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Date of Issue: May 14, 2008

Commissioners post objections to causeway posts

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County commissioners last week reiterated concerns about rows of bollards along the Palma Sola Causeway. The bollards were planted as part of an effort to improve safety along the scenic highway linking Anna Maria Island to the mainland. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously last week to work with Bradenton, the Florida Department of Transportation and a scenic highway group to remove some newly planted bollards along the Palma Sola Causeway.

The commission, meeting May 6 at the county administration building in Bradenton, did not have unity regarding the bollards, planted this spring as part of an extensive improvement plan for the Palma Sola Scenic Highway, the stretch of Manatee Avenue linking the mainland and Anna Maria Island.

But the commission did reach a consensus on the need to discuss some concerns about the volume of bollards on the south side of the causeway with other interested parties.

The causeway - part of Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 - runs through three jurisdictions, Bradenton, unincorporated Manatee County and Holmes Beach, but also falls under the DOT’s control.

In recent weeks, a number of public officials and citizens have raised concerns that rows of bollards planted on the south side of the causeway block access to the water, especially for people towing water craft or horse trailers.

Others have defended the bollards as protecting pedestrians and beachgoers from motor vehicles. Prior to the installation of the posts, many motorists pulled up to the water’s edge to unload equipment.

“I miss getting down there with the car,” said Paul Reed of Bradenton, a dog owner who prefers the pet-friendly Palma Sola beach to the Island beaches. “We used to come out Sundays and tailgate.”

Another Palma Sola regular took a different view of the bollards. “They don’t block people from getting through, just their cars,” said Nancy Whittaker of Bradenton. “I don’t see how that prohibits public access. Are the cars the public or the people?”

At the county board meeting last week, commissioners devoted more than 30 minutes to the discussion of bollards, as well as the need for a formal approval of the Palma Sola improvements plan. When Commissioner Joe McClash raised concerns about the bollards several weeks ago, county officials realized the commission had not yet signed off on the plan.

“It all comes down to that we need to approve this plan since it is 98 percent done,” said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. But she expressed a desire to see some bollards removed to minimize their impact.

“Functionally, on the causeway, they’re a safety issue,” Whitmore said of the bollards, observing that drivers of trucks and SUVs cannot adequately park in some areas

“I don’t understand why we had to have so many,” she added.

McClash said he didn’t mind the bollards protecting the new landscaping on the south side, but he wants the other posts removed elsewhere on the south.

“I don’t have a problem on the north side,” McClash said. “But I’m going to make a motion to accept the plans, but with the bollards on the south side, except those protecting plantings, be eliminated. And also, to eliminate any bollards or barriers in front of the existing boat launch on the northeast side of the causeway.”

McClash’s motion would eventually fail.

Commission Chair Jane von Hahmann, whose district includes the Island, defended the Palma Sola group that worked for years developing the plans and cautioned that other jurisdictions were involved in the project and needed to be consulted.

Von Hahmann said she’s been involved with the scenic highway group since its inception and that “our whole precept was to deal with safety issues and conflicts between users. This has totally, since day one, been the focus.”

Commissioner Amy Stein said she was reluctant to spend money to remove posts only recently planted.

“I feel loathe to start spending money to rip things out,” she said. “We should give it a chance.”

Commissioner Donna Hayes made a similar statement. “I think we are sending a very bad perception to the public if we remove these,” she said. “Let’s try it and see how it works out.”

After additional discussion, the commissioners eventually agreed on a motion directing the county staff to discuss concerns about the bollards with Bradenton, the DOT and Palma Sola scenic highway representatives.

A discussion on the bollards also is expected at the next Palma Sola Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity meeting, which will take place at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, at the Manatee County Administrative Center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. The public is welcome to attend.