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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Projects meeting a 'drain' on resources

Never let it be said that Anna Maria City Commission meetings occasionally stray a little from the printed agenda.

Sometimes, they stray a lot.

What was supposed to be a discussion among commissioners at their Nov. 20 meeting about funding a few specific capital improvement projects in the city this year turned into a litany of questions and complaints about all the city's drainage problems, most of which have existed for years.

In Anna Maria, drainage is an issue that sparks nearly as much controversy as parking, and just like any solution to the city's parking problem, everybody in Anna Maria has at least one opinion on what the city should do about drainage.

The commission was to discuss the $25,000 estimated cost of design and permitting for drainage improvements for North Shore Drive and Palm Avenue, one of seven projects on the priority list discussed at the Nov. 13 commission workshop.

City Commissioner Dale Woodland, however, said he needed to be convinced the city should proceed with even a few drainage projects. "It makes common sense that we should maintain our current drainage system first," he said.

"I'm not going to approve any drainage project," Woodland emphasized, until the city looks at getting the current drainage system "in shape" and maintained property.

Commissioners also wanted "specifics" on the proposed repairs and improvements for the humpback bridge on North Bay Boulevard, the Crescent Drive bridge and the seawall adjacent to the North Bay bridge, rather than just the city engineer estimate of $55,000, $33,000 and $50,000 respectively.

Kurt Jensen of Baskerville-Donovan Inc., the city's engineering firm, agreed the commission needed more information.

"I think this needs to be tabled," he said. "We'll come back with specifics" at the Dec. 18 commission meeting, Jensen added.

"We want the project," said Commissioner Linda Cramer, "we just don't want to commit money until we see the bids."

Jensen said he'll return with specific work details for the bridge projects, the North Shore drainage project, and several other smaller drainage projects the commission might want to consider that won't require a Southwest Florida Water Management District permit.

He also agreed the commission shouldn't spend money Ôthat won't fix the problem," but "we can't fix all the drainage problems in Anna Maria. We are tasked to look at areas of greatest concern and make recommendations," which are always subject to commission approval.

Woodland said no maintenance of the city's drainage system has been done for years and Cramer noted that BDI had not brought back further information on a proposal from last summer to restore the swales along the alleyway behind Pine Avenue.

Jensen apologized and said he would get that project information to the commission at the Dec. 18 meeting.

City resident Shirley O'Day noted dryly that the "agenda item was supposed to be North Shore and we've discussed everything else."

Other members of the public wondered why North Shore at Palm was singled out for a drainage project when other areas appear to be a bigger problem.

Flooding and drainage problems were noted at the meeting by the public at other North Shore Drive locations, Hardin Avenue, Pine Avenue, and South Bay Boulevard, among others.

With limited funds in the budget, "We just agreed to look at North Shore Drive," because the city had enough money for the project, said Commissioner Carol Ann Magill.

The priority list of projects came from the city's capital improvements advisory committee after months of public meetings, said Commissioner Duke Miller.

The original CIAC list had nearly 40 projects on it at an estimated cost of $2.8 million, he noted.

The CIAC pared that down to just seven of the most severe problems. The number of insurance claims at a particular address in the city was considered by the CIAC, Miller said, but was not the only consideration in preparing the priority list.

At the Nov. 13 commission workshop, commissioners rejected financing any of the projects through a line of credit, opting to work within the current 2003-04 city budget, which has just $232,000 set aside for capital improvements (The Islander, Nov. 19).

Resident Georgia Van Cleave observed that "every time we have a new commission, we have a new problem with drainage. We've been talking about this forever."

Then let's do something, said Woodland.

Water quality
In other business, the commission agreed in principle to spend $5,000 with Ed Barber Engineering Services for water-quality testing of inland waters, but asked BDI to provide a "scope of services" to the commission on the testing and locations, and include the waters of Bimini Bay as one of the test sites.

Water-quality testing is a prelude to dredging the city's canals, a project that could take years to obtain permits and funding before its inception. According to Public Works Director George McKay, a long-time city resident, to his knowledge the canals have never been dredged since constructed in the 1950s.

A recent canal dredging project in Holmes Beach took two years of preparation before a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit was issued.

Wine sales
The commission also had the first reading of an amendment to the city's public alcohol sales ordinance which would allow take-out wine sales for existing locations.

Commissioners also reaffirmed they have no plans to address any changes to the citys' current 37-foot height restriction on new construction.

Anyone wishing to build above the limit must obtain a variance from the planning and zoning board.

Anonymous letters
Miller blasted a recent anonymous letter to city hall that criticized commissioners and suggested the staff should throw the letters in the garbage if they are unsigned.

City Attorney Jim Dye, however, said even unsigned letters are part of the public record and have to be kept on file.

"Then don't bother putting one in my in-box," said Miller.

Tarpon-Oak paving
The question of who is to blame for failing to inspect what turned out to be a sub-standard paving job done by APAC on Tarpon and Oak Avenues has not been answered, said Mayor SueLynn.

However, said the mayor, APAC has not been paid for that work and Tom Wilcox of BDI has sent APAC several letters requesting satisfaction on the work before payment.

APAC, she said, does not appear interested in correcting its failure, at least at this point.

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