HIGH SPRINGS – A sinkhole located in the James Paul Park behind High Springs City Hall could be contaminated.

City Manager Ed Booth said the main culprits are arsenic and benzene, but an assortment of other pollutants was also found in lower amounts.

Two dry soil samples were taken on Dec. 5 last year and analyzed for 40 possible contaminants by Advanced Environmental Laboratories, Inc., a Gainesville firm. The analysis cost $1,022, said AEL project manager Beth Elton.

While the area around the outside of the sinkhole and along the sides have been the locations of many events in High Springs over the past few years, including the Music in the Park series, it is only the very bottom of the hole that was found to be contaminated, Booth said.

The contaminated soil is thought to be the result of water runoff from the surrounding roadways. Booth initially contacted the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) office for this district about a year ago to ask them to perform tests. Booth said he realized the agency would not address the issue immediately, and the city could not afford the expense at the time, so he took several soil samples and sent them to the University of Florida at no cost to the city.

The university tested for nitrates and some other pollutants, but not the wide assortment that was tested for this time, Booth said. The tests showed there were no problems at the time, he said. A year later, the FDOT had still not done the requested tests, prompting Booth to take more samples to send to AEL.

He spoke with FDOT engineer Greg Evans a year ago. Evans said at the time that if contaminants were found, his recommendation would be to install a rain garden and fence off the area to prevent people from accidentally walking through the contaminated area. He advised Booth not to disturb the soil.

Rain gardens are designed to capture the flow of storm water and prevent pollutants from gathering and flowing directly into waterways through the ground. Native plants are sometimes used because they can tolerate both wet and dry soil. Plants can act as filters for contaminants, by changing them into harmless substances before the water reaches the aquifer.

While AEL’s recent test results have not been forwarded to the local FDOT’s district office in Lake City, they soon will be, Booth said. He will also request for the FDOT to pay for the rain garden and fencing, along with a barrier to be placed on the pipe funneling water from the roadways into the sinkhole.

FDOT public information officer Gina Busscher said that when the report finds its way to her office, it will be forwarded to their geotechnical engineers for analysis and recommendations.

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NEWBERRY – Sewage goes in, useful water comes out.

The City of Newberry had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of its newly renovated water reclamation facility on Thursday, Feb. 13.

“This is a very important project for the City of Newberry,” said Mayor Bill Conrad.

The upgrades expand the facility’s physical capacity from being able to treat 350,000 gallons per day to around 560,000 gallons per day, said John Horvath, the project design manager. Though the maximum physical capacity is 560,000 gallons, the complex will operate at about 495,000 gallons to keep the cost down. Water treatment plants shouldn’t operate at full capacity, Horvath said. When a facility is within five years of approaching its maximum capacity, it is required to start the planning process for expansion.

The project has been several years in the making and was completed for less than the city had budgeted.

City officials and employees of the engineering firm responsible for the endeavor, Jones Edmunds, gathered at Newberry City Hall before the ribbon-cutting at the treatment plant.

Mayor Conrad said the city was ahead of the curve in wastewater treatment.

“We’re leading the pack in cleaning up our wastewater,” he said.

The total budget was around $2.8 million, but the city ended up spending around $80,000 to $100,000 less than that, Horvath said.

“At the end of the day, we had to borrow less than we expected,” Mayor Conrad said.

Newberry got a Community Budget Issue Request grant from the state for $400,000, as well as a $2.4 million State Revolving Fund loan to finance the upgrades.

A new treatment plant was added to the facility, and two old plants were upgraded, Horvath said. New generators were installed, in case the facility loses power. Another 14.5 acres were added to the spray-fields, where the treated water is sprayed, allowing it to soak through the ground back into the aquifer. About 23 acres were gained to be used for the disposal of biosolids, organic materials that are a byproduct of the treatment process that can be recycled as fertilizer.

Wastewater treatment is vital for healthy economic development, though it’s invisible to most citizens, said Terri Lowery, vice president at Jones Edmunds.

“People see roads,” she said. “When was the last time you toured a wastewater facility?” she asked.

The upgraded facility puts the city in a position to grow by allowing the city to accommodate the utility and sewage needs of more and larger businesses, Mayor Conrad said.

