A tug boat operator lost control of the construction barge working at the Anna Maria City Pier Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 10, and rammed the pier during the ongoing $5.9 million reconstruction project. The barge and tug work for the pier contractor, I+con Southeast. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating. Islander Photos: Jack Elka
Take one step forward, two steps back.
You’re in Bradenton Beach.
Four proposed charter amendments petitioned by the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods political action committee failed to make the Nov. 5 Bradenton Beach ballot under a decision by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.
City commissioners learned of the decision Sept. 5, the day after they approved a resolution for the vote.
“The ballot language does not comply with Florida Statutes, specifically 101.161,” Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett wrote in a Sept. 5 letter to Bradenton Beach city clerk Terri Sanclemente. “I do not believe it is in my authority to change or create any ballot wording, so I will be unable to place these questions on any ballot.”
“I had previously indicated Sept. 5, 2019, as the deadline to get any amendments on the ballot,” Bennett continued. He offered to extend the deadline to Sept. 9, but no later.
The charter amendment subjects for the ballot include:
- Prohibit construction of a multilevel parking garage in the city;
- Require city commission vacancies be filled by election;
- Prevent construction within setbacks;
- Establish a full-time city manager.
The state law Bennett referred to requires a ballot title of up to 15 words, as well as a ballot summary not to exceed 75 words, including amendments to a city charter, which acts as a municipal constitution.
The ballot language, which Bradenton Beach commissioners adopted Sept. 4 in a resolution to the SOE, exceed the word limit, according to Bennett.
Blame for the city’s failure to put the questions on this year’s ballot is up in the air.
Judge Lon Arend of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court made it the city’s responsibility to determine the ballot language to conform with state law in his final judgment, but city attorney Ricinda Perry refused to change the language, saying KORN attorney Robert Hendrickson advised against changing any wording.
Perry said Hendrickson threatened to file for sanctions against her and the city if she altered the wording of the questions. She said she sought changes to the wording from KORN co-founders John Metz and Reed Mapes on multiple occasions, to no avail.
She added, in the commission meetings held to discuss the ballot questions in the six months since Arend ruled that they must be submitted to the SOE for the ballot, KORN representatives made no objections and offered no changes to the wording.
Perry said that, after hearing about the SOE’s rejection of the ballot wording, Hendrickson is proposing new language to conform with state law.
But, Perry said she is unwilling to alter the wording because that would change what the voters read when they signed the petitions.
The petition forms contained KORN’s proposed ballot language.
“We’re saying, ‘This is how you shopped it, it’s not fair to pull a bait-and-switch,’” Perry said.
Additionally, Perry said she didn’t understand some of the initiatives, and Metz and Mapes haven’t provided clarification.
On Aug. 27, prior to the SOE decision, Hendrickson filed a second motion to enforce Arend’s final judgment, claiming the ballot language doesn’t meet the criteria of the state law because the city added a summary to the original text that exceeds the word limit and includes the ballot title as the ballot question.
“For some reason there are some added words that might make the SOE not accept them,” Metz said in an interview with The Islander Sept. 5. “I don’t know what that’s about, but it would be a travesty.”
“We’ve got a lot of personalities here that don’t want to give up their power,” he continued.
The next day, Perry told The Islander that she doesn’t understand why Hendrickson would say the city added the ballot summaries. She said KORN provided the summaries to voters on the petitions.
Despite Bennett’s short extension of the deadline for the ballot questions from Sept. 5 to Sept. 9, Perry said she won’t propose changes until a court hearing is held to determine a course of action.
Perry said a three-hour hearing with Judge Edward Nicholas of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, but she can’t attend. She suggested retaining Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson to represent the city.
Commissioner Jake Spooner, at the Sept. 4 meeting, moved to retain Johnson for the hearing, and Commissioner Ralph Cole seconded the motion.
The motion passed 4-0.
Commissioner Randy White was absent with excuse.
Perry said that, if the hearing results in the city having to redraft the language of the initiatives to meet SOE requirements, the city could schedule a special election for the amendments or await the November 2020 general election.
Same fact pattern. Same legal issues. Two results.
The city of Holmes Beach hoped to bring an end to 11 cases of property owners suing under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights at Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 hearings — but so far, that’s not happening.
With motions for judgments on the pleadings, the city claimed the owners’ lawsuits were improper and based on untimely filings.
Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin postponed ruling Sept. 4 on six cases, saying he would take the matter “under advisement” before issuing a written order.
A week earlier, in another Manatee County courtroom, Judge Edward Nicholas ruled from the bench accepting the owners’ argument they were proper and timely and allowed five other cases to proceed.
The 11 lawsuits involve property owners who, before the city’s 2015-16 short-term rental ordinances limited occupancy to two-persons per bedroom, were not restricted as to the number of occupants.
Clearwater attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask, Daigneault, assigned by the city’s insurer, Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, argued the vacation rental owners’ failed to file their claim within one year of the adoption of the 2015 occupancy ordinance and to request a variance from the occupancy law.
Attorney Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson Bradenton law firm, representing the property owners in the 11 lawsuits, argued the clock started ticking in 2016 after an ordinance set in motion the enforcement of the occupancy rule and that requesting a variance would have been futile.
The city commission enacted the ordinances in response to a public call to address issues stemming from a proliferation of large rental houses.
Mayor Judy Titsworth watched the proceedings Sept. 4, and after the hearing said, “Whichever way it goes, it’s part of the procedure.”
Thomas defended against the city motion alongside five Najmy attorneys.
More than 80 property owners invoked the Bert Harris law by filing claims in Holmes Beach in 2017, claiming an inordinate burden caused by the occupancy ordinance that resulted in a loss of market value.
Fifteen of these claims were upped to lawsuits.
Two were voluntarily dismissed by the owners and in one case, the owners lost at trial.
The owners’ claims heard by Sniffin Sept. 4, the corresponding rental properties and alleged losses based on appraisals are:
- Shawn Kaleta, 204 72nd St., $400,000.
- Brian Wien, 111 81st St., $220,000.
- Robert and Michelle Carl, 118th 50th St., $400,000.
- 307 66th LLC, 307 66th St., Unit B, $295,000.
- 302 55th LLC, 302 55th St., $655,000.
- R. Carlile Roberts, 6422 Gulf Drive, Unit 5, $380,000
Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes has a claim for 211 54th St. pending before Sniffin for $395,000, but was not heard with the others.
In the 11 lawsuits, alleged damages total $4.895 million — all claimed due to market value losses stemming from the city’s 2015 occupancy ordinance and a 2016 ordinance setting the May date for its enforcement.
According to city officials, the Bert Harris claims have been submitted to FMIT under the city’s insurance policies.
The next hearing for pending cases was 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 9, after press time for The Islander.
Anna Maria Elementary second-grade teacher Margaret Payne will transfer to another Manatee County school due to 2019-20 low enrollment.
Payne, who taught second-grade at AME for three years, was the teacher with the least seniority and, as a result, was chosen for the transfer.
Lacking a volunteer transfer or retirement, low seniority was the deciding factor.
In order to keep the full roster of teachers, AME needed an additional 15-18 primary-age students — kindergarten-third-grade — to reach a goal nearing 240 students.
In comparison, AME finished 2019 with an enrollment of 265.
AME is not the only district school to lose a teacher.
Two west Bradenton schools, Seabreeze and Stewart elementary schools lost a teacher as well, explained principal Jackie Featherston.
“Most of the student movement seems to be to the east and north in the county where housing is newer and less expensive,” Featherston said.
As the teacher with least seniority, Payne was at the top of the list for reassignment, but she was the only teacher at AME who was a student, having attended AME from kindergarten to fifth-grade. She was a student in current teacher Karen Paul’s third-grade class.
A sea turtle that nested on Anna Maria Island continues to be tracked on its migration.
Named Bortie Too for sponsor Bortell’s Lounge, the loggerhead was tagged and released by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy after nesting June 21 on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach, as part of the STC’s 12th annual Tour de Turtles.
Since then, the loggerhead has nested a second time on the beach in Holmes Beach and has traveled 674 miles to the seagrass beds between the Bahamas and Cuba to feed and gain strength.
AMITW’s sea turtle was in third place in the Tour de Turtles as of Sept. 5.
The tagged turtles are competing in a “marathon” that started Aug. 1 and ends Nov. 1 — a contest to see which turtle swims the farthest during a three-month survey.
Data received from the satellite tag helps marine biologists track and survey sea turtle migration behavior.
To track Bortie Too, visit: conserveturtles.org/sea-turtle-tracking-active-sea-turtles/
The years may have slowed down their bodies or their memories, but not their spirits.
