Tag Archives: 04-25-2012

Cortez Bridge is “structurally deficient,” DOT says

A Florida Department of Transportation engineer’s report on the Cortez Bridge on State Road 684 sounds bleak.

The DOT report by Jim Jacobsen presented to Manatee County Commissioners last year says the bridge is “structurally deficient,” with a sufficiency rating of 21.7.

But the bridge rating would have to fall to four or below to be “structurally unsafe” and closed to vehicular traffic, according to a DOT spokesperson.

The DOT is looking now to the future of the Cortez Bridge, while it is still serviceable.

The DOT has budgeted a $1.5 million planning, development and environmental study of the Cortez Bridge beginning December 2012 to determine the extent of any deterioration, the cost of repairs and long-term solutions, DOT District 1 spokesperson Lauren Hatchell of the Bartow office said.

Jacobsen’s report found extensive corrosion of some concrete beams, sub-pilings, the drawspan (bascule) steel, along with cracked concrete and cuts, a corroding seawall, corrosion of the expansion joints and a deteriorating bridgetender shack, among other needed repairs.

While the PD&E report is expected to take 24-36 months, Jacobsen said the DOT has budgeted a $4.4 million repair project in 2013-14 as a “stop-gap” measure to keep the bridge operational until the PD&E study is released and the public votes on its favored solution.

Hatchell said the DOT would hold several public work sessions on Anna Maria Island for input on the $4.4 million rehab project before any work begins.

The PD&E study will be presented at a public hearing when finished.

At that public meeting, all options for the future of the bridge will be discussed.

Hatchell said it’s possible the repair project won’t begin until the PD&E study has been presented.

Repair or replacement of the bridge has a high priority as it falls within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard and spans the Intracoastal Waterway.

The present Cortez Bridge was built in 1956 and a Federal Highway System 1989 report recommended a four-lane, fixed span, high-rise bridge be built as a replacement.

Jacobsen said that suggestion is no longer considered feasible for a number of reasons, including the cost of property acquisition.

County Commissioner John Chappie, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, said he’s aware of the need for the PD&E study and is tracking it through the DOT scheduling process. The DOT has said the study has a “high priority” because of the deficiencies noted by Jacobsen and the U.S. Coast Guard demands that all bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway meet its safety standards.

In 1998, the DOT undertook a rehabilitation project on the Cortez Bridge that resulted in lengthy periods of lane closures and an eventual closure to all vehicular traffic for more than a month.

Hatchell said it’s too early to discuss such measures for the Cortez Bridge until the PD&E report is completed, presented to the public and a long-range plan approved.

The DOT inspects all bridges in Florida and assigns a safety rating to the bridge. None of the three bridges leading to the Island have a rating anywhere near five, Hatchell said.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge/State Road 64 was renovated by the DOT in 2008 for about $12 million, and caused the bridge to be closed for 30 days. The resulting loss of business prompted some small businesses, including the 150-plus seat Shells Restaurant, where Walgreens is now located, to close.

Islanders eventually agreed with the DOT that a new, two-lane bridge and bascule with emergency lanes and lights could be built alongside the current AMI bridge. Traffic would not be interrupted in this solution.

That project is in the long-range transportation plans for the DOT and the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, but no budget year has yet been established for when it would be funded.

The DOT estimated in 2009 that such a bridge would cost about $132 million.

Holmes Beach leads cities in resort taxes paid

With monthly Manatee County resort tax collections surpassing $1 million for the first time ever in February, it also was a record month for resort tax collections in Holmes Beach.

The resort tax — often called the bed tax and known officially as the Manatee County Tourism Development tax — is the 5 percent charged by accommodation owners and managers on Manatee County rentals of six months or less. The tax is due the county in the month following the rental.

For February collections, Holmes Beach accounted for a record $266,627, or 25.5 percent of the $1.047 million total resort tax collections.

The unincorporated area of Manatee County led the collection points with $362,619, or 34.6 percent of the total.

For Manatee County municipalities, Longboat Key was second in collections with $175,266, while Anna Maria had $107,733 in resort tax and Bradenton Beach contributed $88,908.

Collectively, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key provided $638,574 — 61 percent — of the $1.047 million total, or 61 percent all resort tax paid. On an annual average, the Island and Longboat key provide about 60 percent of the resort tax collected.

Sue Sinquefield of the Manatee County Tax Collector’s resort tax division credited the record collection amount to aggressive work by field agents in finding vacation property owners who had been dodging the tax, and word-of-mouth that agents were on the lookout for tax dodgers.

