A banded pelican treated and released after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last summer rests recently on a piling in Cortez. Islander Photo: Suzi Fox
A series of brown pelicans rescued from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill took flight last July from Egmont Key National Refuge. At least one of those banded birds remains here, off the coast of Anna Maria Island.
Oil from the massive spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico never reached here — the local waters or the shore. But the spill caused by the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana had an impact on local tourism, the fishing industry, the energy industry, and, perhaps, local wildlife and marinelife.
Out-of-state tourists called throughout the summer, wondering whether the Island was polluted. Cortez fishers were given orders to avoid certain areas in the Gulf. Wildlife rescuers were placed on alert. Big firm lawyers from Miami, New York City and Chicago arrived to seek clients in suits against BP and other companies. Protesters against exploring or drilling for more oil formed a human chain on the beach. Hundreds gathered for an Island town meeting to have their fears calmed. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers underwent training in what to do if they saw tar balls or oiled animals.
Nearly a year after the Deepwater explosion, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox was surveying local waters. Near a dive shop in Cortez, she saw the banded brown pelican rescued from the Deepwater disaster.
The bird, which had been found heavily oiled last June, was “looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” she said.
Such observations show the resiliency of the Gulf and its wildlife, but Fox is not ignoring that “no one is out of the woods yet. Loads of that oil is still out there, but under sand and sediment. It will surface sometime.”
Additionally, numerous environmental groups calculating the environmental costs of the spill are estimating that 6,000 sea turtles, 26,000 dolphins, 82,000 birds and countless fish and invertebrates were harmed or killed.
“The numbers of animals injured by the Gulf spill are staggering,” said Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The spill, the largest in U.S. history, originated April 20, 2010, when a blowout caused a rig explosion that killed 11 people and injured 17. The fire continued for two days, sinking the rig and sending oil gushing into the Gulf.
By mid-July, when the well was capped, at least 200 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf and 1,000 miles of coastal habitat in the north were oiled.
“With the loss of 11 lives, the Deepwater Horizon was a human tragedy,” said former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. “It remains an environmental tragedy, both through the environmental havoc it wreaked and through the public’s loss of confidence in the industry and in government.”
Next month, Graham will participate in Beyond Horizon, a three-day conference at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to explore the impact of the spill and develop a more comprehensive approach to managing the Gulf and its resources.
“This conference is an important step in … allowing all stakeholders to come together and work to preserve this irreplaceable treasure,” Graham said.
The conference will take place May 11-13, with representatives from Harte Research Institute, the University of South Florida, the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation and Mote, which quickly responded to the spill by dispatching scientists and deploying robots to the Gulf.
“For Mote, and for all the scientists who study the Gulf, the spill and its effects will remain a key scientific focus for years to come,” said Mote CEO and president Kumar Mahadevan. “This disaster really helped illustrate the need for more coordinated research efforts Gulfwide.”
A month after the conference, which is open to the public, another Deepwater-related event will take place. Hands Across the Sand, a grassroots demonstration that brought thousands to shores throughout the world last summer, will take place at noon June 25.
Organizers are asking people to join hands on their local beach in a display of “world unity for clean energy and turning away from our dependence on filthy fuels.”
South Anna Maria Island at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach is wider by far following a sand nourishment project. An Anna Maria beach also was nourished with sand.
The beach was as bright as a football field under Friday night lights as the bulldozers shoved, sculpted and shaped the sand in the second stage of a major Island renourishment project.
Midway through last week, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, an international dredging contractor, shifted its work zone north, from Coquina Beach to the shore in Anna Maria near the Sandbar Restaurant.
The operation, which has involved multiple onshore crews as well as crews offshore on 10 vessels strategically placed in the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, continued to operate around the clock in Anna Maria.
“We are on schedule,” Chris Pomfret, the project manager for Great Lakes, said April 15. The Illinois-based company also has renourished shores in San Diego, Ocean City, Md., and Fire Island, N.Y., as well as overseas, including a complex project in Ghana.
Late April 14, after hauling pipes and other equipment — from potable water tanks to port-a-potties to pipes — to Anna Maria, Great Lakes began pumping sand and water to the beach south of the Sandbar.