Katie Pierola and Linda Molto began battling the Florida Department of Transportation 30 years ago when the agency announced plans to build a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span to replace the Cortez Bridge.
Pierola and Molto prevailed then, but the DOT has returned with plans to build a megabridge between Bradenton Beach and the historic fishing village of Cortez
Pierola and Molto say they’ve returned too.
“I would never not be involved,” Molto, 74, told The Islander in an Aug. 29 interview.
Pierola, 86, may have knee surgery in November and uses a walker to get around.
“I can’t jump in the car,” she said in an interview Aug. 29. “I can’t go to meetings like I used to. But I still get involved.”
Neither woman is surprised by the DOT’s efforts.
“We had a feeling it would come back,” Molto said. “We know the DOT. We just know them. Because we dealt with them before, we know who they are.”
Said Pierola, “They haven’t given up. That’s bad because of all the work we did to save that bridge.”
When the DOT announced its plans in 1989, Molto, who lives in Cortez, joined forces with Pierola, who was mayor of Bradenton Beach from 1989-92.
Public outcry led the DOT to abandon plans for the Cortez Bridge in the early1990s.
But the agency then announced plans to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span, same as it wanted for Cortez.
Pierola and more than 70 other activists answered by forming Save Anna Maria in 1993.
SAM won a lawsuit against the DOT in 1997 that halted plans for the bridge over concerns for seagrass beds and shallow waters.
That quieted the waters for more than a decade.
The DOT came back with a study completed in 2010 that determined the Anna Maria Island Bridge would have no significant impact on natural resources and wildlife, among other factors. The Federal Highway Administration approved the study in 2016.
SAM disbanded in October 2017.
The prevailing notion among local officials and bridge opponents was that the DOT would get a high span for the Anna Maria Island Bridge, and leave the Cortez structure alone.
It was not to be.
The DOT began a study in 2013 on options for replacing the Cortez Bridge and announced in April 2018 that it would build a 65-foot bridge.
Molto, who admits to a failing memory, says the anti-bridge brigade is now just getting started. Slowly.
They have had one meeting, she said, but don’t really know what’s next.
The passage of time has weakened the bonds.
“We knew everybody back then,” she said. “Now, we don’t. We had a history with the island, and they had a history with us. It’s not gone, but it’s not what it was.
“When the old-timers died, a lot of the young ones decided they did not want to live here any more or they didn’t want to fish and went elsewhere.”
Opponents of the high span have maintained for years it would permanently damage the character of Cortez, which was designated a U.S. historic district in 1995 — largely due to the grass-root efforts of Linda Molto and Mary Fulford Green.
“What’s it going to do to the fishing village?” Pierola asked.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who represents the residents countywide, is the only member of the seven-member board who opposes the high bridge. She is making another push to see it replaced by a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge.
Molto says she wishes the rest of the commission would oppose the high bridge.
“I don’t understand why the county would want to do something like that to Cortez,” Molto said.
Holmes Beach resident Nancy Deal served in a leadership post with SAM after joining the group in 2001. She strongly criticizes the DOT, which has its regional headquarters in Polk County.
“A bureaucrat is making a decision that affects people’s lives,” she told The Islander in an Aug. 28 telephone interview. “Someone sitting in Bartow.”
Whitmore says the DOT may be tone deaf to this issue.
“I think they don’t understand the long heritage of the Cortez fishing village and its role in the state of Florida,” she said in a telephone interview Aug. 30. “With all due respect, they should consider it. Once the fishing village’s character is gone, it will never come back.”
DOT District 1 secretary LK Nandam said in a statement emailed to The Islander on Aug. 22 that all due care is being taken to preserve the village.
“We go through an extensive project development process, which follows both federal and state requirements, to seek the best solution for the entire community,” Nandam wrote.
“The department will continue its engagement with the communities, particularly, Cortez village and Bradenton Beach, as we prepare the design for the bridge,” he wrote later in his statement.
County Commission Chair Stephen Jonsson, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, said in an Aug. 23 interview with The Islander that he feels comfortable that the DOT will preserve the character of the village.
“In my conversations with the DOT,” he said, “that’s something they’re very sensitive to.”
Nandam and megabridge opponents agree that repair cost is a major factor.
The high span “would not require the extensive maintenance that traditional, lower-profile bridges have,” Nandam told The Islander.
