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. Fourth of July mud-racing event canceled in Hernando

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — A proposed mud racing and watermelon-seed-spitting Independence Day event with fireworks at the Hernando County Fairgrounds was canceled Friday when the event sponsor, Peter Michael "Mike" Barbee, informed fair officials he couldn't get insurance.

    Barbee has been promoting development of a mud-bogging venue and a reality TV show about what it would take to make it happen for over a year. Friday afternoon, he posted on his Mud on the Barbee Facebook page: "Just found out we are uninsurable for this type of event. I hate to say it but this event is canceled.''...

    Mud on the Barbee members will not be able to hold a mud-racing event at the Hernando County Fairgrounds after the event’s organizer had problems with insurance and a deposit.
  2. Owner of land where mud-bogging event was planned settles with county

    Human Interest

    BROOKSVILLE — The owner of property that had been promoted as the site of a mud-bogging event known as the Mud on the Barbee has settled his case with the county after he was issued a stop-work order.

    Thomas H. Malouf faced four citations from Hernando County Development Services when the county discovered what was going on and issued the order. The citations included failure to obtain a conditional use permit for a mud-bogging site, failure to obtain a land-clearing permit, failure to obtain a floodplain permit before constructing a bridge and failure to obtain a permit for the construction of a stage....

    Mike Barbee, organizer of the Mud on the Barbee event, will now hold his event July 4-5 at the Hernando County Fairgrounds. He claims Hernando County wants “to tar and feather me and send me out of town on a rail.” Thomas H. Malouf, who owned the land where Barbee planned to hold his event, was fined $500 by the county and ordered to make changes after the county issued a stop-work order for the property.
  3. Hernando County considering two companies' new marketing strategies

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — County officials are hoping to land an expert who can produce a new brand for Hernando and a marketing strategy that will hook new visitors and businesses.

    One scenario would be a pitch to "Follow the Mermaid Trail.'' That brand was offered by Tom Barnette of local marketing firm Business Development Strategies.

    The company was one of two that tied for first place among county commissioners after they heard oral presentations this week from five companies vying for the contract....

  4. Tourism director proposes 2-cent increase in Hernando's bed tax

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners will consider a 2-cent increase in the county's tourist tax in order to beef up marketing efforts and cover the rising costs of tourism development.

    Tammy Heon, the county's tourism development coordinator, made a pitch to commissioners this week for raising the tax to 5 cents on the dollar.

    Last month, Heon came before the commission and proposed letting the lease lapse on the storefront visitors center on Cortez Boulevard near Interstate 75. Not enough people were stopping at the office, deciding to stay in Hernando and generating tourism tax revenue....

  5. Divided Hernando commission okays controversial rezoning for marina in Hernando Beach

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — After more than 5 1/2 hours of testimony from attorneys, county staffers and dozens of residents, a divided Hernando County Commission on Tuesday approved a rezoning request by Blue Pelican Marina that has kept the Hernando Beach community in an uproar for nearly three months.

    The final decision came down to the swing vote of Commissioner Jim Adkins, who wanted the county to make it clear that it was not going to put its planned Nature Coast environmental education center on the marina site, even though the center was still on the marina's application....

    Nancy Barnett Plaeger, center, joins others for Tuesday’s meeting, which had more than five hours of testimony.
  6. Investigation of Hernando Beach fire department focuses on use of alcohol, expenditures

    Local Government

    HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando County officials are investigating allegations that Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department Chief David Freda bought and consumed beer with firefighters on duty and spent fire account money to buy alcohol in Spring Hill, Daytona Beach and Maryland.

    The anonymous complaint also alleged Freda made his firefighters buy him beer and cigarettes and paid them back by allowing them to use his county gas card to fill their personal vehicles....

  7. Hernando Beach residents protest marina's rezoning request

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday will again likely face dozens of Hernando Beach residents opposed to the proposed expansion of Blue Pelican Marina.

    The marina's rezoning request would allow expansion of the marina itself and the possible construction of a lodge, as well as a cultural and environmental education center. That's the same plan the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended for approval in April and the same plan the commission decided to delay hearing until Tuesday....

    The Nature Coast Educational Plaza could go elsewhere, but a lodge could be built in Hernando Beach, pending rezoning.
  8. Plan for preserve education center loses support of Hernando commissioner

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The effort to place an environmental education and tourism center in a mined-out portion of the Weekiwachee Preserve has lost one vocal supporter — Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden.

