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    Metro week in review


    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001

    PORT RICHEY -- At least some of the still-sealed grand jury investigation of the Port Richey building department involves allegations that then-acting Mayor Bob Leggiere interfered with city workers' jobs.

    Nearly 600 pages of documents and several hours of tape recordings detail what the police chief found while investigating Leggiere and how the city lost three building officials in seven months.

    The grand jury, after two days and 13 witnesses, decided not to indict anyone involved, but has issued a report that remains sealed by a judge.

    Three building officials told the police chief that Leggiere was interfering with their jobs, disagreeing with their decisions and suggesting alternatives on a series of building projects in the city. They said Leggiere's actions led them to quit. In several cases, Leggiere intervened on behalf of people who also bought windows from his business.

    Just as he has since the investigation surfaced last year, Leggiere told the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday that he became involved in the building department only to help individuals and received no financial gain.

    "I should never have gotten involved in any of this," he said. "It never should have come to me if they had been doing their jobs."

    Citrus Springs golf course makes magazine's top 10

    INVERNESS -- El Diablo Golf and Country Club in Citrus Springs delivers as one of the country's best bargains among new public courses, according to Sports Illustrated in this week's Golf Plus section.

    El Diablo, which charges greens fees of $54 to $59 during the winter season, was the only Florida course mentioned.

    This is not the first time the course has attracted national attention. In 1999, Golf Digest named El Diablo the country's best new affordable course. The 18-hole course, designed by Jim Fazio, opened in June 1998.

    How does El Diablo stay affordable?

    "It's difficult," said Chuck McNeight, El Diablo's head professional and general manager. "It's tough to try to make a profit, but we're in Central Florida, and we've got a lot of golf course competition, so we have to be better. We have to have better service. We have to have a better golf course. This is as competitive a market as I've been in."

    Water offenders will pay more for pampering plants

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Local governments throughout the Tampa Bay area are determined to make water pigs feel a financial pinch, some voting to quadruple fines for illegal watering.

    It will now cost $250 for second-time offenders in Pasco County, up from the current $60, and $500 for third-time offenders, up from $120.

    The Hillsborough County Commission recently hired two new enforcement workers and raised fines from $75 to $100 for a first offense and $500 for the third offense.

    And in Clearwater, the city will instruct all employees on the road during their shifts -- from police officers to park maintenance crews -- to start recording watering violations and give out warnings, vastly increasing the number of eyes on the spigots.

    It's all part of the marching orders coming from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which wants to see the six member governments of Tampa Bay Water -- St. Petersburg, Tampa and New Port Richey; and Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties -- adopt emergency plans to deal with critically short water supplies.

    Joe Richards, Pasco's newly hired water attorney, said few people can claim ignorance about restrictions on the books for a year.

    "Everyone should be aware of it unless you're living under a rock," Richards said.

    Helmets of sand still grind on many skeptics

    CLEARWATER -- The Super Bowl sand sculptures that rose on Pinellas beaches -- and cost $683,000 to build and promote -- still have their skeptics kicking sand in the faces of fans.

    The much-photographed sculptures of football helmets returned $8.59-million worth of publicity, says the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    But some local mayors remain unconvinced.

    "I have yet to find anybody who saw anything on TV relating to that thing," said Treasure Island Mayor Leon Atkinson.

    "The goal that day was to capture the moment and drive business down here," said Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti. "From our point of view, there was nobody here. The beach was empty."

    The bureau, which commissioned the sculpture, says 355 news segments were broadcast on local news stations throughout the country. Coverage appeared overseas in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

    You just can't buy publicity like that, said Carole Ketterhagen, the bureau's executive director.

    "The fact is, it did work," she said Monday. "It got worldwide media attention. And it looked spectacular."

    New tour turns tourists into dolphin researchers

    TAMPA -- Tourists will be enlisted as dolphin researchers in a new tour offered by the Florida Aquarium.

    Customers on the aquarium's new 64-foot catamaran, the Bay Spirit, will help build what amounts to a family album of bottlenose dolphins in Tampa Bay.

    As they spot the animals, a crew member will photograph the dolphins, creating a catalog that will identify each dolphin seen between the Port of Tampa and the mouth of the Alafia River.

    "As we see them and photograph them again and again, we can talk about this particular individual, his life span, where he's been," said Michael Priolo, who directs the aquarium's educational programs.

    Daily tours begin in April, though no firm date has been set. The cost will be $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for children, and discounts will be available.

    National Guard settles in at Hernando airport

    BROOKSVILLE -- It was moving day last week for the 171st Aviation Battalion of the Florida National Guard as it left Lakeland and settled in at an $8-million facility in Hernando County.

    Eventually, eight Black Hawks and a C-23 Sherpa cargo plane will join the unit's 35 full-time employees in their new digs at the Hernando County Airport.

    The move had been delayed by the crash last month in Georgia of one of the unit's twin-engine Sherpa aircraft, which killed three members of the battalion and 18 members of the Virginia Air National Guard.

    The memorial services that followed the crash delayed the start of the move of the battalion, a transfer that was supposed to take a few months.

    But the battalion is getting little time to settle in. Florida's season for brush fires is under way. Before three of the unit's Black Hawks landed Tuesday, they first parked 700-gallon buckets on the ground in preparation for fire calls in the next few days.

    Coming up this week

    The bay scallop has enjoyed a resurgence lately, thanks to a ban on commercial harvesting. The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is open to the idea of lifting restrictions on harvesting the delicacy in light of its recent rebound. The agency will host a public hearing at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park on Wednesday.

    A University of Florida researcher who has spent the past three months studying Hernando County and gauging public opinion about its economic future expects to issue an interim report next week on her findings. The county's economic development effort couldn't have come at a better time, said Rhonda Phillips, director of UF's Center for Building Better Communities. One thing is clear, she said: The county stands on the cusp of growth that could consume it if not handled properly.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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