SATURDAY FEB. 27 5:11 p.m. Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties
Above are the results on Saturday (Feb. 27), according to the Tallahassee office of the Florida Department of Health (FDOH). These records are the current TOTAL numbers updated by the FDOH in the most recent period measured where the FDOH reported results. In the Tri-County Area, there are 87 people TOTAL who have died from COVID-19 so far. There have been 338 people TOTAL from the Tri-County Area who have been reported as hospitalized because their COVID-19 symptoms were so serious they needed to go to the hospital so far.
Published Feb. 27, 2021 at 5:11 p.m.
More Below This Ad
PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY
Residents are advised to wear masks
in public and to socially distance.
Avoid crowds, closed spaces & close contact.
COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who show no symptoms.
The best method to reduce the odds of infection and the subsequent symptoms of serious illness and even death from COVID-19 is to limit contact with other humans.
To find the most updated information and guidance on COVID-19, please visit the FDOH’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage by clicking HERE.
For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), please visit the CDC COVID-19 website by clicking HERE.
For another set of data, former Florida Department of Health geographic data scientist Rebekah Jones has created FloridaCOVIDAction.com. Those numbers are different than the FDOH.
Hundreds more Levy Countians
are vaccinated against COVID-19
Emergency Response Official Rob Jean-Michel, a Licensed Practical Nurse from the Region Three IMT – Tactical Branch, is among the many nurses and other professionals who have been helping Floridians become vaccinated against COVID-19. The Orlando resident said he prefers indoor inoculation events because it gets hot outdoors. Four weeks ago, he was among the team at the Bronson office of the Florida Department of Health. On Wednesday (Feb. 24), he was in the former football field of the old Bronson High School. Wherever he must go, Jean-Michel said he is ready, willing and able to save lives ‘one shot at a time.’
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 25, 2021 at 11:11 a.m.
LEVY COUNTY – Seven hundred more Levy Countians on Wednesday (Feb. 24) received either their first dose or their second dose of the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019).
Levy County Emergency Management Director John MacDonald recognizes a masked journalist as the photographer passes out of the gate – now with the second of two shots completed.
The line of cars and other vehicles flows along. First, the patients confirmed with FDOH personnel that they were on time for their appointed vaccinations. Then there was a tent for review of the consent form signed by all patients. Another big tent included several nurses applying vaccines while support staff marked each vehicle with the time of day if the shot.
Then, there was parking in the observation area, where people were watched to assure they did not suffer adverse reactions to the vaccine.
Behind these cars is the former stadium seating for Bronson High School football fans. Years ago, one of Wednesday’s shot recipients gathered information from that press box. Meanwhile, later that day in conversation, some grads from the old BHS said it saddened them to see the former seating as it deteriorates from time of not being used anymore.
More than half a million Americans have died from COVID-19 so far, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Florida alone, as of Wednesday, there were more than 30,000 individuals who died from COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH).
The Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 is among the vaccines that may prevent people from catching the disease.
COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. It is a unique virus that has not been seen before, according to the CDC. This virus causes a predominantly respiratory illness that can affect other organs as well. Symptoms may appear from two to 14 days after exposure.
Since the onset of the global pandemic, revision of methods using ventilators in hospitals has saved more lives, although not everyone can be saved from death caused by COVID-19.
A person can be infected with COVID-19 and not show symptoms. While they have no symptoms, those individuals can still be able to pass the disease on to another person, the CDC and FDOH have noted.
For one year now, the FDOH has repeated a Public Health Advisory -- Residents are advised to wear masks in public and to socially distance. Avoid crowds, closed spaces and close contact.
The Moderna vaccine takes two doses, administered about four weeks apart. While the patient is immunized within two weeks after the second dose, the FDOH still advises those humans to wear masks in public and to socially distance. Avoid crowds, closed spaces and close contact.
As for progress in Florida regarding the vaccination program against COVID-19, almost three million people have been vaccinated in Florida as of Feb. 24 at 9 a.m., according to the FDOH.
The drive-through vaccination program on Wednesday was at the former Bronson High School Football Field. There was a line of cars and other vehicles that went through the process with relative ease and speed.
The FDOH, Levy County Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard ran a very smooth operation, including through the 15-minute or 30-minute waiting period of observation after the vaccines were administered. Some people were designated for a 30-minute observation due to health issues.
Among the 700 Levy County residents being vaccinated was HardisonInk.com owner and publisher Jeff M. Hardison. He received his second shot that day.
“The only side effect I felt from the first shot,” Hardison said, “was a feeling as if someone with a small fist had punched me in my arm. The side effects from the second dose were very much like I heard from other people who had their second dose.”
