ALACHUA – The Gainesville Police Department responded to the complaints of residents of Turkey Creek in Alachua regarding the noise from the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC).

The GREC biomass plant has been online since August. The plant is within Gainesville’s city limits, but residents from Turkey Creek and neighboring communities in Alachua have complained about the noise from GREC, which some citizens said keep them up at night. The Gainesville Police Department, responsible for enforcing the city’s noise ordinances, took some tests in Turkey Creek, but found the volume level within the legal limits.

The GPD said it will no longer respond to calls outside of the Gainesville city limits.

Citizens with concerns regarding the noise from GREC can call the non-emergency number for the Combined Communications Center of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352-955-1818.

The tests the GPD took are not conclusive, said Ben Tobias, spokesman for the GPD. They were only taken over a short period of time and not necessarily indicative of the average volume level of the biomass plant, he said. However, the GPD will no longer be involved in testing the noise, according to its press release.

“The Gainesville Police Department is very sensitive to the needs of the citizens we proudly serve,” the agency said, but directed residents to take their complaints to the jurisdiction where the noise is heard, not where it originates.

Several Turkey Creek residents went to the Alachua City Commission Monday night at the Oct. 7 meeting to voice their concerns.

“If we had our choice today, we’d be gone,” said Russ Pisano, whose family has been affected.

Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr., said he would talk to the city attorney about possible courses of action.

Boukari said he wished the problem could be solved as easily as flicking a light switch.

However, some residents of Turkey Creek feel that not enough has been done.

“In all essence, nothing has been solved,” said one person, who asked the city to consider a nuisance lawsuit against the City of Gainesville.

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NEWBERRY – Who makes the best barbecue around? Everyone will know the answer to that question as amateur and professional chefs put their skills to the test at the 7th Annual Newberry Fall Market Festival and Barbecue Cook Off.

The event starts at 9 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12, when four amateur and three professional barbecue chefs compete in their own categories for the award of best overall barbecue. A cash prize of $100 plus an apron awaits the winner, along with all the bragging rights that go along with that distinction.

The smell of ribs, chicken, beef or pork, slowly roasting over low flames, will direct most visitors to the festival location along South Seaboard Drive in the downtown area. Many competitors will have been up all night tending their fires to deliver their best barbecue meats and sauces for sale to visitors during the day and to the judges at 1 p.m.

While the judges decide some of the winners, there will also be an opportunity for visitors to vote for their favorite barbecue in the people’s choice category. Winners in the best amateur barbecue, best professional barbecue, best overall barbecue, best barbecue sauce and people’s choice barbecue categories will be announced between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

In addition, more than 50 arts and crafts vendors will be displaying items for sale. One vendor, for instance, makes handcrafted music stands and harps made from old pianos. Christmas and Halloween decorations, purses, jewelry, handcrafted wooden bowls, cypress furniture, quilts, candles, canned goods and items made with dried flowers will be up for sale.

Live musical performances by Late Night Delivery and the Flying Turtles String Band will also go on throughout the day. Bounce houses, face-painting and other games and events for children will also be available.

Ten percent of the sales of barbecue foods from each competitor will be donated to the Main Street Organization for future projects to benefit Newberry.

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W - Biomass 1

ALACHUA - Robert Wilford, Alachua city commissioner, was watching television at his home in Turkey Creek when his wife told him to come outside and listen.

“It sounded like a jet engine,” he said.

They heard the newly operational Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) generating electricity. Since late August, when the GREC biomass plant started running, some residents of Turkey Creek in Alachua have been vocal about the noise and dust pollution coming from the energy center.

On the Sept. 23 city commission meeting in Alachua, about three dozen residents came to the commissioners with their grievances.

“It’s definitely something that’s affecting a lot of people,” said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager. “It’s a really serious issue.”

In 2010, residents of Turkey Creek were assured they wouldn’t even know the biomass plant was there, Wilford said. State-of-the-art technology was supposed to minimize noise and pollution, but that didn’t happen, he said.

