ALACHUA – The City of Alachua officially opened its new advanced water reclamation facility, inviting the public to a grand opening Thursday at the 233-acre wastewater treatment plant on NW 126th Terrace.

Public Services Director Mike New said the open invitation gave “people the chance to come in and see what they got from their investment.”

The new wastewater facility uses different technology than the old plant to make reclaiming water a more viable option.  In the new system, the wastewater is biologically cleaned and more nutrients are removed from the effluent.  The updated system also increases the volume of reclaimed water available for irrigation.  The previous 940,000 gallons per day cap on available reclaimed water has been increased to 1.5 million gallons per day with room for expansion up to 4 million gallons per day.

The old facility consisted of two parts, one built in early 1990s and the other in 1976. All the treatment technology was built into one tank that was compartmentalized. Now, stages of treatment have their own dedicated facilities to increase the quality of the final reclaimed water output.

Instead of using steel, which can wear down under the corrosive wastewater and last for 20 to 30 years, the new plant uses materials that have a 40 to 50 year lifespan.

“It's like going from a bicycle to a new car,” New said.

The new facility is more energy efficient, has increased longevity and lower maintenance costs, New said.

Residents are picking up about $7 million of the total project cost which rings in at about $23 million.  Nearly $2 million was spent on design and planning while actual construction accounted for some $21 million.  The majority of the costs were funded through federal grants and state appropriations.

Many of the invitees to the grand opening were participants in the project, New said, and the opening was a chance to show the outside world the city's accomplishments.

The plant is located at 13700 NW 126 Terrace near Progress Corporate Park.

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HIGH SPRINGS- Right after swearing in two new commissioners, the High Springs city commission was all business at Thursday’s meeting, working to find opportunities for growth in the area. They discussed possibilities for the sewer system, Poe Springs management and a culinary school.

 Sewer Line

With the city possibly losing $1.6 million for the expansion of the sewer system, the commission discussed the option of joining with Alachua to use their pre-existing sewer plant.

In a letter received Oct. 24, United States Department of Agriculture Area Director R.C. Quainton II informed the city that it plans to de-obligate, or take back, money granted in 2005 for the second and third phases of the High Springs’ sewage system. While the project was originally assessed at a cost of $10 million, the expansion actually cost about $8 million.

The city also failed to spend the money within the required five year time period. High Springs plans to file an appeal with the USDA to try to retain the money.

The commission decided to meet with the city of Alachua to see if connecting to their sewer system is a viable option. A pipe would be run down Highway 441 or State Road 235 to Alachua’s wastewater facility.

“It’s a great alternative, should we lose the $1.6 million,” Vice Mayor Bob Barnas said. “For half the cost, we would be able to service the east side of the city and resolve the issue we have with capacity.”

He agreed to arrange a preliminary meeting with the staff of the city of Alachua to see if they are willing to work with High Springs.

The commission plans to wait for the appeal results before making a final decision.

 Poe Springs

High Springs’ proposal for the management of Poe Springs met with disapproval from the superintendent of parks for Alachua County Public Works.

Christian Popoli, city planner, said he was very surprised because he has been working with Rob Avery to discuss the issue. Popoli’s proposal budgeted $55,000 for someone to staff the springs.

He said he had worked with former county manager, Randall Reid, about options. Reid said the future of the city was in passive recreation, giving people the option to do what they’d like in a park atmosphere.

The staff member in Popoli’s proposal would handle daily operations while the county would handle long-term needs like maintenance. Popoli also suggested having a security officer live at Poe Springs fulltime.

“There simply needs to be a presence at the park,” he said. “They don’t need to be there 24-7. It’s just in case something major happens.”

Concessions would likely consist of vending machines for the first year, until the county saw how successful the newly run Poe Springs was. Mayor Dean Davis said there is a distinct possibility that Poe Springs could return to being a tourist destination like it was when he grew up in town.

Popoli said Avery sent back a proposal suggesting High Springs run the park at a loss.

Barnas said he would meet to discuss options with Avery.

“I don’t envision this as something that costs the city money. If we’re going to get there, we are going to have to be pretty sharp.”

