Tag Archives: 08-13-2014

Birds, nudists edge for space at Passage Key

Those passing by Passage Key on their watercrafts get more than a view of shore birds at this wildlife refuge.

Passage Key is a nationally designated wildlife refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And it’s a popular spot for nudists.

The FWS released a statement in late June that said officials were surprised to see a reemerging sandbar, more than 4 acres in size, where the Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge previously existed.

It had eroded and disappeared almost seven years ago.

“When Passage Key first started reemerging a few months ago, we were under the impression that it would vanish in weeks, like it had been in the previous seven years. To everyone’s surprise, the sand has been continually accumulating, rising at several feet above the high-water mark,” said Stan Garner, FWS supervisory law enforcement officer, in the June release.

Officials also reported a high number of nesting colonies of least terns and loafing colonies of royal and sandwich terns, black skimmers, pelicans, oystercatchers and other shorebirds, amid hundreds of visitors surrounding its shores.

These hundreds of visitors to the emerging sandbar are mostly nudists — or naturists, depending on your preference of term.

“The island has gotten overwhelming attention from the nudist community,” said Ivan Vicente, FWS visitors services specialist. “The thing is, the island came back up, so the nudist community tripled in the last four months and they claimed it as their nudist island.”

Markers have been placed on the perimeter of the reemerging island, alerting visitors to the federally protected wildlife refuge.

Vicente said people are allowed to visit the island by boat and stand in the water, but they cannot walk on the land. The new markers indicate people can stand in the shallow waters, while keeping far enough away to not disturb the birds.

“Ever since it was established as a refuge, it was never allowed for people to be on it. We are reinstituting normal regulations. Now, even in high tide, part of the island is exposed. We don’t care about excluding people, we care about preserving the wildlife,” Vicente said.

Passage Key also is the site of a domestic dispute that led to a suspicious death that is being investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Vicente said a helicopter landed on Passage Key July 13 in an attempt to locate Pamela Carter Doster, who died July 16 at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

The helicopter flushed the birds from the refuge, but Vicente said some of the birds have returned to feed and loaf.

Passage Key, in 1905, became the second established national wildlife refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt. The preserve is particularly important for nesting colonies of native seabirds and wading birds.

Passage Key also was the first refuge to be a federally designated Wilderness Area, earning that designation in 1970 under the Wilderness Act of 1964.

In the early 1900s, Passage Key was a 60-acre mangrove island with a freshwater lake.

The key began to shrink following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Storms eroded away significant portions of the island. The refuge went completely underwater following the presence of hurricane Alberto in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006.

“No one expected it. It’s almost like the hand of God dumped sand on the shoal,” said Vicente.

Officials have stepped up enforcement to keep people off the land. However, Vicente said there isn’t constant enforcement.

Passage Key is jointly patrolled by the FWS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We don’t a have a problem with nudity out there, as long as it’s not happening on land. We manage animals first and then people,” he said.

Turtle watch seeks help with new permit restrictions, lights

It’s tough being a newborn sea turtle.

While hatchlings battle with more visible light on the beaches, officials battle state permit conditions, both a result of beach renourishment.

Suzi Fox, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, said she contacted an official at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the first week of August due to a high number of hatchling disorientations, and the possibility of more miscues as the hatching rate increases.

“I noticed that they are up. They spiked, and we have a bigger problem than I thought. I estimate between 100 and 150 nests, big numbers, could be affected by lights,” Fox said.

Fox said she first alerted Charlie Hunsicker, director of the parks and natural resource department for Manatee County, which helps fund the AMITW monitoring program.

“When I see that I can’t fix something with one call, I contact the FWC,” said Fox.

The FWC, which oversees and collects the AMITW data, offered Fox guidance.

She said there are three main contributors to this year’s lighting problems, which are exacerbated by higher sands from the spring beach renourishment project. The project pumped sandy spoil on the beach and heavy equipment sculpted the sands, adding 3-5 feet of depth and a much wider beach.

The biggest problem is streetlights. The higher beach makes the streetlights more visible, and Fox said she planned to appeal to Florida Power and Light, Manatee County and the island city governments to place shields on the streetlights.

Beachside rental properties are second on Fox’s dangerous lights list.

“Realtors or those hired by property owners to take money from renters are responsible for telling people what the local laws are. Renters don’t know, and if they’re just sticking a piece a paper in the rooms, it’s not working,” she said.

Fox said the biggest light problems are occurring between 75th and 50th streets in Holmes Beach.

