Levy County stalls again
on honorary title for river;
Town hall meeting being planned
Liz Sparks (right), the paddling trail coordinator, from the Office of Greenway and Trails, Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, speaks to the Levy County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday (Oct. 18). Assistant to the County Coordinator Wilbur Dean is standing behind her and County Clerk Danny Shipp is in the left part of this photo.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 20, 2016 @ 10:17 p.m.
LEVY COUNTY -- Although there seems to be no logical or rational or reasonable purpose to deny approval of a resolution to put an honorary title on the Levy County portion of the Suwannee River, and even though every other county that has been approached in Florida and Georgia has done so, the four members of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners again refused.
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The lead commissioner fighting against the resolution is County Commissioner Lilly Rooks, obviously influenced by Toni Collins, a relatively well known complainer in Levy County.
Collins complained about the Save Our Suwannee organization disbanding. She complained about people littering in the Suwannee River. She complained about the City of Valdosta, Ga., allegedly dumping so much raw sewage into the Suwannee River that is somehow severely impacts Levy County.
County commissioners Lilly Rooks (left) and Mike Joyner listen to Liz Sparks.
Collins, a self-proclaimed historian, told Liz Sparks, the paddling trail coordinator, from the Office of Greenway and Trails, Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, that Collins thinks the DEP should focus more on the history of the St. Johns River because it is more historic than the Suwannee River.
Given the tirade from the outspoken resident, Rooks said she felt a Town Hall meeting was needed to help people understand more about the impact this resolution will have on Levy County's part of the Suwannee River.
Interestingly, since the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners have already adopted the resolution only half of the river between the two counties now sits "unapproved." In fact, Levy County may have the distinction of being the only county along the river in two states to not want to accept an honorary title to the river.
County Commissioner Rock Meeks, who made a motion to adopt the resolution in August, remains silent on Tuesday.
County Commission Chairman follows the lead of Commissioner Lilly Rooks with the idea of a town hall meeting after Toni Collins again complained about the county possibly adopting this resolution.
This is the second stall for Levy County. Three individuals, two who joined Collins, complained on Aug. 17 that they think there is reason to not trust the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Department of the Interior.
Those three conspiracy theorists at that meeting indicated they believe that the state and federal governments have ulterior motives.
Therefore, after County Commissioner Rock Meeks, who had made a motion to adopt the resolution about two months ago, which was then seconded by County Commissioner Rooks, those two withdrew their motions. Collins was among the contributor to both campaigns.
This simple resolution seeks to proclaim the Levy County part of the Suwannee River as a National Water Trail designation.
Renate Cannon, one of the anti-resolution speakers in August, also complained on Tuesday. She was critical of the DEP for not stopping Georgia from polluting the river that goes downstream to the Gulf of Mexico as it runs by part of the Levy County border.
County Commission Chairman John Meeks explained to Cannon that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection does not have any power to rule in Georgia. He likened the failure of Georgia to do anything about polluting the Suwannee River to Atlanta, Georgia stopping the flow of water in another river, which affects shellfish in Florida.
Sparks said she will hold a town hall meeting. Before conceding to this first-ever request in regard to this particular resolution, Sparks attempted to use clear English verbiage to nullify any fear of the feds seizing the river.
Commissioner Rooks asked if this was part of a grant application.
Sparks said this has no financial obligations or attachments. This resolution is just “asking for an honorary designation,” Sparks said. “There is no financial implications; no statutory changes. All we are asking is the Suwannee to be recognized nationally as pretty much ‘The Heart of Florida.’”
There are only 22 National Wildlife Trails in the whole country, Sparks said. There are none yet in Florida, she added.
There is excellent management of the river by the Florida Park Service, she said.
Sparks said this addition will link what already exists for the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, and extend the trail up into Georgia, where the river originates in the Okefenokee Swamp (Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge).
“So it is strictly adding a layer of recognition to it,” Sparks said.
There are no new products being developed. There is no new money going into it. This is just adding another method for tourists to become aware of the Suwannee River, Sparks said.
There is no change in access to the river, she added.
