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Gilchrist County 4-H nets $50,773 van
Emergency Management director
to help in recovery down south
Gilchrist County Emergency Management Director Ralph Smith gives a report to the County Commission during its Monday night meeting (Oct. 3).
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 4, 2022 at 4:12 p.m.
TRENTON – With fewer than 50 people watching, the five-member Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners on Monday evening (Oct. 3) voted to buy a van that had its price jacked up.
Deputy Clerk Kieran Bryan prepares to serve as part of Gilchrist County Clerk Todd Newton’s Office. She replaces former Deputy Clerk Terri Hilliard in performing the duties related to the Gilchrist County Commission. Before joining the team of employees in the Office of Clerk Newton, Deputy Clerk Bryan previously served in the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years, including as the 9-1-1 coordinator and communications commander.
The County Commission is comprised of Commissioner Sharon Akins Langford (Dist. 1), Commission Chairman William “Bill” Martin (Dist. 2), Commissioner Kenrick Thomas (Dist. 5), Commissioner Marion Poitevint (Dist. 4) and
Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith (Dist. 3).
A request on March 26, 2021, from Gilchrist County Extension Director Jessica Cooper was for 2021 Ford Transit passenger van for $33,100. The Gilchrist County 4-H had raised $15,350 to contribute to the purchase of the van. The remaining balance for the County Commission back then was $17,750.
Just as in all 67 counties the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a 4-H program. It serves children, teens and first-year adults aged five years through 18 years old.
In Gilchrist County, Director Cooper noted in the 2021 letter, the 4-H program includes community clubs, summer camps and school enrichment programming.
“For many of our activities, we transport youth to field days, judging trips, summer camp activities, and more,” she noted.
The van currently in use for this purpose for Gilchrist County 4-H was purchased in 2003, and it has been instrumental in providing safe transport for hundreds of youths during the last l8-plus years, she said. It has been driven thousands of miles to various locations both in and out of the state, she added.
It was only through fundraising and grant support, back when Cooper first requested a replacement van from the Gilchrist County Commission that the 4-H raised more than $15,000 to contribute to the purchase of a new van.
On Monday night, Gilchrist County Administrator Bobby Crosby brought the County Commission up to speed with the fulfillment of granting this request.
Crosby reminded the County Commission that it had approved the purchase of a van for 4-H in 2021. Vehicle prices increased and the inventory of vans decreased.
In fact, this particular 12-person van was available to Gilchrist County government at the state government price, Crosby said.
This 2023 Ford 350 van is being shipped now, he said.
The quoted state contract price of $33,100 has increased to $50,773, Crosby said. Gilchrist County 4-H, which had raised $15,350 has already given the county that money, Crosby said. Therefore, the County Commission would need to cover the remaining $35,423,
After discussion by the County Commission, including Crosby saying the old van broke down and the county had to send another vehicle to rescue children and staff from the side of the road, the County Commission Thomas made a motion to buy the van and Commissioner Poitevint seconded the motion, which met with a 5-0 vote of approval.
Crosby said Extension Director Cooper is out right now on maternity leave, however when she returns, he anticipates her asking UF/IFAS to help Gilchrist County to fund some part of this purchase. When the County Commission voted, they agreed that with or without UF/IFAS helping the Gilchrist County 4-H program needs and deserves this new van to help with its programs.
Crosby said the old 2003 van will be used to transport inmate on work details. He said this van is good for in-county transportation, but it has seen its day of being used for long trips.
Ralph Smith may go south
Gilchrist County Emergency Management Director Ralph Smith gave a report about the impact of Hurricane Ian on Gilchrist County.
Smith gave a synopsis of the hurricane’s start as Tropical Depression 9 through it making landfall in Lee County as a Category 4 hurricane. The hurricane leveled condominiums, apartments, houses, mobile homes and more in Lee County. Even as late as Tuesday (Oct. 4), there were search and recovery teams checking for bodies in the debris.
Smith thanked the County Commission for its support of his department.
He said it is thanks to The Good Lord that a cold front influenced the direction of the storm so that it came in far enough south of Gilchrist County to cause this county to have no ill results.
