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LIVE OAK ‒ The Suwannee River Water Management District’s Governing Board has voted to table an anticipated staff recommendation to approve the Seven Springs Water Company Water Use Permit renewal application. The vote was taken at the Board’s Aug. 11 meeting. The Board’s determination to table the permit was made based on its view that the company actually bottling the water should be listed as an applicant on the permit application.

Seven Springs has held a permit issued by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) to withdraw water from Ginnie Springs for 20 years. The permit allows withdrawals up to 1.152 million gallons a day from the spring, but as a smaller local plant, their average withdrawal has been a quarter of the amount, peaking at under 270,000 gallons per day for the past four years.

In January 2019, Nestle Waters North America Corporation (NWNA) purchased the bottling plant from Seven Springs in anticipation of receiving the permit after Seven Springs renewed it. Within the next five years, NWNA anticipates operating four product lines at this facility, one renovated line capable of producing 1,350 half-liter bottles per minute (BPM), and three new lines capable of producing 1,500 BPM and adding two new high-speed bottling lines to the two existing ones. NWNA will also pay an undisclosed amount to Seven Springs.

There is opposition to the Nestle plant by some who say that allowing up to 1.152 million gallons a day to be pumped by Nestle Waters bottling plant would harm the Santa Fe River system, reduce water for public use and is not in the public interest as required by state law for approval of permits.

Nestle maintains they are good stewards of the environment and the bottling plant brings jobs and tax revenue to Florida's economy.

As part of the permitting process, the SRWMD previously requested information from Seven Springs confirming that the withdrawals would not damage the recovering river and were in the best interest of the public. Despite requests for three separate reports, the documents were not provided and SRWMD staff initially recommended denying the permit due to incomplete information from Seven Springs.

The denial recommendation was to be reviewed by the SRWMD Board of Governors at a meeting on March 10, 2020. On March 9,2020, Seven Springs and Nestle filed a petition for administrative hearing on the matter. The petition was forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for consideration by an Administrative Law Judge as required by law, effectively taking the matter out of SRWMD’s authority.

Prior to the hearing, Seven Springs provided the information requested earlier by SRWMD and the hearing was canceled, placing the decision back in the hands of the water management district.

Based on the new information, it was anticipated that SWRMD staff would recommend approving the permit at the Aug. 11 Board of Governors meeting. Now that the Board has tabled the permit renewal, that recommendation is in limbo.

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission is weighing whether to accept the county’s Municipal Service Business Unit (MSBU) solid waste management assessment or defer to an alternate plan such as a transfer station surcharge per ton. 

Alachua County Waste Collection Manager Patrick Irby and Alachua County Environmental Program Manager Gus Olmos were on hand at the city commission meeting to discuss the solid waste and resource recovery aspect of the MSBU.

Irby explained that MSBU is a funding mechanism for solid waste management activities that cover the entire county. 

The four services that are funded by the Solid Waste Management Assessment are the five rural collection centers, which Irby says are open to everybody, engineering and compliance monitoring at landfills, the Office of Waste Alternatives, which is the education branch, and household hazardous waste, which is currently part of Environmental Protection.

The program funds the five rural collection centers, which provide drop-off sites for garbage, recycling, yard debris and household hazardous waste.  They also provide re-use areas for gently used items.  “The solid waste management assessment covers 36 percent of the rural collection center operations,” said Irby.

Although the main facility for collection and disposal of hazardous waste is located adjacent to the Leveda Brown Environmental Park, there are collection areas located at all five rural collection centers as well. 

Two special collection events are held in Newberry each year, but this has been temporarily suspended this year due to COVID-19.

Engineering and compliance monitoring is another mandatory function funded under the MSBU.  Four closed landfills throughout the county are monitored for leachate, methane, water contamination and other factors that might impact the environment. 

The Office of Waste Alternatives provides public education and community outreach in the areas of recycling, composting and litter reduction.  The “Tools for Schools” program also falls under this office.  “We provide tools for teachers and students who need items to be able to function in school,” he said.  “It’s amazing how many students arrive to school with nothing…no paper, pencils or anything else,” Irby said.  “This has become a larger program than we initially thought it would be.”  This office also initiates special event recycling and waste audits.

“A lot of our funding comes from tipping and processing fees at the transfer station,” said Irby.  “That funding primarily will go to processing of recycled materials; sorting, bailing; all of that costs a surprising amount of money.”  Irby said that when markets are bad like they are currently the cost is more.  “It pays for the transportation of waste to the landfill in Union County, the disposal of the waste up at the landfill and always the administration expenses as well as the assessments,” said Irby.

While there are three assessments that are overseen, only one of them is applied inside municipalities.  The rural collection assessment collects 64 percent of the total expenses for the rural collection centers and that is the portion attributed to residents in unincorporated Alachua County who are outside of the curbside program.  “The remainder of the rural collection center assessment is inside the solid waste management, and that’s the part of folks who are inside municipalities or are in the curbside program.  The solid waste management assessment is the only one we apply inside city limits,” said Irby.

