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Nucor starts production at new steel mill

AVON PARK — Nucor Corporation’s new rebar micro mill, just north of Avon Park, is up and running, producing steel products for the construction industry.

The mill, just north of the Highlands/Polk County line and east of U.S. 27, began operating on Dec. 12.

The Nucor Steel Florida team will ramp up production through the first quarter of 2021, according to a press release.

The mill will utilize the abundant supply of scrap metal in Florida to recycle into new steel products that will supply the region’s construction market.

Nucor Steel Florida’s 235 teammates will annually produce up to 350,000 tons of sustainable rebar products that will contain nearly 100% recycled content.

“We congratulate the entire Nucor Steel Florida team for their hard work during the pandemic to start up this project on schedule and for completing this project safely,” the press release stated.

Mayor Garrett Anderson said, “It has been a while in the making, but I’m thrilled to see production has begun.

“This plant will not only produce products that our community and state need, but employ generations of homegrown citizens as well. Nucor has been great to work with and hopefully will be only the first of many great companies to arrive in our area.”

Councilwoman Maria Sutherland was pleased to hear the plant was now operational. She had hoped it would have started sooner, because it seemed they needed to get started sooner, but is glad it is moving along.

Initially it was announced the mill would begin production in July 2020, but production was rescheduled to start in the forth quarter of 2020.

While Nucor refers to the mill’s location as Frostproof, it is much closer to the City of Avon Park, which provided water and sewer utilities and the new electrical lines to provide the power literally run through downtown Avon Park.

In June 2018, the Central Florida Development Council touted Polk County being picked for the mill’s location.

Drew Wilcox, vice president and general manager of Nucor Steel Florida, said Polk County was the company’s No. 1 choice, after looking at sites from Miami to South Carolina. The reasons are tied into the three things that make this type of micro mill work:

• It has to be close to the scrap metal it buys to save on freight. With 650 Nucor-related employees already in Florida, including some in the recycling business, locating in Polk County made sense.

• The company has to have a low-cost production plan.

• It needs to be close to its consumer base, also to save money on freight. The biggest markets for rebar, which is what the micro mill will produce, are from Tampa to Orlando and south to Miami.

Wilcox also said three other factors contributed: The plant has heavy energy load and Duke Energy is nearby, the site is close to a major highway – U.S. 27 and it’s also close to rail (on CSX line).

Those we lost in 2020 gave to others

SEBRING — As we look back on 2020, it would take all of the pages in the Highlands News-Sun to recall all the local people who left the Earth this year.

It would take even more pages than usual to honor the more than 200 residents the county lost to COVID-19, some of them notable people, remembered for making a difference in the community. Each and every person lost in 2020 has left a void.

What follows are those we remember whose lives made a tangible difference in the community.

The face and voice of Duke Energy in Florida’s Heartland – Jerry Miller – died at age 61 on Feb. 24. For 37 years, Miller worked in the electric utility business, having started in energy conservation for Florida Power Corporation, and eventually became the company spokesperson in Central Florida. He helped customers adjust to the changes when Progress Energy was bought by Duke Energy, attended community events, served as a liaison for Progress Energy and provided information to local newspapers and radio on power restoration after such pivotal disasters as the destructive 2004 hurricane season.

Garland Boggus, 89, of Sebring died March 20. He had more than 40 years of service with The School Board of Highlands County as purchasing agent and transportation director. The School Board’s board room is named in honor of Boggus, who was born Sept. 2, 1930 in Fitzgerald, Georgia and moved to Sebring at the age of 6. He served as a member of the Kiwanis Club of Sebring for more than 50 years and was a lifetime member of First United Methodist Church.

Highlands County had its first official recorded death from COVID-19 on March 24. Although we don’t know the name of the patient, which was not released under Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act protocols, we remember this person along with all those who fought and suffered against the virus, whether they survived or not. The road to recovery continues for those who have survived, and the pandemic continues to infect and affect others.