“Sewage is something that’s very difficult for small towns to deal with,” he said. Conrad pointed to the difficulties High Springs has had pursuing a sewer system. By having better infrastructure and services, Newberry can appeal more to businesses, he added.

The extra capacity for the water treatment plant will also help keep nitrates and other pollutants out of Newberry’s drinking water, he said.

Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, agreed.

“Most of the benefit is going to be in terms of protecting water quality,” he said.

There is growing concern about how the springs in the area are going to be affected by nitrogen pollution, Bird said. Even Newberry, though it isn’t as close to a spring or river as some other communities in the county, has an impact, he added.

“We are finding out collectively we’re going to have to do a much better job of keeping the nitrogen out of the aquifer,” he said. “What Newberry has done is they’ve got a head start.”

Over the next few years, as the state and federal government re-evaluates its water standards, there is going to be increased competition for small towns to get funding for projects like the one Newberry has completed, Bird said. Most of the money will probably go to towns closer to springs or rivers, so it’s good Newberry thought ahead, he said.

“They understand that they’ve got some responsibility,” Bird said. When the city got started on the project, the concern for springs was not as big as it is today, and it’s going to get bigger, he added.

Newberry has planned for growth, but is doing so in a responsible way, allowing them to be in a better position to be a part of the solution for protecting the springs, he said.

Though Newberry has created a good foundation, there is still a question of what to do with the treated wastewater, Bird said.

“In my opinion, the highest and best use we’re seeing locally is really what Alachua is doing,” he said.

The City of Alachua pumps treated wastewater to Gainesville Regional Utilities so that it doesn’t have to draw as much from the aquifer.

Power plants, whether they are using coal, fossil fuel or nuclear power, require substantial amounts of water to operate, Bird said. Every gallon GRU gets from the City of Alachua’s treated water is one less gallon they have to take out of the aquifer.

The project to expand Newberry’s water treatment facility that started eight years ago represents a major milestone for the city, said the construction project manager, Troy Hays.

“It was great foresight by the city management,” he said.

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W - Farm art show


Photo special to Alachua County Today

This collection of pieces showcases farm life in Florida, this year's theme for the art show Around 150 students had their art on display.

 NEWBERRY – Artwork from more than 150 young students is on display, as it has been for the past two weeks, at the Newberry Firehouse Gallery.

Newberry Elementary School students ranging from kindergarten through the fourth grade submitted their best artwork depicting the world they see around them. The pictures will be judged not only on the artistic quality of the work for their age group, but also on the ability of the artist to capture the theme of this year’s Lions Club competition, which is farm life in Florida.

Susan Ling, Newberry Elementary School art teacher, said she was amazed by the number of students who participated this year.

“I expected maybe 80 submissions,” she said. “I lost track after 130.” The actual count was 152, said the Lions Club president, Jack Varnon.

Each artist’s submission was mounted by Ling onto multi-colored backing and was submitted for showing at the art gallery. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Newberry Main Street Organization’s Dallas Lee and Barbara Hendrix, the executive director, along with Amy Dalusio, spent an entire day hanging all of the artwork to make it possible for viewers to visit the gallery and see all of the children’s entries.

Awards will be given out to participants from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Firehouse Gallery. Monetary awards in varying amounts will be given to students winning “best in show” and the first and second place winners in each of the grades. In addition, a purple rosette will be given out to the grand prize winning student whose work best epitomizes the theme.

Past Lions Club president Mindie Fortson will provide the criteria for judging to the panel of five judges made up of from citizens of Newberry.

Varnon said the annual competition has been a part of the Newberry Lions Club annual Farm Toy Show and Tractor Parade in past years. Although Lions Club members did not produce the toy show this year, they decided to sponsor this aspect of their usual show as a way to encourage young artists to display their talents and share their work with the Newberry community.

“I am very excited for our students to have this opportunity to participate in an art show in their own home town that relates to elements of their daily life,” said principal Ling. “There are people in our community that want to see our students succeed and show off their many talents. We could not have done such a fine show without the sponsorship of The Lions Club and the willingness of the Firehouse Gallery to host the event.”

Although the Newberry Lions Club membership has dwindled in past years as members moved away or became incapacitated, Varnon said the organization is looking for new members.

