To some people in Citrus County, the second leg of the Suncoast Parkway would be a tremendous economic boost, spurring new development in areas now far off the beaten path.
But to the 6,000 people who get their water from the Homosassa Special Water District, the new toll road is a pollution threat.
The road's stormwater retention ponds would be located next to — and upstream from — the water district's Peach Orchard well field, which produces more than 7 million gallons of water a day. Both are atop a highly porous geological formation known as karst, which is made of easily dissolved limestone riddled with holes and channels....
Before the Suncoast Parkway opened, a consultant predicted that it would be so full of cars its toll booths would rake in $150 million a year by 2014.
That forecast wasn't close. Nor were the next two. The consultant eventually settled on a forecast of $38 million a year.
But when 2014 rolled around, the road was so empty it collected a mere $22 million.
Yet the Florida Department of Transportation now wants to spend $256.7 million to extend the Suncoast another 13 miles north through Citrus County. And the projections the DOT is relying on to justify what has been dubbed Suncoast 2 are from the same consultant that got the first phase so wrong....
ETNA CAMP — To someone strolling along the edge of the woods, the tangled metal straps, shards of broken pottery, and bits of crumbled bricks on the ground look like litter.
But to an archaeologist like Scott Bierly, the items are artifacts of a bygone era, relics from when men toiled amid heat and insects to collect tree sap and refine it into turpentine.
The Etna Camp, on state-owned land in the Withlacoochee State Forest, is so important an archaeological site that it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places....
The thousands of Burmese pythons slithering around the Everglades eating everything in sight have little reason to worry about this, but hundreds of hunters are descending on South Florida this weekend for the state wildlife commission's second Python Challenge.
The python hunt starts today and runs through Valentine's Day, with a $1,500 prize for catching the most snakes and $1,000 for the biggest snake. So far the contest has attracted only 573 hunters, a third as many as the first one did in 2013. ...
Florida has some serious water woes: spreading nutrient pollution, the algae-choked springs and, in the Indian River Lagoon, massive sea grass and wildlife die-offs.
Yet for the past two years, the Legislature has failed to deal with the problem. Politics got in the way.
In 2014, everyone from Gov. Rick Scott to a coalition of environmental groups and a consortium of business and industry groups said the Legislature needed to take swift action on water issues. ...
Nearly 50 years after Florida manatees appeared on the first-ever federal endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it's time to call them something other than endangered.
"We believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy regional director Michael Oetker said in a Miami news conference Thursday.
The agency says manatees are now merely "threatened" — still in need of protection but no longer in such dire circumstances, a change that in Florida can affect everything from development regulations to funding for enforcement....
ST. PETERSBURG — Florida's boaters killed more manatees last year than they did in 2014, according to figures released Tuesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Speeding boats killed 87 manatees in 2015, 14 more than the number of boat-related deaths the year before.
"It's on the high side," said Martine DeWit of the institute's Marine Mammal Pathology Laboratory in St. Petersburg. "Watercraft are still the biggest threat to the manatee population, long term."...
12/30/15 Human Interest
Florida is America's Weirdest State. Let's just agree to that as a first principle. Weird things happen everywhere there are human beings, of course, but more weirdness happens in the Sunshine State and it tends to be weirder.
For proof that this is a fact, look no further than a few of the stories that happened here in 2105 — stories with headlines like "Deerfield Reptile Store Owner Hits People With Pet Dragon" and "Alleged FIU Foot Sniffer Arrested."...
Florida's top environmental official, Jon Steverson, has been pushing all year to get the state parks to make more money by adding hunting, timber harvesting and cattle grazing.
But now one of those appears to be off the list.
Department of Environmental Protection officials wanted to run a pilot project with cattle grazing leases at Myakka River State Park near Sarasota to see how well it worked. The proposal generated intense local opposition....
THE THIRD LARGEST STATE IN THE UNION — Prognosticators have been saying it for years: Florida will surpass 20 million in population.
Such projections are no longer necessary. The U.S. Census Bureau made it official Tuesday.
Florida's population in 2015 was 20,271,272.
Only California (39,144,818) and Texas (27,469,114) had more, according to the bureau.
Wag your elbows. Flap them as if you're a bird. Enjoy that feeling of freedom now, because elbow room in Florida is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida's population has now topped 20 million people.
Prognosticators have been predicting this would happen for years, the way they've been predicting the number of Florida tourists would someday top 100 million. ...
Nearly 40 percent of Tampa Bay residents say those who use state parks are the ones who should pay to make them more profitable, according to a poll of 605 registered voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, 42 percent say the state could boost revenue by leasing portions of parks to ranchers for cattle grazing, according to the Dec. 3-10 Tampa Bay Times/WTSP 10News poll....
One of the oldest captive manatees in Florida, Rosie, has died at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, park staffers confirmed Friday.
Her age was estimated to be in the 50s. The cause of death appears to be cancer -- a posthumous exam found a tumor, said Martine deWit, who oversees the state's marine mammal pathology lab in St. Petersburg.
Park staffers often described Rosie as the "matriarch" of the springs. Rosie was known for looking after the younger manatees at the park, leading to jokes that Rosie was their babysitter....
ST. PETERSBURG — A Red Tide algae bloom that has plagued Charlotte and Sarasota counties for months recently moved north into Manatee and Pinellas counties.
Now fish kills have begun littering the waters and beaches around Pass-a-Grille, Boca Ciega Bay, the Sunshine Skyway and Terra Ceia Bay, said Kelly Richmond, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg....
About 8 a.m. Tuesday, an anonymous driver helped Florida's panthers — the state's official state animal — set a new milestone.
The driver hit a 1-year-old female panther on Keri Road in Hendry County, making it the 26th panther to be killed by a car or truck this year. That's a record.
The driver did not stick around afterward, said Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission....