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W - Alachua Main Street - Barnett IMG 0827

 RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

 A view of Alachua's iconic winding Main Street that will soon change as new landscapaing, including replacemenet of diseased trees, will refresh the area.

 ALACHUA – Main Street in Alachua will look a bit different by September.

The City of Alachua’s Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board (DRTB) met June 29 to present the details of a projected $70,000 renovation of the landscaping along the town’s historic street.

The most immediately noticable change will be the replacement of the Bradford Pear trees that line the street between NW 150th Avenue and NW 148th Place with new nursery-grown Bradford Pear trees.

The project will also include reworking of irrigation systems and the addition of new plants, flowers and shrubs in plant beds drafted by a professional landscaper.

Sidewalks will be pressure cleaned, and The Hitchcock Theater Park will be landscaped. New street striping will also be applied.

Existing, free-standing newspaper stands will be replaced with a uniform black box with cubbies for various papers.

The Bradford Pear trees are scheduled to be replaced because they have lived beyond their expected natural life, and replacement trees will be placed in locations that allow for better traffic view of businesses, entrances and signs.

The report comes as a result of efforts made by City of Alachua staff approximately two years ago, when the City contracted with landscape architects Buford Davis & Associates to perform an analysis of the condition of the landscaping along Main Street and make recommendations.

A neighborhood meeting was held on June 14, 2016 with current owners and tenants along the corridor to share the proposed project and receive input.

Construction activities are slated to conclude in September.

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W - HS Police Wteath IMG00771

LEDA CARRERO/Special to Alachua County Today

The red, white and blue wreath, which included a tribute to law enforcement, was place anonymously on the front lawn of the High Springs Police Department.

HIGH SPRINGS – A beautiful red, white and blue American flag wreath and sign dedicated to the five police officers slain in Dallas appeared Friday afternoon in front of the High Springs Police Department. There was no fanfare, no acknowledgment of who donated the wreath or who placed it.

It became clear that the patriotic wreath and sign had been quietly placed in that location by High Springs resident Leda Carrero. The wreath itself was created and donated by David and Mary Moyer, owners of Thompson Florist Shop in High Springs.

“I wanted to honor those officers out of my own sense of respect, honor and duty,” said Carrero. “There was no need for fanfare. It was just something I thought our community should do to honor the five police officers and our own police officers who keep us safe here in High Springs.”

The sign reads, “In loving memory of those officers killed in Dallas. With respect and appreciation for their service.”

In the past, Carrero has spearheaded several other honorary actions and events in the area. She sought donations and raised money for a 9-11 memorial (which has been placed on U.S. Highway 27) honoring the people who died that day and continues to remember them each year with a memorial ceremony on Sept. 11.

She raised money again for a memorial honoring service dogs, which support the nation's military and first responders. Again she created a dedication ceremony when the memorial was placed in front of the High Springs Fire Department.

Carrero, who is now retired, served two communities for a total of 33 years through the U.S. Post Office. “I never served as a first responder or in the military,” she said, “but I thank those people who have served in those roles on my behalf.”

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Memorial Gathering for Peace and Healing

Following the events of the past few weeks in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, area pastors have asked the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) to join them in a Memorial Gathering for Peace and Healing.

Anderson Memorial Church of God in Christ Associate Elder Adam Joy, who is also a HSPD sergeant, is coordinating the gathering, which will begin at 9 a.m., Saturday, July 23. All will assemble in front of the High Springs Police Department, located behind City Hall.

“All law enforcement officers, first responders and members of the public are invited to attend,” said Joy. HSPD Chaplains Pastor Derek Lambert, First Baptist Church of High Springs, and Evangelist Jessica Hall, as well as other area pastors will be offering prayers for the officers and people slain in officer-involved shootings.

“Even though the recent incidences happened in cities far from Alachua County, we want to pray for all lives lost and mourn for their families and friends. We also want to wash peace and healing over them and over our local communities as well,” said Joy.

“We hope to inspire unity and peace to all area communities and foster a healthy relationship between the police and the citizens we have sworn to protect and serve,” said Joy.

Anyone wishing to donate coffee, juice or pastries is encouraged to do so.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry is closer to establishing a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) District in the downtown area.

A CRA focuses attention and resources in a blighted area of town. A City can take advantage of financial and planning tools provided under State law as part of a CRA to help create programs and projects to foster private market investment in the CRA.

