Tag Archives: 06-24-2020

2 of 3 island cities mandate face coverings

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Islander reporter/photographer ChrisAnn Allen and son Aiden Esformes don masks for an outing at the beach in Holmes Beach.

The Holmes Beach City Commission met in the morning June 25 and voted to adopt an emergency order mandating face coverings in public when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Anna Maria commissioners followed suit at their June 25 evening meeting.

The HB order will go into effect at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 28, and Anna Maria will begin enforcement at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 27.

The Holmes Beach order refers to public health guidelines and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and states, “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain in order to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”

The Holmes Beach measure — the first of its kind in Manatee County — contains exceptions for ADA and some other circumstances, such as while eating and drinking in restaurants.

In Holmes Beach, if compliance is not achieved after a warning, the fine for the first offense will be $250.

The Holmes Beach ordinance is posted at www.holmesbeachfl.org.

Anna Maria’s emergency order is directed mostly at retail stores and restaurants, with a $50 fine for failure to comply. The city exempted restaurant customers while dining or drinking and office workers who practice social distancing.

Anna Maria commissioners plan to address outdoor mask requirements in the coming week.

For more on masks, read the July 1 edition of The Islander.

Coronavirus spike prompts little concern among islanders

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People lounge in the sands of Coquina Beach June 18 as the state registers a record-high 3,207 new cases of COVID-19 the same day. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
A graph shows a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases in Florida within two weeks of the state entering phase 2 of reopening June 5. The state recorded 3,207 new cases on June 18 after reporting 1,305 new cases on June 5. At least 1,698 new cases were reported every day between June 11-June 18. Islander Courtesy Photo: Google

Manatee County — The first wave of COVID-19 is a tsunami.

Florida broke its single-day record for new coronavirus cases four times over seven days as the record escalated from 2,581 new cases June 13 to 3,822 June 19. More than 18,777 new cases were reported over the stretch.

The number of new cases reported in a single day never dropped below 1,758 during the seven-day period.

The surge comes after recording fewer than 1,000 new cases almost every day since the first case was confirmed in March. However, the last time the state reported less than 1,000 new cases in a single day was with 966 cases June 8.

Almost 90,000 positive cases had been identified in Florida as of June 19, with 3,103 deaths listed in association with the virus.

Ten Florida counties have reported more than Manatee County.

As of June 22, 1,977 Manatee County residents had contracted the virus and 126 deaths were associated with COVID-19.

Of the confirmed cases in the county, seven cases — including two nonresidents — had been identified on Anna Maria Island.

Four cases were reported in Bradenton Beach, and three were registered in Holmes Beach. No cases were identified in Anna Maria.

Early June 22, as The Islander went to press, the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach announced it had closed after a  “member of our team” tested positive for the virus.

A Facebook post said, “We feel this is the right decision to protect our staff and the public.”

Despite the surge in the state, many residents and visitors on Anna Maria Island weren’t too concerned with the pandemic.

“Here on the island, I’m not sure that we all took it as serious as the rest of the world,” Anna Maria resident Jim Sullivan said June 12. “And I haven’t heard of any consequences of that laissez-faire approach.”

Sullivan was holding a table for friends with his wife, Gale, at D.Coy Ducks Bar & Grille in the Island Shopping Center, 5410 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. The couple said they were happy to be able to socialize at a favorite local spot after bars reopened bars June 5.

“We hadn’t seen a lot of people in a while,” Sullivan said. “There were people we’d see regularly, but because of this coronavirus stuff, we didn’t run into them.”

Holmes Beach resident Richard “Boston” Burnes Jr., one of Sullivans’ friends, grabbed a beer and joined the table.

“Did I feel cooped up? Yeah, but, you know what? It was great,” Burns said. “I stayed home with the dog and got to watch TV.”

Another friend, Holmes Beach resident Anne Ricci, joined the table and said she was happy to gather with friends but remained cautious. She said she and her husband, Scott, refuse to dine indoors at restaurants due to their concerns with the virus.

