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City can still choose to stay with CCC

HIGH SPRINGS – Even though the High Springs Commission has voted to bring emergency dispatch back under local operation, one commissioner has other plans.  Commissioner Scott Jamison announced during Tuesday’s special meeting that he will be placing an item on the upcoming June 28 agenda to rescind the previous decision and discuss staying with the Alachua County Combined Communication Center (CCC).

Despite reservations voiced by several High Springs police officers during a May 15 Town Hall Meeting, the commission approved by a 3-2 vote to bring dispatch back to the city.  During a recent meeting, Jamison expressed doubts about the City’s ability to fund the project safely and thoroughly. He said on Tuesday that he has already asked for the topic to be placed on the next agenda.

“Do I believe the dispatch back in our control is good? Yes, I do,” Jamison said during the May 22 meeting. “But I’m not convinced we can adequately prepare for it, technologically, staff it and assume control or take on the added financial obligations that come with it.”

As of June 19, City Manager Jeri Langman said the City still does not have solid numbers for the cost of operating the dispatch center. On May 15, it was estimated the locally operated dispatch would cost the City an additional $145,486 more a year than staying with the CCC. But that number seems to have increased as new expenses have come to light, such as the cost to update various programs, purchase new equipment and train future employees.

When queried by the commission, High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley has remained confident that if the City operates its own dispatch, the police department will be able to work safely and smoothly. However, Holley did say the dispatch would not be safe if there were only four dispatchers. This prompted the commission to budget for five dispatchers and one supervisor.

On Tuesday, the commission reviewed the letter the City will be sending to the CCC to provide formal notice of separation. Prompted by Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas, Mayor Dean Davis signed the letter, which is slated to be mailed on June 29, depending on the results of the June 28 commission meeting.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin was absent during the discussion, but said during an earlier meeting that the dispatch provides an opportunity for the City to rebuild and make the dispatch the best it can be.

“We have the officers and the community’s safety in mind,” Gestrin said.

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NEWBERRY – Paul and Beverly Hardy have lived in their home in Newberry for nine years. They knew that living next to a wastewater treatment plant may bring in some unpleasant smells from time to time, but in the past couple of months the stench has become increasingly worse.

“It’s a pungent, stinky smell,” Paul Hardy, 74, said. “It will actually make you sick, I think.”

The couple said their daughter who lives in the same neighborhood has also noticed the odors. She had thought something died, Beverly Hardy, 74, said.

They said that sometimes the smell is so bad, that they can’t sit outside. The problem is something that has progressed over time, especially the past couple of months.

“The smell has gotten worse and worse and worse,” Paul Hardy said.

According to the city’s utility director, Blaine Suggs, the foul odor is coming from an effluent storage pond. The pond has been covered in a growth of duckweed, which has caused the pond to become stagnant.

Duckweed is a plant that grows on the surface of the water and causes problems in ponds because it essentially seals the pond from sunlight, preventing oxygenation.

Suggs said that the city’s utilities department is working with William T. Haller of the UF IFAS Aquatic Center to apply a herbicide to kill the duckweed.

It’s important that they are careful with the herbicide, Suggs said in an email, because the effluent will be sprayed onto the hayfield. They need to be sure the herbicide does not damage the grass.

Air diffusers will be installed at the bottom of the pond to help with stagnation and remove the muck from the bottom of the pond. Suggs said that once the diffusers are installed, there may be a noticeable increase in the pungent smell for about a week.

Biological microbes may be introduced to combat the muck accumulation.

If everything goes as planned, there should be a noticeable improvement within the next two weeks and the odors should subside, Suggs said.

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Little Orange Creek Nature Park encompasses 1,300 acres of land, straddling the county line between Putnam and Alachua counties. Owned by the City of Hawthorne, it is managed by the Putnam Land Conservancy and the Friends of Little Orange Creek.

HAWTHORNE – Just past Highway 301 on Hawthorne Road, a white picket fence lines the road. A turquoise gate breaks up the fence. The Little Orange Creek Nature Park lies beyond the gate, but until the land use is changed on the property, further development on the park is at a stand still.

The 1,300 acre piece of land straddles the county line between Putnam and Alachua counties. It is owned by the City of Hawthorne, but managed by the Putnam Land Conservancy and the Friends of Little Orange Creek.

Property Manager Mike Stallings walks around the park and sees visions of what the park could be. He plans to make it an educational property. The house on the site needs to be renovated and ADA approved so it can be used to host events. He already has money for a pavilion to be installed.