Following several discussions between staff members for the City of Newberry and Alachua County on the creation of a CRA in Newberry, the City proposed details of an interlocal agreement to outline the terms and conditions of the CRA at a joint meeting between the two commissions.

Following a lengthy discussion, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously voted to authorize City and County staff to put together an interlocal agreement for final review by both commissions. BOCC Chair Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson asked that the two entities complete wording on the agreement in time for the County to begin collecting funds on Jan. 1, 2017.

Seven key elements of the proposed agreement were discussed, and both commissions reviewed the City's proposed CRA district map, which clearly showed the CRA boundaries. In addition, a CRA funding scenario at 1.5 percent average growth in taxable valuation was also outlined by Bryan Thomas, Planning Director, City of Newberry.

Following his presentation, BOCC members said they were glad to see the City was listening to their concerns which had been expressed during earlier joint discussions and that they were pleased that the City incorporated several changes into their proposed plan.

The seven elements of the proposed agreement include:

* The County's Contribution to the CRA Trust Fund will be based on the City's millage rate, rather than the County’s higher millage rate.

* The Proposed CRA Boundary would encompass approximately 690 acres.

* County Input on Projects Funded by County Contribution to Trust Fund is proposed to be met through the County’s approval of the CRA plan.

* County Input on Future Amendments to the CRA Plan

* Restrictions on CRA Funds for the specific benefit of Undeveloped Property in CRA District.

* Term of CRA and Extension – The City requested a term “not to exceed 40 years” with a review of the CRA plan every 10 years.”

* Evaluation of Tax Increment Funding (TIF) Contributions to CRA Trust Fund to allow renegotiations of a lower contribution to the TIF, while providing for the continued accomplishment of the mutual goals established in the district CRA plan.

If the interlocal agreement is approved by both City and County governing bodies, the City's contribution each year will mirror the County's contribution. The first year's total contribution to the CRA would be $5,743 or $2,862 each contributed by City and County. At an increase of 1.5 percent per year, by year 30, the City/County contribution to the CRA will be $107,243 each, or a total of $214,845. By the end of 30 years, the CRA District will receive an infusion of funds to the total of $3,091,252.

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W - Hawthorne Solar BARNETT IMG 0813

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

Local residents and other interested individuals turned out to hear about Florida Power & Light's proposed solar farm that would be built on 1,300 acres just outside Hawthorne. The meeting was held in Hawthorne City Hall.

HAWTHORNE – Clean energy may soon be coming to the City of Hawthorne.

Florida Power and Light (FPL) has plans to build a 1,300 acre solar farm just outside of town.

On the evening of July 6, city commissioners, FPL associates and several Hawthorne residents gathered in City Hall to discuss the pros and cons of solar panels.

The solar panels would be placed near NE CR 219A, approximately 2.5 miles north of Hawthorne.

Hawthorne City Manager Ellen Vause said, “It would have no immediate impact on the city of Hawthorne, but over time, could run both Waldo and Hawthorne with 0 emissions.”

FPL currently operates two more solar farms, one in Martin County and one on the Space Coast with cooperation from NASA.

This year, FPL will build three more solar farms: one in Manatee County, one in DeSoto County and one in Fort Myers. Each will produce 74-megawatts, the same output expected for the proposed Alachua County site.

FPL spokesperson Stephen Heiman said, “Currently we are building three other universal scale plants down in south Florida. They’re clean and plants like these benefit our customers in the long run, help keeping their bills low.”

FPL will go before the Alachua County Commission in September before official construction will begin.

“It would be clean,” Vause said. “We all need to be cognizant of cleaner energy sources.”

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Alachua 4th DSC 0701ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

A birdseye view as thousands of spectators listen to a performancy by Natalie Nicole Green leading up to the annual fireworks display.

ALACHUA - Communities throughout Alachua County celebrated the 4th of July, and thousands of people joined in the festivities. Alachua, Gainesville, Micanopy and Waldo all had public events, some offering up fireworks displays in addition to parades, activities and refreshments.

In Alachua, an estimated crowd of 40,000 residents and visitors descended on Alachua’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex Monday and surrounding viewing areas to celebrate the 4th of July.

Dubbed the “largest small-town fireworks display in America,” Alachua’s 17th Annual July 4th celebration attracted folks from near and far. Starting at 3 p.m. on Monday, the recreation center became the site of an all-day party as the crowds grew in anticipation of the explosive show

For those who couldn’t make their way down to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, the epicenter of the 4th of July show and festivities, the roadside and parking lots throughout the city proved more than adequate for catching the grand display. As the city’s population more than quadrupled for the night, it was clear that the fireworks buzz had garnered significant attention, and an annual following from surrounding areas.