 Culinary School

Central to the City Commission election was the problem of economic development. All of the candidates talked about High Springs’ reputation for not being business friendly.

Davis brought a local culinary specialist, Gary Harris, to Thursday’s meeting to talk about building a non-profit culinary school at the elementary school. The specialist was formerly an executive chef in the United States Navy Reserves. He is Florida’s first certified service-disabled veteran business owner.

Harris told the commission that all he needs of them is the building to open the Culinary Institute of Florida. He plans to run it with donations and volunteer assistance. He also said he has experience writing grants that would help get the school off the ground.

The school would teach culinary skills to disabled veterans, caregivers, military widows and high school students. He plans to offer up to a doctorate in culinary science.

Bringing the school to High Springs would provide opportunities for citizens and also draw others to the area, helping the economy.

“Education’s really big right now,” he said.

Harris already has a business plan and plans to have financial projections ready in two weeks. At that time, he will bring the project back to the commission.

Davis said Harris’ background and enthusiasm for the project impressed him.

“I am excited by his heart for the children,” he said. “This school would put them on track for a job and a good job. Chefs do well.”

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua Commission passed three ordinances Monday night allowing for the creation of the new zoning designation “Corporate Park” and the rezoning of previously agricultural and industrially zoned property to the newly created Corporate Park zoning.

Corporate Park zoning is the designation for a multi-use area, allowing residential and commercial endeavors to coexist with biotechnology firms. The UF Foundation may develop the newly rezoned area, which was created specifically for biotechnology research and development and is intended to be used for a campus-like atmosphere featuring housing and research buildings together.

The site could potentially host a medical radioisotope laboratory, a research facility producing radioactive isotopes to diagnose and treat diseases. Located east of NW 140th Street and west of the San Felasco Hammock Preservee State Park, the 275-acre property is near the Shaw Farms neighborhood.

If UF Foundation doesn't develop the land, having the new zoning designation would be “tools in the toolbox” for the city, said City of Alachua attorney Marian Rush.

Gerry Dedenbach, planning director for Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, representing UF Foundation said that Alachua has a strong foothold in the biomedical field through Progress Corporate Park.

Alachua also has assets such as UF's Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator and Santa Fe's Perry Center for Emerging Technologies. A new biotech corporation would bring in additional jobs to the city and create a “live, work, play” environment, Dedenbach said.

Alachua resident Carol Thomas asked if the rest of the city's citizens would be allowed access to possible accessories included in Corporate Park, such as swimming pools. Mayor Gib Coerper responded that the corporation would allow public access to trails and parks in the area, but anything on private property would have the same exclusivity as any other private property. “You can't just go in and hang out,” he said.

Still, development on the land may include restaurants and retail stores open to the public.

A safety concern was raised about whether there was a possibility for contamination of nearby land and water. One audience member asked how anyone could be certain that the groundwater would be safe if there has never been a radioisotope lab in the country before.

Dedenbach said that the products would be manufactured deep inside of biologically secure labs, and that the products would be of a pharmaceutical grade. He said they would be regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He also added that there would be security guards 24/7, so no one could simply walk into the labs.

The property is in proximity to Progress Corporate Park and would allow for people to walk between both areas. The development would be a “pedestrian-oriented environment,” according to city planner Brandon Stubbs.

Homeowners from Shaw Farms spoke about the importance of them having a voice in the process of the new development. One homeowner said he wanted to see provisions making sure that the area remains clean.

“The fear is we're getting run over,” said another homeowner, Robert Hamilton.

Commissioner Robert Wilford agreed that those were valid concerns, and that a buffer zone should be created between the development and the neighboring residential areas.

Mayor Gib Coerper said that he is “proud that this thing has been brought to us.” He added that his son moved away because he couldn't find a job in Alachua, and he likes the idea of students studying in the city and then staying with new job opportunities.

Commissioner Orien Hills said, “I like the concept.”

A fourth ordinance relating to the rezoning was deferred to a later date.

