Tag Archives: 11-18-2020

1 dead in TS Eta deluge on AMI

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A property at 211 Bay Drive N., Bradenton Beach, is where longtime islander Mark Mixon died Nov. 11 by electrocution while trying to protect the property from the rising waters of Tropical Storm Eta. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Tropical Storm Eta led to the Nov. 11 death of a longtime islander.

Mark Mixon became a victim of the storm’s tidal surge.

Mixon, 65, was sandbagging a rental home at 211 Bay Drive N., Bradenton Beach, with a friend, William Klapheke, when he was electrocuted after stepping into around 4 inches of standing water in the laundry room, according to a Bradenton Beach Police Department report.

Klapheke told police that he stepped away to grab a sandbag from a truck when he heard Mixon yell for help.

Klapheke said he saw Mixon on his back in the water and thought his friend suffered a heart attack. The friend tried to grab Mixon, but was thrown back by an electric shock, according to the report.

Klapheke then grabbed a rake and tried to drag Mixon from the room but, in doing so, he received another shock.

He called 911 at about 5:30 p.m.

Manatee County emergency medical services, West Manatee Fire Rescue and BBPD officers were dispatched to the home.

WMFR Chief Ben Rigney said Nov. 12 that emergency responders couldn’t safely recover Mixon’s body until Florida Power & Light completely shut down service to the area power grid.

“We were told the power was secured. So our crew started going in, but they felt little tingles coming up. So they realized the power was still on and quickly retreated,” Rigney said. “We then waited for FPL to shut the grid down so we could get in there.”

“That is the first time I’ve ever heard of that happening,” he said of the electric grid shutdown for the emergency.

Mixon’s body was recovered and he was pronounced dead around 6 p.m.

“Unfortunately, I think that, even if we got in there 20 minutes earlier, it wouldn’t have made a difference,” Rigney said.

Kim Eresten, Mark’s sister, was working at another of Mixon’s rentals nearby and rushed to the scene, according to Trish Mixon.

“After we were able to remove the body, we checked for vitals and realized he wasn’t alive. He’d been deceased for a while,” BBPD Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz said.

Diaz told The Islander Nov. 12 that a dryer, plugged into an outlet that was low on the wall, delivered the fatal shock.

The dryer outlet was “very low,” he said.

Diaz said the laundry room was the only room at the property that was flooding from Tropical Storm Eta, which brought rain, wind and storm surge to Anna Maria Island Nov. 11-12.

The storm intensified on the island about 5 p.m. Nov. 11 and continued overnight.

“This is a tragic accident, without a doubt,” Diaz said.

Mixon was a longtime islander who lived in Bradenton Beach until recently, when he moved to Bradenton with his partner, Cynthia Dagher. They owned and maintained several island rental properties.

He also is survived by daughter Melissa Chambers and other family members. A full obituary can be found on page 14.

Mixon also had worked with his parents for many years at the Holmes Beach-based Jim Mixon Insurance, which his late father, Jim, founded with his mother, Trish.

The insurance agency, in the Island Shopping Center since its inception, was sold in 2018 after Jim’s death in 2016 and renamed Waller-Mixon Insurance.

Storm turned killer, inundates AMI roads, sinks boats, washes out beaches

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Left Photo: A large bouy is removed from the beach Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Jim Price. Right Photo: A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen
A large buoy is removed from the beach Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Jim Price
A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen
A sailboat is lodged under the Cortez Bridge Nov. 12. Islander Photo: Chrisann Allen

Tropical Storm Eta taught islanders to expect the unexpected.

Eta made a second Florida landfall early Nov. 12 near Cedar Key, about 100 miles north of Tampa Bay, after slamming the Florida Keys Nov. 8. The Manatee County coastline saw about 8 inches of rain Nov. 11-12, as well as recorded winds up to 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm coincided with high tide near midnight Nov. 11-12, which caused a 3-foot surge, leading to flooding and standing water in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

The county issued a voluntary evacuation notice Nov. 11 for people on Anna Maria Island and in other low-lying areas of the county.

Evacuation shelters were opened Nov. 11 at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto and Manatee High School in Bradenton. Thirty county residents sought shelter at Manatee High, but none arrived at Mills Elementary.

“Most of the impacts we know were in south county and on the island,” Nicholas Azzara, county information outreach manager, said Nov. 12 during a teleconferenced press update on Eta. “But it looks like damages were pretty limited.”

The county reported flooded roadways, downed power lines and “cosmetic” damage to aluminum sheds and similar structures.

The county Nov. 12 also reported significant erosion on the beach due to the storm, but officials stressed that renourishment projects, which have been underway since July from north Holmes Beach to Longboat Pass, are intended to build sand on the shoreline to protect communities in storm events.

