Tag Archives: 12-04-19

New Islander reporter tackles Cortez beat

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Mike Tokars is a most recent addition to The Islander’s news team.

Born in Atlanta, he grew up in Bradenton and is a 2006 graduate of Manatee High School.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of South Florida and a master’s in political journalism from Columbia University.

After graduating USF, he completed a publishing internship at SDC Journal in New York City and then went on to write feature stories and was a contributing editor at Tallahassee Magazine.

In 2013, he took on duties as arts editor for the Bradenton Times, an online news venue, where he worked until leaving for graduate school

Since finishing his studies at Columbia, he has worked as a reporter and content producer for The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Post and The National Memo, and as researcher and fact-checking for the television series “Crime Watch Daily With Chris Hansen,” which took him to Los Angeles.

He is a longtime surfer and skateboarder and the former lead singer and guitar player for the now-defunct reggae/rock act Half-Dub. He continues to perform music in the area.

His grandfather, Dr. John S. Ambrusko, was an associate medical examiner for the state and served as director of public health in Manatee County in the 1980s.

Anglers return to fishing after brief R&R pier closure

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The Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, saw a light morning of fishing Nov. 26 after a failed piling and a sinking walkway forced a short closure of the pier and restaurant. Islander Photos: Phil Colpas
Sammy Diamond, 7, vacationing with his family from Boston, enjoyed fishing Nov. 26 at the Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria.

Imagine Anna Maria without a fishing pier.

This was the case the week of Nov. 18. But only for a short time.

The Rod & Reel Pier — a 72-year-old pier, restaurant and bait shop at 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria — was closed Nov. 20 after a sinking piling led to the partial collapse of the walkway, according to Dave Cochran, the pier’s general manager.

To the south, the Anna Maria City Pier remained closed, under construction after the 1911-built pier’s demolition following Hurricane Irma.

Rod & Reel employees had noticed problems with the pier walkway on the south side of the structure and plans were in the works to address the issue this month.

But one section of the walkway had its own plan. It began to soften and sink below the other planks.

Holmes Beach contractor James G. Annis began work Nov. 22 and completed the pier repair that day. The walkway then passed inspection by the city of Anna Maria, allowing the pier to reopen Nov. 23.

By all accounts, visitors and locals alike were glad to be able to return to the Rod & Reel Pier.

Peter Diamond took his son Sammy, 7, fishing at the Rod & Reel Pier Nov. 26. The family had arrived from Boston the night of Nov. 25.

Visiting Anna Maria Island for the first time, they were happy to find the Rod & Reel — the northernmost pier on Anna Maria Island — reopened in time for their vacation.

“Anna Maria is pretty cool. My wife woke up this morning and said, ‘We’re right near the ocean!’” Diamond said, referring to the Gulf of Mexico.

They were slated to enjoy a half-day charter fishing trip Nov. 27 aboard the Fishy Business with Capt. Rick Gross.

“My son’s been talking about it for a month,” said Peter Diamond.

Mark Emanuele and his son Tyson, 6, who were visiting from Chicago, tested the waters of Tampa Bay Nov. 26 off the Rod & Reel.

“It’s our first year here, but my family’s been coming here for a long time,” said Emanuele, who was glad the pier reopened so they could fish.

The father and son had no luck with frozen shrimp but were confident a tactical decision would change their luck for the better.

“We’ll be back with live shrimp!” the dad said.

The Rod & Reel is owned by Mario Schoenfelder, who also is the current leaseholder for the Anna Maria City Pier, which is tentatively slated to open in February 2020.

Islander adds to news team

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The Islander recently hired Phil Colpas as an addition to its reporting team.

He will cover Anna Maria, the West Manatee Fire Rescue District and community events.

Colpas earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida in 1996 and has worked since in various capacities as reporter, writer and editor.

He spent 10 years with the Pelican Press, where he worked his way to associate editor and earned several Florida Press Association awards.

He also is a guitarist and vocalist for his band King Louie, which he founded in 1992.

Colpas teaches guitar part-time at the Music Compound in Sarasota.

He can be reached at The Islander, 941-778-7978, or phil@islander.org.

Contractor awaits parts for Bradenton Beach dock repairs

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Duncan Seawall employees climb Nov. 25 off a work barge used to make repairs to the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. The gangway rests on the dock. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
A structure to support the gangway to connect the Historic Bridge Street Pier to the floating dock stands partially constructed Nov. 25. The structure consists of four cross-braced pilings.

The floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach soon may be open to the public.

Public works director Tom Woodard said Nov. 26 that Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall was cross-bracing four timber pilings to form a support structure for the gangway, the walkway connecting the pier to the dock. The gangway was pulling away from the pier and removed.

The dock was closed Oct. 4 for repairs to the gangway.

The pilings form the foundation of a support structure, where the gangway will rest when it is reinstalled. It previously was connected to the pier.

Work the week of Nov. 25 involved cross-bracing the pilings with lumber and placement of a support beam between the pilings closest to the pier.

The final step will be to build a 6-foot extension of the pier deck to connect to the support beam and gangway.

Duncan also will install safety railings on the floating dock.

Duncan took Nov. 28-29 off to celebrate Thanksgiving, but Woodard said the contractor would complete the job “hopefully by Dec. 6.”

He added that the city would open the dock to the public when the work is finished.

City officials opened the dock Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to failures by the company originally contracted to build and install the dock. The dock, which cost $191,524, replaced one damaged by storms and removed in 2017.

The dock was closed within a month of opening because of the gangway.

The repair will cost $73,317, including the cost of 18 new rollers — the mechanisms connecting the dock platforms to the support pilings to allow for tidal movement — after the city procures the parts from Ronautica Marinas.

Giving Tree grows at AMI cafe

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Jackie Estes and her granddaughter, Jazzy Sparks, 8, are celebrating an island tradition with their “giving” Christmas tree. Islander Photo: Mike Dunn

Every holiday tradition has a story.

Just stop into Jackie Estes’ cozy cafe in Holmes Beach, help yourself to coffee and pull up a chair. Estes will tell you about an island tradition that started 24 years ago.

It’s the tale of a Christmas tree. But, this is no ordinary tree.

Estes calls it a Giving Tree.

It shines with the usual constellation of Yuletide accouterments: lights, ribbons, baubles. But this tree has something more — tags that call out for gifts for underprivileged children in the community.

Estes encourages her customers at Paradise Cafe, Bagels and Catering to pull a tag from the tree. Each tag references a child age 12 or younger and clothing size. The children’s names are withheld.

Customers then purchase clothing and toys to help make that child’s Christmas morning a little brighter. Estes then makes sure every child gets their gifts.

It’s a tradition that has been growing since Estes started it nearly a quarter-century ago. And, like many traditions, it started by accident.

Estes said her grandson mentioned one day that there was a girl at Anna Maria Elementary School who wore the same dress every day.

“Her shoes were taped,” Estes recalled.

Estes, who was a school volunteer, worked with the guidance counselor to solicit donations and provide new clothes and shoes, plus some needed household items for the child and her family.

As she learned of other kids and families with similar circumstances, Estes hit upon the idea of a Giving Tree.

“Each year, it has gotten more and more involved,” she said. “Our peak year, we probably had 75 kids. It’s just snowballed each year.”

As the island’s residential base has shifted over the years to rentals and a more well-to-do demographic, Estes said, there are fewer island kids. So the program has been extended to include youngsters from the mainland.

Estes won’t accept cash donations, but she gets assistance from friends, customers and others who provide contacts and help distribute gifts.

“Everyone’s been so good,” Estes said.

“Please come and get a tag,” she added. “We’ll make sure (your gift) goes where it needs to go.”

For more about the Giving Tree, call Estes at 941-779-1212 or visit the cafe at 3220 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach.

Remembering the Greatest Generation, Pearl Harbor

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Holmes Beach honors military veterans in the park adjacent to Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. On Dec. 7, 1941, more than 2,400 U.S. servicemembers were killed when Japanese naval aircraft forces without warning attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and other military facilities on the Island of Oahu. Dec. 7, 1941, became known as the “date which will live in infamy.” The attack brought the United States into World War II. The attack also brought many of the WWII veterans The Islander has interviewed into the war. They remembered being at home that Sunday, listening to the radio, sitting down to supper, waiting in line for movie tickets or walking in the park when they heard the news and felt compelled to enlist. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Fungus killed gulls on Passage Key

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Jeannie Bystrom, an animal activist, found a laughing gull and other birds in a colony dead Oct. 8 at Passage Key, north of Anna Maria Island and sounded the alarm. Islander File Photo: Jeannie Bystrom

Investigators now have the reason for why laughing gulls were found dead in October on Passage Key.

Researchers with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in Athens informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Save Our Seabirds in mid-November that aspergillosis killed the birds. The fungal infection is common in the warm, moist environs of Florida.

