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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 21, 2002

    Rare cranes quickly move across South

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- Now celebrities, a closely watched flock of birds arrived in Wisconsin on Friday, completing the first round-trip migration of whooping cranes in 100 years.

    After 126 days foraging in the marshland of the Chassahowitzka preserve near Crystal River -- and dodging a bobcat or two -- the cranes began flying north a week earlier, giving renewed hope to the goal of reintroducing migratory cranes in the East.

    The amazing part of their journey was their arrival in Florida, led by ultralight planes that functioned as surrogate parents.

    At one point in the journey home, the birds covered 328 miles in only two flight days, pausing three times for bad weather. By contrast, it took the cranes and ultralights nine flight days to cover the same distance.

    "While it's no surprise they are physically designed to (fly that far), to have juvenile birds traveling without adult cranes or human intervention is just phenomenal," said Chuck Underwood, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Mother to be retried for killing man she says molested girl

    LAND O'LAKES -- When a 73-year-old neighbor admitted to Sylvia Maraman he molested her 12-year-old mentally handicapped daughter and bragged that he would do it again, she got a gun.

    Authorities said she went into Arthur Danner's mobile home, shot him five times with a .357-caliber handgun and then reloaded and shot him again -- in the groin.

    In 2000, Maraman was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

    But now the 2nd District Court of Appeal has ruled she should get a new trial.

    The appeal court wrote that Maraman's defense attorney was prohibited by Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson from making a closing argument about the justifiable use of deadly force.

    Her attorney should have been able to make that case, "no matter how far-fetched the argument might be," Chief Appeal Judge John Blue wrote.

    Study will look at sinkhole risk at chemical cleanup site

    TARPON SPRINGS -- A study is getting under way that attempts to answer the question of whether a sinkhole would likely result from the weight of piling up contaminated soil at the Stauffer Chemical Superfund site at the Pasco-Pinellas border.

    Some residents fear that if a large mound of tainted soil caused a sinkhole, it could send contamination from the former phosphorus processing plant directly into the drinking water supply.

    The long-awaited geophysical study commissioned by Stauffer Management Co. is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

    The Stauffer plant began processing phosphate ore into elemental phosphorus in 1947. It closed in 1981. After officials found high levels of arsenic, lead and radium-226, as well as four contaminants known to or suspected of causing lung cancer, the site was put on the EPA's Superfund list in 1994.

    In July 2000, under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, and others, Stauffer executives agreed to put the controversial mound-and-cap cleanup plan on hold until further testing was completed.

    Local airports rebound from Sept. 11 slump

    TAMPA -- Tampa International Airport is continuing to recover from the aftermath of September's terrorist attacks faster than the average rate for the rest of the nation's airports, according to the latest passenger figures.

    The March passenger numbers represent a slow but steady trend toward normalcy at TIA. Last October, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, passenger counts were down by 13 percent. They declined further in November. Then they rebounded to a loss of just 7 percent by February and then improved again in March.

    The numbers were mixed at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. In March, domestic passenger counts actually were higher than a year earlier, by 13 percent. But the loss of Canada 3000 Airlines, which went out of business last November, depressed international travel by 71 percent in March.

    But the numbers have shown steady improvement. In January, passenger counts were down 32 percent, and in February they were down 22 percent.

    "They're going in the right direction," said Elaine Smalling, marketing director for the airport.

    City: Hospitals' pursuit of rich leave needy patients behind

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- When Community and North Bay hospitals formally asked the state to move out of New Port Richey on Wednesday, city leaders countered that if the hospitals left, they would be abandoning the poor and the elderly.

    But the city softened the scolding by offering a list of incentives it could offer the hospitals to stay put.

    The hospitals' attempts to move are "not about doing what is right for the health and safety of the public," the city wrote in a report to the state's Agency for Health Care Administration. "This is really an issue about money, power and control."

    But both hospitals, in applications filed with the state, said they considered expanding where they are, but found that it wouldn't be feasible. Both said they could not meet current building standards and offer state of the art facilities at their existing sites.

    The state decision on the hospitals' proposals is expected in June.

    In short . . .

    LARGO -- No nudes is good nudes, a Pinellas County park board decided in recommending against a "clothing-optional" beach at one of three secluded sites at Fort De Soto Park. The Tampa Area Naturists had hoped to convince the board that allowing the only nude beach on the state's west coast would be a boon to tourism. The group plans to take its cause to the Pinellas County Commission.

    A new St. Petersburg elementary school will be named after Doug Jamerson, a longtime Pinellas legislator and former state education commissioner who died on April 21, 2001. School Board members were ready last year to name a school after Jamerson, but the board's rules say a person must be dead for a year before a name can be used on a building.

    TAMPA -- Rafael Vinoly, a world-renowned architect from Uruguay, won a $6.2-million contract to design a new Tampa Museum of Art. City officials said the architect's bill includes the design of the new $45-million art museum as well as demolition of the existing museum on N Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa. The art museum is a comparatively small project for him, but he was intrigued by the challenge. "It has expectations built in. It is more than just a building."

    Coming up this week

    Expect a lively discussion on Thursday, when the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus will host a point-counterpoint discussion about the recently passed Patriot Act and civil liberties, which was a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Davis Hall 130 at the university.

    Zephyrhills' hip quotient takes a big spike upward starting Saturday when 15,000 people per day are expected for Livestock 2002. Set for Friday and Saturday at the Zephyrhills Festival Park off U.S. 301, this year's headliners include Kid Rock, Stone Temple Pilots and Sevendust. Tickets are $44.98.

    The Hernando County Commission will hold a final public hearing Tuesday at 5 p.m. for an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in public places. At the last hearing speakers overwhelmingly backed the rule as written and urged commissioners to make no changes, such as provisions to allow nudist resorts.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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