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Date of Issue: September 06, 2007

Pier work coming to close, mooring field work to start again

Just as one volume is nearing a conclusion, a sequel is in the works for the Bradenton Beach waterfront.

Work is moving along on the Historic Bradenton Beach City Pier, with Dave Russell and crew of Rotten Ralph’s expecting - hoping - to be up and in operation by the end of this month.

The pier’s restaurant was totally re-built. Additional facilities were added as well: a kiosk for tourism as well as bait and tackle; rest rooms and shower facilities; a 210-foot-long floating dock; and a harbormaster office to service the planned mooring field.

The “managed anchorage and mooring field” just to the south of the pier, at the east end of Bridge Street in Anna Maria Sound, has been in the works for at least five years, but placed on a back burner due to the pier renovations. Now that the pier is nearing its grand opening, the mooring field apparently is coming back into bold-face type for the city.

Police Chief Sam Speciale said he hoped to hold a meeting with the boaters who utilize the area in October to explain about the new pier facilities and ask for some self-policing by boaters in the area.

“We just want to let people know that we built this stuff for you guys,” he said. “There’s no threats involved.”

The rest rooms and the pier, which have been closed to the public for about a year, have traditionally been open 24 hours a day to accommodate late-night fishers. Unfortunately, there were a series of “issues” at the rest rooms, including vandalism and other unlawful behaviors.

Speciale’s goal in the meeting is to avoid similar damage to the entire pier project, which has a price tag of nearly $2.2 million.

The arduous path to create the mooring field in Bradenton Beach can claim its genesis in Sarasota, just south of Marina Jack Restaurant on that city’s waterfront. Sarasota city officials began cracking down on the 100-plus boats that moored there several years ago, citing them for improper sanitation facilities and other infractions.

Several of the boaters there decided to seek greener waters and some moved north to Bradenton Beach. Some problems ensued, and what was once described as mostly a storage area for boats became a little watery village.

City officials received permission from Manatee County to patrol the area. City leaders also began lobbying the Florida Legislature to have the area offshore of Bradenton Beach included in its boundaries, a “line in the sand” that at the time was at the water’s edge.

The Legislature complied, and last year passed a boundary expansion of 500 feet in the Gulf of Mexico and Anna Maria Sound/Sarasota Bay, encompassing the area planned as a mooring field.

City officials have some hard decisions to make on the matter of the boats and how that part of the city will be managed, though.

An anchorage is simply an official restricted area where boaters would use their own ground tackle to secure the boat in position. That’s pretty much what is in existence today.

The problem with an anchorage is that seagrasses can get torn up by anchors. Seagrass damage can take a decade or more to heal.

A mooring field is a controlled area where boaters tie up to a floating buoy that is attached to the bottom by a heavy weight or some type of auger system, which would have to be provided and maintained by the city. In any case, boaters would be assigned their position by a harbormaster.

Mooring field “hooks” can cost up to $8,000 each, and it has been estimated that about a dozen could be placed in the field the city has envisioned. There are currently close to 20 boats in the area.

John Stevely, Manatee County’s Florida Sea Grant marine extension agent, was instrumental in the original surveying of the boundaries of the area, charting of water depths and locations of sensitive areas and seagrass flats.

Stevely has said in the past that it is very important that whatever is done be “boater friendly.”

The city had applied for but was not awarded a grant to create a special place for dinghies just south of the pier proper earlier this year. The city owns the dock closest to the pier on the south side and had hoped to use the area for small boat storage.