Anna Maria Island residents took a collective sigh of relief when starting the day Aug. 27, as Tropical Storm Isaac’s feeder bands largely missed the island area.
Heavy rains from TS Isaac tracked up the center of Florida while the Florida Keys took a lashing from tropical storm force winds, but the storm’s west-northwest track spared much of the mainland and barrier islands.
Manatee County Emergency Operations Center lowered its activation level Monday morning as the storm moved further into the Gulf of Mexico, but kept a handful of county officials on hand just in case.
EOC announced all government offices would resume business Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Storm surge was predicted to be light throughout the storm event and as of Islander press time, no major issues were reported on the island. However, waves up to 6 feet high were expected by late Monday afternoon, raising some concern for beaches already eroded from Tropical Storm Debby in late June.
The National Hurricane Center also lifted tropical storm advisories Monday in the Tampa Bay area as Isaac continued tracking toward New Orleans as of press time.
Isaac’s winds remained steady at 65 mph and the storm shifted from a west-northwest track to northwest as of 10 a.m., Aug. 27, according to a National Weather Service advisory.
All three island cities issued state of emergency declarations Sunday, Aug. 26, and closed regular business operations Monday, Aug. 27. Those declarations have been lifted and city business resumed normal hours Tuesday, as emergency operations were suspended.
As of press time, tropical storm watches and warnings remained in effect for much of the Florida panhandle.
TS Isaac is predicted to intensify to a Category 1 hurricane, with a possibility of turning into a Category 2 storm before it makes landfall, according to forecasters.
The storm also is predicted to slow down from its current speed of 14 mph before landfall, raising concerns for the flood-prone New Orleans area due to a prolonged rain event, and severe storm surge.
Isaac is predicted to make landfall in New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, which is estimated to have killed thousands of people.
An accurate death toll from Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans has never been determined.
Officials expressed confidence that the fortified levees, which broke during Katrina will hold up against Isaac, but much of the area is still prone to flooding and evacuation orders have already begun in some areas of the city.
Anna Maria commissioners declared a state of emergency Aug. 26 at a special commission meeting called late Saturday, following the state and county in making declarations as Tropical Storm Isaac was approaching the Gulf of Mexico.
City treasurer Diane Percycoe sent the meeting notice, saying that declaring a state of emergency allows the city quicker access to reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs of preparation and cleanup after Isaac.
Public works superintendent George McKay said the city’s entire supply of 3,000 sandbags was distributed by Sunday morning.
Anna Maria City Pier Restaurant manager Dave Sork closed the restaurant at 4 p.m. Sunday and will “play it by ear” for reopening Monday.
“A lot depends upon how much flooding there is on the island,” Sork said.
By Monday morning, it was evident there was little rain and no flooding that would prohibit business as usual on Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria City Hall was closed Monday due to early predictions of TS Isaac’s path near the coast.
On the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew Aug. 24, Manatee County emergency management personnel held a briefing with local officials to address Florida’s newest threat.
As of The Islander publication deadline, Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to head northwest in the Gulf of Mexico, brushing Florida’s West coast with the storm’s western most feeder bands.
But the unpredictability of the storm had emergency management officials taking no chances, from state to local levels.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott Aug. 24 activated the state’s emergency operations center. As of press time, Manatee County was standing by to await further information on Isaac’s forecasted track.
Bradenton Beach city officials called an emergency meeting Aug. 24 to discuss the county’s emergency management meeting, hoping for the best-case scenario, while preparing for the worst.
Bradenton Beach Police Department Lt. John Cosby asked commissioners for an emergency motion to authorize Mayor John Shaughnessy to sign a declaration of emergency, should the need arise. Such a declaration within the city would put city staff into emergency operations mode.
The motion was approved, but Cosby said he was hopeful the action wouldn’t be necessary.
“This isn’t going to be like TS Debby where we had days of rain and wind,” said Cosby. “It’s expected to be more of a feeder-band event, where we get waves of rain, but not the steady rain we saw with Debby.”
Cosby said storm surge also was not expected to be as severe as it was with TS Debby, “but the beaches are already in terrible shape.”
Forecasters were predicting as much as 8 inches of rain over the storm’s entire cycle, but direct hits from feeder bands could produce heavy downpours.
TS Debby’s rainfall was sporadic across the west coast, with Pinellas County receiving upwards of 10 inches of rain. Total rainfall across the island was about 3.5 inches and local street flooding was an issue, so caution was being taken with Isaac.
“Public works has the high-water signs out and ready to be placed, should it be necessary,” said Cosby.