Her department often conducts “sweeps” of areas where it suspects unlicensed properties are rented to vacationers.

“It wasn’t our goal to set a record in February, but the agents really stepped up their work and did an amazing job,” Sinquefield said.

She anticipates March collections will be even higher than February, and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman agrees.

“We say it every year, that this is the busiest ever, but this year really was the busiest I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard that from so many of our members, that March was just incredible, the best ever, for business,” she said.

The $1.047 million in resort tax collections was a gain of 24.7 percent from February 2011, when $857,000 was paid.

In terms of economic spending, the $1.047 million in resort tax represents $20.94 million spent on accommodations in Manatee County in February. For overall spending in the area in February, the record in accommodation spending equates to about $72.2 million in tourism spending for the month, according to previous surveys by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The BACVB receives its tourist arrival figures and economic spending reports from Research Data Services Inc. of Tampa, but the figures are delivered to the BACVB months after tax numbers are announced. Tourism figures for January 2012 have yet to be released by RDS.

Based on previous visitor reports compared with resort tax collections, tourism increases are about half of the resort tax collections increases. With resort tax collections up almost 25 percent in February, Brockman said she wouldn’t be surprised if February tourism was up 12 percent or more from the same month last year.

For the last month reported by RDS — December 2011 — tourism was up 10.7 percent from the previous December.

“And I fully expect March tourism also to be ahead of last year,” Brockman concluded.

Tourism gains mirror resort tax collections

Tourism to Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and the entire Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau market area is up 12.3 percent for the first two months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

Walter Klages of Research Data Services Inc., which prepares monthly and quarterly tourism reports for the BACVB, presented his results at the April 16 meeting of the Manatee County Tourism Development Council.

RDS reported 55,400 visitors to the area in January 2012, up 18.5 percent from the 46,700 visitors for January 2011.

February tourism also was up, with 53,500 visitors to the area in February 2012, a gain of 6.4 percent compared with the 50,300 reported for the same month in 2011.

Tourism to the BACVB area for the first two months of 2012 is up 12.3 percent when compared with the first two months of 2011.

The increase was predicted by Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman on learning resort tax collections for the first two months of 2012 were up 24.7 percent.

For the past year, Brockman said, she’s noticed that the percentage increase in monthly tourism figures have been about half that of resort tax collections.

“I’m confident March was one of the best months ever for tourism,” she said, and likewise for resort tax collections.

Although the newest RDS tourism report comes nearly three months after reporting month, resort tax collection figures are usually available from the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office about a week after the end of the month. Resort taxes are paid 30 days in arrears.

The resort tax, also called the bed tax and officially known as the Manatee County Tourism Development Tax, is the 5 percent collected on rentals in the county of six months or less.

TDC OKs $25K to support ‘old Florida’ conference

The message came through to the Manatee County Tourism Development Council from Herb Hiller: Places that pay attention to ‘place’ authenticity will prosper.

Apparently marketing of Anna Maria Island as the true “old Florida-style” destination is working.

Hiller, who has organized bicycle tours and a five-county trail system to benefit rural economies in north Florida, will team with Caroline McKeon of Florida Journeys Communications to present a two-day Sustainable Authentic Florida conference in October. It will include speakers ranging from urban planners, civic innovators, social and folk historians to marketing professionals.

McKeon said the idea came during a trip to the Island by Hiller a year ago as he worked on a book about areas having a “special sense of place.”

The conference will be held at the Island Players playhouse, 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria.

The two-day conference is expected to draw 125 attendees, the maximum seating at the community theater, McKeon added.

The council voted unanimously to recommend the county commission allocate $25,000 to the Oct. 17-19 conference, but only after a lengthy discussion about conflicts of interest and Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

With a budget of $65,000, the conference will feature a tour of Pine Avenue, a boat ride in Sarasota Bay, meals on the Island, and six expert presenters on how to attract newcomers to communities by preserving historic places and employing green initiatives.

The conference also will include team leaders from four Florida places who will “show and tell” their livable, walkable towns, said Hiller.

The communities represented will be Franklin in Wakulla County, DeLand in Volusia County, Miami Beach and coastal Manatee.

The leaders from coastal Manatee are restaurateur Ed Chiles, developers and vacation accommodation owners Mike and Lizzie Vann Thrasher of Anna Maria, hotelier David Teitelbaum of Anna Maria Island Resorts, Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department and Karen Bell of A.P. Bell and Star Fish companies in Cortez.