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NFL linebacker picks up the tab for Thanksgiving dinner

Peterson_Turkey_2011DSCF5069_copyLocal families were the recipients of turkey dinners thanks to the generosity of former Alachua resident and Atlanta Falcon’s linebacker Michael Peterson.  Peterson’s parents, Porter and Reatha Peterson, helped give out the dinners Tuesday evening in front of Hitchcock’s Market. Front Row L-R: Rocio Osorio, 5; Yhair Moran, 7; Lucas Pascual, 9; Iginisio Miguel, 3; Juanita Pascual, 7; Merzedez Jimenez, Lorenza Pascual, 2; Gonzalez Pascual, 10; Back Row L-R: Porter Peterson, Reatha Peterson.

ALACHUA – For 100 Alachua families, Thanksgiving dinner will be a bit more filling than it might otherwise be, thanks to National Football League player Michael Peterson, an Alachua native.  It was Peterson’s foundation which donated the turkeys to area families identified by local schools as the neediest.

Just in time for the big day, Peterson’s family was on hand to give out Thanksgiving’s main course from 5 p.m. to 6:30 Tuesday evening outside of Hitchcock’s market.

As lucky turkey dinner ticket holders claimed their meals one-by-one, Peterson’s father, Porter Peterson, said the giveaway was a symbol of his son’s appreciation for his hometown, Alachua.

“It’s a blessing for Michael to be able to do this for his community,” said Porter Peterson.  “It’s his way of giving back and thanking his community for all of its support he received here while growing up.”

And by teaming up with Hitchcock’s Market, families receiving the Peterson Thanksgiving dinner giveaway came with a lot more than just a turkey.  With all the necessities for a tasty, wholesome and filling Thanksgiving meal, the dinners included the turkey, rolls, other sides and a pie.

Michael Peterson’s mother, Reatha, was also on hand to help ticket holders collect their meals.

The turkey dinner giveaway has been a tradition carried on for over a decade by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Michael Peterson and his younger brother, Adrian Peterson, a former Chicago Bears running back.

The Peterson brothers both played football at Santa Fe High School.  Michael Peterson, 35, graduated from Santa Fe High School and continued on in his football career at the University of Florida where he starred on the 1996 national championship team.  Michael currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons.  Adrian Peterson, 32, graduated from Georgia Southern University where he starred on the 1999 and 2000 NCAA I-AA national championship teams before being drafted by the NFL in 2002.

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ALACHUA – City commissioners unanimously approved an interlocal agreement between the City and Alachua County, which would allow the city to use $500,000 of Alachua County Tourist Development Council tax funding toward an expansion of the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

Last month, county commissioners preliminarily agreed to provide the funding, which was needed for the 105-acre expansion. The county’s contribution of $500,000 is being taken from bed taxes, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals. The total cost of the land purchase is $1.2 million.

Part of the agreement requires the construction of three sports fields within a three-year period. Construction must be finished by Jan. 1, 2015. Then there will be an additional three years to increase operations before an analysis on the amount of tourism generated from the facilities will be conducted.  The city expects construction of the three fields with lighting and seating to cost about $300,000.

After the measure was approved, Mayor Gib Coerper said he would like to “invite everyone to go down there,” and jokingly said to commissioners, “Thank you gentlemen for not opposing.”

One audience member said there is a strong need for a swimming pool in the community and pointed out that the city logo has a swimmer on it but there is no place to swim. She suggested that the sports complex should include a public pool to host swimming lessons and events.

Known as “Project Legacy,” the expansion of the recreation land was made possible through private donations, the county’s $500,000 contribution and $500,000 from Wild Spaces, Public Places.

Approval of the agreement will allow the city to close on the purchase of the property by a Dec. 31 deadline.

City commissioners also gave approval for City Manager Traci Cain to move forward with the purchase of the property.

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Felton_DSCF5041_copySandra Felton considers herself a master of clutter, and has published 15 books that challenge readers to break the cycle of disarray and disorder.

ALACHUA – Sandra Felton looked forward to walking out onto her front doorstep and seeing a newspaper lying there every Sunday. She didn’t read them, however. She stuffed them under her sink.

Hundreds of newspapers stacked up and threatened to tumble to the floor each time she opened the cabinet door. It wasn’t until the puddles appeared after a leak from her sink started spewing water on her floor that Felton realized she had a problem.

