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Accident10182011DSCF4931Two people were killed Tuesday morning when their vehicles collided on U.S. Highway 441 near Hague.  Details about the accident are still emerging, but Alachua Police Department (APD) officials confirmed that both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.  There were no passengers.

Additional information about the accident will be available in the Oct. 20 edition of Alachua County Today.

Accident10182011DSCF4920

 

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A glimpse at a day in the life of a blind person

White_CaneWhiteCane2Photo 1: Saturday’s White Cane Walk in Alachua marked the 12th year that both sighted and vision impaired individuals joined together for a two-block walk alongside U.S. Highway 441 to create public awareness of the White Cane Law. Photo 2: A blindfolded Peyton Cain required several attempts to successfully use a key to unlock a door.  Facing Cain is 78-year-old Jack Varnon, who founded the first White Cane Walk in Alachua.

ALACHUA – Jack Varnon, 78, was taking a walk in Gainesville one autumn day in 1988. Varnon is severely vision impaired. He couldn’t see the cars, but he relied on his German shepherd guide dog Bandit to lead the way.

Bandit, living up to his name, led Varnon onto County Road 232.  As he was walking along the busy road, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour hit him.

He remembers the chrome strip on the car slicing his thigh as the fender folded up. The nurse at North Florida Regional Medical Center had to use an iodine sponge to wipe away the flakes of paint imbedded in the open wound.

Varnon had no broken bones. He said he had some knee problems and a laceration on the upper part of his thumb.

“I’m sure God protected me,” Varnon said.

Bandit walked away unharmed.

This event turned out to be life changing, and sparked an annual White Cane Walk. The 12th Annual White Cane Walk sponsored by the Alachua County Council for the Blind took place Saturday in Alachua.

The walk started at the site of the former Alachua City Hall and ended near the Alachua Lions Club at the local Boy Scout Troop 88 hut. Some of the people walking were blind from birth. Others were not blind, but volunteered to hold signs or guide others. Some sighted people were blindfolded to experience what it is like to be blind.

The event was meant to raise awareness of the Florida White Cane Law, which mandates that all drivers must yield if there is a pedestrian crossing the street with a cane or guide dog.

When Varnon’s case went to court, he said the presiding judge had to research the Florida White Cane Law. Varnon said he was surprised the judge was uneducated about the law.

It was several years later that Varnon teamed up with Alachua resident Adam Boukari, who was 15 at the time, to organize the City of Alachua’s first White Cane Walk to raise awareness of the law.

Boukari was a Boy Scout in Troop 88 at the time, and took on the project to earn his Eagle Scout badge. At that time, and over the years, local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts have actively participated in the walks.

Now, Boukari is 26, and though he missed earning his Eagle Scout badge by three merit badges, he still organizes the annual event. As assistant to Alachua’s city manager, he recognizes the importance of the Florida White Cane Law.

He said the goals of the annual walk are to raise awareness and share the information with people in the community.

Two people who participated in the walk Saturday were Michael Ferguson, 42, and Haylee Barclay, 16. Ferguson, a Gainesville resident, is blind. Haylee, a member of the Alachua Police Explorers program led him along Highway 441.

Ferguson couldn’t see the cars whizzing by on his right, but he could feel the autumn air bouncing back from the cars. He used a white cane to investigate the ground in front of him, as Haylee described the surface of the pavement and the upward curve of the hill.

Haylee had participated in the White Cane Walk in the past, but she had never led someone before Saturday. Together, she and Ferguson walked along side the road. Several members of the group held yellow signs that read, “We STOP for White Canes and Guide Dogs, Do You?”

“You sure you haven’t done this before?” Ferguson asked her.

Haylee said she was nervous to lead someone on the walk, but she learned some valuable lessons. She doesn’t have her driver’s license yet, but she said when she does, she will remember what she learned on the walk.

“I’m going to be extra cautious now,” she said. “I learned to be careful on the roads and watch out for everyone.”

Once the walk ended, hotdogs and soft drinks were served to those who participated. Several stations were set up for people to experience how someone who was blind might perform tasks such as unlocking a door or counting change. This year, there was a station that featured alarm clocks and watches altered to meet the needs for blind people.

