An explosion at Coquina Beach wasn’t planned for the Fourth of July.
The north dock at the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach remained closed July 1 after a June 28 boat fire left the structure damaged.
West Manatee Fire Rescue administrative battalion chief Jay Johnson said June 30 the fire began when the boat engine had a “mild explosion” after launching from the ramp.
He said none of the boaters sustained injuries.
WMFR responded to the scene and sprayed “wet water” foam onto the burning boat from the north and south docks.
“Fortunately, from two different sides they got everything put out really quickly,” Johnson said. “The crew was very efficient.”
The boat ramp reopened later that day and a recovery crew removed the sunken vessel from the water.
However, the ramp’s north dock remains closed because it sustained damage when the burning boat pushed into the structure. The dock, along with much of the ramp, was rebuilt in 2015.
Johnson said Manatee County would keep the dock closed until its “structural integrity could be determined.”
“It does look like the dock has some singeing and charcoaling,” Johnson said.
Johnson said WMFR could not determine a cause for the explosion.
Make way for sea turtles in Anna Maria Island.
Nesting may have slowed, but hatchlings are springing forth from the sand.
As of July 5, five nests had hatched on island beaches.
Female loggerhead sea turtles will still crawl ashore to nest — at least through July — so people must be careful, according to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director.
“We’ve had about two dozen adult disorientations this season,” Fox said.
Turtle watch reported nine such disorientations in 2019 and one in 2018.
Mature female sea turtles mostly nest at night and only leave the water to nest. So any distraction on land, including lighting visible to sea turtles on their path to nest and people who come too close, could lead to a failed nesting attempt or endanger the turtle.
Fox said June 30 that her day began with a call for help from turtle watch volunteers who came upon a loggerhead, which had nested and entered the back gate to a building on the beachfront at the Coquina Beach Club, 1906 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.
The turtle should have crawled directly back to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fox said the turtle looped the area and eventually made its way back through the gates and into the Gulf without assistance, as AMITW volunteers observed.
“They do have some lights on the roof over the stairwells that are not turtle-friendly,” Fox said of the resort. “So I suspect she couldn’t figure out how to get back to sea.”
She said she was working with the resort to resolve any problem areas.
AMITW and code compliance in Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach conduct lighting inspections May-October to ensure that lights visible from the water’s edge are sea turtle-friendly, and help correct those that are not.
This means the use of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs in outdoor fixtures, low to the ground and shielded, and indoor lights, including TVs, are either turned off or blocked from view on the beach by curtains or blinds.
Following the call June 30, Fox continued her morning nest survey and observed tracks heading north to south along the beach. The crawl ended at a large human-made hole in the sand where she found the trapped loggerhead, which had not nested.
A beachgoer, Kevin Breheny, and AMITW volunteer Skip Coyne created a ramp in the sand to free the turtle from the deep hole.
“We know people are out here having fun, but they need to take responsibility to fill in these holes and clean up after themselves at the end of the day,” Fox said.
She also shared concerns about people walking near nesting sea turtles and taking photos, as well as shooting brightly lit video with cellphones.
FWC regulations require people stay 100 feet from any sea turtle and, while nesting, remain quiet and not use lights, including cellphone lighting.
“If people are going to explore the beach at night, when the turtles are active, they must learn to stand back and let them be,” she said. “Especially as nests start hatching.”
Fox said AMITW is working on a public service video on digging holes and turtle-friendly beach practices to be posted to their website at islandturtlewatch.com and posted to its Facebook page.
“We are hoping this video really gets the word out about beach behavior during nesting season,” Fox said.
For more information
For more information about Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, people can visit the AMITW website or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or email@example.com.
Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or birds to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida’s recent suspension of on-premises alcohol consumption at bars may have sparked retaliatory legal action.
Joe Cuervo, owner of the Drift In, 120 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach, said July 2 that he and several other local bar owners, including the owners of the Anchor Inn in Holmes Beach and the Gator Lounge in Bradenton, were considering a class-action suit against the state so their businesses could resume operations.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued an emergency order June 26 prohibiting bars — establishments that derive more than 50% of gross revenue from selling alcoholic beverages — from providing alcohol for on-premises consumption to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The DBPR amended the order July 1 to allow bars licensed to sell food to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption in time for the July 4 weekend.
The Doctor’s Office, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach, is the only cocktail bar on Anna Maria Island with a food service license. However, owner Sean Murphy closed the Doctor’s Office for the holiday weekend, but was serving cocktails and food at Eat Here, 5315 Gulf Drive, while his original restaurant, Beach Bistro remained closed.
Five island bars — including the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge, Drift In and Sports Lounge in Bradenton Beach and the Anchor Inn and D.Coy Ducks in Holmes Beach — lack food licenses, according to the DBPR’s website, www.myfloridalicense.com.
