citing the dangers faced in a mass power outage.

Barnas proposed splitting the city’s sewer usage in half. Part of the city would use the plant that is already built in High Springs.

For the other half of the city, he suggested putting a pipe down State Road 441 to make use of Alachua’s sewer system. He said a representative of the plant had tried to set up a meeting before to discuss the option, but the commission had no interest in pursuing the action.

Barnas and Clark also answered questions about issues like alcohol ordinances, water quality and the historic district.

At the end of the forum, the candidates summarized their campaign platforms.

Barnas said he wants to revamp the way the city is run. He explained that he leads by example.

“This will not be a part-time job,” he said. “I will get the citizens engaged, and we will have fun.”

Gestrin also called for a new, common sense direction in High Springs government.

“I care about what you’re thinking,” she said.  “I’m on your side. Together, we can do this.”

Another candidate forum will be held prior to the Nov. 8 election. The New Century Woman’s Club will hold their annual candidate forum on Oct. 25.

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ALACHUA – Two parcels of land adjacent to the Turkey Creek development were given the nod for rezoning Monday night.   One of the parcels will require another hearing and approval before the rezoning can be finalized.

In a second and final public hearing Monday, commissioners okayed the rezoning of a 16.81-acre parcel located south of U.S. Highway 441 but north of the Turkey Creek Development. Formerly designated as Alachua County Rural Employment Center, that property now reflects City of Alachua Community Commercial on half of the land and Residential Moderate Density on the half of the land closest to the Turkey Creek neighborhood.  Residential Moderate Density zoning would allow a maximum of four dwelling units per acre.

The 16.81-acre parcel is surrounded by both residential and commercial land and it contains a tributary of Turkey Creek along the southernmost portion.

State review of the action resulted in a concern raised by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, regarding a potential historic structure from the 1940s on the property. City Planner Brandon Stubbs said that the house was actually built in 1959 according to the county property appraiser's database.

A second rezoning of a 1.74-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Turkey Creek Boulevard and NW 105th Avenue, just south of the Turkey Creek neighborhood, was also given the initial okay.

The rezoning calls for the development of three underdeveloped lots, bringing a required minimum lot area of five acres down to 10,000 square feet. Maximum density on the land would be three dwellings units per acre.

A neighborhood meeting was held in June announcing intentions of the rezoning. Three individuals reportedly attended the meeting.

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ALACHUA – Companies associated with the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in the City of Alachua have had an impact of $753 million on Alachua County from 2004 through 2010, according to a study released last week.  In terms of employment, the incubator is being credited with 1,467 direct and indirect jobs in Alachua County according to a report prepared by economic development consultant Rhonda Phillips.

David L. Day, director of the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator and UF’s Office of Technology Licensing, said, “The Sid Martin Biotech Incubator opened 16 years ago this month and it’s exciting to see it mature with an annual local economic impact of more than $100 million.”

Patti Breedlove, associate director for the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, said the study was commissioned last year and sought to determine the scale and depth of the incubator’s impact.

“The program has matured, and I thought it was about time we did this type of a study since we had not done so before,” she said.

The $753 million figure is the result of total output, which includes value added to the local economy, labor income and all output factors.  Those numbers, the report concludes, represent the total economic impact of the incubator companies’ economic activities.

Breedlove said the study was compiled after surveying some 17 companies that were part of the incubator during the seven-year slice of time.  The survey data was augmented with additional information supplied by her office.

Noting that the impact numbers were conservative, Breedlove explained that the analysis excluded companies that relocated outside of Alachua County during the study period.  It also omitted certain funding for companies with additional locations outside of Alachua County. According to the report, only employment, investments and revenues directly attributable to the companies’ Alachua County operations were counted.

The study did not consider the impact of numerous other bioscience companies located in Progress Corporate Park.

“Bioscience companies are the most complex of all startups,” Breedlove said.  “They require many years and millions of dollars to grow to maturity.”

The expertise, laboratory space and equipment needed by bioscience companies make them different than software and other small startups, she added.

The bioscience industry is made up mostly of small bioscience companies developing their first products, and they are heavily reliant on investor capital, grants, contracts and partnerships with larger biotech or pharmaceutical companies, Breedlove pointed out.

She suggested having many small bioscience companies stabilizes the local economy, saying, “While there may be some moving away or closing, there are others being formed and it really makes this a boutique community.”

Although the small companies tend to have fewer employees, Breedlove touts that those jobs come with high salaries and that the industry is clean, netting a positive impact on the community.

The Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Alachua is home to one of the most experienced and fully equipped bioscience incubation programs in the United States, Breedlove claims.  That’s due in large part to the business development support services and assistance with access to seed stage venture capital, combined with specialized infrastructure including wet labs, greenhouses, fermentation facilities, and common use scientific equipment.

The incubator graduates just over one company per year.  It is currently incubating six companies and only has space available for one more company.

Evaluated annually, companies are held accountable for making progress with their product and approved to stay in the program one year at a time.

“We’ve never turned away a promising company we’ve wanted to have in our space,” she said.

“The good news continues into 2011,” the associate director added.  “So far this year, AxoGen Inc. has signed a merger agreement that will make it a public company.  Pasteuria Bioscience has signed a partnership with Syngenta, the largest agri-business in the world, to commercialize its products.  And our graduate EraGen BioSciences, which is now in Wisconsin, was acquired for $34 million. It’s been an unprecedented year for us.”

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