“I’m a compromised specimen,” she said. “So, I’m not worried about it, but I am cautious. I carry around Lysol wipes wherever I go.”

Ricci said she was confident at the bar because she can trust friends to quarantine if they don’t feel well.

“I trust the others,” she said. “It’s the unknown that’s the scary thing.”

Sullivan agreed that he wasn’t concerned with the spread of the virus at his local watering holes.

“Us coming to a place like this and then worrying that we’re going to get infected? That’s not the biggest worry for us,” he said. “We’ve got an exclusive little group that’s remained healthy through it, so we’re not worried about gathering.”

While some people trust friends to limit the virus’ spread, others doubt the severity of the pandemic.

“I honestly believe it’s been blown out of proportion,” Melissa Wells said June 18 from a beach chair at Coquina Beach. “No one has ever explained to me how this is somehow worse than the flu. I’ve heard general things, but nothing’s convinced me otherwise.”

However, COVID-19 is not the flu.

Influenza was associated with more than 34,200 deaths in 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 in the United States has been associated with more than 121,000 deaths and counting since the first confirmed deaths in February, according to the CDC.

Of course, not everyone is doubtful of the virus’ potency.

Bradenton resident Ronnie Sterling said June 18 she was concerned with the spike in cases.

“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “But I think if people do what they’re supposed to do, we should be fine.”

Sterling, who was enjoying the scenery from a picnic table at Coquina Beach, said many beachgoers were respecting social distancing. However, she added, hardly any wore face masks.

The CDC says a mask is not necessary outdoors if social distancing is maintained, but recommends masks when social distancing is not possible and in public indoor spaces.

Some local governments, such as Tampa’s, have ordered mandatory masks for the public, but not Manatee County or its municipalities.

“I wish more people would,” Bradenton resident Dan White said June 18, as he soaked up the sun at Coquina. “I see people without masks sometimes and I don’t like that. The more people wear masks, the faster we can get rid of this thing.”

“People that don’t believe it’s for real should visit a hospital and see what’s going on,” he added. “People are dying every day.”

Bradenton Beach resident Doug Collums said he suffers from a respiratory illness, so he is wearing a mask in public.

“I’m not living in fear or anything, but I am cautious,” Collums said from his beach chair at Coquina. “But when you get out here, you kind of forget about COVID-19.”

Make way for beach renourishment

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Anna Maria Island — It could be the theme for this year’s sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island.

AMI’s beaches are getting an upgrade.

It’s the season to make way for beach renourishment. And Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers must ensure nests are out of harm’s way before equipment rolls onto the beach, pumping sand lost to erosion from offshore.

Manatee County will start the renourishment project July 2, and, weather permitting, it will continue through the last day of sea turtle nesting season —  Oct. 31.

Since season started May 1, nests laid on beaches that are part of the project — from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass — are being relocated to beaches in Anna Maria to avoid being covered with sand or damaged by equipment.

As of June 18, turtle watch volunteers had relocated 184 nests to areas north of the project zone, while 54 nests had been laid on beaches in Anna Maria.

“We are absolutely ready for the renourishment to begin,” Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said June 18. “Everything has been going very smoothly so far, and I have 100% confidence in our group of volunteers to keep going.”

Usually, turtle watch volunteers patrol the beach just after sunrise to gather data on nests laid overnight.

However, with the start of the project, turtle watch also is working a night patrol starting at 10 p.m. to review the area just ahead of the pumps. Night patrol volunteers also will survey a 500-foot perimeter around the equipment each time it changes location.

And, if a turtle emerges and starts nesting as construction vehicles approach, all construction activity stops until the nest has been laid and the turtle has crawled back to the Gulf of Mexico.

For each nest in the relocation zone, volunteers collect the eggs and, after sunrise, deposit them in a hand-dug nest, following Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines.

Nests laid outside of the relocation zone in Anna Maria are not being staked, but turtle watch is tracking the nests, according to Fox.

The rest is up to Mother Nature.

If a relocation is successful, in 45-70 days, about 100 hatchlings will clamber from the sand and waddle to the sea.