Cosby suggested residents also prepare.
“These storms, especially tropical storms, can be very unpredictable,” he said. “And tropical storms tend to give us more troubles than hurricanes as far as predictability goes, so the best thing people can do is prepare appropriately.”
Isaac was expected to begin impacting the area with wind and rain as early as Aug. 26. As the storm eye passes the Tampa Bay area Monday afternoon, winds are expected to shift to the southeast, and onshore waves are predicted to be 6 feet.
Scenes like this at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach in June during Tropical Storm Debby were avoided as Tropical Storm Isaac passed north in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials warn that the unpredictability of storms require caution and preparation. Islander Photo: Mark Young
More than a half dozen boats broke anchor in Sarasota Bay and crashed into the Historic Bridge Street Pier during June’s island brush with Tropical Storm Debby.
In all, 27 boats were reported sunk or destroyed across Manatee County following Debby, according to Bradenton Beach Police Department Lt. John Cosby.
As Isaac approached the Tampa Bay area, Cosby called an emergency city meeting Aug. 24 to discuss storm preparation.
TS Debby’s overall damage on the island was minimal, but an exception was the pier, which sustained enough damage to force the city to close it for several days, although the restaurant remained open.
The city did not want a repeat of the TS Debby event during TS Isaac.
“We went out to speak to the boat owners and had a good meeting with them,” said Cosby. “They all had a lot of questions and we had our concerns, as well.”
Cosby said the boat owners, many of whom live on their boats, were taking precautions.
“Many of them were actually diving down to secure their anchors further into the muck or double anchoring,” said Cosby. “It was the boats that had deeper anchors that didn’t go anywhere during Debby.”
Cosby said before TS Debby there were several boats anchored just south of the pier that had been secured and left by their owners.
“The difference is that the people who are living on their boats are there to prepare for a storm,” he said. “Those who anchored and left the area without preparing for a storm are the ones who lost their boats.”
Cosby said every boat currently anchored in the pier area was occupied and being prepared for the storm.
“Any boat that wasn’t being occupied prior to Debby is basically no longer there,” he said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was advising all boat owners to prepare for Isaac.
FWC recommended that if people trailer their boats to secure the vessel in a safe location, let the air out of trailer tires, block the wheels, and if possible, anchor the boat down or add weight to help keep it in place.
FWC also advised “thrill seekers” to avoid high waters created by the storm.
“Please, keep in mind that when people choose to act irresponsibly, they jeopardize others,” said Capt. Tom Shipp, with FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section in a statement.
“They cause law enforcement officers, rescue workers and other emergency personnel to risk their lives unnecessarily,” Shipp said.
FWC reminded all boaters that tropical storms and hurricanes are unpredictable.
For more information on how to properly anchor or store a vessel, visit myfwc.com/boating. Click on Safety and Education and select Hurricane.
After the storm, boaters who observe damaged waterway markers are asked to call 866-405-2869.
Tyler Pearson, 12, holds a sandbag for friend Zack Fernandez, 11, while grandfather John Fernandez, center, and son Fernandez use teamwork to fill sandbags in the parking lot at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.
Holmes Beach city and West Manatee Fire Rescue district officials prepared last week for the worst and hoped for the best in the forecast of Tropical Storm Isaac.
According to building inspector Bob Shaffer, the city was asking contractors, real estate agents and anyone having signs on the rights of way and other property to remove them because of the potential for objects turning into projectiles in high winds.
He said code enforcement officer David Forbes was sending out emails to those likely to have such signs.
The building department also was monitoring work sites to ensure all construction materials and equipment were adequately secured, he said.
Most people are compliant, he said, but if items remained on work sites Monday, Shaffer said the city would remove and place those items in its storage shed.
“Other than that, we sit and wait, and hope for the best,” Shaffer said.
Public works staff delivered several loads of sand to the city hall parking lot, where residents were filling fill bags.
Sandbags were available from the police department — 10 free bags were being offered to residents.
“We’re prepared. We’ve been prepared long before this weekend,” Star McNatt, cashier at the Home True Value Hardware Store, Holmes Beach, said Aug. 25.
“The power’s going to go out at one time or another,” she predicted.
McNatt said people were buying lots of batteries, flashlights, lanterns and candles and the store had run out of one type of battery-powered lamp.
West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price attended the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center briefing Aug. 24 related to TS Isaac.
He hoped weather projections at the briefing would hold up and the storm path would veer west of Manatee County. Price said he expects heavy rain and high winds, but not a local landfall.