The third problem on Fox’s list is increased sky glow.

“People in the middle of the island have been adding decorative lighting and more lights in general. The hatchlings coming out of nests in Anna Maria on the dark beaches are walking south, and they’ve never done that before. Not like this,” Fox said.

Fox said within the past year new lights have appeared lining Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach and outside the Walgreens in Holmes Beach. The biggest problems with sky glow are from up-lighting in the commercial areas of Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach and at the Benderson-owned plaza, Anna Maria Island Centre, in Holmes Beach. Anna Maria prohibits up-lighting, which are low fixtures, projected upward.

“So now we’ve added another job for the code enforcement officers. With Bridge Street, it’s not just the sky glow, you can actually see the rooftop lights” from the shoreline, she said.


New permit conditions

Fox said there are additional permit conditions following every beach renourishment project, but this year’s conditions are considerably more stringent and burdening island cities’ code enforcement departments and AMITW’s administrative work.

“The requirements in the permit conditions have changed 100 percent following renourishments. In past years, the requirements were, if lights were out of compliance, nobody did anything. The last renourishment was in 2010, but the requirements were nothing,” said Fox.

The permit conditions are beneficial for the sea turtles and hatchlings, by addressing lighting problems. But, Fox said monthly lighting surveys, along with additional paperwork and follow up in addition to AMITW’s regular FWC requirements, are becoming too burdensome.

AMITW monitors and reports the permit conditions to the county based on a contract that funds AMITW.

Conditions set forth in the FWC permit requirements must be met by the county to ensure future funding for renourishment projects.

Lighting is governed by local ordinances. The responsibility then lies with the island cities’ already overburdened code enforcement departments to bring lights into compliance.

However, the streetlights might fall out of the scope of the cities’ abilities, and into the county’s hands, Fox said.

“I told Charlie (Hunsicker), every code enforcement office on the island is overworked and overwhelmed with the requirements set in the permit conditions,” Fox said.

Fox plans to approach Hunsicker later in the month to request help from Manatee County to support the island code enforcement departments and perform the checks.

“This will affect the renourishment programs, past, present and future,” Fox said. “The cities are obligated to these extra checks.”


Mind your sea turtle manners

Sea turtles on Anna Maria Island are protected by local ordinances and state and federal law.

The island cities have local ordinances prohibiting lights that can be seen from the beach, including the use of flashlights on the beach at night.

“I don’t care what you find on the Internet, no flashlight is turtle-friendly. If you have to use one, click-on, then click-off,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

State laws prohibit taking, possessing, disturbing, mutilating, destroying, selling, transferring or harassing sea turtles, their nests or eggs.

Violating a local ordinance is a misdemeanor and can lead to fines. Under state law, violators can be imprisoned up to 60 days or fined up to $500, with an additional $100 for each egg destroyed or taken.

Sea turtles are federally protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Taking, harassing, harming, hunting or trapping sea turtles, their nests or eggs can lead to fines up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.

According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, anyone who observes someone violating a local or state law should report it to local law enforcement.

Violations also can be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling the wildlife hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.

Dedication planned for Bradenton Beach nature park



Mike Miller of Perfect Island Landscaping began work Aug. 7 on his plans for a nature park and education center at John R. Chappie Gulfside Park, 1402 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach. The crew is removing Australian pines and other non-native plants in favor of native trees and plants. The project is moving along more quickly than the fast-track plan that was laid out, according to Mayor Bill Shearon, and is expected to cost just under the budgeted $10,000, all of which has been donated. An official groundbreaking at the park is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13. County Commissioner John Chappie, for whom the park is named, will be the honored guest. Islander Photo: Josey Presswood

New Bradenton Beach city clerk ensconced

Following the Pledge of Allegiance at the Aug. 7 commission meeting, the first order of business was to move agenda item seven to the top of the meeting.

The item was the presentation of the mayor’s choice for city clerk, Gia Lancaster.

The reason for the change in scheduling, it was explained, was that Lancaster had a long trip ahead to return to her Titusville home.

The commission had few questions for the candidate and Lancaster also limited her remarks.

The most urgent questions consisted of the mayor and Commissioners Janie Robertson and Jan Vosburgh asking Lancaster if she could get out of giving her current employer two weeks notice.

It was decided Lancaster would start as soon as possible or in two weeks. The mayor offered to help her find housing and make the transition an easy one.