    Two public meetings last week brought out a substantial number of opponents, including several former top officials from the Southwest Florida Water Management District who were instrumental in acquiring and managing the 11,000-acre preserve in the 1990s. ...

    County residents attend a public meeting at the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary on Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach on the proposed site to build the Nature Coast education and tourism center in the Weeki Wachee State Preserve on Thursday, June 12, 2014.
  9. Bob Evans Restaurant, Dick's Sporting Goods coming to Hernando

    Business

    BROOKSVILLE — The walls of Bonefish Grill are beginning to rise from the ground at the site of the county's newest shopping center, Cortez Commons at the corner of Cortez and Mariner boulevards.

    Meanwhile two more businesses new to Hernando County have begun the county's permitting processes to open in the much-anticipated plaza.

    In recent weeks the building department has received plans for a Bob Evans Restaurant and a Dick's Sporting Goods. They join businesses Bonefish Grill, Hobby Lobby, Mattress Firm and the Vitamin Shoppe, which are also going through the process. ...

  10. Brooksville addresses drainage problems

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Bring up the topic of rainstorms at the city of Brooksville public works department, and people instantly mention the frog-choking Aug. 22 deluge that turned the intersection of Broad Street and Cortez Boulevard into a river complete with flooded cars and floating utility sheds.

    Ever since, Public Works Director Richard Radacky and his staff have been working to prevent such floods in the future. And with this year's hurricane and rainy seasons both under way — and the 2-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Debby coming this month — Radacky is not the only public employee working on fixes to drainage problems....

  11. Plan for tourism center and beach in Weekiwachee Preserve draws crowd of opponents

    Local Government

    HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando County officials tested the water this week on a plan to create a beach and build a tourism center inside the Weekiwachee Preserve.

    The public response was a flood of opposition.

    More than 100 people crowded into the Coast Guard Auxiliary building in Hernando Beach Wednesday afternoon to hear the proposal for the venue, which the county calls the Nature Coast Experience....

    Hernando Beach residents Taylor Hawkins, 41, left, and Dan Hutchinson, 75, look over designs for the education and tourism center Thursday. 
  12. Hernando's new rule for bus riders: no reclining on benches

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County prepares to install benches and shelters at about 45 bus stops, the commission on Tuesday approved a new rule to avoid a problem faced by other mass transit systems: reclining riders.

    The ordinance, approved unanimously, prohibits anyone from fully reclining on a bench, within a bus shelter or on the surrounding sidewalk during normal bus operation hours....

  13. Residents shoot down Hernando Beach bridge project

    News

    HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando Beach South resident Jim Rice would have liked to have seen the bridge on Companero Entra raised to better accommodate his boat and the boats of some of his neighbors.

    He believes the project to provide more clearance under the bridge would have paid dividends in rising property values.

    But Rice's neighbors have overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to raise the bridge by 6 feet and split the cost of the $2.36 million project....

    Hernando Beach residents have rejected the proposal to raise the bridge on Companero Entra and split the cost of the $2.36 million project.
  14. Plan for beach, tourism center at Weekiwachee Preserve draws critics

    Local Government

    SPRING HILL — Under a bright blue sky streaked with wispy clouds, Hernando County spokeswoman Virginia Singer described the cracker-style building planned for the palmetto-dotted site behind her.

    Rocking chairs would circle the veranda, catching the wafting breezes. Tourists and locals would enjoy the setting while they learned about the surrounding environment.

    Spring Hill resident Mary Ellen Smith rode her bike into the midst of the officials, reporters and residents who had gathered around Singer on Friday morning at the Weekiwachee Preserve, which is managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District....

    A rendering of the Weekiwachee Preserve, where Hernando County wants to build an education and tourism center. The county received $3 million from the state for construction.
  15. Hernando staff moving ahead on education center plans

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — When Hernando County got word early this week that Gov. Rick Scott had approved $3 million for the construction of the Nature Coast education and tourism center, the staff was ready to jump into the project.

    The center, which is planned for a location inside the Weekiwachee Preserve, will still require numerous steps before final approval. But county officials didn't want to waste any time, said county Commissioner Nick Nicholson....