Explaining how the assessment is calculated, Irby said, “It is divided between commercial parcels and residential units based on percentages of overall waste stream and benefits received.”  The primary groups are Single-Family Residential, Multi-Family Residential (apartment complexes), Residential Customers who do not receive curbside collection services (mostly unincorporated county) and Commercial. 

“The goal in the calculation is to pretty much just break even,” Irby said. 

As an alternative to the Solid Waste Management Assessment, Irby said there would be a transfer station surcharge per ton.  He believes the surcharge would be equal to the annual assessment for single-family residential units.  This method would also require the waste hauler to segregate waste from non-assessed municipalities from all other waste collected for the purpose of accurately weighing waste from that particular city.  The cost to the municipality in that case would be based on the actual tonnage.

Commissioners were not required to vote on whether they wanted to go with the Solid Waste Management Assessment or the alternative during the meeting.  The presentation was mostly for information-gathering purposes.  However, at some point the City will have to decide which way they want to go

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The Alachua County Library is looking forward to a busy August with new ways for people to participate, connect and discover more about their local libraries. This month the library is launching virtual book clubs and Grab-and-Go book bags. They are also continuing to offer computer and copier appointments. The next phase is the gradual reopening of local library branches.

Curbside service continues at all branches Monday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Residents are asked to visit the library’s Current Services page for the latest information.

One-hour computer appointments will continue to be available at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Monday – Saturday at all library branches.

Copier appointments will also continue to be available Monday – Saturday for 15-minute intervals from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Library visitors are required to complete a health screening, wear a face covering and maintain six feet of distance from staff members and other patrons during appointments.

Anyone wishing to use the library computers or copier is asked to call ahead for an appointment time.

Copiers and printers accept silver change and $1 or $5 bills. Library staff is not able to provide change. The staff is also not able to offer one-on-one computer assistance due to social distancing recommendations. For the same reason, browsing is currently not allowed, but patrons are welcome to pick up library holds as they leave their appointment. Library visitors are only allowed one appointment per day for the current day and the next business day. Anyone interested in setting up an appointment must call their local library branch.

The new Grab-and-Go service launched Monday, Aug. 3. Anyone wishing to participate may call their local library branch and let staff know what type of books they wish to read. Staff will pull three to five items and have them ready in one hour. Come to the branch and call when you arrive to receive your Grab-and-Go bag.

As summer winds down, library staff has found the best back to school resources for parents. The library can help with early childhood development books, homeschooling tips, free online learning tools and bilingual education resources.

The most popular library book clubs, as well as some new ones, are now online. There is a club for every reading preference. August’s titles include The Library Book, Cruel Sacrifice, Atomic Habits, the Island Affair and many more. Anyone interested in participating may sign up now for a club to receive updates and meeting information. In addition, book club kits are available for checkout.

Library staff members encourage all citizens to complete the U.S. Census. The Census data helped determine how much CARES Act funding Alachua County received. Census information also impacts federal funding for schools, roads and hospitals.

Residents can do their part to ensure their community’s future by completing the 2020 U.S. Census by mail, phone or online. It only takes a short time and the questions are non-invasive and simple to answer.

The library’s RBdigital audiobooks are moving to the OverDrive platform on Aug. 13. Because the two companies merged, library patrons can soon check out all eBooks and eAudiobooks from one place.

All content from the RBdigital app and website will begin to be merged with OverDrive and Libby. Audiobooks will be first according to library personnel. On Aug. 13, OverDrive will begin adding the library’s collection to their services. What this means for users is that all downloadable audiobooks soon will be found in one place. Library staff said RBdigital (Zinio) magazines will stay put for the time being, but library patrons are urged to listen for updates.

Help with OverDrive can be found online at https://help.overdrive.com/en-us/home.htm.

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NEWBERRY – A new sidewalk along Newberry’s Southwest 4th Avenue between Oak View Middle School and Newberry Place subdivision will soon be reality. The City of Newberry and Maronda Homes, LLC of Florida have agreed to split the cost of providing construction of the sidewalk

According to City Manager Mike New, citizens have requested a sidewalk for safety sake at that location for some time. Construction of a sidewalk was a condition of the 2003 development agreement between Newberry and the Newberry Place developer, which was affiliated with Maronda Homes. According to New, Maronda Homes’ development division dissolved several years ago leaving the City with no legal entity with which to enforce the requirements of the developer’s agreement.

Maronda Homes was contacted by the City Attorney and requested to fulfill the obligation for the now dissolved development arm of the company. Following negotiations, an agreement was reached with Moranda Homes agreeing to pay half toward construction of the sidewalk. The estimated cost of construction is $65,000.

Maronda has 12 months to pay their $32,500 share in $1,000 increments. The City will pay the balance within 36 months or return the funds to Maronda.

New said the funds are already incorporated in the City’s FY 2020-21 budget but could be deferred to 2022 or 2023. He also said that the City’s share of funding could be paid by Local Option Fuel Tax (LOFT) revenues, or other general fund revenues.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua City Commission met Aug. 10 to consider a grant application to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, school resource officers and an increase in water rates.

