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Q - Waldo Fire Station spc toIMG 75921

Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson at the groundbreaking for Waldo's new fire station. The facility will be located on U.S. Highway 301. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

WALDO – Waldo just broke ground Friday, Nov. 4, on a new fire station, which is being built in their city by Alachua County. The station will be one of the newest fire stations in the county, and will be known as Alachua County Fire Station number 23. Completion date is scheduled for June 2017.

The new structure will be located in Waldo at 14377 N.E. U.S. Hwy 301.

Alachua County and the City of Waldo celebrated commencement of the project with a groundbreaking ceremony last Friday morning.

The 5,684 square foot single story facility will feature energy-efficient equipment and sustainable design building features. The concrete masonry facility will also have a 100 percent back-up generator. Cost to build the new building is estimated to be just over $2 million

“The new station is being made possible in part by the donation of the late J.D. Griffis,” said Waldo City Manager Kim Worley.

“The City had some property owned by the late J.D. Griffis,” she said. “He donated the land needed to the City of Waldo, we in turn donated the property to the County for the new station with a clause that it had to be started within ‘x’ amount of years or it would revert back to the City and then to the Griffis family.”

The fire station will service areas ranging from Waldo to Orange Heights to northwest of the Gainesville drag strip, according to Waldo Mayor Louie Davis.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “It’s on [U.S.] Highway 301 so it’s very visible. It’s going to be a nice facility, and we hope its location will encourage more development in that area.”

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Q - Weller DSC3324-Edit

Retiring High Springs City Commissioner Sue Weller in her backyard, which she designed herself. Weller is stepping down after serving multiple terms on the city commission. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – For retiring High Springs Commissioner Sue Weller it's always been about community and the people that live in it. In the 12 years since she moved to High Springs, Weller has been elected to be City Commissioner three times, Mayor for two terms and Vice Mayor for one term. She has also served on various commissions and task forces for city landscaping, historic preservation and economic development. All of which has made for a very busy schedule for someone who retired when she moved here. But she also has the type of personality that likes to stay busy and always seems to have multiple projects going at the same time that would overwhelm many people.

Weller never had plans to be a career politician. She certainly didn't do it for the money, since commissioners get paid $6,000 a year and being Mayor earns only an additional $500. Both jobs also take a lot of time and commitment. For Weller it has always been about being part of the community and trying to improve the town economically while maintaining its small town charm and historic significance.

“For a town to survive, you have to be able to bring in people and business, but you don't want to lose the lifestyle and appeal of a small town,” she said.

A native Floridian, Weller was born and raised in Miami. She first visited the North Florida area when she went to college at the University of Florida. It was there that she met her future husband, Tom Weller, who was attending law school at the university. They fell in love and got married and have been together for 37 years.

She was studying labor relations while he finished law school, and after graduating they returned to Miami to pursue their careers. For the next 24 years Sue Weller worked for the City of Miami in the field of labor relations eventually becoming Miami's Labor Relations Officer. During this time she also was heavily involved with the Public Employer Labor Relations Board both for Florida and nationally, serving as the President for the Florida board in 1986 and the national board in 1995. While still employed by the City of Miami she also served as the Executive Director for the Florida Public Employer Labor Relations Association for eight years.

In 2004, she decided it was time to retire after 24 years with the City of Miami. She and husband, Tom, had been discussing moving out of the big city and finding a small town with a more relaxed lifestyle. “We wanted a place that was close to a big town for the stores and medical facilities but had that small town environment.

“We knew of High Springs from our college days and began looking in the area for land on which to build. We found the perfect piece of property and made the move,” she said. Tom moved his law practice to High Springs and they began to build on the property.

Typical of her multitasking personality, she also designed both the entire house and the landscaping to be their perfect place to live. Her husband is also a woodworking craftsman and built much of the interior cabinets and furniture, as well as the large wood deck in the backyard. Even though she had retired, she still wanted to be involved in the community and was soon serving on various boards for economic development and historic preservation.