Richard Hitt, 78, died in the early morning hours of March 26, leaving behind a legacy of leadership in and for his three sons — Rick, 54; Harold, 52; and Scott, 50. He was a former publisher of the Sebring News. He had a giving heart; kindness for family, coworkers and the public; and also taught life lessons through coaching baseball, a sport in which he played second base, never got picked for a draft, but knew how to coach players, especially his sons, one of whom now coaches players at South Florida State College.

Dharmik Patel, 47, owner of the 7 Days gas station on U.S. 27 in Avon Park died April 9 after a disagreement with a customer turned into a stabbing attack. A woman on the scene, identifying herself only as a friend of the family, said Patel was “a really, really good man” who “did not deserve this.” A suspect was found, arrested and charged, and awaits trial. Brad Smith, a vendor who serviced the store off and on for the past nine years, said Patel “was a good man. I’ve never seen him get angry; I’ve seen him help people out. He was a really fine man.

Rob ‘Say So’ Ruiz, 31, passed away July 12 of unknown causes, but was later found to have COVID-19. Ruiz gave to Highlands County for years, starting as “The Penny Boy,” collecting pennies to give food and gifts to families at Christmastime and later as a freestyle rapper, taking on the moniker “Say So,” for “God says so,” to lead young people to Christ, as well as caring for chronically ill patients, as he did up to the weekend he died. Members of his church said if you visited, he would greet you with a hug, a smile and a story about faith and family.

Florida citrus icon Ben Hill Griffin III, 78, died peacefully at his Frostproof home on July 25. In the state and the Florida Heartland, Griffin was known as a giant in the citrus and agriculture industries, as well as a businessman, philanthropist and champion for higher education. The only son of five children, he was a Frostproof High School athlete/class president; attended the University of Florida, associate’s degree graduate of Central Florida Community College and member of the Florida Army National Guard. As chair/CEO of Ben Hill Griffin Inc. and as board chair/CEO of ALICO from 1990-2004, Griffin diversified and expanded the business. He also supported the Vanguard School in Lake Wales, which provides education to children of exceptional needs.

The Rev. Collis Fogle, a former deputy and a pioneer of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office chaplain program, died at age 72 on July 27. He had earned the Purple Heart as an Army Ranger in Vietnam, joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1979 under Sheriff Joe Sheppard, served for many years as an auxiliary and part-time deputy, then left the agency to become an ordained minister, following in the footsteps of his father. He became a chaplain with the drug enforcement unit when Sheriff Howard Godwin was with the agency. Godwin said Fogle made the Sheriff’s chaplain position as a spiritual guide to deputies and the department as well as a mentor to inmates and a victim’s advocate to the public. He also brought calm to tough situations, including the losses of Capt. Robert Hopton and Inspector James Rodgers in 1995.

Steven Robertson, 63, passed away Nov. 16 as a retired firefighter and detention deputy and as a lifetime member of West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department. He helped improve firefighting standards and relationships built among fellow firefighters and the community, and he and his wife, Joyce, a partner at home and in the department, helped make the department like a family. Friends remembered him as a giving and serving man who believed whole-heartedly in the fire service.

Highlands County lost its 2009 Champion for Children when Velma Delores Lumpkin died Dec. 7 at the South Florida home of her daughter, attorney Jacquelyn Lumpkin Wooden, who said she didn’t need a book on ethics “because I had her.” Lumpkin is remembered as always having concern about people, especially the “little guy,” and wanting to help children reach their full potential with thorough early childhood education. She also helped adults continue education, such as helping her employees to achieve advanced degrees.

Lynn Bruce MacNeill, 73, died on Dec. 16 after a hard battle with COVID-19. The county lost an educator and a family lost their rock and light. Darin MacNeill, his son, called him a great husband, father, professor and mentor: “He was the most caring, compassionate and positive man I have ever known.” Originally from the family’s ranch in South Dakota, Lynn MacNeill arrived in Highlands County in August 1972 and taught speech and theater history at South Florida State College, as well as directed numerous productions on the stages of SFSC and Highlands Lakeside Theatre in Sebring. He was a friend and counselor to many of his students and an auxiliary Sebring police officer.

