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WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS IS PUT ON A SHORT LEASE

The attraction's lease is made monthly as it fights with Swiftmud.

The mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs haven't stopped swimming, despite a recent move to a month-to-month lease with landlord Southwest Water Management District.

"This doesn't change anything right now," said attraction spokesman John Athanason. "We still pay our lease on time, it's just on a month-to-month basis."

Rather, it shows Swiftmud's true intentions, he said, "and they aren't to save the attraction."

Though official in late June, Weeki Wachee publicized the development Tuesday in a statement. It's the latest legal wrinkle in the 3-1/2-year-old case and comes as both sides prepare to head back into the courtroom next week.

Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan said the attraction breached the lease with the water district when it requested an injunction in May against Swiftmud's motion for summary judgment.

That injunction, said Molligan, went against a clause of the 30-year lease and terminated it.

"We're not saying to get out, but we're hoping for the opportunity to resolve the issues through the negotiation of a new lease," Molligan said.

If a new agreement isn't negotiated, and a judge upholds the summary judgment request during a case management hearing on Aug. 16, Molligan said, the water district will ask the state, and then Hernando County, if either is interested in running the attraction.

"If none of those three things work, then we'll put it out for bid," Molligan said.

At that hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m., Weeki Wachee plans to ask the judge to dismiss the case.

Since the legal battle began 3-1/2 years ago, Swiftmud has questioned the legality of the rental agreement. Among other issues, the water district doesn't think the city can legally own and operate the attraction.

The city of Weeki Wachee owns the mermaid attraction and adjacent water park, donated by the previous owner. The land the Weeki Wachee Springs attraction sits on is owned by Swiftmud, which leases it to Weeki Wachee.

In May 2006, both sides came close to signing a new agreement when Weeki Wachee Mayor and attraction general manager Robyn Anderson and water district board Chairman Tom Dabney met without lawyers and worked out their differences.

But Weeki Wachee wouldn't agree to obtaining an underwater land lease from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which the water district insisted upon. The talks fell apart.

Senior Marion County Circuit Judge William Swigert has been assigned to the case since Hernando Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink recused himself last month.

Before that request by Weeki Wachee attorney Joe Mason, who claimed that Tombrink was biased, the case was scheduled to resume at the end of this month.

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