Hardison was inoculated at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 24. By 10 p.m. that day, he had a “fever” of 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
“My normal body temperature is 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “So, my perception that I had a fever was proved correct by a digital thermometer.”
He went to bed. He woke up at various points in the night, not feeling 100 percent well as he had chills and some aches.
“I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning (Feb. 25),” he said. “Apparently the fever had subsided and I was not feeling too bad. I was a tiny bit sketchy. This would not be a day for selling ads, but I knew I could write and edit.”
The journalist said he has heard from fewer than a dozen people who have had the second shot. From that sampling, he is glad to be among the people who feel only slight side effects after the second shot.
“I am glad to have completed my two-dose series,” Hardison said. “I prefer this rather than hospitalization or death from COVID-19. I will still follow the Health Department’s advice to reduce the spread of the disease. I will wear a mask in public and socially distance. I will avoid crowds, closed spaces and close contact.”
Two graduate from mental health court
Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning speaks about working toward the future.
Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 19, 2021 at 5:11 p.m.
BRONSON – Two of the four people who have graduated from the Levy County Mental Health Court so far were honored Thursday afternoon (Feb. 18) during a program in Courtroom B of the Levy County Courthouse in Bronson.
Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning signed the certificates of achievement, one which was presented in that courtroom and one which was brought to the other recipient at another location. One person who earned the honor was present and the other attended via teleconference.
The persons who are not named in this story are excellent examples of how the program helps people turn their lives around – away from drug abuse and criminal activity. Their names are withheld for their benefit.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE the video, where Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning tells one of the recipients of the honors that she, like other successful candidates in the program, has earned by her own work. This is from a still picture of Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning. Although not visible through the facemask, there is a smile there – because this is from a happy event where the judge presided on Thursday afternoon. The big icon to indicate to click to see a video is superimposed.
Judge James T. Browning prepares to present by his own hand the certificate to the first recipient. Afterward, they had a fist-bump rather than a handshake, which is reflexive of taking precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Darla Whistler walks to the honoree to present her with flowers as gift for her successful completion of Levy County Mental Health Court.
Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Midori Lowry speaks to the graduate and reminds her to not let other people bring her down.
Mental Health Coordinator Jan Gibson looks over to the first recipient of the day, who was sitting at a table too, and expresses her happiness with the success reflected by the day’s celebration.
Mental Health Coordinator Jan Gibson offers a pose for the press when requested.
Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning offers a pose for the press when requested.
Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Midori Lowry and Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Darla Whistler offer a pose for the press when requested.
Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Darla Whistler, Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Midori Lowry and Mental Health Coordinator Jan Gibson are other members of the team of professionals who helped these two individuals succeed.
Mental Health Court is a diversionary court for individuals with a diagnosed mental health disorder who have been charged with certain misdemeanors or third-degree felonies. The participants agree to abide by a treatment plan with a designated treatment provider and upon adhering to the plans, orders of the Court, and progressing through the three phases of the Program, the State of Florida will dismiss the charges against the participant.
By providing defendants access to the least restrictive treatment, training, and support services necessary to reduce recidivism and ensure public safety, the program is designed to divert the mentally ill and developmentally disabled defendants from jail and to expedite the legal case processing through the criminal justice system. The judiciary, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and treatment providers that work directly with the participants are all partners in this program.
In Levy County, this program came to fruition from a seed planted by Assistant Public Defender Gary Ford
Judge Browning is the judge who agreed to be onboard for the program.
The team succeeded in obtaining a startup grant for the Mental Health Court in Levy County.
The presentation of certification of achievement, Gibson said, typically results after from six months to a year of work by the participant. Participants must attend counseling, successfully complete a substance abuse program, consistently participate in mental health services, remain in contact with their Mental Health Court coordinator, and complete drug tests, Gibson said.
As Judge Browning opened the graduation celebration Thursday, he noted this first person has succeeded by meeting all of the challenges she faced since entering Levy County Mental Health Court. The mother of the first graduate honored Thursday was by her adult daughter’s side.
Only the judge, two deputy clerks from the Office of Levy County Clerk Danny Shipp, Whistler, Lowry, Gibson and one member of the press also were present.
“You are the person who shouldered the responsibility of being successful,” Judge Browning told the honoree, “no on else.”
The judge said he looks forward to seeing more people succeeding in this program.
This young woman obtained a job, has an apartment now and a car. Next on the list is starting classes at college and working toward becoming certified to counsel youths.
Judge Browning mentioned that he started his education after high school by attending community college, which is where he met the woman who he married.
There are going to be good days and days that are more difficult. When this graduate of Levy County Mental Health Court has a tough day, they can call on the judge or Whistler, Gibson or Lowry, he said. He told the teleconferencing graduate the same thing.