When Rooks said the DEP should talk to Georgia about the alleged dumping of human waste in the river, Sparks said this is an honorary title that is not related to enforcement or regulation.
Collins complained that a property owner next to the Suwannee River had to cope with tourists who did not respect that person’s private docks, etc.
Sparks said that if Levy County does not adopt the resolution, then it will be the county without the ability to put the National Water Trail logo on its maps. It will just not be a part of the Suwannee River National Water Trail.
Sparks said the designation will not affect the people who live next to the river. There is no access change resulting from the designation. The same boat ramps will still exist.
“Except for Levy County, every county has sent a resolution or a letter of support,” Sparks said.
She said this designation can potentially help rural business interests next to the river, but she does not know the level of impact it will have.
Counties that see tourism as an economic engine see this as a benefit.
Sparks said the deadline for submission of this application is Nov. 1. Commission Chairman Meeks suggested that if necessary, submit the application without Levy County endorsement and see if it can be added after the fact.
Sparks agreed to work with Wilbur Dean, assistant to County Coordinator Freddie Moody, to determine a date, time and place for a town hall meeting about this possible adoption of a resolution.
What would may be Resolution 2016-069 in Levy County reads:
WHEREAS, the benefits of designation of the Suwannee River in Levy County as a National Water Trail include national recognition as a recreation destination, national promotion on maps and through websites, increased tourism, and increased revenue for local businesses; and
WHEREAS, our region benefits from promoting nature-based recreation opportunities, especially paddling, biking, hiking, equestrian activities, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to increase health benefits to our local communities and encourage youth and families in outdoor activities; and
WHEREAS, our region benefits from promoting nature-based recreation opportunities, especially paddling, biking, hiking, equestrian activities, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to increase health benefits to our local communities and encouraging youth and families to participate in outdoor activities
WHEREAS, the region benefits from promoting the rich culture and history contained within the watershed of the Suwannee River, drawing visitors eager to explore the historical legacy
WHEREAS, the Suwannee River National Water Trail offers a unique opportunity for residents and visitors to explore an unspoiled, pristine area of Florida and Georgia
WHEREAS, the cultural, historical and natural resources of this area are some of the most unique in the Southeast
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Board of County Commissioners, Levy County, Florida, endorses the Office of Greenways & Trails application for designation of the Suwannee River in Levy County as a National Water Trail by the United States Department of the Interior.
As best as can be determined from every piece of writing and interviews of people, this would have nothing other than a purely positive effect on Levy County’s residents and visitors.
“Designation has NO effect on property rights of landowners along the trail or use of the waterway!” Sparks noted in one email earlier.
Publisher explains changes
Published Oct. 20, 2016 @ 5:17 p.m.
Updated Oct. 20, 2016 @ 10:17 p.m.
on the Home Page of HardisonInk.com
THE WORLD – Jeff M. Hardison, sole proprietor, owner, publisher and chief executive officer of HardisonInk.com on Thursday (Oct. 20) explained why a set of stories, photos and video are somewhat delayed from the daily news website.
“As we started the final quarter of the 2016 calendar year,” Hardison said. “My sharp team of business consultants, advertisement specialists, marketing analysists, macro-economics wizards, and others agreed with me that we need to make the advertisements on the right side of each page equal in size.
During the first six years of the business, the ads on right side of the Home Page became 300 pixels wide by 599 pixels long, or they were 300 pixels by 300 pixels.
“Those ads on the other pages were 260 pixels wide by 519 pixels long or 260 by 260 pixels,” he continued. “The ads had become bigger on the Home Page because of some options we offered previously, and continue to a degree.”
Nature Coast Web Design & Marketing Inc. is the company that provides technical support. They needed a tiny bit of time to change code for all of the pages.
“It took me a few hours, though,” Hardison continued, “to put up the ads that Sharon had revised for me. Sharon remade a lot of ads.
“This revamping of the site took away from my time to write and edit,” Hardison said. “However, relatively soon the entire process was completed today (Thursday, Oct. 20) and advertisers will have slightly bigger ads while not taking away from the content.”