A matter not on the agenda was discussed when several citizens voiced their concerns about the condition of 138th Avenue in Alachua and requested that the City pave the 2 ½ mile stretch of graded roadway, which is one of the last unpaved large roads in the city.

According to some citizens, the road was not maintained until a few years ago and has received no regular maintenance since. While they acknowledged that the city had improved the grading and maintenance in the past few years, they said that was only temporarily effective and large potholes and water drainage quickly negated what maintenance was done. Another resident complained that as a dirt road, visibility was an issue in dry months and created a danger when crossing traffic upon exiting the road.

City Manager Adam Boukari said he understood their issues and would work with the City’s Public Works Department and the residents to try and improve maintenance on the road. Boukari explained that the City would like to pave the road, but the hundreds of thousands of dollars required was not in the 2020 or 2021 budget and paving was not feasible for at least two years.

In other business, the City is considering applying to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for a 2019 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The City is eligible for up to $700,000 for either Neighborhood Revitalization or Housing Rehabilitation funding. These grants are designed to improve either community infrastructure or individual housing in low-income neighborhoods.

Several citizens argued in favor of the individual housing awards saying that would have a direct effect on families by assisting them with affordable housing. Other citizens voiced support for the neighborhood grant, saying it would allow infrastructure improvements that would benefit entire neighborhoods while the individual housing grant would help possibly 10 families at most and require significant time evaluating each house to determine who most needed the improvements.

The Commission directed staff to apply for the grant but to also seek other grants or programs that might directly help families in need of better housing. A final decision on how to spend the grant will be made after it is awarded.

The Commission also approved a rate hike for water use and wastewater reclamation. The City charges for usage to cover its operating cost for water utilities. Due to increased costs, the City recommended an increase of 6 -10 cents per 1,000 gallons for residential usage and a similar range for non-residential and agricultural use. A second and final hearing will be held at the Aug. 24 Commission meeting.

The Commission approved the renewal of the School Resource Officer program in the amount of $300,000 with the funds provided by the School Board of Alachua County. The Commission also approved an update to the City’s phone system to improve internal communication capabilities for City departments. The system will cost $ 80,207 with the money coming from the General Fund.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Thirteen tax parcels in the City of Newberry have been rezoned. A legislative public hearing on Ordinance 2020-17/CPA 20-01 received unanimous approval on second and final reading at the Aug. 10 City Commission meeting.

On April 27, the City Commission adopted seven ordinances, approving the voluntary annexation of 13 tax parcels that are contiguous to Newberry’s boundaries. “With the land now annexed into the City, the next step was to bring the property into conformance with the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs), which include the adopted Future Land Use Map (FLUM) (part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan) and the City’s Official Zoning Atlas,” said Newberry Principal Planner Wendy Kinser-Maxwell at that time.

Following the City Commission’s approval on June 22, the City transmitted the FLUM changes to the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Receiving no objections from the State, the City was able to consider adoption of this ordinance on second reading at which time it passed.

Following approval of CPA 20-01, the Commission was able to consider Ordinance 2020-18/LDR 20-03, which is an application by the City to amend the Official Zoning Atlas by changing the zoning on the same properties from Alachua County Agriculture (A) to City of Newberry Agriculture (A).

A quasi-judicial public hearing was conducted at which time the Commission also approved the rezoning of the same properties on second reading. This zoning category is the closest match to the County’s zoning, which allows one dwelling unit per five acres and is consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ “The Alachua County CARES Act online Business Grants are now available to submit,” said County Communications and Legislative Affairs Director Mark Sexton. Individual assistance grants applications continue to be open for residents needing assistance.

At a special Alachua County Commission meeting Aug. 3, the County Commission approved the Alachua County CARES Act process for distributing federal dollars. Alachua County will receive an approximately $46.9 million allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). These funds may be used for necessary expenditures incurred for the COVID-19 emergency response. This program is for Alachua County residents and businesses only.

“Many individuals and businesses in our community are in dire straits," Alachua County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson said. "As our community continues to come together to do what is needed to battle this insidious virus, the County is doing everything we can to get this money into the hands of those who need it most. We want to ensure that people can pay towards their rent, mortgage, utilities and other expenses."

The website and application form are mobile phone friendly. “We highly recommend reading the Frequently Asked Questions page before filling out your applications,” said Sexton. The site features application instructions, a frequently asked questions section and a link to the application. Anyone wishing to apply may go to https://info.alachuacounty.us/2020/cares-act/.

The application process will be available in phases, said Sexton. The individual assistance grants opened on Aug. 4 with $21.1 million available. Small and medium business grant applications became available Aug. 10 with $15 million available. Inter-government organization grants will open on Aug. 17 with $8.3 million available.

Anyone needing assistance, especially if they are uncomfortable with applying online, may use a live chat feature on the website and a CARES Act helpline at 352-309-2505. The live chat and the helpline are open from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday – Friday.

“Initially, we expect very high call volume and ask for citizens to be patient if the line is busy,” said Sexton.

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