NEWBERRY – The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) has teamed up with the City of Newberry to prevent wasted water.

The SRWMD is providing about $28,550 to help the City of Newberry replace old water meters with newer, more effective ones. The new meters are more precise, and will help the city detect when water is being wasted, saving water once leaks are repaired, according to the SRWMD.

“The district is pleased to partner with the City of Newberry to save water and achieve water conservation goals,” said executive director for the SRWMD, Ann Shortelle.

The funds come as part of the Regional Initiative Valuing Environmental Resources program.

It is estimated that 10.6 percent of the city’s potable water use is currently unaccounted for, due to leaks and various unmetered municipal water uses, according to a water audit undertaken by the Florida Rural Water Association.

Replacing old, inefficient meters and enhancing system accountability will provide the city with the ability to improve their management operations and to readily identify and stop leaks, according to the SRWMD. The project has the potential to save about 21 million gallons of water per year.

“The program will allow us to address leakage in the system and obtain more accurate water use data,” said Newberry City Manager Keith Ashby. “We are appreciative of the district’s assistance with this project.”

The SRWMD set aside nearly $1.5 million for the fiscal year 2012-2013 to help local governments conserve water, find alternative water supplies, protect themselves from flooding, restore their ecosystems and improve water quality.

Fourteen local governments, including Newberry, have received funds from the program.

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W - Labor day 02-S5000881HIGH SPRINGS – Labor Day is coming up, but anybody with plans of visiting their favorite river or spring should check with state park authorities first.

Swimming and boating activities may not be allowed in some areas after last week’s major rainstorms in the county, particularly north of the High Springs area.

After last week’s deluge, retention ponds in the area are filled to the brim, or more likely, spilling over. A sinkhole has reportedly opened up on Poe Springs Road. Despite this, officials at O’Leno State Park, just north of High Springs, said the water levels are average for the first time this year.

Terri Newmans, assistant park ranger at O’Leno, called the rushing waters of the Santa Fe River average, even as she trekked through the water-soaked grounds in the still falling rain.

The rain had been pouring in for more than five hours that day, but the river’s water level was at 35.7 feet. The average is 34 feet.

If the water levels fall too low, the park could be closed to swimmers because the water would be considered stagnant, Newmans said. Swimming in stagnant waters can be a risk because dangerous microorganisms can thrive in those conditions. If the water levels rise too high, parks might have to close trails. About two or three weeks ago, O’Leno had to close trails for a few days when the water level reached 39.7 feet, she said.

For comparison, after Tropical Storm Debbie hit in June 2012, the water level was close to 50 feet. Park management closed down River Rise State Preserve.

Rainfall in Aug. 25, 2012 was about 40 feet. The same day in 2013 was listed at about 37 feet, according to Weather Underground, an online weather service, backing up Newman’s claim that the river is at an average level for this time of year.  

The National Weather Service does not expect that to last, as they have issued a flood warning for the Santa Fe River this week. North of High Springs, the river could approach a flood stage by Tuesday.

The complexity and interconnectedness of the river systems could play a role in any potential flooding.

Between 4 and 8 inches of rain fell in the upper reaches of the Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers in the last seven days, causing renewed minor flooding on the Withlacoochee River in Valdosta. The Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers are major tributaries of the Suwannee River, accounting for almost 40 percent of the Suwannee’s watershed.

The National Weather Service warned that swimming and diving on the rivers and springs over the Labor Day weekend might have to be curtailed, due to the rising water levels.

While the levels at O’Leno might be average for this time of year, some people might have to reschedule their plans for the holiday. Park alerts are issued daily, and information about forecasts, rainfall and current river readings are available online at www.mysuwanneeriver.com or at 386-362-6626 or 800-604-2272.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Bev’s Burger Café employee Amy Terrell reported for work at 315 NE Santa Fe Blvd. at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, last week, only to find shattered glass on the floor in front of the emergency exit door. Although nothing was apparently taken and no further vandalism took place, one of the drawers was left open.

Manager Kristen Keene said it looked as though they must have climbed through the door after breaking the glass and were searching for money. Having found none, they apparently left the building. It is unknown exactly when the break-in occurred, but she said she assumed they must have come in during the night after closing time.

The emergency exit door was replaced at a cost of around $200, Keene said.

Officer Kendrick Hampton was the High Springs police officer who responded to the scene. He indicated the case was still open and said he could not comment on details at this time.

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W - Alachua Street work DSC 1273

ALACHUA– Renovations are underway for downtown Alachua as part of a larger plan to develop the area.

Northwest 150th Avenue, which runs by Skinner Field, is getting repaved with new asphalt. The makeover started Aug. 23, but it’s only part of the big picture.

“There absolutely is a bigger plan,” said Mike New, public services director for the city.

The goal is to make Northwest 150th Avenue and Northwest 142nd Terrace more like Main Street, he said. The improvements to Northwest 150th Avenue were phase two of a three-part plan.

New said, “150th avenue is going to have the same look and feel as Main Street does.”

The first phase was installing a retention reservoir under Skinner Field across from Alachua City Hall in April to help combat problems with flooding.

Renovating Northwest 142nd Terrace will be phase three.

Other than laying down new asphalt and pavement, the improvements will include landscaping and the installation of trash receptacles, new sidewalks, gutters on the curbs, straightening out the intersection between Northwest 142nd Terrace and U.S. Highway 441 and adding new parking spaces.

Property was acquired from five landowners to make room for the renovations, New said.

The total cost of the project was originally about $1.8 million, but the city changed some details and saved around $100,000. Northwest 150th Avenue should be fully repaved by the end of the week, he said, and the entire project should be finished by around February of next year. Work on Northwest 142nd Terrace should start this September. The project is paid for by the Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board (DRTB), which can only initiate projects in certain parts of town.