Hiller mentioned how coastal Manatee exemplifies sustainable authenticity with its low-rise structures and measures that have kept the beaches open.

TDC members Chiles and Teitelbaum advised the council they’d been involved in conference planning discussions and looked to the county attorney for advice as to possible conflicts to vote on the conference.

“I want to first say I’ve had involvement since its nexus,” Chiles, owner of Sandbar, MarVista and Beachhouse restaurants, told the council.

“It’s critical we have the right kind (of people) who want to respect the character and integrity of the Island. I don’t want to see people who are looking for short-term economic gain,” Chiles said, adding this conference would help the Island attract the right people.

Conference planning discussions also included Teitelbaum, president of Anna Maria Island Resorts, including the Old Bridge Village and Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds and SeaSide Inn motels in Bradenton Beach.

Teitelbaum agreed with Chiles’ assessment of Island tourism.

“A few reckless developers are causing problems” for the Island, he said. He supported the conference for the eco-tourism, diversity of ideas and national recognition it would bring to the Island, but said he would abstain from voting if necessary.

Chiles said his restaurants will be donating food, and McKeon said Tortuga Inn has offered to give conference-goers discount hotel rates.

As to the Sunshine Laws prohibiting members of government bodies from certain discussions outside of properly noticed meetings, county attorney Jim Minix said any Sunshine Law violation due to Teitelbaum’s and Chiles’ ex-parte discussions was corrected by the public airing at the meeting. Minix also recommended they not abstain from the vote based on their statements.

“They assured me there was no private gain or loss,” Minix said, and if their “interest is the same as any other citizen” or “speculative,” they are “required to vote.”

The TDC is a nine-member board that makes recommendations to the county regarding the BACVB budget and use of the 5 percent tourist development tax revenue, also known as the bed tax, collected on short-term rentals — properties rented for six months or less.

The latest monthly figures from the BACVB indicate a total of $1,046,580 in bed tax dollars were collected in February, nearly $190,000 more than February 2011. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, $6,971, 236 in resort tax was collected, $590,018 more than in 2010-11.

And with six months reported so far in the 2011-12 fiscal year, October through January, the tax has brought in $569,629 more than collected during the same period last year.

Holmes Beach commissioner challenges for TDC seat

Two Holmes Beach commissioners are vying for a four-year term on the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

        Commissioner Jean Peelen announced last week she is seeking the advisory board position currently held by fellow Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens, who has declared her interest in maintaining her seat.

        The TDC recommends how local tourist development tax dollars are spent. More than $1 million in February and nearly $7 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year were collected from the 5 percent resort tax on properties rented for six months or less in Manatee County.

        Peelen said she hopes to be appointed to the TDC so the Island can be better represented on the board, and to influence how tax dollars are spent.

        “I’ve been studying this,” she said, “and though people have been saying the Island can’t get money for infrastructure, I believe we can.”

        She favors Anna Maria Island being promoted as a year-round place to live, and that tourism be directed to Bradenton.

        “Anna Maria Island — it’s the place you want to live, raise children and retire,” Peelen said.

        Peelen said Haas-Martens is failing to bring back to her constituents what is happening at the TDC. Last week, Peelen actively sought support at meetings in the city of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

        “I would like to ask you as a commission or as an individual commissioner to write the county commission to support my decision to be on the TDC,” Peelen said April 19 at the Bradenton Beach city meeting.

        Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler recommended to the commissioners that they support Peelen in her effort to be appointed to the TDC, but no official action was taken. Similarly, at a city of Anna Maria meeting, Peelen said several commissioners supported her efforts but elected to take no formal action.

        On learning of Peelen’s interest in her seat, Haas-Martens said she had no comment, but added she is qualified to serve on the TDC and has held the seat since 2000 when she replaced the Palmetto mayor.

        Longboat Key Commissioner Hal Lenobel also has applied for the TDC position, according to Monica Luff, TDC administrative liaison. Lenobel is currently serving a 2012-14 term on the town commission.

        Applications close May 1. County commissioners are expected to select the new TDC member at their board meeting May 22, according to Luff.

        Historically, the 5 percent resort tax revenue collected on short-term rentals supports the activities of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau  — including the Manatee Convention Civic Center, Crosley Estate, and a host of publicity and marketing projects — in addition to beach renourishment projects on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

        The council advises the Manatee County Board of Commissioners, and consists of nine county-based members; one county commissioner member who serves as chair; two elected municipal officials, one from the city of Bradenton and one from another city; four members who are hoteliers subject to the resort tax; and two tourist-industry members who are not subject to the resort tax.

