A derelict vessel soon may be removed from the bay in Anna Maria.
Mayor Dan Murphy told city commissioners Oct. 8 that the abandoned sailboat — which was grounded south of the new Anna Maria City Pier in December 2019 — could be removed within a week.
Murphy said he has tried to work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the West Coast Inland Navigation District to remove the boat but ran into a wall of bureaucracy.
“I have spent hours on the phone asking, “and I’m telling you, you’d think I was asking for the secrets of the Coca-Cola recipe.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he continued.
In the meantime, the boat became a “dangerous” hot spot for people who boarded, entered the cabin, climbed the mast or jumped off the side.
Finally, Murphy said he asked city lobbyist Chip Case to request a helping hand from Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton.
Robinson made some calls, and the city got a call from the FWC.
The mayor was notified via email that Sea Tow would visit the site Oct. 9 to access the vessel for removal.
“Take it with a grain of salt,” Murphy said. “I’ve been trying my darnedest to get that boat removed. Maybe now it will happen.”
Just like a flounder caught in the muck, the organizers of the annual commercial fishing festival in Cortez struggled with whether to host the event in 2021.
But in the end, faced with deadlines to organize the February event and financial consequences, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board members agreed to cancel, leaving people to look past the Cortez waterfront in 2021 for their fix of seafood, music and art.
The FISH board unanimously voted Oct. 5 to cancel the 39th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival in February 2021 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual festival attracts thousands of people to Cortez over two days to celebrate the heritage of the fishing village and its locally produced seafood.
The event features an array of local food and craft vendors, a lineup of musicians performing onstage, as well as family-friendly activities like a marine life touch-tank, educational “dock talks” and rock climbing.
Such outdoor attractions traditionally draw sizable crowds, but FISH never had to enforce social distancing guidelines — a challenge when dealing with revelers, long lines and crowded picnic tables.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings, the event would put people at risk.
The festival has served as the primary fundraiser for FISH — a nonprofit dedicated to preserving commercial fishing and maritime cultures, as well as the coastal environment.
The proceeds drove the purchase of the 95-acre preserve and contribute to its improvements.
In February, the two-day event attracted 12,000-13,000 people and raised $244,718 in gross revenue, netting FISH $60,000 after accounting for expenses.
This year, members found themselves in a Catch-22: If the festival draws crowds, people’s lives could be put at risk. If the festival fails to draw crowds and generate enough business to turn a profit, FISH takes the risk of losing money.
“I mean, it is a festival. We depend on crowds and people being together, so to try and socially distance with 5,000-10,000 is very difficult,” said John Stevely, FISH member and a founder of the festival. “Just to be responsible and safe and not risk a financial disaster, the decision was unanimous, but it did come with a great deal of pain and agony.”
“There were too many unknowns and, fiscally, we just didn’t think it was appropriate to spend money if we didn’t have more certainty it would come back,” said Karen Bell, a FISH member and owner of the A.P. Bell Fish Co.
“People do genuinely still come out during rain, but this is a bit more precarious than that,” she added.
The FISH board decided in October to cancel the February festival because, in order to proceed with the event, the organizers couldn’t wait any longer.
“We had to make (the decision) now because of all the permitting and organizational work that needs to be done,” Stevely said Oct. 7. “And if we held the festival and people weren’t able to come, it’d end up being a tremendous financial hardship for us.”
The nonprofit has enough money in its contingency fund to sustain a year without a festival but, they wouldn’t last if they moved forward and held an unsuccessful event, according to Stevely.
Board members vowed to explore other fundraising ideas.
“Hopefully, we can plan some other types of activities,” Stevely said. “We’re in a little bit of shock right now, but we’d like to try to do something.”
Bell said the nonprofit would consider hosting small events if the coronavirus situation improves.
“Something simpler. Scaled down. Where people can social distance a little bit more,” Bell said.
The ninth annual Cortez Stone Crab & Music Festival, held traditionally in November in the parking lot of Swordfish Grill, also was canceled due to concerns with the coronavirus, according to Stevely.
“It’s a difficult call, but some people think we’re being responsible and respect that,” Stevely said. “I suspect other people wish that we would soldier on, but we didn’t feel as responsible board members that we could hold the festival.”
“These events are very special, so it’s a big blow to Cortez and a lot of the community,” he added. “But we’ll just have to do it bigger and better and hopefully a lot of people will come out in 2022.”
The FISH board members will meet next at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4515 124th St. W., Cortez.
