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HAWTHORNE ‒ At approximately 7:10 p.m., Monday, April 18, units from Alachua County, Melrose, and Windsor fire departments responded to a reported residential structure fire in the 2900 block of Southeast 301, north of Hawthorne. The first arriving unit found a detached garage fully involved with a fire that was threatening the house.

Water tankers also were utilized because there were no fire hydrants in the area. The first units on scene were able to contain the fire to the garage and kept it from spreading into the residence that was in close proximity, but not attached.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Shaniqua Sade Glasco, 31, was arrested on Monday afternoon, April 18, for allegedly shoplifting multiple items from the Dollar General store at 25150 W. Newberry Road, Newberry.

An Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to a call from store staff regarding a woman, who was reportedly known to the employee, who had left the store with stolen items in her purse. Employees said they reviewed video footage and saw Glasco putting items into her purse and then walking out of the store.

Deputies contacted Glasco at her Newberry residence, and post Miranda, she reportedly said she had been at the Dollar General but had not taken any items. When she was told that she was under arrest for theft, she reportedly asked if she could avoid going to jail if she returned the items. After she was informed that the store wanted to press charges and was asked where the items were located, she reportedly reverted back to her earlier statement in which she said she had not taken anything from the store.

Glasco has 11 prior convictions for theft beginning with a 2009 arrest for shoplifting, for which she was sentenced to a year of probation. She was arrested again for shoplifting five months later and served 120 days in jail. Since then, she has been arrested and re-arrested numerous times and has had her probation revoked. Her last jail release date from state prison was just before Christmas 2021.

She has been charged with petit theft with two-plus prior convictions, a third-degree felony, and released on her own recognizance.

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ALACHUA ‒ All kindergarten- through 8th-grade students attending schools in the city of Alachua will be provided with either a laptop or an iPad under a new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative that will be in place for the next school year.

Teachers are already receiving devices and training to help implement the new I.A.M. STEAM program. (I.A.M. stands for Irby Elementary, Alachua Elementary and Mebane Middle, the three participating schools.) The training is focused on incorporating the devices into their lessons and helping students learn to use them effectively. For example, students will be taught to navigate the Internet safely and how to access digital learning materials at home.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity for our school and community,” said Heather Harbour, principal at Alachua Elementary School. “Our students will gain experience in research, problem solving and critical thinking. They’ll also be able to develop and practice their digital literacy and citizenship skills.”

Students will receive their devices in the fall of 2022. Those at Irby will receive iPads, while those attending Alachua and Mebane will receive laptops. The students will be able to take the devices home to complete homework and other assignments, and those without Internet access will also receive hotspots.

Another key element of I.A.M STEAM is a new biomedical magnet program at Mebane Middle. The magnet will be open to students from throughout the district, starting with 6th graders, although other students at the school would be able to participate in individual courses. They will begin by studying forensics, which involves the use of science to examine and analyze evidence from crime scenes. In later grades students will study such topics as biomechanics (the science of the movement of a living body), prosthetics (artificial devices to replace missing body parts), infectious diseases, cloning and other subjects.

Hands-on learning activities will be a big part of the curriculum. For example, the forensics course will wrap up with the investigation of a mock crime scene. The biomechanics class will include the programming of a robotic hand.

“STEAM learning will provide opportunities for our students to view the world through a different lens,” said Mebane principal Manda Bessner. “They’ll learn to put to use their imagination and creativity as they tackle modern day issues in science and medicine.”

Mitch Glaeser, president of the Alachua Chamber of Commerce, says the new magnet and the I.A.M. project are great fits for the community. Alachua is home to a strong and growing biotechnology industry, which Glaeser has helped develop and promote. The Chamber will be providing additional support for the program, such as purchasing covers and cases for the devices and providing classroom speakers and field trips.

“We’re excited about the collaboration between the business community and the schools,” he said. “This initiative is an important element of a long-term strategic plan, a shared vision for creating opportunities in technology and biotechnology for our students,” he said.

District staff say students will be able to build on what they’ve learned as they move up through the community’s schools. Santa Fe High School already has a highly successful biotechnology magnet program.    

“We want to provide students with a seamless transition from one grade level to the next and from one school to the next,” said Kevin Berry, the district’s director of curriculum. “Throughout their education they’ll be developing skills that will serve them well in STEAM or any other field.”