Whether through walking blindfolded alongside a busy highway or through trying to accomplish everyday tasks, the annual event reminds and educates motorists about the importance of the Florida White Cane Law.

The Alachua County Council for the Blind has member meetings on the second Monday of the month at Kazbor’s Grille at 4860 NW 39th Avenue, Gaineville, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Attracting new business to High Springs was the major concern of an economic development workshop held Thursday.  Strategies were discussed at length, but no concrete plans for action were put into place.

Mayor Larry Travis explained that the City needs to work on removing barriers for businesses, like the recently repealed ordinance that prevented restaurants from serving alcohol near churches and schools.

“We still don’t have enough of that,” he said. “We need to get people walking around downtown.”

Christian Popoli, city planner, agreed. He called for the City to generate activity, perhaps asking the High Springs Chamber of Commerce to help with the venture.

The commission evaluated a list of financial goals set last year. Similar issues were brought up at the High Springs City Commission candidate forum sponsored by the Gainesville Tea Party on Oct. 3.

The commission discussed Thursday the possibility of bringing back events like Downtown Days or Fantastic Fridays, events that encouraged visitors to shop downtown and enjoy entertainment by local performers. Travis suggested bringing those back and asking the chamber of commerce to create a community calendar with all of the events going on in Alachua, Newberry and High Springs.

He said a partnership amongst the three towns is crucial and close to happening. This will make sure the towns are not planning conflicting events, keeping them from experiencing smaller crowds. He said this would also allow High Springs to attract more vendors for annual events like Pioneer Days, which have been overshadowed by other cities’ happenings in the past few years.

“Vendors are going to go where they have the chance of making the most money,” he said.

Travis also said the city is in talks with Poe Springs to build upon the spring’s financial opportunities.

“I want to make it a recreational thing,” he said.

The commission discussed creating a branded image for the community to help spur economic development. The City’s slogan, “Enjoy our good nature,” has been underused, Commissioner Sue Weller said.

“How do we enhance that?” she said. “What does it mean? It could mean to enjoy the nature of the area, the springs and stuff. But it could also mean to enjoy the kindness of our people.”

Popoli explained that a brochure was once started to help clarify this image, but it was never fleshed out. He said something like that could be placed in chambers of commerce across Florida and sent to tourism bureaus.

He also emphasized that the City must reach out to businesses by letting them know the steps High Springs is taking to make moving to the city easier. He cited the City’s tax abatement policy, which offers businesses a break on their taxes when they open. There are not many places that have a policy like this, he said.

“This is unique to High Springs,” he said. “It’s a really great tool.”

Travis agreed that reaching out to businesses and creating an image is a problem the City has faced before.

“We’ve never come up with a dedicated funding source,” he said. “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”

He also said that the City has not made enough use of its web site. He said the web site was supposed to be a way for High Springs to reach the world, but “I don’t think we’ve done that.”

Travis suggested that the City make use of University of Florida marketing students to help.

“I know I’ve talked to Dr. Machen about that,” he said. “It gives them practical experience that they don’t get anywhere else.”

Weller said the key to the city’s success is being more proactive in its measures.

“It takes pushing, and asking why, and finding out what’s going on,” she said.

The commission also discussed the possibility of inventorying available buildings and making a “gripes list” of problems business owners have had with City zoning policies.

Popoli said the bottom line is that the commission needs to get the word out about what makes the town unique.

“What we have here is that we’re High Springs,” he said. “It’s pretty here; it’s nice here. We need to make sure it’s out there.”

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NEWBERRY – The Canterbury equestrian center will be in the spotlight at City of Newberry’s next commission meeting.

During a city commission meeting Monday evening, some commissioners expressed frustration with lack of information made available to them. Commissioner Lois Forte said Canterbury is still a big issue, and she wasn’t as informed as she wanted to be once acquisitions talks began.

“We, as a body here, should be informed about everything that’s going on,” Forte said.

Mayor Bill Conrad said he is still trying to figure out what the community wants for Canterbury, even after hearing plenty of opinions from the town hall meeting held in September.

“I’m still getting lots of inputs, lots of email,” Conrad said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to sit down and say, ‘this is where we are at.’”

He added the City is still in “an information-gathering mode.”