The event was emceed by Alachua City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. who welcomed everyone to the “Largest Small-Town Fireworks Display in America.” Entertainment included live music and activities for children such as bounce houses, waterslides, rock climbing and more – and all free. The Alachua spray park was a popular spot as children splashed in the refreshing water. A variety of vendors were set up offering all types of carnival type fare from BBQ to hotdogs and hamburgers to funnel cakes and refreshing slushies and ice cream cones.

The annual event offers opportunities for many local charities, clubs and non-for-profits to raise funds for their programs, and dozens of vendors and concessionaires were at the event offering food, crafts and other items to visitors.

Out by the stage, bands entertained the ever-growing crowd, who were spread out on blankets and seated in lawn chairs on the expansive soccer fields. Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper welcomed Alachua residents and visitors alike.

Little Mike and the Tornadoes took to the stage first followed by the Aunt Jackie Band.

Then the event headliner Natalie Nicole Green worked her way around the stage warming up the crowd gathered around the stage, singing a variety of crowd favorites.

As the sunlight began to fade Antoinette Hunt took the microphone to offer a medley of patriotic tunes followed by Green who performed the National Anthem.

As anticipation builds, the 50 by 30 foot American flag, rolled up and suspended 50 feet in the air to the right of the stage, is unfurled. Powerful spotlights catch the stars and stripes billowing in a gentle breeze.

Fireworks began under the darkened sky and for 30 minutes it was a masterful display of light and sound, only surpassed by the grand finale, which by all accounts was the most powerful fireworks show the city has seen.

The annual event is coordinated by the Alachua 4th of July committee, which is made up of City of Alachua staff, elected officials and community partners. “The event was a tremendous success,” said Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari. “Overall the day went smoothly and families were able to enjoy a beautiful day celebrating the 4th. Of course, the fireworks were spectacular and the best around.”

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Smithsonian Institute Photo Large

Photo special to Alachua County Today

The Smithsonian Institution Water/Ways Exhibit's Museum on Main Street (MoMs) in High Springs is scheduled to open July 16 and will run for six weeks.

HIGH SPRINGS – For the past year, members of the High Springs Historical Society have been working diligently towards their goal of creating the best water-related display and event possible as part of the Smithsonian Institution Water/Ways Exhibit's Museum on Main Street (MoMS).

MoMS brings the Smithsonian to small towns across America. The museum's locally-created display is called the High Springs Community Rivers and Springs Exhibit.

Organizers chose High Springs as one of only six locations in Florida as a venue for the Smithsonian's Traveling Exhibit. High Springs and Palatka are the only locations in north Florida to have been chosen to participate in this historic event. Other events in Florida are in Miami Springs, Okeechobee, Sanibel and Tampa.

The High Springs exhibit is scheduled to open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday, July 16, and will run for six weeks. It is located inside the High Springs Historic Museum, which is housed in the refurbished High Springs Elementary School and Community Center behind City Hall.

Several other supporting events will be going on opening day.

“Educational booths, interactive activities for kids, Springs Lunch, Music in the Park entertainment and the High Springs Farmer's Market are all part of the event,” said Kristina Young, MoMS Program Director. Mayor Byran Williams and other guest dignitaries will be on-hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony to be held beginning at 11:30 a.m. Museum exhibit tours are scheduled from 1 – 4 p.m. on opening day.

Criteria for application approval included, among other things, the community's willingness to support the exhibit and the host organization's willingness to create their own exhibit to draw attention to the state-wide importance of Florida's rivers and springs.

In early communication with the Florida Humanities Council, the organizing agency coordinating the traveling exhibit, approximately 28 supporters had signed on to assist the historical society in their production of a complimentary exhibit and in the coordination of other community-wide participation and publication of the event.

According to the MoMS web page, the reason for creating this educational experience is their recognition that “water is a critical resource. An essential component of life on our planet, water powers the environment’s engine, impacting climate and helping to shape and sculpt the landscape.”

“Water also plays a practical role in American society. The availability of water affected settlement and migration patterns,” according to the site, which is particularly true of High Springs, as the city grew in size in the late 19th Century when railroads chose to converge there due to the convenient location of a spring that was diverted for use in many service and repair shops.

