Cedar Key welcomes
University of Florida IFAS
Nature Coast Biological Station
Michael Smith, a 10th grade student at Cedar Key School (left), and his friend and classmate Zander Stanley, also a CKS sophomore, help provide a perspective on the size of the centerpiece table of a conference room on the second floor of the Nature Coast Biological Station facility in Cedar Key on Saturday morning (Sept. 23). Smith a CKS Sharks Basketball player and Stanley, who intends to play on the CKS Sharks Baseball Team this season, are among the many young people in the community who help this island town. These two young men are active in civic projects in their school and in their community. There is more about the table and its connection to the community and history, further in this story.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 24, 2017 at 4:07 p.m.
CEDAR KEY – The people of Cedar Key welcomed the continuation of research by the University of Florida as the leaders of the Nature Coast Biological Station facility conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday (Sept. 22) and gave tours on Saturday (Sept. 23).
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Dennis Gill (left) of Steamer’s Clam Bar and Grill (located on the west side of Dock Street overlooking the Gulf of Mexico) and David Sharp, the husband of Crystal Sharp, who spearheaded the effort to have hamburgers and hotdogs as a fundraiser for Cedar Key School at this event, cook hotdogs and hamburgers.
Among the helpers of the Cedar Key School’s Middle School grades are (from left, front row) Cadence Girdler, Allie Brown, Kylie Plemmons, Alexis Lipscomb and Makalynn Bowling, and (back row, from left) Connor Slump (sporting a ‘shark hat’ that is fashioned to show a shark chomping onto the top of his head), Lane Sharp and Levi Brinkman. CKS Middle School teacher and CKS Athletic Director Kim Bishop said the middle school students are selling baked goods on Saturday as part of the fundraising efforts for two field trips. One trip will be to see Encore in Gainesville as they perform from some of Edgar Allen Poe’s works, and the second field trip will be to Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Another fundraiser at the same set of tables was for uniforms for the boys and girls CKS Sharks Basketball teams.
Flanking 10 of the 23 Cedar Key School Safety Patrol members seen here are CKS Safety Patrol Advisor Tevin Mills (left) and CKS Principal Josh Slemp. The other CKS Safety Patrol members showed up Saturday as another shift to sell soft drinks as a fundraiser to help pay for their trip to Washington, D.C., after this school year ends.
Among the many scientists at the event Saturday is Travis Thomas, 37, a doctoral student from the University of Florida College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is studying wildlife ecology and conservation. Here he is holding an Alligator Snapping Turtle - with its mouth open and ready to snap shut. (This turtle is in the family Chelydridae. M. temminckii and is one of the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world. It is often associated with, but not closely related to, the common snapping turtle, which is in the genus Chelydra.) The co-advisors for this UF doctoral candidate are Dr. Mike Allen and Dr. Steve Johnson.
Here a Diamondback Terrapin is held by researcher Travis Thomas.
There were plenty of learning opportunities Saturday at the event.
The Saturday events included fundraisers by Cedar Key School’s basketball teams, the middle school students and the fifth grade Safety Patrol members. This action says volumes about the community-oriented theme of research from day one.
This new research facility is part of part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Speeches by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources; Mike Allen, director of the Nature Coast Biological Station; Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks and Cedar Key Vice Mayor Sue Colson on Saturday reflected a spirit of grace and community that shows great promise for the near and distant future of this small island community.
Likewise, the thoughts shared Saturday show all parties are ready, willing and able to share insight with one another from scientific instruments and from historic experience in the Gulf of Mexico, the Suwannee River, the estuaries and island and with all of the creatures on the land, in the water and in the air.
Hamburgers, hotdogs, tours to Seahorse Key, booth exhibiting research programs, music, touch tanks and even games for children were available at the event.
Don Austin of High Springs played the harp as one of the musicians on Saturday.
This is a view of the dock looking toward the three-story biological station in the background. Station Director Mike Allen is standing in the foreground. Allen helped all of the residents and visitors feel welcome to visit the facility, and he invited input from the community if people see a manner in which UF/IFAS can help.
The Nature Coast Biological Station is located at 552 First St. in Cedar Key.
The main structure is three stories tall, and there is a wing that is a remodeled remnant of the motel that once sat there.