It had been planned by the DRTB since 2006 or 2007, New said.

“What the board wanted to do was interconnect Main Street with the Alachua Town Center, he said. “Tie them together so you can have that community feel.”

New said he thinks the project will be significant for Alachua.

“In 30 years, it will be spoken of with the same significance that Main Street is today.”

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NEWBERRY – With the City of Newberry’s fiscal year drawing to a close, the commission’s magic number is 5 percent.

The budget workshop Aug. 19 solidified the decision to cut operations spending by 5 percent across the board in the general fund, said Keith Ashby, city manager.

The city has to decide whether to lower the administrative service charge the general fund levies on enterprise funds to 5 percent. Administrative charges are allocated when the city provides personnel or services like accounting and payroll.

This administrative service charge will bring in about $270,000 to the general fund, which is about 5 percent of the entire budget.

Most cities in the area charge 8 to 11 percent, but Newberry is a much smaller town, making things more difficult.

“You can’t cut positions in a department as easily as a big city can,” Ashby said. “That is why we are cutting the 5 percent with scalpel and not with a meat axe.”

“There’s a tendency with the budget to say, ‘Get it down!’” he said. “But we say we will get it down, but we will cut finely.”

Commissioner Tim Marden agrees with the subtle approach to getting the city’s budget back in balance and thinks “citizens can be incredibly optimistic moving forward over the next couple of years.”

Marden noticed a 15 percent difference in spending versus revenue and believes that if Newberry can keep its spending down by 5 percent for the next three years, the budget can be balanced.

One issue that springs up when balancing the budget is the fact that only about half of Newberry’s population contributes to the utility fund, which is used as a reserve, yet taxes have been lowered in the recent past.

The commission is firm about keeping taxes constant and spending curbed for the near future, so it is exploring other options such as enacting franchise fees on the other utility companies within the city limits, Clay Electric and Central Florida Electric.  

While these franchise fees may raise rates for residents that receive utilities from Clay and Central Florida Electric, the entire population would be contributing to the utility reserve fund.   Those who receive city utilities already pay a higher rate than those that aren’t on city utilities.

At this stage, Ashby will be meeting with attorneys to discuss the possibilities and costs from a legal standpoint.

“There’s a good dialogue going right now,” Ashby said.

“Sometimes our commissioners are split philosophically.”

“We have a group who are very cautious with spending and those who will take a bigger risk for growth,” he said.

The latest venture, the Martin Luther King Community Center, is in full swing and the Parks and Recreation department will be presenting program implementation. The city will continue its avid search for grants, having pulled in over $11 million in the last couple of years.

“Newberry has been in great shape consistently,” Ashby said. “From a staff standpoint, we just have to define the clarity.”

The commissioners said it’s all about staying true to Newberry’s vision.

“Our city made a commitment six or seven years ago,” Commissioner Joe Hoffman said, “to making parks and recreation the economic driver. It’s worth it, but it takes time and commitment. We will put that to the citizens and see what’s what at the next meeting.”

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W -Mugshot - Dallas - ASOHAWTHORNE– When the family of Roger A. Henderson, 64, hadn’t heard from him since the previous evening, they became concerned, according to a release from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). So, on Saturday, they contacted the ACSO. Shortly after, a family member entered his home on the 6000 block of Southeast 215th Street in the city of Hawthorne.

The relative found Henderson lying on the floor with blood on his clothes. When patrol and K-9 deputies entered the house, they also found him near the living room couch with multiple stab wounds to his chest and back.

Family members reported seeing Henderson’s possessions thrown across his front yard. They also saw a female walk into a bedroom at the back of the home once they were inside, according to the press release.

Deputies searched the home for the woman, and found her sitting on a bed in a nearby room. She was later identified as Claudia B. Dallas, 41, Henderson’s girlfriend. When deputies asked her to surrender and show her hands, she ignored the orders. The deputies managed to arrest her with the help of a police dog.

Henderson was pronounced dead on the scene. An autopsy has not yet been conducted, but will soon be by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Dallas is currently in Alachua County Jail on charges of first degree murder and resisting an officer. Her bail has been set at just over $1 million dollars.  

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purple shirts IMG 5999NEWBERRY – Easton Newberry Sports Complex is finally unveiling its Olympic rings Friday as the facility has officially earned its designation as a Community Olympic Development Center for youth archery.

Easton is an approved archery Olympic training site after years of focusing efforts on streamlining the facility operations and tailoring the classes to better fit the United States Olympic Committee high performance system and USA Archery standards.

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, before the unveiling ceremony, the complex will offer open shooting at the range adorned with the soon-to-be revealed Community Olympic Development Program logo. Attendees can shoot alongside youth national and state champions.

At noon, the RSVP luncheon will begin and as the guests eat, speakers from the United States Olympic Committee, Easton foundation and local government will present. Then the Olympic rings will be unveiled in all their glory.

The guest list includes 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Kaminski, 2012 Para Olympic gold medalist Jerry Shields, Newberry Commissioner Joe Hoffman, Mayor Bill Conrad, Commissioner Alena Lawson, Commissioner Lois Forte, Alachua County Commissioner Charles Chestnut, County Commissioner Susan Baird, CEO and President of Easton Foundations Greg Easton, Olympic Committee member Bobbi Ullman and USA Archery Head Coach Kisik Lee. There are expected to be around 100 guests.

“It’s a landmark day for the city of Newberry,” Mayor Bill Conrad said.

“It’s going to open the door the young archers in Newberry to have an opportunity for Olympic gold,” he said.

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