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Oldcastle sand mine project coming back before LPA, county

Last summer two mining companies applied for special exceptions to allow development of separate mines in southeastern and northeastern Baker County. After much discussion, changes to its proposal and a few false starts in the local planning process, one of the companies, Oldcastle Southern Group of Tampa, is ready to move forward.

The company recently received its final environmental permit from the state and this week sealed a deal with the City of Macclenny to accept its treated wastewater stream and avoid pumping water from the aquifer, which concerned local residents who mounted a campaign to oppose the projects last year. Read More »

Ex-BCCS employees speak out on closing

Several former employees of the now-closed Macclenny nonprofit Baker Community Counseling Services (BCCS) spoke with The Press recently regarding their involvement, or lack thereof, with the alleged sexual and financial misconduct in the office.

Most of them pointed to executive director Chris Thomas as the culprit, saying he sexually harassed female subordinates, gave himself bonuses and allegedly used the organization’s credit card for personal expenses.

When contacted, Mr. Thomas, who joined BCCS in 2006 following a stint as an assistant to the clerk of courts, denied any financial wrongdoing and declined to comment on the sexual allegations. Read More »

Drop in enrollment blamed for predicted $1.3M deficit

The Baker County school district is beginning the 2013-14 budget process facing a deficit that would take nearly $1.3 million in cash reserves to balance the ledger. If that’s the route taken, it follows a similar amount pulled from emergency savings last year to fund a budget gap.

The cause of the shortfall is a drop in state education funding attributed mostly to a decline in student enrollment.
“We are now in significant declining enrollment,” Marcelle Richardson, the school district’s chief budget officer, told the school board during a budget workshop on June 3. Read More »

Andrea brings rain, but little else

The first named storm of the 2013 hurricane season, Tropical Storm Andrea, passed through late last week, dropping some 2 inches of rainfall and prompting the county to declare a state of emergency on Thursday.

The worst of the rain and wind cleared out by the weekend. BCSO emergency management director Lt. Adam Faircloth described the emergency declaration as a precautionary step and the first required to receive recovery assistance from federal authorities.

No roads were closed due to the rain, but area ditches like the one above running under North 5th Street were full.  The elevation of the St. Mary’s River rose steadily and reached 7.1 feet early Saturday before receding. The county was under a tornado warning until 10 pm Thursday, but none were reported. The emergency declaration ended Saturday.

Updated: Pedestrian killed on Lowder Street

Flowers at the accident scene.A Baldwin man was killed after walking into the path of car heading north on Lowder Street Saturday evening.

Susan B. Green of Macclenny was driving the 2007 Chevy Malibu on CR23A (Lowder) near Big Oaks Court about 8:35 pm when the car struck Allen Lee Moore, 43.

He was pronounced dead at the scene by Baker County Medical Services. Read More »

Evangelist buys St. James Episcopal

Velma Childers, new owner of the St. James Episcopal Church.St. James Episcopal Church in Macclenny has gone through a tumultuous period in recent years following a schism of the congregation in 2006 over the Episcopal church’s liberal views on homosexuality.

But a long-time Christian evangelist from Glasgow, Kentucky is ready to breath new life into the once vacant 2625-square-foot church at 50 W. Minnesota Ave. Velma Childers, president of the nonprofit Velma Childers Evangelistic Association, purchased the property from the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Florida, Inc. in late March for $100,000, about $5000 less than its market value per the county property appraiser’s office.

Ms. Childers has been spreading the word of Christ throughout the country and the world for the last 50 years. Her broadcast ministry titled “Forgiven” is filmed in Clearwater, FL and available on a half-dozen satellite and network stations.

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County launches search for fire chief’s successor

Chief DolanAbout seven years after Richard Dolan became Baker County’s first full time fire chief in charge of an all-volunteer firefighting force, the county is now searching for his successor. Mr. Dolan plans to retire at the end of this month, ending a career that began in 1979 as a volunteer firefighter in Jacksonville.

After 34 years in the stressful, physically demanding job putting out fires at all hours of the day and night, plus responding to countless car crashes and other accidents, Mr. Dolan said he wants to retire while he is still relatively healthy.

“I had six bypasses (heart surgery) three years ago,” the 60-year-old chief said last week after discussing the matter with county commissioners during a workshop session on April 2.

During a regular board meeting immediately following the workshop, the board voted 4-1 to seek a full-time replacement for Mr. Dolan, whose annual salary is $43,000, after rejecting a proposal offered by Commissioner James Croft to hire someone part time to do the job for $12,000.

During the workshop County Manager C.J. Thompson said the actual work performed by Mr. Dolan and the time he invests in the job clearly demonstrate that it is a full time role.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him respond (to an emergency) in the middle of the night after working all day. It’s a 24/7 job,” Mr. Thompson said.

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Sulkowski suspended for buying booze with district credit card

Baker County High School varsity football coach Ryan Sulkowski was suspended without pay for ten days for using a school district credit card to purchase alcoholic beverages at a Clay County restaurant in February.

School Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson said the suspension that began last week and runs through spring break this week was “the stiffest penalty I could give under the circumstances.”

“He should not have put the alcohol on the card; it’s not acceptable,” said Ms. Raulerson in an interview last week. I didn’t feel this was an offense punishable by death (firing him) but I lost some sleep and prayed before deciding this was the best way to put this behind us.

“At the same time, I wanted to send a strong message to employees of the district that behavior like this won’t be tolerated.”

Coach Sulkowski, recruited to Baker County from Colorado three years ago, advised BCHS bookkeeper Terry Langford of the charge before the credit card bill reached the school at month’s end.

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Life sentence after rape conviction

LauramoreA circuit judge on March 26 sentenced a Macclenny man to life in prison for multiple rapes of a girl under the age of 12 during a six-month period in late 2005 to mid-2006.

A six member jury of four women and two men convicted Charlton Dewayne Lauramore, 46, following a trial on March 14. An earlier trial in August, 2012 ended in a mistrial when a judge feared closing remarks by public defender George Nelson could prejudice the jury.

The sentencing was handled by Judge Thomas Jaworski, who sits on the county bench in Alachua County.

Similar to the earlier trial, the jury heard from the victim, who was 10 and 11 years old at the time, testifying that she was raped on at least five occasions.

She brought the incidents to light while Mr. Lauramore was in state prison in Holmes County and he was re-arrested while still in custody. He has a criminal history of violent behavior, including a 2001 case where he was sentenced for false imprisonment of a female after initially being charged with sexual battery.

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Long road home for teen accident victim

Corey Craig's homecoming party.

Corey Craig (pictured at center above) of Macclenny came home Friday night to a huge gathering of well wishers after four months of therapy at the Sheperd Center in Atlanta, GA, a hospital that specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury and brain injury.

Mr. Craig suffered a spinal injury in a vehicle accident on December 1, 2012 on Claude Harvey Road that took the life of another teen, Jordan Sommise.

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