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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 7, 2002

    Rains flood the area with mosquitoes

    Those welcome summer rain clouds have replenished more than parched lawns: Clouds of mosquitoes are rising from those frequent puddles.

    Mosquito control workers are working fast to keep up, but thanks to the rain, it's slow going.

    The downpours flood an area, then mosquito eggs hatch. But by the time crews spray the area, rain often comes and floods it again, said Jim Robinson, director for Pasco County Mosquito Control.

    "The insecticides we use only work for short periods of time," Robinson said. "We wind up doing an awful lot of retreatment where there are continual floods."

    Floridians are asked to do their part and make sure there's no standing water around for more than a day or two. That includes anything from tarps that collect water, to children's toys, to clogged rain gutters, to old tires.

    Bicycling commuters find safety in numbers

    The recent bloom of bicycle trails has given rise to more commuters who pedal to work. And on the heels of that trend is the formation of "bicycle pooling," a way for these healthy commuters to find safety in numbers.

    To encourage more bike commuters, Bay Area Commuter Services offers a number of programs, including a way for cyclists to register their route online and find others who pedal to work and live in their area.

    For information, call Bay Area Commuter Services toll-free at 1-800-998-7433 or online at

    The agency also offers a guaranteed ride home program, which ensures bicyclists will never be stranded at work.

    And riders can also load their bikes on a bus using the HARTline and PSTA Bikes on Buses program. Many buses have racks so bikes can accompany riders, or cyclists can take advantage of the bike lockers and racks at many of the HARTline and PSTA bus stops. Registration for Bikes on Buses is required.

    SpongeBob finds few fans among Tarpon commissioners

    TARPON SPRINGS -- The idea of adopting a wildly popular cartoon sponge as an ambassador for the sponge capital of the United States appears dead in the water.

    The Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants would be a perfect pairing with Tarpon Springs and its historic sponge docks, WFLA-AM 970 radio host Jack Harris recently suggested. The mayor, seeing a potential publicity bonanza, jumped on the bandwagon.

    But the City Commission last week failed to see the humor in the undersea adventures of an earnest yellow kitchen sponge.

    "I can't fathom why it's a square, synthetic sponge," said Commissioner Beverley Billiris, whose husband, George, is a sponge merchant.

    The old-time sponging families "don't want the industry made a mockery of," she said.

    SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the most popular programs on basic cable. The title character is a gap-toothed sponge who works as a short-order fry cook and spends time with his best friend, a starfish. And his fans range from preschoolers to college students, many of whom have set up fan Web sites.

    Even if the commission had gotten the joke, a Nickelodeon marketing executive was "less than enthusiastic" Harris has said.

    Still, Harris was disappointed. "I think they just don't understand the SpongeBob culture," and popularity, he said.

    Sinkholes swallow money, time as solution sought

    SPRING HILL -- A pause in showers last week gave Hernando County officials time to put back what the ground swallowed. But the work is only a partial solution.

    Workers are filling the holes with sand, said Hernando County Public Works Director Charles Mixon, and for a change, recent rains haven't worked against them.

    "You just basically have to keep feeding the beast," he said. "As we fill the holes, the rains come and pack it down in there so we can add more. Eventually, we can get in there to fill up the void."

    Even as the larger holes are filled, the county's Emergency Management Department fields about six calls each day from people concerned that they have a sinkhole.

    County officials are still trying to decide a more comprehensive fix, considering whether to pump grout into the underground voids or possibly drill into the earth and fill it with hard rock.

    Though the cost of filling the most recent rash of sinkholes hasn't been determined, Mixon expects the price to come in below last year's total of $50,000.

    Study looks at ways to make wetlands wetter

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County's dehydrated wetlands might be getting a refill, but some environmentalists say it's just a way to continue the overpumping that sucked the well fields dry in the first place.

    The Southwest Florida Water Management District is spending $175,000 on a yearlong study looking at how much water Pasco's dehydrated wetlands need. Then it has to figure out how water would get from the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers to 42 acres of wetlands in the 8,600-acre Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

    "This is the first time we'd be using rivers for restoring wetlands on such a large scale," said Swiftmud geologist Ron Basso. "There would need to be a new system of pipes and pumps. But we're not at that phase yet."

    The study was prompted by the fact that pumping in the well fields that New Port Richey and Port Richey rely on will have to be cut back if the wetlands can't be replenished.

    But several environmentalists said the project is a huge mistake.

    "We're going to destroy an environment to fix an environment that we've already destroyed," said Clay Colson, Nature Coast issue chairman of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. He and other environmental groups say the answer is less pumping and a greater commitment to conservation.

    In short . . .

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Although city officials in Tarpon Springs typically distance themselves from issues related to the old Stauffer Chemical property, quickly pointing out that the polluted Superfund site is outside the city's limits, commissioners passed a resolution urging cleanup and medical tests for former students and staff members from nearby Gulfside Elementary School in Pasco County. Mayor Frank DiDonato said the city hopes to attract developers to the north side of the Anclote River and, "it's a little bit of a tarnish on the city."

    TAMPA -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating how three wallabies died while being transported from Ocala to the Lowry Park Zoo on Feb. 19. The zoo is being sued by the owner of the wallabies, Melinda Morgan, an Ocala breeder who claims the animals were confined in covered cages in the back of a hot, unventilated Ryder truck for two hours. Zoo officials say the animals died of stress.

    Coming up this week

    Legislative leaders hoping to avoid calling a special session to fix the new map of Florida congressional districts will go before a panel of three federal judges in a 10 a.m. hearing Monday in Tallahassee. The map, under fire from Democrats who say it's political gerrymandering, cleared its last legal hurdle last week when the judges rejected the Democratic charges and approved the map for a decade's worth of elections. The only sticking points were newly drawn House districts on the southwest coast that the federal government rejected the day before because Hispanic voters were underrepresented.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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