Lawyers appear ready to negotiate in fish camp battle

Published February 15, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Attorneys announced Tuesday a surprise break in the internecine - and sometimes absurd - legal drama that has embroiled a 60-year-old fish camp and at least two government agencies.

In the meantime, Mary's Fish Camp will be allowed to stay open, Judge Richard Tombrink ordered Tuesday.

"I just hope the parties involved haven't become so entrenched in their positions that they are not able to be flexible and agreeable," Tombrink said.

The break in the stalemate follows months of bitter fighting between the county, the Department of Health and supporters of the camp on the Mud River.

The dispute centers on two issues: whether the entire camp has the proper zoning and also its lack of a permit from the county Health Department.

The Health Department can't issue a permit to a business that doesn't have proper zoning, said Al Gray, the department's environmental manager.

The department also required the fish camp to build a wastewater treatment plant on the site. The plant was built, at considerable expense, and resolved any potential health concerns, said fish camp attorney William Whitehead.

However, the plant was built on a parcel adjacent to the camp, and the county disputes the zoning of that parcel.

On Tuesday, Hernando County attorneys outlined some possible solutions to the land use dispute.

The attorneys for the fish camp - Whitehead and Joe Mason - appeared open to negotiation.

Mason told Tombrink that chances were high that an agreement could be struck.

Tombrink said he was shocked at the sudden detente. He kept in place a stay that allows the camp to continue to operate without a permit until the issues can be resolved.

"I encourage everyone to negotiate in good faith and to work this out," the judge said.

"Your honor, we're very hopeful," Whitehead replied.

"Well," Tombrink answered with a skeptical smile, "you've been very hopeful in the past."

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at 352754-6127 or aloder@sptimes.com.