“The primary purpose of our beaches is for coastal protection, to dissipate the energy of the storms,” Charlie Hunsicker, the Manatee County parks and natural resources director, said Nov. 12. “So, in this circumstance, we are quite pleased that the erosion losses we saw were a measured benefit of having the beach in place for storms just like this one.”

County beaches were closed Nov. 10-12 due to riptides.

Concerns about the new Anna Maria City Pier, 100 N. Bay Blvd., were assuaged Nov. 12, as no damage was reported to the structure that was built to replace the historic pier, which was demolished after it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“I have to say I was worried, like a father worries about his daughter on a first date,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said. “But I am really pleased it fared so well. No issues.”

Murphy said floodwater on city roads was draining but was being hastened with pumps. He said most of the roads in the city would be cleared by Nov. 13.

An errant buoy that washed up on the Anna Maria shoreline was removed with heavy equipment by the beach renourishment crew.

The county also reported Nov. 12 that the area near the intersection of North Shore Drive and Coconut Avenue had been closed due to a live power line.

The storm sent a handful of vessels from the Bradenton Beach anchorage crashing into the nearby Historic Bridge Street Pier and its floating dock, which city staff spent Nov. 12 attempting to remove. A vessel also crashed into the underside of the Cortez Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation Nov. 12 was evaluating coastal bridges, including the Cortez Bridge, spokesman Brian Rick told The Islander.

“We are still in the process of bridge inspections but do not have any reports of damage so far,” he said.

Eta also resulted in the Nov. 11 death of Mark Mixon, who was electrocuted in standing water at his rental property at 211 Bay Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz told The Islander that Mixon entered his laundry room, where there were around 3 inches of standing water due to the storm and was electrocuted by his dryer, which was plugged into a low outlet.

Diaz said Mixon’s friend tried to help but quickly realized the water was electrified and called 911.

Emergency responders shut off the local power grid after around 30 minutes, at which point Mixon was recovered and declared deceased.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Nov. 12 limited damages were reported in the city. He said problems mostly were with people driving through floodwaters and getting stuck.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, a lifelong island resident, said the storm was no worse than she previously had seen, but the conjunction of high tide and rain increased flooding.

The “city center,” near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives, is prone to severe flooding, but is slated for drainage improvements in 2021-22, she said.

Titsworth also said the storm provided the city with an opportunity to identify areas where drainage could be improved, including adding tidal valves near Sixth Avenue, Clark Drive, 79th Street and Palm Drive.

“Although the water has receded by now, we need to see what we can do to make it even quicker,” she said. “I’m looking at maintenance funds to see what we can do to get improvements to those areas.”

Eta spared Anna Maria Elementary damage and flooding, leaving “just tree debris to pick up,” principal Jackie Featherston wrote Nov. 12 in an email to The Islander.

“After assessing, cleaning and evaluating all district facilities, it has been determined that the school district is ready for brick and mortar, hybrid and elearning instruction to resume, as usual, Nov. 13,” Michael Barber, district director of communications, family and community engagement, wrote in a Connect-Ed email message sent Nov. 12 to parents and employees.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said Nov. 12 that she lost power for a few hours in the evening and her yard “looked like a bomb hit it.” She also said her neighbor lost a section of his dock in the storm.

She said the water rose over most of the docks on her street and neighbors reported standing water in ground-level garages and homes.

“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes,” Vosburgh said. “But this was pretty hairy.”

During the Nov. 12 county storm update, Steve Litschauer, Manatee County emergency management chief, cautioned people about storms late in the year.

“The big key is don’t underestimate the storm. Be prepared year-round,” Litschauer said. “Here on the west coast, we’ve seen storms in January, February and March. Dec. 1, don’t just lock up your raincoat and walk away.”

        Editor’s note: Amy V.T. Moriarty and Ryan Paice contributed to this report.

Tropical storm leaves BB pier, floating dock damaged

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Bradenton Beach Police Department Lt. John Cosby, public works director Tom Woodard and city attorney Ricinda Perry assess damage Nov. 12 after Tropical Storm Eta sent several vessels crashing from the nearby anchorage into the Historic Bridge Street Pier and its floating dock. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Tropical Storm Eta ripped open an expensive wound in Bradenton Beach.

The cost for boat removal and pier repairs exceeds $175,000.

City commissioners voted 4-0 Nov. 13 to pay N.E. Taylor Boatworks up to $75,000 to remove and destroy five derelict vessels the storm sent crashing from the Bradenton Beach anchorage into the Historic Bridge Street Pier and its floating dock.

