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A 41-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman face felony charges after a May 7 bar fight at the Anchor Inn Bar, 3007 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Richard Hasbrouck was the aggressor in a scuffle with another man at the bar.
While Hasbrouck was physically engaged with another patron, Kristi Kovaleski allegedly hit a third man with a bar stool, causing swelling and bleeding to the victim’s hand.
During a search of Hasbrouck following his arrest for misdemeanor battery, police allegedly found 1.3 grams of cocaine in his pocket.
According to the report, Hasbrouck said, “You would have never found the cocaine if I wasn’t being arrested for battery.”
Hasbrouck was arrested for misdemeanor battery and felony possession of cocaine. He was booked into the Manatee County jail on $2,000 bond and, as of Islander press time, he remained in custody.
Kovaleski was arrested on a felony battery charge. She was booked into the jail and held on $1,500 bond. As of Islander press time, she remained in custody.
Both Hasbrouck and Kovaleski were scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday, May 31, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
An 18-year-old man was arrested May 1 for allegedly having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Brandon Lee Rivera met the victim at a friend’s house in Bradenton Beach April 13 and began to engage her in a sexual conversation.
The victim told police she did not want to have sex with Rivera. The two walked outside of the residence, at which time Rivera is alleged to have had sex with her.
The victim said she was in shock and did not know what to do, but eventually told Rivera to stop and, she said, he complied with her request.
According to the report, Rivera admitted to police that he had sex with the victim and was aware of her age.
Rivera was booked into the Manatee County jail and initially held on $10,000 bond, which was reduced to $7,500. According to the jail website, Rivera posted bond and was released May 5.
He is scheduled to be arraigned at the Manatee County Judicial Center at 9 a.m. Friday, May 24.
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn was not surprised to learn that the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau announced May 8 that tourism was up for 2012 and, for 2013, already ahead of last year’s pace.
“We know tourism is growing because we see the growth of cars on the streets, the number of pedestrians and reports from retail shops and restaurants,” she said.
What she and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman would like to see is more of the resort tax money — the 5 percent resort tax collected in Manatee County from accommodation rentals of six months or less — coming back to island cities to help with infrastructure needs to accommodate visitors.
The barrier islands generated 62 percent of $8 million collected in Manatee County resort tax funds for fiscal year 2011-12, but the four barrier island cities receive no direct funding from the county to help accommodate visitors, SueLynn said.
“We have to provide good roads, not just for 1,600 residents, but the thousands and thousands of visitor vehicles that travel our streets every day. We have to pay for that upkeep,” the mayor said.
Additionally Anna Maria has to provide adequate public restroom facilities for the 5,000-plus people who might travel to the city on a high-season weekend.
“We also have to provide parking for the visitors, yet we get nothing back, except the resort tax funds the county’s share of beach renourishment,” she said.
SueLynn and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy have been lobbying county Commissioners John Chappie, whose district includes the islands, and Carol Whitmore, whose district is countywide, to discuss the issue at a county meeting.
Chappie and Whitmore are both island residents and should understand the problems, SueLynn said.
“I just don’t think the other commissioners realize what we have to do to provide for the visitors,” SueLynn said.
“We’d like to get a little help out here,” she added.
SueLynn has found a sympathetic ear: BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione, who inspected the Anna Maria City Pier with her recently and agreed it is in need of repairs. “(Falcione) said its condition was unacceptable,” SueLynn said, and he would look into what funds might be available for pier repairs.
SueLynn said county administrator Ed Hunzeker also was going to look at the condition of the pier, which is consistently a top tourist attraction.
All the BACVB international marketing and bringing sporting events to the county is great, but what people come for is the “old Florida atmosphere” found on Anna Maria Island, SueLynn said.
“Tourists can now find this island without any marketing scheme that costs millions of dollars,” the mayor said.
“We are the engine that drives the county economy,” Brockman added.
SueLynn said she sometimes thinks other county commissioners don’t pay enough attention to the island’s tourism-related problems.
“Just let them drive out here every day during the high season and come to Anna Maria and the city pier. They’ll soon know what it’s like to live through high tourist season,” SueLynn said.
