Tag Archives: 08-06-2014

Extended stay: Never-ending tourist season

Time was in past years on Anna Maria Island when motels and restaurants would close for repairs or vacation in the summer.

Rental agents took time off, and some businesses closed for a month.

Not this year.

The island tourist season “doesn’t appear to be ending soon and is still going strong,” according to Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.

“This summer season has definitely been off the charts,” she said. “I was at the Red Barn in Bradenton and even heard visitors there talking about going to the island.”

Brockman said the chamber and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau did cooperative advertising in several states in the Midwest and the Atlantic coast, and it’s paying off.

“We’ve had a lot of visitors from Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee. It’s the season that hasn’t ended,” she said.

Brockman’s visit to the Red Barn Flea Market paid off for the chamber.

“They’ve agreed to stock our brochures. They get so many people there, especially in winter,” she said.

Brockman said she’s had no complaints from any member that business is off this summer.

One happy chamber member is David Teitelbaum, owner of five motels in Bradenton Beach, including the Tortuga Inn and Tropic Isle.

“We’ve had a lot of weddings this summer, and more coming in August,” he said. “We’re not really slowing down until after Labor Day, although occupancy does drop some after schools reopen later this month.”

Most Florida public schools, including universities, will be back in session by Aug. 22, according to the Florida Department of Education website. The start of school always brings a slight drop in visitors, Teitelbaum said.

“We have some rooms available, especially the last two weeks of August. But we still have a lot of Europeans coming and Labor Day should be sold out,” he added.

Teitelbaum said the website TripAdvisor.com listed Anna Maria Island as the No. 4 destination for families in 2013, and this summer is proof enough for the ranking.

“Families love the old Florida look of our island,” he said.

At Anna Maria Island Accommodations in Anna Maria, Mike Brinson says it’s “one of the best summers we’ve ever had.”

Brinson said the only slowdown on their books appears after Labor Day weekend. This year, Labor Day is Sept. 1.

At Cedar Cove Resort in Holmes Beach — where James Taylor, Tommy Lee and Lee Greenwood have stayed in the past — owner Eric Cairns said the summer season has been great, and reservations have exceeded their 2013 numbers.

“I can sum up the season in three words, ‘fabulous, fabulous, fabulous,’” he said.

“There are no longer separate visitor seasons on the island. It’s been one great season,” Cairns said.

Last year, 2013 was a record year for visitors to Anna Maria Island, according to the BACVB.

Although September is a bit slower for accommodations, Teitelbaum said he’s already taking reservations for mid-October, November and Thanksgiving.

“My advice for anyone coming here for Thanksgiving is to make a reservation early.”

For many holidays, staff at his resorts scramble to accommodate last minute walk-ins.

If Teitelbaum is correct, island residents can only hope for less impact from tourism from early September to mid-to-late October.

“By the last two weeks in October, we’ll see winter residents and visitors start to arrive,” Brockman said.

The island is seeing a new sort of tourist season, she said, one that never ends.

Sea turtle hatchlings emerge to find greatest dangers yet

Thousands of young sea turtles have made it into the Gulf of Mexico this nesting season, but as more nests begin to hatch, dangers for the hatchlings mount.

“August is the month of disorientation. Thirty nests have hatched and we have a whole bunch of nests to go,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

Fox said there have been more disorientations with nesting turtles and their hatchlings this year than last, but not more than expected following a beach renourishment.

“The profile of the beach has changed. Now sand is high, but people’s houses are in the same place,” she said.

Lights shining from beachside windows that were not visible last year are more likely to be visible from the higher horizon line created by the renourished sand on the beach.

Fox said August is the most difficult month for AMITW volunteers, who take on double-duty as hatchlings begin to “boil,” or crawl up from the nest, which often is found to be about a foot or more in depth. In addition to morning walks looking for new and hatched nests, volunteers walk the beaches at night in search of problematic lights and nest harassment.

AMITW volunteers take photographs and report possible light violations to the local code enforcement officers. Volunteers also can provide turtle-friendly light bulbs and informational material.

Fox said she also receives late-night phone calls, including a recent call at 2 a.m. alerting her of a group of teenagers harassing hatchlings.

“They had flashlights and led them all over the beach in circles with the lights,” Fox said. “They basically killed those 100 hatchlings. You can never point a light at a hatchling.”

Hatchlings demonstrate two important bursts of energy following their emergence, according to Fox. The hatchlings have about 20 minutes of energy they use to crawl out of the nest and into the water.

They use a second burst of energy to swim to the sargassum, a seagrass habitat floating offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The small hatchlings feed and gain strength in the sargassum.

“It’s another case of human intervention,” she said.

The AMITW can provide business and property owners with information on obtaining low-cost turtle-friendly lights.