Arthur J. Roberts, 82, of Sebring passed away Dec. 17. The 1956 Sebring High School graduate attended Orlando Technical College to study automotive mechanics, worked at Roberts Motor Company and other automobile dealerships as a transmission technician, and was a founding member of West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department. He loved spending time with his family and friends, hunting, fishing, camping and air boating and loved his dogs.

Happy Holidays

In honor of the holidays, the Highlands News-Sun office will be closed New Year’s Day.

We hope your holidays are peaceful and safe.

The Highlands News-Sun office at 321 N. Ridgewood Drive in Sebring will close at 3 p.m. through Jan. 3. Happy Holidays to each and every one.

County sees increase in COVID cases, vaccines
  • Updated

SEBRING — Highlands County had more new cases and another death but the positivity rate dropped tremendously as shown by the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 reports on Wednesday.

The county added 55 new cases of COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. The new cases bring the total to 4,918. The cases of coronavirus break down to 4,869 residents and 49 non-residents, which is three more than Tuesday.

One more death was reported, which brings the death toll to 202 deaths attributed to the virus. One bright note on the report was the sizable decrease in the positivity rate to 9.27% from Tuesday’s 54.17% There were 550 tests processed with 499 negative results compared to Monday when only 77 tests were processed. While Wednesday’s rate is much more palatable, it is still higher than the state’s positivity rate. One factor in the decrease is the amount of tests processed from Tuesday.

There have been 435 hospitalizations overall. The Agency for Health Care Administration showed 52 current hospitalizations at 4:03 p.m. Wednesday. AHCA also reported the county’s ICU bed census as 23 with six beds available.

The state saw an increase of 13,871 cases, which pushes the overall total to over 1.3 million with 1,306,123 cases. There have been 1,283,701 Florida residents test positive and 22,422 non-residents.

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended his state of emergency order for COVID-19. The order, which was first issued March 9, allows DeSantis more flexibility regarding expenditures detailing with COVID-19 and allows medical professionals, social workers and counselors licensed in other states to render services in Florida, provided they are free of charge. The order also allows pharmacists to issue a 30-day emergency prescription refill of maintenance medications.

State testing picked up dramatically, as there were more than 155,000 tests given on Tuesday, which resulted in a positivity rate of 8.72% for new cases. The number of tests given broke a four-day streak of fewer than 80,000 tests given per day.

There were an additional 137 deaths reported by the state, bringing the overall total to 21,857. There have been 21,546 resident deaths and 311 non-resident deaths.

Of the 1,283,701 cases in the state, 127,683 have been in those under the age of 18, which includes 402 in Highlands County.

In addition to the elderly, long-term residents who are being vaccinated, some frontline workers rolled up their proverbial sleeves and got vaccinated for coronavirus. The Highlands County Board of County Commission announced on social media that some first responders received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

FDOH reports showed 20,744 vaccines were given on Tuesday, with 118 of those given in Highlands County. The county has now given the first vaccine shot to 646 people.

DeSoto County more than doubled its vaccine total, with 50 given on Tuesday for a total of 96; Glades County administered its first vaccine on Tuesday; Hardee County gave 14 vaccines and has now given 41; while Okeechobee County gave 15 vaccines and have now done a total of 108.

Testing continued to drop in the United States, as just 1,236,471 tests were processed, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s Tuesday night report. There were 194,512 new cases and 3,283 deaths. The number of deaths were more than 1,000 above the seven-day average.

The number of hospitalizations reached an all-time high at 124,686.

California saw 432 deaths, raising the state’s total to 24,958, while adding 30,921 cases. After seeing positivity rates in the 2-3% range in October, California has now had 11 straight days with rates of 12% or higher.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there have been 19.62 million cases in the United States and 340,586.

Globally, there have been 82.4 million cases and 1.8 million deaths.