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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

BIEO bashes charter

Members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials at their Feb. 17 meeting remained united in their opposition to the proposed Manatee County charter and vowed to educate the public on their belief that the charter will give the county control over city land-use and development issues.

The proposed charter is not about growth management, said Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens, "It's a 'control' charter and very divisive."

Calling this a "growth management plan" is just a slick marketing ploy by county commissioners, added Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore.

"Most of the people I've talked to don't realize what it's even about. We have to educate our public," she said. A series of public forums on the proposed charter should be held in each BIEO member city, she suggested.

Whitmore also said planners from each of three Island cities and Longboat Key should be involved in the estimated nine-month process with county planners to revise language in the charter before it's presented to the county commission. "We don't want to leave it to county planners to come up with something."

Cities should also fight the charter by strengthening the current Accord agreement among cities and the county over land-use issues by adding some enforceability, she said. At present, the Joint Planning Council created by the Accord can only make recommendations to cities and the county, and County Commissioner Joe McClash has used that recommendation-only status as a basis for a county charter that would control growth and annexation issues.

Haas-Martens pointed out that even with the 14-member growth management council proposed by the county charter to make recommendations on land-use and growth issues, the county commission would still have ultimate authority.

Seven of the 14 seats on the council would be taken by county commissioners, she noted. "So, the county commission could still reject something approved by the council."

Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough warmed up to his favorite subject: bridge openings.

Thanks to information supplied by Bradenton Beach resident Tjet Martin, Whatmough said he learned that the U.S. Coast Guard can, and does, consider closing drawbridges to water traffic during peak vehicle periods.

The Coast Guard has consistently told the BIEO that drawbridge openings are regulated by an 1899 Act of Congress.

The BIEO has long maintained to the Coast Guard that daytime bridge openings every 20 minutes to water traffic during the winter tourist season create inordinate traffic jams on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. The Coast Guard, however, has turned a deaf ear to such pleadings for a number of years.

But Whatmough now has the ammunition he needs to possibly force the Coast Guard to act. He noted from Martin's information that the Biscayne Boulevard drawbridge on Miami Beach is closed to boat traffic from 7:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and from 4:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. weekdays. Ironically, the Coast Guard's southeast regional headquarters is located on Key Biscayne, about one mile from the Biscayne Bridge.

"Let's ask the Coast Guard if they will consider certain hours to close the bridge to boat traffic," Whatmough suggested. "It's obvious their position is different now than what they've told us in the past."

Whitmore said a better response would be to make a joint, four-city appeal to have the bridge closed just at certain hours on weekdays during the winter season. She said she'd bring up the issue at the next Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting and have a letter drafted for circulation and approval by all four BIEO member cities.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Don Maloney agreed that a drawbridge raising during the winter season on occasion creates near-gridlock for motorists trying to get on or off the Island, particularly during afternoon hours.

"Ninety-five percent of the people who work here don't live here, and 95 percent of the people who live here work off the Island," he observed. Combined with winter visitors and the daily migration to the Island during the season, a raised drawbridge at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in February can create a serious traffic backup, often extending to Coquina Beach.