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TRENTON – Trenton’s Suwannee Valley Quilt Festival greeted visitors with a beautiful Florida spring day and with fun and good spirits fostered by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

In downtown historic Trenton, thousands crowded north Main Street and the charming old railroad depot. Seventy-two craft, six antique and 13 food vendors displayed wares and offered fare, and 17 participating quilt groups sold quilts, quilting materials and supplies, and demonstrated quilting techniques.

Inside the Florida Quilt Museum, a visitor could enjoy meeting renowned quilting author Mary C. Kerr and master doll maker Charlie Patricolo, peruse antique quilts offered from Marie Miller’s collection, see feed sack materials displayed by Cecilia Reed, and enjoy expert quilt turning lectures by collectors Kathy Cray and Teddy Pruitt.

“We had a wonderful turnout, and I think our vendors had a good day, said Crafter Coordinator Pat Watson. “We had many vendors return who have been with us several years now, but we added 25 new vendors so that gave us a mix of the familiar and of new offerings to enjoy and explore. We are always pleased to hear from vendors that tell us that they view us as their favorite festival.”

Festival founder and Quilt Coordinator Stephanie Metts added, “We explored some new things this year, like Hawaiian quilting by Elaine Nemeth and the Japanese craft of Kimekomi by Bettie Rowe. We continue to have many quilt groups who support us every year from around our area. We are grateful for their participation.” Stephanie noted, “This year not only did the festival coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, it was held on National Quilt Day as well.”

Dan Sierra, Director of Merchandising for Best Drugs of Trenton, was delighted with their experience as featured sponsor this year. “We met people visiting from as far away as Wisconsin and enjoyed chatting with longtime customers. Our pharmacy experienced record breaking gift sales and the Life South Mobile Blood Collection unit in our parking lot exceeded their goal by more than 20 percent. All around it was a fabulous day for us,” said Sierra.

Festival visitor Stacy Clifton said, “It was great! The creative craft ideas were exciting. My friend, Teresa, bought some beautiful fabric from the quilt shop, and my daughter, Megann, thought the selection of food vendors was terrific.”

Food offerings included made-on-the-spot brick oven pizza, fresh off the grill barbecue, and deep fried seafood. Many others offered meals and baked goods, while the Suwannee Rose Cafe featured a back room Irish Pub experience.

The 2018 festival was sponsored by the City of Trenton, Gilchrist County’s Tourist Development Council, Ameris Bank, Best Drugs, Capital City Bank, Drummond Community Bank, Gray Construction, McDonald’s-Trenton, Trenton Animal Hospital, Trenton Hardware & Farm Supply, Trenton Wine & Spirits, Tri County Metals and the Suwannee Valley Quilt Shoppe.

Looking ahead, the 13th annual Trenton’s Suwannee Valley Quilt Festival will be held Saturday, March 16, 2019, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the festival, visit the festival website, www.TrentonQuiltFestival.com, or contact the Suwannee Valley Quilt Shoppe at 352-463-3842.

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GAINESVILLE – As part of its commitment to assist motorists traveling on Florida roadways, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) this week expanded its Road Ranger program into the Gainesville area.

The Road Ranger program provides free highway support services during incidents to reduce delay and improve safety for motorists. Since the program’s inception in 2000, the Road Rangers have made more than 4.3 million service assists, with more occurring daily. Road Rangers provide services to motorists by quickly clearing travel lanes of minor incidents and assisting motorists, which include providing a limited amount of fuel, assisting with tire changes, and other types of minor emergency repairs.

The service has existed for many years in the Jacksonville area.

The expansion onto Interstate 75 in Gainesville began Monday and service hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The patrol area currently includes I-75 between Micanopy and Alachua and includes one Road Ranger unit. A second unit is expected to be added in the coming weeks.

Motorists can request Road Ranger service by dialing *347 (FHP).

FDOT expects to expand the Road Ranger program before the end of the year to include all of Interstate 75 between Gainesville and the Florida/Georgia line, as well as Interstate 10 between Jacksonville and Madison.

