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Judge ends lawsuit about sea turtles

Two women had wanted Volusia County to do more to protect the endangered creatures.

A federal judge ended a 5-year-old lawsuit when she ruled that she will not grant another hearing to two women who contended that Volusia County wasn't doing enough to protect endangered sea turtles.

U.S. District Judge Anne Conway ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was doing its best to protect sea turtles and monitor the county.

"That's good news," said Pat Northey, vice chairwoman of the Volusia County Council, about the lawsuit's conclusion. "It reaffirms that Volusia has been trying to do the right thing."

Residents Shirley Reynolds and Rita Alexander sued the county in 1995, contending that the Endangered Species Act required officials to do more to protect sea turtles from the effects of lights along its 40 miles of beaches. Their attorney, Lesley Blackner, said she had not seen the ruling and did not comment.

Conway originally dismissed the lawsuit, but a federal appeals court overturned the decision and reopened the case. Then last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to kill the suit, sending it back to Conway. The judge ruled against the two women in March, but they were hoping she would reconsider.

Since the suit was filed, Volusia County has passed an ordinance that restricts nighttime light from homes, cars and businesses on the beach during turtle nesting season, which began May 1 and ends Oct. 31.

Sea turtles come ashore at night to lay eggs, then return to the sea. Two months later, hatchlings break out of their shells at night and must quickly find the sea to survive. They are drawn to the water by the reflecting moonlight.

Lights from businesses, homes and cars can disorient them so that they walk away from the water and often die from dehydration, are eaten by crabs or birds or are hit by cars on nearby roads.

The two New Smyrna Beach women had argued that the county wasn't doing enough to enforce the lighting ordinance.

Reynolds and Alexander had also asked the judge to throw out an agreement between the county and the Fish and Wildlife Service that permits the county to allow driving on county beaches, even though it may harm turtles, in exchange for other measures to protect turtles.

Officials have banned cars from 9 miles of beach and halted night-time driving on the rest of the beach.