The operation continued through the night, drawing the occasional dog-walker, insomniac or curious onlooker.
“They said they’ll be done in 48 hours,” Ray Hansen said with a note of disbelief. He and his family were staying in a nearby vacation home.
“Believe it or not, this is the second time I’ve seen this,” he added. “My vacation cycle is the same as the renourishment schedule.”
The spring 2011 renourishment, with a budget of about $6 million, was in planning and permitting for some years.
The actual renourishment activity, contracted by Manatee County and engineered by Coastal Planning and Engineering, began April 2.
During the first half of the month, sand was pumped to much of Coquina Beach, which had undergone serious erosion in recent years, especially on the north end.
By last weekend, the work at Coquina was ending, with some finer beach-sculpting taking place and the removal of the renourishment pipes, Pomfret said.
Equipment used in Anna Maria was to be hauled back to Coquina for temporary storage, but “we’ll be out of there probably by the middle of the week,” Pomfret estimated.
When the Great Lakes team leaves, it will leave behind about 25,000 cubic yards of sand on Anna Maria beach and 206,000 cubic yards of sand on Coquina Beach.
“Good, clean and white sand,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County natural resources department, which has overseen the project.
Later this year, in the next stage of the project, the county plans to contract for construction of an artificial reef off Coquina Beach, as well as the installation of a geo-thermal tube around the jetty on the north side of Longboat Pass.
Organizers are seeking Island dancers to shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, kick in the world’s longest conga line on sand.
“I instigate conga lines on a fairly regular basis,” said event originator and musician Mike Sales, a regular performer at several local venues.
Sales is working with several others on the conga line, which will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, behind the Moose Lodge, 110 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, which is just north of the Bridge Street beach access.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Moonracer No-Kill Animal Rescue founded by Islander employee Lisa Williams, and its campaign for a “no-kill” pet community in Manatee County.
Sales originally wanted to set a Guinness World Record with the 2011 event. However, the application and review process for GWR is lengthy and would require the creation of a new record category.
So, a GWR attempt will take place next spring and this year, Sales said, he’s going to be relaxed about how well the dancers know the steps.
“I’m not going to be a stickler,” he said, even if that will be the case next year with GWR, which will require the conga line to last for at least five minutes and consist of 250 or more people who know how to perform the dance.
On Saturday, volunteers will begin arriving on the beach at about 10 a.m. to set up equipment and recruit beachgoers for the dance.
Sales said he plans to ask people to form two parallel lines and then join the lines at one end and conga to “Island Talkin,’” a song on the “Howling with Mike Sales” CD.
Sales said he wrote the tune because he “really needed a song for people to dance to.”
Participation in the conga line is free.
To benefit the no-kill campaign, volunteers will sell refreshments and souvenirs. Additionally, Sales is donating proceeds from downloads of “Island Talkin’” mp3s and videos.
Representatives of the two cell tower companies that made a presentation April 8 to an ad hoc committee of the Anna Maria Island Community Center propose the use of a stealth “flag pole” tower with concealed antennas, unlike the Holmes Beach tower. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Reaction to the two presentations on a cell tower made April 8 to a committee formed by the Anna Maria Island Community Center executive board was swift.
Anna Maria resident Hal Badger said it sounds like a cell tower at the community center is a “done deal.”
With both presenters recommending a minimum 90-foot-high cell tower, Badger claimed that’s above the maximum height of 37 feet allowed in the cell tower ordinance. He said he spent a morning reading the ordinance passed in 2003 by the city commission.
And if any cell tower is approved for the center, Badger recommends the revenue go to the city because the center is on city property.
Former planning and zoning board member Bob Barlow also expressed concern about tower revenue.
He supported the need for better cell phone coverage in the city, but noted that he also is a taxpayer.
“Does the existing lease agreement with the city allow for a sub-lease to a telecommunications company unrelated to the recreational component of the city comprehensive plan?” he asked.
Barlow also wanted to know if revenue from a cell tower at the center would belong to the city because the community center is on city property.
Mayor Mike Selby said residents Jane Powers and Jamie Walstad came to his office to discuss the center’s cell tower presentations.