FDOT also has plans to expand its RISC (Rapid Incident Scene Clearance) Lite units in the coming months on Interstate 75 in Gainesville. These units are used primarily to remove passenger vehicles involved in crashes

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The Santa Fe Riverfest kicks off Mard 3 and runs the entire month of March. Among the events are numerous hikes, guided canoe and kayak paddling adventures, silent auctions and more.

FLORIDA – The rivers are an integral part of life in North Central Florida. They are the life blood of communities providing water for plants, wildlife and people. They are also an important part of our economy. Florida leads the southeast in farm income, produces about 67 percent of the U.S. oranges and accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s orange juice supply as well as numerous other crops. Tourism brings over 87 million visitors to the state, with an economic impact of $67 billion. The North Central area of Florida brings many tourists to the pristine springs and rivers for camping, kayaking and cave diving.

But periodic droughts, groundwater pumping to satisfy residential, agricultural, and industrial water demands, and groundwater pollution from urban and agricultural lands are impacting Florida’s spring systems. Water flow in many of Florida’s springs has been declining, while nutrient loading to the springs has been growing, affecting the condition of aquatic ecosystems and water clarity in the springs and downstream bodies of water. Changes in spring water flow and quality can also degrade the recreational experiences of springs users, affecting both the economy and the health of the rivers.

A group of concerned citizens banded together to increase awareness of the health of the springs and aquifer and its impact.. Our Santa Fe River (OSFR), which is a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2007 as a grassroots educational organization to help raise awareness of the importance of the springs and aquifer.

For the past eight years the organization has sponsored the RiverFest song writing contest as a way to raise funds to promote awareness of the rivers and fund projects to protect and preserve the rivers and springs. The contest is open to all song writers, but the songs have to be about the Santa Fe River. The OSFR members pick the best 6-10 songwriters who then compete on stage at Rum 138, which is located in Fort White. Originally a canoe and kayak rental place, Rum 138 has added a stage for concerts, an art gallery, a cafe and has become a resource center for the springs and rivers. Rum 138 has also become the headquarters of the local Sierra Club. The RiverFest songwriting contest is held each spring on the outside stage. The winning songwriter receives a prize of $300 and all songwriters that perform get a video of their performance. Each year the contest has grown, attracted a broader audience and raised more money.

This year the OSFR decided to expand the RiverFest contest to a series of events covering the whole month of March. These include kayak trips on the river, plant hikes to learn about the plants that comprise the river ecosystem, lectures by experts on the ecosystem and a reunion concert of past Riverfest winners.

These events are all geared toward raising awareness of the rivers in a hands on experience. “Our goal is to make it easy for the area residents and visitors to have fun and learn more about our precious water resources. As those of us who volunteer with the Our Santa Fe River organization have experienced firsthand, there is a lot to learn,” said Sharon Yeago, RiverFest Event Chair. “The events also will enable us to raise funds so we can continue our grassroots efforts to protect the aquifer, springs and waters in this area. This year we had the support to sponsor more events. These events become a vehicle for us to raise awareness among the area residents about the unique beauty and activities the rivers provide,” Yeago said.

The events begin on Saturday, March 3, with a plant hike at Rum Island Park. Starting at 9 a.m., Colette Jacono, Ph.D, a botanist and plant ecologist specializing in aquatic and wetland plants, will lead a short hike through a low-lying hardwood forest and swamp adjacent to the Santa Fe River. Participants will learn how to identify various trees and plants that make up the river ecosystem. The hike is limited to 20 people and there is a $20 donation.

The following day, March 4, there will be a three hour paddle up the Santa Fe river starting at 10 a.m. from the bible Camp Boat Ramp on U.S. Highway 441. Led by Master Naturalist and river guide Lars Andersen, the trip will explore the quiet and remote section of the Santa Fe River, above the River Sink and O’Leno Park. It will be an up-and-back paddle, going up to the Santa Fe’s confluence with Olustee Creek. The tour includes shuttle and is $50 with boat rental and a $20 donation to OSFR; $30 with a participant’s own boat with a $15 donation to OSFR. This is limited to 24 people.