Smith said he cannot commit to the 14-day tour of duty sought by some organizers for help down in Southwest Florida, but when the call comes for a seven-day set, he is ready, willing and able to go.
The County Commission by a 5-0 vote approved for Smith to go down and help in the recovery efforts when the organizers down there ask for volunteers ready to serve a seven-day stint.
County Administrator Crosby said he endorses helping others, because Gilchrist County has relied on the kindness of others before. Beyond that, Crosby added, just as Smith gained from helping in the recovery efforts in the Panhandle from Hurricane Michael, this sojourn to Southwest Florida will give him valuable experience with hands-on learning about recovery after a major disaster.
During the meeting, Commissioner Langford mentioned she received a complaint by telephone with the solid waste (garbage) transfer site not being open during regular hours.
County Administrator Crosby explained that national safety guidelines require the site to close when sustained winds exceed 35 mph, due to the potential of injury to county workers or residents depositing their garbage there.
Crosby went on to mention that it was opened other than for the brief period. However, Gilchrist County government does not take more than the minimal measure to let residents or visitors know about such matters.
The county allegedly has a social media site and reportedly has its own website, but whether that is updated often is unknown to the general public.
The publisher of the only daily news website for Levy County, Dixie County and Gilchrist County reminded the five elected public servants that he does not charge for announcements and that there are two telephone numbers and one email address to send him messages. The 12-year-old HardisonInk.com website continues seeing in excess of one million hits a month.
Website owner Jeff M. Hardison, a 1984 graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree there, also told that county commission that he was previously certifiable to teach English and journalism to children in grades six through 12 in Florida.
The multiple award-winning journalist who has been the editor of daily and weekly newspapers in Florida, as well as being a professional reporter even before graduating from UF in 1984 said on Tuesday morning that he wants to help people, and he is surprised when elected officials don’t understand the value he is to want to help others see what is available to them, or why it is not available on occasion.
Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership
rebuilds SWAT in two schools
Rhett Munden tells people about the Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership progress with reestablishing SWAT groups in Williston and Chiefland
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 24, 2022 at 5:12 p.m.
WILLISTON – The Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership is rebuilding its Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) groups at public schools, according to information during the partnership’s meeting on Friday (Sept. 23) held in Williston Elementary School.
Joelle Covarrubias in presents information about the Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership.
Jonathan Lewis, chief operating officer of the Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership, was joined by Rhett Munden and Joelle Covarrubias in presenting information.
Lewis said he is looking forward to the continued progress and accomplishments he anticipates in the coming year.
Williston Middle High School has a new SWAT group, Munden said, and it is being led by Amanda Boggs. Another new SWAT group is at Chiefland Middle High School, and it is being led by Angela Sprawling, he added.
Munden said he anticipates providing more information about the SWAT programs at those two schools when he reports at the next Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership meeting.
Covarrubias said efforts to provide online educational courses related to tobacco for Levy County students has shown success.
With that, Lewis said the Levy County Tobacco Free Partnership is striving to improve the tobacco policies within the Levy County School District.
Covarrubias then spoke about seeking to improve the program for having tobacco-free public parks.
There is a plan to approach municipal governments with creating policy and signage to make public parks tobacco free, Covarrubias said. Like her colleague, Covarrubias said she intends to have more to report at the next meeting of the partnership.
proclaims National Seafood Month
Big Bend Shellfish Trail
expands and improves
Leslie Sturmer of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Shellfish Aquaculture Extension speaks to the County Commission on Tuesday. Standing next to her (in the salmon-colored blouse) is Natalie Anderson, a Biological Scientist II in the UF/IFAS School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, another person who spoke about the Big Bend Shellfish Trail.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 21, 2022 at 4:12 p.m.
LEVY COUNTY – Years ago, now retired Levy County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol McQueen, and Leslie Sturmer of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Shellfish Aquaculture Extension, pitched an idea for the Big Bend Shellfish Trail.
In 2017, their idea came to fruition, complete with a brochure and map. Since then, it has gained traction and use, including some very recent additions.
Sturmer was one of the speakers Tuesday morning (Sept. 20) on the subject of the Big Bend Shellfish Trail at the regular twice monthly meeting of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners.