“When we took our recommendations to the city commission, they ignored the task force's recommendations. You can't stop growth, more people are moving to small towns and so the best thing is to plan ahead for that. The commission rejected all our proposals” she said.

Upset, Weller decided the best way to change it was to run for the city commission herself. She won and in 2010 and became a member of the High Springs City Commission.

She pushed for creating more transparency in the city government and for economic development and revitalization of the downtown area while maintaining the small town identity of High Springs. After serving on the commission for only two years, she was elected by her fellow commissioners to the post of mayor. Over the next six years she would serve two more terms on the commission as well as another term as mayor and vice mayor.

This year she decided it was time to step down and focus on enjoying life. On Nov. 17 she will again step onto the dais at the commission meeting to receive thanks from her fellow commission members and then step down as her replacement steps in. But even in retiring again, she has plenty of plans.

“I want to travel...a lot. Tom and I have many places we want to see,” she said.

Although she designed all the landscaping and gardens at her property, she has had a lifelong passion for raising orchids. “I want to improve my orchid stock and take the Master Gardner program at the University of Florida.” She also wants to stay involved with the community through the Kiwanis Club and to continue to work on the Rails to Trails project, which will create a bike trail between Newberry and High Springs along the old railroad track.

“This is a project I have been passionate about and helped raise initial funds for development and leasing the property from the rail companies. However, Governor Scott then vetoed the project and the funds were withdrawn after the project had been started, leaving it in limbo. I want to try and get those funds back and see the project completed,” said Weller.

Even though Sue Weller is retiring from the city government, she still has a full schedule and that's the way she likes it.

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HIGH SPRINGS – More than 20 people gathered in the High Springs City Commission chambers on Thursday, Oct. 27, encouraging commissioners to authorize a letter against a proposed 10,775-acre phosphate mine in north Florida by HPS II Enterprises. The proposed mine would border the Santa Fe River and straddle New River, a major tributary, which divides Union and Bradford counties.

Although commissioners had a few questions about the requested letter, they quickly and unanimously agreed to authorize the mayor to sign in support of Alachua County's position as soon as possible, without the need of another meeting.

Pamela Smith, President, Our Santa Fe River, made the initial request and provided supporting information for commission review. Both she and Mark Lions answered questions and explained how the phosphate mine would impact both water quality and the supply of drinking water for the state.

“Phosphate mining uses more water than any other industry,” said Lions.

“Union County quickly voted in a one-year moratorium on mine permit applications on April 18, 2016, giving them time to revise outdated and inadequate LDRs. Bradford County did not issue a moratorium and soon after, on April 29, 2016, the mining company submitted to them a mine permit application,” said Lions.

In other city business, Caesar, the High Springs Police Department's newest K-9 officer, will receive his new bullet-resistant vest at a special event on Nov. 15 at The Great Outdoors Patio Restaurant. “Yappy Hour” will take place from 6 – 8 p.m. and is sponsored by Humane Animal Treatment Charity, Inc., started by Arlene Levene and her husband, Gene. The public is invited to attend, bring their own dog, meet Caesar and thank Clare Noble, the person who wrote the check for the entire cost of the $700 vest.

Farm Share will be back in High Springs on Nov. 5 to donate food to area residents.

In light of upcoming holidays, the city has modified its commission meeting schedule for the rest of the year to Nov. 17 (Reorganization/ Commission Meeting), Nov. 29 and Dec. 8.

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Q - FarmShare Carson DSC3244


L-R: Volunteers George Washington, Phillip Fackler and Sammy Wales sort produce to hand out at the Farm Share event. The Farm Share food distribution was held at the High Springs Civic Center on Nov. 5. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)


HIGH SPRINGS – It's unusual to see traffic jams in High Springs, but on Nov. 5 a long line of cars slowly moved to the High Springs Civic Center on U.S. Highway 441, winding down to Main street and then north past the High Springs Community School.