Dana Leworthy, avian hospital administrator with Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota, told The Islander aspergillosis can come from any rotten item and laughing gulls are known for consuming most anything.

“It grows in swampy areas or on dead fish,” Leworthy said of the fungus. “It can reproduce without hesitation.”

More than 30 dead gulls were retrieved by the FWC for testing Oct. 13.

And they were found to have microscopic lesions in their throats.

Lesions and growths are two symptoms of aspergillosis, which can cause lung problems, including respiratory issues.

Researchers call aspergillosis “the great pretender” because it mimics so many other diseases and can display a variety of symptoms, Leworthy said.

Aspergillosis was definitively confirmed by blood tests at the University of Georgia.

But where or how the gulls contracted the fungus remains a mystery.

Leworthy speculated they may have become infected eating a single rotten food source.

The fungus is common in birds, but Leworthy said it was “weird” only the laughing gulls were affected and found dead on Passage Key. No other bird species appeared to be sickened on Passage Key.

“Maybe they had some sort of stressor that made them more susceptible to illness,” Leworthy said. “It’s just very strange that they were the only ones.”

The Passage Key gulls were not the only group of gulls that died mysteriously in October.

Before the Passage Key incident, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were taken to Save Our Seabirds from Siesta Key. More than half died within 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Nine more birds died on the beaches. Their cause of death has not been established.

The incident ended and no birds have turned up dead since October.

Fire district gears up to handle resort lawsuit

West Manatee Fire Rescue has a lawsuit on its hands.

With attorney Jim Dye set to retire, WMFR commissioners voted 5-0 Nov. 19 to appoint attorney Maggie Mooney as the district’s legal counsel.

Mooney, who attended the meeting, began her tenure as WMFR’s attorney with the announcement that Shawn Kaleta, an island real estate developer, filed a lawsuit in circuit court Nov. 18 against the district regarding the Bali Hai Beach Resort. He also filed an administrative appeal to a district decision on the 43-room motel remodel.

Mooney said Kaleta is challenging fire marshal Rodney Kwiatkowski’s decision requiring the installation of a sprinkler system at the motel, 6900 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Kaleta owns and is remodeling the property.

Attorney Jason Miller of the Najmy Thomson P.L. law firm filed the suit on Kaleta’s behalf, making the case that Kwiatowski’s interpretation of the Florida Fire Code delays the remodel of the resort and could cost the builder more than $15,000 in damages.

Kaleta’s resort has 43 rooms and suites, and a sprinkler system must be installed throughout, according to Kwiatowski’s decision.

Mooney said Kaleta does not want to install the required sprinklers.

Only one- and two-family residential dwellings are exempt from the sprinkler requirement, according to the Life Safety Code, a provision of the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

The administrative appeal, scheduled at the Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue District’s administration building Nov. 25 by the Manatee Fire Code Appeals Board — a seven-member volunteer board — was delayed.

Mooney told WMFR commissioners that Kaleta’s lawsuit could go forward regardless of the hearing outcome.

While she could represent the district in the case, she recommended hiring a litigation attorney to handle the case.

It’s as though “she’s our primary care physician, referring us to a specialist,” Commission Chair David Bishop said.

Attorneys Martin Garcia and Josh Dell of the Matthews Eastmoore law office in Sarasota were named Nov. 20 as attorneys for WMFR.

The case is assigned to Judge Charles Sniffen.

Neither Kaleta nor Miller replied with comments by The Islander’s press time Dec. 2.


New WMFR attorney:

Maggie Mooney-Portale is a partner in Persson, Cohen & Mooney, P.A., attorneys and counselors at law in Sarasota. The firm specializes in city, county and local government law. She serves as the attorney for the town of Longboat Key and for a number of fire districts and community development districts.

Eyes on the road 12-04-2019

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Dec. 2:

  • Bay Drive South in Bradenton Beach: Manatee County’s AMI Pipeline Replacement project involves work on Bay Drive South continuing north to Bridge Street, shifting to Church Avenue and continuing on Church to Cortez Road. Construction is expected to conclude in December.
  • Longboat Pass Bridge: Repairs on the Longboat Pass Bridge on Gulf Drive between Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key continue. Overnight work requires decreasing lane sizes, flagging operations and occasional lane closures.

For the latest road watch information, go online to fl511.com and swflroads.com or dial 511.

To view traffic conditions, go online to smarttrafficinfo.org.