W - Bio diesel - DSC 09561L-R: Mike Keim demonstrates Alachua County's biodiesel production equipment as county Hazardous Waste Coordinator Kurt Seaburg and Florida House Representative Clovis Watson, Jr. observe.

ALACHUA COUNTY ­– A single machine sitting in a waste collection center has sat unused for several months now. It was meant to save the county money, and after a successful legal battle, it might continue to do so.

The county held a ceremony Monday to commemorate the resumption of biodiesel fuel production at the Hazardous Waste Collection Center.

The fuel is made from waste cooking oil brought in by residents and businesses to avoid clogging up their drains, so the county spends no money collecting it. It costs about $2 per gallon to make, said Chris Bird, director of the county's Environmental Protection Department. The fuel is used for county vehicles and emergency generators.

Last December, Alachua County stopped making the biodiesel because of legal requirements which weighed the county down with excessive paperwork and bureaucracy, said John Mousa, of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. A bill in the state legislature, with the support of state Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., D-Alachua, eliminated that requirement for local governments and school districts.

"It created such a tremendous burden," Mousa said.

Bird, along with Rick Drummond, acting county manager, as well as the three state legislators who supported the bill and other members of county government gave speeches thanking the county's legislative delegation for their work in getting the law changed.

"We feel like we're hitting the reset button," Bird said about the reopening.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official resumption of the facility.

Rep. Perry said he hoped the reopening of the facility would lead to new technologies and innovation in the area.

Sen. Bradley said the situation is a win-win, helping the environment by preventing waste cooking oil from clogging up sewage systems, while also saving the county money.

Mike Keim, an environmental specialist at the Hazardous Waste Collection Center, gave a demonstration on how the machine that converts the waste to fuel works. A batch takes about three days to make, but one was already finished. The county hopes to make about 200 gallons per month, Mousa said.

The continued production of biodiesel will help the county move forward in being efficient and environmentally friendly, said state Sen. Bradley.

"Let's keep the momentum," he said.

#     #     #

Email cmckinney@


Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – Impact fees remain a hot issue in High Springs after a heated city commission meeting July 11. The matter came under scrutiny during the public comments portion of the meeting by some members of the public who had come to address the ordinance to set water and sewer system impact fees.

The commission had unanimously tabled the matter at the start of the meeting. City Attorney Scott Walker suggested the item be tabled to the July 25meeting, since a study that was the basis for Ordinance 2013-05, had been reviewed and revised by the city’s engineering firm, Mittauer & Associates, and only returned to his office for final city staff review the afternoon of the meeting.

Walker applauded City Manager Ed Booth for performing the initial study and Mittauer for their hard work on the project. He said if they had gone to an engineering firm to conduct the study, it would have cost $25,000. Mittauer agreed to review the study and make recommendations at a cost of $2,000-$2,500 according to Walker.

While Booth’s suggested impact fee levels were already one-third less than the fees currently on the books, which can be as high as $9,000 per household depending on meter size, Walker said Mittauer had suggested even lower impact fees in one area.

When Booth delivered his study in March, he said, “Although the impact fees were set at an earlier time at $9,000, the city has not collected those fees in the past.” In 2010, the city issued a moratorium on impact fees, which has now expired leaving the higher impact fees in effect.

After the meeting, Booth said that most households have ¾-inch meters. For that size meter, he said, “the sewer impact fee is currently $3,524 and the water impact fee is $3,111, but the impact fees go up for larger meters and can reach as high as $9,000.”

Rick Howe, builder/developer for Oak Ridge Subdivision, located on U.S. Hwy. 441, addressed commissioners complaining that the city had allowed “zero stakeholder input” into the process. He said he had asked former mayors Larry Travis and Dean Davis and this commission to allow for citizen and stakeholder input, to no avail.

He further said that he had requested a copy of the ordinance for review and had been told he could have one at the meeting, which he still had not received. Howe said he was the number one builder/developer in the city and had pulled more permits than any other developer and still was denied input into the ordinance.

Howe said that many of the homes he built were financed by groups such as USDA with only a $1,000 down payment, adding “$3,000 in additional costs did make a difference” to those people. “A lot of people who depend on this town’s growth and depend on a sustainable growth will be impacted by this decision,” he said. He expressed concern that the ordinance might pass in the middle of summer, when many people are out of town and may never be brought back before stakeholders and citizens. He admonished the commission to work with stakeholders and citizens to get the issue resolved.