It also was agreed that the procedure manual and a probationary period of six months would be adhered to, and Lancaster would be considered for a raise after three months on the job.

An Aug. 25 “or sooner if possible” start date was agreed upon, as well as a $50,000 annual salary, and Lancaster was approved by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Ed Straight was absent.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said in her presentation that she received excellent recommendations for Lancaster from the references she provided and no problems were indicated by a Google search of her name.

However, The Islander learned from two newspapers in two cities, as well as online sources, that there were several red flags raised regarding Lancaster’s past job performances, including reports of her having been forcibly removed from meetings.

There was no dialogue as to why Lancaster resigned without notice from her Arcadia city clerk job in October 2013, or changed her name from Virginia Haas to Lancaster shortly before the walkout or why past jobs were primarily limited to approximately two years each.

Lancaster walked out on the Arcadia job in a staged event with five to six other department heads and the city administrator, who had given two weeks notice.

Lancaster and the others were given severance pay and six months of health care benefits by the administrator, although it was rescinded by the city council in the weeks following the walkout.

The Islander learned last week from the assistant editor at the Arcadian newspaper that Lancaster had participated in the walkout and exchanged emails on her office email account with other staff in planning the walkout — but no reason was given for the mass resignation.

Other questionable behavior was reported by the Arcadian, including an occasion when Lancaster (Haas) is alleged to have been intoxicated and forcibly removed from a city meeting.

According to public records, Lancaster gave a false reason for leaving Arcadia on a job application in Melbourne Beach in December.

It appears from news stories found online that Lancaster (Haas) also had problems as city clerk in Oak Hill before taking the Arcadia job, including another alleged eviction from a city meeting.


Changing clerks

City commissioners unanimously appointed Terri Sanclemente as temporary city clerk at a special meeting July 21.

Commissioners sought out Sanclemente, who worked for the city as an administrative assistant 2006-12, to help fill the vacancy created after clerk Jamie Anderson was terminated and pro-tem clerk Tammy Johnson resigned.

The commission voted to bring Sanclemente back to perform city clerk services for six months, with the understanding that she could become a full-time employee.

Johnson, who was a deputy clerk, was first appointed pro-tem clerk, but she resigned July 3 amid allegations that she had violated public records laws.

Johnson trained Sanclemente, who started work July 7, during her final week on the job.

Sanclemente makes $17 per hour as a contract laborer, and does not receive employee benefits.

Although she is acting clerk, she lacks certification to serve as the city’s official clerk.

Anderson started work in February to fill longtime city clerk Nora Idso’s position after she resigned for health issues. Idso died in June.

Anderson was terminated June 19 when the commission voted 3-2 to end her employment.

Construction companies can be unwelcome neighbors

The importance of being a good neighbor apparently was lost to a construction crew renovating a home on 65th Street in Holmes Beach.

Dorothy Pon arrived July 24 to her rental property on 65th Street — adjacent to the ongoing construction— to find five electrical cords plugged into the outlets in her backyard and the screen cut on her pool enclosure. And this was in spite of having denied permission to use her electricity to the contractors working next door.

Pon called the Holmes Beach Police Department and Officer Brian Copeman responded. In his report, Copeman noted the extension cords led from Pon’s outlets, through the backyard and over a fence, leading to a construction site at the neighboring property on 65th Street.

The contractor of the properties at 312 65th Street and 314 65th Street is Beach to Bay Investments. The owner-corporation lists Shawn Kaleta and Moss Brothers LLC as corporate managers.

Ryan Moss, who is overseeing the project for Beach to Bay, denied any knowledge of the apparent theft of services from Pon’s property when he arrived at the duplex.

Pon told Copeman and city building inspector David Greene, who also responded, that Beach to Bay owner Shawn Kaleta had contacted her requesting permission to use her electricity, and she had denied the request.

No charges were filed, although Moss was instructed to come to an agreement with Pon by 3 p.m. the same day, or the job would be red-tagged by the city building department.

An agreement was not reached, and Greene placed a stop-work order on the job.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said no charges on the utility theft were pursued because authorities lacked probable cause.

“We were not able to prove who plugged in the extension cords because no one would admit it and we didn’t have any witnesses,” said Tokajer. “What I’ve asked my officers to do in the future is to not unplug the cords and follow it to see who is using the electric.”

The complaint prompted Tokajer to have his clerk, T-Rex Ogle, look into past cases of Beach to Bay allegedly using utilities from neighboring properties without permission. Ogle found three other cases reported to Holmes Beach police since October 2012.