The mayor made it clear she is not criticizing the work of the BACVB, just the distribution of resort tax funds. The bed tax money also supports the BACVB budget, its staff and the Bradenton Convention Center.
The state measure that established the resort tax allows the funding to go toward pier repairs and improvements, SueLynn said.
Before asking for assistance, the mayor wants a new marina and pier ordinance establishing a marina zone that is approved by Tallahassee, along with an agreement with the pier leaseholder to allow the city to repair the pier in exchange for a higher monthly payment.
The current leaseholder pays the city about $9,000 per month to rent the pier, bait shop and restaurant.
The TDC will next meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at the county administration building in downtown Bradenton.
TDC 2012-13 fiscal-year budget
• Tax collector commissions, 3.0 percent, $196,482.
• Marketing plan, 49.2percent, $3,159,073. (advertising, promotion)
• Administration, 12.5 percent, $803,307.
• South Florida Museum, 0.5 percent, $30,000. (second manatee)
• City of Bradenton /Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility, 6.2 percent, $400,000.
• Bradenton area convention center, 9.3 percent, $600,000.
• Transfer for tourism-related projects, 7.8 percent, $500,000.
• Beach renourishment project,11.5 percent, $737,623.
Does not include transfers to reserves for disaster recovery, future projects, contingencies, and salary adjustments.
David Teitelbaum, left, Paul Blackketter and Rick Piccolo accept awards from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau May 8. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Bradenton Beach developer and hotelier David Teitelbaum was named the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Tourism Partner of the Year for 2012.
Teitelbaum received the award May 8 at the BACVB’s National Tourism Week awards luncheon at the Bradenton Convention Center in Palmetto.
Teitelbaum said he was shocked but honored when his name was called.
“It was a total surprise. There are a lot of people in our industry deserving of this award, and I’m honored that I was chosen. I couldn’t have gotten this without a wonderful, great staff at the resorts,” he said.
Teitelbaum owns and operates four resorts in Bradenton Beach, including the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort, Tradewinds, Seaside and the Tropic Isle resorts.
BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione presented Teitelbaum with the award, saying, Teitelbaum “has created a unique hotel brand on Anna Maria Island that has personified our brand to a T.”
Falcione said the award is presented annually to a person, persons or company in the area restaurant, lodging or attractions industry that shows economic impact, does its own marketing and works with the BACVB on promotions.
Also honored at the luncheon: Paul Blackketter, the chief operating officer of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, received the title of “tourism catalyst” for his work to expand tourism through developing the international sport of rowing and a host park for the sport.
The park is in contention to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships, hoped to draw athletes and coaches from 62 countries and pump about $13 million in direct spending into the Manatee-Sarasota economy.
Frederick “Rick” Piccolo, president of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, was honored with the tourism outreach award for his work to maintain airlines and flights serving the airport. In 2012, both airport and tourism officials worked to bring back United Airlines daily nonstop service from Sarasota-Bradenton to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
That deal followed the loss of AirTran Airways in August 2012.
Just about every Anna Maria Island resident could have told Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau director Elliott Falcione that tourism to the island was up in 2012.
“We live here and we knew this past winter season was one of the busiest ever, probably the best ever,” said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn.
Falcione, however, made it official May 8 at the annual BACVB year-in-review luncheon at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
In a glowing report about tourism in 2012, Falcione reported 2,975,500 visitors came to the Bradenton area that year, an increase of 4 percent from 2011.
Falcione reported direct expenditures by visitors in 2012 hit $534,977,000, a gain of 10.5 percent from 2011.
Breaking down the data, Falcione said expenditures by visitors at commercial lodging locations were $364.5 million, up 12.5 percent from 2011.
Falcione said the total economic impact of tourism to the county was $844.9 million, a climb of 10.5 percent from 2011.
The unseen economic impact, he added, is that “every dollar spent by the county (promoting tourism) generates $202.50 in direct visitor spending,” Falcione said.
Falcione and BACVB assistant director Deb Meihls attributed the growth to increased international visitors, the introduction of a new destination brand, continued growth in sports marketing and diversification of the marketplace and enhanced partner relationships.
