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Airboat rules aim to keep grasses safe

It looks like Hernando County's airboat playground is about to get some rules.

An airboat advisory task force says it has crafted rules that would allow boaters to enjoy their sport while also protecting marsh grasses along the coast.

The proposal would limit all vessels to natural waterways to stop the destruction of grasses. County parks director Pat Fagan, who led the committee, said the ordinance does not stop airboats from going into marsh areas. It just bans them from areas that have not been traveled before.

But Ray Allred, a past president of the West Coast Airboat Club, argued that part of the fun of airboating is running along what he called "skinny water," along the trails in the marshes.

County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson said she understood where Allred was coming from: Pasco County.

"Since they've got (airboat restrictions) and we don't, we're looked at as the playground," Robinson said. "Well, we're putting some rules up for the playground."

Coaches get help in

measuring the heat

INVERNESS _ The Citrus County School Board agreed to spend $1,000 for gadgets that help coaches decide when the heat is just too much.

The board voted Tuesday to buy wet bulb thermometers, also called heat index thermometers, that can tell the heat index by measuring the combined effects of temperature and humidity.

The board members also said they wanted the new devices to go to coaches with instructions and guidelines so they would know when the thermometers register a reading that could indicate a danger to students.

The need for new guidelines for coaches was raised by parents earlier this summer when several came before the board seeking rules for coaches and other participants of athletic events. They were concerned about times when their children became ill or saw others become ill due to strenuous activity.

The idea still raised questions from the School Board attorney, who warned that, under the few guidelines available, "mark August off for Florida" for practices and activities.

"I'm willing to leave it to the common sense of our coaches at that point," said board member Carol Snyder. But she said the coaches need to use the guidelines that are available.

Noise-quieting parkway

berm riles those left out

BROOKSVILLE _ A $1-million mound will separate the Silverthorn development in Hernando County from the noise of the Suncoast Parkway. So naturally, the question from neighbors followed: Where's our berm?

Silverthorn homeowners successfully lobbied and negotiated for the sound barrier last year, which culminated with a series of standing-room-only meetings with the state Department of Transportation last March and April.

Now that construction has begun, a number of neighbors envy Silverthorn's dirt.

A wire fence is all that separates Oakwood Acres development from the sounds of cars and trucks whizzing by at 70 mph.

"How come they're putting that big buffer only on one side of the parkway?" asked Ruth Harper Boehme, who lives in Oakwood Acres. "The noise is so bad over here, I can't even hear my birds."

Silverthorn's berm is a result of organized, consistent lobbying, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joanne Hurley, who insists that no other Hernando community has asked the state to build a sound barrier.

But Gloria Williams disagrees. The Oakwood Acres owner and developer said she asked the state for a barrier years ago, but nobody listened.

"I asked for it too, but it didn't do me any good," said Williams, whose heavily wooded development has 75 residents. "It's pretty hard to get something out of the state if you don't have a lot of money."

Commissioner fumes after

too many sparks fly

CLEARWATER _ A few weeks ago, a Pinellas County commissioner's neighborhood erupted with sparkling lights and booming explosions for the Fourth of July.

The commissioner's eruption soon followed.

Commissioner Ken Welch is fed up with people ignoring the state's rules on fireworks, and he wants to know how restrictions can be tightened.

But that's easier said than done, county officials said.

Under state law, most people can't set off any fireworks except sparklers. But the law allows fireworks vendors to sell them to people for a few specific jobs, such as mining, working in a fish hatchery or scaring away birds.

Many vendors ask customers to sign a waiver saying they'll use the fireworks legitimately. Police and fire marshals complain the law is too hard to enforce.

Welch has had enough.

"These are dangerous explosive devices, and there's the blatant loophole in the law," he said. "Everybody is winking and nodding and turning the other way, and the majority of our good citizens want to live in peace and not have to endure this every Fourth of July."

Construction workers' display ends talk of building ban

TAMPA _ In a grand political display, hundreds of construction workers poured into County Center on Wednesday to protest a building moratorium threatened by Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms.

But the real show of force was taking place inside commission chambers.

There, Storms told the crowd she doesn't really support a building moratorium. She accused the Southwest Florida Water Management District of trying to make one happen by forcing unrealistic watering restrictions.

She said the county is threatened with fines if water use climbs in her south central Hillsborough district, when that area's growth makes increases unavoidable.

Swiftmud executive director E.D. Sonny Vergara said he took exception to Storms' remarks, accusing her of intellectual dishonesty. He said Swiftmud's only interest was in protecting groundwater sources.

In a call for restraint, commissioners approved plans for a future workshop on long-term water use by a 7-0 vote.

In short . . .

TAMPA _ Officials across the Tampa Bay area were stunned to find that it could cost taxpayers $21.8-million to bring the Republican National Convention to town in 2004. Despite the money questions, the board of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau on Thursday cast a unanimous vote of confidence in continuing to pursue the bid.

LARGO _ The Bay Area Renaissance Festival is considering seven sites as a potential new home, including one in west central Pasco. Jim Peterson, organizer of the Renaissance Festival, declined to disclose the seven sites he is considering. Largo city commissioners canceled the festival's contract in April to make way for a new library.

Coming up this week

A Citrus County judge on Tuesday will weigh in on the Ted Williams feud for the first time since a dispute began over the famous baseball player's remains. John-Henry and Claudia Williams will ask a judge to approve a restraining order against their half-sister, Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, who they say is attempting to intimidate potential witnesses.

In a hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will try to back out of its settlement with environmental groups over manatee protection. The agency had promised to protect the endangered sea cows by limiting waterfront development and boating speeds throughout Florida. But now federal officials say the deal they signed with environmental groups was illegal and should be scuttled.

_ Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

COME ON IN, THE WATER'S FINE: Shannon Cornwell, a Florida Aquarium dive interpreter, looks into the shark tank in May. Certified divers who sign a waiver and pay $100 soon will be eligible for a new program believed to be the first of its kind in the country, aquarium officials said, allowing divers unobstructed access to sharks. Two divers will be allowed into the tank for about 30 minutes with two aquarium "safety divers" as chaperones. The goal of the program is to dispel myths most people have about the oceanic predators. The aquarium already has a waiting list of folks who want such an encounter. The program may begin as early as October.