“When they cranked it up in August and the noise came up, it was a total shock to everybody,” he said.

One neighbor reported the plant was running at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

Alachua County is focusing its efforts on putting people in touch with the right agency, said Chris Bird, director of the Environmental Protection Department. Since the biomass plant is in Gainesville, the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) is in charge of enforcing the city’s noise ordinances. The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department is responsible for looking into the issue of dust pollution coming from the wood piles at the plant.

The complaints at the Sept. 23 city commission meeting were evenly split between the issues of noise and dust pollution, Boukari said.

The commission voted to send letters out to several officials, including county commissioners, city commissioners, the county manager, state legislators and U.S. senators.

The city is encouraging Alachua residents to reach out and voice their concerns, he said, and will listen for feedback.

“We’re keeping our ears close to the ground,” Boukari said.

The county’s environmental protection agency will conduct tests to measure the amount of wood dust in the air, Bird said. It has already established wood piles at the plant as the source of the pollution, but the extent is still unclear.

Some employees of the nearby compound for the Alachua County public works department have complained about health problems.

“We’ve had reports of irritated eyes, nose and throats, congestion and breathing issues,” he said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doesn’t allow fugitive dust particles. If the plant is found in violation of DEP guidelines, it could be ordered to fix the problem or face a fine if it doesn’t comply. It could also face losing some of its permits.

“Hopefully, what people are complaining about is going to get fixed,” Bird said.

The last few months have been rainy, but he wondered what would happen under dryer conditions, where the dust would be more susceptible to getting blown into the air.

“What happens when we get into a drought?” he asked. “GREC needs to figure out how to manage this dust so it doesn’t become a problem during a drought.”

Commissioner Wilford was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis two years ago, and worries about the effect the pollution might have on his health.

“If it’s not cleared up, certainly I will be concerned,” he said.

He wrote an email to several local officials expressing his dissatisfaction with the biomass plant.

“I realize that you are being bombarded with a plethora of complaints regarding GREC's operations. Being brutally candid, based on the manner in which GREC is failing to address the many valid concerns being expressed by residents of the Turkey Creek, Brooke Pointe and Staghorn subdivisions, residents of the Town of Hague, residents of the manufactured home subdivision located across from the Turkey Creek subdivision, and also some residents of non-incorporated Alachua County who live close to the center, you and the management of GREC have ignominiously earned the wrath of the many individuals and families who are being continually and adversely impacted by your center's questionable operations and the obvious lack of regard for our individual rights,” he wrote.

County commissioners have received several similar emails from other residents.

If this noise continues, I will be forced to go to a fine rated motel and I will send you'll the invoice,” wrote Paul Yatsko, from Alachua.You need to close this operation down until all the noise and dirt problems are solved.”

County Commissioner Susan Baird said that like Wilford, she was told the plant wouldn’t be a problem.

“As a county commissioner, I think it’s our responsibility to examine these noise levels right away,” she said. “When 30 people show up at a city meeting, there’s a problem.”

Rick Wolf, assistant director of the county’s Department of Growth Management, wrote to Baird saying the maximum noise level for a commercial property is 60 decibels during the day and 66 during the night. Any facility in violation will be considered a noise disturbance, he said.

Because the source of the noise is in Gainesville and most of the complaints are coming from the city of Alachua, the county probably doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do anything, Wolf said. A meeting is planned for Oct. 8, where the county will hopefully decide on a policy, he said.

GREC has hired consultants to perform their own tests.

Alachua City Commissioner Ben Boukari spoke with GREC representatives on Sept. 30, according to an email he wrote to the county commission.

“What I have learned is that GREC doesn’t deny there is a noise issue,” he wrote. “They are waiting for information to come back to them that will allow them to identify what specifically is causing the noise.”

GREC experts expect to have the information in two weeks, he wrote.