The mayor said the women were adamant that the cell tower ordinance not be changed to accommodate the carriers. He said he told Powers and Walstad that he doesn’t have a vote on the commission, and it’s up to commissioners to amend an ordinance.
“We have an ordinance and if (commissioners) follow that, everything should be fine,” Walstad said.
“My fear is the ordinance would be changed with a few words to accommodate the cell tower people,” she said.
In 2002, Walstad was an opponent of a proposed cell tower at Roser Memorial Community Church and was instrumental in the city eventually adopting a cell tower ordinance and master wireless services communications plan.
Selby said he had several phone calls about the issue, and was somewhat surprised at the reaction.
He explained that the city commission several months ago directed him to contact cell tower operators to determine if any were interested in providing a cell tower in Anna Maria.
The commission directive came as a health and safety issue because several people told commissioners they were unable to reach 911 for emergency services unless they took their phones outside a structure.
Three cell tower companies expressed an interest in the city, Selby said.
After looking at possible sites for a tower, the mayor said all three indicated “the best site was the community center,” he said.
With that information, Selby said he directed the carriers to center executive director Pierrette Kelly.
“I did what my bosses instructed me, and I’m not involved in any cell tower. Until an application is presented to the city, there’s nothing more to be done.”
Selby said he gave all three companies a copy of the city’s cell tower ordinance for review.
“It’s up to them to determine if they can work with our ordinance. If they can, I guess they will apply, but for now, there’s nothing more for the city to do. We don’t have any applications.”
The mayor did note that he’s been hearing more from supporters of a cell tower in the city than from those opposed to a tower.
Cell tower representative James Eatrides of Alpha-Omega Communications was at the April 8 meeting and said it would take 12 to 18 months to get all required approvals and a tower constructed and operating. The tower construction would only take about three months.
Both representatives at the center meeting said the latest cell-tower technology allows for towers that look and function like a flagpole.
“When people on the Island hear ‘cell tower,’ they immediately think of Holmes Beach. This tower looks nothing like Holmes Beach,” Eatrides told the center committee. All the antennas on his company’s proposed tower are housed inside the pole, hidden from view, he said.
At the city commission’s April 14 meeting, Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick suggested the cell tower issue be placed on the commission’s April 28 agenda for discussion and public input.
Webb agreed. “This is an important issue,” he said, and indicated the city needs to be sure of its process if an application is presented.
Since the city adopted its wireless facilities/cell tower ordinance in 2003, a number of companies with different types of cell towers and technology have made presentations to the city commission. While many of those representatives talked about an application, none have yet been submitted.
Evidence of February tourism on Anna Maria Island during February can be found in this photo of numerous beachgoers at the Manatee Public Beach on a sunny day that month, despite the presence of a back-hoe digging up the remnants of the pier that used to stand at the beach. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Anna Maria Island accommodation managers, owners and rental agents said two weeks ago that their occupancy rates in February 2011 were extremely good and better than figures from last February.
Those assessments turned out to be pretty accurate.
Revenues from resort tax collections in February 2011 were up 1.1 percent against the same month last year, and the latest tourist figures from Research Data Services Inc. of Tampa to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau show a 2.4 percent increase in visitors for February 2011 compared with February 2010.
The RDS report said 50,300 visitors came to the Island and surrounding area in February 2011, while 49,100 were here in February 2010.
Although a 2.4 percent jump might not sound like a major increase, in terms of visitor expenditures the hike was considerable, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.
“The increase in visitors relates directly to economic activity, and that jumped several million dollars,” she said.
Visitors to the Island and Longboat Key spent $47.9 million in February 2011, a $2.1 million (4.7 percent increase) jump from the $45.8 million in expenditures reported in February 2010.
Direct impact spending climbed by 4.6 percent, rising from $72.3 million in February 2010 to $75.7 million for February 2011.
The area’s average daily rate for February 2011 was $149.7, up 2.6 percent from the $145.9 figure for the same month in 2010.
Visitors listed the top five attributes of vacationing in the BACVB area as: beautiful beaches, sunning on the beach, a clean environment, a family-friendly atmosphere and value for money.