The dock is not yet boat-friendly. The third floor is not ready for use yet. The aquarium for the community needs filters, pumps, water and marine life.
In regard to the third floor, when it is funded for completion, there is a plan to have a community meeting room where 40 to 50 people can gather on the Gulf side of the structure. The plan includes a small kitchenette up there as well to help with conducting events there.
All of things that are absent, though, are bound to come to fruition with time and effort.
The Nature Coast Biological Station is the only modern marine laboratory for 259 miles on the Gulf Coast.
It is roughly a 5,200-square-foot facility. It features a wet lab, a proposed aquarium, offices, teaching space and a dock for UF and Santa Fe College research vessels.
As UF science writer Samantha Grenrock has noted Savanna Barry, UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agent based at the Nature Coast Biological Station has said partnerships are a key in helping UF educate the next generation of scientists.
In 2017, the NCBS internship program included 13 UF undergraduates, up from six last year, said Barry, who coordinates the program. Interns are paired with researchers from UF/IFAS and partnering agencies, and spend the summer learning how to do fieldwork on the Nature Coast — sometimes underwater or waist-deep in mud.
“Our interns all push themselves to explore new things and their sense of adventure is contagious,” Grenrock previously noted that Barry said. “There’s really no substitute for the hands-on experience and life lessons you learn out in the field, and I’m excited that the NCBS and our partners can offer these opportunities.”
Some of these interns were among those staffing booths at the Saturday open house. Visitors saw exhibits on oyster restoration, manatee-human interactions, seagrass ecology and other displays.
Cedar Key Vice Mayor Sue Colson gave a heartwarming speech during the program on Saturday.
Afterward, she shared another thought about the table that was built by Rod Hunt.
“When the committee was sitting at the table for its first meeting yesterday at the biological station,” Colson said, “when you put your hands on the table, it grounded you to the history of yesterday and it linked you with the science of today.”
Colson has a passion for Cedar Key and the people who are residents and visitors on the island.
“The duty of these scientists at this facility is to coordinate and respect the local people who actually gather the seafood, and work on the water,” Colson said. “The local people can go out with their naked eye and look at the bay, and know how to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ by sliding around oyster bars that are submerged and not visible.
“They don’t use GPS,” she continued. “They don’t use depth finders. They can just do it. The other thing (about the local mariners) is that they taste the water. They don’t use the tool that the scientists use to find salinity.”
Colson said she is greatly pleased to see the scientists interacting with local people, and showing respect to the people of Cedar Key.
“That builds a trust between the two,” Colson said. “The scientists have to be able to listen to us, and they have to be able to share their knowledge on our level and their level. Then, no one is over anyone else. We are equal.
“I think that’s the beauty,” Colson continued, “because we have Peter Frederick and we have Bill Pine, and we have Lesley (Sturmer). And we have so many people here that respect the energy of these people who have done this for generations.”
Colson said she sees the Nature Coast Biological Station as being different than so many other labs, because those other labs have closed doors and there is no interaction with the people.
“I see this as an opportunity to have seafood in an abundant, clean environment for generations,” Colson said. “Don’t forget. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years here. This is the shellfish capital. We just want to keep it that way.”
In regard to the thousands of years, this was not hyperbole. Colson was referring to the Native Americans (or first nationers) who first fished and gathered shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico on the shores of what became named Cedar Key.
JACK PAYNE, Ph.D.
Jack M. Payne is the senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources at IFAS, and he has been a leader there since 2010.
In the last five years, he’s kept the organization strong despite lean state budgets and is now coming off a year in which IFAS brought in more than $100 million in research grants and $23 million in private donations and pledges.
He has worked at Penn State, Texas A&M, Utah State and Iowa State. He also spent 10 years leading conservation efforts for Ducks Unlimited.
He oversees the Extension Service, which has offices in all 67 Florida counties. Likewise, he is over the 13 research and education centers from Pensacola to Homestead. He travels the state frequently to visit with growers, land managers, association leaders, legislators and employees.
For the past three years, he has made Cedar Key his home after spending about five years in Gainesville.
On Saturday, Dr. Payne said he was glad to participate in the ribbon-cutting the day before.
He explained a little bit about the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which includes the College of Veterinary Medicine. There are 4,000 people who comprise the faculty and staff of UF/IFAS, he said.
