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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 11, 2002


    Local lions may be link to a dynasty

    TAMPA -- A 600-pound lion named Judah that roams in preservationist Susan Aronoff's back yard in Wesley Chapel might become part of plan to revive an officially extinct Barbary subspecies.

    Judah lives on 5 acres of donated scrub land that Aronoff is working to turn into a top-notch animal habitat and education center called Preservation Station.

    Some day, said Aronoff, Judah's offspring might run free again. She is working with Oxford University and WildLink International, a species survival organization, to determine whether his DNA matches that of the officially extinct subspecies.

    WildLink officials have identified a handful of lions in captivity they believe to be descended from the original Barbary.

    If Judah's DNA fits the bill, the goal is to one day breed him with 8-month-old Elsa, who also shows Barbary traits, and reintroduce the species in Africa.

    Aronoff once had a career in marketing. She left her job to do preservation work full time.

    "Now I'm just a beggar," she joked.

    Everything -- including the fencing, plumbing and the land for the sanctuary -- is donated. Those donations enable her to meet her animals' demands, including about 200 pounds of meat each week that costs $800.

    Rains return aquifer to healthful levels

    Those summer downpours have engorged the Floridan Aquifer with more water than it has seen in years.

    The Tampa Bay region has yet to recover fully from decades of excessive pumping of groundwater. But downpours in June and July have raised the aquifer beneath Pasco, northern Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to 2.94 feet above the minimum healthy level. That's 31/2 feet above readings taken last year at this time.

    And water from the 1.6-billion-gallon Hillsborough River Reservoir in Tampa spilled over its dam July 4, sooner than the Southwest Florida Water Management District had expected.

    Still, don't look for any letup in once-a-week lawn watering restrictions reimposed last year in the face of less-than-normal rain.

    Water managers say those parts of the aquifer under the region's 11 main public well fields are not as full. Nor are many of the region's stressed lakes and wetlands.

    Little League officials will review squall at game

    PINELLAS PARK -- Little League Baseball officials in Williamsport, Pa., will decide if Pinellas Park players and parents acted so badly after a tournament game that they instigated two brawls. One parent had part of his ear bitten off, and a 9-month-old baby was knocked to the ground.

    Of 30,000 games since international tournament play began, last Monday's game between Pinellas Park National and Deerfield Beach was only the fourth reported to Williamsport because of violence and the first in which someone was injured, said Lance Van Auken, director of media relations for Little League Baseball.

    The ultimate sanction would be to terminate Pinellas Park National Little League's seniors program for 15- and 16-year-old baseball players, but it's unlikely any punishment would be that severe, Van Auken said. That sentence is usually reserved for "persistent, willful violations of rules and regulations."

    Little League Baseball will make a decision after it has spoken to people from both teams, which could take a month.

    1 in 5 identification cards fail to reach Pasco voters

    DADE CITY -- Pasco County elections officials are trying to figure out why nearly 20 percent of the 230,000 identification cards sent to voters last week were returned as undeliverable.

    Meanwhile, a New Port Richey congressional candidate asked for a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, calling the incident an "assault on the integrity of the Florida election process."

    Voters do not need the cards to be eligible to vote. But because of recent redistricting, many voters are likely to show up at the wrong polling places on Election Day.

    Melba Hamilton, chief deputy to the elections supervisor, said some of the cards might have contained misspelled names that did not register when run through the National Change of Address database. In other instances, only one member of a family filed a change-of-address form even though an entire family moved.

    Chuck Kalogianis thinks the answer might not be so simple. The Democratic candidate, who will run against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis for the 9th District congressional seat, called for an FDLE investigation.

    "With everything that's happened in the past year and a half, the last thing we need is more bad press on the elections process in Florida," Kalogianis said. "This isn't a light situation. Looking at this, there are far too many unanswered questions."

    Radar reveals 200 unmarked graves

    TARPON SPRINGS -- What time, poverty and neglect have threatened to erase, volunteers are recovering bit by bit at the Rose Cemetery.

    In a painstaking process, volunteers are using county-owned, ground-penetrating radar equipment to find unmarked graves. In about a month of work this summer, they turned up 200 previously unknown sites.

    The 5-acre graveyard was established a century ago. It was the final resting place for black Tarpon Springs pioneers who worked in the town's sawmills, orange groves and livery stables or dived for sponges alongside Greek immigrants.

    But the cemetery's importance extends beyond Tarpon Springs. Through the years, black families from Clearwater to New Port Richey have brought their loved ones to the Rose for burial.

    Problem is, the cemetery has more than 2,600 spaces for graves, or lots, but no one knows exactly how many are occupied, said Alfred Quarterman, president of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Rose Cemetery Association, which owns and maintains the graveyard.

    In 1999, a survey of all the headstones in the cemetery found about 600 marked graves. At most, caretakers have about a thousand names of people who are thought to be buried there.

    In short . . .

    -- CLEARWATER -- Construction delays mean free parking for another month for travelers using St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. Starting Sept. 1, it will cost $2 for the first hour in the short-term lot and $1 each additional hour.

    -- Problems in the present have postponed a yearlong series of meetings that were to address the future of the Catholic Church in the Tampa Bay area. The synod, during which Tampa Bay area Catholics were to discuss important issues facing the diocese and plan for its future, has been canceled because of the attention focused on the sexual misconduct of priests and others in the church, Bishop Robert N. Lynch said.

    Coming up this week

    Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, the oldest daughter of baseball legend Ted Williams, plans to file a petition next week asking Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas to direct Al Cassidy, executor of William's estate, to follow the wishes stated in her father's will. Cassidy has said he is convinced Williams wanted to be cryogenically frozen after his death. Ferrell's half-siblings, John-Henry and Claudia Williams, say their father changed his mind after writing the will. Williams' body is thought to be in a cryonics lab in Arizona.

    -- Monday is the deadline for those who want to vote in the Sept. 10 primary election. A last-minute registration drive is under way, including all 41 Eckerd stores in Pinellas County. Call your local Supervisor of Elections office for information.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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