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Landfill getting help with leachate

SEBRING — Equipment recently delivered at the Highlands County Landfill and a six-month contract to have a firm run the leachate collection and treatment system there may just keep the landfill operating.

Landfill staff have to keep decomposition gasses and air pockets out of the mound or the next lightning strike could mean shutting down the landfill for another fire.

The landfill did shut down recently, shortly after getting approval for the new equipment, when something sparked a fire on March 30 that took 50 hours and 260,000 gallons of water to contain and squelch.

Fires can start in the landfill for a variety of reasons, but once they do, air pockets and flammable gasses can make it worse.

County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said landfill operations staff have to keep the garbage compacted and the gasses drawn off to reduce that risk. To help with that, Highlands County commissioners recently approved a six-month, $207,000 contract with Jones Edmunds & Associates Inc. to run the onsite leachate treatment plant.

Leachate, Howerton said, is the water in the mound from rain and wet garbage that drains to the bottom liner and is not clean enough to re-enter the water table. Before bringing in Jones Edmunds, Howerton had two employees running the leachate treatment plant.

However, he said, one of them retired and health issues have kept the other from that work.

As soon as possible, Howerton said, he will likely send out requests for proposals to get firms for a long-term contract.

Project Manager Bob Diefendorf said beyond operating the plant, the company has to monitor the methane flare onsite, check monitoring wells, then pump leachate out of nearby municipal landfill and bring it to the county facility for treatment.

“So it’s really all those environmental issues, not just operation of the leachate plant,” Diefendorf said.

Commissioners, two months ago, also approved $1.2 million for a TANA Shark E380 landfill compactor, to squeeze out air pockets, and a used Volvo off-road water truck with a new 6,000-gallon tank. The compactor has arrived and has been in use since the end of April.

The water truck, as of the start of May, was still being assembled, but will have water guns to help fight landfill fires as a backup to the existing water truck.

The compactor arrived just in time, Diefendorf said. Once it was assembled and put into service, he said, the other two compactors quit.

Getting parts to keep the other two working is difficult, Diefendorf said. The reason he and Howerton asked commissioners for permission to buy the E380 in March was because they had so much trouble getting parts for the other machines.

Oranges up 2M boxes, grapefruit down 200K

SEBRING — Citrus growers got some good news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday.

It seems Florida has saved an extra 2 million, 90-pound boxes of oranges this year. The crop estimate released Thursday had Valencia oranges up from the 20 million boxes predicted in April.

“The season is wrapping up here in the next week or two,” said Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association.

He said growers over the last month have seen some fruit drop and rot, and if the overall downward trend holds, the final numbers, released in early June, will probably be a bit further down.

Still, any good news is welcome. Highlands County’s citrus groves, which make up just 12% of the county’s 1,100 square miles, reputedly produce up to 13% of all the juice currently consumed in the U.S. and Canada each year.

Any improvement in the harvest will help stabilize the market, already rocked by domestic and international supply-chain issues and increased grocery pricing.

The new harvest forecast for Florida now predicts having 22 million boxes of Valencia oranges, along with 18.2 million boxes of non-Valencia oranges — unchanged from April — for a total orange harvest of 40.2 million boxes.

California looks to bring in 51.3 million boxes of total oranges this year, while Texas has just 350,000, for a total U.S. crop of 91.85 million boxes.

Florida’s tangerine and tangelo crop is unchanged at 800,000 boxes, compared to California’s 21 million boxes, also unchanged from April.

However, Florida lost some grapefruit in the last count. Red grapefruit went from 3 million boxes to 2.9 million, and white grapefruit dropped from 600,000 boxes to 500,000.

California is holding steady at 4.1 million boxes of grapefruit, and Texas is also holding steady at 2 million, for a U.S. total of 9.5 million boxes.

Despite all of this, Florida, according to, still produces 90% of the nation’s 245,000 metric tons of orange juice each year.

American production is second only to Brazil, which produces 1.05 million metric tons, according to 2021 figures reported by

Florida also supplies more than 70% of the United States’ supply of citrus overall — that includes grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos — with major export markets in Canada, Japan, France and the United Kingdom, based on an early 2020 report by

Also, after last year’s 2020-21 harvest, U.S. consumers drank an estimated 497,000 metric tons of orange juice, but that has dropped in the last decade. Domestic orange juice consumption is almost half of the approximately 810,000 metric tons Americans drank in 2010-11.

Russia takes losses in failed river crossing, officials say

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross a river in the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle to salvage a war gone awry.

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, opened the first war crimes trial of the conflict Friday. The defendant, a captured Russian soldier, stands accused of shooting to death a 62-year-old civilian in the early days of the war.

The trial got underway as Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, seemed to turn increasingly into a grinding war of attrition.

Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby. The command said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers.”

Britain’s Defense Ministry said that Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack earlier this week.

“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.

In other developments, a move by Finland and, potentially, Sweden to join NATO was thrown into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not of a favorable opinion” toward the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.

