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Date of Issue: May 28, 2008

Island officials tackle summer work

A group of officials shared plans May 21 for dealing with a summer season of holiday crowds, preparations for a 45-day bridge closure, seasonal rainfall and stormwater runoff.

“We’ve got a big agenda,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger just before calling to order the meeting of the Barrier Island Elected Officials. The meeting took place at Holmes Beach City Hall with representatives from Holmes Beach, Anna Maria, Longboat Key, Manatee County and the Florida Department of Transportation attending.

The agenda included discussions on Longboat Key’s recent adoption of an ordinance to control the use of fertilizer, preparation for the 45-day closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge in September and readiness for a meeting on the bridge rehab at 5 p.m. June 5 at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach. The agenda also included discussion of warning beachgoers about dangerous swimming conditions this summer and a crackdown on illegal fireworks during the July 4 holiday.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford led the discussion on fireworks, reminding her colleagues that a task force has been meeting for almost a year to coordinate a campaign to curb the use of illegal fireworks.

“Anything that goes up, anything that goes boom is illegal,” she said.

The plan involves a public education campaign that includes airing announcements on television, including Bay News 9 and the Manatee County Government Access channel.

In addition, Kurt Lathrop of the West Manatee Fire Rescue District is contacting resort and motel operators, as well as property managers, to make sure vacationers know about local fireworks regulations and state prohibitions.

On July 3-4, Barford said officers will patrol the beaches in each city to confiscate illegal fireworks, which will be taken to the Holmes Beach Police Department, where a county bomb squad will take possession of the materials. The emphasis will be on confiscation not issuing citations, Barford said.

She added that Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach will hold its licensed professional fireworks display July 3 from a barge in the Gulf, and that Chiles agreed at the city’s request not to hold a display July 4 at the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria.

“Bless Ed Chiles, he is not going to do a July 4 display,” Barford said. “We need a relief to get our people out there to confiscate [illegal] fireworks. We owe a lot to him.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce said his city’s officers “are going to patrol the beaches big time.”

Barford said the campaign is not intended to take the glory out of Independence Day, but rather make the beaches safer.

“We have experienced injuries year after year,” she said.

On another safety topic, Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino encouraged the cities and county to promote swimming safety.

Zaccagnino expressed his concern with dangerous rip tides that were a factor in the drowning of two men off Longboat Key May 19. (See related story.)

“The currents have been really bad,” Zaccagnino said, adding that he asked the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce to work with local resorts to notify vacationers of dangerous waters.

In regards to the rehabilitation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64, the Island officials agreed that they need to make sure the fall schedule contains no road work or other projects that might add to traffic congestion. For a major rehab, the bridge will be closed to traffic for 45 days beginning Sept. 29.

The elected officials also urged that new emergency message signs on the Island and on Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road approaching the Island be put into use during the bridge closure — as well as in the event of a storm.

The signs currently are in test mode because the DOT must still certify they are properly designed and functioning.

“As of right now, those signs have not been released to the county by the DOT,” said County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann. “And if they are not released, we can’t use them.”

One of the last topics discussed was Longboat Key’s adoption of a fertilizer ordinance, which takes effect Oct. 1. The application of the ordinance is perhaps most important in the summer months, said Longboat Key Commissioner Randall Clair.

The Longboat measure prohibits the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus from June 1 through Sept. 30, a traditionally rainy period on the south Florida Gulf Coast. The measure also establishes fertilizer-free zones near any shore waters and details training requirements for commercial landscapers and gardeners.

Island officials praised Longboat Key commissioners for passage of their ordinance and indicated an interest in taking some action to strengthen controls in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

“Hopefully the Island cities will get on the band wagon,” said Zaccagnino, who was expected to make a recommendation on curbing fertilizer use at a Holmes Beach city commission meeting May 27.

Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor John Chappie has previously proposed that his city review and adopt an ordinance similar to the Longboat measure.

Barford, last week, said, “We’re all looking at it. We’re all different but we’re all looking at it.”

The next meeting of the Barrier Island Elected Officials will take place at 7 p.m. June 18 at Longboat Town Hall.