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Residents refuse siren system

When the no-name storm of March 1993 hit the Hernando coast, several hours passed before most residents were alerted to rising floodwaters.

After the disaster, in which many homes were damaged or destroyed, plans were discussed for a siren network that would give coastal residents earlier warnings of storms.

Those plans were scrapped earlier this week, however, after about 60 coastal residents told county commissioners they were not interested in picking up the $300,000 price tag.

"One of our points was, what are we really trying to accomplish here," said John Karpiscak of Hernando Beach. "Are we just trying to alert people for a no-name storm situation? . . . A countywide system, now that might have some merit."

The main reason many former proponents of the siren system turned against was it was that county officials said the only way it could be financed would be for coastal residents to pay for it.

"The siren is a good idea," said Christine Doyle of Hernando Beach. "But why should we, those of us in coastal area, pay for this system when it would also help (people who live further inland)?"

Various improvements in other warning systems also have lessened the desire for a siren system. Since the flood, the county emergency management office has upgraded its radio communication system. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration installed a service buoy 100 miles west of Bayport in the Gulf of Mexico. Information from the buoy can be heard on all-weather radios that can be purchased for between $30 and $40.

"The radio is tuned in to the weather channel all the time," Doyle said. "You can shut it off. But during an emergency, it will set off a loud shrill sound that will definitely wake you up in the night."

Doyle said she and her husband, Larry, keep their radio plugged in around the clock. They often hear emergency tests and other information being transmitted.

"It is definitely worth it," Larry Doyle said. "And most people seem to have (the radios) now."

Since the 1993 storm, notifications for hurricanes and tropical storms have improved, Karpiscak said.

"If people listen to the weather radios, they will get the information two or three times an hour. Current technology gives sufficient warning."

One thing coastal residents still would like to see is another road leading to and from the area.

Current evacuation routes are Cortez Boulevard (Route 550) and Osowaw Boulevard.

"What we want more than anything else is another way out," Larry Doyle said. "Shoal Line Boulevard is too narrow. If there's an accident, traffic would be backed up. There's nowhere to go."

Many residents think an ideal location would be through property owned by Southwest Florida Water Management District between Shoal Line Boulevard and U.S. 19.

"There has been concern for quite some time for another road," County Administrator Charles Hetrick said. "But whether or not it happens, we would first have to work with Swiftmud."

Swiftmud officials said there have not been any recent inquiries into a road through the property, but added that the possibility of such a road would be slim.

"It was discussed last year, and it was decided against," Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said. "The land was purchased to be preserved. Putting in a paved road defeats that purpose."

Swiftmud purchased the 6,000-acre site more than a year ago from Oman Construction Co. Plans once called for a huge residential and commercial development known as Oak Sound, but Swiftmud bought the property to preserve the Weeki Wachee Riverine system and the vital habitat for black bear and other wildlife in the area.

"Many people would use the road through that area to save time," Molligan said. "It just isn't consistent with the (current) use of the property."