The reason for this congestion was a semi-truck full of food that was being given away free to needy families. A line of tables had been set up with different food products at each station. As the cars slowly moved down the line, volunteers loaded the cars with bags of food. Recipients received canned goods, cereal, fresh produce, bottled water, bread, frozen fruit and staples such as rice. For many of these people the food would provide sustenance for their families who might otherwise go hungry due to poverty. Each table was manned by volunteers from the community and church members who were donating their time to help others. From 9 a.m. to noon, more than 400 cars went through the line.

The food was provided by a unique non-profit charitable organization called Food Share. The organization was established in 1991 by Patricia Robbins, who owned Robbins Seafood, a commercial seafood company. When she retired in 1991, she founded the Farm Share program with the goal of recovering wasted produce and supplying it to various organizations and directly to the public to help alleviate hunger caused by poverty for lower income families and the elderly.

The concept was based on the fact that up to 50 percent of the produce raised on farms is thrown away. Typically stores want to provide the best product to their customers and accept only produce that is cosmetically perfect. Misshapen or blemished produce is rejected, leaving the farmer little choice but to dispose of it or use it as fertilizer for their fields.

This rejected produce is just as nutritious as the product in the grocery store, just not as visually appealing to a consumer who wants to spend their money on the best looking produce. It is frustrating to the farmers, who don't like to see the fruits of their labor go to waste and the stores are restricted by having to meet consumer expectations.

Robbins saw the waste that was taking place while many living in poverty struggled to purchase food. Robbins found a unique solution by working directly with the farmers to get this wasted food to people in need. The farmers donate the excess produce and receive 200 percent of the cost of goods sold. Farm Share then distributes it to the public at events like at High Springs or working with agencies such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and churches to get the food to the needy. It is a winning situation for everyone. The farmer does not see his product go to waste and lose money, Farm Share gets the food to distribute at little or no cost, and the public and charities get the food for free.

Farm Share also works with the federal government through grants or direct food donations from corporations to provide other food besides fresh produce. The program continued to grow and has distributed over 300 million pounds of food to over 1,000 agencies and direct distribution events in Florida. They have evolved into the most successful independent hunger organization in the eastern United States. Despite the wealth of America, millions of Americans deal with hunger and malnutrition. As family income levels decrease or remain stagnant while cost goes up, funds for food diminish, especially for low income families and the elderly. The goal of Farm Share is to help alleviate hunger in America by recovering, repackaging and distributing produce and other overstocked food products at no cost to the public. Each year they distribute over 40 million pounds of food in Florida to agencies and the public at no cost.

As a nonprofit, Farm Share still has operating costs. This is offset by the donations from farmers, public donations and government grants. They also work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) commodity programs and produce recovery operations. The food is collected, repacked and distributed by a combination of inmate labor and public volunteers.

“It is this combination of volunteers and cooperation of the farmers that makes it all work,” said Paul Smallwood, Director of the Jacksonville office. “We simply couldn't do this without the volunteers and participation from the communities. They are the backbone of the organization. Caring for the community and their fellow citizens makes it happen,” he said. “We have a desire to give back more to those that need it.”

This sense of community caring was evident at the High Springs event. Almost everyone helping distribute the food were volunteers. Some were individuals that just wanted to help the community by donating their time. Others represented organizations such as the Kiwanis club and missionaries from the Mormon church. The local police department directed traffic, and the High Springs Fire Department helped distribute the food. The Farm Share representative, Emma Holt, surveyed the operation as the volunteers passed out food.

“I am always amazed by how much work the volunteers do, especially the first responders. The fire and police officers already give so much to the community, and yet are willing to leave their families on their day off to come out and help,” Holt said.

Although she works for Farm Share, she is also a volunteer. Director Smallwood was quick to praise Holt. “She is retired, but works 40 to 45 hours a week arranging these distribution events. It is the compassion of the volunteers and farmers, as well as the dedication of the Farm Share staff and founder, that makes it all work. It's about having a heart and willingness to improve the lives of those less fortunate.”

More information on the program and opportunities to volunteer can be found at the organization's website farmshare.org.