“We’re very pleased with our numbers from 2012 and the growth we saw in tourism,” said Meihls.
“Now, we’re looking forward to what’s coming for the Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key area this year and next. We’ll be able to further showcase world-class sports opportunities, shining an entirely new light on our area and reaching out to an even larger audience,” Meihls said in her presentation.
And 2013 tourism is on pace to better the numbers of 2012, Falcione observed. Tourism to the area through the first three months of the year already is up 7.5 percent from the same period in 2012.
1st nest, false start Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers Kathy Doddridge, left, Marvin and Lee Zerkel and executive director Suzi Fox confirm May 2 Anna Maria Island’s first sea turtle nesting attempt of the May-October nesting season is a false crawl. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Kathy Doddridge never imagined her first day as an official Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring volunteer would result in finding the island’s first nesting activity.
Doddridge has been involved with AMITW in the past, helping when asked, but on her first walk of the season along Coquina Beach May 2, a clearly visible turtle track appeared on the sand, leading from the Gulf of Mexico, up the beach to a dune, with a turnaround crawl heading back into the water.
It was appropriate that Doddridge was the first to discover a crawl for the 2013 season. Just before last year’s nesting season was disrupted by Tropical Storm Debby, Doddridge’s husband died.
She wanted to become an official AMITW volunteer because she finds the early morning walks on the beaches of AMI healing. She says she has developed a profound connection between the recovery of the beach after the tropical storm and her own journey of healing.
“The beach and I will heal together,” she said. “It also helps being involved with AMITW because they are a nice group of people.”
Fox said she first became involved with the turtle watch organization 30 years ago for similar reasons.
“My mom had just died,” said Fox. “I was looking for something to do to find that kind of healing purpose and I found turtle watch. A lot of things have changed over the years, but one thing that hasn’t is the quality of people who are involved with this organization. It seems this kind of activity draws the kindest and softest people.”
Doddridge said she was incredibly excited to discover the crawl in her section on her first walk as an official volunteer.
According to Fox, the female turtle made her way onto the beach on the night of May 1, the first official day of the nesting season, which runs through the end of October.
“She came in after it stopped raining last night around 8 p.m.,” said Fox. “Because it rained, the crawl is very clear and tells us a lot.”
The nest was determined to be a false crawl, but Fox and AMITW coordinators Lee and Marvin Zerkel wanted to be sure. It was difficult to tell because the turtle climbed up the dune into a patch of thick sea oats.
Marvin checked the grass to see if it had been flattened from the crawl or pulled out by the turtle digging with its hind flippers. He dug down into the area just to be sure, and Fox was confident at that point that it was a false crawl.
“We are going to mark it and check back in 45 days just to be sure,” she said.
Raccoon tracks were scattered throughout the area, but the animals apparently had not attempted to dig into the suspected nest site. Fox said it was another indication that the turtle had returned to the water without laying her eggs.
Raccoons are a problem in the Coquina Beach section of AMI. Two years ago, AMITW began to place cages over nest sites, which has resulted in zero eggs and hatchlings lost to predators.
After a record 2012 nesting season, Fox and her small army of AMITW volunteers have been bracing for another busy season of turtle activity.
Leatherneck season on the east coast of Florida began early, an indication that the loggerhead season also may begin early.
A loggerhead turtle laid her eggs on the shoreline of Longboat Key April 30, and Fox said the season is already underway up and down the Gulf coast.
“We were expecting a big year so there has been a lot of anticipation that we would see some early activity,” said Fox. “We’ve made sure that we have extra equipment this year and I’ve asked my volunteers to plan their vacations differently this year.”
Beach renourishment is expected to begin in late summer and AMITW will need to relocate all nests laid south of 78th Street in Holmes Beach.
Early nests may not have to be moved because they should hatch before work begins on the beach.
Fox said she is already holding meetings with Manatee County engineers to keep them up to date on nesting activity and she’ll be reporting any “hot spots” of nesting activity to the county.
An exact start date for the renourishment project has not been determined, but it is expected to begin in August. Fox said the relocation effort will depend on the start date, but expects any nests due to hatch through July should be able to stay “where the mother put them,” she said.