“It’s a very hard job this year. One of the most challenging in the 30 years I’ve done this,” Fox said. “But the volunteers have been solid gold. The next generation of hatchlings is in good hands on our island.”

For more information about turtle watch, people can visit AMITW at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or suzilfox@gmail.com.

To find out more about beach renourishment, including anticipated scheduling, visit mymanatee.org.

Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or birds to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text tip@myfwc.com.

COVID-19 cases reach record highs in Manatee County

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Gary Reformina, a registered nurse with the Florida Department of Health-Manatee, collects a COVID-19 testing specimen June 11 at Presbyterian Villas retirement community in Bradenton. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOH-Manatee

Manatee County — Positive cases of coronavirus are trending up again in the state and Manatee County.

The state exceeded the record number of cases in a single day at least twice in the past week.

Also, as the state’s positive case rate curved upward after the rate of daily new cases started decreasing in May, the county’s rate also trended upward.

The county’s rate of positive cases increased June 16 from 5.1% to 5.3%. The state was at 5.4%.

Before the uptick, the county’s positive rate had dropped 9.4% from its peak at 14.5% in early May.

The Florida Department of Health reported June 11-14 the highest four-day increase in positive cases in the county since the pandemic was reported in the area in early March.

On June 15, there were 70 new cases reported in the county.

As of June 18, 28,665 people in the county had been tested — about 7% of the population of 402,253 people.

Of those tested, 1,513 residents and 10 nonresidents — people with an out-of-state address but diagnosed in the county — tested positive as of June 18.

At a June 16 teleconferenced county commission meeting, county public safety director Jake Saur, gave a report on COVID-19.

Saur said the increases could be due to more testing in healthier populations. He said the previous testing was focused on the elderly and those with symptoms.

However, with “drastically increased testing,” more people without symptoms were getting tested and testing positive, according to Saur.

“There’s a much wider population being tested now and, within that younger, healthier population, a lot of them are asymptomatic,” he said.

As of May 17, 9,984 people had been tested in the county, compared with nearly 28,000 people tested a month later.

Saur said the county’s goal was to test another 2% of the population — about 1,000 people by early July.

He said the DOH started testing at mobile home parks and retirement communities. Testing continued at six Manatee Rural Health Inc. locations, a walk-up site at Lincoln Park in Palmetto, and a state-sponsored regional testing site at the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota.

The state also opened a walk-up testing location at Home Depot, 2350 Cortez Road, Bradenton.

Saur said the migrant community was proving to be a hot spot, with groups of people working and living together. He said the county targeted migrant workers for testing.

However, he said anyone can get tested and, he also emphasized the importance of continuing the practices of hand-washing and wearing face masks in public.

Face masks can reduce the spread of the virus by blocking airborne particles, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Now is not the time to panic, but it is the time to reinforce wearing a face mask and adhering to CDC guidelines,” Saur said.

Commissioner Misty Servia said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, health officer at DOH-Manatee, told her the median age for the virus in the county, excluding residents and workers at long-term care facilities, was 42.

Servia said she asked Bencie if the higher numbers were the result of increased testing and that Bencie responded, “Absolutely not. It is beyond that,” implying the increase was due to community spread.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she recently attended an event where most attendees were younger than herself, and she was the only person in a mask.

“Even if you don’t care about it, you need to think about the person sitting next to you,” she said. “I guess until your family member gets it, or a good friend, you’re not going to realize how dangerous this is.”

DOT opens study for Longboat Pass Bridge options

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The Longboat Pass Bridge carries vehicles from the southern tip of Bradenton Beach to the north end of Longboat Key. The bascule bridge opened in 1957. Islander File Photo: Jack Elka

Bradenton Beach — Changes may be in store for the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Florida Department of Transportation director of development John Kubler emailed Manatee County officials June 18 to announce the DOT has begun a project development and environment study for the bridge, which connects Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key.

Options explored in the study will include repairs to the bridge or replacing it with either a high-level fixed bridge or a “moveable” bascule bridge.

