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Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

SAM members review bridge plan

SAM has a reputation.

At the Mantee County administration building and during the recent town meeting, even in bridge-focused chit-chat at the Anna Maria post office and at the Island Branch Library, Save Anna Maria Inc. is characterized as the group that’s against a new bridge.

SAM met Nov. 10 at the West Manatee Fire Rescue District Station No. 1 in Holmes Beach. During that meeting, the group came to agreement on several issues, the most prominent being that SAM does not oppose the construction of a new bridge, provided such a bridge is needed, and provided it is not a “megabridge.”

“We are not against a new bridge,” said SAM treasurer Billie Martini, a former Holmes Beach city commissioner. She then polled the group on how many oppose a high-rise bridge. Fourteen hands went into the air. Fourteen SAM members were seated in the room.

“From here on down, we’re talking bascule bridges,” Martini said, referring to any new bridge to the Island.

“Has it been established beyond a shadow of a doubt that we even need a new bridge?” asked SAM secretary Nancy Deal.

Jim Kissick of Bradenton Beach, during a free-ranging, two-hour discussion, repeated his suggestion that if a new bridge must be built, a bascule should be constructed on the south end of the Island, where there is no seagrass to destroy, where there is no major disturbance of mangroves and where a bridge can connect with the State Road 70 corridor.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of what Jim said,” Margaret Jenkins of Anna Maria said.

SAM members also agreed to draft a letter to Florida Department of Transportation officials, as well as politicians and business community leaders, seeking clarification on some issues regarding the 400-day rehab of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

“We’re not satisfied that all our questions were answered,” Deal said.

Part of the proposed rehab will involve a 45-day closure of the bridge, planned now for October and November 2008.

SAM members said they still don’t understand why the rehab work cannot take place 24/w7.

DOT officials have said some night work will take place, but that the contractor has concerns about safety issues, as well as lighting during turtle nesting season. Regulations prohibit lighting from reaching the beaches from May through October because artificial light can disorient turtles.

SAM members also questioned the success rate of the contractor, Quinn Construction in Palmetto. The company was overdue on several bridge projects in the past, yet DOT representatives vouched for Quinn’s record at a previous SAM meeting.

And again the question was raised about the use of carbon-composite technology in the bridge rehab. Martini has proposed that the technology, which adds strength to structures, be considered for the AMI Bridge.

But DOT officials have said applying carbon-composite to the 50-year-old bridge, which has been deemed structurally sound but functionally obsolete, is not cost effective.

“I still contend that the DOT likes to spend our money without investigating alternatives,” said Walter Zahn, adding that a sufficient rehabilitation of the bridge should last longer than 10-15 years, as projected by the state.

In other business, the resignation of Sheila Hurst as SAM president and Jay Hill as vice president was announced. Hurst has moved from the Island and Hill resigned for personal reasons.

Kissick agreed to serve as president pro-tem and Doug Maynard as vice president.

“I don’t mind fighting with DOT because that’s what I’ve been doing,” Kissick said, adding that he didn’t want to serve in the position for a long term. “Please make it brief.”

Katie Pierola, a former mayor of Bradenton Beach and longtime SAM member, also suggested SAM discuss with members of the ManaSota-88 group a possible merger or partnership.

“We need a good lobbying group,” Pierola said.

SAM’s next meeting was not set as of Islander press time.