Tag Archives: 06-12-2013

TS Andrea wipes out 15 AMI sea turtle nests, all shorebird nests

      Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring confirmed 50 sea turtle nests as of June 7, but lost 15 nests to the storm surge created by Tropical Storm Andrea.

      AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said the losses were not as bad she expected.

      “It’s never good to lose any nests,” she said. “But it could have been worse. The good news is that a storm like this one generates a lot of activity and there has been quite an upsurge in nesting.”

      Fox said there were eight nests the day before the storm and AMITW volunteers confirmed eight more the day after Andrea.

      While Andrea took a toll, AMITW volunteers had added good news June 7 with the discovery of a rare green sea turtle nest in Bradenton Beach, on the beach near the Cortez Road and Gulf Drive intersection.

      It is the fifth green sea turtle nest in 30 years of recording sea turtle activity on the island. Four of them have occurred in the last three years with two during the 2012 nesting season.

            Besides losing 15 sea turtle nests, the entire nesting colony of the black skimmer population in Anna Maria was wiped out. Fox said the good news is that more than 200 skimmers have returned to try again.

TS Andrea packs light punch, but 2 boats hit BB pier

It was a familiar sight at the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier June 6 as Tropical Storm Andrea’s outer storm bands made their way across Anna Maria Island.

The storm’s impact was less than last year’s Tropical Storm Debby, although beach erosion was evident. It was, however, déjà vu at the city pier, where workers scrambled to protect the structure from wayward boats.

Two boats broke loose from their anchorage in Sarasota Bay and crashed into the pier during Andrea, while TS Debby sent more than a half-dozen boats crashing into the pier deck and pilings.

City officials were relieved to learn most boaters had secured their crafts, although there was enough damage to temporarily close the outer half of the pier.

A 30-foot sailboat hit the pier, but caused little damage, according to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale. The owner was quickly located and the boat was removed.

A 20-foot sailboat caused significant damage to a lengthy section of railing, cracked a concrete piling and loosened the pier’s center copula.

Speciale said the boat first hit the protective pilings near the floating dock, but continued to slide and hit the pier as the storm pushed it toward the Intracoastal Waterway, scraping and bumping the pier as it went.

About 30 feet of railing was loosened, there was some light damage to the wood deck of the pier and the copula will likely be removed before the pier reopens.

The copula was scheduled to be removed during the upcoming pier renovation project, according to public works director Tom Woodard, and there’s no sense in spending money to repair it.

Woodard said he didn’t expect the eastern half of the pier to remain closed for long.

“It shouldn’t be more than a couple of days,” he said. “The railing needs to be fixed and my guys will take down the copula. The one area of concern is the cracked piling and just how badly damaged it is.”

The pilings will be replaced during the renovation project, but if the integrity of the pier is jeopardized and there’s a safety issue, the closure could be longer.

“I don’t think that will be the case,” said Woodard. “We’ll get out there after the storm and do a better inspection and we’ll have a better idea at that time.”

The good news is that the floating dock adjacent to the pier endured its first test in the choppy waters of the bay as Andrea passed. The new hinges acted as they should, according to BBPD Lt. John Cosby.

“It did real well and everything did what it was supposed to do,” said Cosby. “And fortunately, none of the boats hit the floating dock.”

The floating dock was closed for more than a year when faulty hinges first created a safety issue because sections began to separate. Debby’s arrival ensured its long-term closure by causing further damage.

The floating dock reopened a week prior to Andrea, but held up well and remains open.

City workers secured the 20-foot sailboat that caused most of the damage to the pier until the owner could be contacted.

After securing the pier, Speciale updated commissioners at the June 6 city pier meeting.

“The public works guys got it handled,” said Speciale. The guys did a great job and got out there as soon as we called them. I really believe there would have been a lot more damage if they had not got there as quickly as they did.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy asked for an update on the pier renovation project.

Building official Steve Gilbert said the project remains on schedule.

