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    Metro Week in Review

    Ted Williams lauded, but home is not

    By Times staff
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 23, 2003

    HERNANDO -- The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame this week finally recognized the Splendid Splinter whose name is over the door.

    It wasn't an oversight, just the preference of the late hitter to leave his own name off the roster of great hitters.

    "He never would have allowed it if he were with us. Dad always wanted to honor and recognize other great players first," Williams' daughter Claudia Williams, wrote in this year's ceremony program. "Dad was gracious that way."

    Not quite so gracious was the less-than-flattering description that appeared in a Monday Boston Globe column by Dan Shaughnessy about the ceremony in which he called the area "the empty space of Florida's ugly middle," and argued that the 9-year-old museum should instead be in Boston.

    Rather than simply pointing out that Boston is long overdue in honoring one of its sports legends, Shaughnessy couldn't resist taking shots at the place that Williams chose to call home. And that had residents in an uproar.

    Angry phone calls flooded the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. Several residents, including County Commissioner Josh Wooten, fired off indignant missives to the Globe.

    "Apparently Mr. Shaughnessy missed the grand opportunity to golf some of Florida's most challenging courses, fish for large-mouth bass in the wonderful Tsala Apopka chain of lakes or try his luck at catching record-setting tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico flats," wrote Wooten, who also chairs the county's Tourist Development Council. "These are just some of the things that inspired Ted Williams to move to Citrus County."

    Large sinkhole appears to have spared highway

    CITRUS SPRINGS -- Driving on U.S. 41 appears to be a safe bet, at least from sinkhole dangers.

    A Toyota Corolla swallowed by a sinkhole at a gas station two weeks ago in Citrus County remained deep below the ground last week.

    Meanwhile, scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service ran a ground-penetrating radar along 2 to 3 acres of land between the gas station and U.S. 41.

    Officials were worried that the sinkhole -- previously estimated at 35 feet in circumference and more than 40 feet deep -- had expanded east, triggering other, smaller sinkholes toward or under U.S. 41. That could be dangerous for motorists.

    The radar, which saw as much as 40 feet below the ground, found no evidence that the sinkhole had expanded toward the road.

    Plans are under way to recover the car, remove the Marathon station's canopy and pumps, and fill the sinkhole and any others in the area. But scientists acknowledged that the site is not stable and expected rains could pose more of a problem.

    Merchants say Greek sponge divers vital to industry

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Sponge boat owners and merchants got a big fat Greek headache last year trying to import divers from the island of Kalymnos, but they will try again this spring.

    Sponge industry supporters say bringing divers to the city could give new life to one of Tarpon Springs' crumbling economic cornerstones.

    The hope is that the divers will not only bring in more local sponges but teach the ancient diving techniques to residents and rekindle the city's support for the industry. All in their 40s or 50s, the 10 divers in question have a wealth of experience plumbing the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, currently the world's largest source of sponges.

    Many merchants complained bitterly when the Immigration and Naturalization Service delayed the visas for divers set to come last year, forcing them to reschedule their planned spring arrival to October 2002, well past the peak of the sponge-diving season. By the time the visas were approved, only four were still willing to make the trip.

    "It's a given that you have to have divers from Greece to retain this industry," said George Billiris, a semiretired sponge boat owner and industry advocate. "There's no other way around it."

    New tests find four firefighters arsenic-free

    PINELLAS PARK -- Tainted seafood is suspected in the high levels of arsenic discovered in tests of seven crew members from a Pinellas Park fire station.

    The city first realized it had a problem late last month when two Pinellas Park firefighters showed high levels of arsenic during their annual physicals.

    The city then tested all the personnel and found high arsenic levels showing in five more firefighters. The fire station also was checked, with readings taken on everything from walls to cooking utensils to the protective gear firefighters wear.

    Additional tests taken last week found no traces of arsenic in the blood of four of the firefighters who previously tested positive for the poison.

    Pinellas Park Fire Chief Ken Cramer said many firefighters who fish on their time off bring their catch to share with colleagues. Some seafood is a common source of arsenic.

    Fire union officials said they are relieved but still have questions over the tests' accuracy and the fluctuating levels.

    Plan calls for 235 houses near black bear habitat

    ARIPEKA -- Black bear habitat could be turned into retiree habitat, conservationists say, if a landowner succeeds in building 235 houses around a 50-foot-wide bear corridor.

    Landowner Virgil Berdeaux was criticized by conservationists last year when he tried to get a rezoning to build the Maple Lakes community, 270 homes near the Gulf of Mexico in Aripeka. Berdeaux's property, 210 acres west of U.S. 19 on the north side of Aripeka Road, is part of a patchwork of properties the Gulf Coast Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust, wants to preserve from Hudson to Citrus County.

    Gulf Coast Conservancy member Mac Davis calls the Berdeaux property a "choke point" vital to the success of the Aripeka Coastal Greenway.

    The Southwest Florida Water Management District has tried to convert the land to public ownership for years but hasn't settled on a purchase price.

    Berdeaux's new application appears as a master-planned unit development, a designation that carries with it closer government scrutiny.

    In short . . .

    TAMPA -- Drivers approaching Tampa International Airport's main terminal can expect closer scrutiny. Because of the higher terror alert, even vehicles that are just dropping off passengers may be searched.

    LARGO -- Highland recreation complex will soon get a snazzy corkscrew-shaped water slide and a long-awaited skate park. The skate park, the dream of a few dozen local teenagers since 1998, won unanimous approval.

    LARGO -- The first year of school choice in Pinellas may start more smoothly this fall than many skeptics anticipated, as 77 percent of the students who participated in Pinellas' new school choice plan received their first choice of schools for the 2003-04 year. Another 10 percent got their second choice. Taken together, that means nearly nine out of 10 who took a chance on the choice system got what they wanted.

    Coming up this week

    Work on the area's $110-million desalination plant, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, picks up steam next week as builders try to beat a March 4 deadline to produce 12-million gallons per day. Because Covanta Energy, the contractor building the plant, missed its last deadline, it already owes Tampa Bay Water 66-million gallons of free water.

    Amos Lee King, the longest-serving death row inmate from Pinellas County, is scheduled for execution Wednesday for the murder of an elderly Tarpon Springs woman. DNA tests on 25-year-old evidence proved inconclusive.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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