“We’ve already done our preparations,” he said.
In June, WMFR district commissioners unanimously approved a new West Manatee Fire Rescue District Hurricane Plan, updating a 10-year-old plan to reflect changes in state and county emergency preparedness plans to handle emergencies more efficiently and effectively.
The plan includes incident planning and detailed check lists, and updated resource lists for emergency supplies and agencies, such as the American Red Cross and all Manatee County fire departments and emergency management services.
A couple eyes a turtle nest threatened by high water and waves during a previous storm. Turtle eggs absorb water and the hatchlings can drown before they hatch. Islander File Photo
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers were bracing during the past weekend for another potential weather impact on sea turtle nesting.
In late June, Tropical Storm Debby destroyed an estimated 60 nests on Anna Maria Island and 950 nests from Longboat Key to Venice, according to Mote Marine Laboratory.
Sea turtle researchers and volunteers were hopeful TS Isaac would not be as severe, but were bracing for full-scale recovery efforts should the storm have a bigger impact on the Gulf Coast than what was expected as of The Islander press deadline.
TS Isaac was expected to continue a northwest trek into the Gulf of Mexico and begin impacting the island with feeder bands by Aug. 26, with effects lasting through Aug. 28.
Forecasters at press time were predicting the storm to produce potentially heavy rain and high wind speeds within the bands, but storm surge was expected to be minimal.
That’s good news to the turtle groups, but no one was taking any chances.
AMITW executive director Suzi Fox shared a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission release with her volunteers Aug. 24 in anticipation of having to do recovery work post storm.
“Hang in there,” Fox told her anxious volunteers.
FWC reminded the public that sea turtle eggs might be found on the beach following a storm. Discovered eggs should be turned over to AMITW as soon as possible, but people are not encouraged to take it upon themselves to salvage a washed out nest.
Only state-permitted volunteers may do so under Florida and federal law. Those laws pertaining to marine life and threatened sea turtle protections remain in effect before, during and after a storm event.
Mote advised beachgoers to be on the lookout for washed out nests, but to report those findings to local sea turtle groups or authorities as soon as possible.
If you see a washed out nest or turtles in distress after the storm on Anna Maria Island, contact Fox at 941-778-5638.
By the numbers
Sea turtles by the numbers as of Aug. 24:
False crawls: 332
Hatched nests: 50
Hatchlings to the sea: 3,135
Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby told commissioners at their Aug. 21 budget work session he has no intention of approving the proposed $2.3 million city budget until differences are resolved between the city and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation regarding the sheriff’s contract to provide law enforcement to the city.
City officials believe MCSO deputies should do more code enforcement, but Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation, has said his deputies are investigating such complaints and issuing notices for noise ordinances, although he claimed this is above the duty required by the contract.
A meeting of all parties was originally planned for this week, but Selby said Sheriff Brad Steube wanted to wait until after the Republican National Convention in Tampa as the MCSO is on call for backup.
Selby said the conference would be scheduled as soon as possible after the convention, but before Sept. 11, the date of the first public hearing on the budget.
At issue is whether the city’s $675,000 contract for MCSO law enforcement services in the city calls for deputies to enforce Anna Maria codes.
Scheduled to attend the private meeting are Selby, Steube, Turner, city attorney Jim Dye, MCSO attorney Michelle Hall and Anna Maria Commission Chair Chuck Webb.
“I will not sign the budget until I know what we are paying for” in the MCSO contract, Selby assured the commission.
The $2.3 million budget calls for a millage rate of 2.05, the same as last year’s budget.
Commissioners agreed to schedule the first public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
Precautions were being taken during Tropical Storm Isaac to make sure boats don’t crash into the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Islander Photo: Mark Young
After more than two months of being closed, the Bradenton Beach day dock, which allows boats to dock passengers adjacent to the Historic Bridge Street Pier, may get the needed repairs to reopen.
Bradenton Beach Police Department Lt. John Cosby announced Aug. 24 that the city is receiving cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on plans for repair.
FEMA already has approved 75 percent of funding for the city to repair a seawall at 12th Street South and the dingy dock across from the BridgeTender Restaurant on Bridge Street. FEMA determined TS Debby damaged both.
Cosby said the hold up with the day dock has been the city’s plans to reduce the size of the dock. FEMA grants are only applicable when an organization’s plans are to return a structure back to its original form.
But the city has hesitated in replacing a dock that has a design flaw related to the hinges that hold the sections of the dock together. Discussion has taken place for weeks to reduce the size of the dock to keep costs down, and to fix the design flaw to prevent future problems.
