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Opponents say Rays, manatees don't mix

Environmentalists: More debate is needed about the proposed stadium because of nearby mammals.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008


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ST. PETERSBURG

Opponents to the Tampa Bay Rays' plans for a waterfront baseball stadium have come up with another reason to protest the development: manatees.

Environmentalists argue the presence of the endangered species in Tampa Bay near an area where the Rays want to dump fill dirt to create about 26,000 square feet of new land means more public discussion is needed before the ballpark plan moves forward.

The complaint is the latest in a string of issues raised by opponents of the development, including concerns over parking, who will foot the construction bill and how the stadium will affect the city's waterfront. The Rays hope to see the $450-million ballpark up and running on the site of Al Lang Field by 2012.

Reason to 'take this plan right off the map'

Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said he doubts the manatees would be affected by construction.

"We have done research on the process and a number of studies in the area that would be affected and we have not found any evidence of disruption," he said.

But opponents hope their doubts will be enough to stop the project's momentum.

"The manatees need to be protected," said Cathy Harrelson, chairwoman of the coastal task force for the Suncoast Sierra Club. "It is a very big concern."

"The environment is just the tip of it," said Lorraine Margeson, an environmental activist opposed to the ballpark. "To me, right now this gives every reason to take this plan right off the map, not even waste our time talking about desecrating the city's waterfront when there is no need for the city to do this."

Stadium plans call for dumping fill dirt over six-tenths of an acre of Tampa Bay to create about 26,000 square feet of new land, the equivalent of three house lots. The Rays would then reroute Bayshore Drive across the new land, making the road bow out into the bay.

Without the extra land, the Al Lang site would not be able to hold a major league ballpark, Kalt said.

The dredge would occur in an area that state records show contains several patches of sea grass beds vital to the health of the bay.

Opponents also question whether construction would affect the flow of a spring in Tampa Bay that was once used to supply water for the Fountain of Youth, a defunct tourist attraction in downtown St. Petersburg.

Swiftmud and Rays officials meet Thursday

For more than 60 years, hundreds of people visited the Fountain of Youth. Tourists and residents filled jugs with the rotten-egg-smelling sulphur water to take home.

Preservations say the stadium should be reconsidered if there is any chance it will disruptthe spring.

"It is something that needs to be addressed," said Will Michaels, president of St. Petersburg Preservation.

Robyn Hanke, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said such concerns are most likely unfounded.

"The well is about 1,000 feet from the seawall," she said. "So it is quite a distance away."

Rays officials will meet with Swiftmud for a preapplication meeting Thursday. Swiftmud will evaluate how the development will affect issues such as stormwater runoff, said Hanke.

"We don't know what their specific plans are. We haven't received anything in writing yet," she said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Manatees

- An estimated 3,000 manatees swim in Florida waterways.

- The Pinellas County Manatee Watch Line logs an average of 450 reported sightings per year.

- Sea grass beds like the ones in Tampa Bay are prime feeding spots.

[Last modified January 9, 2008, 09:04:28]


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