He also took issue with the way in which the study was done saying, “It is supposed to be conducted by an independent third party.”

He added that he would like to be able to have a dialogue with people who may want to discuss this additional $3,000 cost of their home, but did not feel adequately prepared to do so without more involvement in the process itself.

Mayor Sue Weller said the city is operating under an ordinance with a much higher rate than what is being proposed by the new ordinance. “I have no objection to having a workshop if that’s what the commission decides to do,” she commented, “but the longer it takes to pass this, the higher the rate builders will have to pay.”

Kara Bolton, President of Builders Association of North Central Florida, applauded the commission for their 2010 decision to pass a moratorium, saying that High Springs recognized the need for relief and to provide economic stability during a difficult time.

Bolton suggested the commission extend the moratorium until the new fee structure could be implemented. She also requested that payment of the impact fees be deferred until issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy, something which Booth explained was already included in the ordinance.

Bolton was pleased that the ordinance included an affordable housing exemption, but that builders encourage the city to draft language in the ordinance to update annually the income and price limits as published by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the state agency that administers the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program.

Tommy MacIntosh, a local real estate broker, supported Bolton’s recommendations and asked the commission to conduct a workshop to “give citizens more of a chance to be involved.” He also encouraged extension of the moratorium. “Take the time to do this right and do it smartly,” he said.

City manager Booth said a moratorium was unlikely.

“We are already more than $200,000 in the hole on impact fees.”

By way of explanation Booth said, “The city borrowed $450,000 to design the sewer plant and other engineering projects. We had $244,000 in a CD that represented the impact fees we had already collected. The design of the sewer plant and other engineering projects cost the city $450,000, which was paid to Jones Edmunds & Associates.”

“The city didn’t have the money, so we borrowed it in a bridge loan from Republic Bank. When it was decided not to do Phase 4 of the sewer system, the bank became concerned that the city wasn’t going to get the bonding money to pay for the bridge loan, so they took $200,000 of the $244,000 and put it against the loan the city had made,” he said.

“That leaves us at the present time having to pay off $250,000 which represents impact fee monies we should have been collecting, but did not because of the moratorium,” he said.

Booth said also, “At the present time, the commission has not set a date for a workshop to discuss this issue any further. We will be holding the first public hearing on this issue at the July 25 meeting and will take whatever input the public has to offer at that time.”

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – After receiving numerous renaming suggestions over a period of several months for the old High Springs Elementary School building in its new capacity as a community center, commissioners finally settled on The Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center.

The most recent debate, which occurred at the July 11 city commission meeting, centered on whether the building’s original use as a school needed to be maintained as part of the new name for historic reasons or would that be confusing to new people who were looking for a school for their children.

Then again, the school originally was a high school before it was an elementary school. Should the type of school it was originally or last used as be included? Would people confuse the community center with the Civic Center if it was just called the High Springs Community Center? Should the words “High Springs” be included in the name as everyone in town would know what town they were in? A suggestion to put up a plaque or marker to signify it was the historic location of the school was debated. The issue of whether the word, “historic” should be included in the name came up.

In an effort to settle the debate raging for the past 6-7 months, Mayor Sue Weller made a formal motion for the new name, which finally passed unanimously.

As part of Weller’s discussion, she said people could call it whatever they wanted. It was still going to be used as a community center and she believed most people would refer to it that way, no matter what the name.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

NEWBERRY – Local residents and Newberry city commissioners heard a sampling of improvements in store for Newberry’s newly opened Nations Park.   The commission held a July 9 workshop with Nations Park’s architect, manager, the city’s recreation director, and legal department to review contract obligations and discuss future options.

Architect Paul Stressing talked about the current and future renovations that will contribute to giving Nations fields the feel of a championship stadium, such as lowering the walls to 3 or 4 feet and expanding the seating area. The plan is to open not only the parent seating area and install fans there, but also open up from the foul line to the infield.

Nations has opened up its fields to softball players in order to start to utilize the off-season months, and after trial and error, has discovered how to convert the baseball pitching mound for softball.

While no violations regarding the park’s operation and contracts currently exist, some important clarifications were discussed.