The DOT is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to conduct the study, which will assess the potential impacts of the proposed improvements.

The PD&E study is budgeted for $2.126 million and is expected to wrap up in August 2023.

Design, right-of-way acquisition and construction phases for the project have not been funded.

Along with the study, the DOT is launching a public involvement program.

Kubler said the DOT will host several public events to collect input and educate people on the options. He added that newsletters with more information will be mailed to property owners and officials.


BB-CRA seeks artist for roundabout sculpture

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A schematic shows the proposed landscaping for the roundabout on the east end of Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. Islander Courtesy Graphic

Bradenton Beach — The circle may get a cube.

There may be funding for a sculpture — a monument, abstract or real, a leaping dolphin, a lumbering manatee or a school of fish in the roundabout by the Bradenton Beach pier.

But who will conceive and create the artwork?

Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency members voted 4-0 June 16 to invite local artists to submit their concept for a sculpture in the roundabout at the east end of Bridge Street.

CRA members Jan Vosburgh, Ralph Cole and Marilyn Maro were absent with excuse.

CRA member Jake Spooner, also a city commissioner, suggested hiring a local artist to create a sculpture for the roundabout.

CRA member David Bell then suggested making the sculpture moveable, to be displayed in different places within the district.

Spooner motioned to seek sculpture proposals.

CRA member Ed Chiles seconded the motion.

The discussion on a sculpture followed designer Emily Anne Smith’s presentation of her landscaping proposal for the roundabout, including a barrier of coral rock around the edge of the median and a large spruce or fir tree in the center — seasonally appropriate for Christmas decorations.

Smith’s design showed the tree circled by three rings of plants. An outer ring of 15 coontie shrubs, nine Nora Grant ixoras in the middle ring and four variegated shell ginger plants in the centermost ring.

Smith said the central tree wouldn’t block a driver’s or pedestrian’s view of the Historic Bridge Street Pier, 200 Bridge St. She added that the CRA could plant a shorter spruce or fir if visibility is a concern.

However, Mayor John Chappie, also a CRA member, said he preferred placing palm trees in the roundabout instead of a spruce or fir for visibility and an island aesthetic.

Bradenton Beach resident Susan Billow, during public comment, also said she preferred palm trees for visibility at the roundabout.

Smith said she proposed planting palm trees throughout the district, so spruce or fir would be a “necessary” change of pace. She added that evergreen is easier to maintain than a palm.

The CRA decided to issue a call for artists before proceeding on the landscaping designs.

Tourism experts track travelers’ sentiments during pandemic

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Michele Schulz, field services and collections director at the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office, addresses the TDC June 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. To inform people of pandemic rules for leasing short-term vacation rentals, the tax collector’s office contacted more than 7,000 property owners by email and U.S. mail. Islander Screenshot
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, addresses the Manatee County Tourist Development Council during a meeting June 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. Islander Screenshot

Manatee County — Tourism experts asked potential Manatee County visitors for the word that describes their “feelings about travel right now.”

The answers read like the “cautious” entry in a thesaurus: anxious, fearful, concerned, hesitant, apprehensive, wary.

The latest results to the “Traveler Sentiment Survey,” launched as the coronavirus pandemic derailed local tourism, were presented June 15 to the Manatee County Tourist Development Council by Anne Wittine of Research Data Services, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors’ consultant.

The meeting was at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, with most attendees wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart.

Wittine said the survey, conducted weekly, showed people felt less safe in June than in late May.

In the second week of June, about 42% of respondents said Florida was reopening too quickly after more than a month under “safer-at-home” orders. About 34% felt that way the first week of June.

Respondents said their travel concerns included not being able to return home, being quarantined away from home and dealing with canceled flights.

Wittine also presented a series of statistics on tourism impact, saying, “These numbers really seem like a bad April Fools’ joke.”

In March, overnight stays grossed about $1.78 million in bed taxes and the collection was down 34.59% from March 2019.

In April, overnight stays generated $449,904 in bed taxes, down 69.81% from April 2019. The bed tax, or tourist development tax, is the 5% collected on overnight rentals of six months or less.