The following Saturday on March 10, there will be another paddle guided by Andersen. A nine-mile section of Santa Fe River, from Highway 27 to Highway 47 will be paddled over five hours, guided by Master Naturalist Lars Andersen. The route will include the river’s most famous springs: Poe, Rum Island, Blue, Ginnie, Devil’s Ear & Eye, July and Myrtles Fissure. The group will leave at 10 a.m. From the Highway 27 boat ramp. Tour includes shuttle: $50 with boat rental and $20 donation to OSFR) or $30 with partiicpant’s own boat with a $15 donation to OSFR. This is limited to 24 people.

On March 17, Our Santa Fe River and the North Central Florida Blues Society, will co-sponsor a paddle of the Santa Fe River from Highway 27 to Rum Island starting at 9:30 a.m.. Participants will rendezvous at Lazy Turtle Lodge for an old-style picnic with live music featuring award-winning Bear & Robert. The event is free, but paddlers should bring their own picnic lunch and liquids, blanket or chair. Rum 138 is offering canoe and kayak discounts for this event. There is no charge for this event.

On March 18, there will be a songwriters reunion concert. Co-sponsored by High Springs Music in the Park, previous songwriting contest winners and select contestants from the annual contest sponsored by Our Santa Fe River organization will showcase their songs about the river . The concert will take place at James Paul Park from 1 p.m. to 3:30 and then move to the Great Outdoors Restaurant for more performers from 4 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday March 24, there will be another plant hike with Colette Jacono. This will be through a riverside hammock. Starting at 9 a.m. from the Highway 47 boat ramp in Gilchrist County. This is a 1.5 mile hike along the Santa Fe River. The area contains the largest numbers of tree and shrub species per unit area in the continental U.S., with canopy is so dense that sunlight touches the ground only in the winter. There is a $20 donation and the hike is limited to 20 people.

The following day on March 25, the Annual Songwriters contest will be held at Rum 138. Besides the music performances by contestants, the event also features a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle as well as food and drink. The event runs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with additional musicians performing after the contest. Admission to the event is $5 in advance, $7 at the door, and free for 12 and under.

In addition to these events, OSFR is also co-sponsoring 12 other events with local organizations. These include full moon paddles on evenings of March 2, 30 and 31, 10Can’s 4th Annual Survival Race For heroes at Blue Springs State Park on March 3, Rum 138 Rumba concerts on March 10 and 24 featuring a variety of local music acts and the O’Leano Chilli Cook off and Springs celebration on April 7. Additional information is available at OurSantaFeRiver.org.

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GAINESVILLE – Keep Alachua County Beautiful is hosting a free tire dropoff for residents on Saturday, April 7, at Albert “Ray” Massey Park, at 1001 N.W. 34th Street, from 8 a.m. to noon.

Approximately 750 tons of tires are collected and hauled off site from Alachua County to be recycled each year. Recycled tires are made into rubber mulch and asphalt additives.

Residents of Alachua County can bring up to four automobile tires and light truck tires to the roundup event at no charge. Tire rims are not accepted. There is a charge of $3 for these tires and $4 for larger truck tires, 17” or greater, brought to the Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station for disposal. For more information or to volunteer for cleanups, painting or planting projects, visit kacb.org or call 352-371-9444

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Agricultural students at High Springs Community School will benefit from animals housed on campus.

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Community School Agriculture Department is now home to a couple of farm animals, but eventually will house more. This addition is thanks to the generous support of the community and the school administration. 

Recently, the school granted permission for students in the Agriculture Program to house their animals on school grounds.  Following that action, agriculture students went out into the community seeking financial contributions from local businesses so that they could afford to purchase the materials needed to build pens for their animals. 

A financial contribution was provided by Kelly Barber through Edward Jones Investments.  Labor to construct the pens was provided by Maintenance Management, Inc. 

The school now has four secure and permanent animal pens that are currently being used by two students, but the pens will serve many more students’ animals in the future.

The two students currently housing their hogs in the pens are Tony Myers and Olivia Beavers.  Both students are in the sixth grade, are members of the High Springs FFA Chapter and are showing pigs for the first time at the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show in Gainesville. The Youth Fair is held at the Alachua County Fairgrounds during the first weekend in March. 

During the year, each student is responsible for the care of maintenance of their animal.  Both Myers and Beavers stated that what they have enjoyed most about this project is being solely responsible for their animal. 