The School of Forestry, the School of Natural Resources and world class educators and researchers in biology and other scientific venues are not really captured in the name “IFAS,” he said.
The Sea Grant classes with coastal development and commercial fishing also may not come to mind when a person hears “Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,” he said.
“Of those 13 research stations I mentioned to you,” Dr. Payne said, “they are all related to the production of agriculture. Some are dedicated to cattle. Some are dedicated to sugar cane; some to citrus; some to vegetable production; some to small grains.
“This is the first one – now we have 14,” he continued, “that is dedicated to natural resources.”
UF/IFAS faculty members have been coming to Cedar Key to research for 30 years, but they always returned to Gainesville to complete their work.
Dr. Payne said he is very happy that know UF researchers now “can spend more time diving instead of driving.”
Working with many state and national partner agencies, UF/IFAS hopes to help “keep the Nature Coast – the Nature Coast” an unspoiled, undeveloped natural resource.
“The most important partners, and I mean this will all my heart, is our community,” Payne said. “The citizens of Cedar Key, the Nature Coast, we see them as essential. We all live here because we like the natural resources that this area offers. We like our way of life.”
Therefore, he said, researchers strive to maintain that same culture that everyone loves as they experience it.
Protecting and conserving the natural fisheries, the magnificent migratory bird populations, resident wildlife populations, and the saltwater and freshwater wetlands are among the missions the researchers face, he said.
This station is a biological station rather than simply a marine station, he said, because the scientists are looking at the complete biodiversity of the area.
“We are very proud that this is a working seafront community,” Payne said. “We see you as our partners. We’re not going to be – we will never be – a bunch of pointy-head scientists – not listening to what the public wants. There’s a lot to say for experience.”
Dr. Payne said he looks forward to many years of cooperation with the people of Cedar Key as everyone strives to keep the Nature Coast as the Nature Coast.
MIKE ALLEN, Ph.D.
Dr. Allen is a professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Science in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida.
He has been at UF for 21 years.
His research has focused on population dynamics and ecology of fishes. He uses field studies and computer models to explore population dynamics of fishes that support important recreational fisheries.
Dr. Allen said UF has been studying marine life around Cedar Key for 30 years now on everything from hard clam aquaculture, to seagrass ecology, to freshwater flow and forestry.
“This is one of the last undeveloped shorelines in the continental United States,” he said. “It’s one of the most pristine estuaries left in the United States.”
The Suwannee River has no dams and its unimpeded flow is significant, Allen said, in comparison with most rivers that have dams that impact marine life.
The university never before this facility had “a home” where faculty could work, where graduate students could reside, and there is a wet lab for people to see. Allen conceded the Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory will be operated from the Nature Coast Biological Station.
Seahorse Key has been among the valuable assets for research by UF, he said, and it has served as a fantastic teaching facility. Its propane-generator power and other aspects of its isolation as an island make it less inviting than the new station.
When the motel property went on the market for sale, UF saw this initially as a launching point to reach Seahorse Key, Allen said.
As UF/IFAS Senior Vice President Jack Payne spoke with faculty, Allen said, the potential of a wet lab for clam research, oyster reef restoration research, and to have offices and shared space for meetings was discussed.
“This is a home for UF/IFAS to do work on natural resources,” Allen said. “The emphasis of the lab is to improve conservation and management of natural resources. And that is all natural resources – clam aquaculture, oyster reefs, seabirds, fisheries, wildlife, et cetera.”
UF/IFAS has found working with other agencies in partnership has been productive for all concerned. Among the partners he mentioned are Cedar Key School, the City of Cedar Key, the Levy County Board of County Commissioners, the Levy County School Board, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (especially at the Senator George Kirkpatrick Marine Laboratory), the Lower Suwannee U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Suwannee River Water Management District, and every city, county, state and federal agency with an interest in this part of the coast of Florida.
“It has been two years completing the facility out here,” Allen said, “and now we are looking forward to watching it grow.”
There are five permanent faculty members in the main building, Allen said. There is also open day-use space for faculty from the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida. Those folks can conduct fieldwork and then sit down with their laptops and complete their mission for the day, Allen said.
The wet lab will allow researchers to create tanks to conduct experiments and the like, he said.