Commissioner Alena Lawson said the commission should move forward together, and that discussion should be included in a regular city commission meeting, even if purchase details are not specific. She said that people stop her on the streets asking about what the City is going to do next.

“I clearly heard what the citizens said at the town hall meeting,” she said. “We clearly heard the agricultural tone.”

Commissioner Jordan Marlowe also agreed to the acquisition discussion, so that once the project starts making its way through county boards, the commission will “speak in one voice.”

Discussion about the equestrian center will be included on the commission agenda scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24.

Another issue addressed Monday was a resolution increaing rental fees for Newberry’s Municipal Building.

Commissioners drafted a new fee schedule with the assistance of Sondra Randon, assistant to Newberry City Attorney S. Scott Walker.

The proposed rate change includes a $200 rental fee for social events and for use by private organizations, while rental for weddings will increase from $300 to $350, a reasonable price and still cheap when compare to other venues said city commissioners. City-sponsored events and usage by non-profit organizations will be allowed to continue rent free.

Some city activities that will not require a rental fee include community action meetings, use by the Watermelon Festival committee and Bingo nights.

Non-profit organizations must be a valid 501c3, as determined by the Internal Revenue Code, to have the charge waived.

Walker cautioned there could be physical damage and overuse of the facilities, at which time he said the City could amend the resolution to include a usage limit.

The resolution adjusting the fee schedule is set for final review by the commission at the Oct. 24 meeting.

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WALDO – Residents of Waldo may be able to keep chickens, goats and bees on their property to promote self-sustaining practices and the growing local food movement.

During Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, members debated whether these domestic animals should be able to live on residential property, or if they would be nuisances for the city.

Two citizens approached the city because they wanted to keep chickens on their properties. After research and discussions with Agriculture Extension agents at the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), goats and bees were added to the list because of their ability to produce food for personal consumption.

Each household would be able to keep two chickens, one goat and one bee hive on their property. Two hens will produce approximately 400 eggs per year. One goat will produce an average of  three quarts of milk, and one beehive will produce 50 pounds of honey per year.

The ordinance mandates that chicken coops should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from rear and side property lines and a minimum of 40 feet from any residential home on adjacent properties. Chickens and goats must be kept in fenced areas, and chickens should be kept within the coop from dusk until dawn.

Chickens and goats are not allowed to roam beyond their fenced areas, and no type of animal is allowed to be kept in any front yard.

Beekeepers must be registered with the State of Florida and adhere to the Best Management Practices set forth by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Citizens would not be able to use the animals and their by-products for commercial profit.

Councilwoman Carolyn Wade raised questions about a part of the ordinance that required residents to control odors and noises from the animals. She said these factors might not be under residents’ control.

“I don’t know how you can get away from odor and noise,” she said. “If my neighbor had a goat that made noises and produced odors, I would have a problem with that.”

Councilman Rick Pisano, who previously raised goats, said this should not be an issue.

“They don’t stink more than having two dogs in your backyard,” he said.

The threat of natural predators was also considered at the City Commission meeting. There has been an increase in the number of coyotes in neighborhoods around Gainesville. Common neighborhood dogs and cats may also become predators.

Black bears may pose a risk because of their attraction to the honey that bees produce. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows that the Waldo area is in a secondary Florida Black Bear range, which means that these bears are likely traveling through the area.

Currently, Gainesville is the only jurisdiction that allows a maximum of two chickens on residential land. Alachua County is in the process of amending their Unified Land Development Code to allow a range of poultry and farm animals to live on residential property.

Commissioners debated whether all three types of animals could be housed on the same property. An enforcement officer would ensure that this and other ordinances were being followed properly.

Mayor Louie Davis and Councilman Rodney Estes were absent from the commission meeting. The consensus was to table to issue until more members were able to attend the next meeting.

Councilwoman Carolyn Wade said she does not see anything wrong with this proposal.

“For the good of the community, if the people want them, I don’t see why we would reject this.”

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City of Alachua buying back electricity

ALACHUA – Alachua residents who own solar panels or other forms of renewable energy regeneration systems, and get their electricity from the City of Alachua, now have a way to save money by producing more energy than they consume.

Monday night, the city commission passed at the first public hearing, an ordinance that provides the terms and the process for individuals or businesses if they wish to produce and sell energy back to the City.  The ordinance, which includes written policy, application fees and insurance requirements, provides for interconnection and net metering of customer-owner regeneration systems to the City’s electric system.