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W - Carson - Dot Alachua Trick Treat  DSC3139

Left: Dot Evans of the Alachua Chamber of Commerce helps distribute treats during the Trick or Treat on Main Street event on Oct. 31. The event is hosted by the Chamber, co-sponsored by the City of Alachua and supported by local merchants who give away candy. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

ALACHUA – Halloween is an ancient tradition. In modern times it’s a celebration, a time to creatively dress up as witches, goblins, superheroes or any other alter ego. Adults celebrate with parities and children get to go trick or treating in costume asking for candy. It is a time of fantasy and imagination. But its roots go far back in history, a combination of the celebration of fall and a time to honor the departed.

In Alachua on Halloween and the days leading up to it, there were several celebrations filling the downtown Main Street area with spooks, witches, superheroes, demons and a myriad of other costumes.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Tony and Al's restaurant in downtown Alachua held a special event featuring music and art based around the Halloween tradition. Seven artists were present at the event featuring photography, stained glass and drawings as well as jewelry, wooden masks and carvings. Mark Miale was the featured musical performer accompanied by Rickylee Brawner and Jon Rhoads. Member of the audience dressed in costume and prizes were given for best couple and best costume with Best costume going to Lynda Short who was dressed as a nun.

But the main Halloween event was Alachua’s annual Trick or Treat on Main Street on Halloween night as thousands of young – and old – ghosts, goblins and superheroes took to the downtown area. The event is hosted by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by the City of Alachua. The celebration has been going on for 14 years and continues to attract large crowds each year.

Although Halloween in America has a long tradition of children in costumes going house to house, times have changed, and many parents are concerned for children’s safety walking through neighborhoods in the dark. The Chamber founded the event to create a safe place for children and families to walk around and collect candy that is safety checked. They also wanted to maintain a spirit of community within the town by bringing the event to Main Street.

Local businesses on Main Street, city offices and corporate sponsors set up stations to give out candy to the children. All the candy is purchased by the individual businesses. Some of the corporate sponsors included Publix and Waste Pro. The city of Alachua Public Service division and Police department also provided candy stations. Several church groups also participated, including First Baptist Church of Alachua and River of Life church. Christ Central Church also handed out balloons to children.

In addition to the candy stations, other activities included a costume contest for children and prizes for the winners of the Scarecrow on Main Street contest. First prize went to Doctor Douglas Adel, second prize was awarded to Mebane Middle School Student Government sponsored by Waste Pro and the third prize went to Alachua Boy Scout Troop 88.

The event was a success with one of the largest crowds they have had and plenty of happy kids. As Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper stood watching the crowd with satisfaction, he said, “The event only lasts a couple of hours , but you walk the whole length of Main Street and see everyone having fun. They all go home with smiles on their faces and you can't ask for any better than that.”

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W - Walker - Bill Conrad in Trenton T-Shirt 2

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad is walking around in a Trenton t-shirt and explained his situation at the Oct. 24 city commission meeting. The  shirt is the result of a lost bet about the Newberry vs. Trenton football game. (Today photo/C.M. WALKER)

NEWBERRY – Citizens may be surprised to see Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad walking around in a Trenton t-shirt. He opened the Oct. 24 city commission meeting by explaining the shirt.

“I made a bet with Glen Thigpen on the Oct. 14 Newberry vs. Trenton game,” he said. “The bet involved the losing team's mayor wearing the winning team's t-shirt. Unfortunately, we lost, but I am hoping there will be another opportunity for a second meeting of our teams and I'm going to bet him double or nothing next time.”

All levity aside, the meeting included a legislative public hearing to receive comments on an ordinance to amend the city's Comprehensive Plan to allow for a new future land use category called “Corporate/Research Park.” In addition to the new category, modifications to the Urban Services Area and to the Economic Development Element are also part of this change.

“We are trying to clean up the ordinance,” said City Attorney Scott Walker.

The ordinance was approved on first reading, and will be brought back to the commission for second and final reading to hear any additional comments before the final vote.

