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    Metro Week in Review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 30, 2002


    Party may be over for sandbar fans

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Keep the keg in the boat and Rover on a leash at the north Anclote sandbar, and you'll likely have no problems, state parks officials say.

    Effective Monday, just in time for the Fourth of July, no alcohol is allowed on the popular sandbar. Dogs are allowed only on one designated part of the island and must be leashed.

    In a compromise with the boaters who have protested for months about pending changes, the parks officials will continue to allow campfires, cooking and overnight camping without registration.

    But many boaters were not happy with the plan released Tuesday by state parks officials, saying it did not go far enough and is too vague.

    A group called Save Our Sandbar says it plans to keep fighting restrictions on the sliver of land.

    "We're going to abide by these rules," SOS founder Doug Metko of Holiday said. "We'll abide by them. We'll also fight our butts off to change them."

    Number of scallops plunges as divers prepare to jump in

    HOMOSASSA -- Come Monday, the state lifts a seven-year ban on harvesting scallops in the north Suncoast, but some worry that seafood lovers may not have much to choose from.

    Scallops will be fair game from Aripeka near the Hernando-Pasco county line, north to the Mexico Beach Canal in the Panhandle.

    But the latest census, completed last week, bears some potentially troubling news: The Homosassa area had 52 scallops per 600 square meters, compared with 299 per 600 square meters when the decision to lift the ban was made.

    "I'm not thrilled about it," Bill Arnold, the Florida Marine Research Institute researcher who conducts the survey, said Thursday. "We're going to have to monitor this season very carefully."

    Arnold pointed out that the numbers today are still far greater than in the mid 1990s, when there were often fewer than 10 scallops per 600 meters.

    "You are looking a little harder, but there are still plenty," he said.

    The season runs through Sept. 10.

    City's Building Department faces another inquiry

    PORT RICHEY -- The City Council voted last week to conduct its own investigation of the city's troubled Building Department, the sixth probe of the department since 2000.

    On June 11, the City Council first talked about a report commissioned by City Attorney Paul Marino and City Manager Vince Lupo to look into longstanding allegations of misdeeds in the Building Department.

    The report documented several cases in the mid-to-late 1990s where public records went missing, homes were built in violation of city and state building codes, and quality control was lacking in the Building Department. Most of the report coincides with building official Ralph Zanello's tenure, which ended in 1999. Zanello later took a job as a deputy building official for Hernando County.

    Not taking any chances, Port Richey's current building official, Bill Sanders, told his bosses two weeks ago that if a City Council inquiry into the department's past includes him, he'll hire an attorney to defend himself.

    Yet to be decided is how much the council will spend on the probe, what will be investigated, what time period the investigator will look at and what the council members will do with the information once they get it.

    Blocked entrance opens floodgate of scrutiny

    TAMPA -- It all started when a Tampa surveyor was denied access to a gated subdivision with public roads. Now, the Hillsborough County Commission is wondering whether the agreements that made the gates possible are legal.

    Last week the County Commission gave the County Attorney's Office 60 days to come up with some answers.

    "We're talking about public roads that taxpayers build," said Commissioner Jan Platt, who opposes such deals.

    Since 1995, the commission has signed agreements with four developments allowing residents to install gates at those entrances, even though taxpayers pay for the upkeep of the roads.

    In exchange, anyone is guaranteed free access to the roads and neighborhoods. But guards hired to supervise the gates regularly question visitors about who they are visiting and why.

    Commissioner Jim Norman defended the agreements as an attempt to deter crime.

    Troubles rise as rain falls in Hernando

    SPRING HILL -- The Hernando County Public Works Department was finally able to start refilling some sinkholes last week, but more were opening up as heavy rains continued.

    Workers started filling sinkholes in a drainage retention area off Mariner Boulevard and on Amidon Street. But a downpour Tuesday created problems in Spring Hill, where a new sinkhole about 20 feet in diameter opened behind a Bedford Road home.

    Several new sinkholes were discovered in a county drainage retention area off Amidon Street that has been plagued by sinkholes in recent weeks.

    It is estimated the refilling project will require 1,000 to 1,500 cubic yards of sand and should cost as much as $10,000.

    In short . . .

    BROOKSVILLE -- Yet another judge -- the third in teacher Joseph Gatti's 51/2 years of legal battles -- has found nothing to show that Gatti ever did anything wrong during his time around three former students who accused him of sexual abuse. In this latest case, heard in February, Gatti's teaching license was at stake. Administrative law judge Diane Cleavinger issued a ruling late Monday that not only cleared Gatti but credited him for being one of the few people looking out for the safety of his chief accuser during a crucial point in the boy's life.

    CLEARWATER -- A state commission cleared Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope of four counts of improper judicial conduct Wednesday but left him still facing two charges stemming from his evening last year with a woman in Carmel, Calif. The Judicial Qualifications Commission left standing one charge of public intoxication and another of "inappropriate conduct of an intimate nature." Cope faces a separate, criminal trial in California next month on five misdemeanors, including prowling.

    TAMPA -- Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr., a Tampa native, took the helm of the 2.5-million member African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richardson was invested for a one-year term as president of the Bishops Council during a ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center.

    TAMPA -- He asked for it, so if you have an opinion on the acclaimed architect Rafael Vinoly's stark design for the Tampa Museum of Art, send him an e-mail. The internationally known architect said more than 150 e-mails came to his New York office in response to his plans for the new $52-million Tampa Museum of Art, revealed two weeks ago. Vinoly said he welcomes responses and is still tinkering with his design. His e-mail address is rvinoly@rvapc.com.

    Coming up this week

    New laws take effect across the state starting Monday. Among them: HIV testing of prisoners, allowing underage culinary students to sip wine -- as long as they spit it out -- and stricter penalties for drunken driving and boating. Drivers with two DUI convictions will have to blow into a device hooked to their cars' ignitions. The law will also make it a misdemeanor to refuse a Breathalyzer test, and a third DUI conviction will be a felony, leading to permanent loss of license.

    Watch your fingers July 4: The Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal agency, said about 5,700 Americans passed through hospitals last year around the Fourth of July with fireworks-related injuries. Nearly half were children under the age of 15.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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