“With this instance, there’s not a lot of follow up because no one has seen it, and no one admitted to doing it,” Tokajer said. “I told Mr. Kaleta this type of practice can’t continue. He said he instructed the people on site not to use the neighbor’s electricity.”

Tokajer also said he suggested Kaleta contact Pon regarding the screen damage. The screen was cut to gain access to the circuit breaker on Pon’s property when it apparently became overloaded and needed to be reset.

“It’s all civil, so we can’t mandate anything,” Tokajer said. “I did discuss it with the state attorney, and unless we had admission, it’s not something we could prosecute.”

Pon said the repairs to her screen cost $100, and she is waiting for her next bill from Florida Power and Light. She said she already received a large bill, and was told by FPL to expect the bill to be higher next month.

In addition to running down compensation for her electric bills and damaged screen, Pon said she has had to chase off the construction crew who park in her driveway.

“They were parked all over the place. I had to boot one out of my driveway this morning. We even had to put up ‘tenant parking only’ signs,” Pon said.

Pon said she plans to gather her electric and screen repair bills, and have her attorney settle the matter with Beach to Bay.

Holmes Beach committee plans reduce beach-area parking

The Holmes Beach traffic committee’s plan to ban street and right-of-way parking in residential neighborhoods is made of sand, said committee member Ursula Stemm.

Committee members discussed the proposed ban and the committee’s next steps at an Aug. 6 meeting.

“We have to present the proposal and let (commissioners) whittle it down,” said committee member Jaynie Christenson.

The traffic committee will present the next steps in their plan to ban parking in some residential areas at the city commission meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14.

They presented their idea and research to the commission at a meeting in July.

“The goal of this next presentation is to make sure that we have the data correct. I want this presentation to be clear and complete,” said committee chair Carol Soustek.

The committee is seeking approval from the commission to send a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The letter will include their proposal to relocate some allocated parking spaces that figure into beach renourishment funding.

Soustek said the committee is seeking review to confirm the new placement and the quantity of signs indicating parking spaces will not endanger federal funding for beach projects.

The committee had its potential parking spots verified by Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

Soustek said after a letter of approval comes from the DEP, and the signs are relocated, the city will have to amend an interlocal agreement with Manatee County with the new parking space count.


Committee seeks public input

Committee members also discussed public feedback and are encouraging more from residents.

Members said they received mostly positive feedback, but some residents have voiced concerns over whether their guests will have the ability to park on the street in front of their homes.

“Other cities are doing it, and we need to find out what works for our city,” said Christenson, who suggested decals for on-street parking.

Committee member Pam Leckie said her concerns reach beyond the current practice of residential street parking.

“Suppose they put paid parking on the beach. Where do you think they’re going to go if they don’t want to pay?” asked Leckie.

Soustek said the parking restrictions might also indirectly keep “party houses” at bay. Committee members said they have heard complaints from residents about heavy traffic and parking near large vacation homes.

“We just need to educate people on how this can work to their benefit,” said Christenson.

The committee also created a petition that Christenson said can be used to gauge public opinion, as well as educate residents on the parking ban. She said in addition to circulating the petition, committee members could pass out fliers explaining the parking limits to residents.

Committee members also encourage residents to attend the Aug. 14 city commission meeting to voice their opinions.

Robot, researchers on red-tide patrol

Waldo and Bass went diving.

The underwater robots — Mote Marine Laboratory employs Waldo and Bass works for the University of South Florida — were deployed earlier this month to monitor a bloom of red tide off the west coast of Florida.

The results from the robots’ research will help scientists shape short-term forecasts for blooms, such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer. As of Aug. 6, the bloom reached from Dixie County to southern Pasco County, just north of Pinellas, measuring about 80 miles long and 50 miles wide.

Researchers in early August learned:

• From Waldo, that at 40 miles from the Pasco/Hernando border, red tide was detected at the surface and to depths of about 82 feet in areas where it was indicated by satellites.

• From Bass, that at the outer edge of the bloom, elevated chlorophyll associated with the red tide was present in waters as deep as 131 feet.

• Information from both robots confirmed that bloom water is “stratified” — layered — with denser, cooler water below and lighter, warmer water on top.

Both robots were expected to complete their work this month.

Top Notch honorable mentions

Announcing the honorable mentions in The Islander’s annual Top Notch photography. Look for the top entries in the pet photography contest in the Aug. 20 issue.