Best practices for sea turtle nesting season
It is against the law to disturb sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests. Sea turtles are protected by both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act.
• If you see an injured or dead sea turtle, report the incident to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC.
• Avoid going to the beach at night during sea turtle nesting season. If you do, avoid using flashlights and never use flash photography.
• If you see a mother turtle coming onshore, give her complete right-of-way. Steer clear of her and remain as far away as possible.
• Residents near the beach are reminded to keep outside lights off, use motion sensors for lighting on walkways and stairs, and shield interior lights by closing drapes and blinds.
• Respect nesting sites that are clearly marked and do not disturb the nesting areas. While cleaning up after your beach visit is always important, it is especially important during nesting season. Pick up your litter and dispose of it properly.
• Do not erect canopies or put stakes in the beach in nesting areas. Remove all beach gear, chairs, canopies and tents before nightfall.
• If you see anyone disturbing a nest or harassing a turtle, contact the FWC immediately.
Islanders also can call AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at 941-778-5638 to report sea turtles in distress.
Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry presented at the May 2 city commission meeting an offer to dismiss the lawsuit from Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff.
The saga began with a 2008 Bradenton Beach quitclaim deed to the Sandpiper Resort mobile home park. The property is on the northern border of the two cities.
Holmes Beach initially objected to the quitclaim, but took no action until 2011, when the resort installed fences, locked gates and posted private property signs at its border with Holmes Beach on 27th Street.
Holmes Beach filed a lawsuit to nullify the quitclaim, but initial court rulings did not go in its favor.
The November 2012 election swept in new Holmes Beach officials, who, along with Commissioner Jean Peelen, pledged to end the dispute.
At various meetings in both cities, the mayors made tentative announcements that the suit was coming to an end, but negotiations continued as new obstacles surfaced at every turn.
The two cities were prepared to end the suit early this year, but Bradenton Beach wanted it dismissed with prejudice, meaning legal action over the disputed property could never be taken again.
Perry said Petruff could not agree to that for her client Holmes Beach.
“I know this commission was concerned about finality,” said Perry. “This says without prejudice. That means at some time in the future, this could be filed again.”
Before asking for direction from the commission, Perry thanked Mayor John Shaughnessy for his tireless work even before he took office to amicably resolve the situation.
Perry said Shaughnessy singlehandedly made more progress than the two city attorneys did in resolving the dispute.
Shaughnessy thanked Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti in particular for his efforts on the other side of the fence to help resolve the matter.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time with the past and present commission of Holmes Beach,” said Shaughnessy. “It’s been a struggle.”
Shaughnessy said he is pleased to see the matter coming to a close.
“Mayor Monti and I have met on several occasions and have come to terms, and then legal counsel from Holmes Beach always seemed to raise more concerns,” said Shaughnessy. “The only change Holmes Beach legal would not agree to is the permanent finality. I will agree to this document as presented so we can move on.”
Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler had to recuse themselves from the vote, but Shaughnessy continued attempts to resolve the matter.
“Sandpiper will agree to this, too,” he said. “I appreciate the efforts of all those in the city who worked to resolve this and the candor of Mayor Monti and the Holmes Beach commission.”
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse moved to approve the agreement to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice. It passed 3-0.
In other matters, commissioners voted 4-1 to accept a proposal from Arthur K. Peters of Gainesville to become the city’s telecommunications consultant.
The city parted ways with Lawrence “Rusty” Monroe after failed negotiations to retain him as the consultant, and after months of challenging Monroe’s ordinance.
The matter became contentious at times with Gatehouse saying the ordinance provided too much power and financial control to Monroe.
The city amended its ordinance to meet its own needs last month after officially parting ways with Monroe.
Peters was the only one to respond to the RFP and Vosburgh said she was not comfortable with hiring the only bidder. “I don’t like the idea that we only had one,” she said.
His bid includes a fee of $150 an hour, capped at eight hours a day, but also includes $75 for travel.
Breuler moved to accept the RFP with Gatehouse seconding the motion. The motion passed 4-1 with Vosburgh voting “nay.”