The report said 82.8 percent of visitors were “very satisfied” with their Island experience. That response was up 6.6 percent from the 77.7 percent approval rate for February 2010. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they would recommend an Island vacation to their friends.
Use of the Web and social networking tools also increased among area visitors. The RDS report said 81.2 percent of all visitors used the Web to book a reservation or gather information about Anna Maria Island. That figure was up 6.1 percent from the 76.6 percent who used the Web in February 2010, the RDS said.
The figures were to be presented at the Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting April 18 at the Holmes Beach City Hall.
A number of accommodation owners, managers and rental agents said to look for an even larger increase in visitor traffic in March 2011 when compared with the same month in 2010.
With a one-month delay in obtaining tourist arrival information and resort tax collections, visitor and spending figures for March 2011 should be available around May 10.
Bradenton Beach commissioners on April 21 are set to consider the first reading of a draft telecommunications ordinance that prohibits cell towers anyplace but government property.
The meeting at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., will begin at 1 p.m.
The ordinance, drafted to comply with federal law but protect the local ambiance, also would require that any cell tower on government property be a stealth tower.
City commissioners and planning and zoning board members held multiple meetings to discuss the proposed ordinance with Jackie Hicks and Rusty Monroe of the Center for Municipal Solutions, the consulting firm hired to write new regulations and to review any inquiry for telecommunications facilities.
The city began work on the ordinance more than a year ago at the urging of Commissioner Janie Robertson, who said the city’s existing measures were outdated.
Mayor Bob Bartelt, at the time a commissioner, also expressed concern for the city’s position — the municipality had not updated its regulations, but was receiving applications from companies interested in building telecommunications facilities.
At least one company, Alpha-Omega Communications LLC, remains interested in building a facility in the city. Alpha-Omega Communications has proposed building a stealth tower on city-owned property adjacent to the public works and police department between Church and Highland avenues.
An application, however, will need to be resubmitted if the new ordinance is adopted, said city attorney Ricinda Perry.
The Cortez Bridge spans the water between Cortez and Bradenton Beach. The Florida Department of Transportation is preparing for two projects — a rehab of the bridge and a study of the bridge. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
The state study is not begun and no recommendations have been made, but veterans of past skirmishes over the future of the Cortez Bridge vowed last week to oppose any high-rise span at the location.
“A new bridge would wipe out the historic village” of Cortez, longtime high-rise bridge opponent Jim Kissick said April 12, during a Manatee County Commission meeting in Bradenton. The commissioners had just received a briefing from Florida Department of Transportation officials on two Cortez Bridge projects — a rehabilitation planned in fiscal 2013-14 and a project development and environment study planned in fiscal 2012-13.
No one spoke at the meeting against the planned rehabilitation of the 55-year-old steel bascule. The work would cost about $4.4 million and involve repairs to the bridge beam supports, concrete deck, seawall, support pilings, machinery, expansion joints, traffic gates and bridgetender house.
“It’s the only state-owned deficient bridge in Manatee County,” DOT maintenance engineer Jim Jacobsen told commissioners and their audience.
The photographs he displayed during the presentation showed corrosion, rust and cracked concrete on the structure.
“It’s mostly salt damage,” Jacobsen said, adding that the largest expense in the rehab project would be the replacement of steel bearings.
The planned rehabilitation would extend the life of the bridge 10-15 years, but the DOT also is preparing for a study — a project development and environment study — to determine how to get 75 years out of a structure spanning the Intracoastal Waterway between the village of Cortez and the city of Bradenton Beach.
The study would cost about $1.5 million and take two to three years to complete, according to DOT project development engineer Chris Piazza.
The DOT completed a PD&E study on the Cortez Bridge in 1989 that recommended building a twin two-lane, high-level, fixed-span bridge north of the existing drawbridge.
That study, Piazza emphasized last week, is outdated for numerous reasons. For example, with the time that’s passed, there might be more historic structures in the vicinity or new endangered species and habitat issues to consider.
Piazza promised multiple workshops and hearings on the issue as the DOT conducts the study and emphasized that the DOT will “look at all options.”