The ninth annual Cortez Stone Crab & Music Festival, traditionally held in November following the Oct. 15 startup of stone crab season will not take place. The event, hosted in the shared waterfront parking lot for the Cortez Bait and Seafood fish house, Taylor Boatworks, Swordfish Grill and Cortez Kitchen by the businesses — all owned by John Banyas — also has been canceled due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Mother Nature dictated some downtime.
Beach renourishment on Anna Maria Island paused Oct. 7 for the passage of Hurricane Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, about 800 miles west of Tampa Bay.
“The Dredge Savannah ceased operations last night and is heading into Egmont Key for shelter due to Hurricane Delta sea conditions,” David Ruderman, communications representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a funding source for the $17 million project, along with the state and Manatee County, wrote The Islander Oct. 8.
Ruderman wrote that the contractor must wait for residual swells to calm before resuming operations, likely starting Oct. 14-15.
Work will pick up just south of Second Street South and continue to about Fourth Street South in Bradenton Beach, then the crew will reconfigure the pipeline to work the section southward toward Coquina Beach, “and all the interested parties are quite satisfied with the quality of the work accomplished so far,” he wrote.
As of Oct. 8, the $17 million renourishment project has piped more than 800,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach from offshore borrow areas via the Savannah, sometimes employing an additional booster dredge.
Construction began July 8 near 77th Street in Holmes Beach. The project is expected to run through October or early November and will end at Longboat Pass.
People can visit mymanatee.org and search for “beach renourishment updates” for more information about the project.
— ChrisAnn Allen
As Election Day 2020 nears, Holmes Beach finds itself policing political issues.
Bob Bolus, owner of the defunct Bank of America property in the 600 block of Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach, posted three political flags on the walls of the building that were determined to be in violation of city code that requires flags to be attached to poles.
On Sept. 30, Bolus reported political signs posted on the lawn at his property were vandalized and the city was still investigating as of Oct. 10.
Earlier in the week, the city issued Bolus a notice of violation for the flags, which gave him until Oct. 12 to remove the flags from the building. They were gone by the afternoon on Oct. 10, although Holmes Beach code compliance supervisor JT Thomas said earlier that day that Bolus had not responded to his calls or reacted to notices posted at the property.
Also, on Oct. 9, nine signs placed by Commissioner Pat Morton for his reelection in the 3000 block of East Bay Drive and several other locations were reported stolen overnight. The Holmes Beach Police Department was investigating the crime as of press time for The Islander.
If someone steals or otherwise removes a sign from someone else’s yard, the offense is treated as a theft.
Additionally, city and state regulations specify that signs must not be placed in the right of way, a possible safety hazard.
It was reported to the city Oct. 9 that commission candidate Jayne Christenson placed multiple signs close to the road at the intersection of East Bay Drive and Manatee Avenue.
“We only remove them if they are in the road or median,” Thomas said. “If they are in the right of way, I’ve been able to call candidates and they’ve come out and moved them.”
Thomas said Oct. 10 that code compliance asked Christenson to move her signs and later that day two of her signs remained but were set back from the right of way. By sunset the same day, the signs had been removed.
“We make sure to give everyone an opportunity for freedom of expression and when we speak with them, candidates always comply,” Thomas said. “They just need to stay within the city codes.”
Bored with the virtual world?
By the end of November, savoring a burger and beer on the new pier could be a reality.
Representatives of GSM Partners LLC provided an update Oct. 8 and presented foodservice equipment plans for the grill and bait shop on the T-end of the new Anna Maria City Pier during a meeting at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
City commissioners unanimously voted Sept. 24 to approve a lease for the grill and bait shop with a trio of Pine Avenue business owners — former Anna Maria Commissioner Brian Seymour, owner of the Pine Avenue General Store; Victor Mattay, owner of Dips Ice Cream; and Nicholas Graham of Pine Avenue Bait and Tackle, all in the Historic Green Village.
Graham, Mattay and Seymour attended the Oct. 8 meeting.
According to the lease agreement, GSM could get to work on the buildout following commission approval and open by the end of November.
“While you don’t physically see much going on right yet, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to shorten our buildout time,” Seymour said. “It’s a small space and we feel like we’ve maximized it perfectly.”
He said his group met with the contractor that morning and planned to submit permitting requests the week of Oct. 12.
After providing an update, Seymour asked for commission approval to use the “primary building” — an empty, larger space on the other side of the T-end — as a staging area for equipment during construction. He offered to pay supplemental rent in consideration.
Murphy said he supported Seymour’s request, without additional rent.
City attorney Becky Vose said a vote was not required.
“I think it’s for the good of the city, the good of the residents and the good of the pier that we’re not doing back-and-forth and back-and-forth with the equipment on a daily basis,” Murphy said.
The commissioners agreed.