The problem, Stallings said, is that the land use on the property needs to be changed before any construction can take place. On the Putnam County side of the property, the land use taken care of for about a year. The side of the property that is in Alachua County remains to be approved.

The park, Stallings said, is a historic part of Hawthorne. In the 1850s, Morrison’s Mills used to operate at the location.

The site also has a historic cemetery with graves that date back as far as 1883. The cemetery was hidden by vegetation until he cleared the area. Now stone markings poke out of the ground bearing the name of the deceased.

The park could be the site of archeological classes, he said. Stallings looks around the park and envisions teachers taking their students out to the park to learn about wildlife.

“Our vision was education,” he said.

Obtaining the land for the park was no simple task. Stallings said that a group with the Putnam Land Conservancy wrote several grants before they were finally able to get the money needed to buy the property six years ago. One of the key members of this group, Kathy Cantwell, who is now deceased, left money for the group to use for the park.

Stallings said that though the park is still being developed, Cantwell was able to see them buy the property.

“She got to see our dream come true,” he said.

To finance these programs, the park still needs more funds. Stallings said he thinks some of the programs he talks about may not come immediately. He said he hopes the park is a development that is constantly evolving. He also wants the park to be self-sustainable and not a burden on taxpayers.

With all the changes needed to be done to the property and house, it could cost an estimated $200,000.

While the delay in land use change has stalled development, he said he wants to keep the vision alive.

“I believe in this,” Stallings said. “I want it to move.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – After eliminating the position of High Springs city planner, and laying off the employee who served in that capacity, city officials now say they need a planner to handle day-to-day issues regarding land development codes. On Thursday, June 14, the commission instructed City Manager Jeri Langman to research options for planning services.

“People are starting to come back out and say we want to rezone, we want to bring a development out of the ground,” said Langman during Thursday’s meeting. “These are types of things where we actually do need someone who has those city planner qualifications.”

Recently hired city engineer John Morrison requested the item be placed on the commission meeting agenda because of the amount of time he spent researching code laws. Officials say there has been an influx of businesses interesting in developing in High Springs, and Morrison estimated he would spend three to four hours on each code-related issue presented to the City.

“What’s happening here is that I’m a civil engineer; I’m not a planner,” Morrison said. “My time is best spent with the engineering issues the City is facing right now, not with the land planning issues.”

Morrison and Langman presented the commission with the possibility of contracting with Laura Dedenbach, formerly a senior planner with Alachua County and the City of Alachua’s Planning and Community Development Director. Dedenback would work for High Springs for a proposed $15,000 a year.

“It’s my understanding when we hired the civil engineer that they were going to be doing the city planning and the city engineering, which is where we were going to save the money,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “That’s what I thought the deal was.”

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas said he thought when the City hired an engineer the candidate would have planning experience. Barnas suggested Langman meet with the City of Hawthorne because they are currently using Alachua County for planning services.

According to Langman, High Springs used to operate under the same arrangement.

“Most people were unhappy with that because it was inconvenient,” Mayor Dean Davis said.

Commissioner Sue Weller voiced concern about the budget, and Commissioner Linda Gestrin said the City needs to look for ways to downsize.

“We need something that fits our city,” Gestrin said.

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Santa Fe principal retires after 10 years

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After 10 years serving as the principal of Santa Fe High School, Bill Herschleb is retiring at the end of June.  Standing in front of the Santa Fe High School science building which now bears his name, Herschleb was instrumental in the design and development of the building, which has recently added 10 new mathematics classrooms.

ALACHUA – It’s all about the light bulbs lighting.

Bill Herschleb says the best thing an educator can get out of his or her job is seeing that bright moment of understanding when a student just gets it.

“Every teacher must feel that the most rewarding experience is seeing the light bulbs lighting, when a student makes a realization or starts beginning to understand,” Herschleb said.

Herschleb is officially retiring at the end of June after 10 years as the principal of Santa Fe High School, finishing an education career that has included six years as a science teacher at Santa Fe High and stints as the principal of Eastside High School and as science supervisor for the school district.

Herschleb was also instrumental in the design and development of the Santa Fe High School science building which now bears his name and has recently added 10 new mathematics classrooms.

Herschleb has had science in his life since before he was born.  His father worked for Dow Chemical, and Herschleb evidently shared his father’s interests, earning a degree in Chemistry from the University of Florida.  After disliking the isolation that came with his first job as a researcher for the UF biochemistry lab, he went back to school to get a degree in secondary education and has never regretted the move out of the lab and in to the classroom.