Levy County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Tisha Whitehurst read the proclamation this year, which was approved by a 4-0 vote of the Levy County Commission, to celebrate National Seafood Month during October by following the Big Bend Shellfish Trail.
Natalie Anderson, a Biological Scientist II in the UF/IFAS School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, added to Sturmer’s introduction as she brought the audience up to date with the improvements to the program, map and brochure.’
The original trail, Anderson said, started in Levy County and went north along the Gulf Coast to Jefferson County. It guided visitors to show them where they could buy, eat and sometimes harvest their own shellfish, she said.
The handout provided information about aquaculture and the shellfish industry, she said, as well as methods to help protect water quality and the habitat for shellfish.
In 2022, Anderson said, the Big Bend Shellfish Trail brochure and map were updated with funds from the Levy County Visitor’s Bureau and UF/IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension. Now, it includes 98 businesses, Anderson said.
It highlights restaurants, seafood retailers, bait and tackle shops and marinas. The most recent publication put out 20,000 brochures for distribution, Anderson said. The trail now includes Wakulla County.
The map now includes a physical trail, Anderson said, and it highlights the placement of 26 educational panels placed along the working waterfronts, Anderson said, including 12 panels in Levy County at Yankeetown and Cedar Key.
National Maritime Awards Funds paid for these Saturday, weatherproof panels, Anderson said, that are in three counties. Anderson said the program hopes to install six new panels at the end of 2022.
The companion website for the Big Bend Shellfish Trail is https://floridashellfishtrail.org.
The Big Bend region of Florida includes some wide swaths of undeveloped coastline. Some visitors might miss the hidden world of shellfish that contributes a rich history and culture to the area. With a newly updated brochure and website, self-guided tours, and trail expansion, the public is invited to participate and unlock the secrets of shellfish from clams, oysters, shrimp, blue and stone crabs to bay scallops, as noted in a press release accompanying the program Tuesday in Bronson.
Everyone is invited to learn about the region’s working waterfronts across the coastal counties of Levy, Dixie, Taylor, Jefferson, and now Wakulla.
New self-guided tours on the Big Bend Shellfish Trail offer walking or driving directions to points of interest. Tours feature narration from local experts with insider knowledge about the shellfish industries, and are now available for Cedar Key, the community of Suwannee (Dixie County), the City of Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee/Jena.
Levy County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Tisha Whitehurst prepares to read the proclamation.
Visitors Bureau Executive Director Whitehurst read the proclamation declaring October as National Seafood Month in Levy County.
The proclamation noted October is the month to celebrate fish, especially the freshest, sustainable fish caught in the Big Bend area of Florida.
Other parts of the proclamation noted
● Floridians have access to in-season seafood – from blue crabs, hard clams, fish, oysters, shrimp, stone crab and bay scallops.
● There is an effort to make sound conservation-minded purchases, and Levy County’s environmentally conscious consumer base feels good about buying local seafood.
● The seafood industry in Florida provides more than 43 jobs throughout the state’s economy, and this industry generates $24.9 million in annual sales revenue.
● Commercial seafood is an integral part of the Gulf of Mexico’s maritime history and it is the foundation of heritage for many coastal communities.
●When Floridians opt for local Florida seafood, that they buy at the grocery store, at the dock or at the farmers’ markets, they support local fishers, local economics and Florida’s statewide economy for yeast to come.
With that and other factors, the County Commission declared October 2022 as National Seafood Month in Levy County.
Three zoning changes & two ordinances
reflect continued Dixie County growth
Dixie County Building and Zoning Official Leon Wright explains how the two ordinances in 2022 bring mapping into compliance with zoning for development that was approved in 2004 by county commissioners -- for lots 1 through 16 of the Riverwalk Subdivision.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 18, 2022 at 10:12 a.m.
CROSS CITY – With three members of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners in attendance on Thursday night (Sept. 15), were enough to make a quorum, and among their actions those three men approved one variance and two special exceptions, and they adopted two ordinances.
Sarah Ross says she believes the people of Jena prefer to not increase the density of residential structures on per-acre sections of land, as well as to prefer to not continue to subdivide land into smaller pieces for development. Ross and some others continue to strive to keep Dixie County more rural than urban.