There has been some concern that the park has been slow to attract teams to fill tournament dates. Richard Blalock, Newberry recreation director said the park has a ramp-up period that will last until December 2014. During this time, the contract stipulates that Nations will show a good faith effort to start getting tournaments and teams locked in he said.

The contract requires 12 week-long tournaments, meaning that tournaments must run for at least three consecutive days, Blalock said.

Also, tournaments are described as consisting of a minimum of 40 teams with the objective of drawing in around a minimum of 400 to 500 persons to the park to stimulate the local economy.

Considering Newberry is not considered a vacation destination, the Nations team is putting together a tournament package with Disney that would include incentives such as discounts. Options under consideration include the scheduling of events, which may change to coincide with other activities. Ending tournaments on a Wednesday would give traveling families the rest of the week and weekend to venture to Orlando.

One good faith effort the Nations team has made is dropping the tournament entry fee to around $500. Another incentive available for teams by next summer is the waiving of entry fees if the team brings an umpire.

Every effort is being made to get teams, because once that happens Nations will be in full swing with the Columbus Day Classic, Halloween Bash and September Slugfest tournaments, according to Newberry officials.

“If everything works the way we want in the fall, basically there will be activity for about eight straight weekends,” Blalock said.

Commissioner Joe Hoffman discussed the concept of an organization that would connect Nations Park and the Easton Sports Complex with the larger sports industry to assist in marketing and arranging events. For example, Nations would have the first look at schedules of events to ensure optimum opportunities to bring in events and create the associated jobs.

Another plan to enhance the park’s exposure is a fall ball travel league. Nations will market coast to coast to attract teams from cities such as Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Daytona. By booking teams from different regions, the competing teams won’t play the same opponents from their own backyards over and over again.

“We address the issues, and move forward to examine all possibilities, which is what we will have to do for the next 12 to 24 months,” said Blalock.

#     #     #

Email cgrinstead@


Add a comment

W - Alachua July 4

Despite on-again-off-again rain at Alachua’s 4th of July celebration, the annual rib-eating contest went off as planned as contestants chowed down in hopes of winning the $100 prize.

ALACHUA – Muddy ground below them, fireworks above, the inhospitable weather didn't stop the crowd from enjoying the Independence Day festivities in Alachua last Thursday.

The 14th annual Fourth of July celebration at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex in the City of Alachua saw about 20,000 to 25,000 people last week, despite the rain, said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager.

"If it rains again, I'll just take out my umbrella," said attendee Barbara Chapman, who went to the event with her granddaughters. "The fireworks are fabulous." It was her first time at the Alachua event.

The gathering started at 3 p.m., with people parking in an open field that still had empty space even later into the evening.

Kids got their faces painted, went on slides and into bouncy houses and had some encounters with animals at the petting zoo. Especially when the rain got heavy, people enjoyed indoor activities like bingo.

A variety of vendors provided food and souvenirs, such as Bev's Better Burgers and Nish Bliss Fashion.

Despite the sign that said "no pets," dogs were seen on a few occasions.

Between 6 and 7 p.m., Bev’s Better Burgers rib-eating contest was underway. The contestants appeared to struggle chewing the last bite, even several minutes after time was called. The victor, winning the $100 spoil was Ellis Chapman, who finished 10 ribs in five minutes, according to the judges.

Live music was provided by Natalie Nicole Green and the Little Bit More Band, the United We Stand Band and Jamocracy, which started at 5 p.m.

The rain started pouring around 7:30, forcing the crowd into shelter until it let up about an hour later.

Shortly after, the muddy field usually used for sports filled up with spectators waiting for the main attraction of the night.

Children played in the field as their parents sat on beach towels to shield themselves from the waterlogged ground. The fireworks started shortly before 9:30 p.m. Many people in the crowd were first-timers to the Alachua Fourth of July celebration.

Bernie Wilkins, from Missouri, came to the festivities with her family.

"This is our first time here," she said, her eyes not leaving the fiery display in the sky, limiting her conversations mostly to one word answers. The question was "Are you enjoying yourself?" The answer was simply an enthusiastic "Oh yeah!'

There were minimal traffic and congestion issues after the event was over, said Assistant City Manager Boukari. By the time 45 minutes had passed after the gathering ended, the parking lot was already empty he said.