“I spoke to the lead engineer of ZNS Engineering,” said Gilbert. “We should have drawings in the next couple of weeks. As soon as we have the drawings, we’ll be ready for the scope of work and request for proposal.”

Gilbert said the permitting process through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to go smoothly, but said that could be the only issue in pushing the project beyond a targeted August completion.

“The only unknown is the DEP and corps and what they will do,” said Gilbert. “The project consists of pilings going back into the same holes, so common sense says it shouldn’t be a problem.”

TS Andrea delivers typical storms to AMI

The first tropical storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season didn’t take long to form in the Caribbean and head for Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Hurricane season officially began June 1 and Tropical Storm Andrea formed in the southern Gulf of Mexico June 5.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami originally predicted Andrea would make landfall at the mouth of Tampa Bay, but by early June 6 revised the estimate to a landfall in the Big Bend area. Andrea made landfall that night between Taylor and Dixie counties.

Anna Maria Island was on the eastern side of the storm, which is generally the strongest for wind and rain. The island was struck by high winds and plenty of rain and experienced the usual street flooding and a number of downed tree limbs.

But no island city reported major damage.

“We had a few limbs blown down and some street flooding, but nothing major,” said Anna Maria public works superintendent George McKay.

In Holmes Beach, public works department foreman Gary Blunden said he and staff scouted for major damage, but found none.

“I think we’re OK,” he said. The high tide June 6 occurred around 10:30 p.m. Had the rain continued into the night, the tide could have breached seawalls.

One concern from Andrea could be beach erosion, said Manatee County Director of Natural Resources Charlie Hunsicker. But he also noted that a renourishment project is scheduled for later this year.

Coast Guard saves boater from hitting Cortez Bridge

U.S. Coast Guard members from Station Cortez responded June 6 as high winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Andrea sent a boater toward the Cortez Bridge.

Station Cortez dispatched a 45-foot response boat to the out-of-control vessel and rescued the boater just before the boat struck the bridge.

The Coast Guard reminds boaters to take precautions to ensure safety during severe weather events.

2 candidates seek Anna Maria commission seat

Maria Planning and Zoning Board former chair Doug Copeland and current P&Z member Carol Carter have applied for the city commission vacancy left by the June 1 resignation of Commission Chair John Quam.

At the June 13 city meeting, the remaining four commissioners will select one applicant to fill the remainder of Quam’s term, which expires in November.

If no candidate receives a majority vote on the first ballot, discussion continues, according to the city charter, until one person receives a majority.

The charter makes no provision for what happens if the commission is deadlocked.

Following election of a commissioner, the commission must elect a new chair. Vice Chair Chuck Webb has said he is too busy with his legal practice to be chair, although he has previously served in that capacity.

The charter makes no provision for the mayor to serve as interim commission chair except at the organizational meeting following the November election of new commissioners.

Copeland served on the P&Z board 1990-2004, including several years as board chair. He resigned in 2004 to become a member of the city’s ad hoc charter review committee.

Carter has spent a number of years in leadership positions in education and for nonprofit organizations. She became a P&Z member in early 2013.

Environmental education and enhancement committee chair Bill Malfese, who is employed by the city in the public works department, said he would seek the vacancy, but had yet to file with the city clerk as of press deadline. He said last week he is still considering his decision.

The deadline for candidates to file a short biography accompanied by his or her reasons for seeking the post and 10 voter signatures was June 10.

Bradenton Beach delays pier restaurant RFP discussion

Bradenton Beach commissioners heard a proposal to open a restaurant on the Historic Bridge Street Pier at a June 6 city commission meeting.

Chef Christopher Ulmer and potential concessionaire Roland Pena, co-owner of the Starfish Cafe at the Vitamin Sea store in Holmes Beach, offered their plan, although the city had not yet discussed its request for proposal to consider a new tenant.

Ulmer said his group wants to lease the restaurant, bait stand and for the restaurant to be a center of activities, such as fishing tournaments and other events.

“Our priority would be not be to market us as Anna Maria Island, but as Bradenton Beach and Bridge Street,” he said. “That is where we are.”