Public outreach is another aspect of this facility, he said. On the ground floor in the front glassed in section, there are plans for an aquarium for people to visit.
“We are working with Levy County to develop funding to improve this aquarium more,” Allen said. “The tank that is in there was donated by the Florida Aquarium. That’s a really nice tank, but we’ve got to get additional funding for the filtration, and pump system to actually get it going.”
His wife Mendy Allen works for the development office of UF and they are among the people working to raise money for the improvements for that public education element, Dr. Allen said.
Mendy Allen played a significant park in organizing the trips to Seahorse Key that day, as well as in coordinating the presenters for the two days and much more.
“She did a great job in organizing this,” Dr. Allen said. “That is part of her job in development, and community engagement in the Nature Coast.”
IFAS Extension, Allen said, is about reaching out into the community. This aquarium will include volunteers to help people learn about marine life in the region. It will be open to the public.
Savanna Barry, UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agent based at the Nature Coast Biological Station, will be very involved in the public outreach and public education missions, Allen said.
During his speech on Saturday, Allen spoke about building the structure to be compliant with the latest FEMA regulations. During Hurricane Hermine last year, the bottom five feet of the structure was underwater, he said, and that caused no issue because the structure is built for that eventuality.
At the conclusion of the speaking portion of Saturday’s event, Dr. Allen mentioned his appreciation for all of the people and groups who helped make the start of this facility such a great success during its first two days.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences ambassadors aided in helping assure the program went well. Among those ambassadors was Lyndsey Harris, the daughter of Chiefland Fire Chief James Harris and his wife Susan Harris.
Dr. Allen spoke about the table in the conference room of the second floor of the main building.
Rod Hunt, a boat captain, built the table.
The heart pine timbers for the table were donated by Bob and Jeri Treat. That wood came from a house built in Cedar Key and it was bought for $4,500 by Eugenia and Beth Johnson's family in 1948. It was estimated to be older than 100 years when it was demolished.
In 1950, Hurricane Easy went inshore near Cedar Key as a major hurricane, and the house survived. In 2001, the house was sold. It was disassemble by Mack McCain and he sold some of the timber to the Treats. The couple wanted to assure some of the timber stayed in Cedar Key and they donated it to the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station.
Lumber from those timbers was milled by Mark Clark, and then Hunt built the table and a receptionist's desk.
This piece of history is what Sue Colson was referring to when she said “When you put your hands on the table, it grounded you to the history of yesterday and it linked you with the science of today.”
Here Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks applies a hammer to a thumb tack after seeing a student attempting to bang the tack into the wall with a cell phone (that was in a protective hard-cover case).
Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks marked his second day at the facility on Saturday, after joining commissioners Lilly Rooks and Matt Brooks for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.
During his speech on Saturday, Chairman Meeks reminded listeners of the Levy County Extension Office in Bronson, where staff members help people with several other aspects of life in Levy County, including the Levy County 4-H Program.
“We are really blessed to have the University of Florida, Shands, and their research, everything that is involved with that in the next county over, right up the road.”
Meeks said the connection to UF has allowed Levy County government to excel in its services to the people of this county.
In his travels all over Florida, Meeks finds people ask him about Levy County, and when he mentioned Cedar Key, everyone says they know where that is located. He said Cedar Key is a destination for tourists, who all enjoy their time there.
Meeks thanks the Lord and all of the people involved with the clam-raising program that helped net fishermen have a means to earn money after the net ban wiped out an entire Florida industry that had been a cornerstone for generations.
After the net ban years ago, the state of Florida and UF helped interested fishermen learn about raising clams.
The clammers and oystermen keep Cedar Key as a thriving commercial fishery, Meeks said.
Now Cedar Key clams are renowned from coast-to-coast. Meeks shared a story about a visit to the California coastal community of Santa Barbara in 2013.
His friend ordered clams, and after Meeks first learned from the waitress that “the clams came from the kitchen,” his further research unveiled that they were eating Cedar Key clams in California.
A drone owned by the Newberry High School criminal justice program videoed the entire homecoming from all angles, but mostly from well above the participants. For the complete story about the football game, and more pictures, please go to the Leisure Page.
Photo by Terry Witt © Sept. 23, 2017 at 8:57 p.m.
aftermath dominates meeting;
Commission chairman creates
Chairman John Meeks
Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 20, 2017 at 6:47 p.m.