But to some at last week’s meeting, a high bridge on Cortez Road should be out of the question.
Commissioners John Chappie and Carol Whitmore, both Island residents and former Island city mayors, said they have long opposed a high bridge at the location.
“I know you are going to do your study,” Chappie said, then added, “It seems like a waste of money.”
Chappie continued, saying he doesn’t need a study to know that “a high bridge would destroy two communities.”
Kissick, a former commissioner, and former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola also spoke against a high bridge and urged consideration of Kissick’s proposal to extend 53rd Avenue and build a bridge from Bradenton to the south end of Coquina Beach.
Pierola said she prepared a 600-page document “on why you cannot replace this bridge” and how a replacement would “change the ambiance of the whole area.”
Kissick, who has a long history on the Island, said he remembers crossing to Anna Maria Island via a wooden bridge from Cortez.
And, he said, “I’ve been in this bridge war since 1989.… Everything has been researched from the sky and the water by me, in my airplane and in my boat. A new bridge would wipe out the historic village.”
Kissick pushed the 53rd Avenue extension bridge, which he said would alleviate the congestion that comes with motorists using the Cortez Bridge to reach Longboat Key.
DOT District 1 Secretary Stan Cann said that the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization would have to take up the 53rd Avenue extension before the state considers the project.
“We couldn’t look at it all unless it was part of the long-term transportation plan for the MPO,” he said. “That hasn’t happened.”
After the meeting, MPO executive director Mike Howe said there is time for someone to ask the MPO to consider the 53rd Avenue extension bridge. The MPO is the area’s regional transportation planning agency and consists of staff, several committees and a recommending board.
Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt, who was on his way out of the county building, said he was “fired up” and planned to take a closer look at the 53rd Avenue extension, as well as the MPO planning process.
The Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island will host its annual non-denominational sunrise service on Easter Sunday, April 24.
The service will take place at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, beginning at 6:30 a.m.
All Island churches, as members of All Island Denominations, also will participate in the service with readings from Scripture and songs.
The Rev. Dee deMontmillion of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Holmes Beach will deliver the invocation.
The Revs. Rosemary Backer of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Edward Moss of Crosspointe Fellowship and Gary Batey of Roser Memorial Community Church will read from Scripture.
The Rev. Michael Mullen of St. Bernard Catholic Church will give the benediction.
And the Rev. Stephen King of Harvey Memorial Community Church in Bradenton Beach will deliver the sermon, “The Good News.”
Worshipers are encouraged to bring beach chairs and blankets and, if possible, ride the free trolley to the beach.
In addition to the Kiwanis service, Island churches will host Easter programs, including:
• Crosspointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, will hold a contemporary Easter service at 9 a.m. and a traditional service at 10:15 a.m.
Also, a Good Friday service will take place on April 22 at 7 p.m.
• The Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, 4408 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, will hold services at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Easter Sunday. An Easter egg hunt will take place at 10:15 a.m.
The church will observe Maundy Thursday on April 21 at 6 p.m. with services, the stripping of the altar, foot washing and a vigil.
On Good Friday, at noon, the church will observe the seven last words from the cross, concluding with stations of the cross.
• At Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, there will be two Easter services, at 8 a.m. and at 10:30 a.m. An Easter potluck brunch will take place at 9 a.m.
Also, the church will observe Maundy Thursday at 7 p.m.
On Good Friday, the church will hold services at noon and 7 p.m.
• Harvey Memorial Community Church, 300 Church Ave., Bradenton Beach, will hold Easter and Palm Sunday services at 9:30 a.m.
• Roser Memorial Community Church, 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, will hold two services in the sanctuary on Easter, one at 9 a.m. and one at 11 a.m.
The church also will hold a 7 p.m. service in the sanctuary on Holy Thursday and a noon service in the chapel on Good Friday.
• St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach, will celebrate Easter with Mass at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon.
An egg hunt will take place at 1 p.m. on Easter Sunday.
Also, the church will observe Holy Thursday with a service at 7 p.m.
On Good Friday, a Passion of Our Lord program will take place at 3 p.m. and Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m.
Holy week masses April 18-22 will take place at 8 a.m.