People dine outdoors at the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier’s Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant. The city is standing firm that the days for Rotten Ralph’s to remain on the pier are numbered. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Negotiations between Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the Historic Bridge Street Pier and the city of Bradenton Beach are not off to a good start.
The restaurant has been falling further into debt after failing to make rent in June 2012. The last month concessionaire Dave Russell made a payment to the city was May 2012.
Tropical Storm Debby’s closure of the adjacent day dock used by boaters is being blamed for the lack of business to the restaurant, but Russell said once he fell behind, it was impossible to catch up with the $9,000 a month rent.
Russell said once the initial fall off in business had passed, he had the money to pay the rent, but the city would not take a partial payment.
Almost a year later, there is a dispute in the amount of money owed to the city. It initially started at $54,000, jumped to $256,000 when late fees and penalties were added and, at a May 2 city commission meeting, city attorney Ricinda Perry said the recalculated amount owed is $115,000.
Perry said in the spirit of finding a solution, some of late fees and attorney fees were removed from the bill.
Commissioners voted April 4 to terminate the lease with Rotten Ralph’s and begin the eviction process, but on April 18, the city delayed eviction for 30 days in order to make a final attempt to resolve the debt.
In the two weeks since voting to delay the eviction, Perry said Russell provided a series of options.
Perry said the restaurant has offered to pay the city a flat fee of $15,000 and will agree not to fight the eviction and leave amicably. A second offer was to pay the city $5,000 and turn over some of the restaurant equipment, and terminate the lease.
The third option was to pay up to date $65,000, what Russell feels he owes the city, but renegotiate the lease to guarantee his business will remain on the pier for the next 15 years.
The fourth option was for Russell to simply walk away from it all and not pay the city anything. Russell and his attorney were not present at the May 2 meeting.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said the restaurant also owes Waste Pro $14,000 and that if Russell walks away, the city would be liable for the debt.
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse suggested taking the $65,000 offer, and for Perry to negotiate a shorter lease term than requested by Russell.
Commissioner Gay Breuler, outspoken against further negotiations with the restaurant, said, “We’ve given them time and time again. Any other landlord who did not get rent for almost a year would not have this discussion. I think we should go right ahead with the eviction.”
Perry said it was only a first offer and that the city could counter the offer at its discretion.
Breuler wasn’t in the mood for negotiation.
“Why are we having this discussion? There is no more time to give and no more money to be wasting,” she said. “Why are we negotiating anything? Kick them out and sue them for what they owe us. I think we have been more than kind for a long time. This is not fair to the taxpayers.”
Perry said the problem with taking that route is that contains only the corporate name.
“I don’t see anywhere in the agreement that they signed individually,” she said. “They could go defunct and the city will get nothing.”
Vosburgh said she would agree to take $15,000 and let Russell walk away from the lease, and Brueler backed off and agreed with Vosburgh’s suggestion.
Gatehouse said his vote would remain to accept $65,000 and renegotiate the lease.
“We have a tenant there,” he said. “It’s not going to sit empty for six or eight months and we’ve recouped some of our money. To me, this serves the taxpayers better.”
Mayor John Shaughnessy said he does not believe negotiations will move forward in good faith.
“I met with Mr. Russell and his attorney and I hear a lot of talk from his attorney like I heard from Mr. Russell, but I don’t see any paperwork,” said Shaughnessy. “At the April 4 meeting, he said he would show up with a check and he showed up with an attorney instead. I think these figures they are offering are an insult to the city.”
Continued discussion took place on a counter offer. Vosburgh said the city should ask for the $15,000, as well as an additional $14,000 to pay Waste Pro, and end the lease.
Vice Mayor Ed Straight sided with Gatehouse, but Breuler moved to deliver Vosburgh’s recommendation as the city’s counter offer.
Vosburgh, Shaughnessy and Breuler voted “aye” while Gatehouse and Straight voted “nay,” but Shaughnessy was not happy with the direction the discussion took.
“Why does it feel like we are on the defensive here?” he asked.
The 30-day eviction extension ends May 18 and the commissioners next meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., at which time a final determination of the restaurant’s future will be made..
