PINELLAS PARK — A pair of bald eagles has forced city officials to abandon plans to build a recreation center at Freedom Lake Park.
Bald eagles are protected under state and federal law. In this case, that means Pinellas Park is prohibited from razing a building and constructing another close to their nest. Because the eagles won't move, the recreation center must.
City officials had no idea there were eagles living at the park, 9900 46th St. N, when the council last month approved the razing and rebuilding of the structure that once housed the Disabled American Veterans. They prepared the building for demolition, but just before the dismantling began, someone looked up at the nearby cell tower.
"I think it was one of the parks people who said, 'I think there's eagles up there,' " city spokesman Tim Caddell said.
Sure enough, a breeding pair had moved in.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it could issue a "disturbance permit" under certain circumstances. The construction has to be at least 300 feet from the nest during breeding season, which runs Oct. 1 to May 15. If it's not breeding season, construction has to be at least 100 feet away.
"These are well within that (range)," Caddell said.
Pinellas Park could wait until the eagles leave, but that might not happen. Some eagles stick around all year. Others leave for the summer, but tend to come back to the same nest with the same mate year after year, said Pat Behnke, a spokeswoman with the wildlife commission.
Even if the birds decide to go elsewhere, nests aren't considered abandoned until they've been vacant for five years, she said.
So, the city decided to build the recreation center elsewhere, most likely at Youth Park, 4100 66th Ave. N.
Although the city could use the building while the eagles are there, that likely won't happen. It has already been cleared and prepared for demolition, said Debra Rose, library and recreation services administrator. Not only that, but the building needs repairs and it's unlikely that officials would do those now.
Rose said it is unclear when the eagles moved into the park. The attraction seems to be the fish-laden lake and the presence of an unused nest.
"Apparently, it was an old osprey nest," Rose said. "I think it is unusual for them to (take over abandoned nests)."
Caddell said the birds seem to be doing well. They can occasionally be seen perched on antennas on the cell tower.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.