Likewise, these professionals will write letters of recommendation to help in the college entrance process if asked to do so.
As Whistler spoke to the first graduate, she mentioned they have only seen each other on Zoom up to this point due to COVID-19 protocols for safety.
Whistler said she saw this woman start slowly in the program when she was allowed to begin it in 2019, but then she showed great progress that kept going up to the point of completion.
Whistler said the whole team is very proud of this graduate’s success. She presented her with flowers, a card and a gift certificate to Walmart.
Whistler presented the graduate with a very significant document. It shows that the woman has no criminal history. The charges are dropped by the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office. This clean slate offers a second chance for the woman to move forward without that anchor of any crime hanging on her like an albatross around her neck.
The recipient expressed her gratitude for all of the help given to her in this part of her life as she grew up.
The judge said Assistant State Attorney Whistler and Assistant Public Defender Lowry are the gatekeepers to select potential participants in this diversionary program.
Assistant Public Defender Lowry told the graduate that “This is a very important life lesson.
“When you do the work to help yourself,” Lowry continued, “people will help you out.”
By putting forth this effort to better herself, Lowry told the woman, this is what brought the success.
Mental Health Coordinator Gibson spoke about the woman who is the third graduate from the Levy County Program.
Gibson said she saw this young woman graduate from high school after entering the program. She got a job, got a car, and completed all requirements needed to complete the program.
Gibson urged the woman to not let anyone bring her down to the point where she was.
“You have your whole life ahead of you,” Gibson said. “I think you can do anything.”
The graduate said she wants to be a therapist because she believes her experience can be used to help other young people. After working another month at her job, she anticipates being able to start college.
The judge told the woman that her future is bright.
“You’re not waiting for your future to come to you,” Judge Browning said. “You are coming to your future.”
Every report that he has heard from the graduate, Browning said, he saw that she was succeeding from her own initiative.
“Keep going after your dreams,” Browning said, “because you can attain them. You have show a lot of self-motivation, a strong will and just very good insight into what you need to do.”
The second recipient will be presented with the certificate of achievement and other artifacts from this success.
County grants permit for
715-acre solar electric generating facility
Levy County Planning Director Stacey Hectus opens the public hearing and presentation regarding the potential future solar electric generating facility on Tuesday night (Feb. 16).
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 17, 2021 at 11:11 a.m.
BRONSON – By a 5-0 vote Tuesday night, the Levy County Board of County Commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for a 714-acre solar electric generating plant.
Savion Senior Development Manager Erich Miarka explains how this electric generating facility is not going to impact wetlands, as well as providing clean, low-cost electricity. He also told about the tax revenue benefit for Levy County, and other positive economic factors for the area from this electric-generating facility coming online.
Chris Hardee explains that he and his wife are moving west to be with their children and grandchildren. Commissioner Mike Joyner expressed his opinion that that Hardee family is leaving behind a fine legacy from its past decades of work in agriculture through the future with this form of electric generation.
John Fisher is a member of the Fisher family, which will be leasing the property to the developer and then to the future owner, given that the project succeeds. Other land the family owns in the area, he added, is remaining for agricultural use.
Loren Brookins, a neighbor to the future solar electric generating facility, gives his encouragement to the County Commission to approve the request for a conditional use permit. Brookins has been very involved with youths in agriculture over the past many years as a leader in the Suwannee River Fair Youth Livestock Show and Sale.
Linda Cooper of the Williston area expresses her opinion that natural gas is better than solar power for generating electricity, because the structure of a gas power plant takes fewer acres per megawatt produced in comparison with a solar power electric generating facility.
Levy County Planning Director Stacey Hectus introduced representatives of the applicant -- Levy Solar 1, LLC, and the developer Savion, which has a main office located at 422 Admiral Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri.
This 715-acre area straddles U.S. Highway 129, Northwest 120th Street and Northwest 110th Street, bounded by Northwest Fifth Avenue on the east. Since the project will generate only 74.9 megawatt of alternating current via solar power, it requires a lower degree of review by state agencies than bigger powerplants.
This much electric power, however, would be enough to power 19,000 average residential structures, Savion Senior Development Manager Erich Miarka said.
Savion was established in 2019 and is developing in 25 states, including Florida. There are other solar-powered electric generating “farms” in Florida, including in Gilchrist, Hamilton and Suwannee counties.
Property owners who are selling this acreage in Levy County to the developer are Chris and Frances Hardee, and their family. Landowners Diane Petersen and Leslie Fisher, also of Chiefland, are leasing their property to the eventual owner. Duke Energy is among the likely companies that can buy the solar-powered electric generating facility.