Erdogan did not say outright that he would block the two nations from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus, meaning that each of its 30 member countries has a veto over who can join.

An expansion of NATO would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who undertook the war in what he said was a bid to thwart the alliance’s eastward advance. But the invasion of Ukraine has stirred fears in other countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.

With Ukraine pleading for more arms to fend off the invasion, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief announced plans to give Kyiv an additional 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy heavy weapons.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said heavy weapons from the West now making their way to the front lines — including American 155 mm howitzers — will take some time to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favor. He admitted there is no quick end to the war in sight.

“We are entering a new, long-term phase of the war,” Reznikov wrote in a Facebook post. “Extremely difficult weeks await us. How many there will be? No one can say for sure.”

The battle for the Donbas has turned into a village-by-village, back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side and little ground gained.

Fierce fighting has been taking place on the Siverskiy Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. The Ukrainian military has launched counterattacks but has failed to halt Russia’s advance, he said.

“The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided — there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.

The Ukrainian military chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas said Friday that Russian forces opened fire 31 times on residential areas the day before, destroying dozens of homes, notably in Hirske and Popasnianska villages, and a bridge in Rubizhne.

In the south, Ukrainian officials claimed another success in the Black Sea, saying their forces took out another Russian ship, though there was no confirmation from Russia and no casualties were reported.

The Vsevolod Bobrov logistics ship was badly damaged but not thought to have sunk when it was struck while trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser.

In April, Ukraine sank the Moskva, a guided missile cruiser that was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In March it destroyed a landing ship.

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who is now a security consultant, said Moscow’s losses have forced it to downsize its objectives. He said the Russians have had to use hastily patched-together units that haven’t trained together and are thus less effective.

”This is not going to be quick. So we’re settled in for a summer of fighting at least. I think the Russian side is very clear that this is going to take a long time,” he said.

Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating thousands of potential war crimes. Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow’s forces abandoned their bid to capture Kyiv and withdrew from around the capital, exposing mass graves and streets strewn with bodies.

In the first war crime case brought to trial, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, could get life in prison if convicted of shooting a Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.

In a small Kyiv courtroom, scores of journalists watched the start of the wartime proceedings, which will be closely watched by international observers to make sure the trial is fair.

The defendant, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, sat in a small glass cage during the proceedings, which lasted about 15 minutes and will resume on Wednesday.

Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He declined the latter.

His Ukraine-assigned attorney, Victor Ovsyanikov, has acknowledged that the case against the soldier is strong and has not indicated what his defense will be.

Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted that he shot the civilian in a video posted by the Security Service of Ukraine, saying he was ordered to do so.

As the war grinds on, teachers are trying to restore some sense of normalcy after the fighting shuttered Ukraine’s schools and upended the lives of millions of children.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, lessons are being given in a subway station that has become home for many families. Children joined their teacher Valeriy Leiko around a table to learn about history art, with youngsters’ drawings lining the walls.

”It helps to support them mentally. Because now there is a war, and many lost their homes ... some people’s parents are fighting now,” Leiko said. In part because of the lessons, he said, “they feel that someone loves them.”

An older student, Anna Fedoryaka, monitored a professor’s online lectures on Ukrainian literature.

The internet connection was a problem for some, she said. And “it is hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions by your window.”

Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odesa, and other AP staffers around the world contributed to this report.

School Board passes on $1.5 million training programs

SEBRING — There was no action by The School Board of Highlands County on the recommended approval of two teacher training programs that had a total cost of $1.5 million.

The agenda items were recommended for approval by Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Nia Campbell.

One proposal was from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) for School Year of 2022-2023 at an estimated total cost of $1,184,404 while the other proposal was from Carnegie Learning Professional Services for 2022-2023 school year at a cost of $357,500.

School Board Member Donna Howerton said recently the agenda items never went to a motion.

Howerton said on another agenda item at another board meeting, Campbell reported that she tried to talk to a lot of the administrators and it was kind of suggested that teachers and principals were informed about a program.

“But, when I got to making phone calls, they hadn’t,” Howerton said, adding Campbell did try to include in the meeting packet where she emailed administrators about one of the training programs.

“I have seen where principals said they were interested in it, but their interest is always what is exactly involved for the teachers, like with summer coming up, is it going to require any summertime?” she said.

The TNTP contract is $1 million, Howerton said.

“It would just be a temporary thing paid for with the Federal pandemic funding. But, when I shared with some of the principals what the amount was ... they were like ‘wow,’” she said.

There was no discussion by board members on the training proposals when they came up on the agenda, Howerton said. “I brought it up in my comments,” at the end of the meeting.

The TNTP proposal included a Summer Leadership Retreat in early June with two in-person strategic planning sessions to: “Build clear, shared visions for excellent instruction in mathematics, ELA (English language arts), science and social studies, develop a strategy to manage change towards that vision, and build the capacity of the district’s content specialists to manage and support districtwide change.”