The district is currently working on a plan to provide devices and internet access to students in other parts of the county who don’t currently have them. In the next few weeks, families will be asked to respond to a survey about their student’s needs. The goal is to provide devices and access to students who need them for the upcoming school year.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Almost every kid dreams of being a treasure hunter at some time in their childhood. Hollywood fosters that dream with movies such as Indiana Jones and National Treasure that portray treasure hunters as larger than life characters on dangerous missions that result in successful quests to find fabled treasure. In real life, few of us will ever realize that dream or find any treasure.

But for Shawn Cowles, treasure hunting and adventure in faraway lands is a lifelong career. On April 21, he shared his adventures through a lecture at the High Springs Museum to a packed crowd. On as table next to him he displayed the tools of his trade and examples of the treasures he has found including a large black mass of silver coins found in the most famous treasure find in modern times.

He worked for the Mel Fisher organization on Florida’s 1622 fleet shipwrecks, Atocha and Santa Margarita, where he helped recover $420 million worth of gold, silver and jewels. As an independent consultant and diver, Cowles has been involved with prominent land find and shipwreck projects in North America, South America, and the Pacific Ocean. Some, like Guam’s Nuestra Senora del Pilar, were in waters up to 350 feet deep, using mixed gas and closed-circuit technology. He has been searching for treasure since the age of 21.

His passion for treasure hunting began as a child when he and his father were renovating their ancestral home and Cowles found a 300-year-old coin from 1798. From then on treasure hunting became his passion and career. After college he tried his hand in the music industry, eventually winding up in Key West, Florida. He was also a trained diver and ended up joining Fisher's expedition on one of the biggest treasure finds in history.

Over the years, Cowles also worked as a consultant on several treasure expeditions and became a consultant for Discovery Channels Treasure Quest show for two seasons searching for a possible treasure in the Bolivian mountains at Sacambaya. The legend is that Jesuit Priests buried a vast amount of treasure somewhere in the valley that is estimated to be worth $2 billion.

Cowles’ knowledge led him to become the featured star of the show in the 3rd season in 2019. “The environment in the Bolivian Mountains is pretty extreme and remote, so the crew had to travel light while still having the necessary tools to identify any possible locations,” said Cowles. Although they used five tools, the main tool was a metal detector that could identify metal deposits underground.

“We also used lightweight Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to look for caverns or empty spaces that could be vaults,” said Cowles. “Any metals we found were then checked with an alloy tester to see the composition of the metal.”

The expedition was stationed at Sacambaya a for six months and made significant finds, but not the motherlode—yet. Season 4 has been put on hold due to the COVID pandemic, but Cowles believes they are close to finding the fabled treasure.

Although treasure hunting is a career, adventure and travel are a way of life for Cowles and his wife, Adele Williams. Originally from Australia, Williams is a motorbike enthusiast whose quest for adventure and travel matches that of her husband and they have traveled extensively including several cross-country trips on their motor bikes. After season 3 ended, they took their dirt bikes on a grand adventure traveling from Key West to Bolivia.

“I figured that this would put us down in Bolivia prior to season 4 and give is a chance to travel, interact with local people along the way and hear their history and legends,” said Cowles. “We are both very interested in hearing people’s stories and culture.”

By the time they reached Bolivia, the pandemic had put the whole world in quarantine and they were stuck in Bolivia for 40 days. They wound up leaving their motorbikes there and flying back to the United States. With their Key West house rented, they hit the road in an RV and traveled America. As they returned to Florida at the end of their trip, they stopped in High Springs.

“We instantly fell in love with this area,” sad Cowles. They were attracted to the friendly people with a small-town attitude of community and the beautiful landscape. “Adele is also into horses so we wound up deciding to stay and buy a farm that also had room to expand to a B&B, said Cowles. The couple still plans to travel, but High Springs has become their home. “I may be a treasure hunter, but this area is a treasure in itself,” Cowles said.

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission is continuing its work on a gateway overlay district for the city. Gateway overlay districts typically include a zoning district that extends on top of a base zoning district that regulates the uses, while the overlay zoning district regulates development standards. City staff report there are currently 17 different major projects in some stage of development in Newberry.

The Commission met in a workshop on Tuesday, March 29, to discuss specifics of the Gateway Overlay District with CHW Consultants who will develop design codes and bring that back to the Planning and Zoning Board for consideration and recommendation.