Commissioners resolved to rename the Newberry Community Center to Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. “A dedication will be conducted around the third week of January,” said City Manager Mike New.

As part of the city's housekeeping agreements which are voted on routinely each year, a Traffic Signal Maintenance Agreement was approved which would allow the City of Gainesville to maintain traffic signals and school beacons within the city limits of Newberry.

Although it may seem odd that one city should contract with another to provide services of this sort, the City of Newberry also contracts with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to maintain the traffic signals on state roads in Newberry.

“We receive funding from FDOT to provide this maintenance service,” explained city staff. “The City expects to receive $5,635 from FDOT this fiscal year,” said New. The City of Newberry does not maintain a sufficient quantity of traffic signals and beacons to warrant obtaining the training and equipment to perform this function in-house.

A proclamation was read into the record which declared Nov. 10 as International Accounting Day in Newberry. Finance Director Dallas Lee took the opportunity to commend his staff and highlight some of the significant items that had been accomplished by them during the past year.

A decision on the Newberry Fire Department expansion program was put on hold as the city continues to negotiate prices on various aspects of the project to help reduce costs. City staff will update commissioners as to their findings at the next meeting.

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W - Carson - Scarecrow - Music junction  DSC2128


Dorothy looks out the window as the house drops on the bad witch. This colorful display was sponsored by The Music Junction. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

ALACHUA – Main Street Alachua has been occupied by scarecrows – they stand in front of many of the stores – and the City of Alachua has even designated the street as Scarecrow Row. But even though Halloween is right around the corner, there is no reason for concern over the sudden appearance of so many scarecrows.

For 14 years, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce has hosted an event where businesses on Main Street and other local business sponsors have decorated Main Street in celebration of Halloween. This year the theme was based around scarecrows and the Wizard of Oz.

Each business on Main Street has the opportunity to decorate one of the light pole locations with a scene based on the Wizard of Oz story. They can either “purchase” a pole at $25 per pole or $75 for the pole and their name on the poster. They can also partner with a corporate business sponsor. The sponsors purchase a pole for $300, which also includes their business name on the banner at each end of Main Street. The money raised goes toward programs and events hosted by the Chamber of Commerce to help promote business on Main Street and provide services and facilities to the community, including events like the Trick or Treat on Main Street and the Christmas Parade. Funds raised by the Chamber of Commerce have also been used to make improvements at Alachua's Hal Brady Recreation Center Complex including the recent addition of a electronic scoreboard.

The Alachua Chamber of Commerce sponsors events to raise public awareness of local businesses downtown, bring more tourist and consumers to the area, and create a sense of community and partnership within the local businesses. Events like the Scarecrow Row allow the businesses to advertise and increase their customer base. They also have the support of a number of corporate businesses located within the community that are members of the Chamber. A comprehensive list of the Chambers members can be found at Alachua.com.

But events like the Scarecrow Row and Christmas Parade are not just about business and marketing. They are about the community and creating a friendly environment for all the citizens of Alachua. According to a Chamber spokesperson, it’s about giving back to the community. “These events offer a place for the public to come out and enjoy free activities. The Trick or Treat on Main Street offers a safe alternative for our kids to celebrate Halloween in a specific well lit and safe location. Businesses give out candy for the kids and it helps build a sense of the small town community, she said.

Music Junction owner Leon Barrows agrees. He designed and built a scarecrow scene in front of his business as did 30 other businesses. “To me it's not so much about promoting my business; I did it for the fun of it and to participate with the other businesses on Main Street. There is a real sense of family among the businesses here and the Scarecrow Row gives us an opportunity to work together as a community.” Barrows said.

Each participating business has designed and constructed their own display, and prizes, as well as plaques will be presented for first second and third place at the Trick or Treat on Main Street event on Oct. 31. The scarecrows will be up for the entire month of October for the pubic to view. So come wander down Main Street, currently known as Scarecrow Row to view the creative talents of local businesses.

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