Sea turtle nesting season and the hatches that follow are winding down.
So Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird monitoring is planning for 2021.
As of Sept. 8, 52 of 349 nests laid this season remained to hatch in a “nursery” on the beach near White Avenue and Peppertree Lane, near the Anna Maria/Holmes Beach boundary.
Nests laid in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach since season began with the first nest in late April have been relocated to Anna Maria due to the ongoing $17 million beach renourishment project. The sand replenishment started near 77th Street in Holmes Beach July 8 and will continue south to Longboat Pass through the end of October, paralleling sea turtle season.
In August, a private security light atop a tall pole in Holmes Beach near the nursery caused hatchlings from 65 nests to disorient and travel away from the Gulf of Mexico.
Artificial light visible at a sea turtle’s eye level can draw them away from the Gulf of Mexico, increasing the chances of death by predation, dehydration or exhaustion.
The city contacted the property owner and worked with Florida Power and Light to fix the problem, and the light was turned off.
However, Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said Sept. 8, since turtle watch started keeping records in 1992 that is the highest number of nests to disorient. In 2019, 59 nests had disorientations and there were 50 in 2018.
Fox must submit reports for each nest — hours of paperwork — to be shared with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Manatee County.
She also said the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a major funding source for the renourishment project, was concerned about the lighting issue.
The Corps and county must ensure wildlife is not disrupted by the renourishment or by changes to the environment caused by the project.
“It’s hours of time for us to document this, on top of the hours of time FWC must spend reviewing it,” Fox said.
And, Fox added, that doesn’t account for the loss to the sea turtle population.
Fox plans to address lighting before a new season starts May 1, 2021, when nests will remain wherever the female turtles deposit them, as opposed to this year’s relocations.
She said the sand on the beach will be 3 feet higher in some areas, which means lights previously not visible to turtles might now be seen.
Properties along the beachfront — and in some cases beyond it — must be compliant with FWC standards for turtle-friendly lighting.
So Fox will be conducting a preseason lighting inspection, then another May 1, 2021, contracted by the Corps and the county, to determine what has changed since the renourishment project and what lights must be brought into compliance. Code compliance in each city also will conduct lighting inspections.
“Our inspections better match up,” Fox said. “Any lights that are not compliant must be corrected when season starts. Everybody must be accountable.”
To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.
For more information on nesting season, contact AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-778-5638.
Holmes Beach wants people to mask up against the novel coronavirus through the end of 2020.
At a Sept. 10 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved an emergency ordinance extending the city’s face covering mandate until the first regular meeting in 2021, which is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.
The commission can vote at any time to repeal the order before that date.
Holmes Beach approved an emergency order June 25 mandating face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, with exceptions.
Mayor Judy Titsworth signed an executive order Sept. 8 extending the emergency ordinance until Sept. 15.
She said Sept. 10 that she could keep extending the order weekly until the commission is comfortable with the decline in COVID-19 cases. Another option would be for commissioners to approve an emergency ordinance to expire on a date certain.
Commission Chair Jim Kihm, who placed the matter on the agenda, said he favored the emergency ordinance.
“If we do it, we can set it up longer-term,” Kihm said. “If coronavirus, by some miracle, goes away, we could always cancel it.”
City attorney Patricia Petruff said she wrote the ordinance with the intent that it be extended 90 days to be close to the end of the year.
Kihm asked for a motion for an emergency ordinance to extend the face-covering requirement through Dec. 31.
Commissioner Terry Schaefer suggested the ordinance expire at the first meeting in January 2021, so there is no lapse between the end of the year and the first meeting.
Petruff agreed with Schaefer’s recommendation.
Kihm asked Police Chief Bill Tokajer to weigh in on any enforcement issues and Tokajer said there was one incident where a person was trespassed from a business for refusing to wear a mask, but no other problems.
“Everybody is doing the right thing and telling people when they go into businesses to mask up,” he said.
The motion to approve the emergency ordinance extending the face-covering mandate, expiring Jan. 12, 2021, passed unanimously.
“I think this is a practical approach that takes the onus off the mayor,” Schaefer said. “If the coast is clear, and lets all hope that is maybe a remote possibility, we can rescind this prior to it’s expiration, if we’re so fortunate.”
The West Manatee Fire Rescue district’s budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year is in the books.
WMFR commissioners voted 4-1 Sept. 8 to adopt a $9,410,362 budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Commissioner Al Robinson voted “no,” citing his concerns with plans for funding a new administration building.
Behind $6,427,671.81 for wages and benefits, the next largest expense is $1,451,000 to build the administrative headquarters at 701 63rd St. W., Bradenton.
Hall Architects designed the 3,879-square-foot building to withstand hurricane-force wind, contain nine offices and a conference room and serve as an operations center during emergencies.