Water Matters, a water initiative from the Smithsonian, is designed for small and rural museums and focuses on the relationships between people and water.

The Water / Ways Exhibit is a six-week exhibition which runs from July 16 through Aug. 27. It will be open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Further information about the exhibit can be found at www.HighSpringsMuseum.org.

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Newberry-Mike New 2 IMG 2387

C.M. Walker/Alachua County Today

Newberry City Manager Mike New addresses the joint county-city meeting held at Newberry City Hall.

NEWBERRY – A resolution supporting Alachua County's priority project list for SUNTrail funding for projects impacting the City of Newberry was approved at a joint city/county meeting June 13.

The Shared Use Non-Motorized Trail (SUNTrail) program was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2015. The program, which is overseen by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), provides for funding of trails through Florida and is paid for through the re-distribution of automobile tag sales.

The legislature allocated $25 million annually to the program, which is slated to begin during the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

Chris Dawson, Alachua County Senior Transportation Planner, presented a draft list of priorities for the Newberry City Commission to review. Programs presented in the resolution included projects in priority order, three of which would involve the City of Newberry, and are expected to run from 2017 – 2022, if approved by the State.

Priority 1: Gainesville to Newberry Trail – Northwest 43rd Street to Newberry Lane (5.9 miles)

According to the report, “This section of trail is proposed to run within the State Road 26 right-of-way. As envisioned, the trail would be located on the north side of the roadway at the edge of the right-of-way…This section may be the easiest of the sections to implement as no right-of-way needs to be acquired.”

The cost to design this project is estimated to be $356,250. Construction would begin in 2019 and is anticipated to cost $2.375 million with another $240,000 for construction engineering and inspection.

Priority 2: Hawthorne to Palatka Trail – Grade-separated Crossing at U.S. Hwy. 301

This project was previously approved and funded for construction in 2016, and will bring riders of the Gainesville – Hawthorne Trail from the current trailhead through downtown Hawthorne to the U.S. Hwy. 301 – State Road 20 intersection. There is no bicycle or pedestrian phase at this intersection, raising safety concerns. This project would provide for a grade-separated 12-ft.-wide crossing of U.S. Hwy. 301 south of the existing State Road 20 bridge. The bridge would also allow children living in subdivisions east of U.S. Hwy. 301 along State Road 20 to walk or bike to the schools on the west side of U.S. Hwy. 301.”

The cost to design is estimated to be $243,000. Construction would begin in 2020 and is anticipated to cost $1.620 million with an additional $240,000 for construction engineering and inspection.

Priority 3: Nature Coast Trail Extension – Newberry Rail Exchange to County Line (2.75 miles)

This section has previously been acquired by the State from Trenton to the Alachua County Line and this project proposes acquisition of the portion of the rail corridor from the County Line into the rail exchange in Newberry, either through fee simple acquisition or utilizing the rail-banking provisions of the federal statute. Additionally, the project would include construction of a 12-ft.-wide asphalt trail. This corridor would connect to other regional trails that the County is working on, including the Hawthorne-to-Newberry Rail Trail.”

Obtaining rights-of-way is expected to cost $1 million. Design is estimated to be $165,000, and construction would begin in 2022, anticipated at $1.1 million. Construction engineering and inspection is estimated at $110,000.

Priority 4: Archer to Bronson Trail – U.S. 27/41 to Levy County (2.8 miles)

“This project is essentially an extension of the Archer Braid Trail from its current terminus at the Archer water tower along State Road 24 to the County Line. The project…would be a 10 – 12 ft. wide multi-use path within the existing State Road 24 right-of-way. This project will need to…identify a connection from the water tower back to State Road 24.”

Design is estimated at $170,500. Construction beginning in 2022 and is expected to be $1.15 million. Construction engineering and inspection is estimated at $114,250.

Priority 5: Newberry to Gainesville Trail – Northwest 260th Street to Newberry Lane (1.6 miles)

“This project would connect the Nature Coast Trail to the Newberry to Gainesville Trail through downtown along the State Road 26 corridor. The exact alignment of the corridor will require some planning and coordination. FDOT is currently undertaking a Planning, Development and Environmental (PD&E) study for State Road 26 through downtown Newberry…This section of the trail would be a mix of in-street and off-street facilities. As proposed, project timing will be dependent upon the implementation of improvements to the State Road 26 corridor.”

Project design is estimated to be $105,000 and construction $700,000, while construction engineering and inspection would be $70,000.

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