The publisher said he has one night event from 6 to 8 p.m., and then he will return to the Code Orange Office to begin work on the following stories, photos and videos -- Road Plans Shared; Withlacoochee Gulf Area Chamber of Commerce Has Feast During Annual Meeting; and You Pick Lane Activities Attract Visitors (2 Videos).
Levy County Extension
director applicant introduced
Levy County Clerk Danny Shipp (left) watches as Edward 'Ed' Jennings prepares to speak with the Levy County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday (Oct. 17). Jennings is the top choice to replace former Levy County Extension Director Albert Fuller.
Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 18, 2016 @ 8:37 a.m.
BRONSON – The four Levy County Commission members present for the regular twice-a-month meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 18) met the most recent applicant who seeks to fill the position of director of the UF/IFAS Extension office in Bronson.
County Commissioner Danny Stevens was absent. The four county leaders who were there, however, are Chairman John Meeks and commissioners Rock Meeks, Lilly Rooks and Mike Joyner.
Acting Extension Director Wilbur Dean introduced Edward “Ed” Jennings, noting that if Jennings is hired for this position he will be the director of Levy County Extension as well as being the livestock agent for the county.
Dean, who is also the assistant to Levy County Coordinator Freddie Moody, accepted the assignment to help the county as it continues to be in a transition phase of leadership at the Extension office.
A previous candidate for the vacant was like former Levy County Extension Director Albert Fuller, in that the pervious applicant for the position would have served as the 4-H agent as well. Fuller retired at least eight months ago.
Levy County livestock owners asked the County Commission, literally at the last minute after there had already been a relatively lengthy vetting process, to request of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that it send a person with a focus on commercial livestock rather than on 4-H, which is a program for children.
The first applicant who had been vetted never even had a chance to meet the County Commission, although the date, time and place of that introduction had been set and almost happened.
UF/IFAS Northeast District Extension Director Dr. Eric Simonne accepted the request from Levy County to bring a livestock-oriented applicant.
Agricultural Extension Agent Anthony Drew is known as the row crop specialist for Levy County, and he has been utilized by several other counties, states and even internationally as a hands-on as well as classroom setting educator for farmers.
The University of Florida historically has provided every county with agricultural education services and the Extension office today has evolved through a time when it for a period of time was known as the Cooperative Extension Service in each county, always with its foundation at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a land grant college from decades ago.
As a result of the request by Levy County commercial livestock interests, Levy County will get a separate person to be the new Levy County 4-H Agent. So, while some 4-H interests may have initially seen the request as detrimental to the 4-H program, the county is going to have a 4-H agent even before it has whomever as the future director of Levy County Extension hired.
Levy County 4-H Agent Genevieve Mendoza has a tentative starting date of Nov. 15, according to what Dr. Simonne said on Tuesday morning. Levy County 4-H Program Assistant Brenda Heberling will be assisting Mendoza, in the same position as Heberling used to assist Fuller before his retirement.
Jennings, who is currently the heir apparent to Fuller’s former post as Levy County Extension director, has a 32-year background with UF/IFAS Extension, having served in many capacities, including as a 4-H agent.
If Jennings is presented with, and accepts, an offer from Levy County, then Jennings will be serving as the director over the entire operation of the office.
The potential future leader of this aspect of Levy County business and education has a global perspective on his possible future responsibilities in this county.
Jennings was the Sumter County extension director for seven years, he said. He has served in a four-county livestock educational position – serving Citrus, Pasco, Hernando and Sumter counties most recently.
While his key interest is livestock, he will be looking at everything – including 4-H, agriculture, livestock, family consumer science and environmental science, he said.
“I think I’ve been around (the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service) long enough to appreciate the total program,” Jennings said. “I am a livestock agent by training. Most of us like to put the most emphasis on the program you’re interested in most. If you’re a 4-H agent, then you kind of lean toward youth. If you’re a family consumer science agent, you lean toward that.”
Jennings said his decades of experience in this profession let him understand and appreciate the total program that Extension provides to counties in Florida.
“When I put on that County Extension Director hat, which I did before, I change a little bit from what I am right now,” Jennings said. “Right now, I am a livestock guy. I support those livestock producers in my area. And I will do that here as well.