Commissioners also heard from Tami Murphy, owner of Gulf Boat Fun Tours. Murphy recently began offering  boat tours at the pier.

She expressed interest in leasing the bait kiosk for her own purposes, but commissioners told her and the Star Fish team that any interest in the restaurant or kiosk is premature.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said she expected to present an RFP to commissioners at the meeting, but wasn’t sure what direction the commissioners want to take.

“Piecing out the pier may not be in the best interest of the city and I don’t want to move forward tonight with any use of the pier,” she said. “I really don’t know what the city wants to do, whether to piecemeal it out or keep it all together.”

Perry suggested scheduling a workshop or special meeting with a single focus on discussing the restaurant and bait kiosk.

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said he didn’t agree that separating the restaurant and kiosk with two tenants would be a bad idea.

“We don’t know that for sure until we get some offers on the table,” he said. “But I don’t want to close any doors at this point and I think this needs more discussion.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy said an RFP is city policy and the fairest way to find a new tenant or tenants, noting that discussing potential new tenants before the RFP would not be prudent.

“There has been some discussion about going separate, but I’m in agreement to do a workshop to see what the best solution is for everyone and to be fair to everybody,” he said.

Commissioners gave a consensus to schedule a workshop. Perry said one would be scheduled within 7-10 days in order to bring an RFP to the next commission meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

In other matters, commissioners voted 3-1 to have an Australian pine tree removed from Lou Barola Park. Public works director Tom Woodard said a home is being built on the adjacent property and that the tree extends over onto private property.

“The new homeowners would like permission to remove the Australian pine tree and replace with it a native gumbo-limbo tree in the same location,” said Woodard.

Woodard said the property owners are willing to pay for the project and agreed and public works would stipulate the owner to initially maintain the new tree, watering to get it established.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Commissioner Jan Vosburgh. “It’s getting rid of a problem tree, getting a native tree and he’s picking up the cost.”

Gatehouse moved to approve authorizing the property owner to remove and replace the tree. Vosburgh seconded the motion and Shaughnessy joined in voting for approval.

Vice Mayor Ed Straight was absent and Commissioner Gay Breuler voted “nay.”

Commissioners also voted 4-0 to deny a request from BeachHouse Restaurant general manager Rebecca Shannon for a donation toward the Independence Day fireworks July 3 at the restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N.

Shannon said the event has grown into a community event, which in turn benefits the community and its businesses.

“We are looking for help to offset the cost for this event,” said Shannon. “I’m not going to get into the details of the costs, but it’s in the thousands and thousands of dollars and expenses are going up.”

Shannon said restaurant owner Ed Chiles has been honored to hold the event and would like to continue to do so.

Shaughnessy said it was only a few short years ago that the city donated up to $10,000 to various causes, but that the city doesn’t have the money to spend outside of its own needs.

Breuler said budget talks are just about to begin for 2014 and is too late to ask for money this year.

Shannon said her intent was to put the subject out for discussion and wanted to pursue a more official request for next year’s celebration.

She said Bridge Street Merchants has claimed the event to be one of its biggest sales day and recently pledged to help with the cost.

Commissioners voted no for this year, “but at least we get this on the table so people are thinking about it,” said Shannon.

The city commission schedule calls for a city meeting July 4. Commissioners voted 4-0 to cancel the that meeting and rescheduled it for July 11. The July 18 commission meeting also was canceled.

Center’s Affaire revenue fails expectation

While all the bills and pledges from the Anna Maria Island Community Center’s May 18 gala, An Island Affaire, have not yet come in, executive director Dawn Stiles estimated the total revenue at about $160,000.

That would leave a $40,000 shortfall from what assistant executive director Scott Dell projected in March to the board, before Stiles assumed the directorship April 1.

At the March board meeting, Dell said center revenues were down by $196,000, not counting Island Affaire revenue. He said the gala would raise $200,000-$220,000 and cover the shortfall.

Stiles said she did not know if $160,000 was a good revenue figure or not as this was her first Island Affaire.