BRONSON -- Although it was a relatively mild natural disaster that swept through Levy County, some people went without power for a week in Levy County after Hurricane Irma hit.
With no doubt, every municipal and county council, commission, board and association is conducting post-hurricane reviews in the Tri-County Area.
In Levy County, one department manager asked for some leeway in regard to a last-minute policy created by Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks.
In this video, Chairman John Meeks answers a question about providing a method for workers to make up for lost time and wages as a result of Hurricane Irma shutting down county offices for a few days.
This last-minute policy created in the emergency status just before the storm hit provides that county workers who cannot work due to the courthouse being closed, or other offices being closed, do not get paid.
County Commissioner Matt Brooks (left) and County Commissioner Lilly Rooks (right) look at Chairman John Meeks as he speaks.
County Commissioner Mike Joyner likes Chairman John Meeks’ plan to not pay county workers who cannot work due to natural disasters. Joyner said he thinks government should be run like a business.
County Commissioner Rock Meeks said people must take personal responsibility. If they don’t evacuate and die because there was no cot at a shelter, or they couldn’t take their cat to a shelter, then that is a choice they made.
County Commissioner Lilly Rooks spent time at Levy County Animal Services during the hurricane, helping to tend to pets that were sheltered there while their owners were in evacuation shelters.
County Coordinator Wilbur Dean said he concurs with the policy created by Chairman John Meeks.
Chairman Meeks decided to create county policy with no meeting of the County Commission. He said with the emergency status of the impending storm before a regular meeting would be held that he chose to create a policy where the county did not pay employees for days when the county offices were closed.
Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings asked to allow some of his workers to use annual leave time, sick days or compensatory time to trade that time out for normal work hours -- so that they don't lose a few days' pay.
Meeks stood strong Tuesday morning (Sept. 19) by his decision to create the policy the Wednesday (Sept. 6) before the county ordered a mandatory evacuation on Friday (Sept. 8).
Extension Director Jennings told Chairman Meeks and the other four commissioners that he feels like he gave his workers bad advice, because messages about Meeks' new policy were not clear to Jennings in regard to how that would impact some of the "non-essential" workers.
There was a very long discussion about the issue.
Linda Cooper, one of the half-dozen regular Levy County resident attendees of County Commission meetings, asked about employees being paid for the days when the courthouse was closed.
Chairman Meeks told Cooper that Monday (Sept. 11) was given to employees as an administrative day with pay.
With offices also closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (Sept. 12, 13 and 14), Meeks said employees could use vacation days, a floating holiday if they had not used it, sick days or compensatory time if they had it so that they would not see a smaller than usual paycheck.
Meeks said some county employees worked, despite offices being closed. He mentioned one worker shoveled dog kennels and walked dogs at Levy Animal Services and another county worker manned a phone line at the Emergency Operations Center in Bronson.
“I did not know that,” Extension Director Jennings said.
He was unable to correctly inform his department workers of this. He saw an email that said county government was closed.
Levy County Coordinator Wilbur Dean said essential personnel who were called out during the closure of county government were paid at a rate of time and one-half.
Anthony Drew, Alvin Wilkerson and Jennings worked on agricultural matters during that time, Jennings said.
With no telephone working, Levy County Extension administrative assistants were told to stay home, he said. The new 4-H assistant who has zero comp time, or sick leave or vacation time accrued would have to take a three-day loss of pay, Jennings explained.
“I’m sorry there was some confusion on this,” Chairman Meeks said, “but there was a written policy (created two days before the county offices closed).”
Chairman Meeks said that Hurricane Hermine a year ago caused people to be paid when they did not work, and some employees who were essential complained that they did not feel it was fair to have to work when others didn’t.
Chairman Meeks went on to say he wanted to “incentivize” so that people would want to work during a natural disaster rather than think they would be paid for staying at home or in a shelter where it was safe.
Meeks said his creation of the policy as an emergency declaration did not require the whole County Commission to approve. He said it is in writing, and if someone wants to modify it in the future that can happen too.
“If you didn’t have any time on the books,” Chairman Meeks said, “I am sorry for your luck.”
Jennings said he is not contesting the policy Meeks created. He is just seeking a method to help his employees who he felt were not informed completely about Chairman Meeks’ policy.
