Hourly News Update
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Here’s a preview of this weekend’s events:
Sample beers from local and national breweries paired with food at the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival.
All attendees must be at least 21 years old.
When: Saturday, May 4 from 1 to 5 p.m.
Where: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, 4700 SW 58th Dr., Gainesville
Folk-rock singer Ben Taylor will perform with his band at High Dive. Taylor is the son of Grammy Award-winning musicians Carly Simon and James Taylor.
When: Friday, May 3 at 9 p.m.
Where: High Dive, 210 SW 2nd Ave., Gainesville
Admission: $13 for general admission ($2 fee for under-21 guests at door)
Outdoor laser tag is a combination of paintball and Airsoft, and it’s one of the fastest growing battlefield simulation sports in the world.
M2 Battlesports integrates infrared and radio frequency tagger technology into mission-based game play.
When: Saturday, May 4 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: M2 Battlesports, 17803 US-301 N, Waldo
By Michal Higdon on May 2nd, 2013 | Last updated: May 3, 2013 at 8:10 am
Advantage Towing & Recovery Inc. is being investigated by the Gainesville Police Department after multiple complaints from Gainesville residents.
The towing company, located at 907 SW Third St., was served with a search warrant Thursday morning, said GPD Spokesman Officer Ben Tobias.
GPD officers and detectives were looking for additional evidence into crimes including improper lien or title transfer, improper or illegal tow and grand theft auto, Tobias wrote in an email.
During the search, police looked through vehicles and records to see if the company followed the law, said GPD Towing Administrator Officer Jeff McAdams.
Ninety percent of the time, McAdams said, tow complaints are invalid.
“My job as tow administrator for the city of Gainesville, appointed by the chief of police, is to make sure that the tow companies are following the rules that are outlines in the city ordinance and the state statute,” he said.
McAdams said one specific case they were looking into regarding Advantage Towing was a vehicle reported as stolen in March 2012. He said that vehicle was picked up by Advantage and remained on its property as recently as a few weeks ago. The vehicle, which was listed as stolen by GPD through that entire time, was then titled into the name of Advantage Towing.
He said so far, no one from the company has hindered the investigation.
Samantha Dean wrote this story online.
By WUFT News on May 2nd, 2013 | Last updated: May 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm
The Python Challenge isn’t the first hunt for an invasive species in Florida.
The Lionfish Derby & Rodeo has been held annually since 2009, said Keri Kenning, communications and affiliate program manager for Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The foundation is a marine conservation organization based in Key Largo.
The derbies are effective in removing lionfish, the results of which will be part of a research paper publishing next year, Kenning said. The derbies also bring awareness to how dire the lionfish problem is.
The fish has no predators and eat more than 70 fish species of economic, recreational and ecological importance to Florida, she said.
The rapidly breeding invasive fish have spread from Dania Beach — about 12 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale — to as far north as Rhode Island, said Amanda Nalley, spokeswoman for the FWC’s marine fisheries management.
And yet another creature is becoming the new immediate face of species invading the Sunshine State.
Giant African land snails have stirred disgust, worry and laughs from Internet users. Twitter users have described them as slimy, gross and even cool. They’ve been called everything from threats to Florida’s crops to “the plot to a really bad 50’s (sic) sci-fi movie.”
A division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumerism held an early April symposium in Gainesville to discuss how to kill the rat-sized snails.
Whether it’s snakes, snails or fish, more risk assessments should be made before people are allowed to import new species, said Kenneth Krysko, a University of Florida biologist who studies reptiles and amphibians.
“Florida is the cesspool of the world when it comes to introduced species,” he said.
UF researcher Frank Mazzotti said even if his group is fortunate enough to eradicate the python population, other threats to native wildlife would exist. He said pythons are only “the tip of the iceberg.”
“There are other invasive wildlife species that are ready and willing to take their place as the number one problem.”
By Stefanie Cainto, Ashira Morris, Alex Catalano, Samantha Shavell and Wade Millward on May 2nd, 2013 | Last updated: May 3, 2013 at 10:34 am
Florida has been invaded.
The python invasion sparked worldwide interest after Florida officials invited hunters from across the United States to try their luck catching pythons for cash prizes in the 2013 Python Challenge, which ran from Jan. 12 to Feb. 10.
And though the hunters carried guns and machetes, it wasn’t actually about killing snakes. Continue reading
By Wade Millward on May 2nd, 2013 | Last updated: May 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm
A Campus Lodge apartments resident lied about someone trying to attack and kidnap her at the complex.
Tanya N. Borachi, 22, reported on April 23 that a man came up behind her when she got out of her car at the complex, where she lives. She said he gagged her mouth with a torn T-shirt, covered her eyes with his hands and put a gun to her head.