The property will be fenced for security and there are plans to provide natural buffers. The company anticipates completing all permitting and other processes to be complete to the point of being able to start construction in January of 2022 and it is anticipated to be finished by Dec. 31, 2022.
Savion is the builder, but some other interest – perhaps Duke Energy – will take possession and operate the facility. That ownership may happen even before the project is active in late 2022.
This facility will take three or four employees to operate, Miarka said. There is no fuel cost, like there is for oil-powered, coal-powered, natural gas-powered or nuclear-powered electric generating plants. It is seen as a method to create electricity with no smokestacks or cooling towers required.
While the facility will not employ a big workforce, construction of the solar-powered electric generating plant will require 200 to 250 construction workers, engineers and others, Miarka said. This will boost the local economy by those workers needing short-term housing and they will be buying food at restaurants and grocery stores.
This $101 million capital investment will not only generate low-cost electricity, Miarka said, but it will provide Levy County with $440,000 in tax revenue in the first year. As the equipment ages, it will depreciate and produce less tax revenue. At the current tax rate, over the next 30-year lifespan of the property, Miarka said, the company estimates it will provide Levy County with more than $12 million in revenue for the county government.
Building this facility will not require more roads, more schools or other tax-funded infrastructure such as more water and sewer service, Miarka said.
Chris Hardee said his wife’s three children have moved out west. The couple plans to move closer to their children. When solar-power developers approached them, he conducted research to choose Savion to sell to.
John Fisher said the 70-acre parcel he is leasing to developers and then to owners of the power plant is still part of his family’s agricultural interest. While conceding that some will see self-interest in his statement, Fisher told the County Commission that he sees “no cons” or no negative reasons to not approve the conditional use permit required for construction of this facility on property that is zone agriculture rural-residential.
Loren Brookins, a neighbor to the Hardees, said he favors the County Commission approving the request for a conditional use permit for this construction.
During the public comment part of this public hearing, Linda Cooper, a Williston area resident, expressed her opinion that a natural gas electric-generating powerplant is better than one that is fueled by the solar energy, because it produces more megawatts while covering fewer acres of land. Commissioners listened to her comments.
One man expressed his concern about lightning strikes. Miarka let him know that the equipment has a 30-year warranty by the manufacturer; the developer has insurance; and the machinery includes engineering for automatic shutdown if needed, or automatic revisions to assure the electric output is of a high enough quality as it goes into the grid for sale to consumers.
Miarka added that replacing damaged solar panels is in the best interest of the owner when the facility is in operation. As for disposal of old solar panels, he said, there is an extensive recycling program. For the ones that cannot be resold or recycled, they can be disposed of just like any other debris because they do not include hazardous materials.
During a previous action, the Levy County Planning Commission recommended approval of the conditional use permit by a 4-0 vote.
As County Planning Director Hectus noted before the start of the presentation that lasted more than an hour, “From a planning perspective this is a much less intense use of 715 acres than, for example, a poultry farm or animal processing plant both of which are allowed via a special exception in the A/RR district. The compatibility issues are not always as clear cut. What you think could be compatible to one is not with another. While this is a rather passive use of land, the setbacks and buffers make it bearable. While looking at the use of agricultural land and its preservation in Levy County, it is evident that the property owners at this time in their lives are not wanting to farm it (that land) as it has been (farmed) in the past.”
Commissioners Mike Joyner and John Meeks both commented about their happiness with having known the Hardees and Fishers over the years in the realms of agriculture and at a hunting camp in Gulf Hammock, and that this project is a positive action in Levy County.
On a motion by Joyner, seconded by Commissioner Matt Brooks, the County Commission’s 5-0 vote of approval for the conditional use permit included all the provisions for surety bonding, and for potential decommissioning back to agriculture if needed.
Also voting in favor of the Joyner-Brooks motion were Commission Chairman John Meeks, and county commissioners Rock Meeks and Lilly Rooks.
Meanwhile, having this conditional use permit from Levy County, Savion must complete actions to show the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other regulatory agencies reasons to approve the construction. As noted, the current plan’s projected construction starting date is in about 11 months.
Other than the five County Commissioners, Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum was the only county constitutional officer at the meeting Tuesday night. He received approval for a budget amendment he requested.
IN OTHER ACTION
Among the other actions the Levy County Commission took on Tuesday night were:
● Setting a meeting date and time with municipal leaders from the City of Cedar Key on April 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the County Annex to discuss issues between the county and that city;
● Approving various budget amendments, including with Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum; and
● Approving requests from Levy County Road Department Administrative Coordinator Alice LaLonde to sign two applications for state grants on road projects for Levy County Road 346 from U.S. Highway 19 to U.S. Highway 129; for
Levy County Road 337 from State Road 121 to CR 336.