All of this action is indicative of what people keep seeing in Dixie County – more residents. As for recreational vehicles, they are also residential vehicles on occasion.
Present for the regular twice-monthly meeting of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday night (Sept. 15) were Dixie County Sheriff Darby Butler, Dixie County Clerk Barbie Higginbotham and three of the five members of the Dixie County Commission – Commissioner Mark Hatch, Commissioner Jody Stephenson and Commissioner James Valentine.
Commissioner Hatch served as the acting Dixie County Commission chairman, due to the absences of Dixie County Commission Chairman Jamie Storey and Dixie County Commission Vice Chairman W.C. Mills.
After telling a woman sitting in the back of the audience that she could not hear him at the start of the meeting, Acting Commission Chairman Hatch first told her to move to the front row of the seats in the small meeting room. Then Hatch said he would try to speak up, because there were no speakers connected to the microphones on the dais. Commissioner Hatch promised listeners that the county staff will improve conditions to overcome this acoustic dilemma.
As for County Commission approved action to vary away from existing zoning codes, the procedure was typical for Dixie County.
Edward and Cherie Manning requested and were granted a variance for new construction of 24-foot by 30-foot open pole barn. This variance away from the zoning code was permitted after Commissioner Valentine’s motion to approve it was seconded by Commissioner Stephenson and all three men voted in favor of it.
This action had been tabled from the Sept. 1 meeting due to an incorrectly worded legal ad placed in the local weekly newspaper. That property is in Commissioner Valentine’s district.
Frank Naperkowski’s request for a special exception to permit one recreational vehicle in an agriculture zoning district at 315 N.E. 500th St., Old Town also met with a 3-0 vote of approval after no objections were voiced.
This property is in Commission Chairman Storey’s district.
David and Terri Newton, acting with the power of attorney for Thomas and Kimberly Barefoot were granted a special exception to permit one recreational vehicle in a residential single family/mobile home zoning district at 81 S.E. 208th St., Old Town.
There were no objections to this request for a variance. This property is in Commissioner Mark Hatch’s district.
After the zoning actions, ordinances met with similar and relative ease of approval by votes of 3-0.
The two ordinances each separately adopted by a 3-0 vote are bringing maps into agreement with zoning action approved in 2004 by a previous set of Dixie County Commission members.
Dixie County Building and Zoning Official Leon Wright explained why there was a need to amend the future land use plan map of the Dixie County Comprehensive Plan in one ordinance and how the related ordinance essentially takes care of what is needed for proper development of the Riverwalk Subdivision in the Jena area of Dixie County.
Sarah Ross of that part of the county said she believes the people of Jena prefer to not increase the allowable density of residential structures. Ross has been among the outspoken people voicing a preference to try to maintain a rural environment rather than to move toward urbanization in Dixie County.
One of the most recently adopted ordinances relates to 50 acres or less of land, where it is changing the future land use classification from commercial to residential, medium density (less than or equal to eight dwelling units per acre) of certain lands within the unincorporated area of Dixie County.
Wright said people are trying to build houses in the subdivision and the zoning needs revision to allow that.
The zoning map is also altered as a result of the 3-0 vote approving the second ordinance in this matter.
Commissioner Stephenson what was being changed. Wright said the property had been zoned for commercial development, however the land was subdivided for residential development.
The plat was legitimate, Wright said, adding that the Suwannee River Water Management District had reviewed the plan and approved it from its perspective.
Everything except the future land use plan map of the Dixie County Comprehensive Plan and the zoning map had been brought up to date, Wright said, and these ordinances would accomplish those required changes for residential development there.
Ross said that since the subdivision allows up to eight units per acre, she does not want to see an even higher density than that to be allowed.
Wright said any future changes to the platted subdivision that is recorded would require approval by the County Commission in the future.
“Jena does not want higher density,” Ross said. “It’s not what people want. Back in June, you had over 200 people sign petitions that we do not want higher density.”
Ross referred back to another change the County Commission approved on a 180-acre tract where it allowed it to be subdivided into 10-acre tracts. That land change was near to her residence. She said the County Commission justified this increase in density by surrounding property being so developed.