“But I also understand you have to support the total program,” he continued. “Like you said Commissioner (Mike Joyner), the 4H program is very near and dear to my heart. As a livestock agent, I still do a lot of youth work.”
Jennings said he helps young people in FFA as well as 4-H, and he mentioned that in “junior cattlemen’s associations” in the four-county region he serves now. Therefore, given he is the next Extension director in Levy County, then there may be a new program where young people will enjoy an opportunity to learn.
Dixie Fire Expo draws a crowd
(from left) Dixie County Emergency Services Division Chief of Fire Operations Darian Brown stands with Sparky the mascot as firefighter Eron Pendarvis helps escort Sparky around the grounds of the Dixie County Emergency Operations Center.
Story Photos and Videos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 16, 2016 @ 4:47 p.m.
CROSS CITY -- By noon on Saturday (Oct. 15), there were at least 350 people who had passed through the welcoming station at the front of the Dixie County Emergency Services Complex – and there were still two more hours left in the event.
The Fourth Annual Dixie County Fire Expo provided opportunities for people to learn about all of the services provided by Dixie County Emergency Services, and there was even more than that.
Welcoming people to the Fourth Annual Dixie County Fire Expo were Volunteer Firefighter Victoria Jenereaux (left) and Support Denise Peck. Here they show some of the fire extinguishers that were among the door prizes of the day.
Jason Lemmermen (driving) and Co-Pilot Kason Lemmermen were among the people helping transport visitors from the parking area into the Emergency Operations Center’s grounds. Some people chose to walk to and from the parking area, while others saved those steps and that energy.
A 2012 Eurocopter EC 135 twin-engine ShandsCair helicopter with a skids type of landing gear lands in the first part of this two video clips, and within a relatively short time the bigger twin-engine 2013 Eurocopter EC 155 lands. The smaller helicopter arrived at the Dixie County Emergency Operations Center in Cross City from its landing pad in Perry and the bigger helicopter came from Gainesville, home of Shands Hospital, which is part of UF Health.
Arriving first in the helicopter from Perry are (from left) Pilot Chip Frey, Daniela Hofacker, R.N., and Paramedic James Campbell.
Demonstrations by two ShandsCair rescue helicopters landing; firefighters competing to equipment themselves with bunker gear; firefighter using the Jaws of Life to cut open a car; and a demonstration on extinguishing a very hot structure fire were among the highlights.
In this video is the second round of firefighters competing to put on their bunker gear as fast as possible. Firefighter Alex English won this contest with a time of 90 seconds.
Arriving first in the smaller rescue helicopter (or airborne ambulance) were Pilot Chip Frey, Flight Nurse Daniela Hofacker, R.N., and Flight Paramedic James Campbell. Campbell is the Gilchrist County Fire Chief, who took the place of Chief Mitch Harrell, who became the director of the Levy County Department of Public Safety.
Arriving in the bigger of the two ShandsCair helicopters was Pilot Don Irving, Flight Nurse Carolyn Gause, R.N., and Flight Paramedic Heath Schmidt.
The ShandsCair teams let people check out the helicopters and they answered questions about these flying ambulances that save valuable minutes when they take people from distances far from the hospitals in Gainesville or Ocala. These helicopters transport patients from hospital to hospital, too, when the need demands.
While the two helicopters may have been the stars of the expo as far as equipment, there were some amazingly significant pieces of gear there. Fire engines from several area companies were on the scene. The huge tanker for Dixie County was on the grounds, as was the giant Dixie County Disaster Command Center trailer.
Mandy Lemmermen holds her and Jason Lemmermen’s 8-month-old baby Levi Lemmermen as she stands near the big tanker truck. Mandy wears a number of ‘fire hats.’ She is the Cadet Lead Advisor for the 2-year-old firefighter cadet program. This program is for male or female students in grades 9 through 12. These students must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average and they are drug tested. The Fire Cadet Program is through the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. Students get to join firefighters on ride-alongs as well as to learn fundamentals for firefighting. For any student or parent who is interested in being part of the Dixie County Fire Cadet Program, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. One cadet at the Expo said she thinks the program is “awesome.” “We love it,” she said.