Local law enforcement has already performed some preliminary tests which showed the noise level, while loud, was below the legal limit, said Ben Tobias, spokesman for the GPD. However, the tests were only taken over a period of one night, and are not necessarily indicative of the average volume level of the plant. For a more accurate understanding, tests will have to be conducted over a longer period of time.

“The issue is obviously not resolved,” Tobias said. “We’re not just going to stop with one set of measurements.”

While the state DEP, Alachua County Environmental Protection Department and other local agencies look into some of the complaints, the City of Alachua is weighing its options and waiting to see test results, said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager.

The issues coming from the biomass plant undermine the reason people moved to neighborhoods like Turkey Creek, Commissioner Wilford said.

“We can’t enjoy the peace and tranquility that we used to have,” he said.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua Lions Club (ALC) will be hosting their annual White Cane Walk Saturday, Oct. 12.


From 9 am to noon, the walk will take place from the old Alachua City Hall, on County Road 241, to the library to the Lions Club, 15115 NW 142nd Terrace, across from the new city hall building.


The walk is intended to educate the community about Florida’s White Cane Law and the difficulties of being visually impaired.


“There are more than 4500 blind people in Alachua County and many current drivers are not aware of Florida’s White Cane Laws, which requires drivers to come to a complete stop when a visually impaired pedestrian with a white cane or guide dog is crossing a public street,” said John Hopkin, vice president of the ALC.


“Nationally, in one out of three cases where a traffic accident involves a blind pedestrian, the blind pedestrian is killed,” said Jack Varnon, second vice president of the Alachua County Council of the Blind.


Participants of the walk could be blind or visually impaired, or they could have normal vision. People who aren’t visually impaired will have a chance to be blindfolded to understand the array of challenges faced by impaired pedestrians on a daily basis.


Walkers wearing blindfolds will attempt to complete everyday tasks such as opening a door with a key, signing checks, filling a glass of water, placing a Band-Aid properly and making change. Elected officials will be there also with a voting machine for the blind to practice casting a vote.


The Wal-Mart Foundation’s Local Community Contribution Outreach Grant Program will be supporting the walk for a second year. In attendance at the event will be several community leaders, including current and former Alachua mayors, Gib Coerper, Clovis Watson and Jean Calderwood.


The ALC White Cane Walk began as an Alachua Eagle Scout project by Adam Boukari. Since its beginnings, the walk and cookout have become an annual event for the City of Alachua and its citizens. The city has declared the month of October as White Cane Month.


ALC has partnered with the Alachua Police Department, the local Police Explorers Club and Boy Scout troop, Santa Fe High School, Alachua County Council for the Blind and others to provide walkers, escorts, cooking and demonstrations for the walk.


In the United States, the introduction of the white cane is attributed to George A. Bonham of the Lions Clubs International, according to the ALC. In 1930, a Lions Club member watched as a man who was blind attempted to cross the street with a black cane that was barely visible. The Lions Club painted the cane white to make it easier to see. President Johnson then declared Oct. 15 National White Cane Day.


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W - Dan Boyd photo 2013

GAINESVILLE – In a half-empty office, with only a few boxes remaining, half packed, Superintendent Dan Boyd, sits in a chair at an empty table and talks about his last few days in office.

Boyd, 72, left his position as superintendent of Alachua County on Monday evening after serving as a Florida educator for, what Boyd would say, 49 and a quarter years. Of those 49 and a quarter, Boyd spent nine of them as the superintendent.

His last week in office has not been like a normal week. Between school events and packing his office up, it’s been much more hectic than usual, he said. Some of the stress comes from the number of celebrations he’s been to, most notably Gainesville High School’s commemorative event for him Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“I enjoyed it,” Boyd said. “It was nice. I got to see a lot of former teachers and people in the community that have meant a lot to me. It was a nice way to say goodbye.”

