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Worries vented at town hall meeting

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 3, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Sandbars, schools and seniors were the hot topics of discussion during a town hall meeting Tuesday with state Reps. Mike Fasano and Heather Fiorentino.

In the New Port Richey City Council chambers, Republican Fasano told a gathering of about 30 residents and a member of Save Our Sandbar that he'd written a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush about the sandbar conflict.

The letter asks the governor and the Cabinet to reconsider their decision a year ago to place the sandbar north of Anclote Key under the jurisdiction of the Division of Parks and Recreation.

The decision, which took effect Monday, resulted in new restrictions on the consumption of alcohol and running of dogs on the island. Alcohol must stay on boats and dogs must be kept leashed in a designated area.

"It's time now to get the Cabinet's attention," Fasano said in response to a question from Kathy St. Martin of Save Our Sandbar. The group succeeded in making parks department officials back off proposals to require registration with overnight camping and to eliminate campfires.

Bush's office referred calls to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state parks division. DEP spokeswoman Lucia Ross said her agency, not the federal government, made the call to start managing the park based on information from park biologists and other agencies that observe a growing bird population.

"It needs to be under our management to protect shorebirds and a fragile ecosystem," she said. "The governor supports the decision to keep it under park management."

Also Tuesday, Jim Coakley, representing the Gulf Landings Homeowners Association, asked about state support to convince the federal Veterans Affairs department to put a hospital in New Port Richey. The hospital could be put in one of the sites about to be vacated by two hospital companies moving to Trinity. The idea is also promoted by Chuck Kalogianis, a Democratic candidate for the 9th Congressional District.

"It's an excellent idea," Fasano said.

Fellow Republican Fiorentino cautioned that the decision by the state Agency for Heathcare Administration to allow the hospitals to move, which she opposes, is being appealed.

Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke out against alleged plans by local gun activists to teach students about guns.

"We don't think guns should be in schools," he said.

Bill Bunting, president of the Second Amendment Club of America, said when contacted after the meeting that his group is not in favor of using the classroom to teach children gun use.

Though National Rifle Association literature discusses classroom instruction to promote the development of shooting skills, Bunting said the handling of guns would not be done at public schools.

"Certainly, we'd go in and have a diagram and the dos and don'ts: if they pick up a gun, what can go wrong and how they can prevent an accident," he said.

Also, New Port Richey resident Cindy Fargo stood up at the meeting, declared herself a Democrat, and told Fasano and Fiorentino the state government was failing miserably on the education front.

"I really think we should be embarrassed," she said.

Fasano, who said many funding problems surfaced under past Democratic leadership, agreed with her and said it's time to move on.

"There's a lot of blame to go around," he said. "We need to work together."

-- Saundra Amrhein covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is

amrhein@sptimes.com.

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