Construction at Poe Springs Park is at a standstill due to permit issues.  The park consists of 202 acres, and is located three miles west of High Springs on County Road 340 along the banks of the Santa Fe River.

HIGH SPRINGS – With an agreement for the City of High Springs to assume management of nearby Poe Springs Park all but signed, construction delays may jeopardize the takeover.

An impending agreement that would transfer management of the park to the city was nearly finalized by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on March 13 when High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas alerted County Commissioners that his city did not wish to assume management of the park while construction at the springs was incomplete.

High Springs commissioners later agreed during a March 20 meeting that they didn’t want the city to start running the park while construction was ongoing.  The commission directed City Manager Jeri Langman to draft and send a letter to Alachua County informing them that if construction exceeded 30 days, the city might consider backing out of the agreement.

City commissioners were concerned that lingering construction would limit the full use of the park, most notably the spring itself, where a project is underway to rebuild the steps leading into the water.  The spring is currently closed due to the construction, meaning what many people consider to be the park’s hallmark feature is unusable to the public.

Alachua County officials now say the steps restoration project at Poe Springs may not be completed until the beginning of May, or even later due to a permit delay.

Alachua County Parks Superintendent Rob Avery said the contractor performing the reconstruction originally had until the end of April or beginning of May to complete the project.  Excavation of the existing steps was well underway when work was halted until a required permit was obtained.  It has been three weeks since construction was unexpectedly stopped.

Avery said the County has been informed verbally that the permit has been approved, although it was not yet in hand as of March 28.  He remained hopeful that the private contractor conducting the work would be able to complete it, at or near the original deadline.

Even if the reconstruction is completed by May 1, it places it well beyond the 30-day window set by High Springs commissioners, many of whom knew nothing of the construction until a private citizen mentioned it at a March 10 town hall meeting.

High Springs city officials said Wednesday that Barnas had been communicating with Alachua County officials about the delays although no specific information was provided.  Barnas could not be reached for comment.

Terms of the pending agreement, which is currently awaiting a more definitive date on construction completion, include an initial one-year period, which can be renewed.

According to the arrangement, the City of High Springs would take charge of the daily staffing and maintenance of the park while the county would review fees, plans, and events at the park. The county would further take charge of larger upkeep such as mowing and building repairs.

Under the latest draft of the agreement, the park would be open Wednesday through Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday being free admission days. On weekends, High Springs would charge $5 to $8 per vehicle, and $2 for individuals.  High Springs has proposed to offer annual passes to local families and individuals.

The agreement states that after the city recovers its costs of managing the park through entrance fees, additional revenue will be split between Alachua County and the City of High Springs.

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HS_Candidate_forum_3-27-12_DSCF5800_copyL-R: High Springs commission candidates Scott Jamison and Ann Carter answered questions during  a March 27 forum.

HIGH SPRINGS – Two candidates running for commission in a special High Springs election responded to a series of questions in a March 27 forum hosted by the New Century Woman’s Club.  The question and answer session marked the only public discussion with both candidates, Ann Carter and Scott Jamison, in what has been an abbreviated campaign period.

Moderated by Woman’s Club President Barbara Miller, the forum provided for five preselected questions of the candidates as well as opening and closing statements.  Roughly 40 people attended the forum, which lasted about 45 minutes.

In providing personal background, Carter, retired, said she recently started a baking business.  She is originally from Jacksonville, Fla., but after attending college, Carter said she was employed at numerous places across the country throughout her career.  Most of Carter’s career was with the federal government, including with the United States Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Defense, Energy, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Air Force among others.

Jamison, 55 years old, said he has been married to his wife, Lynn, for 32 years.  He has three children and moved to the area in 2000 and to High Springs in 2005.  Originally from Gulfport, Fla., a small town south of St. Petersburg, Jamison said he has a bachelor’s degree in public recreation and later took additional courses to become a teacher.  He taught at area schools for several years and is now a personnel specialist in the human resources department at the School Board of Alachua County.