March 2013 marked the 23rd month of the past 24 that resort tax collections by the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office exceeded the same month’s collections the previous year.
The resort tax is the 5 percent paid to Manatee County by property owners on rentals of six months or less.
Sue Sinquefield of the resort tax collections division reported $1.492 million was collected in March 2013, a 12.06 percent climb from the $1.344 million in March 2012. The tax is paid one month in arrears.
March collections also brought the year-to-date resort tax collected to $5.040 million, an 11 percent hike from the $4.537 million collected during the first six months of the 2011-12 fiscal year.
A record for resort tax collections of $8.1 million was set in 2011-12 fiscal year. With six months remaining for collections in the 2012-13 fiscal year, Sinquefield said it’s possible to surpass the record.
However, she emphasized division agents “aren’t trying to set records, just see that everyone pays what have they have to pay.”
“They seem to be doing a good job,” Sinquefield added. “It’s been a wonderful season” for the resort tax division.
Sinquefield did not identify any specific municipality but she said some taxes have come from barrier island property owners who were previously unregistered.
Once discovered for not paying the resort tax, a property owner not only must obtain the required licenses and may have to pay back resort and sales taxes.
Agents from the resort tax collections office occasionally conduct sweeps of accommodation rentals, looking for properties and owners that are not complying with the law.
For the barrier islands, Holmes Beach leads the way in bed tax collections with $391,239, followed by Longboat Key with $244,744, Anna Maria at $181,562 and Bradenton Beach with $147,611.
In March 2013, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key together collected $965,156 in resort taxes, 64.7 percent of the total collected. The average of resort tax collections from the two barrier islands the past 24 months is approximately 62 percent of the total collected.
The 12.6 percent increase in March collections likely means tourism to the Bradenton area is up around 6.3 percent from the March 2012. For the past 24 months, tourism has increased at a pace about half of the resort tax percentage increase.
The resort tax is used to fund the county’s share of beach renourishment projects, the Bradenton Area Convention Center and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, McKechnie Field, the Crosley Estate and other attractions, as well as advertising and promoting the area.
Cortez resident Newell Freeman, left, talks about the Cortez Bridge with the DOT’s Brian Williams at the April 29 meeting on the bridge, held at the Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Rd. West, Bradenton. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
“We came here to get opinions, not give them,” said Brian Williams of the Florida Department of Transportation.
Williams was speaking at the DOT’s April 30 public hearing at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, where the DOT took comments and suggestions on what to do with the aging Cortez Bridge from the estimated 200 people that came during the three-hour meeting.
Attendees first filled out a questionnaire on whether they prefer replacing the bridge or continuing rehabilitation projects.
For those wanting a new bridge, the choices included a “high-level fixed bridge,” a choice that was withdrawn by the DOT in 1992 after opposition from Cortez and Bradenton Beach residents and local elected officials.
Other choices were a mid-level drawbridge, a low-level bascule, similar to what exists and “other.”
A comments section also was included on the survey form.
The DOT was careful to state the survey was only the first step — the project, development and environment study phase — of the Cortez Bridge review.
Williams said the PD&E will take about two years to complete and include an environmental impact study of all the bridge options.
When the PD&E is finished, the DOT will present its findings and recommendations at another public hearing.
But already those who fought against a new bridge in the past were adamant that the only sensible thing for the DOT to do is to rehabilitate the bridge.
“If they can rehabilitate the Anna Maria Island Bridge, they can rehabilitate this,” said former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola at the meeting.
Linda Molto opposed the previous DOT effort to build a new bridge and hasn’t changed her stance.
“The only sensible thing is rehabilitate,” she said.
Cortez is a federally recognized historic site and the DOT could not take any land from Cortez that’s within the site boundary, Molto said.
But that leaves open the north side of Cortez Road West for the bridge approach if the DOT were to eventually build a larger bridge with wider approaches, said Mariners Cove resident Jim Reschenberger.
Mariners Cove condominiums are on 127th Street West, about 0.4 mile north of the intersection with Cortez Road and the base of the bridge.
“We would definitely fight any attempt at taking our land or nearby land,” he said. “But I’ll probably be long gone by the time they get around to building a new bridge.”