Borachi recanted the story Wednesday during a follow-up interview with two Gainesville Police Department detectives, according to a GPD release Thursday. She said the story was a lesson to women in the area that such an attack is possible.
GPD will recommend Borachi pay for the resources used during the investigation, said GPD spokesman Ben Tobias.
Borachi, who attended the University of Florida from Fall 2009 to Spring 2012 but did not graduate, previously worked as a preview staffer for UF’s Division of Student Affairs.
Tobias said the woman originally told police she was a UF student, but GPD confirmed Thursday she was not. He said her friends and family also believed she was still at the university.
“This detail is a factor of her story,” Tobias said.
Preview staffers help new students transition to university life, according to the program’s website.
Borachi declined to comment when reached by phone.
The department hasn’t estimated a cost yet, but multiple officers were assigned to work on the case including a K-9 unit, and evidence was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime lab in Jacksonville.
GPD has asked the Office of the State Attorney to charge her with filing a false police report. She may face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
Alex Rivera contributed reporting.
By Sara Drumm on May 2nd, 2013 | Last updated: May 3, 2013 at 10:34 am
Lars Andersen makes his living on North Florida’s waters.
As the owner and lead tour guide for Adventure Outpost, he knows their histories and intimately understands their geographies.
But he is worried.
Just last summer, he watched his business suffer as water levels on the Santa Fe River dropped and smothering algae blanketed its surface. The Outpost’s canoes and kayaks could not enter the river at their usual locations, and customers were deterred by the appearance of the algae and the accompanying health warnings.
“It’s pretty awful, really, what’s going on,” Andersen said. “It’s just trying to make people feel it themselves and understand the importance of it, but that’s hard to do.”
Other, less visible concerns include high levels of nutrients, fecal matter and chemical waste entering the water, as well as the risk of overpumping the Floridan aquifer system.
The problems that Alachua County’s bodies of water are facing are not unique, but they are important. The water eventually sinks back down into the Floridan aquifer, the underwater store that supplies much of the state’s water, including its drinking water.
“One law isn’t really going to help”
Experts say people need to use less water and take precautions to reduce polluted stormwater runoff — changes that the county government encourages through education but has trouble enforcing legally.
Stormwater runoff carries many pollutants with it when it seeps back into the aquifer, sharing a pollutant cocktail with the main source of tap water. The water is cleaned before it reaches faucets, but people could see their water bills rise if water treatment becomes more costly.
Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, an Alachua County commissioner, is among those who making a priority of improving the quality and quantity of local waters.
Having grown up in Gainesville, he has seen the environmental impact over the years.
“Newnans Lake has gone from clear 50 years ago, when I was a kid living on it, to the most eutrophic lake in the state of Florida,” Hutchinson said. “You can stick a canoe paddle in the water, and it will stand up, the algae is so thick.”
High chlorophyll concentrations and high nutrient levels contribute to warm month algae growth, which covers the water’s surface with a slimy carpet of sick-green.
Hutchinson said he would like to see future subdivisions in the county built with infrastructures that would capture runoff and treat it before it begins its journey into the aquifer.
At other sites, projects are in motion to improve the runoff situation. The Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project, for example, will treat runoff before it makes it to the Alachua Sink, which has high nitrogen levels.
The results of decades of water pollution are increasingly evident in Florida’s springs, which are filled with water straight from the aquifer and provide a gauge of its health.
Boulware and Glen are among the springs that show the impact of nutrients entering the aquifer. Historically, springs, which are fed directly from the aquifer, have had very low nitrate levels, said Jennifer Mitchell, senior environmental specialist at the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department.
But recently, Boulware and Glen springs have had high levels of nitrate and algae growth, which can harm the natural ecosystem.
The county EPD said residents help reduce the pollutants entering the aquifer by cleaning up their pets’ waste, making sure not to use more fertilizer than necessary and checking the condition of their septic tank, if they have one.
“We take a very education-based approach,” Mitchell said. “Because it’s really a problem that one person isn’t going to be able to solve, and one law isn’t really going to help. It’s going to be everybody doing their share.”
Pollution and aquifer strain
Advocates, such as Andersen, the Adventure Outpost guide, find that while awareness is growing among people who care about the environment, it can be hard to persuade people to change their habits.
Andersen grew up in Gainesville. As a child, he played in the springs and took their beautiful, clear water for granted. But in 1967, when about 1 million pounds of thick, black creosote darkened the light, tannin-stained waters of Hogtown Creek, it left an impression on him.
The creosote, waste from tar distillation, ended up in the creek when a private investor took over the Cabot Carbon site and released the waste into a drainage ditch. At the time, Andersen couldn’t go near the water because the smell of the creosote was so pungent.