“I hope it’s brought up at the June 21 board meeting for discussion,” she said.

Stiles said she would discuss the revenue issue with board director Scott Rudacille before the meeting. She said she needs to know the financial position of the center, and if other revenue streams are needed before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Several people who attended the gala said it appeared to be a sell out.

Much of the revenue, however, depended upon the silent and live auctions and raffle ticket sales. Those amounts should be in the treasurer’s report or in Dell’s report at the June 21 meeting.

Several people suggested the name of the entertainment should have been released in advance of the Affaire.

Stiles said she is working on development and financial plans that will be ready by the board’s September meeting. The center board traditionally does not meet in July or August.

The next board meeting is 8 a.m. Friday, June 21, at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

County administrator pushes for half-cent sales tax vote

A handful of people brushed off raindrops June 5 to hear the benefits of voting in favor of a half-cent sales tax increase proposed on a June 18 countywide ballot.

Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker explained the benefits of supporting the tax at a town hall meeting in Holmes Beach.

Hunzeker said the tax stemmed from a discussion that occurred at the county level about who pays for county government.

“Sixty percent of county government is put back on people who own property,” he said. “That’s different from most counties. To put that much of the cost on one group of people is strange and inappropriate.”

Hunzeker alluded to the premise that should voters pass the half-cent sales tax, Manatee County property taxes could decrease by 23 percent in municipalities and by 13 percent in unincorporated areas of the county.

“We started looking at why do we do that when other revenue streams are available to government in order not to put a burden on property taxpayers,” he said.

In 1984, the county sold Manatee Memorial Hospital with the proceeds going toward helping to pay for indigent health care. That money will run out in 2015, and only a portion of those funds are used while the remainder of the balance is paid through property taxes.

Last year, the county paid about $24 million in health care costs. About $9 million was used from the hospital sale fund while more than $14 million was supported by property owners.

“When I first arrived in 2006, an indigent health care task force was formed and they came to me in 2007 to request a half-cent sales tax increase,” said Hunzeker. “I told them, ‘Good luck.’”

Hunzeker said the timing wasn’t right in 2007.

“I told them they have a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “We had not engaged the community in a discussion.”

Hunzeker said the following year a study was done that showed challenges in the county’s health care system and those challenges have led to increasing costs.

“There are basically three big ticket items that are making up the $24 million,” he said. “One is when people go to jail, we have to pay for their health care. The other is Medicaid match, which we are required to pay. The last big thing is that we fund a portion of uncompensated services from people that show up and can’t pay.”

Hunzeker said it’s important for voters to understand that indigent health care isn’t about people who are too lazy to get a job. He said poor people are usually on state or federal programs to help them pay their medical costs.

“It’s the working poor we are talking about here,” he said. “People that have jobs and, because they have jobs, they don’t qualify for help. Or maybe their employer had to cut health insurance during the economic downturn. That’s the people we are talking about. So this mental picture about some slacker smoking and drinking and too lazy to work isn’t what we are necessarily talking about when we say indigent care.”

Hunzeker said once the county understood that a half-cent sales tax increase would generate about $23 million a year, it was clear that a rare occurrence of creating a tax to get tax relief was possible.

“You pass this tax, you get a tax cut,” he told the gallery of mostly island city residents and officials.

The idea is to spread the costs of health care across the board to everyone in the county, instead of the property owners who now pay the lion’s share. That moved Hunzeker to look at other aspects of the county tax bill that he said are off balance.

“There’s other pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “One of the things is the sheriff’s office budget.”

Hunzeker said the $95 million MCSO budget includes $28 million in patrol service, and not every city uses MCSO patrol services, “but they still pay for it.”

He also pointed out that unincorporated areas of the county don’t pay a utility franchise fee, which could also allow lowering property taxes.

His budget plan, if the tax is approved, will include charging unincorporated residents a utility franchise fee on top of the sales tax increase, although unincorporated residents will still save money.

“When we started this process and began looking at changing who pays for government, you look at winners and losers,” he said, noting virtually every time government makes a decision there are both.