Also at the meeting was Newell Freeman of Mariners Cove. He agreed it would take about 10 years of study and more study, then financing, if a high-rise bridge were to be built.
“Thankfully, I probably won’t be around to see it. The only thing that makes sense is rehabilitation,” Freeman said.
But Pierola said there is an alternative.
She harkened back to a 20-year-old study that said a bridge could be built from the mainland to Coquina Beach by extending 53rd Avenue West to Tidy Island.
“Have an exit at Tidy Island, then continue on to Coquina Beach. It’s the only place in those waters where there’s no seagrasses to worry about,” Pierola said.
Ed Chiles, who owns the BeachHouse Restaurant about 100 yards south of the Cortez Road/Gulf Drive intersection, said he might agree with Pierola if either of his first two preferences were not the one recommended by the DOT in its PD&E.
Chiles, said his restaurant would be severely impacted by construction of a high-rise bridge.
But a new, high bridge — one that doesn’t require a bascule — is still his preference. However, he doesn’t see how the DOT could acquire enough land on the island side for the approaches, so he is more receptive to a mid-level bridge built high enough to allow a majority of boats in the area under the bridge without raising the draw. Failing that, maybe the DOT could extend 53rd Avenue West to Coquina Beach, he suggested.
The entire issue is about traffic, said Molto.
Pierola pointed out that Longboat Key residents must use either the Cortez Bridge or the New Pass Bridge in an evacuation.
Even without that nightmare, she said traffic in Bradenton Beach during the winter visitor season is almost too much for the two-lanes of Gulf Drive and the two-lane Cortez Bridge, which has no emergency lanes.
“So, we’re back to adding a third bridge to the island at Coquina Beach,” Pierola said.
The third bridge concept is favored by Jim Kissick, a Manatee County native and longtime Bradenton Beach resident.
“I’ve got the answer right here,” he said at the meeting, “but they never listen to me.”
Williams, however, was noncommittal about any of the options, including a replacement bridge or a third bridge to another island location.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we start thinking along those lines. We have to see first what the people want,” he said.
An informal survey of around 20 people found about half favored rehabilitation, while others wanted a replacement bridge, either mid-level or low-level. There was little sentiment found for a high-rise bridge.
Even if a new Cortez Bridge is built, Pierola, Chiles, and Freeman claim there’s no way the DOT can close it for two years or even two months without creating a massive traffic problem for Bradenton Beach.
Pierola said closing the Cortez Bridge occurred around 1999 during a rehabilitation project.
“The DOT said it would close Cortez Bridge for a month, but it ended up being two months and it was a mess. Do you think we can trust what they say?” she asked.
Even after the PD&E study, the DOT must address funding the bridge. At present, there are no funds in its five-year plan for design, right of way acquisition or construction. Williams declined to comment on how much each type of bridge would cost.
The DOT’s recommendation for a high-rise bridge to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge on State Road 64 also has not been funded more than two years after the recommendation was announced.
“This meeting is all for show,” Pierola said.
“At the end of the day,” added Molto, “the DOT will do what it wants and we’ll have to fight all over again.”
Freeman and Reschenberger agreed.
“A rehab would only give us another 10 years of use and eventually a new bridge will be needed. The DOT will do what it wants and it wants to get away from drawbridges,” Reschenberger said.
“I just hope there’s not a big fight when this study is finished,” Freeman said.
Williams said the DOT plans a $4 million maintenance project on the bridge in mid-2014 to keep it operational until a decision is reached on whether it should be replaced or undergo a more thorough rehabilitation.
One of the DOT chart’s at the meeting showed survey results gathered at the February Cortez Commercial
Fishing Festival where 49 percent favored replacement and 48 percent wanted rehabilitation. Three percent were unsure. A total of 355 votes were taken in the survey in February.
The PD&E study is limited to 0.9 mile from 123rd Street in Cortez to the Cortez Road/Gulf Drive/State Road 789 intersection in Bradenton Beach.
The deadline for comments is May 10. Comments may be mailed to the DOT at P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL, 33831, or telephoned to 863-519-2304.