In addition, said Beavers, “One of the things I’ve learned raising my hog is that this responsibility is different than caring for a standard pet like a cat or dog.”  She does plan to show an animal at the fair again next year but may switch to showing cattle instead to broaden her horizons. 

“When working with livestock, not everything goes as planned,” said Myers. “You must be flexible in finding solutions to the problems you encounter.”  He also plans to show an animal at the next year’s Youth Fair.

Both students are raising market hogs, which means they will be sold at auction at the upcoming fair. The money these students receive for selling their animal is often put toward the cost of purchasing a future animal or for future expenses like vehicles and college. 

Having the opportunity to experience raising a farm animal first hand not only enhances the agriculture education they receive but will also provide them with many life skills.

“Raising animals teaches students valuable lessons on ethics, animal care, profit and loss, and many students use the money earned to contribute to their own college fund,” said High Springs FFA Advisor Jessica Butts.

Butts said, “I am very pleased with the progress of our Ag program this year at High Springs Community School. Thanks to the FFA Chapter’s Alumni, a generous donation from Kelly Barber of Edward Jones, and others we have transformed an unused area into four new pig pens.”

“These facilities allow students who are not able to raise an animal at home the opportunity to participate in raising swine for the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show. Before this addition we did not have a place to raise swine,” she said.

Butts added, “We are very grateful to all the donors who helped to make this project happen.

“Our FFA Chapter has been growing and we are happy to be able to offer more opportunities to our members.”

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry plans to spend an estimated $3 million over the course of eight years as an investment in the existing infrastructure of The Easton Newberry Sports Complex, Jimmy Durden Park, Freddie Warmack Park, Lois Forte Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Park, and the City Municipal Building.

Newberry expects their share of the incremental funding from the half-cent sales tax referendum, approved by voters in 2016, to be approximately $2.4 million, which will pay for the anticipated improvements. Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) is the depository for those funds in Alachua County and the funds are earmarked for recreation improvements. Funds will be received yearly for the next eight years by each of the nine Alachua County cities.

“In 2017 Newberry [also] received an additional $400,000 in WSPP funding,” said Interim Recreation Director Travis Parker. “[Those funds came] from Alachua County and are intended for construction of multi-purpose turf facilities at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex,” he said. The total of both WSPP grants is expected to bring $3 million in revenue into the City’s coffers during the funding period.

Prior to voter approval of the 2016 referendum, the County asked each municipality to create a list of planned projects. Newberry’s focus was on infrastructure improvement projects at existing parks, rather than new projects, said Parker.

At that time, Newberry City Commissioners told staff that their focus should be on projects to improve and maintain City parks and recreational facilities.

At a January commission meeting, staff requested further clarification on establishing a final list for approval. Based on their direction, staff further refined the list into the proposed final project list presented on Feb. 25.

The project plan reflected the Commission’s desire to focus on existing infrastructure, with the exception of three projects, explained Parker during his commission presentation.

The projects providing additions to park facilities include a beach volleyball court at Jimmy Durden Park, construction of a band shell at Lois Forte Park, and the addition of multi-purpose fields at Easton Newberry Sports Complex.

The list and associated costs of the remaining projects recommended and approved by Commissioners at the Feb. 25 meeting include $255,900 for Freddie Warmack Park, $167,200 for Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, $86,400 for the City Municipal Building, $69,400 for Lois Forte Park, $311,400 for Jimmy Durden Park, and $2,163,100 at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex. The total of the projects come to a little more than $3 million.

Proposed enhancements to Freddie Warmack Park include renovations to the existing baseball field, basketball court and concessions areas, improvements to security/parking area lighting and improvements to tables, park benches, trash receptacles and fencing.

Visitors to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Park can expect to see a renovation to the basketball court as well as improvements to restroom facilities, the parking area, playground equipment, benches, fencing and the grilling area.

The inside of the City Municipal Building will receive a kitchen renovation, floor refinishing, painting and restroom and storage closet renovations. Roof replacement, roof fascia replacement, exterior trim paint, plus improvements to the parking area, exterior landscape, lighting and signage can be expected for the outside of the building.

The Lois Forte Park will receive parking area improvements, landscaping and signage, additional walkways, additional park benches and trash receptacles, along with the addition of an amphitheater.

