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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 2, 2002


    It's now open season on water hogs

    Water woes and stern warnings are fast becoming a sign that summer is here, as predictable as school getting out and air-conditioning bills going up.

    And the tune is familiar: Until the summer rains come, things can get dicey.

    In Pinellas and Hillsborough, police and code enforcers promised to step up enforcement of water restrictions after seeing water levels take a dive.

    And in even-drier Hernando and Citrus counties, a ban on outdoor trash burning and fireworks is in place, putting July 4 festivities in peril if some rain clouds don't form overhead soon.

    Terrie Grace, a spokeswoman for Pinellas County Utilities, said daily water consumption has skyrocketed in the past month, prompting the county to assign 11 workers to water patrol duty.

    "I don't think there are more customers," Grace said. "I believe because the drought has been ongoing, customers are trying to salvage their lawns."

    Pasco child abuse cases are still piled high

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County's efforts to take over child abuse cases from the state haven't progressed as quickly as expected.

    The goal is to resolve an abuse allegation within 60 days.

    But in about 1,100 Pasco County cases, investigators have not completed their inquiries in 60 days. That's better than a year ago, when 2,500 cases were considered backlogged. But the stack of unfinished reports remains higher than the Pasco County Sheriff's Office goal of no more than a few hundred cases.

    And it's more than in Pinellas County, which is three times the size of Pasco but has 1,001 backlogged cases.

    Localization is a growing trend in Florida, with the state trying to turn social services over to local agencies.

    "I don't think the jury's back yet about the relative success," said child advocate Jack Levine, president of the Center for Florida's Children.

    In the past year, Sheriff Bob White's agency has recruited specialists and investigators and filled numerous vacancies in the program.

    And the budget, which is funded by the state, continues to swell -- to $3.2-million this year from $2.4-million in 2000-01. It is slated, pending the governor's veto decisions, to receive $3.4-million next year.

    Tarpon Springs may be a little less Greek

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Hold the baklava: there are fewer Greeks living in Tarpon Springs than 10 years ago, the U.S. Census reports.

    "Bah!" said the Rev. Tryfon Theophilopoulos, the leader of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Tarpon Springs. "I don't believe it."

    The number of Tarpon Springs residents who claim Greek ancestry dropped from 1990 to 2000, according to the census figures released last week. In 2000, 2,479 residents listed Greek ancestry on census forms. In 1990, that number was 2,840.

    Add to that the growth of the non-Greek population and that leaves only 11.8 percent of the city's residents who said they were Greek in 2000, down from 15.9 percent in 1990.

    Ever since John Corcoris arrived from Greece in the early 1900s and created what became the world's largest natural sponge market, Tarpon Springs has been one of the Tampa Bay area's most colorful ethnic enclaves.

    Theophilopoulos figures that the city's dip in the latest census was caused by Greek residents who speak little English and were too intimidated to answer the questionnaires.

    "Go down to the coffee shops and the Sponge Docks, there are a lot of Greek people there," Theophilopoulos said. "Church is packed every Sunday."

    City wants to be home of cartoon character

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Nickelodeon's popular cartoon creation SpongeBob SquarePants may not be Greek either, but some Tarpon Springs merchants are eager to make a home for him.

    Although Nickelodeon marketing executives have so far been "less than enthusiastic" about the idea, Mayor Frank DiDonato jumped on the idea first suggested by WFLA-AM 970 radio host Jack Harris.

    SpongeBob is wildly popular with both children and the college set. He's a square kitchen sponge who lives undersea with his best friend, a starfish, and a grumpy squid of a neighbor.

    His show, SpongeBob SquarePants, drew more than 56-million viewers in February.

    "It's a perfect match," says Harris, a Tampa resident and a longtime fan the sponge-diving industry.

    Maybe a SpongeBob SquarePants festival, Harris suggests. Perhaps some signs at the city limits saying "Winter Home of SpongeBob SquarePants."

    Tap is opened on natural gas pipeline

    A 581-mile pipeline carrying natural gas from Alabama to Florida started flowing Tuesday, becoming the state's first new source of that fuel in 40 years.

    The Gulfstream Natural Gas System pipeline, which runs along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and makes landfall near the mouth of Tampa Bay, will provide cleaner-burning natural gas to power plants across the state.

    Although no plants in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco or counties northward have signed up, one nearby customer will be the Florida Power & Light plant in Manatee County. That plant currently burns only oil.

    Other customers of the gas, which comes from wells offshore from Alabama, include new plants owned by Florida Power and independent Calpine Corp. in Polk County and another Florida Power plant in the Kissimmee area.

    Competition between the new pipeline and the existing Florida Gas Transmission line should keep gas prices lower, which may help customers, industry analysts say.

    In short . . .

    TAMPA -- The state Supreme Court ruled that Hillsborough Circuit Judge Florence Foster should be removed from the bench for medical reasons, effective immediately. Foster, 48, has been off the bench since last month, when she announced that her worsening multiple sclerosis prevented her from performing at full ability.

    The Fred E. Marquis Pinellas Trail received some national recognition when Southern Living magazine named the popular 34-mile recreation route one of the best rails-to-trails bicycle paths in the southern United States. The story appeared in Southern Living's March 2002 special "favorites" publication.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave tentative approval last week to new speed zones and other regulations in the Alafia River in Hillsborough County and Terra Ceia Bay in Manatee County and to new no-entry zones in the Blue Waters section of the Homosassa River in Citrus County. After public hearings in July, the commission will take a final vote on the restrictions in September.

    Coming up this week

    A trial begins Monday over the state's redistricting battle. Timing is critical because the first election deadline is June 24. If a three-judge federal panel rejects the Legislature's map, which Democrats say was drawn to create Republican victories, legislators will be called back to try again.

    The Pasco County School Board may soften its tough stance on graduations, which restricts participation in commencement ceremonies to graduates only. Faced with this year's crop of weepy students and their parents, the board decided to "rethink" the policy at its meeting Tuesday.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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