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Barbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer

Barbara Behrendt

Barbara Behrendt is based in Brooksville and covers Hernando County government, growth, development and the environment for the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the Times in 1983. Born in Chicago, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and earned her degree from the Ohio State University.

Phone: (352) 848-1434

Email: behrendt@tampabay.com

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  1. Brooksville council votes to increase speed limit on right turns at intersections with cameras

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Making right turns on red lights in the city of Brooksville should soon be less stressful, at least for those who fear receiving red-light camera tickets.

    On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would increase the allowable speed for someone making a right turn on red, at a red-light-camera intersection, from 5 mph to 10 mph — no stop required. That means that if someone is going under 11 mph, the person would not get a red-light camera ticket....

  2. After bowing out of politics, Dave Russell announces another run for Hernando commission

    Politics

    BROOKSVILLE — Just three months after collecting a plaque for his years of public service and declaring that he wanted to spend more time with his business and his family, former Hernando County commissioner and state Rep. Dave Russell is running for office once again.

    On Tuesday, Russell prequalified as a candidate for the District 5 seat on the County Commission, a seat now held by fellow Republican Jim Adkins. Adkins accompanied Russell to the Supervisor of Elections Office, saying he had no plans to run for a third term and that he was endorsing Russell....

    Dave Russell completed his second four-year term on the Hernando County Commission in December. 
  3. Special conservation zone could help move projects forward off Hernando coast

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Steve Barton knows a thing or two about how government red tape can keep a project tied up.

    A member of the Hernando County Port Authority, Barton and the county have been working for a couple of years to get the needed permissions to expand the county's artificial reef system. Now, they think they may have found a better way to continue the improvements, without the extensive delays....

  4. Regional planning council to study impact of Cemex mining expansion near Brooksville

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission, which previously had been deeply divided on the issue, agreed unanimously this week to pay for a study to answer questions about how the proposed Cemex mining expansion will affect the county's economy.

    There were several key differences, however, from what had been discussed earlier by the commission.

    Rather than spending tens of thousands on the economic impact study, this report will cost $2,500. And instead of it being done by someone known for doing a study in Levy County that recommended against mining, or one that focused on the need to mine lime rock, this time the work will be done by the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Commission....

    Coal sits piled ready to fuel the kiln at the Brooksville South Cemex plant seen during a tour of the facility in 2011. The company is seeking to expand its mining operation.
  5. HPH Hospice joins larger Chapters Health System

    Health

    HPH Hospice, which has been providing hospice and end-of-life services on the Nature Coast for decades, has signed paperwork making it part of a larger network, a move that could bring some changes down the road.

    At the beginning of February, HPH became affiliated with Chapters Health System, which now adds Hernando, Pasco and Citrus to the counties it already serves: Hillsborough, Polk, Highlands and Hardee....

  6. Hernando getting a growing number of questions, concerns regarding coyotes

    Wildlife

    It turns out that not just roadrunners have problems with wily coyotes.

    So do plenty of Hernando County residents.

    Just ask county commissioners, who are getting frequent and a growing number of questions from people who don't want to talk about sinkholes or traffic problems, but rather about the doglike animals stalking them and their pets.

    Earlier this month, when the County Commission was scheduled to hear a presentation about the opportunistic coyotes, a resident approached Commissioner Wayne Dukes to talk about how one of the wild critters approached him while he was walking his dog....

    Hernando County residents say wild coyotes have been stalking them and their pets.
  7. Rise of rustic wedding venues brings zoning, code issues for owners

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — One day last week, Greg Stephens was faced with the unpleasant task of having to mail refund checks to several couples who had planned to be wed at his newly built Shabby Chic Barn on Liberty Street in Brooksville.

    While the barn is nearly ready to go, city officials won't allow Stephens to begin using it as a wedding venue.

    Both the land use category and the zoning on the site are not what city codes require for such a commercial venture, according to Bill Geiger, the city's community development director. Even if the changes that are necessary go through without a hitch, Stephens won't be able to allow ceremonies there until prime wedding season in June....

    The owners of Saxon Manor in Brooksville have run into zoning issues with a barn on their property that they plan to use for weddings. We have a handout photo of the interior to use with Barb Behrendt's Feb. 13 story.

