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Date of Issue: March 15, 2007

Contempt of court filed against Bradenton Beach over seawall removal

A long-standing issue has come back to haunt Bradenton Beach, this time in the form of a criminal contempt of court lawsuit from Pete Milazzo.

In an ongoing saga that began in June 2004, Milazzo, of 306 Gulf Drive S., fired off his latest salvo of legal charges last week against the city and Ed Mc Adam, the city's now former building official.

Some history is needed first to grasp the nature of the matter.

Milazzo, in 2004, asked for permission to remove about 100 feet of the concrete-block seawall fronting his Gulffront property. The seawall is far from the water's edge and abuts part of the house.

A former building official in Bradenton Beach issued the Florida Department of Environmental Protection a letter of no objection to the seawall removal. The city then apparently decided to reverse itself, rescinded the letter and sent the matter for a hearing before the city's board of adjustment.

BOA members debated the matter in February and March of 2005. The board eventually decided that the "no-objection" letter was warranted. The recommendation by the BOA went to the city commission, which also approved the letter to the DEP. However, the letter did not materialize, and a lawsuit was filed by Milazzo to demand the letter.

The city's letter was eventually mailed after a circuit court order, and Milazzo last month received a conditional permit from the DEP for the seawall removal.

However, the city contested issuance of the DEP permit before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and requesting a new ruling.

The crux of the matter lies in a determination by city consultant Karyn Erickson, a coastal engineer, that the seawall fronting the Milazzo property is a vital element of flood protection and is important to maintain sand on the beach, rather than allowing it to wash onto the adjacent roadway.

"I'm shocked that the city is discussing opposing the decision of the state," said Scott Rudacille last month, an attorney representing Milazzo. "Why is the city opposing this project? The state coastal engineers have no problem with this, and, in fact, they encourage removal of rigid shores on the beaches."

Fast-forward to last week's actions and the criminal contempt of court charges.

Attorney Scott K. Petersen, on behalf of Milazzo, wrote in his motion, "The city's almost three-year assault on Milazzo's property rights, seemingly driven by politics rather than any basis in law or fact, continues. The city's appeal of the DEP final order is a contemptuous act. It is but another stall tactic designed to force Milazzo to spend yet more money contending against the same objections the city has been making for three years. The city, apparently undeterred by this court's order, now seeks to do the very same thing that this court ordered it not to do, i.e., once again reassert its objections to Milazzo's permit."

Peterson said that the proper course the city should have taken would have been to appeal the circuit court ruling to an appellate court rather than through the administrative hearing process.

"It is a clear attempt to make an end-run around this court's order," Peterson wrote in his brief. "The city's actions are both an affront to the dignity of this court and to the orderly administration of justice. Such actions should not be countenanced."

Rudacille said, "The better question is what the actual municipal purpose is for the city in continuing the opposition at this point. The court has found there is no legal basis for their opposition, and the coastal engineers at DEP have found that the removal [of the wall] will cause no significant adverse impacts to beaches, dunes or adjacent properties. They state they are acting on a public safety issue, based on the coastal engineer's reports, but the city's opposition began long before the engineer was ever hired."

City attorney Greg Hootman received the documents filed by Milazzo's attorneys and declined to discuss the on-going matter.