Of all the schools in Alachua County, Gainesville High School is the one that stands out the most for him. Like the first-born son to a mother and father, Gainesville High School sealed its place in Boyd’s heart as he spent 24 years there as the principal, he said.

Even if his last week at work was slow and calm, Boyd still wouldn’t regret his decision to retire three years early. He’s ready to read, hunt and spend time with his family.

“I’ll get a book and get up in a tree and sit there all day and read and watch to see what comes down the trail, and if it’s something good, then so be it,” Boyd said.

Boyd won’t just be focusing on his recreational activities like hunting and reading, but he’s excited to spend time with his daughters and grandchildren as well. His oldest granddaughter is going into ninth grade at Gainesville High School next year, and Boyd is interested in seeing her experience the high school where he worked for the majority of his career.

While Boyd is confident with his decision to retire, he won’t forget his proudest moments in his career. He will always be known for becoming a principal at Gainesville High School in 1971, he said, as tension between races grew shortly after desegregation.

During a time of serious racial conflict, Boyd looked to student government and sports to bring together the students and instill a sense of school pride. After three years of integrated sports, clubs and band, tensions began to ease, Boyd said.

Later in Boyd’s career when he became superintendent, he looked to unite the Alachua County Middle schools the same way he brought the students of Gainesville High School together, through sports. With a lot of work and campaigning for sports at middle schools, Boyd was granted approval to install three small sports into each of the middle schools. They were girls and boys basketball, volleyball and soccer.

“I have never missed a final or championship game the entire time I’ve been here,” Boyd said.

But his biggest and most memorable achievement is when Gainesville High School received a sports complex after a 20-year struggle to have one built, he said. The sports complex was built while he was still a principal for the school, but when he left it was named after him.

“They even named it in my honor when I left in 1995,” Boyd said. “It was called the W.D. Boyd Education Athletic Complex. I guess it was named for me because I stuck with it for 20 years.”

But in that mostly empty office that still held those half packed boxes, on his final day there, Boyd offered a piece of advice to all future superintendents: Trust the people you work with and to remember everyone is different, nobody is the same.

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ALACHUA – An Alachua County resident was killed in a motorcycle crash late Friday morning on Oct. 4.

Eric Cowart, 36, collided with a box van on U.S. Highway 441, next to Santa Fe High School. A witness at the scene said he was still breathing after the crash, but Jesse Sandusky, detective for the Alachua Police Department, said he was dead when they arrived at the scene.

The driver of the box truck was not injured, Sandusky said.

The accident was reported at about 11 a.m.

Cowart was heading north, riding his 1976 Harley-Davidson, when Michael Gassett, driving a school board box van, hit him while turning left onto County Road 235A.

Police redirected traffic around the crash, as law enforcement interviewed Gassett. The body, lying next to the motorcycle, was covered up.  

Cowart’s license indicates he has a Gainesville address, but he actually lives in High Springs.

Police are still investigating the crash to determine if there is any fault, he said. The driver has been charged with a right-of-way violation, but the investigation is not over.  

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NEWBERRY –Nations Park will hold its Columbus Day Classic tournament Oct. 11 to13, and its Halloween Bash tournament Nov. 2 through 3.

While this may be considered business as usual, the Newberry City Commission has been having preliminary discussions about renegotiating the entire process of running Nations Park, said City Manager Keith Ashby.

The Newberry Department of Parks and Recreation, Gainesville Sports Commission, United States Specialty Sports, Elite Pro Ball Academy and girls softball programs have been involved in the discussion.

“Depending on how they renegotiate the process, we believe the Gainesville Sports Commission may end up being the mangers of the field in operation.

If all goes well with the new contracts, the first tournament put together under the new arrangement will be in December, Ashby said.

The sports commission has started to discuss bringing in events to the park and forming new partnerships, said executive director Joleen Cacciatori.

In addition to the two upcoming tournaments, Perfect Game will hold its North Florida qualifier super 25 series on Nov. 23 to 24.

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