“The bid we’ve received to repair the dock is $120,000 and the bid to replace the dock is $264,000,” said Cosby. “FEMA is saying they are willing to do 75 percent of the $120,000 with the city picking up the remaining 25 percent.”
Cosby said the FEMA team is knowledgeable and has been helpful.
“We had a really good FEMA team,” he said. “Two of them are engineers and recognized the design flaw in the dock we have been talking about. They told us that this kind of dock doesn’t work on ocean waters. It’s great for lakes and rivers, but not for here.”
Cosby said FEMA will consider an alternate plan for the city because the dock cannot be restored to its original condition.
“Once we get the public works worksheet put in for the alternate project, if approved, will allow us to do what we want to do, which is to take out the bad sections and put the good sections back in after we replace the hinges and broken ballasts,” he said.
“The cost to fix the design flaw is about $41,000, but if we are staying with the plan to reduce the size, then the $120,000 we get from FEMA should pay for the whole project and not cost the city a dime,” he said. “We may even have money left over to give back to FEMA.”
Cosby said the city needs to get an engineer to formally say the dock cannot be replaced as is because of the design flaw.
The repairs will require each section to be lifted out of the water by crane, the ballasts repaired and the hinges replaced.
There are nine sections on the day dock. An estimated four or five sections cannot be repaired due to extensive damage. The new makeup of the dock under the city’s plan would be approximately five sections. City staffers say it will be large enough to accommodate boats dropping off passengers.
“Once we have what we need, we can probably get approval in a couple of weeks,” said Cosby. “The seawall is ready to be repaired, the dingy dock is next and as soon as we write up the specifics, we will bring it forward to commission.”
Holmes Beach City Commissioner Jean Peelen met with constituents Aug. 23 at Paradise Bagel Cafe to discuss her recently released report, “Crisis in Holmes Beach.” Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Some of the powers that be in Holmes Beach disagree with Commissioner Jean Peelen’s assessment in “Crisis in Holmes Beach,” a report she wrote and presented at the Aug. 14 city meeting.
In “Crisis,” Peelen blames builder Shawn Kaleta, rental agency Anna Maria Vacations, city commissioners, the mayor and the building department for short-term rental problems, and she calls for immediate action to correct problems, including a .30 floor-area ratio, the percent of living space based on lot size, for new construction, stepped-up code enforcement and changes in the building department.
While some defend her right to expression, others say she’s not accurate.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion even though it may be wrong,” said Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino wrote a letter Aug. 16 to Kaleta and Anna Maria Vacation principal Joe Varner stating that Peelen’s report was her opinion, and that it was not discussed, agreed upon or voted on by the commission.
Reading the report into the record Aug. 14, Peelen criticized Kaleta for creating an out-of-state, investor-driven rental market by building 64-100 rental homes in the city since 2004.
At the meeting, Kaleta’s attorney, Louis Najmy of Najmy Thompson in Bradenton, labeled Peelen’s comments as “libelous and slanderous” and asked that she retract the statements, cease from making such statements and disclose public records in her personal email.
Najmy had not returned a call for further comment before Islander press time.
Kaleta told The Islander, “I’m going to take a back seat for now. Obviously a lot of (the report) was inaccurate.”
Peelen’s report alleges Anna Maria Vacations allowed rentals of less than seven days – called “gap filler” rentals – in violation of city law.
Varner responded to that part of the report.
“I bought the company in April of 2011,” he said, adding that the former owner had operated it for seven to nine years.
Varner continued the former owner’s online advertising of the “gap filler” Holmes Beach properties, he said, as well as Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach properties that are not restricted by the minimum seven-day rental rule, without knowing there was an issue.
Learning recently of the issue and even though advertising does not violate any regulations, Varner said he removed Holmes Beach property offers from that area of the website.
Peelen’s report also blames the mayor, building department and city commissioners, except for Pat Morton, for allowing noise, garbage, parking and construction problems to continue.
“I have great problems with the building department, particularly the building inspector,” Peelen said.
In response, building inspector Bob Shaffer said, “Given time, the air will clear. Everything the city’s been doing has been by the rule book.”
Public works director Joe Duennes, who heads the building department, said the city’s problems are due to the burgeoning vacation rental market.
“The rentals in Holmes Beach are much more exaggerated and concentrated on a short-term basis than they ever have been before. And that’s come about largely because of the increase in size of the rental units,” said Duennes.
