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    Week in review

    By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


    Clearwater set to rein in rave clubs

    CLEARWATER -- City commissioners appear ready to crack down on rave clubs in Clearwater with a law that says the clubs would have to turn off the speakers and send the partyers home at a decent hour -- quietly.

    If given final approval in two weeks, Clearwater would join St. Petersburg and Tampa in limiting or banning raves.

    After hearing about police concerns about drug and alcohol abuse at such clubs, Clearwater commissioners decided that late-night clubs should be required to receive city permits, which could be revoked if illegal activity or noise became a problem at a club.

    Clearwater's new rules also would close a loophole that had allowed dance clubs that don't sell alcohol to be open all night. Under the proposal, juvenile dance halls -- which would be allowed to admit only people younger than 18 -- would have to close by midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and by 11 p.m. on other days.

    Adult halls for people 18 and older would have to close at 2 a.m., the same closing time imposed on local bars.

    Swiftmud, landowners may split disputed property

    LAND O'LAKES -- The Conner family envisioned a city of 15,177 homes on their family's 8,000-acre ranch. The Southwest Florida Water Management District envisioned preserving the land for eternity.

    It looks as though the Conners and the water agency will try to split the difference.

    After months at an impasse, Swiftmud has suggested buying 4,000 acres on the north side of the ranch between U.S. 41, State Road 52 and Ehren Cutoff. The Conners would develop the 4,000 acres to the south.

    Approved last July, plans for Connerton shocked some growth management advocates because the huge development would essentially put a new city in what could have been prime preservation land.

    Swiftmud had hoped to buy all 8,000 acres, but settled for the northern portion, which contains most of the ranch's wetlands and roughly adjoins preservation land at the Cross Bar Ranch well field north of State Road 52.

    30-minute pitch may help decide Nobel Prize

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Talk about pressure.

    Two west Pasco men -- retired businessman Michael Murphy and Sevens Springs Rotary member David Barzelay -- will have a half-hour in June to help influence who wins the next Nobel Peace Prize.

    They will meet with a non-voting adviser to the five-person Nobel committee in Oslo, Norway, to persuade him to support awarding what is arguably the most prestigious honor in the world to a group, partially run by a Clearwater plastic surgeon, that battles deformity in India.

    India Project raises money and provides the know-how to fix cleft lip or palate, a deformity that plagues Indian children and condemns them to a life of poverty within the Hindu caste system. In its more than 30-year life, the project has helped more than 50,000 kids.

    U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, nominated the doctors, including Clearwater's Dr. Paul Dreschnack, this year for fourth consecutive time, Murphy said. The Nobel committee does not release a list of nominees, but its Web site says the organization has received more than 120 nominations per year in recent years.

    Cranes' test flight buoys hopes for endangered cousin

    Bird lovers rejoiced last week as Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin resonated with the distinctive calls of sandhill cranes, heralding the return of an experimental flock completing a 1,250-mile trip from Florida.

    The dramatic return of nine sandhills to the central Wisconsin sanctuary provided new hope to researchers trying to reintroduce the endangered whooping crane to the eastern United States.

    Last year, researchers used ultralight planes to guide sandhill cranes to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County. They had hoped they would migrate back to Wisconsin.

    Ten of the 11 birds left Crystal River on Feb. 25; the last took off on St. Patrick's Day. For weeks, no one knew where the birds were. Radio transmitters were attached to their legs, but researchers could find no trace.

    Now that the effort has shown success, researchers hope to repeat the process with a migratory flock of the endangered whooping cranes.

    Hillsborough's challenge of desalination permit causes stir

    TAMPA -- In a surprise decision, Hillsborough County commissioners voted last week to challenge a permit to build a desalination plant in southeastern Hillsborough Bay.

    Hillsborough wants financial insulation against the cost of an environmental cleanup if the plant doesn't perform as expected.

    Desalination is seen as potential salvation in drought-stricken, pumping-stressed Pasco County, where reaction to the vote was blunt.

    Pasco County Commissioner Peter Altman said Hillsborough's decision violated the spirit of the six-government agreement that created Tampa Bay Water in 1998 and said his counterparts in Hillsborough lack "leadership and resolve" by caving in to activists.

    Meanwhile, utility officials said the challenge would not likely delay the plant's completion schedule of December 2002, but there was less certainty about its effect on cost.

    Shop owner fined for violating gun law

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- A pawnshop owner will pay a fine and do community service after selling a gun, used in a murder-suicide, without making the buyer wait three days.

    But shop owner Marlene Williams and other Citrus County gun sellers said the County Commission should share some of the blame for failing to spread the word about the ordinance. The County Commission passed the ordinance in April 1999, a few months after the state Constitution was amended to allow localities to beef up their gun-safety measures.

    The provision is stronger than the one found in state law, which requires a 72-hour wait only for handgun purchases.

    The day Troy Truax went into Williams' pawnshop, he had already tried to buy a gun at another shop. But the owner, Al Manchester, refused him because of the waiting period.

    Truax left Williams' Crystal River store on Feb. 19 and drove to Inverness, where authorities say he used his newly purchased shotgun to kill Meghan Durling and then kill himself.

    "It's really sad that girl had to die before people noticed (the ordinance)," Manchester said Wednesday.

    Coming up this week

    The first of several public hearings on Clearwater's latest downtown redevelopment plan starts Monday at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Last year, a $300-million plan to remake downtown was rejected by city voters, who refused to approve leasing the city's waterfront to a developer. The proposal now is to keep the public waterfront in the city's hands, with Clearwater investing as much as $17-million in beautification.

    A committee that has used tourist taxes to carve an eco-tourism niche in Citrus County meets Wednesday to decide what -- if anything -- to do next. The eco-tourism committee has spearheaded projects that included planning a canoe trail between Crystal River and Homosassa.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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