Today, he said, if you dig a few inches into the bottom of the creek, you will get a whiff of the remaining creosote that has settled under the sand.
The Cabot Carbon site is part of the toxic Cabot-Koppers Superfund site, which continues to pollute soil and water in Gainesville.
Overabundant nutrients and chemicals aren’t the only dangers to Alachua’s waters. Drought has been a major cause of low water levels in past years, which cannot be directly controlled.
People are concerned, however, about the possibility of draining too much of the aquifer’s water, especially as water levels are affected by drought.
Hutchinson said it is not clear whether Floridians are in immediate danger of using too much of the aquifer’s water, but that precautions should be taken to avoid doing so. Springs throughout the state are drying up or experiencing reduced flow, indicating a likely strain on the aquifer.
“At some point, we’ll get to where we are overpumping if we don’t change what we are doing,” he said.
Water use education deemed crucial
The county’s water education efforts also promote less water use.
Residential water use mostly goes toward outdoor activities like watering lawns, with flushing toilets and washing clothes as runners-up, according to a 1999 survey by the Awwa Research Foundation, which is now the Water Research Foundation.
The county EPD encourages residents to minimize their water use by watering their lawns less often; installing low-flow appliances; checking sinks and plumbing for leaks; and replacing thirsty lawns with drought-resistant, native plants.
Gainesville Regional Utilities, which serves Gainesville and much of Alachua County, is also making an effort to conserve water. The company has committed to receiving the same base allocation of water as it does currently for the next 20 years, despite a growing population. GRU predicts this plan will work if individuals continue to reduce their water consumption and if the company increases its use of reclaimed water.
Meanwhile, Florida Leaders Organized for Water is advancing legislation called the Floridan Aquifer System Sustainability Act of 2013. This would allow researchers to gather and analyze existing and new data on the aquifer for a clearer picture of its health. It would also allow the creation of a statewide system of sustainable solutions, rather than the current patchwork approach.
Andersen said water initiatives should be carried out at the state level because water boundaries pay no attention to county lines, making it difficult for one county to do all that is needed. But recently the state government has left some advocates feeling abandoned.
“Legislature has proven time and time again that they don’t care about water issues,” Hutchinson said. “We’re sort of in political denial that we should be doing anything about it.”
During Gov. Rick Scott’s term, budget cuts have affected water management districts and the state Department of Environmental Protection, lessening the resources available to monitor bodies of water and improve their health.
During Gov. Rick Scott’s term, budget cuts have affected water management districts and the state Department of Environmental Protection, and clean water standards have weakened.
The state government also restrains the ability of county governments to make changes that benefit local bodies of water. The state’s uniform building code prevents the county from requiring the low-flow appliances and advanced septic tanks that it encourages people to invest in. And the state’s control over agricultural practices prevents the county from regulating the amount of fertilizer used or how much irrigation can occur — areas that the state only regulates loosely, Hutchinson said.
Despite the restraints, Andersen said he doesn’t think the county has done as much as it could to help the water in the past. He hopes the current county commission, which seems more concerned about the environment, will do more.
In January, construction started on a county-supported project to build a pipeline to reroute Waldo’s sewage, which had been pumped into the Santa Fe River without being properly treated, to Gainesville’s wastewater treatment plant.
Hutchinson would also like to see better handling of stormwater runoff, incentives for developers who agree to voluntary water conservation and quality standards, and local sustainability innovations.
In the meantime, advocates consider education crucial. The challenge, Hutchinson said, is getting people to understand the problems when so many are disconnected from the natural world around them.
“The people who are concerned are becoming much more aware and much more active and involved, but the vast majority of people are staring at their iPhones,” he said. “Kids can name more Pokémon characters than actual living things in their own backyard.”
By Trevor Sikkema on May 1st, 2013 | Last updated: May 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm
A bill signed in 2011 that mandated all tax collector’s offices take over the drivers license and identification card services went into full effect Thursday in Alachua County.
The new system hopes to do away with the negatives stereotypes of most drivers license services including long waits, inefficient services and time drains. John Power, chief deputy tax collector for Alachua County, said the tax collector’s offices in Alachua County issued their first drivers license in January and have served more than 10,000 license issues since then.
The program, which has been in the works for more than a year, has experienced a smooth transition to full-time services, Power said.
The biggest improvement to the drivers license program is the online aspect. Power said residents will now be able to go online — either on a computer or a mobile device — and see current wait times as well as appointment availabilities at all three locations. The new locations are 3207 SW 35th Blvd., 12 SE First St. and 5801 NW 34th St.
To fund this transition, fee structures have changed and a $6.25 increase has been added to drivers license transactions.