The lot was purchased in September 2019 for $295,000.
The construction will be funded with $1,675,000 from reserves gained by selling the previous administration building.
Robinson said the district was misusing taxpayer money by choosing not to purchase a cheaper, suitable property, which he identified.
“We’re building a $2 million building for nine offices, when we’re in a building right now that’s adequate,” Robinson said. “We have lost our minds and we’re spending the taxpayers’ money.”
Commissioner Larry Jennis argued that the property Robinson suggested buying isn’t suitable for the headquarters because it lacks parking and a staging area and would need to be modified to withstand hurricane-force winds.
“It just didn’t fit our needs,” Jennis said.
Most of the district’s budgeted expenses will be covered by $7,519,795 collected from tax assessments in 2020-21.
To help cover remaining costs, WMFR voted in May to increase next year’s assessment by 2.6%.
The district’s current residential rates include a $190.57 base rate, as well as an additional $0.1124 for every square foot over 1,000 square feet. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot home was assessed $302.97 this year.
With the 2.6% increase, the base rate for residential buildings will be $195.53, with an additional $0.1153 for every square foot over 1,000. Residential property owners with a 2,000-square-foot home will pay $310.85.
The district assesses commercial buildings at a different rate, including a $473.62 base rate and an additional $0.2051 for every square foot over 1,000. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot commercial space would have paid $678.72 in the current fiscal year.
Under the new rates, the commercial base rate for assessments increases to $485.94, with an additional $0.2104 for every square foot over 1,000. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot commercial space now will pay $696.37 in assessment costs.
There was no public comment.
Revenues 2019-20 Budget 2020-21 Proposed Budget
Tax Receipts $7,332,294 $7,529,795
Interest $65,000 $45,000
Total Reimbursement $223,067 $204,567
Total Revenue $8,739,828.60 $9,410,362
Expenses 2019-20 Budget 2020-21 Proposed Budget
Wages and Benefits $6,253,910.84 $6,427,671.81
Maintenance $144,000 $180,000
Insurance $64,000 $70,000
Training $87,000 $89,000
Office Expenses $12,250 $12,250
Supplies $64,500 $64,500
Utilities $119,000 $124,000
Fire Prevention $10,800 $16,000
Special Services $526,623.82 $552,593.85
Miscellaneous $16,000 $17,197.62
Capital Outlay $1,215,594.60 $1,631,000
Debt Service $226,148.72 $226,148.72
Total Expenses $8,739,828.60 $9,410,362
Opponents of the planned megabridge on Cortez Road extended a 35-foot olive branch to the Florida Department of Transportation.
The DOT has not grasped the offer from the concerned citizens, who have legal challenges to the DOT plans pending in state and federal courts. The citizens’ proposal, in the form of a settlement offer, would swap the DOT’s 65-foot-clearance fixed span for a 35-foot-clearance drawbridge.
Joe McClash, at the forefront of the challenge to the megabridge between Cortez and Bradenton Beach, said the offer was presented July 21 to a DOT attorney as part of a filing in the U.S. District Court in Tampa.
The challengers also have a filing pending before the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal prompted by the DOT’s October 2019 release of a project development and environment study.
The study recommended a 65-foot fixed bridge to replace the 17-foot-clearance drawbridge built six decades ago. A DOT announcement Oct. 10 said, “Design is now underway and right of way is funded in fiscal years 2021, 2024 and 2025.”
The DOT, which also sought to build — and withdrew — a high bridge in the 1980s, maintains the current bridge is obsolete.
By the end of 2019, McClash, a former Manatee County commissioner, along with Cortezians Joe Kane, Linda Molto and former county commissioner Jane von Hahmann had petitioned the DOT for an administrative hearing, listing 25 objections to the DOT recommendation.
Their objections include arguments the high span will negatively impact business, harm the environment and destroy the character of the Cortez fishing village, a federal historic district since 1995.
The DOT rejected the petition for a hearing, saying it lacks jurisdiction as the state agency is acting for the federal government on the bridge project.
The rejection nudged the challengers to file with the state appeals court in February and also in federal court in March.
“The four challengers refused to accept the decision they believe is inconsistent with Florida statutes and federal rules that govern the process,” read a statement released to The Islander Sept. 10 by Kane, McClash, Molto and von Hahmann.
They cited a state law providing citizens an opportunity to challenge government actions.
The challengers now are offering a settlement that states in part: “The 35-foot bascule (draw) bridge would provide the relief plaintiffs seek” and thus they “would no longer object to the replacement bridge or bring subsequent challenge to any of the permits required for construction.”
The offer, presented to the DOT in late July, included photographs of the DOT bridge in Tierra Verde in Pinellas County to show “the validity of the complaint, the impacts to Cortez” of a high bridge.
