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The week in review

By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


County says "not yet' to water fines

BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County, which is perched on top of the richest puddle of water reserves in the Suncoast, is starting to boil over water restrictions.

At a meeting Thursday, the county's code enforcement officers asked county commissioners for permission to get tougher on water violators. They wanted to stop warning violators and get straight to the fines.

Unlike their counterparts in other counties, commissioners said no. They had a bigger gripe about water use.

Southwest Florida Water Management District officials have said alternately that Hernando County has plenty of water for 20 years of development, yet it also has to limit the water sprinkled on lawns.

"The basic question needs to be asked of Swiftmud, what are we doing here?" Commissioner Nancy Robinson said. "They say we have the water. We need to have some better rationale than (that) we're doing it for the counties to the south of us."

Water levels in lakes, rivers and aquifers stand at record lows in all parts of the 16-county district, said Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan, and everybody is affected to some degree.

Casino boats compete for Tarpon Springs space

TARPON SPRINGS -- Two competing casino companies are gambling on dock space in Tarpon Springs, but there may not be enough room at the playing table.

SunCruz Casinos LLC and Paradise of Port Richey have both applied to dock a casino on Dodecanese Boulevard, but city rules require they remain 1,500 feet apart.

Paradise's application offered few details about the company's plan. SunCruz LLC representatives said if everything goes according to plan, the boat would hold 150 to 325 people and dock on property owned by sponge merchant George Billiris.

"We figure that there's a need," Billiris said. "People go to the north of us and the south of us, so why not here? The demand is strong enough."

Neighbors rally to halt new Phillies stadium plan

CLEARWATER -- Residents of the neighborhoods northwest of the proposed new Philadelphia Phillies spring training complex want to call the game on account of sinkholes.

Residents in four areas -- mainly College Hill, but also Rolling Heights, Forest Glen and Hillcrest Estates -- have formed the Northeast Regional Clearwater Homeowners group to voice their concerns about the proposed stadium. And one homeowner is taking legal action to try to block the city from financing the complex.

They are concerned about increased neighborhood cut-through traffic and noise from the proposed stadium. Another worry is that the construction of the complex could aggravate sinkholes discovered in the past three to five years in the area.

City officials, a representative of the Phillies and a local geology professor say that residents need not be concerned.

The city had a traffic study done to recommend improvements to nearby roads, the officials say. And as for sinkhole concerns, the city plans to require construction techniques that prevent sinkholes from becoming a problem for the stadium or its neighbors.

Crystal River loses another administrator

CRYSTAL RIVER -- The Crystal River City Council's decision to show City Manager David Sallee the door is being felt in other departments as top managers head for the exits also.

Public Works Director Buddy Holshouser announced his resignation Monday, citing reasons that included the City Council's decision earlier this month not to renew Sallee's contract.

Building official Walter Brown left in December, saying a preliminary council vote in November to let Sallee go was a mistake.

"I can't say it's unexpected," said Mayor Ron Kitchen. "Had they renewed David Sallee's contract, both Walter Brown and Buddy Holshouser would be here."

Council member Ray Wallace said he was shocked Holshouser was leaving, but he cautioned against blaming the resignation on the council. "We're not trying to give him a hard time with his job."

Gulf gas pipeline wins initial federal approval

TALLAHASSEE -- The first hurdle has been cleared for a 753-mile-long natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico that would start in Mobile, Ala., cut across the mouth of Tampa Bay and make landfall at Port Manatee in Manatee County.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday gave approval for the $1.6-billion Gulfstream Natural Gas Pipeline.

But it still needs approval from several state and federal agencies before construction can begin -- and some environmental agencies say construction will hurt important marine habitat on the gulf bottom.

FERC's approval says the project will cause "limited adverse environmental impacts." But other federal agencies have a different view. The Department of Commerce has complained that "this pipeline has the potential to significantly degrade sensitive marine habitats, including those important to commercial and recreational fisheries."

Pinellas' plan for four-year college has PHCC worried

DADE CITY -- The plan to create a four-year public college in northern Pinellas County worries Pasco-Hernando Community College president Robert Judson.

The plan, spearheaded by state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Largo, would transform St. Petersburg Junior College's Tarpon Springs campus into St. Petersburg College and University Center, a four-year school that would begin by offering teaching, high-tech and nursing degrees but could eventually offer much more. It stems from a deal to keep the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus under the control of USF.

Judson said he had no problem with the school's plan to admit juniors in 2002 and no problem with its recruiting juniors and seniors from PHCC or anywhere else in Pasco and Hernando counties. But there are limits.

"I don't think we should let it go any further," PHCC board chairwoman Judy Parker said.

Judson said he hopes to have Pasco and Hernando counties deleted as service areas in the legislation, a move he thinks would prevent recruitment of potential PHCC students.

Coming up this week

The crowd of nine candidates for mayor in St. Petersburg will get whittled down to two on Tuesday as the city holds a primary in the mayor and City Council races.

The Citrus County School Board is expecting a long and likely emotional debate Tuesday when it convenes a workshop at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the issues of religion in school. Bus loads of church members are expected to fill the Forest Ridge Elementary School cafeteria, where the meeting has been moved. The controversy started when newly elected board member Carol Snyder suggested that, in order to make all people feel included, the board end the practice of having all opening prayers overtly Christian. Water violations and water restrictions will be the topic of the day again Monday as the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board meets. The board will review the results of putting tougher restrictions on lawn watering and business operations to combat the region's drought.

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