“But I couldn’t figure out who the losers are in this scenario,” he said.

Hunzeker said approving the sales tax increase will create only good things for the county and its residents.

“The good side is that we solve our community health care crisis, reduce property taxes, diversify the county revenues, allow more families to apply for mortgages and it’s a better allocation of the sheriff’s office budget.”

Hunzeker told the gallery that if passed, the sales tax would only be used to pay for indigent health care.

“We can’t do anything with it but health care,” he said.

If passed, Hunzeker said Manatee County would have the second lowest property taxes in the region.

“We already have the lowest water, garbage and other things,” he said. “It will be a bargain to live here.”

If it doesn’t pass, Hunzeker said the county commissioners face a challenge in overcoming the $9 million health care fund that runs out in 2015.

“Instead of a tax reduction, the talk will be about a tax increase,” he said. “We don’t have a way to solve that $9 million. The thing about the sales tax is that everybody pays it, including the people who are getting the indigent care. They buy stuff. Visitors buy stuff. Everybody buys something and everybody pays.”

Currently, Manatee County sales tax is 6.5 percent and Manatee is the only county in the area collecting less than 7 percent.

According to IRS tax tables, the average family will pay $52-$64 more a year in sales tax. The increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, if the referendum passes.

June 18 referendum includes option for business incentive

Voters heading to the polls June 18 to vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for indigent health care have another issue to consider.

A second item on the ballot is an issue to give authority to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners to provide incentives to incoming and existing businesses by eliminating property taxes for 10 years, if the business qualifies for the program on the ballot.

Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, said June 5 at a Holmes Beach town hall meeting that the measure is a job creator tool that attracts new business.

“The main charge of our organization is to recruit businesses here and encourage existing businesses to expand,” said Hillstrom. “In 2009, we recognized the need to be more aggressive and to diversify the economy.”

Hillstrom said Manatee County is the only county in the Tampa Bay region that does not offer the incentive.

“Economic development is highly competitive,” she said. “Businesses use a site selection consultant to scout out communities, and if you don’t have what they want, you don’t even get an opportunity to speak about how great your community is.”

She said there isn’t a way to determine how many businesses have passed on Manatee County after seeing the county doesn’t offer what other Florida counties do with the tax exemption.

The incentive is no freebie, she said.

“The businesses have to fall into a certain sector to qualify, they have to create a certain number of jobs, invest capital and have to offer a wage to its employees that are at or above average for the area,” said Hillstrom. “If they don’t do any of that, the incentive stops.”

Hillstrom said Manatee County is not only at a disadvantage in losing potential businesses, but that many children raised in the county don’t come back after college because they lack opportunities here.

“We want to send our kids off to college and have them come back,” she said. “We need to attract talent.”

Hillstrom said existing businesses that have stayed loyal to Manatee County shouldn’t be left out of the incentive program, if voters pass it.

“We also want to encourage expansion of existing businesses, and right now we don’t have a lot to offer them,” she said. “The other thing to keep in mind about existing industries is that they create the vast majority of new jobs.”

Hillstrom said the passage of the incentive program is one more tool in the toolbox to help her organization aggressively recruit businesses to Manatee County.

“We want to be on an even playing field with the counties around us,” she said. “We have a great product to sell here. There is momentum in this community and we are poised for greatness.”

Critics of the tax exemption call it corporate welfare and feel businesses should succeed or fail on their own, Hillstrom said.

“I say it’s an investment in our community and way of life,” she said. “The economic return for this incentive program far exceeds what you get back in ad valorem taxes.”

Neptune’s daughter: Esther Williams dies at 91

Esther Williams, the swimming champion and star of Technicolor musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, died June 6 at the age of 91. Williams starred in a number of films that featured her aquatic skills, including “On an Island with You,” which was filmed in part on Anna Maria Island. The 1948 movie co-starred Ricardo Montalban, as well as Peter Lawford, Cyd Charisse and Jimmy Durante. The film, set in the South Pacific, is about a movie star pursued by a handsome Naval officer.