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    Metro Week in Review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 4, 2002


    Preschool is spared from budget ax

    INVERNESS -- Even with a tight budget year, the Citrus County school district decided to get ahead of the trouble curve with money for a preschool program.

    Despite earlier sentiment that the district should focus its resources on kindergarten through 12th grade, the School Board was unanimously behind the program.

    "If children don't have a good start in school, it really impedes their progress," board member Carol Snyder said.

    The prospect of cuts in the prekindergarten program, similar to one for disabled children, came with changes in federal eligibility requirements, including one that both parents or guardians work.

    As the district began to screen children for prekindergarten, it became evident that many were not going to meet the tougher standards.

    School Board member Patience Nave said she became convinced that stimulating learning before these children officially enter school could mean fewer problems in later grades. "We're intervening before they need intervention."

    Homosassa Springs park may lose its volunteer divers

    HOMOSASSA SPRINGS -- The enthusiastic force of about 67 volunteer divers who scrub the windows of the Fishbowl Observatory at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park may be sunk.

    According to new regulations that have been proposed for state park workers by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, those diving jobs pose safety risks.

    Under new guidelines, the state park might lose many of the volunteer window washers and could have to pay certified divers to take over the critical task. For years those volunteers have been in charge of keeping algae off the thick glass so park visitors can get a crystal clear view of the captive manatees and thousands of fish in the spring inside the park.

    Park employees are exploring other means of getting the rules changed or finding if there are any loopholes for the unique circumstances at Homosassa Springs. They are also looking at alternatives if such loopholes don't exist.

    Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has always relied heavily on volunteers, who outnumber paid staff by 10 to 1. There are about 300 volunteers, who handle everything from office paperwork to driving the boats to the park entrance and providing a narrative history of the area.

    Patch of land in faceoff: Bucs camp or nature park?

    TAMPA -- To preservationists, it's 70 acres of quiet, unspoiled woods.

    But to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it may soon be a great spot to run, pass and kick.

    The team wants to build a training facility for practice sessions on weekdays before home games at the site on Morris Bridge Road in northern Hillsborough. But opponents say it's a valuable piece of nature well worth preserving.

    The site was nominated for purchase by the state, but the owners of the property would likely lose millions in the deal because the government typically pays only the appraised value of the land, not its market value.

    The site is zoned agricultural/rural, which limits its development to one house per 5 acres. But a zoning hearing master will be asked to change the classification next month, which would allow the Bucs to build parking lots, three fields and several buildings.

    Nudist resort expands again to suit growing guest list

    LAND O'LAKES -- North America's most visited nudist resort is outgrowing its britches once again.

    Just months after it completed 71 new condominiums off U.S. 41, Paradise Lakes is preparing to break ground on dozens more apartments.

    The 70-acre "clothing optional" resort is also making room for 72 RV spaces about a mile away on Leonard Road, near the entrance to another nudist resort, Lake Como.

    Selling the property shouldn't be a struggle. Each year, Paradise attracts about 75,000 American and international visitors to its Club Med-style resort. Those wanting to stay longer find residential property inside the compound scarce and expensive.

    Regarded as the nation's nudist nirvana, Land O'Lakes is home to five nudist resorts, ranging from slick to grungy.

    Paradise is under pressure from Caliente, a soon-to-open resort at U.S. 41 and Carricker Road that purports to be more upscale. Caliente owners say they are 10 months shy from opening a 34,000-square-foot nightclub, restaurant and health club complex.

    Wysong Dam is rebuilt, raising criticism

    LAKE PANASOFFKEE -- More than a decade after it was removed, the Wysong Dam is back.

    Major work on the reincarnated dam, which spans the Withlacoochee River, was finished weeks ago, and construction crews are expected to disband by this week.

    The 250-foot-wide dam is, for now, submerged in the dark water of the Withlacoochee near the town of Lake Panasoffkee. Dam operators will raise the Wysong, which consists of pivoting metal plates supported by inflatable rubber tubes, when summer rains begin to recede.

    Its purpose is to hold water in a reservoir of sorts and maintain levels in Lake Tsala Apopka and Lake Panasoffkee and feed the groundwater system that eventually releases its flow into Citrus County's coastal springs.

    Swiftmud's removal of the dam in 1988 sparked a bitter controversy, with some residents saying the action destroyed recreational and fishing space in the lake chain and harmed property values.

    Today, some critics of the rebuilding cite the same studies that closed the dam and suggest that it could choke off life downstream.

    In short . . .

    Jack Hanna, host of television's Animal Adventures, has all but signed a contract renewal with Busch Gardens, a park official said last week, derailing Citrus County's courtship of the celebrity. The three-year deal with Busch Gardens in Tampa, where Hanna has based his popular television program for nearly a decade, comes during a bidding contest among several groups hoping to lure him away, including the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne and Citrus County's manatee sanctuary.

    BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County commissioners last week unanimously adopted draft airboating rules that both environmentalists and airboaters supported. Among other things, the county now prohibits boats from traveling across aquatic grasses, but allows them to pass through existing natural waterways in the marshes.

    Coming up this week

    Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt meets Monday with Rick Dodge, who until recently led Pinellas' economic development efforts. Angry memos and angrier words zinged from top Pinellas County officials last week after Spratt demoted Dodge for making a "commitment" of $2.5-million in county money to help build private roads in a new office park. Dodge has defended his actions and has not said how he will respond to the demotion.

    The deadline for signatures to be validated for constitutional amendments for the November ballot is Tuesday. So far, nine initiatives have made it onto the ballot, including a proposal to reduce class sizes and one to ensure universal prekindergarten. Two that are awaiting qualification are a Floridians for Humane Farms initiative that limits the confinement of pigs during pregnancy and a proposal to return the state universities to a statewide governing board similar to the disbanded Board of Regents.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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