Commissioner Jake Spooner was absent with excuse.

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby said the storm jammed one vessel against the pier and left three sunken sailboats and a dinghy trapped beneath the floating dock.

He identified the owners of the vessels and was working with them to sign their property over to the city so the boats could be removed and destroyed.

Cosby said the contractor was confident they could remove the vessels without issue. He added that they could begin removing the vessels immediately, but did not detail when the work was expected to finish.

He said the city could reopen the floating dock after the vessels were removed because there were enough floats remaining to keep the structure stable.

“You should know that, if you approve this, there is the potential that we don’t get any of the money back,” Cosby said. “But it’s about $30,000 less than I thought it was going to be, so it appears to be a good price.”

He added that he was speaking with the city’s insurance agent to determine whether its policy for the pier would cover some expenses.

Mayor John Chappie said he was coordinating with county staff in pursuit of potential West Coast Inland Navigational District funding to reimburse the cost of removing and destroying the vessels.

“Maybe we can get some of it back,” Chappie said.

The sunken vessels also dislodged eight floats from the dock’s underside, damaged several rollers and a section of the pier’s composite decking.

Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall estimated repairs to the pier and floating dock would cost around $98,000, according to Cosby.

However, Cosby said the city should wait to consider the repairs until it could determine how much money it could get to cover the damages.

Tropical Storm Eta also:

  • Sank a catamaran in the anchorage south of the pier;
  • Crashed a sailboat into the south side of the Cortez Bridge where it became lodged near the Bradenton Beach Marina;
  • Pushed a sailboat against the public dinghy dock near the Bridge Tender Inn;
  • Destroyed a section of the same city dock;

The city’s police boat and boat lift at the pier survived the storm unscathed.

Renourishment provides beach buffer for Eta, future storms

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A bulldozer smooths sand Nov. 4 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach as part of the ongoing $17 million sand replenishment project. The fresh sand pumped from a nearshore borrow pit for renourishment helped prevent flooding and further beach erosion when Tropical Storm Eta gave a glancing blow to AMI Nov. 11 from about 100 miles west of Tampa Bay. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

People have been wondering: Did Tropical Storm Eta suck all the sand off recently renourished beaches?

The storm’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico Nov. 11, about 100 miles from Anna Maria Island, coincided with high tide, creating about a 3-foot tidal surge.

Social media lighted up Nov. 12 with questions about how Eta might have affected the sand replenishment — a $17 million project which started July 8 near 77th Street in Holmes Beach and will soon terminate at Longboat Pass.

The project, which involves pumping sand from borrow areas via a dredge about a quarter-mile offshore to replenish eroded beaches, paused for storms Laura, Sally, Delta, Zeta and Eta.

At a post-storm news conference Nov. 12, Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County parks and natural resources director, said sand was lost to Eta, but that’s part of the plan.

Hunsicker said the project is named the “Anna Maria Island Shore Protection Project” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a funding source for the project because the purpose of the beach is to buffer the shoreline.

“With energy coming ashore with storms of this magnitude, as the sandy beach washes away, it’s done its job,” Hunsicker said. “Without the beach, we’d be looking at Gulf-facing roads, utilities, water, sewer, electric, and, ultimately, homes that would absorb the brunt of a storm and be washed away.”

He said, with Tropical Storm Eta, rough waves pulled sand from the shoreline to a sandbar about 50-60 yards offshore. However, over the summer, he expects gentle waves to move the sand back to shore. He added that island beaches lose about 10 feet of width every year, and such losses were planned for when the project was engineered.

A survey to determine how much sand was lost during the storm and further work in areas already renourished could be performed with a new contractor in the future if congressional funding becomes available, Hunsicker said.

“So if there is a hurricane relief bill coming to Congress, the Army Corps will make efforts to apply that funding to restore the lost sand that we’ve just suffered in the last three days,” he said.

The renourishment project was planned to be completed Nov. 20 but could be delayed due to the storm.

People can visit mymanatee.org and search for “beach renourishment updates” for more information about the project.

County allocates $150K for food, but questions arise

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Manatee County staff and elected officials stand together Nov. 10 after commissioners approved a proclamation to distribute $25,000 to each city in the county to support the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program. The contributions would total $150,000. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

There will be thanksgiving, but the details are still being decided.

Manatee County commissioners unanimously adopted a proclamation Nov. 10 designating $150,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds — with $25,000 tagged for each city to support an anti-hunger effort — for the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program.

Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act in March, which distributed emergency funds to every state to divvy up between local governments, small businesses, community organizations and citizens.

Manatee County received $70,000,000 through the federal act and created several assistance programs to distribute the funds.