The Jimmy Durden Park will, much like all the other facilities, receive enhancements to the parking area, additional walkways and multiple field renovations to include a renovation of the existing basketball court.

Lastly, the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex will receive enhancements to the interior roads, parking, walkways, and lighting. This complex will also see additional multipurpose fields to accommodate the growth of youth sports in Newberry.

Commissioners unanimously approved the list of items presented for each park. Now the City must develop a program to implement the project plans.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners were faced with unexpected expenses during their March 12 meeting.

The first unexpected expense was the cost of nearly $43,000 to perform geo-technical repairs to remediate a sinkhole that opened up at the intersection of Southwest 3rd Place and Southwest 265th Terrace.

During Hurricane Irma, Newberry experienced more than 10 inches of rainfall. Two sinkholes and a water main had to be repaired due to that event. As those repairs were being conducted, a stop sign on the northwest corner of the intersection was observed as it slowly sank into the ground several feet.

The City contacted GSE Engineering and Consulting, Inc. to perform a geotechnical site evaluation to determine if additional sinkhole activity was occurring under this intersection, which would also potentially damage the potable water mains and sanitary manhole/gravity sewer lines located at the intersection.

Based on their report, the City went out for bids and obtained three, but the bid amounts were above the purchasing policy threshold that requires sealed bids. According to the staff report by Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie Jones, “Staff has also worked with FEMA to secure funding for these repairs, but it remains to be determined as to if the work will be eligible for FEMA funding.”

Ultimately, commissioners voted to authorize City Manager Mike New to execute a purchase order for $42,990 and have GSE Engineering oversee the geo-technical repairs to the intersection. They also authorized New to approve change orders not to exceed 15 percent of the purchase order amount.

“The repair will be made by pumping concrete under the street to fill a bunch of voids,” said New. “I expect repairs to be completed within a month,” he said.

A second issue requiring immediate attention was emergency repairs to the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) tank #2, which had suffered a critical failure. The staff report indicated, “The failure was to the clarifier drive unit, which caused structural and mechanical damage to the clarifier, rendering it inoperable.” As the City only has three tanks and Tank #3 is currently operating at 100 percent of design capacity, Tank #2required repairs as soon as possible.

Tank #1, which had already been taken out of commission to make recommended repairs, is being readied to go back into service. Funding of $125,000 budgeted for repairs to Tank #1 are being redirected to repair Tank #2, this year and to schedule repairs to Tank #1 next year. “Basically, we just switched the order of those repairs and will repair Tank #2 next year,” said New.

In addition, the Commission authorized suspension of the requirement for competitive procurement and authorized the city manager to execute a purchase order with a qualified contractor to perform all necessary repairs.

It is anticipated that a qualified contractor would be on site in two to three weeks. The repairs will likely take approximately 90 days to complete.

A third item commissioners considered was the transfer of a little more than $76,000 into the Fire Station Construction fund to complete the work begun in January 2017 by Tumbleson White Construction, Inc. (TWC). According to a summary of this issue, “the project was scheduled to be substantially complete on Aug. 17, 2017.”

The City terminated the agreement on Nov. 8, 2017 due to default by TWC. In December 2018, commissioners directed staff to complete TWC's work using the same subcontractors that had been used by TWC.

The City had paid TWC for work completed by their subcontractors. However, TWC failed to pay their subcontractors for work they had completed on the Fire Station project.

“It was very important to the city commissioners that the subcontractors not be penalized because Tumbleson White Constructors went out of business prior to paying them,” said New. The commission authorized payment to the subcontractors for work completed prior to TWC's termination for which TWC had been paid. At the time the City estimated that the cost to complete TWC's work scope and pay the subcontractors was a little more than $88,000.

Additional subcontractors who said they, too, had not been paid by TWC began to come forward. After the claims were substantiated, the total amount to complete TWC's work scope is $126,201, leaving a difference of $38,169.

Commissioners approved staff's recommendation to provide funding of $43,600 from budgeted projects that are unlikely to be used during this fiscal year and the balance of $32,500 from General Fund reserves, which currently total $1,450,000.

“We will pursue this matter further with TWC, which will take some time,” said New. “Right now we are paying for this project twice to get it completed,” he said.

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