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Date of Issue: February 20, 2008

Anna Maria eager for 2011 beach renourishment

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Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford and Manatee County Conservation Lands Manager Charlie Hunsicker discuss beach renourishment at the Feb. 12 city commission meeting. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

For beach renourishment in Anna Maria, change that old song “What a difference a day makes” to “What a difference 10 years makes.”

When Manatee County began implementing a beach renourishment project for Anna Maria Island around 1998, the reaction by city residents was as if the county had said it was doubling taxes for Anna Maria.

Contentious meetings, name-calling, arm-twisting, a lot of city commission opposition and a general feeling of ill-will eventually resulted in just a .6 mile portion of Anna Maria’s beaches being renourished. Among the complaints were that easements had to be “in perpetuity” and that the sand would not be of the same “sugar-like” quality.

But not so with the planned 2011-12 beach renourishment project.

Maybe it was seeing the erosion effects on city beaches caused by passing hurricanes and Gulf storms in 2004 and 2005, or maybe it is the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not running this project and easements will only be for the duration of construction.

Whatever the case, commissioners at their Feb. 12 meeting greeted Manatee County Conservation Lands manager Charlie Hunsicker with enthusiasm and a promise to do whatever it takes to get the project moving in Anna Maria.

Hunsicker had come with trepidation after three county commissioners had indicated they were not interested in funding the county’s $3.8 million portion of the Anna Maria part of the project if the city was going to be as stubborn as 10 years ago.

That, apparently, is not the case in Anna Maria.

Hunsicker said his mandate from the county commission was to see that the city provides “adequate easements” and enough public parking to meet Florida Department of Environmental Protection funding rules to allow a 50-50 split of the project cost between the DEP and the county. Total cost of the project, including the Coquina Beach portion, was put at $16 million by Hunsicker. The county’s portion will come from tourism tax revenues, commonly called the “bed tax.”

Without an additional 38 public parking spaces identified and made available as public parking, the county would have to cough up an additional $360,000 for the project. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore confirmed what Hunsicker said, noting that the county commission is “not interested” in paying that additional money and wants full Anna Maria support before proceeding to the next phase.

No problem, indicated city Commissioners Duke Miller, John Quam, Jo Ann Mattick, Christine Tollette and Dale Woodland.

“I’m willing to work to provide the parking,” said Woodland, adding that the homeowner’s temporary easement was a far cry from the perpetual easement that the Corps had required.

Hunsicker confirmed that no property owner will have to give up any rights. The temporary easement is just to allow crews access to the beach during renourishment. Once the project is completed, the easement disappears.

Thankfully, the commission may not have to look very far for the 38 spaces.

Rick Spadoni of Coastal Planning and Engineering, the county’s beach engineering company, said he and public works director George McKay toured the city earlier that day and found more than enough existing parking spaces that they believe will qualify as public parking.

Great, said Miller. All that’s needed now is to have the DEP agree that those spaces meet its criteria and that the correct signage is in place. “But we will need direction on what is signage. We need an example,” he added.

Mayor Fran Barford said she will follow up with the DEP and have a representative visit the city to inspect the spaces and discuss signage.

Although Hunsicker said he would report the good news of cooperation to the county commission, Whitmore, who attended the city meeting, encouraged city commissioners to meet with the county commission to express their support for the project.

“This is a serious issue,” she said.

Maybe, noted Tollette, but she reminded Whitmore that Anna Maria is “extremely important to tourism” and she hopes the commission will consider that when discussing beach renourishment.

Barford said she would arrange a meeting of both city and county elected officials to “clear the air” about the project. She also was happy to note the commission’s collective reaction.

“I’m very pleased with the city commission’s concern about beach renourishment. I’m confident that together, we can work out all the problems.”

Worried that some Manatee County Commissioners might still want to keep Anna Maria out of the planned 2011-12 beach renourishment project — even if the city meets the parking and easement criteria — Barford the day following the city commission meeting invited the county commission to a lunch to see that the city is “on track with a good attitude and willingness to work together.”

Barford said that she was “concerned” because some county commissioners apparently are “not viewing Anna Maria Island as one barrier island” for renourishment.

Excluding the city from the renourishment project because of “past attitudes” and the fact that the city does not generate the same amount of tourism tax dollars as the other Island cities would be detrimental to the tourism industry of those cities, she said, and the entire Manatee County area.

Hunsicker noted that although the project may not begin for another 3 to 4 years, beach renourishment takes an enormous amount of planning and permitting. That’s why he and Spadoni have initiated the feasibility study, and why they need commission consensus and a promise of cooperation.

There were no objections among the sparse gathering of about 25 people at the city commission meeting.

In other business, commissioners agreed to send an ordinance proposing adoption of a stormwater utility fee to its March 13 worksession for discussion. The commission is awaiting a report on what amount would be reasonable to charge residents on an annual basis.

The commission also gave consensus for city attorney Jim Dye to draft an amendment to the public recreation area ordinance that would include the Anna Maria Island Community Center. That will exempt the Center from applying for a special events permits to hold functions and events not currently covered by the ordinance.

Once Dye has a draft amendment ready, it will go to the planning and zoning board for review and a public hearing, then to the city commission for two public hearings before it can be approved and enacted.