Felton, now known as the “Organizer Lady” and founder of Messies Anonymous, once dreaded inviting guests to her house because it was dominated by clutter. Her favorite items to collect were the newspapers tucked away under the sink.

“I felt the need to keep anything that was written on paper,” she said. “If the information wasn’t valuable today, it may have been valuable tomorrow.”

After remodeling the entire kitchen since it was drenched with water, she said she realized it was time to get back control of her life.

“I hated the way I lived,” she said. “It overcame my life. I had to get organized, and if I didn’t, I was going to keep living this miserable life.”

In the 80s, Felton took the initiative to seek support from others suffering from clutter. She put an ad in the paper, and a week later, 12 people went to her house in search of help. Week after week, the group shaped what would become the principles to Felton’s success.

Fifteen books and 26,205 online subscribers later, Felton now considers herself a master of clutter. She said the key principle to organization is motivation.

“People tolerate their situations year after year,” she said. “Once it bothers them enough, they can see there is a better way of life out there for them, and if they put in the work, they can get that.”

Her latest book, “Smart Office Organizing,” challenges readers to use that motivation to organize office space to increase productivity, she said. Mini quizzes, factoids and jokes keep the reader entertained while learning the art of organization.

Whether in the office or just managing the home, Felton said she believes “messies,” or those who are organizationally challenged, need support from those around them. She offers free daily coaching tips sent through email to give subscribers the motivation they need.

There are also 12 different groups offered on that meet different needs for those that want to fix the clutter in their lives, she said. Groups for singles, moms and those who want to follow 12 steps allow people to meet others who are in similar situations.

“What our groups aim for is average successful housekeeping,” she said. “We are not aiming for super clean perfection.”

Readers can attempt this goal when Felton has her newest project published next year. The book, tentatively called “From Clutter to Clean in Five Days,” encourages readers to clean all surfaces in a house, including tables, desks and floors, she said. Messies can use the help of friends and family members to clean the areas.

“This method looks good, and it works well,” she said.

Felton said she hopes to receive positive feedback from this book, just as she has in the past. In the 1980s, she received over 12,000 letters asking her for directions on how to improve cluttered situations. Letters of gratitude have been pouring in from Australia, Europe and the United States for decades, she said.

“I can reach people through my books, my web sites and emails every day,” she said. “I can tell people that this can be possible.”

Felton said she plans on expanding her influence when she holds a workshop to educate the people of Alachua County on how to clear clutter. She is currently in talks with local libraries to host these events in January.

For the time being though, she said she plans on helping messies around the world as she keeps her own life in order.

“My house is a different house now. My life is a different life now. I am a different person. Organization is the basis of which every aspect of my life works on now.”

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NEWBERRY – After several weeks of discussion, the Newberry City Commission has set new rental fees for use of the Newberry Municipal Building.

To reserve the building, located at 25439 West Newberry Road in downtown Newberry, the renter has to put down a $100 security deposit.  The deposit will be returned within 72 hours after a satisfactory inspection and key return, according to the resolution.  A $350 fee plus tax was set as the daily rental rate, and adding extra time will be assessed at $175 per day. The rental fee will be waived for all city-related organizations, groups and committees.  The City will require a 24-hour cancellation notice for refund of the deposit.

A nonrefundable cleaning fee has also been added.  The fee, originally required for all groups and events, even those city-related ones, was changed and will be levied at the City’s discretion. Commissioner Lois Forte had argued against the fee for all groups, noting that senior citizen activities are held at the building weekly and that they always clean after themselves.

Commissioner Alena Lawson agreed that some groups familiar to the City and known for being tidy should not be required to pay. She added that if food is being served then it may be necessary to impose the fee.

Commissioner Robert Fillyaw suggested that the City should use its discretion when deciding who must pay the cleaning fee at the time of the rental.

The fee structure also provides for the City to impose an extra $500 for high-impact functions. Sondra Randon, city attorney assistant, explained that the charge would not be a fee, but a deposit for events that might cause damage to the building.

“It’s a security deposit that would be refundable if damage is not done,” Randon said.

The City is also making Internet access available for a $25 daily fee.

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