In this video, a roof is removed and a door is removed as part of the extrication demonstration by firefighters Harvey Spencer, Jimmy McCall, John Albury, Zak Thompson and Shaun Gibson. The air compressor provides the power needed for the Jaws of Life as the equipment pries apart and cuts through steel posts of a vehicle. Notice how quickly a piece of a car door can snap from one spot to the next when the metal is cut. Even with this and other equipment, firefighters are in danger as they rescue people.
Another group that brought equipment and people to the Expo was the Florida Forest Service.
The Florida Department of Health was at the event too. This group, which includes the units in Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties (as well as every Florida county) had conducted a 5K run that every same Saturday morning in Cross City.
There were many special visitors who helped people learn things during the day.
Cross City Mayor Tank Lee made the rounds and visited with lots of people as everyone enjoyed being in Cross City that day to see the Expo.
Dixie County Manager Tim Alexander was present to see the Expo succeed again this year. Division Chief Scott Garner, the head of Emergency Management, was at the Expo as well. Chief Garner was among the Dixie County leaders helping people prepare for Hurricane Hermine (or other disasters) and to now be in the recovery phase from the most recent major flooding issues in Dixie County.
Among the other special visiting guests was Dixie County Supervisor of Elections Starlet Cannon, who let people participate in a mock election – where they could vote for their favorite type of fire truck, favorite emergency vehicle, favorite service hero and favorite firefighter’s tool.
Another extremely wonderful and well-received guest was Fresca the fire-detective dog. Fresca finds evidence to help prove if a fire was caused by an arsonist. This 3-year-old Labrador and golden retriever mix was joined by Florida Fire Marshal’s Office Det. David Young, her handler, and Det. Tom Hall, who did not bring a dog with him.
Fresca wore socks to protect her paws from the heat of the asphalt and from the many sandspurs that were in the grassy areas of the Emergency Operations Center’s grounds.
Fresca, the arson-detecting dog that is with the Florida Fire Marshal’s Office, is seen here with Florida Fire Marshal’s Office Det. David Young, her handler, Det. Tom Hall of the Fire Marshal’s Office and Dixie County Fire Services Fire Inv. Jimmy Golden. The State Fire Marshal’s Office assists county and municipal fire departments as they work together to investigate the cause of fires, including cases where it was from an arsonist or group of arsonists.
Another guest who is involved in post-disaster scenes was John Rovell, a FEMA reservist. He is among the FEMA representatives who are helping people in Dixie County recover from Hurricane Hermine. He mentioned that the FEMA Emergency Recovery Center is at the former Georgia Pacific Lumber Yard, just off of U.S. Highway 19. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and will remain open until FEMA completes its mission of helping people recover from the hurricane.
Seen here are Lt. Matt Salmons (left), the narrator for the bunker gear race and the extrication exercise, Fireifghter-Paramedic Lane Downing, the record holder for putting on bunker gear the fastest ever in Dixie County.
Firefighters competed in what is known as a “bunker race.” In this competition, the firefighters see who is able to successfully put on all of the gear that prevents them from burning to death and allows them to breathe in smoke-filled environments.
In the first round of the race, no firefighter qualified because although they all put on the gear quickly, no one did it without missing one element that is vital to safety. One firefighter had bunker gear with a zipper that would not function, and he was out of the contest in the first and second races as a result.
On the second round, it was Firefighter Alex English who won with a time of 90 seconds. The man who holds the record for successfully putting on his bunker gear the fastest in Dixie County was present to watch this race. Firefighter-Paramedic Lane Downing has the winning time of 47 seconds.
Downing was in the first class of bunker-gear competitors from back in the 1970s.
The other firefighters in addition to English who were competing in both races were Jordon Ward, William Garner and Colby Hewett.
The men who watched and judged the bunker gear race were Lt. Matt Ferguson, Firefighter-Paramedic Ira Hayes and Firefighter Jimmy McCall.
Seen here are Harvey Spencer, Jimmy McCall, John Albury, Zak Thompson and Shaun Gibson - the extricators.