        County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, former Holmes Beach mayor, is the current chair of the TDC.

        Haas-Martens, with a background in finance, banking and real estate, was first elected a city commissioner in 1998, and has since been re-elected to consecutive terms. As commissioner, she has served as chair, deputy mayor and currently serves as vice-chair and chair of a focus group. Her term on the city commission expires in November 2012, and she is seeking re-election.

        Peelen, a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Education, was first elected to a two-year term on the city commission in November 2011. Peelen currently serves as chair of a focus group and is the city liaison to the Anna Maria Island Community Center, Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs’ Communities for a Lifetime, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and Manatee County Council of Governments.

        Lenobel ran unopposed for the town of Longboat Key commission at-large spot, and is a golf columnist for the Longboat Key Observer.

        Islander reporter Mark Young contributed to this report.

CRA votes to approve pier engineer study

The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency at its April 18 meeting unanimously approved an engineering study for the Historic Bridge Street Pier piling and decking replacement project.

The project calls for replacing 151 pilings, and includes replacing the pier’s aging top deck.

Building official Steve Gilbert was selected to work with the contractor to determine if the city would need a new study done, since an older one existed from a previous pier project.

“I contacted the contractor of record, walked the pier, looked at the pilings and we reviewed his notes from the original study he had done,” said Gilbert.

Two determining factors that would impact how the city would approach the project were types of materials to be used, and whether or not reconfiguring the pier for cost-saving measures would be necessary.

The city pier team has previously discussed using wood, concrete or composite materials. Gilbert solidified the choice after talking with the contractor.

“We discussed what type of pilings he would recommend and his initial reaction for a fishing pier was for a more flexible structure, so he will be recommending wooden pilings,” said Gilbert. “We have a pier that is subject to wave action. With wood pilings, even during severe wave events, it can give and move a little without coming apart.”

The project, funded through the CRA, was initially capped at $400,000. As a result, the team considered the possibility of reconfiguring the pier or temporarily removing the T-end of the pier to meet the budget.

With the announcement from the contractor recommending less costly wood pilings, and the possibility of more CRA funding becoming available, commissioners nonetheless expressed concern about having to reconfigure the pier.

Mayor John Shaughnessy asked if a reconfiguration of the pier — the removal of the T-end — would be necessary.

“It’s all up to the commission, and is why I’m suggesting we get this documentation in place before we go to bid,” said Gilbert. “Then it’s entirely up to the commission to either modify the shape or break (the project) into phases.”

Vice Mayor Ed Straight questioned what would happen to the old pilings. Gilbert said they would have to come out, but there may be a way for the city to save money in that process as well.

“We did have a suggestion to remove the old pilings and utilize them in, around and under the pier for habitat, if (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) lets us do that,” said Gilbert. “We’d be creating habitat and it would save money from having to haul those pilings away. Either way, I’d recommend we try to recycle those as best we can.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse moved to approve the engineering study. Commissioner Gay Breuler seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.

Night market approved for Bridge Street

The Bridge Street Merchants Association received approval for a special event permit to conduct a nighttime market on Bridge Street, but not without compromise.

The permit request was initially placed into the consent agenda — a list of routine items generally expected to pass without opposition.

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse asked that the permit application be removed from the consent agenda and placed in new business for discussion.

“I asked for this to be moved in order to give this application the same consideration as other applications,” said Gatehouse, referring to the controversial Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki Market that ended operations in January.

“There was endless discussion about another market up the street,” he said. “This application is for a nighttime market and I believe the public deserves this application to be judged to the same standards.”

Gatehouse, who supported the failed effort at the Gulf Drive Cafe, 900 Gulf Drive N., cited many of the same concerns raised that led to the end of that market’s operations.

Gatehouse cited noise, traffic and pedestrian safety concerns. He commended the merchants association for its success in drawing large crowds, but said that success may be a detriment to a nighttime market.

He said adding more people would create a traffic jam that would circle Bridge Street and end up creating a problem on Gulf Drive — a source of contention to those opposed to the Gulf Drive Cafe market.

“Finally, I think it’s ironic that Jo Ann (Meilner) stood here and argued against approving that one on a special event permit, saying if an event is held repeatedly then it is no longer a special event. Ironically one month later, Bridge Street Merchants is asking for the same thing.”

Bridge Street Merchants requested a nighttime market to take place June 2, 16, and 30, and July 14 and 28.

