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Week in review

Donations pour in for Boys & Girls

By Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2003

SPRING HILL - Donations are dropping in like fall leaves at the once-troubled Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County, which only two months ago threatened to shutter it programs.

The organization that runs before- and after-school programs for dozens of youngsters has rebounded thanks to generous community and corporate support. And the news just keeps getting better.

In October, more than $17,000 in donations, led by $10,000 from Allstate Insurance Co. And recently, Publix gave the organization a $10,000 donation, said board spokeswoman and treasurer Carol Freeman.

Taco Bell, ABC, Toys "R' Us to provide more aid for clubs

Through Dec. 9, the three Taco Bell restaurants in Hernando County and two in Pasco, are asking customers to put up $1 for a paper bell to benefit the club. And an even greater pool of potential donors is being tapped by ABC-TV on its Good Morning America show.

The network, in a cooperative effort with Toys "R" Us, is urging viewers to make financial contributions that will purchase Christmas gifts from the chain for distribution to Boys & Girls clubs.

Veterans Expressway tolls will soon increase by 25 cents

TAMPA - Better have some extra quarters handy to navigate the Veterans Expressway.

Florida's Turnpike Enterprise plans in March to add 25 cents to the tolls at the Veterans' two main toll plazas and to the ramp at Hutchinson Road for cash customers, but not for vehicles using the SunPass automated drive-through system.

The extra change will allow turnpike officials to improve the road. There is a plan to study widening the road and to increase the number of SunPass lanes.

While SunPass users avoid the rate increases, heavy users of that system will lose their discounts.

SunPass, which operates on a windshield-mounted transponder, automatically deducts tolls from prepaid balances when a vehicle passes through a toll station. Since the system started, motorists who register 40 or more hits on a given road over the course of a month get a retroactive discount. That will end. Being spared the fare increase will offset the discount loss, turnpike officials said.

Trail enthusiast pushes for path extension into Dade City

DADE CITY - The community volunteer who helped bring state attention to a needed trailhead for the Withlacoochee State Trail is seeking community support to extend the 46-mile trail into Dade City.

Denny Mihalinec, known in east Pasco for his work with Habitat for Humanity and the trailhead effort, and who recently was awarded Volunteer of the Year by the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, said his new goal is 1,000 signatures in support of the trail extension.

The Withlacoochee Trail runs 46 miles from Trilby to Dunnellon along a paved strip that used to be a railroad line. It is part of the state's Rails to Trails network.

The trail dead-ends in Trilby near U.S. 301. Mihalinec joined state parks officials in July to announce a grass-roots drive encouraging the state to approve money for a parking area and trailhead in a grassy lot.

Bringing the trail to Dade City would encourage more visitors locally and open it to more people, he said.

Robbery at Hernando grocery store ends with gun's "ping'

SPRING HILL - A hapless robber ran out of luck when the pellet gun he used in holding up a grocery store accidentally discharged.

"It went "ping' instead of "pong,"' said Hernando County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Joseph Paez.

A Pasco County man was foiled in his attempt to steal money and lottery tickets from a Spring Hill supermarket early Tuesday when the employees realized that the masked man's weapon was a pellet gun, officials say.

Once the employees realized that it was a pellet gun, they wrestled the robber and pinned him down until sheriff's deputies arrived, Paez said. No one was injured.

Daniel Allan Giddings, 19, of 15654 Lancer Road in the Shady Hills area, is accused of trying to rob the Winn-Dixie marketplace on Spring Hill Drive of money and lottery tickets.

Wetlands may soak Pasco mall development plans

LAND O'LAKES - Several state agencies are less than thrilled with the current plans for a mammoth-sized shopping mall at Interstate 75 and State Road 56 in Pasco County.

Last week planners with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, overseeing government review of the project, recommended rejecting the Cypress Creek TownCenter, which would provide more than 6,000 jobs, 100 stores and $7.5-million a year in taxes.

The report suggested that landowner John "Hi' Sierra Jr. failed to provide "convincing evidence" that building the mall and adjoining businesses justifies destroying about 76 acres of wetlands that prop up Tampa's drinking water supply.

Many of the wetlands feed Cypress Creek. The creek is an Outstanding Florida Waterway, meaning it's illegal for development to degrade its water quality. It flows into the Hillsborough River and supplies millions of gallons of Tampa's drinking water.

For Pasco County, the mall's potential economic benefits have been alluring. The yearly estimated tax haul from the property is $7.5-million. Impact fees would bring in a one-time $17.75-million.

To minimize wetland destruction, planners have urged Sierra to design a multistory mall with a stacked parking garage. Sierra's people argue such an arrangement is out of step with modern mall design.

But at least one Pasco elected official, County Commissioner Steve Simon, isn't ready to count the money. For the project to proceed, commissioners have to approve a development order, and Simon says it would have to be modified at this point to get his vote.

Treated wastewater dumping in gulf called to a halt

Florida's environmental agency can no longer use the Gulf of Mexico as a dumping ground for millions of gallons of treated wastewater from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant, federal officials said last week.

That means the two ships that have been spraying the waste into the gulf during the past six months carried their last loads last week. Instead an aquatic preserve at the mouth of Tampa Bay will again bear the brunt of the waste disposal project.

The federal permit allowing ocean disposal of the waste expires today, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected the state's request for a six-month extension.

The EPA allowed state officials to dump the waste from the Piney Point plant in the gulf only because it was an emergency, with hurricane season threatening rains that could have sent untreated waste into Tampa Bay. Now the hurricane season is over and so is the emergency, EPA officials said.

With the end of gulf dumping, the state Department of Environmental Protection will resume discharging the treated waste into Bishop's Harbor, an aquatic preserve that has long been subjected to Piney Point's pollution.

The EPA's decision was bittersweet news for fishing industry activists, who adamantly opposed the gulf dumping when it first was proposed but remain concerned about Bishop's Harbor.

Scientists monitoring the discharges in the gulf and the harbor say so far they have seen no adverse effects.

- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

[Last modified November 30, 2003, 01:16:37]

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