“I know the building department has been the focus of the problem, and I consider that unfair and incorrect. We’ve been under a microscope,” he said.
“There’re errors that have been made,” continued Duennes, “but none that affect the substantial construction practices. Everything that’s been built has been built within the land-development code of Holmes Beach, and certainly the Florida building code.”
Duennes said the problem lies with landlords and the rental agents, not with the building department.
Regarding the report’s allegation that Kaleta invaded and transformed the city with out-of-state investors, Duennes didn’t know about his investors and would not endorse Peelen’s term “invade.”
Duennes, however, agreed Kaleta has built more homes than any other builder in the city.
“He was doing what was available to do,” Duennes said. “Others had the ability to do what he did for years.”
The allegation of the lax enforcement of the LDC offended him, he said, adding that the code has been the same for years.
“The glitch is that a very attractive rental market was recognized,” he said. “It’s the new market that’s driven the whole thing.
“The opportunity to rent one week at a time doesn’t blend well with the people who’ve always been here,” said Duennes, adding, it’s “like moving a commercial area into a residential area.”
As to Kaleta’s interaction with the building department, Duennes said, “He’s aggressive and, in some cases, we have to rein him in.
“He’s building a lot, coming in a lot,” and like other builders, he wants his permits as soon as possible, Duennes said.
Asked about the city’s investigation of complaints of contractors working late, early and in violation of the LDC, he deferred comment to code enforcement officer David Forbes.
Forbes had not returned calls for comment as of The Islander press time.
In June, Forbes sent out 18 letters to owners and rental agents that he said would lay the foundation for future code violations based on noise complaints to the Holmes Beach Police Department.
The letters were sent to five property owners and their agents, according to Forbes.
In July, Forbes sent out a ground-floor living violation letter to the owner of 203 69th St., Unit B, and the rental agent. Also in July, Forbes began alerting the city’s 34 rental agencies and numerous vacation property owners of rental regulations, including noise, trash, parking and turtle nesting/beach rules.
Zaccagnino said what happens next depends on Peelen. He said she could bring up issues during her reports, attempt to obtain consensus on her suggestions, as well as request topics be included on future agendas.
Peelen brews controversy at coffee gathering
Commissioner Jean Peelen held a Coffee with the Commissioner event Aug. 23 at Paradise Cafe, and vacation rental issues dominated the discussion among about 15 people.
Among the residents were Beach Bistro owner Sean Murphy, who’s lived in Holmes Beach for 32 years.
Peelen reported the residents attended to learn of reactions to the “Crisis in Holmes Beach” report she presented at the Aug. 14 city commission meeting. She said some people were concerned about whether she or the city would be sued.
And, she said, Murphy attended to defend builder Shawn Kaleta.
“I went to listen,” Murphy said. “Finally I had to say something, because I heard such outrageous information, exaggerations based on falsehoods and misunderstanding.”
He said he was dismayed and disappointed to hear allegations of developers and city officials in collusion, and of building department records being grossly mismanaged.
“We have a great administration — very professional and accomplished,” said Murphy.
Murphy said Kaleta is a nice man, and “I don’t believe he has done anything illegal.
“There were some very nice people there who did their best to listen,” he added.
Murphy acknowledged the residents’ complaints about rental properties, including a need for better garbage removal, and a solution for parked cars where they shouldn’t be, and issues of disruptive renter behavior.
In addition to enforcing codes already on the books, Murphy favors the city implementing recommendations of Commissioner Pat Morton’s rental agent focus group, of which he was a member.
Peelen has held periodic gatherings to hear residents concerns since April.
The plank memorial project at the Anna Maria City Pier is drawing to a close with the last group of orders being accepted on The Islander website at www.islander.org. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Anyone interested in purchasing a commemorative or memorial plank to be placed on the Anna Maria City Pier should act now. The project is in its last ordering phase and the final 50 planks are now being sold, according to The Islander plank organizer, Janice Dingman.
The Islander, along with the Anna Maria City Pier Restaurant, sponsored the plank purchase and the total number of planks that will be installed is 1,000. The 900 mark in sales was recently achieved.
Orders for planks were completed in batches of 75-100 for each manufacturing cycle. Planks on the pier are numbered near the side rail, and the installation is finished for about 750 boards. Numbers 750-900 are currently being crafted.
The base cost is $100, including a 12-character inscription carved in the plank.
The memorial plank project helped launch the 100-year celebration of the Anna Maria City Pier, which was held in May 2011. The pier opened in 1911.
Planks may only be ordered through The Islander website at www.islander.org.