Visits in commercial lodging — hotels, motels or condos — were down 8.6% for the second quarter compared to January-March 2019.

Direct expenditures for visitors in the second quarter were $277,999,500, down 7.1% compared to the same period the year before.

Total economic impact for visitors in the second quarter was $439 million, down 7.1% from the year before.

Occupancy was down 8.9% for the second quarter.

Visitors were down 40.2% to 55,500 in March, the first month in which Florida was dealing with — or reeling from — the pandemic.

In April, with much of tourism shut down or restricted, visitation was down 82.3%.

For March, room nights totaled 138,600, down 33.7% from March 2019, and the total economic impact for the month was down 38.4% to about $110 million.

Anna Maria Island’s occupancy fell 30.4% in March and, countywide in April, occupancy was down 83.4%.

“May occupancy was averaging about 40%, which is down, but is a huge increase from … April,” Wittine said.

In other business, the TDC heard the following reports:

  • John Horne, owner of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, represented the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association at the meeting.

“One of the things that was a huge shot in the arm for lodging and restaurants was the work you guys did to get short-term rentals open,” he said, referring to the lifting of a ban on vacation rentals of less than a month in Manatee County. The ban was imposed March 27 and lifted May 23.

  • At Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, passenger traffic increased from 9,742 passengers in April to 39,988 passengers in May.

However, May traffic was down 71% compared with May 2019.

SRQ representative Mark Stuckey said airlines were adding services, the “terminal is sparkling clean” and all airlines operating from the airport require passengers to wear masks.

“You don’t find that when you go out and around the town,” he said. “When you are at the airport, about 99.9% of everybody is wearing masks.”

The next TDC meeting will be at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17, tentatively at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.


County commission reappoints 2 TDC seats

Manatee County commissioners unanimously voted June 16 to reappoint two mayors to the tourist development council.

Two people — Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Longboat Key Commissioner Ed Zunz — applied for a seat reserved for an elected official. Bryant held the seat and was reappointed.

The commission also reappointed Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston to the seat representing his city, although another appointment will be required in November, as Poston is not seeking reelection.

The advisory committee makes recommendations to county commissioners on expenditures of tourist tax revenues — the 5% tax on accommodations of six months or less.

The board includes Poston, Bryant, county Commissioner Misty Servia, hoteliers Jiten Patel, Ed Chiles, Eric Cairns and Barbara Baker and citizens Jack Rynerson and Vernon DeSear.

The commission meeting was at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

The next TDC meeting will be Monday, Aug, 17, tentatively at Holmes Beach City Hall.

— Lisa Neff



About the TDC

The advisory committee makes recommendations to the board of county commissioners on the expenditures of tourist tax revenues — a 5% tax on accommodations of six months or less.

The board includes Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, hoteliers Jiten Patel, Ed Chiles, Eric Cairns and Barbara Baker and citizens Jack Rynerson and Vernon DeSear.


County to remove 87 more pine trees at Coquina Beach

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A plan illustrates the section of the Coquina Beach parking area where phase 2 of a drainage improvement project will take place. County commissioners voted June 17 to move forward. Islander Courtesy Photo: Manatee County
The south end of Coquina Beach has 103 newly planted trees in place of an equal number of Australian pine trees that the county removed in 2019. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Coquina Beach — Time to say goodbye to more Australian pine trees.

Manatee County commissioners voted 6-1 June 17 to approve the second phase of a drainage improvement project at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach that involves removing 87 Australian pine trees — an invasive species with a shallow root system — to accommodate the project.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore voted “no,” saying the $3,628,026 projected cost would be better spent elsewhere.

Work will involve installing underground drainage pipes and pervious concrete at the beach’s northern parking lot to address pooling stormwater.

Michael Sturm, Manatee County public works project manager, said the second phase would impact around 700 parking spaces.

Phase 1 cost the county $3,367,417 and created about 200 concrete parking spaces.

The county began the project in 2019 due to frequent flooding in the parking area. By installing underground drainage pipes and covering the area with pervious concrete, the county hopes to prevent water from pooling in the area.

