Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Springs' Health Adds to Debate

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Springs' Health Adds to Debate

Article excerpt

NORTH PORT: Temperature drop alarms some as a spa's future is envisioned

SARASOTA COUNTY

Warm Mineral Springs is not quite as warm as usual this winter, its mineral-laden waters as much as four degrees cooler than the usual 87.

Worries about the health and future of the springs brought a few dozen people to Tuesday's meeting of the Sarasota County Commission.

Those same worries are the flashpoint of a dispute between the county and its partner, the City of North Port, as the governments try to come up with a plan to develop the springs -- one of the county's most mysterious natural resources.

The county wants an eco-tourism destination, with a spruced-up spa and other amenities -- possibly a hotel.

But North Port commissioners abruptly shot down a proposal to move the project forward last week, saying they want a joint meeting soon, more information, and possibly a less-intense development.

"There's a lot of concerns and we're not paying attention," says North Port Commissioner Linda Yates, who joined two recently elected commissioners in the vote. "We're just rolling on and focusing on what we can do to make money."

Visibly annoyed, county commissioners responded on Tuesday. Commissioner Carolyn Mason asked North Port to "stick to your word" regarding the $5.5 million business deal they made together when they bought the land in 2010.

County Commissioner Joe Barbetta also was blunt.

"All of a sudden we get an election in North Port and everything's thrown out," Barbetta said. "I don't want to go to a joint meeting and participate in a joint meeting without knowing why we're there."

The spa's users and a few environmental advocates say that Yates is not the only one concerned about the spring's long-term health.

Environmental advocate Jono Miller pointed to studies that have shown many of Florida's springs are flowing more slowly, and their waters are growing more polluted. The last intensive study of Warm Mineral Springs, in 2002, predicted its flow would decrease 20 percent by 2020.

Nobody knows why the springs is cooler this year, when its 87- degree temperature has been touted as a testament to its stability.

"Nobody's going to come to Warm Mineral Stagnant Pool," Miller warned. "It has to flow, and not only does it have to flow, but the flow can't be contaminated."

Just last week, county officials did a quick study of the spring after a resident raised questions about potential carcinogens in its waters, which contain dozens of minerals.

They found no cancer-causing chemicals, but many questions remain.

A private deal

Warm Mineral Springs, the largest spring of its kind in Florida, has long been a draw for those who believe in the healing powers of dozens of minerals present in the water. The amenities, which include an aging spa building, draw 80,000 to 100,000 visitors each year despite little formal advertising. …

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