The volunteer-based Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program has given away more than 600 tons of food and $3.5 million in food gift cards since it launched in 1987 to help feed hungry citizens.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has directly impacted many area residents resulting in lost income and food uncertainty,” states a proclamation associated with the CARES Act appropriation. “The Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program will be a vital lifeline for many families during the upcoming holiday season.”

The county Facebook page Nov. 10 included a photo of Mayors’ Feed the Hungry representatives and local officials and a post that read, “County commissioners have designated $150,000 in CARES Act funds to the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program. Each city in Manatee County will receive $25,000 to purchase food to feed thousands of Manatee County residents.”

However, it is unclear how the money is meant to be spent or allocated.

Scott Biehler, executive director of the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program, wrote a Nov. 13 email to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy with the subject line, “$25,000 Check to Feed the Hungry.”

“We will use the $25,000 check to purchase $10 food gift cards from Publix and make them available through our food pantries to people in need,” Biehler’s email to Murphy stated.

Biehler also provided a mailing address for the check but offered to have a representative from the program collect the funds.

Murphy responded the same day via email.

He wrote that county administrator Cheri Coryea had sent the city a letter Nov. 5 stating that the money was “to assist persons in their city for the program” and that the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program “will assist with the program distribution.”

“We have several food banks on the island that can help us distribute food and/or gift cards,” Murphy wrote. “We look forward to working with you in the distribution of these funds.”

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth also expressed some confusion regarding how the money would be distributed.

“It’s been extremely confusing,” Titsworth told The Islander Nov. 13. “When I got that email today, I was like, ‘What?!’ I thought they were going to coordinate with us on the application process.”

“I’m not under the impression that we just write a check for $25,000 and give it to them,” Titsworth added. “They have to work with us to show us how it’s going to the people in our community.”

Titsworth said she was working with county staff and the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program to resolve the confusion.

“It’s one of those things that happened so quick that I don’t think the county has touched base with everybody on how this is going to work yet,” she said. “Hopefully, by early next week, we’ll know more.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie did not respond to email Nov. 12 or calls Nov. 12-13.

Longest-standing Holmes Beach commissioner bids farewell

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Holmes Beach Commissioner Pat Morton defends the city commission, which came under attack in 2018 by other candidates at The Islander’s Popcorn and Politics event. Islander File Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Holmes Beach city clerk Stacey Johnston swears in incumbent Commissioner Pat Morton at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Nov. 6, 2018, when Morton was elected to his eighth two-year term. Morton lost his bid for reelection in 2020. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

He said he couldn’t stop thinking about the ad in the paper.

Pat Morton, Holmes Beach commissioner 2003-20, said Nov. 12 that he moved to the island from Ohio in 1993, but it wasn’t until 2003 that he decided to become a commissioner.

“I picked up The Islander one day and saw the city needed a commissioner,” he said. “I’ve never been a political person, but when I weighed the pros and cons with my wife, within a week, the cons had disappeared and I knew I should do it.”

Since then, Morton was the longest consecutively elected city official in the city before losing reelection in 2020.

“So I can hang my hat on that,” he said. “It was a pretty good run and showed that people liked what I was doing.”

Morton said the city’s concerns have changed since he started as a commissioner in 2003.

“When I was first elected, there were no big issues and it was full of families,” he said. “Now we are spending a lot of time trying to get the rentals under control.”

State laws enacted in 2011 prohibit municipalities from further legislating vacation rentals beyond any rules that existed prior to the legislation.

Currently, island cities can adopt new ordinances to regulate vacation rentals. However, according to state law, local government cannot regulate the frequency and duration of stay.

Morton said that until about seven or eight years ago, many commissioners sided with the developers, leading to relaxed requirements for vacation rentals.

He said the current commission has worked to enact tighter regulations that he hopes will remain.

“As long as the commission doesn’t stifle the mayor and we can keep getting things done, it will be very positive,” Morton said.

Among his accomplishments during 17 years as a commissioner, Morton cited his work as a liaison to Waste Pro, the city’s waste management company.

He said when he began the job in 2003, people were reporting complaints that were not being serviced. When Morton took over, he would visit people at their homes, listen to the problem and contact the company to ensure it was resolved.

Morton gave out his phone number and told people to call him with problems. He received about 75 calls the first week.

“If anyone had a problem, I got it solved, one way or the other,” he said. “I took this very seriously because these are our citizens.”

Morton said he enjoyed the position because he likes working with people. And he plans to continue helping people in the city if they approach him with problems, even though he is no longer an elected official.

“It’s been fun because I enjoy helping people,” he said. “And I don’t plan to stop. I’m not turning my back on the city. Nope. Not one bit.”