Jennings, Drew and Wilkerson worked to help farmers and ranchers, he said.
“The non-essential office personnel,” Jennings said, “I told them to stay home.”
Since they followed his instructions, they are not going to be paid for that time, he said.
“I just think this is really wrong,” Jennings said. “I think y’all need to rethink this. I’m telling you – you give a prayer about supporting people at the beginning of this meeting… How does this come across to the employees?
“If you want to squash morale,” Jennings added, “you’re doing a good job of it. It’s my opinion. It means no more than anybody else’s. I’m just saying I feel pretty bad. I feel pretty bad in not calling those people in. I thought I was following a directive that came from someone up the food chain from me.”
Jennings expressed his opinion that the last-minute policy creation and then not making it clear is not an ethical practice in regard to how employees were treated in this regard.
County Coordinator Dean said the storm event left him with no prior knowledge on the duration of how long county government would have to be closed. Dean said he needed to look at the matter from a financial perspective.
Although all of the normal salaries were in the previously approved budget for this fiscal year, Dean asked “At what point do you draw the line there?”
Dean said most people who have their jobs shut down, just do not get paid.
He said Chairman Meeks created a “happy medium” by allowing workers to use vacation, sick or comp time. Dean said there is a balance between helping employees and in not spending tax dollars that can be saved by not paying people who were unable to work due to the county government being shut down for a few days.
The extension director had created a schedule for non-essential workers to go to the Emergency Operations Center to answer phones during those days when the office was closed.
“I had a schedule set,” Jennings said, “for them to man the EOC. We were never asked again.”
The people in his department wanted to help the county, Jennings said, but they were told not to come.
Jennings asked if his employees who lost three days of pay could make it up by coming in and working extra hours.
Chairman Meeks said they could, but then he questioned how that would be possible because the pay period for that time is now gone.
Chairman Meeks said that after the workers who served on Friday during the Hurricane Hermine event in 2016 complained to him that they worked and other people were rewarded and did not work, he wanted to have a written policy.
He went on to defend the policy he created.
Jennings said the phones were not working. The agricultural workers were able to do work, but there was no need to have people answering phones.
Chairman Meeks said they were not essential to the office at that point.
“So they just get a leave without pay day,” Jennings said.
Chairman Meeks said County Administrator Dean will find work for a person if they have no leave time, or sick time or comp time to use.
And so the problem was solved.
Sally Ann Collins mentioned that when she worked at Miami-Dade Community College and Hurricane Andrew struck the Bahamas and Florida in mid-August 1992, her employer automatically gave everyone two weeks off with pay.
The National Guard was called in because the devastation in the area was widespread and significant in 1992.
A majority of the members of the County Commission said they endorse Meeks’ policy in regard to not paying employees in the event of a natural disaster if they cannot work.
Levy County 4-H Agent Genevieve Mendoza is joined by Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings. The County Commission thanked Agent Mendoza for her excellent work in continuing Levy County 4-H after the retirement of former 4-H Agent Albert Fuller.
In other action, the County Commission unanimously:
* Declared Oct. 1-7 as National 4-H Week in Levy County. Levy County 4-H Agent Genevieve Mendoza answered a question in regard to the bees at the Levy County Agriculture Center. The bees survived Hurricane Irma, she said. Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings expressed his appreciation for the inmates who came and cleaned up the pavilion area, to accommodate the countywide FFA program that used the facility on Wednesday (Sept. 20).
* Ratified emergency declarations after the fact due to Hurricane Irma.
* Approved the annual contract with the Florida Department of Health in regard to the Levy County Unit, which is one of three county units under the direction Administrator of Health Barbara Locke, R.N., M.P.H.
* Approved the use of $45,000 of Court Innovation Money to fund a new Court Management Software system. Finance Director Jared Blanton explained Levy County was the only one of the six counties in the Eighth Judicial Circuit using a different software system. By becoming uniform, this helps the clerk’s office.
* Approved the acceptance of money from the state to aid the Levy County Public Library System.
* Approved an agreement with the Town of Inglis in regard to moving an ambulance from a satellite location next to U.S. Highway 19 north of Inglis behind a former FHP station. When the mission is complete, the ambulance and crew will be housed at the Inglis Fire Department, which is next to Town Hall. This puts the ambulance closer to where the majority of calls are made for service from that paramedic and EMT.