For more information, call Fox at 941-778-5638.

Bradenton Beach forges plans for beachfront nature park

Bradenton Beach officials are moving forward with plans to create a natural park and education center at John R. Chappie Gulfside Park.

The project is headed by Lt. John Cosby of the Bradenton Beach Police Department. He presented a new plan to commissioners attending the July 30 capital improvements committee meeting.

Commissioners Ed Straight and Jan Vosburgh were on vacation and did not attend.

The plans for the four-parcel park, located at 1402 Gulf Drive N., feature meandering 5-foot-wide paths constructed with a sand-shell mix that is designed to drain and filter rainwater.

The paths will meander through the property from two beach access points on the Gulf of Mexico.

In the center of the parcel, a 30-by-36-foot circular shell area will serve as a gathering place for classes and events.

Cosby said the city plans to remove non-native species in the park, including several Australian pines, but keep the existing native fauna, including sea grape, palms and coontie.

The plans call for the reduction of an existing ridge near the roadside to allow for enhanced visibility by law enforcement.

Cosby said the berm was created in 1985 by road workers clearing Gulf Drive after a storm that caused sand and saltwater to breach the road.

He also noted the planned improvements should deter some unwanted behavior based on residents’ complaints that people urinate in the bushes at the park and sleep there at night.

While the park has no designated parking, Cosby said the city will be creating a trolley stop for the park. He said he expects to be refunded for the new stop by the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

Instead of using bollards, or wooden posts to enclose the park, Cosby said plants and sand berms would be placed along the perimeter to “keep the park looking as natural as possible.”

Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, has volunteered to apply for grants to help fund some of the educational components of the park, such as informational plaques identifying flora, fauna and wildlife.

Commissioners believe the project can be accomplished for less than $10,000.

The city currently has $9,975 in donations that will be allocated for the improvements.

Commissioners voted July 30 not to exceed the allocated amount.

Recently, Cosby spoke with three potential bidders on the cost.

Only one bidder, Michael Miller of Perfect Island Landscaping, submitted a proposal. It is for $11,375.

Cosby said he is waiting for Miller to give him a timeline.

The city acquired John R. Chappie Gulfside Park for $300,000 in 2011. The acquisition of the four lots settled a longstanding legal dispute between the city and developers who planned to build housing.

The park was named in honor of Chappie, who currently represents Anna Maria Island and other parts of western Manatee County on the board of county commissioners. He is a former Bradenton Beach mayor, city commissioner and a longtime resident.

Bradenton Beach mayor proffers new clerk

In the turmoil that has surrounded the Bradenton Beach administration since June, it seems the mayor has found one solution to smooth the path.

Mayor Bill Shearon appears to have found the city clerk of his dreams, and he just can’t say enough good things about her.

Now all he needs is approval from the city commission, and he feels confident they will grant it in the Aug. 7 commission meeting.

The mayor’s choice is Gia Lancaster, who came to the mayor’s attention as a result of the ad on the Florida League of Cities website.

Her resume, says Shearon, is “impressive” and her references strong, but it was mostly the July 31 “outstanding phone interview” that the mayor and the city attorney co-conducted with her that sealed the deal.

“In my 27 years in business prior to this, I have rarely offered an applicant an employment opportunity at the end of the interview,” said Shearon. “She meets all the criteria and is a part of the national clerk association. I’m looking forward to her being part of the team.”

Shearon appeared to be confident that they will approve his choice and none too soon.

“Our clerk pro tem, Terry, has been doing a fantastic job,” the mayor said, “but I’m looking forward to having someone in place permanently.”

While Shearon had no official start date, he said it can’t be too soon, noting also that no changes are anticipated in the city clerk job description and classification.

Of course, this all hinges on the commissioners giving Lancaster the official thumbs-up in the Aug. 7 meeting.

Shearon said Lancaster was formerly the city clerk for Arcadia — east of Myakka City on State Road 70.

The Islander confirmed Lancaster served Arcadia until October 2013 when many of the city’s department heads made an unanticipated mass exodus following the resignation of city administrator Judi Jankowski.

Resignations, including those of Jankowski and Lancaster, were tendered without notice, which resulted in interim city administrator Tom Slaughter describing “a stunned and frustrated city council,” to the Arcadian newspaper.

Many of the city’s remaining employees were given raises by the administrator before her surprise departure, and some of the departing employees were designated by Jankowski to receive severance packages, including health benefits and vacation pay.

The city later held a special meeting to deny the exit packages.

The commission will convene at 6 p.m. at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Holmes Beach looks to bring back youth baseball

There may soon be bigger news than the dog park at the field north of Holmes Beach City Hall.