The first phase involved similar work for the southern end of parking and along an access road. Construction required the removal of 103 Australian pine trees.

The county moved forward with phase 1 despite opposition from Bradenton Beach commissioners and a petition with more than 1,000 signatures.

The county owns and maintains Coquina Beach, so the city was unable stop the project. However, the county had to abide the city code that requires the county replace each tree removed with a “Florida Friendly” tree.

The county plans to replace the Australian pine trees removed in phase 1 with 83 buttonwood trees, 10 gumbo limbo trees and 10 shady black olive trees in the grass near a playground at the south end of the beach.

The county plans to replace the Australian pine trees removed during phase 2 with 71 green buttonwoods, eight shady lady black olive trees and eight gumbo limbo trees on the north side of Coquina.

The replacement trees will be 12 feet tall when planted, with 4-foot-wide canopies.

Island cities, county to work together on beach parking issues

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About 1,100 on-street parking spots in Holmes Beach, including parking in the 200 block along 30th Street, were designated no parking by the city after the parking closure imposed during the coronavirus beach closure was lifted. Manatee County now wants to work with the island cities to help find parking solutions on Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Anna Maria — For as long as most islanders can remember, parking has been difficult.

As one of few places with free beach parking, accessibility has led to increased congestion and trash in neighborhoods where on-street parking is allowed, according to some residents.

Over the years, Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach officials have grappled with failed options for paid parking, including meters and garages.

Following a decision in late April by Holmes Beach officials and staff not to reopen about 1,100 parking spaces within a quarter-mile of the beach once the coronavirus beach closure was lifted, Manatee County commissioners agreed: It’s time to speak with island city leaders about parking.

At a June 16 teleconferenced county commission meeting, commissioners reached consensus on County Commissioner Carol Whitmore’s suggestion to bring island city officials into a discussion with the county about possible parking solutions. Whitmore is an island resident who previously served Holmes Beach as its mayor.

The meeting was not set as of press time for The Islander.

In a late April teleconferenced public meeting, Holmes Beach commissioners agreed to Police Chief Bill Tokajer’s plan — a plan requested and reviewed by Mayor Judy Titsworth — to remove the parking spots. The matter was not advertised on the city meeting agenda and no vote was taken.

The city charter includes traffic engineer in the chief’s duties.

Since then, county and state officials have voiced opposition, citing concerns with parking required for federal and state beach renourishment funding and accessibility of public beaches to all taxpayers.

Titsworth countered that since the county advertises the island as a tourist destination, it should help with infrastructure. And Holmes Beach neighborhoods, which have more on-street parking — excluding large parking lots such as at Coquina Beach — than the other two cities combined, should not have to supply the bulk of the parking needs.

As of June 18, the city had 500 allocated spots for beach renourishment, even though it is only required to have 364 parking spots to retain funding, according to Tokajer.

When the new “no parking” signs went up in early June, some island residents, property owners, business owners and off-islanders posted to social media, contacted news outlets, circulated and signed petitions, called elected officials and staged a public protest with concerns that the decision was made both at a vulnerable time and without public input.

As a result, Holmes Beach commissioners planned to discuss a draft ordinance at a June 23 work session for a “parking-by-permit-only zone” that would provide decals to city property owners for parking preference.

Former Commissioner Rick Hurst, who is again running for a seat on the city commission in the November election and has publicly opposed the parking reduction, said June 18 that he supports the commission’s decision to consider the options, but a town hall meeting might have been a better format.

Hurst said there is a “silent majority” of people in Holmes Beach who don’t usually speak up on matters but are concerned that the city is polarized by the recent parking restrictions.

“I think the city officials should step up and say, ‘We made a mistake,’ and we want to hear you. We want to listen,’” Hurst said. “Instead they have already put forth (a draft) ordinance. Is that what everybody wants?”

In the meantime, Tokajer said June 18 he is willing to work with the county.