Editor’s note: The following is a summary of the questions and answers from the candidates

Q: Are you in favor of maintaining the city manager/commission form of government?

Jamison: I am in favor of the current system because the alternative is a commission that is involved in day-to-day operations of the city and politicizes the process.  It’s important to keep politics separate from administration so employees don’t have five or six bosses and everyone gets a fair shot.

Carter: I prefer a stronger commission where commissioners have more input into how things are run.  When you put all of the power under the city manager, you get someone who builds an empire and you take away the input from all of the voters.  I want the people of this city who vote for me to have a say and that power is through me.

Jamison rebuttal: The commission can solicit information under the current system, but the commission cannot direct an individual employee in their job.  The power is in the commission who ultimately hires and fires the city manager.

Q: How do you feel about media coverage of events occurring within High Springs’ city government and are you concerned with private filming or recording during public meetings?

Carter: It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know why it would be appropriate, other than by the newspaper, but I see no point in a private citizen recording the meeting.  I strongly object to and am embarrassed by the media coverage, and it’s a disgrace.  I think freedom of speech and debate is good.  The ugliness needs to stop.

Jamison: When people know they’re being watched, they tend to do the right thing.  It should not matter if there is a camera or audio recording.  I don’t see any issue with it because the commission ought to be transparent anyway.  When the commission is casting votes, the people should know what they’re saying.

Carter Rebuttal: I do not have a problem with people speaking their mind at commission meetings.  But I was directing my comments to the ugliness that I have seen at the commission meetings and outside of the commission meetings:

Q: Which issues confronting High Springs today need to be addressed immediately?

Jamison: We are indebted to the sewer system so we need to figure out the most economical way to do it.  We need to increase the tax base.  We need to bring in some sort of industry, which means light manufacturing.

Carter: We need a plan for dealing with our sewer system when there is a storm and our electricity goes out.  I believe the present commission has taken some measures to control spending.  I also want us to get our police dispatch center back.

Q: Should the public be able to speak on published agenda items?

Carter: When it’s appropriate and when time is available, I think it’s healthy for members of the community to be able to speak on all matters.

Jamison: I think having a consistent policy is important so that if residents come to commission meetings, they know they will have the opportunity to express themselves.

Q: If you were elected, you would only serve for about six months; would you run for re-election in November?

Jamison: Yes.  This is where we chose to live.  I’m not going anywhere and barring any unforeseen circumstances, I would run again.

Carter: If it is God’s will, I will run for re-election.

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Q_-_Tornado_DSC_0221_copyALACHUA – Severe weather that swept through the area last Saturday, March 24, left a trail of downed trees and power lines as well as damaged homes.  Several houses in the city of Alachua sustained damage from falling trees and high winds and there were reports of sporadic power outages.  Damage was visible along Peggy Road in the vicinity of NW 197th Terrace.  Cleanup crews were on site Sunday morning removing trees and debris from the area.  No injuries were reported as a result of the storm, although several vehicle accidents were reported along I-75. Add a comment

ALACHUA – Nearly two years after property owners sought to annex into the City of Alachua the former battery plant on U.S. Highway 441, commissioners gave the nod to four of those parcels on March 26.

Alachua City Commissioners approved the annexation of about 10 acres of land broken up into four tax parcels at the former Gates Energy Products manufacturing site.

The parcels annexed Monday had been withdrawn for consideration more than a year ago by their owners who then rescinded that withdrawal in recent months, and asked that the city move forward with annexation proceedings.

Three other adjacent parcels of land that remained up for annexation have been delayed indefinitely since 2010 when city officials raised concerns over liability on the site due to possible contamination in the past.

Although owners of Phoenix Commercial Park have maintained that there is no existing contamination on their property, city officials have said they want to ensure the city does not incur a legal liability if contamination is later found.

About half of the nearly 150 acres is reported to be contaminated and cleanup efforts there date back to the 1970s and still continue.

