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The Year in Review

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A look back at 2008

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Perhaps the biggest news in Levy County in 2008 had to be the indictment of three county officials by a federal grand jury, while the big news in Chiefland was the City Commission’s attempt to head off the location of adult entertainment businesses within city limits.

It’s news that will continue into 2009 as the trio — Commission Chair W.S. “Sammy” Yearty, Commissioner Robert Anthony “Tony” Parker, and resigned Enterprise Zone Development Director Pamela Blair Williams, are due to go to trail on Feb. 2.

The adult ordinance — one of which has been enacted — will remain on the commission’s agenda well into 2009 as they try to fashion two others to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the U.S. Constitution. In doing so they will be avoiding court challenges and costly legal fees.

But enough for the top news. Other events dominated attention throughout the year.

Weather

The year started off chilly when a cold snap dominated the news in early January bringing frost and damage to plants.

At the same time the Suwannee River Water Management District, faced with two previous years of drought, issued the agency’s first ever Phase II Water Shortage Order. The rainfall deficit was 28.7 inches for the previous 24 months.

The order restricted water use in most of the county until April 7 after spring rains came and brought a bumper crop of mosquitoes.

By June it was all sunshine, as the annual Watermelon Festival was not rained on — a first in several years. Lacey Chadwick was chosen the festival queen.

That sunshine exacted a toll, as the spring rains were unable to make up for two year’s drought. Area farmers struggled with the dryness and heat.

Environment

In May, an environmental scientist declared that although Fanning Springs is a magnitude 1 springs on the books, its water quality is slipping due to pollution.

At the same time the Chiefland Rotary Club asked homeowners to “take the pledge” to adopt habits that will protect the county’s famous springs.

Early June brought U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on an educational tour of the area’s famed springs.

A new $2.9 million landfill transfer station was opened in March. The station is a collection point for the county’s garbage — about 100 tons per day — that is sent to a landfill at near Raiford.

Tarmac/Titan America asked the county commission to approve a special exception permit to allow them to operate the King Road mine in south Levy County. The company is leasing 9,377 acres from Plum Creek Timberlands and plans to mine high-quality limestone on 4,796 acres. A test pit was approved and dug and is still open awaiting final work on a state permit application on whether the full mining operation can proceed. By April, the company had asked for a delay in the county zoning issue.

It was the year the Citizen went green with the posting of a half trailer from the landfill to recycle the newspaper’s waste paper.

Progress Energy opened 2008 by asking the state Public Service Commission to approve construction of two new nuclear units at a site in Levy County about two miles from Inglis. The company will use 3,100 acres of a 5,000-acre site it owns for the plant.

The PSC officially approved the need for the plant and as 2009 starts so will a lengthy series of hearings to win various county, state and federal approvals for the plants. Late in the year, the energy supplier announced it will be shutting down one of its Crystal River coal plants in several years, At the same time it is upgrading the scrubbers on the coal-fired plants to emit cleaner air.

Progress customers will also face an increase to power bills in 2009, as the interest on the notes to finance the plant will be paid by consumers. The company is also entitled to an increase in its fuel costs as the cost of coal, natural gas and other sources for its generators have increased in the past year.

The Fair

The Suwannee River Fair’s livestock sale reaped $723,000 on 460 animals sold by children from Levy, Gilchrist, and Dixie counties

Public Citizens

In April the Chiefland Chamber of Commerce names Kay and Luther Drummond citizens of the year.

In October the Chamber named Carol Tew, owner of Badcock & More, the Business Person of the Year. Tew is a big supporter of sports teams and charitable causes in the city, especially Haven Hospice.

Jim Senterfitt, former district conservationist, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Conservation District Southeast. He represented the state of Florida in the Hall of Fame Award competition.

Chiefland High School Junior Jamantye Thompson was chosen in October to be a People to People Ambassador to China in 2009. Thompson is fitting in the trip between playing on the football and basketball teams, his church band and club activities.

David Knecht, 15, of Levy County was vacationing in the Florida Panhandle when he heard another teen caught in a riptide yelling for help. He dove into the dangerous surf and brought her safely to shore.

Girl Scout troops across North Florida earned the Governor’s Serve to Preserve Award for their work with the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in Chiefland.

The Elections

The country may have elected its first African American president, but in Levy it was big news that the county elected its first two Republicans to countywide office.

Oz Barker, who won office in the November election, will take over at the county Property Appraiser Office on Monday.

Republican Bob Hastings has already started work as the county’s Superintendent of Schools.

Sheriff Johnny Smith won a hotly contested race against former deputy Bobby McCallum, whom he fired four years ago. It was the closest election with Smith winning by 187 votes in the Aug. 26 primary.

Commissioner Yeaty handily won re-election in August, but was suspended from office by the governor after a federal indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery and lying to the FBI was unsealed on Nov. 5.

In November the county voted overwhelmingly for Republican John McCain, but Barak Obama took the state and national vote.

Commissioner Parker, won re-election by only 300 votes, and two days later was entering a plea on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery. He is also suspended from office. A third person, the recently resigned executive director of the county Enterprise Zone Development Agency was also indicted on a charge of lying to the FBI.

Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston also won re-election on Nov. 4 and with Commissioner Nancy Bell of Chiefland, Commissioner Lilly Rooks of Cedar Key maintains a quorum for conducting county business.

But the year in politics really started in the January presidential primary where county Democrats cast their lot with Hillary Clinton, while the Republicans went for John McCain. Over 41 percent of voters cast ballots in the state primary, about a third voted in the county primary in August, and an astounding 72,81 percent voted on Nov. 4 leaving county Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell overjoyed.

At the same time county voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 on the ballot to lower property taxes.

The County

Those property tax amendments affected the county’s budget with commissioners approving a 7.4212 mills tax — the same as in 2007.

The budget for the current year is $56,765,490. That’s down from about $70 million the year before.

Progress Energy asked the state Public Service Commission to approve construction of two new nuclear units at a site in Levy County about two miles from Inglis. The company will use 3,100 acres of a 5,000-acre site it owns for the plant.

It will also bring an increase to power bills in 2009, as the interest on the notes to finance the plant will be paid by consumers.

The Jail

In March, Sheriff Smith started dressing county jail inmates in distinctive orange and white striped clothing and put them to work on public jobs.

In April the Sheriff held a press conference to explain that an audit of his department would report some problems. While no money was reported missing, the sheriff’s accounting operation would get training in procedures for handing the office’s finances.

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In the environment news…

The Levy County Humane Society’s annual Bark-N-Purr Festival was a success with singer Chris Cagle headlining the event. The $20,000 raised will go toward constructing a permanent home for the society and animals up for adoption.

It was a good year for emergency services as a weakened Tropical Storm Faye dumped lots of rain on a parched Levy County.

When Emergency Medical Services director Marie Wells retired in March interim director Trish Seibold, who was given the post permanently in the fall, replaced her.

In May, Chiefland Police Chief Robert Douglas proclaimed the city a drug ghost town as joint effort with the Sheriff’s Office netted a number of arrests and took $1.5 million in cocaine off the streets.