The field is named Birdie Tebbetts Field, and was once frequented on game nights and weekends by families and youth baseball players. But it now remains mostly abandoned, save regular maintenance by the city’s public works department.

Holmes Beach resident and Manatee West Hurricanes team manager Andy Procter brought the city a proposal in October 2013 that could revive the field.

Human resource specialist Mary Buonagura said then she would look into grants for field improvements. She addressed the commissioners on the issue during their July 22 meeting.

“We have a great opportunity here to attract families, and we have professional teams that fund these kinds of things out of their foundations all the time,” said Buonagura.

Buonagura said that with improvements to the field covered by grants, cost to the city could be minimal.

Commissioners were split between support and apprehension.

“What obligation will we have after this?” asked Commissioner Marvin Grossman.

Buonagura said maintaining the field would be comparable to now.

“It’s not being used now because it’s not set up for kids. I do believe in baseball. Travel baseball is huge. If we’re trying to bring community back, I think this is a great way to do it,” said Commission Chair Judy Titsworth.

Titsworth recalled the field was built under Mayor Carol Whitmore’s supervision with some funding from Manatee County.

It was designed for Junior League players.

In March, city attorney Patricia Petruff sent a 120-day notice to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners to terminate the 1998 interlocal agreement between the city and the county.

Under the agreement, Manatee County provided funding for the construction of the field.

Over the years, dog owners began to use the secured, fenced-in field for pet exercise. The city then segregated the dogs, and carved out a dog park from the outfield. Also, the flagpole, Birdie Tebbetts Field sign and the scoreboard were taken down. The sign and flagpole were donated by Tebbetts’ friends and family.

“I think it’s a travesty we have a facility we’re not using. I don’t think we have to spend the money (from the city’s budget) to get this done,” said Mayor Carmel Monti. “It’s a great way to bring community back.”

Procter proposed 10 weekends of youth baseball tournaments from September to December, leading up to an Anna Maria Fall Classic championship.

The team has been searching for a new field for practices and games, and he said he thought of the field in Holmes Beach because several of the Manatee West Hurricane team players live on Anna Maria Island.

Procter put together an economic impact statement and estimated each event would bring at least $18,000 in the offseason months, with families staying on the island and frequenting local businesses.

The proposed improvements to the field include adding 15,000 square feet of sod, a movable pitcher’s mound, batting cages and a shell walkway to the restrooms. His preliminary bid for the work is $25,800. However, Buonagura said at the meeting, Proctor thinks the improvements might fall under the initial bid.

The commission agreed to allow Buonagura to pursue donations and grant opportunities.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said, “People don’t want to go to these places out east because there’s nothing for the other family members to do. But there is here. It’s the best time of year to bring people here in October and September, and I think we all want to revitalize some type of community and family atmosphere.”

 

Birdie Tebbetts: A baseball man

George “Birdie” Tebbetts was a professional baseball player, playing for 17 years for American League teams the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians.

Following his career as a player, Tebbetts managed teams in the National League and served as an executive for the Atlanta Braves.

He moved to Holmes Beach in the 1960s.

Tebbetts served the newly named Major League Baseball Miami Marlins as an executive scout, helping in 1992 to forge the 1997 World Series team. He retired in his 80s. He continued to be involved in baseball and, before his death in March 1999, said he hoped to be remembered as a “baseball man.”

His memorial in Holmes Beach was attended by MLB team and league representatives, as well as some family of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

He had many friends and admirers on Anna Maria Island, where he and wife Mary raised three daughters and a son.

The Holmes Beach Junior League field was officially named for Tebbetts by city proclamation in 1998 and an opening celebration was held in March 2001.

Island Circle K customers get skimmed at gas pump

On July 30, an assistant manager at the Circle K, 2513 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach notified police that he had about 30 dissatisfied customers on his hands.

It soon became apparent that someone had secretly placed an illegal credit-card skimming device in one of the store’s automated fuel-dispensing system — the self-pay gas pump. Bogus charges began showing up almost immediately on customers’ accounts and it didn’t take long for them to figure out exactly where their cards had been compromised.

When Bradenton Beach police responded to investigate, they found and removed a “skimming cable” that had been installed in one of the fuel pumps.

Janice and Billy Dingman of Bradenton Beach reported false charges made in Hudson, Florida, to their bank, then to the BBPD.

Janice Dingman said her husband purchased gas at the targeted Circle K and they suspected an illegal skimmer was used there.

“He doesn’t make that many purchases,” Janice Dingman, a staff member at The Islander said. “And he keeps his gas receipts,” so the couple filed a police report.

