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Date of Issue: December 03, 2008

Turtle Watch OKs pier boardwalk

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch director Suzi Fox told an Anna Maria committee she was “excited” about the committee’s proposed project to construct a boardwalk in the city pier area.

However, Fox cautioned the transportation enhancement grant committee that it should consider turtle-friendly lighting for the area.

“That’s our next step,” said City Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who chairs the committee.

Speaking at the committee’s Nov. 10 meeting, Fox said Anna Maria’s bay side is the only bay-side turtle nesting area in Florida. As such, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be very concerned about lighting for the project.

Fox encouraged the committee to discuss lighting with Jean Higgins of the FWC. Higgins “knows how to light a boardwalk” to protect turtles, she said.

Fox was also concerned with lights on the city pier, but Mattick pointed out that the committee can only spend the Florida Department of Transportation’s $358,000 grant coming in 2010-11 on new projects in the city’s business district.

Mattick and the committee, however, believe the project and pier lighting should go together. Lighting the pier is an issue of public safety, protecting the turtles and the ambiance of the pier, she said.

Fox had good news for the city’s treasury, saying that she has information for Mattick on grants that will cover the cost of lighting the pier to make it turtle-friendly.

“Great,” said Mattick, who thanked Fox for her support.

“What you are doing is wonderful,” replied Fox. “Just consider that this is a habitat area for birds and turtles. It’s a great project.”

While Fox was enthusiastic about the project and the dedication of committee members to making it turtle-friendly, Mattick was concerned about some possible misconceptions about the proposal among city residents.

“There’s been misinformation out there about what we can and cannot do with the money,” Mattick said, and that’s caused a “controversy” in the city. The money can’t be used to repair or maintain an existing structure, she noted, and it has to be used along Pine Avenue and/or Gulf Drive.

Part of the “controversy” appears to be what people define as the “city pier” and the “city pier area,” said Mattick.

The committee’s concept is for a boardwalk of several hundred feet behind the beach at the city pier “area,” along with landscaping, picnic tables and a “pier plaza” that would enhance the pier’s entrance.

“There has been concern that we were spending all of the money in one place,” she said, and some people were worried that the proposal for trolley shelters would be cast aside in favor of the boardwalk.

Not to worry, said Mattick. Funding for the trolley shelters on Pine Avenue and Gulf Drive is coming from Manatee County. Committee member Sam Jones, a contractor, is building a model shelter on Seagull Lane.

Still, the committee would like to keep the boardwalk cost around $100,000. Piazza had given a “rough estimate” of $90,000 when he attended the committee’s Oct. 20 meeting.

Although the $358,000 is a federal grant, the DOT is administering disbursement and providing design and engineering services at no charge to the city.

Committee member Sissy Quinn, who also serves as administrator of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, said the boardwalk idea will enhance the overall experience visitors have at the pier and in the city.

“Tourists are going to come here regardless of what we do,” said Quinn, noting a recent survey done for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau that said visiting the pier was the No. 1 attraction in Manatee County for vacationers.

“Tourists might as well come to something nice, not something sloppy. The area is sorely in need of enhancement,” she said. A pier boardwalk and plaza would also fit nicely with the pier’s centennial celebration planned in 2011, Quinn observed.

Committee member Mike Coleman agreed. Visitors and accompanying traffic are coming to the city to visit the pier and city beaches.

“Let’s make a better experience for the people who live here and for people who visit here. This [project] creates a great atmosphere,” he said.

But the committee is aware of the negative positions some residents have adopted on the project.