Dog trainer approved 3-1
for special exception to zoning
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Carol Borden answers questions as she seeks to have a special exception to build a new dog-training facility in Levy County.
Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 20, 2017 at 9:07 a.m.
LEVY COUNTY – A company that trains dogs to become medical service dogs gained a 3-1 vote of approval from the Levy County Commission on Tuesday morning (Sept. 19) for a special exception on land where it intends to construct a new facility.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. was recommended for approval by staff members of Levy County government and the Levy County appointed volunteers who sit as a review board for this type of application.
County Commissioner Rock Meeks had to abstain from voting, he announced before the public hearing on the special exception, because he is involved with plumbing work that would be completed at the construction site to be located south of Williston off of 200th Avenue.
The motion to approve was by County Commissioner Mike Joyner, seconded by Commissioner Matt Brooks. Chairman John Meeks voted in favor of it too. Commissioner Lilly Rooks voted against it.
During the discussion about this compound to include fewer than 80 dogs, although that was not a condition and it has a capacity to contain more than 100 dogs, Rooks said she does not see trees as a noise buffer for barking dogs.
Commissioner Rooks told the project planner – Clay Sweger, director of planning at EDA Engineers-Surveyors-Planners Inc. of Gainesville – that if trees stop the sound of dogs barking, then he needs to come over to her house and talk to the trees on her property, because she hears her neighbor’s two dogs barking every time they are outside and barking. And those dogs are two miles from her house, Rooks said.
The special exception is for the project that is on 65.56 acres more or less, Levy County Building Official Bill Hammond said, located at 650 200th Ave. near Williston. This part of the county is generally known as Morriston.
The property is zoned agriculture/rural residential. Among the permitted uses without a special exception for this type of zoning is a sawmill, and the project planner mentioned his belief that this dog-training facility will be less noisy than that.
Commissioner Joyner was told that the method for dog feces which is currently practiced by the company at its existing facility near Williston will continue. The waste is hauled offsite by a contractor, and it is an approved method by the Florida Department of Health.
Linda Cooper complained to the County Commission that the documents supporting the application included a reference to a standard of care endorsed by the Levy County Humane Society.
Cooper shared her opinion that the Levy County Humane Society is inactive and its standards are not in writing anywhere she could find.
Cooper suggested the county require Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. to abide by the standards set by the United States Humane Society.
County Attorney Anne Bast Brown explained that the advisory committee recommending approval looked at existing Levy County codes and made reference to what is included in those documents, which includes a reference to the Levy County Humane Society.
Levy County in consideration of this special exception, attorney Brown said, cannot rewrite the county code. That change will occur when the local laws are updated and improved at some point in the future. Cooper’s request to impose this level of care via a condition of the special exception to the zoning designation, Brown said, is not able to occur at this County Commission meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 19).
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Carol Borden said her facility uses guidelines provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. Borden went on to say the level of care provided to the dogs far exceeds any minimal standards for dog care.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. uses four veterinarians for animal medical care, Borden said.
One of the 12 special conditions required for approval of this special exception is inspections by Levy County Animal Services and the Levy County Health Department, with reasonable warning ahead of that inspection. Cooper asked for a definition of “reasonable.”
Commission Chairman Meeks indicated it would not be three days advance notice to prepare for such an inspection, but that it would occur during regular business hours.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. trains dogs, mostly German Shepherds, to assist people with medical disabilities such as veterans who suffer from post-traumatic shock, or who have lost limbs.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. has helped 200 teams of clients and canines over the past eight years, Borden said, and while there is a relatively high suicide rate for military veterans, there have been no clients of this service who took their own life.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. currently employs 27 paid employees and it accepts 50,000 volunteer hours of work a year from individuals who help without pay, Borden said. There are currently seven trainers and three apprentices.
In answering a question about the service provided by this company, Borden said the dogs are each trained to work with an individual client.
The dogs are trained to mitigate the challenges of each person’s individual disability, she said.
For instance, a wheelchair bound person would have a medical service dog to open and close doors; pickup dropped items; turn lights on and off; bring food and water to the client from the refrigerator; help the client transfer from the shower; and other tasks to help the client live a life with more ease. The dogs are trained to perform actions off of a leash and collar, Borden added, to let the person not have to have to hold that while going about their daily routines.