"It was a very smooth event, one of the smoothest we've had."

Not everybody was as resolute as the attendees this year. The attendance was down about 5,000 people from last year, Boukari said.

As the large American flag was unrolled at the start of the fireworks, the wet and almost-wet people still seemed to enjoy themselves.

Michelle Vance, who said the softball field where the festivities took place was dedicated to her uncle, went to the celebration with her husband and two children.

"They're going to sleep good tonight," she said.

#     #     #

Email CMcKinney@


Add a comment

HAWTHORNE – The City of Hawthorne will no longer be exploring the possibility of accepting a brownfield designation for several areas throughout the city.

Initially the City Commission decided to wait until the interpretation of legislation from the state to make a ruling on potential brownfield sites. Following a change in the legislation, the recent proposal for a brownfield designation in Hawthorne was decided to not benefit the city after all.

“These things are hard to explain really; they are very complicated, but in the end it just would not have benefited Hawthorne,” said Mike Castine, a planner with the Alachua County Growth Management Department.

The city had been working with Orlando based PPM Consultants Inc., to possibly setup the brownfield program in Hawthorne. City Manager Ellen Vause worked with Charles Ray, the vice president in charge of the Government Initiatives/Brownfield Programs with PPM.

“I am still committed to working with Ellen and the City of Hawthorne to facilitate economic redevelopment,” Ray said.

Throughout the process, Ray and PPM looked to provide consulting to the city over areas that could receive the designation, as well as assist in writing a grant application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I will recommend state brownfields designation again when a site in Hawthorne meets the requirements of the new designation rules,” Ray said.

For now Hawthorne will not be pursuing the possibility of the brownfield designation, however in the future the city may find it beneficial to once again consider the program.

“This is something that could come back around as an issue in several months, or several years,” said Castine. “But for now it just does not serve to benefit the city.”

#   #   #

Email ahart@


Add a comment

W - HS Grinder Pumps DSCN0006

With the delivery of 80 new grinder pumps, additional residences will be hooked up to the City of High Springs sewer system.


HIGH SPRINGS – Jacksonville-based T.G. Utility Company is in the process of installing 80 new grinder pumps in High Springs homes at no cost to the homeowners. The homes, which have been referred to as the “tweeners,” are homes that were missed earlier during the grinder pump installation as part of the city’s centralized sewer project.

This aspect of the project, which costs just under $1 million, is being funded completely by a USDA Rural Development grant as part of their original funding for the sewer project, the continuation of which has been put “on hold” by the city.

City Manager Ed Booth said, “The city retains ownership of the grinder pumps and easements so we can go in and service them.” One issue of concern for Booth is that many people are putting too much grease down their sinks, which has a tendency to clog up the pumps.

“The city is embarking on an education program to try to eliminate this problem,” said Booth. “When the problem occurs, the city has to remove the grease and repair or replace damaged parts, which can be costly,” he said. “If it appears that the homeowner is negligent, the city will have to charge for grease removal and parts to fix their grinder pump.”

Currently the city has approximately 900 grinder pumps, which Booth says “is more than any other city that I can find in the U.S. Key West may eventually rival us. I know they are looking into installing grinder pumps as well because they called to see what our experience has been with them,” he said.

“What this has done over the last 15 years is to transform High Springs, which is in an environmentally sensitive area replete with septic tanks, into one that has more than half the population using municipal sewer connections. I anticipate that these grinder pumps will significantly help the sewer fund pay for itself,” said Booth.

Although these 80 homeowners are getting grinder pumps at no cost due to grant funding, future developments or individuals wanting to connect to the city sewer system will have to pay for pumps to be installed.

Booth used as an example, the Cinnamon Hills subdivsion, which has already been plumbed for grinder pumps. “The developer already knows he will have to pay for the 56 homes he anticipates building in the next two years if he wishes to hook up.” At today’s cost, the pump and tank would cost $1,100. “The city will inspect the system, but the developer will have to hire his own contractor to install and hook up to our system, which could cost several thousand dollars,” said Booth.

The grinder pumps currently being installed are improvements over earlier models. “These are 220 volts, which are considerably stronger than the 110-volt systems installed 10 years ago,” he said.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

More Articles ...