A new and taller drawbridge, meanwhile, “would maintain the historical ambiance of the village of Cortez,” fit the location, provide access when closed to 78% of boat traffic and access to all boats with the bascule open, according to the challengers.
“Another advantage of the 35-foot bridge — it is not as steep, allowing better use by pedestrians and bikers,” the challengers stated.
McClash told The Islander Sept. 10 that he’s “waiting for administrative record, for which FDOT indicated would be the time to discuss the case and possible settlement.”
Construction of the DOT-proposed new bridge would cost an estimated $70 million and wouldn’t be completed for at least 10 years.
The DOT did not respond to questions from The Islander as of press time Sept. 14.
To read more about the Cortez Bridge, visit islander.org and search Cortez Bridge. To review the DOT project, go online to www.cortezbridge.com.
Meanwhile, DOT seeks Cortez Bridge design committee members
The Florida Department of Transportation is recruiting for a committee to help design a proposed megabridge between Cortez and Bradenton Beach.
The proposed 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge, recommended last October by the DOT, would replace the drawbridge on Cortez Road/State Road 684.
Spokesman Brian Rick told The Islander the DOT seeks to establish a 10-12 member committee. The design process is expected to cost $6.2 million.
“We have reached out to several people in the community,” Rick said, including Cortez businesspeople Karen Bell and Joe Rogers, Bradenton Beach businessman Mike Bazzy, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and Bradenton Beach resident Connie Morrow.
“We are still at an early stage in this process,” Rick said of the committee formation.
He said the DOT would recruit members in an email blast, calling out to local businesspeople and with announcements at transportation meetings.
The Island Transportation Planning Organization was set to meet in Bradenton Beach Sept. 14, as The Islander went to press.
The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 21 at the convention center in Palmetto.
The Cortez drawbridge underwent major repairs in 1996, 2010 and 2015 and has outlived its lifespan, according to the DOT.
But the proposed replacement faces opposition in Cortez village and legal challenges brought by community and environmental advocates.
The DOT also is studying options for the Longboat Pass Bridge connecting Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach and is pursuing a planned replacement — already approved and still in the design phase — for the Anna Maria Island Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span structure.
— Lisa Neff
Florida’s standalone bars no longer were prohibited Sept. 14 from selling alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption.
But the state’s lifting of the prohibition didn’t change anything on Anna Maria Island.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued an emergency order Sept. 10 allowing bars to resume selling alcohol for on-site consumption by Sept. 14 if they comply with phase 2 of the state recovery plan.
The DBPR had issued a restriction for on-premises consumption at bars June 26 to slow the spread of the coronavirus but amended it July 1 to allow bars licensed to sell food to sell alcoholic beverages.
So all but one of six island bars acquired food service licenses and retained beverage service.
The bar that didn’t reopen, The Doctor’s Office, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach, already had a food service license and was permitted to resume selling alcohol for on-premises consumption.
However, owner Sean Murphy has said the bar will offer takeout only through another Murphy-owned property, Eat Here, a restaurant at 5315 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, until he sees significant improvement halting the spread of coronavirus.
Murphy’s third Holmes Beach property, Beach Bistro, at 66th Street on the beach, is undergoing renovations that include a new AC and air filtration system and he has suggested it may open in mid-October.
Under the new state directive, bars must operate at 50% seating capacity, provide bar service only to seated patrons and apply appropriate social distancing for outdoor seating and service.
On the web
People can read the DBPR’s emergency order on its website at www.myfloridalicense.com.
Holmes Beach’s Publix may not be doing its part to uphold the city face mask mandate.
According to two Publix Super Market employees who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from their employer, corporate policy prohibits staff from removing or reporting individuals who refuse to wear face masks.
“We can’t kick anyone out,” one employee said. “We can offer a mask, but that’s it.”
The other employee said workers were told not to report people who refuse to wear masks unless they cause a disturbance for other shoppers.
The Islander publisher, Bonner Joy, pointed out two unmasked shoppers at the Beachway Publix, 7310 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
“The manager had just provided a mask to another customer when we spoke and I was told the policy is to advise customers of the rules and offer a mask, but no enforcement of the county mask mandate would be carried out at the store — according to corporate directions,” Joy said. “I found it ironic for a clerk at the entrance to clean carts while people pass through the doors into the store with no mask, putting everyone in the store at risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.”
“I wrote to customer service the same day but, as of Sept. 11, I have no reply,” Joy continued. “I won’t be going back to Publix.”
To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the county and Holmes Beach mandates require people wear masks within businesses — with few exceptions — and places the onus on the businesses.
Establishments that fail to enforce the mandate in Holmes Beach can receive a verbal warning for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fines for any subsequent offenses.
To date, the city has not issued any businesses citations for offenses or collected any fines.