In answering another question, Borden said her clients first came primarily from Florida, but now she is seeing an average of 40 requests a day from across the nation.
Four work trucks from PowerTown Line Construction work on a broken section of a power line Sunday (Sept. 17) along State Road 345 near the Chiefland Cemetery. Independent contractors like this company help Central Florida Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy to meet the needs of members and customers respectively, especially after a disaster such as Hurricane Irma.
Photo by Terry Witt © Sept. 18, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.
In this photo, a truck is seen as it leaves the CFEC warehouse area on Saturday morning (Sept. 16) at about 7 a.m.
Photo by Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 18, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 18, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.
Updated Sept. 18, 2017 at 3:27 p.m.
TRI-COUNTY AREA – Central Florida Electric Cooperative has restored power to almost 30,000 members who were without electricity for periods of up to one week.
In this four-minute narrated video, some of the vehicles leaving the Central Florida Electric Cooperative warehouse area on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. are seen through dash camera of the news Jeep and a low-flying unmanned aerial system (nicknamed The Dragonfly Drone). Then the UAS takes quick flight to view the Saturday sunrise from above the Save-A-Lot parking lot.
Video by Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 18, 2017 at
Hurricane Irma took out power from people all over Florida.
CFEC reached 98 percent of full system restoration by 10 p.m. on Saturday night (Sept. 16).
As of 7:30 p.m. on Sunday (Sept.17), CFEC show there were 58 members without power.
The breakdown of those counties follows: Alachua County – 1; Dixie County – 36; Gilchrist County – 8; and Levy County – 13.
Duke Energy noted earlier last week that it planned to have all its customers in the Tri-County Area connected with power again by midnight on Sunday.
CFEC is a rural electric cooperative. Duke Energy is an investor-owned utility.
FEMA declares Levy County available for Individual Assistance Programs
Information Provided By Levy County Emergency Management
Published Sept. 15, 2017 at 9:27 a.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared Levy County is available for the Individual Assistance Programs.
These FEMA Programs are available to those who are eligible. You are eligible if you are a disaster-impacted individual with expenses not covered by insurance.
Individuals and Households Program
Housing Assistance provides financial and/or direct assistance to eligible disaster survivors who have necessary expenses and serious needs unmet through other resources, such as insurance.
● Financial Housing Assistance can include Rental Assistance, Lodging Expense Reimbursement, Home Repair Assistance, and Home Replacement Assistance.
● Direct Housing Assistance can include Manufactured Housing Units, Multi-Family Lease and Repair, and Permanent or Semi-Permanent Housing Construction.
Other Needs Assistance provides financial assistance to individuals and households who have other disaster-related necessary expenses such as medical, childcare, funeral, personal property, and transportation costs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Disaster Assistance Program provides low-interest, long-term loans to those impacted by a declared disaster.
Crisis Counseling Assistance & Training Program assists in recovery from the effects of a disaster through community based outreach and psycho-educational services.
Disaster Case Management involves creating a Disaster Recovery Plan together with a disaster case manager to reach disaster recovery by meeting unmet needs through available resources.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides unemployment benefits and re-employment services to individuals who have become unemployed because of the disaster and who are not eligible for regular State unemployment insurance.
Disaster Legal Services provides legal assistance to low-income individuals who are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their disaster related needs.
HOW TO APPLY
● Internet: https://www.disasterassistance.gov
● Smartphone: downloading FEMA application through https://www.fema.gov
● FEMA Toll-Free Helpline: 800-621-3362
● FEMA Toll-Free Helpline for deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disability: 800-462-7585
● Disaster Recovery Center open for limited periods post-disaster near your community.
● U.S. SBA Disaster Loan Assistance: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela
Restrictions: Financial assistance is limited to an annually adjusted amount based on the Department of Labor Consumer Price Index. Applicants whose homes are located in a Special Flood Hazard Area and who receive assistance because of a flood-caused disaster must obtain and maintain flood insurance. Disaster survivors may need to provide documentation to help FEMA evaluate their eligibility, such as proof of occupancy, ownership, income loss, and/or information concerning an applicant’s housing situation prior to the disaster. Assistance is limited to 18 months following the disaster declaration.