Photo credit: Greg Stephens
  8. County Commission to request state funding for stadium at fairgrounds

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners have added another item to their legislative wish list — a $350,000 covered stadium for the Hernando County Fairgrounds.

    Given that the county just told the state it could keep $3 million allocated to Hernando last year for the ill-fated Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center, the idea did raise some concerns. Commissioner Diane Rowden questioned whether asking for money for the fairgrounds would again require a monetary match from the county....

  9. Retired Pasco sheriff's veteran hired as senior administrative officer in Hernando

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis has brought out of retirement a 29-year veteran of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to fill the void left when his top civilian administrator, Bill Kicklighter, resigned in December over an ethical breach.

    Brian W. Moyer, 54, started work earlier this month as senior administrative officer and has agreed to work in Hernando for six months to a year at an annual salary of $106,369, including benefits....

  10. Hernando commissioners agree to study traffic near congested intersection

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Recognizing the challenges that new traffic patterns have created on Mariner and Cortez boulevards, Hernando County commissioners agreed this week to study whether the problems might be alleviated by opening a side street that would connect with the frontage road behind the new Cortez Commons shopping center.

    Nearly 400 members of Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill and neighbors signed petitions asking the county to allow a connection between their neighborhood, south of Cortez Commons, and the frontage road, which leads to a traffic light at Mariner, allowing people to turn north or south....

  11. It's official: Hernando will return money for education, tourism center to state

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The twisting and turning tale of the Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center has finally wound to a conclusion.

    Late last week, Hernando County Commission chairman Nick Nicholson signed a letter mailed to state officials formally declaring that Hernando does not want the $3 million the Legislature allocated last year for the project. That action means that the county is no longer obligated to find $3 million in local matching dollars for the ill-fated center....

  12. Citing safety, environmental concerns, Hernando plans assault on invasive lead trees

    Local Government

    HERNANDO BEACH — As a recent front approached, tree branches all over Hernando Beach were whipping around in the gusty breeze.

    For one particular variety of tree, the lead tree, the wind was serving as a handy distribution system for the 6-inch-long seed pods that fall away after they finish maturing on the tree. With the birds and other animals that help spread the seeds, the lead tree has proven to be a growing threat to coastal Hernando County....

    Lead trees put out clusters of seed pods allowing the exotic plants to spread easily and push out native species. Hernando County will soon consider giving the lead trees the same status as the invasive Brazilian pepper, requiring the county and private land owners to eradicate the pests from their property.
  13. Brooksville votes to end controversial red-light camera program

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Red-light cameras will soon be just a memory in Brooksville.

    The City Council voted 3-1 Monday night to bring the controversial saga to an end when the contract with the vendor runs out — likely in December, although there might be some dispute about the date.

    Since the cameras returned to Brooksville in 2012, council members have heard a litany of complaints from residents and business owners who argued that the cameras have turned away business, given the city a bad reputation and caused accidents rather than stopping them....

    "It is time to be rid of the red-light cameras, which have been negative marketing for Brooksville,'' newly elected Brooksville City Council member Betty Erhard said during the meeting.. "The people have spoken, and I implore the council to hear the people and terminate the contract.''
  14. Record number of manatees, and visitors, reported in Citrus waters

    Wildlife

    CRYSTAL RIVER — Joyce Kleen had a hint of what was in store when she learned from a research team at Three Sisters Springs that more than 500 manatees had used the spring between sunrise and sunset one day earlier in the week.

    When Kleen, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, took to the air Thursday for an aerial manatee survey, even she was surprised at the record number of the animals visible in Citrus County waters. There were 797 manatees spotted, including 83 calves, far surpassing the previous record of 657 in 2012....

    During times of cold weather, manatees take haven in Three Sisters Springs, where water is about 72 degrees year-round.
  15. Residents welcome Cortez Commons' businesses, but traffic issues abound

    Local Government

    SPRING HILL — Hauling several bags of merchandise to her car in the Hobby Lobby parking lot one day last week, Brooksville resident Sabrina Sparkman was wearing a smile that said "mission accomplished."

    Even though the new retailer had only been open a few weeks, Sparkman shared that it was not her first visit. She had just moved into a new home, she said, and needed to decorate, so the opening of a Hobby Lobby in her native Hernando County was perfectly timed....

    “The whole com-munity now has only one way to come out. It is just crazy. Who thought this up?’’
The Rev. Arlinda Burks,
Mariner United Methodist