“The DOT does not like bascule bridges because of the maintenance costs,” Deal said. “In our case, they don’t consider what it does to the community.”
The Cortez Bridge had major rehab projects in 1996, 2010 and 2015. The Anna Maria Island Bridge has had six structural repairs since 1978.
Both drawbridges have outlived their 50-year life spans, the DOT says. New bridges have 75-year life spans, according to the DOT.
Design work on the Anna Maria Island Bridge is about 60 percent complete, but won’t be finished until fiscal 2022-23, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick told The Islander in August.
Construction is not funded.
A $6.4 million contract has been awarded for bridge design, but work has not started, Rick said.
The DOT is waiting on the project development and environment study release, expected by the end of this year, the DOT spokesman said.
The study will determine the environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical impacts of the new bridge.
But Pierola and Molto are not waiting. They hear, in the words of 17th century English poet and politician Andrew Marvell, “time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
“We’re not going to let them off easy,” Molto said.
Pierola makes no excuses for her feistiness.
“I’m just the normal person on politics,” she said. “I am what I am. That’s it.”
Two more weeks.
Construction work at Anna Maria City Pier was delayed two weeks, until mid-September, by precautionary measures in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s approach in the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re putting things back together.” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said Sept. 5, as workers began installing Ipe planking on the 800-foot-long walkway.
Murphy said Sept. 9 that he expects the walkway will be done by Sept. 13, although some openings will be left for utility access.
I+conSOUTHEAST, the city’s pier contractor, enacted a hurricane preparedness plan Aug. 30 to protect the $5.9 million project, that removed the plywood walkway, covered light posts and secured the Ipe planks and other materials at the site.
The city contracted with I+con in November 2018 to replace and reconstruct the pier after Hurricane Irma damaged it in September 2017.
The path of Dorian spared Southwest Florida, although the storm caused vast destruction in the Bahamas and slammed the Outer Banks in North Carolina before spinning northward along the Atlantic coast.
With the timeline pushed from Sept. 1 to mid-September, January 2020 is the target date for the reopening the pier to the public, although the T-end buildings will be shells.
Construction plans for the restaurant, bait shop and restrooms do not include interior improvements.
The city entered a $967,000 contract in July with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach to rebuild the wood-frame structures — not the interiors.
Mason Martin is expected to deliver materials by barge to the T-end Sept. 13-14, including trusses and beams, and begin work Sept. 16, Murphy said.
Building lease terms, negotiations
Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing for a new lease for the restaurant operations with Mario Schoenfelder, who holds the current lease through December 2020. His lease payments were suspended after the pier was deemed destroyed.
Schoenfelder extended an offer in July for lease payments of $12,000 a month, beginning in December 2020, and no security deposit, for the T-end, restaurant, bait shop and bathrooms, as well as parking and the boat landing. He stipulated payments would begin after the first six months of operation to offset the costs of getting the business started.
However, the city has new terms in its plans.
In August, the commission determined Schoenfelder’s new lease would exclude bathrooms and other common areas and require a contract for maintenance from a third-party management company.
Schoenfelder proposed to maintain the interiors, while the city would maintain the outside.
Still to be negotiated are the lease terms, insurance requirements and taxes, as well as parking, but a pro-rata allocation based on square footage would be a “logical approach,” Murphy said Sept. 5.
He said he and Schoenfelder have been discussing a 10-year lease with an option for 10 more years.
The city budgeted $500,000 to cover the buildout, but Schoenfelder’s offer was for $250,000 for the buildout and $250,000 to go toward restaurant fixtures and equipment.
In subsequent emails to Murphy, Schoenfelder objected to presenting his investment offer as $250,000, saying the equipment, valued at $250,000, would remain after his lease.
“It’s just hogwash,” Murphy told The Islander Sept. 7.
Loggerhead nesting is crawling to the finish line on Anna Maria Island.
And turtle watch is reporting another record-breaking season.
As of Sept. 6, 126 nests were waiting to hatch on the island out of 535 laid since May 1, and an estimated 21,553 hatchlings have made their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2018, AMITW broke the 2017 record with 534 nests.
In August, Mote Marine Laboratory reported a record-breaking 1,326 nests on Longboat Key, with 5,063 total in the Sarasota area, including beaches on Venice, Siesta, Casey and Lido keys.