Newberry Senior Project Manager Ryan Thompson said that the Gateway Overlay areas under discussion are the roadways into the city, such as U.S. Highway 27/41 and State Road 26/West Newberry Road. He estimated that it would be June or July before new regulations stemming from this process would be enacted and he encouraged all stakeholders and citizens to participate in the process.

Based on comments from citizens, Thompson said that residents appreciate the downtown Historic District, but didn’t want the entire city to be in the same style. Under consideration are exposed parking lots along the corridor that should be smaller with no more than 100 parking spaces. Regulations could be written for those areas to require landscaping or other screening methods to minimize the visual impact of parking lots. Parking for larger commercial could be located behind the buildings similar to the way Town of Tioga has been structured.

In terms of architectural styles, the City could require that builders incorporate no fewer than three architectural elements such as roof lines, shutters and other elements that are cohesive but not “cookie cutter.”

CHW Senior Project Manager Caeli Tolar, Landscape Architect, reviewed site-specific elements such as density. She recommended a tree list be developed and minimum size requirements for installation be established in an effort to develop roadway buffers and maintain the character of the city.

Tolar summarized landscape buffers for three different roadway zones, the number of canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs and grasses that would be specific to each zone and broke some of the zones into commercial and non-commercial uses. She suggested that they attempt to limit the driveway entries onto the main road and instead have ingress/egress on a secondary road and that commercial buildings with double and triple frontage are preferable.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe said it would likely be June or July before the new guidelines would be completed.

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ALACHUA ‒ After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid Pandemic, the Relay For Life Cancer event has returned to Alachua. This year the venue was moved to the new Legacy Park Amphitheater but the dedication of the volunteers and supporters remained unchanged. Despite the hiatus, the event and support of the community came back even larger than before.

Relay for Life is a team fund raising event featuring team members walking around a track. Each event is four to 24 hours in length and each team has a member on the track at all times to signify that cancer never sleeps.

In Alachua, 21 teams and nine sponsors fielded teams and made additional donations or had items for sale including the City of Alachua, Waste Pro, Campus USA, UF Health, Cisco, Santa Fe Kiwanis Club and Santa Fe High School. The school's FFA brought a pig, that based on donations, was to be kissed by a city official.

The concept behind the event is that no one has to fight cancer alone and that the community supports and celebrates the accomplishment and struggles of cancer survivors and caregivers. Many of the runners are survivors or people memorializing loved ones who died of cancer. Every year, Relay events are organized, staffed and coordinated by volunteers in thousands of communities and 27 countries to remember those who have succumbed to the disease, honor the survivors of all cancers, and raise money to help the American Cancer Society make a global impact on disease.

One in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. Even if the cancer is defeated or put into remission, the specter of the disease remains, as does the fear it could return. In 2021, there were 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 608,570 cancer deaths in the United States. That equates to over 1,600 deaths a day.

Although each community puts individual touches to their Relay For Life Event, there is a general format they follow. Each team and sponsors set up a fund-raising tent where people can make donations and sponsor a runner. Some teams also offer items for sale like baked goods, food, stuffed animals or even offer a service people.

After the opening ceremony, the relays begin in a specific order with the first one featuring the cancer survivors walking, The second one features their spouses and caregivers. This year, the third walking team was comprised of police, first responders and military members, several of whom were survivors as well. After that, the teams take to the course as well as the general public.

This year prior to the walk, there was a tribute to Robin True, who had been heavily involved in the previous Relay For Life events. True was a victim of Ovarian Cancer and had fought it for six years until she passed in 2021. Before the first walk, her extended family, friends and supporters gathered before the stage to accept an award from Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper as True’s son played the harmonica in tribute to his mother's life.

The event is always held when the sun sets and darkness falls, representing the darkness of the disease. Bringing honor and remembrance as well as hope, luminaries glow in dedication to cancer victims and survivors. Each luminary carries the name of a survivor or someone who has died of cancer as well as information about that person.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event that represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated. Alachua’s Relay for Life at Legacy Park was organized to remember those lost to cancer, celebrate cancer survivorship and to raise money for medical research and programs conducted by the American Cancer Society.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A proposed solar farm in High Springs has raised the ire of some residents. CHW Professional Consultants Executive Vice President and Principal Planner Gerry Dedenbach provided an update on the project to the City Commission at the April 14 meeting. Dorothy Pernu representing Duke Energy was also present.