BBPD took precautions to avoid contaminating the evidence and are hopeful that they may be able to pull fingerprints of the culprit who somehow got the pump open and installed the skimmer. Video from several security cameras also is being reviewed and, apparently, installing the skimmer would take enough time that cameras would reveal someone loitering around the pump without pumping gas.

Though the station manager told police that only he and the company that maintains the fuel pumps have the key needed to get inside the pump, police note that crooks are getting their hands on these keys somehow, possibly via the Internet.

Asked how customers can protect themselves against this crime, these tips were offered:

• Most obvious deterrent is to pay in cash.

• Take the time to take your card inside to prepay rather than using it at the pump.

• Look closely at the pump for signs of tampering, forced access, unaligned edges.

• Choose pumps in clear view of security cameras. As was true in this case, crooks often tamper with pumps on the outer perimeter of the station out of site of cameras and other people. (Outer pumps also are more easily isolated and blocked from view with a well-placed SUV, van, or truck.)

• One “locking the barn door” type tip: keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements, online if possible, so that if someone does get your numbers you can cut them off quickly from using your credit.

BBPD and Circle K continue reviewing possible clues in hopes of identifying the person or persons who committed this crime.

Island roadwork for Aug. 6-13

The Florida Department of Transportation maintenance project for the Cortez Bridge is continuing, with the sidewalk on the south side closed for repairs.

Nighttime lane closures of the eastbound lane and a flagging operation will occasionally take place from 9 p.m.-6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

The project is not expected to finish before late January.

The DOT also reported Florida Power and Light is replacing power poles on Gulf Drive/State Road 789 from the Cortez Road intersection to 28th Street in Holmes Beach and in Cortez.

The DOT said the eastbound right lane of Cortez Road at

106th Street West will be closed 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 7-8 as its crew replaces utility poles.

Additional pole replacement is scheduled this week at various locations on Cortez Road West from 103rd Street West to 119th Street West, the DOT said.

Storm watch: Bertha brews into tropical storm

Bertha brewed into a tropical storm late July 31, the second storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season.

The initial warnings for Bertha put Barbados, Dominica and St. Lucia on notice for Aug. 1. The storm drenched the Dominican Republic. As it passed southwest of Puerto Rico Aug. 2, Bertha dropped 3-5 inches of rain and left about tens of thousands of households without power.

By mid-day Aug. 3, Bertha had drifted away from the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas. The storm was moving northwest at about 18 mph and tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 160 miles.

Forecasts showed Bertha curving north-northeast, moving parallel to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and not hitting the mainland.

Hurricane Arthur was the first storm of the season, making landfall in early July on the North Carolina coast.

Storm season began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted 8-13 named storms. Of those storms, NOAA predicted 3-6 could become hurricanes.

Quack, quack, help! WMFR to the rescue

When a baby duck gets trapped in a storm drain in west Manatee County, friends know to call the West Manatee Fire Rescue.

Susan Miller of Mango Park in northwest Bradenton did just that when she discovered baby ducks trapped in a drainage pipe.

On July 29, Miller went to the WMFR administration building at 407 67th Ave. W., Bradenton, to ask for help in rescuing some ducklings trapped in a storm drain near her home.

WMFR firefighters responded immediately to the house in the 2000 block of 91st Street Northwest, according to a press release from WMFR Deputy Chief Brett Pollock.

The release said firefighters found “a mother duck walking frantically around a storm drain,” and they could hear ducklings quacking in the drain.

WMFR Lt. Jeff Lonzo had the manhole covers on both sides of the road removed. Lonzo then peered into the drainage system and saw two ducklings between the road and a retention pond, the release said.

Lonzo said he determined that a discharge pipe was clogged, preventing the ducklings from making their own escape.

Firefighters removed debris from the discharge pipe, then pumped water from a household garden house into the drain. Capt. Ryan Moore used a crab net to try and capture the ducklings, but was unsuccessful at first.

However, using his hands, he was able to catch one of the ducklings and bring it to safety. A few minutes after the first rescue, the second duckling swam from the discharge pipe into the pond and was reunited with its mother, the release said.

Miller said the WMFR crew that responded were “kind, gentle and compassionate to the little ducks.”

All in a day’s work for WMFR firefighters, said WMFR Chief Andy Price.

The chief said WMFR firefighters probably don’t need to have classes in duck rescue as they appear to have learned on-the-job.

Top Notch grand-prize winner

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Catch a wave

Heather Childers of Wildwood is the grand-prize winner in The Islander’s annual summertime Top Notch photo contest. Her fun-splashed snapshot of a surf-bather won Childers an Islander “More Than a Mullet Wrapper” T-shirt, $100 from the newspaper and a gift certificates and prizes from participating businesses. Congratulations to Childers, and also the Top Notch nominees. Coming in the Aug. 13 issue: honorable mentions.