Children squirt floating rubber duckies as they propel the toys in a race.
The children are using a portable water source that can be set up at a fire scene where pumpers and engines can draft water to fight fires. Volunteer Capt. John Peck (upper right corner of photo) is overseeing the duck races here.
There was a bounce house for children. Another fun activity for youngsters was the chance to be a pretend firefighter in action as the participant shot water from a hose at a small mock-0p multi-story building that was “on fire.”
There was Hands-Only CPR training (a relatively new method where there is no use of the mouth and fire extinguisher use training too.
Chuck Elton of Dixie County Emergency Services took pictures (seen below) of the fire demonstration. The first picture is at 12:34 from a candle that had fallen on the couch at 12:33. At 12:39 p.m. on Saturday, the fire is roaring. And this demonstrates how quickly fire can get out of control in a room.
Three Photos Above by Chuck Elton
Ordinance passed two years
after the fact for
Fanning Springs mayor’s salary
Fanning Springs City Council Chairman Paul Chase (left) and City Councilman Ron Queen are two of the five who voted to adopt the new ordinance.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 14, 2016 @ 10:57 a.m.
FANNING SPRINGS -- A unanimous 5-0 vote Tuesday night (Oct. 11) by the Fanning Springs City Council repaired human error that caused a May 27, 2014 action to not be followed through until two years later, according to what was said at the open public meeting that night.
City Council members (from left) Barabra Locke, Jane Nogaki and Tommy Darus voted in favor of the ordinance. Locke said she was on the City Council when this mayoral raise issue was discussed and it was the intent of the City Council then, she said, to give the mayor an annual salary of $14,000.
Fanning Springs Mayor Howell E. “Trip” Lancaster III started at an annual salary of $14,000 because his predecessor Cheryl Nekola had successfully lobbied for the increase in pay from $12,000 a year.
The $14,000 a year annual pay started in 2015 as best as can be determined from the conversation at the meeting Tuesday night.
After the haggling over the budget in the summer of 2014, that pay was agreed upon, but both City Clerk Sheila Watson and former City Attorney Conrad Bishop Jr. fell short of courteously reminding the City Council members of the matter of having an ordinance approved, as is required in the city charter, for that raise.
So not only did the City Council members forget, but no one reminded them of that requirement of the city charter until more than 18 months after the new pay rate began. Shortly before leaving as the city attorney, Bishop told the City Council that the charter needs to be revised, and that will take workshops before it is put on a ballot for the voters to choose if they want to revise it.
As for the mayor’s salary, a couple of annual budgets later, it dawned upon the City Council that it had overlooked the requirement of having an ordinance to provide for this pay increase, if the city was going to follow its charter.
City Attorney Jamie Lynn White of the Dell Graham Gainesville Law Office told the current City Council that not only is it permissible to create this local law after the fact (ex post facto), but since the legislative intent was clear from when the raise was first enacted, the mayor would have cause to sue the city if his $14,000 annual salary was dropped back to $12,000 a year.
White said she reviewed the charter and performed additional research before drafting the ordinance for the mayor’s increase in pay, retroactive to two years ago and carrying forward to today.
“The only purpose of this ordinance now,” White said, “is to set the record straight.”
The raise happened before Lancaster was elected, she said, as is required in the charter.
“Now we have a mayor who has been elected,” she continued, “and he has a legally enforceable expectation (of this salary) at this point. He has been working for the city for two years or longer at this salary. And you may have an audit issue if you choose to not pass the ordinance.”
Helping the current City Council members see a potential threat of a lawsuit from a man who may feel shortchanged, and the probability of auditing problems, and understanding that the alleged intent of the previous City Council was to increase the pay rate for whoever serves Fanning Springs residents and visitors as mayor of the city, White added impetus for the passage of the ordinance.
Taxpayer James Morrell shared his input on the matter. He questioned why, if it was the intent of the City Council to increase the mayor’s salary, that an ordinance reflecting this fact was not created and adopted.
Morrell said the previous increase for the mayor’s salary, back in 2010 was by ordinance as the charter requires. The only answer given for the problem that came to light is that it was the result of human error..