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EAGLES' NEST ADDS A TWIST

The birds stir up an already fierce battle over a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

What has been a fierce battle between Wal-Mart officials planning to build a new supercenter and Tarpon Springs residents bent on preserving land on the Anclote River just got more complicated.

A bald eagle pair has built a sturdy and federally protected nest on the property.

For the birds, it's an ideal site: a live pine tree with branches that twist under the nest to support it, a river with clear water to fish and not much disturbance nearby.

But it's less than 200 feet from the walls of a planned nearly 5-acre Wal-Mart Supercenter. On site plans, the tree appears to be in the parking lot, and slated for removal.

A Wal-Mart official said last week that this is not the first time they have discovered an active bald eagle nest on property they were developing. So they know what's required and how to work with the agencies involved.

Others see the nest as more of a stumbling block.

Mayor Beverley Billiris said the agencies that protect the eagles will have to weigh in and advise the parties involved.

Dory Larsen, president of Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs, a group that has worked to stop Wal-Mart and protect the river, hopes the eagles make a difference to her cause. "It's beyond fantastic news," she said. "I am just e-l-a-t-e-d."

The eagles have been carrying sticks to the nest, perching in or near the live pine, flying back and forth together, said Barb Walker of East Lake, an Audubon of Florida Eaglewatcher who has been watching and documenting the nest.

"We've been aware since spring that there are eagles on the site," said Quenta Vettel, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "We have an environmental engineer who monitors the site on a regular basis."

The big box retailer got City Commission approval for its site plan in January 2005, but is facingdelays due to permitting missteps and challenges to its revised site plan.

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