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Date of Issue: June 29, 2006

Cortez agrees on woods cleanup

This wooded area of Cortez, near the post office, is a concern to villagers as a haven of the homeless and drug users. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

With the two women most immediately affected agreeing in principle but disagreeing in application, Cortez is moving to clean up an offensive and potentially dangerous patch of woods.

Karen Bell, owner of the Star Seafood Market & Restaurant, was victimized one night last week by an intruder who kicked in a door panel and took $700 from a safe.

Linda Molto, longtime Cortez activist, was told by a neighbor that he had seen an intruder in her unattended house, a man who had been in similar trouble there in the past.

Both women felt the incidents probably could be traced to a wooded tangle on Cortez Road nearby, known as a haven of the homeless and drug users. Both want the woods cleaned up so police can see what’s going on in that private property and forcing the inhabitants to move on.

Where they disagreed was whether the historic village’s prime action organization, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, should help finance such a cleanup.

The problem was aired Thursday night at a FISH meeting at the schoolhouse. There, Mary Ann Norman-Ellis told the meeting that she and other villagers were "worried about the safety of our children and the bad impression" made by the woods because of the homeless and suspected druggies there. She wanted FISH to join other financial donors wanting to clean it up.

Bell earlier had agreed that cleaning up the area was probably necessary, although noting Cortez "has always had a tolerance for aberrant people," just as the village is traditionally tolerant of what residents choose to keep in their yards - fishing gear, etc.

Molto agreed, especially after her suspected intruder was arrested by Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, but said FISH was not organized to undertake such projects but was committed to "preservation of our commercial fishing heritage."

In the end, FISH voted almost unanimously to contribute to the cause, with Bell voting with the majority and Molto casting the lone dissenting vote.

The $250 approved for the cleanup was just half what the property’s owner, Ham Jones of the Seafood Shack, had pitched in, FISH members noted. But they viewed it as an indication of strong community support for clearing out undesirables. The total cleanup cost was estimated at $6,000 to $9,000.