Herschleb said having scientific knowledge is good only if you have the educational skill to share that knowledge with the world.

“Probably one of the most critical needs in the science community today is the ability to explain to the public what your findings are all about,” Herschleb said.

Herschleb’s science background has led him to many endeavors outside of school, such as his current position as chairman of the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists, which runs the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida.

Although Herschleb’s educational background is grounded in the technical, he says a mixture the scientific and the emotional is necessary when dealing with the fragile and ever-changing world of education.

“There is an art and a science to education,” Herschleb said.  “We believe we understand some of the technical aspects of educational psychology, or proper teaching behaviors.  I don’t think we quite understand the art of education, where the effectiveness is measured by how well the student understands.”

Herschleb believes the state required end-of-course exams instituted last year for Algebra I, Biology I and Geometry help teachers pinpoint areas of focus, using technical tools to achieve the “artistic” goal of student understanding.  But new State requirements on how those exams are used for evaluation purposes present new challenges.

“The difficult part is the dramatic change, almost overnight.  It’s just been so rapid, that everyone is having a hard time making an adjustment,” he said. “I’m confident that schools will be able to make that transition, but I’m also aware that it’s caused some changes in the way we do things.

Still, Herschleb believes the faculty he leaves behind will be able to handle the adjustments in stride, saying, “I can’t imagine a group of professionals that are more capable of making those adaptations than the people I’ve worked with.”

“We’re experiencing a shift in the focus of education,” Herschleb said.  “We’re moving from a focus on teacher practice to a focus on student performance.  Instead of focusing on how it’s being taught, now we’re looking at what the students are getting out of it.”

The end-of-course exams, which students are required to pass before graduating, are an example of the dramatic shift in the focus of education.

Herschleb believes that even when money is tight, funding education should be government priority.

“It seems as though we’ve lost faith in the value of education,” Herschleb said.  “It may only be temporary, as we are in tough economic times, but we need to continue to support education.  Teachers and students need to rally around their schools; we need to keep the schools in areas of prominence.  Schools need to continue to be the centers of communities.”

Herschleb’s retirement ceremony will be held at Santa Fe High School on June 19, but after that Herschleb still plans to remain active in education with his role in the Florida Foundation of Future Scientists, balancing that with plenty of woodworking, gardening and raising cattle.

Herschleb said he cannot imagine choosing another career path, noting that his profession provided him with unique challenges every day.  As for the many students who passed under his tutelage through the years, he hopes to have armed them with a desire for knowledge and the tools to attain it.

“I hope that students leaving my school know that they can never know everything, they try to learn as much as they can and that they have the skills necessary to answer their own questions.”

Thanks to Herschleb, the light bulbs will continue to light.

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Approves water restrictions

HIGH SPRINGS – After a presentation by Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, on the quantity and quality of Florida’s water, the High Springs Commissioners, during Thursday’s meeting, passed on first reading an ordinance restricting the water usage in the city based on regulations put in place by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).

“High Springs is really the heartland of spring’s country, in terms of a city that’s right at the embarkation point to our springs,” Knight said. “I realize you don’t have direct authority over much of what happens at the springs, but you do have the ability to express the interests to the public.”

Due to low water levels, the SRWMD issued a Water Shortage Order for the first time in the history of the district that calls for residents within its jurisdiction to conserve water inside and outside. The order will be in effect until Sept. 30, and residents can restrict their water usage by limiting water waste, irrigating lawns only once a week and eliminating outside aesthetic uses for water, such as fountains.

“Just so you know, a water shortage order will not stop the decline of the hydrologic conditions. What it does is stop the rate of decline, so it’s a conservation measure,” said Steve Menace, representative from the SRWMD. “We’re still extremely dry, and we need all the assistance we can get.”

The water shortage order, which went into effect June 13, followed the Alachua County Department of Health’s announcement about recent algae growth in the Santa Fe River. With excessive water-pumping and the long-term drought, the river stopped flowing in some areas, such as at the High Springs boat ramp. With stagnant waters, the algae flourished.

The Santa Fe River winds through a nexus of the three water management districts, Knight said, including SWRMD, St. Johns Water Management District and Southwest Florida Water Management District. Along the Santa Fe River, approximately 36 springs and 10 siphons exist between River Rise and Cow Creek.

Based on estimates from the Florida Springs Institute, the Santa Fe Springs recharge area has shrunk by approximately one-third of its total area in the last couple decades because of pumping in the local area, Knight said.