Publix media relations contact Maria Brous did not confirm nor deny the allegations about corporate directives in a Sept. 8 email to The Islander.
“If a customer does not have a mask with them, we will gladly offer them one to wear while shopping in our stores,” Brous wrote. “Our management teams are handling situations as they arise, so I cannot give you a more in-depth perspective.”
“We recognize that there will be exceptions to our mask policy due to age and medical restrictions, and we will handle these on a case-by-case basis,” Brous added in a Sept. 11 email.
Brous did not respond to The Islander’s question asking if an individual not exempt from the mandate but refusing to wear a mask would be removed from a store or reported to local authorities.
Holmes Beach manager Chris Smith declined to comment Sept. 11.
Also, Smith and Brous both denied permission to The Islander to take photographs on Publix property.
“Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, to be fair and consistent with all our media partners, we have not allowed videography/photography in our stores,” Brous wrote.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said the HBPD wouldn’t act on the allegations until it received a complaint from an individual about mask enforcement.
“If Publix has their own rules that violate the city’s rules, we would handle that on a case-by-case basis should we find that’s the truth,” Tokajer said. “But that’s not something we’d go and discuss with Publix unless this is a problem brought to our attention.”
“My officers can’t be at every business at once,” the chief said. “There are a lot of things going on in the city that require police attention.”
He suggested the police department has had a good relationship with the store’s management team, which he said may handle things differently from the corporate directive.
“We’ve never had a problem that we have discussed with our Publix local management team that they have not addressed immediately,” Tokajer said. “Their corporate rules and local rules are between Publix and the local management team.”
Things are looking up for Holmes Beach.
In spite of projected shortfalls due to the economic effects of the novel coronavirus, the city increased taxes for property owners and found the revenue for 2020-21.
Commissioners unanimously voted Sept. 10 during a teleconferenced budget meeting to ratify the 2020-21 budget, including an ordinance levying ad valorem taxes and adopting the first reading of the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
In July, Mayor Judy Titsworth proposed a maximum millage rate of 2.53 mills for the 2020-21 fiscal year, compared with 2.25 in 2019-20.
The increased rate served as a placeholder while the city waited on more precise revenue estimates, according to city treasurer Lori Hill.
Once the city determined its income and cut some expenses, including a winning judgment on several Bert Harris lawsuits for which an additional $250,000 would have been allocated, the mayor and treasurer determined the millage rate would be 2.25 for 2020-21.
It amounts to a tax increase and a 4.61% increase over the rollback rate of 2.1641 mills.
The rollback rate is the millage required to collect the same ad valorem revenue as the previous year.
State law defines a tax increase as anything over the rollback rate.
Millage is $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At 2.25 mills, the ad valorem tax on a property valued at $500,000 would be $1,125. At 2.1641 mills, the property tax would be $1,082.05.
Other sources of city revenue include the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the West Coast Inland Navigation District and the half-cent discretionary tax.
In late July, Hill said the mayor trimmed about $140,000 since the budget talks began July 7.
At the Sept. 10 meeting, Hill explained additional changes to commissioners since their previous budget meeting, including:
- Gas tax revenue increased by $5,000 over projected;
- Sales tax revenue projection increased by $50,000;
- State revenue sharing was up $45,000;
- Communication service tax estimates decreased by $15,000;
- Electric franchise fees were $35,000 less than anticipated;
- Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funding for stormwater improvements increased by $100,000;
- Fifth-cent tax was $13,000, which was higher than projected;
- Half-cent discretionary tax was $75,000, also higher than projected.
Hill said about expenditures, “In the eight years I have been here, this is the lowest year-over-year expenses we have had.”
She said, by tightening the budget, the city was able to set the millage rate and maintain 24.69% in unrestricted reserves, totaling $2,741,513 as recommended by auditors.
Following Hill’s presentation, city commissioners commended her work on the budget and there were no questions or public comments.
“I think they worked really hard to try to not raise the millage rate,” Commissioner Kim Rash said of Titsworth and Hill. “They knew that was the right thing to do for our city.”
Commissioner Terry Schaefer agreed.
“I have no questions. And in my mind that is attributable to the great one-on-one sessions we’ve all had with the mayor and treasurer to answer our questions,” he said. “I feel very good about the outcome. I think it is a very fair budget.”
The final public hearing and vote on the budget ordinances will be at the 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, commission meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.
Holmes Beach budget
Proposed 2020-21 budget: $16,636,011.
2019-20 adopted budget: $17,879,270.
Proposed 2020-21 millage rate: 2.25 mills.
Maximum 2020-21 millage rate: 2.53 mills.
Rollback rate: 2.1641 mills.
2019 assessed property value: $2,087,301,969.
2020 assessed property value: $2,183,183,526.
Final public hearing for the budget: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.