“The public has been very vocal in the past, so my vote for this would be on a temporary basis, so the public can have their view on it to see if it is working,” said Gatehouse.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh disagreed that the two markets bear any similarities, as did Mayor John Shaughnessy.

“This will take place in Toomey’s lot, which is off Bridge Street, and I don’t hear a lot of complaints about that one,” said Shaughnessy. “I do agree that we have to treat everyone equally. Everyone knows my problem with the other market was that it was just a bad location. It created a traffic jam on Gulf Drive. I don’t believe this market at night is going to do that.”

Gatehouse said every applicant needed to be treated equally.

“I just think that’s the fair way to go,” he said.

Commissioners agreed the process should be fair to everyone. Originally, the Gulf Drive Cafe had asked for a much longer period of markets than what commissioners ultimately approved on a trial basis. They took the same approach in reaching a compromise for the BSM nighttime market.

Commissioner Gay Breuler motioned to approve the special event permit for June 2, 16, and 30 with stipulations that the city could revoke the July dates should issues with the market arise. Gatehouse seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Also getting approval for a special event permit is a May 12 benefit for John “Scooter” Tillison. Doreen Flynn, of the Drift In, 120 Bridge Street, submitted the application.

Flynn said the event was originally scheduled for June, but due to Tillison’s declining health, it was moved to May. She said all proceeds will go “to defer the deductible on his chemo treatments.”

The event will take place 1-8 p.m. at the Drift In parking lot. Food, music, drinks and games are planned. Flynn said the event would include a bake sale, gift baskets, raffles and more. Area businesses are donating much of the food and prizes.

Also receiving commission approval for a special event permit is the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Anna Maria Island event, May 19-20, at Coquina Beach.

Earth day


Children play a game designed to promote recycling at the April 21 Earth Day festivities and grand opening of Dogs and Arts for the Earth, 308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria. The business sponsored a Family Earth Day celebration. Islander Photos: Karen Riley-Love


Palma Sola Elementary second-grader Nikole Cosentino, 8, won the Earth Savers Award for her planting compost game presented during the April 22 Earth Day celebration at Dogs and Arts for the Earth, 308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria.

Earth Saver award-winner Jack Love poses with his handmade manatee. Love said he hopes his art project will remind boaters to slow down near manatees. Love, 5, is a kindergartner at Anna Maria Elementary. Love won his award at the April 22 Earth Day festivities on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

An appropriate guest — Mocha — arrives to the April 21 Earth Day festivities sponsored by Dogs and Arts for the Earth, 308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria.

Man dies after walking into traffic

A 55-year-old Bradenton man was killed at approximately 9:30 a.m. April 17 while attempting to cross Cortez Road in Cortez.

Daniel Dietz Elliot was struck by a 2008 Toyota Tundra hauling a trailer, driven by David Smith, 47, of Bradenton. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Smith was traveling westbound on Cortez Road in the left lane.

Elliot attempted to cross Cortez Road from the north to the south side and walked directly into the path of Smith’s oncoming vehicle, according to a FHP press release. The report states Smith attempted to swerve out of the way, but Elliot was struck by the right fender of the trailer.

Elliot was pronounced dead at the scene.

Take Back Day keeps drugs out of harm’s way

Is your bathroom cabinet teeming with old, unused prescription drugs?

For safety and the sake of a healthier environment, pharmaceutical drugs should be disposed of properly, say government researchers and law enforcement.

And a local option is to drop them off at the Holmes Beach Police Department, 5801 Marina Drive.

The HBPD is participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 28.  The national take-back initiative encourages the public to turn in unused or expired medication.

        HBPD Lt. Dale Stephenson said people should feel free to drop off the prescription drugs at the station on the nationally recognized day — or any day — to be destroyed properly.

        “It’s not going to any land fill and not going into the water supply that way,” he added.

        Americans who participated in the third DEA National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Oct. 29, 2011, turned in more than 188.5 tons of unwanted or expired medications for safe and proper disposal at 5,327 take-back sites in all 50 states and U.S. territories, according to the DEA website.

        “In 2011, Florida took in 4.5 tons just on take-back day,” HBPD Lt. Dale Stephenson said.

        The DEA Prescription Drug Take Back Day first took place in September 2010, then again in April 2011, and involved about 4,000 state and local law enforcement agencies and resulted in the collection of about 309 tons of pills.

        HBPD has participated in each Take Back Day.

       For more information, call the HBPD at (941) 941-708-5804.