Seymour also said the group planned to hire a general manager the week of Oct. 12, who would help work out staffing.
“Our goal is to get construction done to code, passed and inspected and get this thing open as soon as possible,” Seymour said.
He said GSM plans to open the grill and bait shop by Nov. 20.
“Full speed ahead, everybody,” Commission Chair Carol Carter said. “That’s great.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is asking county commissioners to support slowing boat speeds at the Anna Maria Island Bridge.
The commission was expected to take up the issue during a meeting Oct. 13 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. The meeting was to begin at 9 a.m.
MCSO Sgt. Russell Schnering, who heads the marine unit, wrote to county officials in July, raising concerns about boat speeds under the bascule bridge that links Anna Maria and Perico islands on Manatee Avenue.
Schnering suggested creating a “slow speed” zone and said “the area has no speed restrictions currently and a new marina has been built with a channel intersecting the Intracoastal Waterway on the northeast side of the bridge, across from the channel leading to the Kingfish Boat Ramp, northwest of the bridge.”
The marine unit reported observing several near-collisions involving vessels traveling under the bridge at higher speeds.
“It should be noted that most other bridges in the area are designated ‘slow speed’ due to the congested boat traffic,” the sergeant said.
Florida Statute 327.60 prohibits local governments from regulating any vessel upon the ICW.
However, Alan Lai Hipp, environmental program manager for the county parks and natural resources department, said commissioners could authorize staff to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to request a state review of boating safety conditions at the location.
“Any potential establishment of boating safety regulations within the ICW is solely by decision and action of the FWC,” he said.
— Lisa Neff
An Anna Maria man who initially blamed windy weather for losing his balance when he exited his vehicle pleaded no contest in a 2018 DUI case.
Via a teleconference call in September, Rafael Sackett, 48, pleaded no contest and was judged guilty on the charge of alcohol-related reckless driving.
He was sentenced to six months of probation and ordered to complete a DUI course.
The arrest took place Dec. 21, 2018.
Sackett was arrested by a Manatee County sheriff’s deputy in the 300 block of Palm Avenue in Anna Maria. Another deputy had observed Sackett speeding.
The deputy reported Sackett stumbled out of the truck he was driving, refused to perform a field-sobriety test and blamed his lack of balance on high winds.
He also told police he was diabetic. EMS tested Sackett and reported his blood pressure and blood sugar were normal.
A case involving the alleged theft of $20,000 from a Daiquiri Deck customer reached an early end.
The state attorney’s office filed a notice of case action Oct. 8 declining to press a second-degree felony charge against Tabatha Dondanville, a manager at the Bradenton Beach restaurant, for allegedly stealing the cash from a customer’s purse that was mistakenly left behind.
The prosecutor’s office sent a memo to the Bradenton Beach Police Department Oct. 9 explaining that the customer, Jasmine Bryant of Arcadia, had declined to press charges.
“The victim said she did not want to move forward with the criminal charges because she had promised the manager that she would not pursue criminal charges if she got her money back. She believes that the defendant’s arrest was enough punishment,” the memo stated.
“Without the testimony and cooperation of the victim, the state has insufficient evidence to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and this charge is declined,” the memo continued.
Bryant’s decision is another twist in a case that already had a share of flip-flopping.
It began the night of Sept. 7, when Bryant forgot her purse after dining at the restaurant with her partner. She later told police the purse contained a large amount of money because she has distrust in banks.
Bryant called the restaurant but was told the employees couldn’t find the handbag.
Then she visited the restaurant the morning of Sept. 8 and spoke to manager Samantha Mitchell, who told her no purse was found but, on hearing Bryant calling the BBPD, then produced the missing purse from a back room.
When Mitchell returned the bag, it did not contain $20,000 — only a note that read, “Found in bathroom.”
BBPD Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz and Lt. John Cosby arrived and viewed security camera footage from the restaurant’s interior that showed Dondanville taking the purse into the manager’s office on the night it went missing.
However, neither Dondanville nor Mitchell admitted to knowing the whereabouts of the missing cash.
Later in the day, Bryant called the BBPD to report that Mitchell returned the money under the condition that she wouldn’t further involve the police.
Still, Bryant signed an affidavit and agreed to press charges.
Diaz returned to the restaurant and spoke with Mitchell, who eventually said Dondanville took the money.
Diaz arrested Dondanville and took her to the police station, where she allegedly admitted to the theft.
Dondanville’s attorney, Ronald Filipkowski, had filed a not guilty plea on her behalf and also represented her in an arraignment hearing Oct. 2.
The state attorney’s office memo states that Dondanville was terminated from her job as a manager at the Daiquiri Deck.