“We’re hoping to identify those community leaders who feel as we do that service is a privilege and an honor,” Varnon said. The group is hoping to recruit like-minded individuals and restore the Lions Club to the viable service group that it used to be. “This Florida Farm Art Show is one way we hope to serve our community and encourage our youth at the same time,” Varnon said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs depends on two water wells to provide their water service for the entire city. With the wells getting old, some residents worried that it might be time to replace them.

“The wells are in poor condition, and we use them so much, we really need them both working at 50 percent capacity just for daily water flow,” said resident Ross Ambrose, who self-identifies as a politically active citizen.  

The reason that the well field and the water supply have gotten into this situation could be deferred maintenance. Every city in Florida that operates on a well system has to deal with constant upkeep and handle these maintenance issues. If High Springs does not resolve the situation soon however, it could pose a problem for residents, Ambrose said.

Rodney Hoffman, the foreman for utilities over the water and sewer for High Springs, said that the wells are operating at the desired levels.

“We currently pump out about 660 gallons of water per minute from the water wells,” Hoffman said.

Age is often the greatest enemy when it comes to something like water systems, and it is no different in this case. Lavern Hodge, the former public works director for the City of High Springs, said that the wells were put in in the 1970s, making them around 40 years old. It was really a matter of time before the wells would need to be fixed or replaced, she said.

“When I left the city in 2010, there had been plenty of talk about work for the wells already,” Hodge said.

Hoffman said the city has recently done extensive work on the first well, after its motor burned out. The motor was replaced and the pump was refurbished, in a repair that cost around $11,000, Hoffman said. The city just got the okay to put the well back into the ground and resume normal operation last week, he said.

Amrbose said he believes there could be problems with the second well, and more changes could still be made.

“It’s an infrastructure issue, first of all,” Ambrose said. “If for some reason, one of the wells were to go out of service for any length of time, we could be without water.”

In the past, there have been proposals on the table to correct the problems with the city’s wells, but the commission never made a decision, he said.

Several years ago, an engineering firm offered a plan to install improvements to the system, but the city decided to wait, Ambrose said. There is also land that High Springs owns that was designated for the use of a new well field, should it decide to replace the wells.

Hoffman said he believes that High Springs has some of the best water in the state coming out of its aquifer, and the only time there is ever really trouble is when there is a massive amount of rain. The tests always come back great for the wells, he said.

With the first well being repaired, Ambrose could be hearing his wish answered.

“To me, the best way is to use a new well,” Ambrose said. “But regardless of what the plan of action is, I hope it is soon, or it could spell trouble for much of High Springs.”

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W - Souprsweet

KAY EVANS/Photo special to Alachua County Today

The theme of this year's Relay for Life is "Hooked on a Cure." Participants in pirate costumes gathered for the event.

HIGH SPRINGS – The Woman’s Club was decked out in pirate booty on Friday, Feb. 7 to raise awareness for this year’s Relay for Life “Hooked on a Cure” theme. Raffles, prizes, cake, soup and fun were had at the second annual Soup ‘R Sweet fundraiser.

The fundraiser was organized to raise money for the High Springs Relay for Life event coming up in May. Tickets were $7 per person or $20 for three tickets, offering attendees a buffet mainly featuring soup.

“It was fantastic, and a great turnout. There were six different kinds of soups,” said Vickie Cox, president of the Woman’s Club.

The local Sonny’s and the Grady House donated to the evening’s dinner.

“Honestly, I came to stuff my face. The food was so good. I baked two cakes for the auction,” said Shannon O’ Brien, team captain for PNC Bank’s Relay for Life team.

Close to 100 people turned up for the event, said Marilyn Vanover, who was greeting people at the door.

“There was no financial goal. The goal was to have fun, and spread the word about Relay,” Vanover said.

The number of attendees surpassed last year, said Kay Evans, member of the Woman’s Club.

“It was wonderful, a lot more than last year,” she said.

Evans dressed up in a pirate outfit for the event to spread awareness of the “Hooked on a Cure” theme. Several people donated cakes for the auction.

Nathan Brems, 13, who attends Fort Clarke Middle School in Gainesville, won a vibrant blue and orange Gator necklace and a framed photograph taken by Evans.