She wanted to assure the decision Thursday night would not lead to a dominos effect, where parcels in that area move toward quarter-acre subdividing per residence.
Ross was told that any developer can come to the County Commission with any proposal and the elected leaders will decide what to allow or disallow in the future.
The three county commissioners present that night heard from Ross that she and others have come to the County Commission with their concerns and petitions about over-development.
“There are times when our voices are not heard,” Ross said. “Or at least…”
Acting County Commission Chairman Hatch interrupted her mid-sentence and said “Sometimes, they are heard. Right?”
Ross said when there is a countywide issue, she thinks the members of the Dixie County Commission act as if they heard what was said.
“When it’s just little ol’ Jena,” Ross added, “It’s a give or take. It’s a hit or miss.”
She said the people of Jena become very concerned when they see eight dwellings allowed on one acre.
County Commission works into the night
The exterior of the Levy County Government Center in Bronson on Tuesday night (Sept. 6) after 8 p.m. shows the moon as a white dot near the flagpole. Meanwhile, inside, the County Commission was taking care of county government business.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 8, 2012 at 8:12 a.m.
Updated Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:12 a.m.
BRONSON – The four members of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners worked from 5:15 p.m. and into the night Tuesday (Sept. 7) as they took care of budget matters, policy matters and authorized a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The view looking from the back of the auditorium toward the stage, where the Levy County Commission members sit, shows commissioners on stage and they are (from left)
Lilly Rooks, Rock Meeks, John Meeks and Matt Brooks. The vacant seat is in memoriam to the late District 3 Levy County Commissioner Mike Joyner (Oct. 3, 1950-Aug. 4, 2021).
Those elected official putting in the time in their public meeting that evening and into the night are County Commission Chairman Rock Meeks and commissioners Matt Brooks, John Meeks and Lilly Rooks.
Among the most actions of some interest from the perspective of all property taxpayers in Levy County was that the special assessments for fire, ambulance and garbage services remained the same as the previous year.
It was an evening full of public hearings and action.
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum found a 4-0 vote of approval for the taxpayers of Levy County to foot the hospital bills of inmates to the tune of $197,000. County Commissioner Brooks and County Commissioner John Meeks have tried for years to have the Florida Legislature take some of the burden off counties for medical bills for inmates.
They have not succeeded yet, and small counties like Levy County are hit even more significantly than bigger counties like Pinellas County.
On another needed expense for the Levy County Jail, the County Commission by a 4-0 vote approved the purchase of $203,877 for air-conditioner replacement – with the work to be completed by HVAC Concepts.
On another of the many matters completed by the County Commission, the Chiefland Police Department will see a letter of support from the County Commission to approve $37,400 of the Federal Fiscal Year 2021 Edward Byrne Memorial JAG Program Funds.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program is the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. The JAG Program provides states, tribes, and local governments with critical funding necessary to support a range of program areas including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives and mental health programs and related law enforcement and corrections programs, including behavioral programs and crisis intervention teams.
There are three municipal law enforcement agencies in Levy County – Cedar Key Police Department, Chiefland Police Department and Williston Police Department. The Inglis Town Commission dissolved that city’s police department and now pays the Levy County Sheriff’s Office for a level of service beyond what it provides to the whole unincorporated area of Levy County.
Another matter of interest to all the people in Levy County is the 4-0 vote to send two letters to Florida Gov. DeSantis for the immediate appointment of Levy County Property Appraiser Jason Whistler and District 3 Levy County Commissioner Desiree Mills. Without that action, Mills will have to wait until November and Whistler will have to wait until January.
Both candidates won their races, which were special races.
Whistler was elected to fill the vacancy when the honorable Levy County Property Appraiser Osborn Gray “Oz” Barker (Dec. 24, 1964-Aug. 29, 2021) passed away while serving in that elected office.
Mills was elected to fill the vacancy when the honorable District 3 Levy County Commissioner Mike Joyner (Oct. 3, 1950-Aug. 4, 2021) passed away while serving in that elected office.
The governor chose against appointing people to those vacancies and the people voted for candidates who qualified and ran. Now, the governor is being asked to appoint those two winners to the posts they earned by seeking election and being chosen by the voters.