Taylor Hopkins of Warren, Ohio, earns an honorable mention in The Islander’s annual Top Notch photo contest for this atmospheric image of dinghies at the dock.


John M. Lafferty of Holmes Beach submitted “First Fish Encounter” to the Top Notch contest. The impression from the image? Hudson Lloyd of Bradenton won’t be sampling sushi just yet.


John M. Lafferty’s image of Tom Lloyd taking a dip in the pool earns a nod from the Top Notch judges.


Ralph Crane of Bradenton earns an honorable mention in the Top Notch contest for his image of a manatee.


Marilia Clark, who divides her time between Dallas and Anna Maria Island, captured this image of a dolphin while sailing near Cortez.

Fishing – 08-13-2014

Summer fishing remains hot — enjoy it while it lasts


Once again, mangrove snapper seems to be the topic upon arrival at the dock. On nearly all of my recent charters, limits of snapper are being filleted at the cleaning table. Sizes of these fish range 12-18 inches — a welcome sight for inshore fishers.

Another welcome bite is flounder. These flat fish are beginning to make a showing. On a recent charter with Bert Rawald, we managed to catch a couple of flounder in the 20-inch range, which is a respectable-sized fish for our area.

Spanish mackerel and ladyfish are patrolling the beaches, migrating from bait school to bait school in search of a meal. Live shiners are a sure-fire way to catch these high-activity fish, although artificials such as small jigs, spoons or Gotcha plugs will do almost as well.

Finally, catch-and-release shark fishing remains consistent around the mouth of Tampa Bay. Blacktip sharks 4-6 feet are the most abundant, although I’m seeing spinner sharks and bull sharks on the end of the line, too.

Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is catching respectable numbers of spotted seatrout in Anna Maria Sound. To catch these yellow-mouthed fish, Lowman is free-lining live shiners among deeper grass flats behind the boat while at anchor. Rigging with a popping cork is producing a bite, according to Lowman. Spotted seatrout in the slot of 15-20 inches are the norm, although larger fish are present. You can also expect to catch a variety of other species while targeting trout. These include Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and even a flounder or two, if you’re lucky.

Fishing nearshore and inshore structure is producing mangrove snapper for Lowman. By bottom fishing with a knocker rig consisting of a 1/2-ounce egg sinker and a circle hook, he is producing limits of these fish for his clients.

Finally, Lowman is dock fishing for redfish. Although redfish are being elusive, Lowman is managing to catch one or two to put in the cooler. Live shiners combined with a knocker rig are producing a bite. Working the higher tides around residential docks is a good recipe for success.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure with good results. By using live shiners for bait, Girle is reeling up limits of mangrove snapper between 12- and 18-inches. To catch these fish, Girle is rigging one of two ways. If the fish rise to the surface, Girle is simply using a 5-6 foot length of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader connected to a small circle hook. This rig enables his clients to drift small fresh-cut pieces of bait to the fish. If the snapper tend to stay down deep toward the bottom, Girle is using the same rig, adding a split-shot about 20 inches above the hook.

While targeting snapper, Girle is catching Key West grunts, flounder and juvenile red grouper. He says you can expect to encounter Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and the occasional bonito.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing remains consistent for Spanish mackerel during the hours surrounding sunrise. Small jigs — white, chartreuse or bubble gum — are catching macks up to 18 inches. Silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are producing a bite.

Bait fishers at the R&R are being rewarded with mangrove snapper and flounder. By dropping live shrimp or shiners under the pier, fishers are reeling up keeper-sizes of both species. Along with these are the occasional black drum and plenty of pinfish and grunts.

Finally, snook are congregating around the pier once again. Live shiners, pinfish, ladyfish or what have you, will produce a bite from the linesiders. Just remember to handle them delicately before you release them.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is getting good results on Terra Ceia Bay seatrout. Gross is finding rallies of these popular backcountry fish during early morning high tides. By free-lining shiners on the grass flats, Gross is leading his clients to slot- and over-slot trout. If free-lining is not working, Gross is simply adding a popping cork to his rig to aid in keeping the bait at a certain depth. While catching trout, Gross is also reeling up mangrove snapper, flounder and ladyfish.

Around rocks and docks, Gross is hooking up more mangrove snapper. Most are 12-15 inches and are being caught on live or fresh-cut pieces shiners. Along with snapper, Gross is finding flounder, Key West grunts and triggerfish around structure — especially the nearshore reefs.

        Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.