“I was really happy. I wanted to get both of these, and it was really suspenseful,” Brems said.

The main goal of the event was to bring the community together to raise awareness. “[It] brings awareness for cancer treatments, and encourages leaders, small business owners and everyone together for a cause,” O’Brien, PNC’s team captain, said.

Sharon Kantor, team development co-chair with Linda Hewlett for Relay for Life, said her goal is to recruit more teams for the event. Right now, there are 15 regular teams, but her goal is to have 25 teams.

Kantor hopes the turnout for Relay for Life will be as positive as the turnout of the fundraiser.

“Everyone was enthusiastic and generous with their donations,” she said.

In order to get ready for Relay for Life on May 9, Kantor will be providing the materials for people to create luminaria bags on the third Saturday of every month at Cootie Coot Creations. These bags will be lit up on the track during Relay for Life, and represent the memories of loved ones.

The fundraiser was designed to motivate the community to get involved in the cause, Kantor said.

“Cancer has touched peoples’ lives in one way or another, and it is important we all join in to fight for the cure,” she said.

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W - read-in 3


ALEX HART/Alachua County Today

Local poet Stan Richardson reading his work. His art focuses on the struggles of African-Amerians throughout history.

 ALACHUA – The sound of “This Land is Your Land” filled the room. Everyone clapped and sang along as Gussie Lee led the celebration from the front of the room.

This was the scene on Sunday at the Alachua Branch Library during the African-American Read-In. The read-in was to celebrate African-American sports heroes and was organized by the Alachua Branch Friends of the Library.

Starting at 2 p.m., guest readers shared books they loved featuring the stories of trials and triumph of some of the most prominent African-American sports icons.

Some of the athletes included in the selection were Jesse Owens, Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, Tiger Woods, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Gabby Douglas.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper read a story about Jackie Robinson, called “Stealing Home.” Alachua City Manager Traci Cain read a book detailing the challenges faced by Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion.

Librarian Linda Dean was proud of all of her readers, she said. She was especially happy to see some of the local middle school students come out and offer their reading skills to the event.

Eighth-grader Derrick Darling, from Mebane, read “Take it to the Hoop, Magic,” a story about basketball legend Magic Johnson. Darling said he chose the book because basketball is his favorite sport.

“I was a little nervous,” Darling said. “I have never read in front of people before, not like that.” But reading about his favorite sport, and one of his favorite players, helped his nerves tremendously, he said.

In total, there were nearly 30 people in attendance at the Alachua Branch Library. The event was marked with sharing stories, singing songs and enjoying food to celebrate Black History Month.

The highlight of the reading was when local poet Stan Richardson displayed some of his art with his work on the struggle and progression of African-Americans in society over the years.

Vada Horner is the President of the Friends of the Library organization responsible for the annual event. She volunteers to help make a difference in the community, and she said she truly appreciated Richardson’s words.

“His work makes us reflect on our lives, society and the world we live in,” Horner said.

This was the idea the event aimed to bring to the forefront of attendees’ minds. Shining a light on the path that African-Americans have taken to arrive where they are now in American society, and highlighting the richness of their culture, is something Horner and Dean both said they are proud of.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A person suspected by local law enforcement to be involved in a string of armed robberies in the High Springs area last October was arrested last week.

Dennis Christopher Godden, 31, of High Springs, was arrested by Brevard County deputies in Cocoa Beach. He was then extradited back to Columbia County.

Information gathered by the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), including an anonymous tip and interviews with people who identified him as the culprit in a series of armed robberies, led to the arrest, said Antoine Sheppard, acting chief of the HSPD.

On Oct. 11 of last year, the Sunrise Food Star was robbed at gun point by an unknown white male. Two other robberies occurred shortly after in Ft. White and in unincorporated Alachua County.

Godden is currently in the Columbia County Jail. Alachua County, Columbia County and the City of High Springs have all filed identical charges of strong arm robbery and grand theft.

Godden will face three separate trials, one for each jurisdiction, Sheppard said. If he is convicted in all jurisdictions, he will most likely be given a concurrent sentence, he added. A concurrent sentence means Godden will serve time for each jurisdiction simultaneously, rather than having one jurisdiction’s sentence stacked on to the other.

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