“We are open to having discussions with the county to try and get them to understand our concerns and, hopefully, provide viable solutions that the city would be willing to participate in,” Tokajer said. “I cannot speak for the city leaders, but I think the only way to come to some type of agreement is through open dialogue.”

Anna Maria City Pier opens quietly amid patron enthusiasm

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New Anna Maria City Pier opens minus pomp, pageantry Jack Elka captures the new Anna Maria City Pier from on high with his camera drone at the opening at 8 a.m. June 19, with a view of the first people allowed on the pier and, beyond, the city of Anna Maria and the Gulf of Mexico.
About 50 people who waited landside flood onto the new Anna Maria City Pier June 19, as the gate swung open for the first time in nearly three years at 8 a.m. The city built the new pier to replace the original 1911-built pier, which was demolished by the city in 2018 following a declaration of damages caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The total cost is estimated at $6.8 million, according to Mayor Dan Murphy, who declined to provide a breakdown. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Joseph Dolan, 13, of Palmetto, was among the first to arrive to the Anna Maria City Pier on opening day June 19, and also the first to reel up a fish — a small snapper — at the T-end of the new pier, 101 Bay Blvd. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen
Frank Agnelli, partner in Mason Martin Construction, the contractor for the restaurant and bait shop on the T-end of the new Anna Maria City Pier, and his daughter, Sadie, 6, of Holmes Beach, were the first two people to walk through the gates at the opening, June 19. Agnelli said, “Building this pier was a great privilege.” Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Anna Maria — Renewed.

It took nearly two years for the new pier to welcome people to the boards.

At long last, the new Anna Maria City Pier opened June 19 to sightseers and anglers.

The pier at the east end of Pine Avenue in Anna Maria was built to replace the historic pier, which opened in 1911 but was removed by the city after damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

An initial crowd of about 50 people made its way down the walkway to the T-end June 19, where Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioners Carol Carter and Amy Tripp were waiting to greet visitors.

Due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the city postponed a ribbon-cutting event in lieu of a “soft opening,” but officials plan to hold a celebration honoring those who contributed to the pier, according to Murphy.

“I’m very happy with how it went,” Murphy said of the opening. “It was a really nice crowd with lots of families. And that made me feel good.”

Tripp also said she enjoyed seeing families on the pier.

“So many people said they missed the pier and how happy they were it was open again,” she said. “Seeing all the families with kids was great. I feel like it will really be a community-connector,”

Carter estimated 3,000-4,000 people visited the pier June 19.

“I loved seeing many residents of the island and Manatee County, who had so looked forward to being able to walk out on the pier,” she said. “For many months they’ve been anticipating this as they’ve been watching things develop.”

Anna Maria resident Skip Roach, his wife Marie and granddaughter Catherine were among the first people on the pier when it opened.

“I’ve been coming out here every day at sunrise,” Roach said. “I was heartbroken when it was damaged. But here we are today. And it is beautiful.”


AM officials preview pier

Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law limits when two or more officials on the same board can gather for discussions.

On June 19, as members of the public were held back at the gate to the new Anna Maria City Pier, Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioners Carol Carter and Amy Tripp were observed on the T-end of the pier prior to the 8 a.m. opening.

Murphy and Carter each told The Islander in separate phone calls after the pier opening that they arrived early to set up tables, check the bathrooms and ensure masks were available for the public.

There was no ribbon-cutting, speaker, refreshments or entertainment at the opening.

Tripp said she too arrived before the gates opened and that she and Carter chatted about their families while awaiting the crowd. Carter concurred.

The mayor and commissioners each told The Islander that no city business was discussed.

Per state regulations, the event notice posted on the bulletin board at city hall in advance of June 19, stated, “There may be one or more commissioners, committee members, or board members on the city pier at one time during the opening of the city pier, June 19-21, 2020. There will be no city business conducted at this time.”

The notice was not posted to the city website nor was it provided to The Islander until after the meeting.

And many times, in many Sunshine Law training sessions, all who attended have heard the attorneys and others who conduct the mandatory training, advising officials of elected and appointed boards to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

— ChrisAnn Allen