The portion of the property now known as Phoenix Commercial Park is said not to be contaminated, but is designated as a “brownfield site” because of the perception of contamination.

Lisa Albertson, one of the representatives for Phoenix Commercial Park, told commissioners in 2010 that her company’s property isn’t contaminated.

“The brownfield designation is on property that is not contaminated.  It has gone through a phase one evaluation and passed with flying colors.

“[Phoenix Commercial Park] is one of those brownfield assigned designations because we are next to a parcel that does have contamination and that’s how we got the brownfield designation; we are not contaminated,” Albertson said during that 2010 meeting.

Lithium Nickel Asset Holding Company, Inc. (LNAH) owned one of the largest parcels in the 150-acre site but requested to withdraw their annexation more than a year ago, city officials said.

A representative from LNAH said in 2010 that cleanup efforts on their site have been underway for years and the contaminating substance is “naturally attenuating,” and expected to be fully remediated within the next seven years.

The nearly 150-acre site along U.S. Highway 441 has historically been operated as a battery manufacturing facility.

The vote on March 26 finalizes the annexation of only about 10 acres of the property.  The Phoenix Commercial Park annexation remains on hold.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A free Public Health Fair on Friday, April 6, will give parents an opportunity to sneak in a fun educational activity for their children during Alachua County Public Schools’ spring break.

The Public Health Fair will feature a full day of free, supervised health-related games and activities for children ages 5 to 17, as well as free breakfast, lunch and snacks. The event is sponsored by the Woodland Park Boys and Girls Club and Delta Omega, the public health honor society at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.

 During the morning session, children will be divided by age group for activities designed to teach them about healthy eating, healthy behaviors, and hygiene and sanitation. An outdoor public health fair in the afternoon is open to the public and will include educational games, face painting and prizes.

 Parents may drop off their children at 8 a.m. at the Woodland Park campus of the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County, 1900 S.E. Fourth Street, Gainesville, and pick them up when the event ends at 5:30 p.m. To register or for more information, call 352-377-8003. Space for the morning session is limited to 150 children.

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NEWBERRY – As the days count down to April 10, a question of qualification has come up for one of the candidates in the City of Newberry’s commission race.

At the March 26 city commission meeting, a resident alleged that candidate Barbara Hendrix did not meet the residency qualification requirements for the Newberry election.

Sandra Marin filed an affidavit at the meeting citing that Hendrix removed her homestead on her property in the city of Alachua too late to meet the qualifications to run in the upcoming city of Newberry election.

Marin cited four exhibits, which included records from the Alachua County Tax Collector’s Office.

The Newberry City Charter mandates that candidates should have maintained a primary, principle and physical residence within the city for six months immediately preceding the date of qualification.

Hendrix, the program manager for Newberry Main Street Organization, said she has had a primary residence in Newberry since 2008. She further said she had changed her primary residence so she could serve on the Planning and Zoning Board in 2009.

According to records from the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s website, Hendrix owns property in Alachua. The records also say she does not own the property in Newberry that she listed on her website as her primary residence.

Hendrix said she is renting the property in Newberry, which she currently claims as her permanent residence, but owns property on 915 NW State Road 45. Records from the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s website affirm that she has been an owner at this site for more than eight years.

Hendrix said she checked with the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office before she applied to run for the commission seat. When Hendrix saw that her homestead had not been removed from the property in Alachua, she notified the office. According to Hendrix, the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office acknowledged this as a glitch.

Hendrix has lived in North Florida since 1990 and began volunteering with the Newberry Main Street Organization in 2006.  She is running against incumbent Lois Forte in the Group 2 commission seat in the election on April 10.

The residency allegation and affidavit presented by Marin was provided to Newberry City Attorney Scott Walker for further review.

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A Candidates Forum will be hosted by the High Springs New Century Woman’s Club, 40 NW 1st Ave., High Springs, on March 27, 2012 at 7 pm. The event is for the candidates running for the vacant seat on the City of High Springs Commission. The special election will be held on April 10, 2012.

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