If customers produce more power than needed for their residence or business, the surplus energy feeds back into the electric grid to provide electricity for other users.  The customer providing the surplus energy receives credits valued at retail rates for use in future months. Should any energy credits remain at the end of the fiscal year, the customer receives cash back from the City at wholesale avoided cost rate, which is the average cost the city pays for energy.

The ordinance also sets a cap of 2.5 percent of customers that can connect to the City's electric system with their own power. Barry Moline, Executive Director of Florida Municipal Electric Association, explained the cap is necessary to prevent too many energy producers from over producing electricity, and gaining credits rather than paying for electricity.  The customers generating power, but not paying, are essentially using the city’s distribution system infrastructure, such as lines and poles, at no charge.

But because the cap is on the percent of customers, and not a set number, as the number of customers increase, the more systems can be accepted into the program.

A cap is also set on the size of solar panels to prevent producers from planning to sell high volumes of excess energy, becoming “like a generator” for the City, Moline said.

State law has required for several years that all municipally owned electric service providers have an interconnection agreement and a net metering program for customer owned renewable generation, which allows them to sell renewable electricity back to the utility.  In many cases, municipalities only implement the agreement when there is a demand for it.

Monday night, Jeffrey Tate, President and CEO of NanoSonic Products, said, “I guess I am the demand.”  Tate’s company has recently had solar panels installed on the roof of his company, located across the street from the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua.  Tate said the 34 kilowatt photovoltaic system had just received final inspection.

“Our system will give our company an unfair competitive advantage globally for the next 30 years, and that means I’ll be able to continue to employ people here in the city of Alachua and be in business,” Tate added.

The ordinance will come before the commission again for approval at the required second public hearing.

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HAWTHORNE – The City of Hawthorne recently received a national honor and a $1,000 grant to establish trails in the newly formed Little Orange Creek Nature Park because of its efforts to establish a greenway in the city.

The Kodak American Greenways Awards Program awarded Hawthorne the grant because of its innovative attempts to develop trails that will promote environmental education. Hawthorne will be showcased as a national model for its original efforts of developing greenways.

The Conservation Fund, which is a recognized leader in working with local communities to expand the nation’s network of linked open spaces, provides grants of up to $2,500 to nonprofit organizations and government agencies to help develop new greenway projects. Nearly $900,000 has been granted to over 700 organizations in all 50 states since the program’s inception in 1989.

Hawthorne is one of the 21 groups nationwide honored this year. Sam Wynkoop, the parks and recreation director for Hawthorne, said Little Orange Creek Nature Park was chosen because of the mix of recreation and environmental education.

“These funds will help develop the trail system that we have in the park. We want to have the park open so that everyone can enjoy it, whether they live in Hawthorne or are just visiting,” he said.

The park is not currently open to the public because facilities on the property are not ready, Wynkoop said. The city acquired the property in May, but there is a house on the land that is not up to public code.

Wynkoop said this house will eventually be converted to an environmental center to educate the public on the wildlife found in the park. There are plans to have informative kiosks throughout the trail, as well as guided tours to educate visitors about the landscape and wildlife in the park.

“It is important to preserve the natural environment not only for us, but also for future generations,” Wynkoop said.

The trail will be ADA-approved and accessible to handicapped visitors. Although this type of trail is more expensive, Wynkoop said the grant will help get the park open to the public within the end of the year.

Larry Selzer, the Conservation Fund’s president, said this year’s award winners represent some of the best grassroots conservation and greenway development efforts in the United States.

“The fund is proud to support these thoughtful, action-oriented local initiatives that will serve as models for other communities around the country.”

The Kodak American Greenway Awards Grants Review Committee consists of conservation experts from around the country. They selected grant recipients from a pool of nearly 200 qualified applicants.

The awards are made possible by generous support from the Eastman Kodak Company. Gilbert Grosvenor, the chairman emeritus of the National Geographic Society, said the greenways network has linked city streets to parklands and other open spaces with the help of companies like Kodak.

“Greenways not only improve the nation’s ecological health, but these natural corridors provide vital opportunities for all Americans to get out, exercise and improve their physical health,” he said.

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