There was more news relevant to Levy County elections from this long meeting Tuesday night in Bronson.
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones was granted her request for the appointment of a substitute member to serve on the canvassing board for the 2022 General Election slated for Nov. 8. The County Commission appointed Commissioner Brooks to that post.
Some people in Levy County who tried to listen to the meeting via telephone found there are benefits to living in non-rural areas, including phone service. During some of the very same moments when the City of Williston provided a live view (with video as well as audio) of its night meeting Tuesday, via YouTube, the Levy County Board of County Commissioners provided a lower degree of access via telephone connections.
Two of the other eight municipalities in Levy County provide live coverage of their meetings via YouTube -- Williston and Cedar Key.
The Dixie County Board of County Commissioners offer a telephonic connection where listeners can speak during certain parts of that meeting.
The Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners does not have teleconference opportunities for the general public to even listen to its meetings when they happen.
Dixie County improves drainage
Community effort brings results
The first slide in the presentation by David Capo shows what the people are going to learn.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 2, 2022 at 5:12 p.m.
CROSS CITY – The story he told of the water that flowed made folks glad to hear it was done.
David Capo of the Dixie County Storm Water Task Force presents information to the Dixie County Commission to show excellent progress by the Storm Water Task Force in clearing ditches and replacing culverts to help reduce the odds for another problem like the county saw during the flood of 2021.
David Capo of the Dixie County Storm Water Task Force (SWTF) shared a slide presentation Thursday morning (Sept. 1). One message that was even bigger and more moving than the progress with ditch-clearing and culvert replacement -- was the reminder that a community united is strong.
The community spirit of people helping each other in Dixie County remains strong, Capo said.
Interestingly, Dixie County Commission Chairman Jamie Storey opened the meeting Thursday morning by reminding people to be polite. Apparently, the most recent meeting at night included at least one many who was so vociferous, he must have been on the brink of being disruptive, from what the chairman intimated during the Sept. 1 meeting.
Other members of the Dixie County Commission are Vice Chairman W.C. Mills and commissioners Mark Hatch, Jody Stephenson and James Valentine.
As Dixie County SWTF Member Capo opened his program, he paraphrased Winston Churchill (Nov. 30, 1874-Jan. 24, 1965), who said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much been owed by so many to so few.” In the speech where Churchill said that he was expressing his gratitude to the enormous efforts made by the fighter pilots and bomber crews to establish air superiority over England during World War II – which ultimately resulted in the Nazi interests, and other tyrants in the world back then, losing the war.
“Never has so much been owed by so many to so few,” Capo said, as he expressed his thanks to the people who have worked to overcome problems with drainage that cause flooding issues when heavy rains hit Dixie County within a brief time.
This slide from the presentation shows a mother taking her children to their school bus stop during the flood. Her spirit served as added fuel to the volunteers who worked for months to overcome the immediate problems and to work to make drainage better in the future.
The single-most important effort as the SWTF moves forward, as far as cooperation from property owners goes, is for the final 46 property owners to provide permission for workers to cross their private property to use equipment to reach areas that need to be maintained for proper drainage. Dixie County Manager Duane Cannon said that of the more than 100 property owners where easement was needed to bring in equipment, all but 46 have granted permission so far.
Capo said in his presentation that “the many” are the multitude of Dixie County residents who suffered during the 2021 flood of the county. “The few” are the people who took action to ease the immediate problems from the flood and then worked to lessen the obstacles to proper drainage of certain areas.
County Manager Cannon’s Office, the Dixie County Road Department and the SWTF are part of the “we,” Capo said as he began his report.
He named “the few” in this effort.
First, he said the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners showed its trust for the SWTF to complete this job – making the County Commission part of the few.
Knight Farm of Old Town and Sanchez Farms of Dixie County started the community effort to deal with the flood of 2021, Capo said. They provided equipment and workers for months to free up the drainage ditches, Capo said.
“We got the water down,” Capo said, “and then we started installing culverts.”
The Florida Department of Transportation -- especially the FDOT Chiefland Maintenance Office -- is part of the few, Capo said. These state workers provided help that was needed.