Dedenbach says the City Commission could expect to receive applications for Land Use and Zoning changes within a month or so. He said that in the next week or so he expected to submit the development plan application to the City. The plan includes all of the specifics about the overall site. If the plan is approved, Dedenbach hopes to have it finalized this June, which means construction could begin in mid-summer this year.

Commissioner Katherine Weitz read two emails from people who were unable to attend the meeting, but asked that their comments be read into the record. The first was from Jennifer and Stephen Davis whose property abuts the property under consideration for the solar array. They noted concerns that the solar panels would damage the ground, reduce the property values of the homes near it and raise the temperature.

Weitz read a second letter by Christina and George Tatum who raised concerns that their property backs up to the City’s wastewater treatment plant and noted medical issues within their family. They said their well was contaminated by e-coli and that two family members had serious folic acid deficiency. They were concerned about the wildlife that would be displaced by this construction and would end up in yards and on the roads.

The Tatums also said that trees were being burned on the property under consideration and they had to buy air purifiers for their home and that their son wasn’t able to stay in his room because of the smoke.

It was noted that because the construction and any smoke arising from the property was not generated by Duke Energy, it was difficult to see how Duke could be responsible for the poor air quality.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose pointed out that a solar array does not leak and that they are not routinely washed so damage to the water supply and wells would be unlikely to occur.

Weitz maintained her contention that Duke and other power agencies have pushed for legislation that would eliminate property owners’ ability to net meter or sell excess power back to the power companies after 2023. She pointed to other legislative actions that also increase dependence on power agencies.

She suggested that Duke place their solar array on any one of four closed landfills in Alachua County rather than on land near homeowners.

Ambrose referenced Duke’s right to place their solar array on the property based on the City’s Comprehensive Plan. He also said he is withholding judgment until he sees the site plan. “We need to hear what they have to say and hold them accountable.”

Ambrose said the solar plant would increase the City’s tax base. “We don’t have to pave more roads. We don’t have to provide infrastructure. We don’t have to increase fire protection. And we will be removing a dairy farm from a sensitive recharge area and preserving that recharge area for at least 35 years.”

Resident Stacy Gay addressed the Commission to say he didn’t think the solar farm was a problem. “It’s not Chernobyl. We need to look farther down the road.”

“They have not submitted their site plan yet,” said City Manager Ashley Stathatos. “We review those very carefully.”

City Attorney Andrea Parker said that Florida Statutes allow solar farms to be permitted by right on Agricultural zoned properties. “However,” she said, “the City can specify buffering and other items.”

In other City business, a site plan for Simed Medical Office, 23741 West U.S. 27 across the street from City Hall was unanimously approved.

A 50/50 match was approved for a Department of Environmental Protection grant totaling $822,000. The City’s match amount of $422,000 was approved using impact fees and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fees. The grant will phase out 22 septic tanks east of the force main that runs down CR 236. A lift station will also be part of that project, which will serve other homes as well.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said, “Once this phase is complete, there will be another phase to this project probably next year.”

Stathatos said a facility plan will be on the next agenda. “We will be looking at impact fees, which will likely have to increase to pay for more projects.” Currently, the City has $561,000 in impact fees, which will be reduced by the matching grant funds.

In other City business, the Commission unanimously approved the purchase of a rescue water craft for use by High Springs Fire Department personnel for water rescue. “Since we have owned the Canoe Outpost, we have been called out five times to help rescue people on the water,” said Gillingham. “We already have 90 percent of the equipment we would need for these types of rescues.” A certified boat captain is a member of the fire department and personnel can work under his supervision. The price of the boat is $35,467 and is being purchased from Tailwinds, a High Springs company.

The Commission approved the $155,294 purchase of a brush truck for the High Springs Fire Department. The existing 1997 brush truck has been out of service for 18 months. The City has located a new four-door 2022 Dodge Ram 5500 4X4 chassis purchased by the Federal Forestry Department that was not picked up.

The Commission is renaming part of U.S. 27 from U.S. Highway 441 to High Springs Main Street as 186th Place for E-9 1 1 purposes. Commissioners agreed that having numbers makes it easier for people to locate the addresses.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for April 28.

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