Sea turtle nesting and hatching season officially ends Oct. 31 on the island.
Until then, AMITW volunteers walk the beach each morning looking for new nests and the tiny tell-tale tracks in the sand leading from nests to the water, indicating hatched nests.
When a nest hatches, turtle watch waits 72 hours to excavate and collect data.
AMITW digs into a sea turtle nest to report data on how many eggs hatched. If there are live hatchlings, they will be released to the Gulf and any dead hatchlings or unhatched eggs are tallied.
Often, the hatchlings at the bottom of the nest are the weakest in the clutch, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.
Turtle watch and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agree they should be given a chance to survive.
“Any time a hatchling can have at least 20 minutes of life in the ocean, we want to give them that,” Fox said Sept. 6. “If they don’t make it, that’s just part of the natural order of prey and predator.”
As season marches on, hatch rates slow, Fox added.
She said nests that hatch later in season often are the second or third nest laid by the female, and they can contain fewer than the usual 90-100 eggs.
Additionally, the longer eggs incubate in the sand, the more they are exposed to standing water from rain and high tides, which can drown embryos.
However, Fox said the hatch rate was strong at the beginning of season, and hatchlings are still emerging.
“We’re having another fantastic season with strong numbers,” Fox said.
“Hatch rates slow at the end of season, but we’ve still got almost two months left for the little ones to hatch and head out to sea.”
It’s OK to swim at Bayfront Park again.
The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County Sept. 5 lifted the no-swim advisory for the north end of the Anna Maria park after issuing the warning Aug. 30 based on two tests showing elevated levels of enterococci bacteria — a indicator for fecal matter— in the water.
Fecal matter from animal or human waste can spill into Tampa Bay waterways through sewer-line breaks, leaching septic systems, lift station failures, stormwater runoff and other events.
Contact with the bacteria poses an increased risk of rashes, urinary tract infections and other diseases when the enterococci levels exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 70.05 colony-forming unit standard.
An Aug. 26 test measured 135 colony-forming units in 100 milliliters of water. Two days later, 238 units were found in a sample.
DOH advisories are lifted after the EPA standard is met by subsequent testing.
The last advisory for Bayfront Park occurred in October 2018, according to Tom Larkin, Manatee County DOH environmental manager.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also monitors the waters to ensure discharges are stopped “as quickly as possible” and to determine corrective actions, according to spokeswoman Shannon Herbon.
Asked about the high levels of enterococci bacteria Aug. 26-28 at Bayfront Park, Herbon said in a Sept. 6 email to The Islander: “We have no record of any nearby wastewater discharges that would have impacted Tampa Bay near the north end of Bayfront Park during the time frame you requested.
“As I previously mentioned, enterococci are found in the fecal matter of all warm-blooded animals and birds, so it’s possible that the elevated levels are from other sources.”
For more information, go online to the DOH website at www.floridahealth.gov and select environmental health and beach water quality tabs or call 941-714-7593.
Anna Maria’s open city commission seat might not be available for long.
Mayor Dan Murphy told commissioners in a Sept. 4 emergency meeting that the city is taking applications to fill the vacancy on the commission created by the Aug. 30 resignation of Brian Seymour. The mayor added that he hopes to fill the vacancy by the end of September.
Seymour’s resignation letter to Murphy did not provide a reason for his departure. It was tendered a day after city commissioners voted against an amendment which would have allowed Seymour to sell package liquor from a storefront near the Anna Maria General Store, which he owns.
Applicants looking to fill the vacated seat must be Anna Maria residents for at least two years and be qualified to vote in the city. City employees, as well as anyone holding another municipal office, cannot apply.
Murphy said people can find an application on the city’s website at cityofannamaria.com or visit city hall at 10005 Gulf Drive.
Applications must be submitted to city hall by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.
The applications will be given to commissioners as they are received and applicants will have a chance to address the commission and make a case for their appointment at the city meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at city hall.
The four commissioners, Carol Carter, Doug Copeland, Amy Tripp and Dale Woodland, will vote on hidden ballots, which will be revealed after the top vote-getter is named.
Copeland did not run for re-election, and will leave the commission in November.
He said in a Sept. 5 interview with The Islander that he intends to participate in the appointment of the new commissioner.
Carter, who became commission chair following Seymour’s resignation, said, “I’m very hopeful we’ll get some good candidates.”