The many private landowners who allowed access across their property are among the few, Capo said. Of extremely high significance here, Capo said, was Bascom Southern, and especially Kevin St. Laurent.
Capo also thanked Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Newberry), and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Jacksonville) who helped Dixie County obtain $2.7 million from the state taxpayers to fix the flood problems in Dixie County.
The most significant member of “the few,” Capo said, was Dixie County Road Department Superintendent Steve Hutchison. The Road Department hauled equipment, culverts, rock, water and whatever was needed.
Hutchison, like Capo, went into knee-deep and deeper water to get the job done.
Dixie County Manager Cannon, Capo said, is another reason the SWTF achieved as much as it has so quickly. Cannon made this project a priority and he assured the Road Department would be given what it needed to accomplish the goals, Capo said.
Another part of the few, Capo said, is the Suwannee River Water Management District. The SRWMD provided the science needed to tackle the drainage problems.
The flood of 2021, Capo explained, resulted from 55 inches of rain falling in Dixie County in fewer than 100 days. This is the most rain that has fallen within that few days in Dixie County since 1948.
“It’s no one’s fault,” Capo said. “It’s no administration’s fault. This is an act of nature and we had to deal with it.”
On Aug. 3, 2021, a state of emergency was declared in Dixie County due to the flood. On Aug. 19, 2021, the SWTF was created by the County Commission.
In November of 2021, Capo said, the County Commission approved more than $770,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for stormwater mitigation in the Airport Canal System.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or the American Rescue Plan.
Capo said that while he was out in the flooded areas with County Manager Cannon, Commissioner Stephenson and others, they saw a woman who twice a day would take her children in a boat to and from their home and the school bus stop.
Capo said it broke her heart to have to do this. And yet, the woman was not blaming anyone, he said. She was just glad to be able to tote them in the boat.
This scene, Capo said, inspired the men to work even harder to fix the problems from bad drainage.
This picture of the prison, from the presentation by David Capo, shows how during the flood the prison had to be evacuated.
This slide in David Capo’s presentation shows the progress so far in culvert replacement.
This photo from David Capo's presentation shows how trees next to ditches needed to be cut to provide access for ditch maintenance by a backhoe.
The Florida Department of Corrections’ Cross City Correctional Institution is the single largest employer in Dixie County, Capo said. The flood required CCCI to have to be evacuated.
The task force continued replacing and installing culverts, Capo said. The state provided a promised of $2.7 million worth of funding for the drainage improvement project.
Knight Farm and Sanchez Farms, Capo said, donated the equipment and people to install culverts for months.
These agricultural interests, and Bascom Southern’s providing of access across the lands where it was needed were vital parts of this success story, Capo said.
SRWMD, too, Capo said, provided permits to remove trees next to manmade ditches so that the equipment could be bought in to clear the clogs. Many of the ditches had been built in the WPA era (1935-1943) but had not been maintained for at least 50 years.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was an American New Deal agency, which employed millions of jobseekers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It was set up on May 6, 1935, by the presidential order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D).
In July, a couple of months ago, the contractor was hired by the county to continue working to clear ditches. Then, one backhoe was in operation. Within the next week (after Sept. 1), Capo anticipates having four backhoes working to clear ditches.
Capo said there is a 12-mile stretch of ditch in one part of this drainage repair project.
Capo said that after working on this project for the past year, with all of the people involved, he said he knows the spirit of community and family remains strong in Dixie County.
County Manager Cannon said, after the presentation, that Dixie County has removed the debris and sediment from 27 culverts so far. Capo had mentioned some culverts were 70 filled with sediment and would not start accepting water until the water reached a depth higher than those points.
Cannon said the Dixie County Road Department has removed 250 dump truck loads of sediment from 10 roadway ditches in the Old Town area so far. That is, he said, in addition to the airport canal system that has led to the prison being able to reopen.
Again, Cannon said, the county needs 46 property owners to provide the county workers with right of entry permission. Each County Commission member plans to help the county administration reach out better to the landowners to obtain permission needed to clear the remaining clogged ditches. It seemed to be surmised that some of the people did not understand the need for this right of access for the workers to repair and maintain the drainage ditches.
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