“The flow in Poe Springs essentially stopped in the last week before this rain started,” he said. “That is unprecedented in the flow record for Poe Springs, which goes back to 1972.”

The other main problem with the Santa Fe River is a water quality problem, such as higher levels of nitrates. Nitrates come from urban and agricultural sources, such as fertilizers, wastewater treatment facilities and septic tanks.

According to Knight, the springs form the backbone of the economy in this region, producing an estimated $20 million in revenue per year. Floridians pour into the areas surrounding springs, purchasing food at restaurants, renting canoes, and staying in local hotels and bed and breakfasts, stated the Santa Fe River Springs Restoration Action Plan.

High Springs Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made a motion asking Commissioner Sue Weller to draft a proclamation, based on examples from Florida Leaders on Water, to send to the SRWMD requesting the district increase the water conservation strategies. All five commissioners voted for the proclamation.

In addition to the conservation ordinance, High Spring’s commissioners considered the adoption of a septic system evaluation program. Barnas directed City Attorney Raymond Ivey to research other cities that had implemented the evaluation program. The motion passed three to two, with Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voting against it.

The program calls for septic tank owners in High Springs to have their systems evaluated every five years by a qualified contractor, which includes a pump-out, certification and evaluation of drain field and upkeep.

“If there’s a failure, you have to repair your systems up to the standards that are in place now,” said Anthony Dennis of the Alachua County Health Department.

In Alachua County, there are 30,000 septic tanks, and the county will discuss the issue on June 26. High Springs has approximately 1,639 tanks within city boundaries.

“We either opt out or support something, and I’m looking toward supporting something,” said Barnas. Weller agreed, stating that adopting this measure was just another step toward protecting the local environment.

But Davis disagreed, saying, “And I’m looking toward opting out.”

“Based on history, what’s going on so far is everyone that’s been given an option has opted out,” he said. “I happen to know that a septic tank will tell you if it ain’t working. It will quit, and then you will have to fix it. You won’t have a choice. We’re creating something else that has to be done.”

Knight said septic tanks may not be the biggest contributor to pollution, but they are a source of nitrogen. When there are so many tanks in such a small area, such as High Springs, it becomes a point source of nitrates going into the river. In Wakulla Springs, every new tank had to be a nitrogen-removal system, which is a step above the requirements imposed by the ordinance High Springs is considering.

This is a watered-down version of the Springs Protection Act, Knight said.

“Now we have the first opportunity for our city to make a statement on trying to stop pollution that’s leading to the destruction of our river, and we’re considering opting out?” said High Springs resident Paul Regensdorf. “I’m absolutely shocked.”

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Powell_PorterL-R:  Allie Powell, D'Aisha Porter

ALACHUA – The last week has been a rough start to summer for the Mebane Middle School family and friends and those of two students who died in the last week, one from a drowning and the other from cancer.  Both just completed seventh grade at the school.

Allie Powell of Alachua drowned Thursday, June 7 while swimming at Miramar Beach, Fla. in the Panhandle.  Powell was reportedly swimming with her father and other family members when she was caught in a powerful rip current that evening.  Powell’s father was also caught in the rip current and required resuscitation, reports say.  A sheriff’s deputy who tried to rescue Powell was also taken to an area hospital for treatment.

Allie Powell was a member of Fellowship Church of High Springs and traveled for mission work to Haiti, Costa Rica and El Salvadore.  She leaves behind her parents, Jeff and Jane Powell of Alachua and siblings, Tyler, Austin and Ashlynn.

D’Aisha Porter, also a 13-year-old Mebane student, lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday, June 12.  Since 2009, Porter had been fighting the rare form of cancer known as Clear Cell Sarcoma.

Students at Mebane rallied around Porter, most notably in a March 23 celebration declared D’Aisha’s Pink Passion Day.  The students transformed the school’s colors from black and gold to pink to support Porter in her battle against the disease and to raise funds for her treatment.

Porter’s parents, Tonnetta and Wayne, felt their daughter’s strength was incredible. Despite her struggles, in an interview earlier this year, Wayne Porter said of his daughter that she remembers to keep a smile on her face in and out of the hospital.

Porter, herself, commented at the time, “I found out myself that frowning just makes me sicker.”

Also in an interview earlier this year, Tonnetta Porter said of D’Aisha, “She does not allow her sickness to hold her back, and in spite of it she still manages to keep up with her school work, chores at home and enjoys free time with friends.”

As of late March, Porter had undergone 15 surgeries and exhausted all possible treatments available at Gainesville medical facilities as well as the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The family had been looking at treatment options available outside of the United States.

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