Tommy Knockers, 111 Seventh St. N., Bradenton Beach, applied for a food service license, but the DBPR had not approved the application as of July 3.
Meanwhile, the DBPR is allowing restaurants with licenses to serve cocktails, beer and wine.
“It’s unfair,” Cuervo said. “If they’re going to shut something down, let’s be fair. Let the restaurants serve their food, but shut the alcohol down.”
Cuervo argued drinking in bars is safer than ordering alcoholic beverages at a restaurant. He said most alcoholic beverages at restaurants are made by a bartender and brought to a customer by a waiter, whereas bars limit exposure by eliminating the middleman.
He said he retained an attorney, who told him they had a good case because of the state’s “discriminatory” policy differences between bars and restaurants.
While the prohibition of on-premises consumption continues, bars such as the Drift In resorted to take-out service to keep afloat. The establishments, however, have struggled on take-out service alone.
“It’s not even covering the cost of the employee coming in to serve the people,” Cuervo said. “I’m still losing money. I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we’re not going to stand by and let this happen again.”
He said his business stands no chance when, across the street, restaurants such as the Bridge Tender Inn, 135 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach, can serve alcoholic beverages, food and host live music.
“It’s just devastating,” Cuervo said. “We barely made it through the first shutdown. I don’t know how long I can hold out.”
Murphy said July 2 his Doctor’s Office also was “just squeaking by” due to the pandemic.
While the bar typically serves food and alcoholic beverages, Murphy said he has concerns that on-premises consumption of food and alcoholic beverages isn’t safe indoors at bars or restaurants given the recent spike in new coronavirus cases.
“We are not going to be seating anybody indoors for some time, until I see some sort of change,” he said.
Murphy called the state’s distinction between on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages at bars and restaurants arbitrary.
“DeSantis is an idiot,” he said. “The distinction is rather arbitrary. I think we have restaurants right now that are operating like bars and are crowding too many people inside and out.”
Regarding Cuervo’s proposed class-action lawsuit, Murphy said he was “watching the situation, but has not taken action.”
A wastewater pipeline between Longboat Key and the mainland broke in Manatee County, spilling raw sewage and disrupting service to the town.
The spill was reported in a notice by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection June 30, the same day the pipeline was repaired.
It was not clear what caused the break or how much sewage spilled but a rough estimate was 26 million gallons.
“Given the location of the spill in wetlands adjacent to the bay and the reported volume, it is easy to conclude that sewage impacted the bay and likely continues to do so,” said Justin Bloom, founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group. “The mangroves and wetlands are about 100 years from the bay and are hydrologically connected. Where else is 26 million-28 million gallons going to go?”
The spill was from a pipeline that carries about 2 million gallons of sewage a day from Longboat Key to the Manatee County wastewater treatment plant, 5101 65th St. W., Bradenton.
A DEP record, a “notice of submission” based on information from the Suncoast Waterkeeper, was released June 30 and said the discharge started as early as June 17.
Suncoast Waterkeeper said the break was in the vicinity of Long Bar Pointe, a stretch of mangrove shoreline along Sarasota Bay. And the initial record also said the pipeline runs underground through the site for Carlos Beruff’s development.
A subsequent “notice of submission” issued by the DEP July 2 and based on a report from Longboat Key said the break in the 20-inch iron wastewater force main was discovered June 29.
The notice said the break occurred on undeveloped land — not in the portion of pipe under Sarasota Bay.
“Initially, the town and Manatee County Utilities staff believed there may have been meter and equipment issues causing anomalous flow readings before the discovery of the break,” according to the notice.
The town sent alerts June 29 to commercial and residential properties encouraging people to “minimize water/wastewater usage to control the amount of effluent” in the pipeline, the only one servicing the town, until it was repaired.
The alerts cautioned that repairs could take days to complete, creating concern for sanitation during the coronavirus pandemic and a surge of beachgoers over the July 4 weekend.
However, the most recent DEP notice said the pipeline was repaired and service restored at 5:30 p.m. June 30.
Independent environmental consultants were to determine the impact of the spill and identify actions for mitigation, according to the town, which reported to the DEP that “roughly 25.8 million gallons” of sewage was discharged.
A news release from Longboat Key said the amount of discharge is still being quantified.
Suncoast Waterkeeper also was evaluating the situation, as well as conducting water quality sampling in the bay at the shoreline near the spill site.
Town officials have discussed the replacement of the pipeline — estimated to cost about $20 million — for years and, during a town meeting June 1, staff outlined a design and permitting process for a “redundant” pipeline.
In 2016, the town received a report that the pipeline, more than 40 years old, “has a remaining useful life of 20-25 years,” according to the news release.
In a separate incident, the DEP said 350,000 gallons of wastewater and water spilled into Sarasota Bay June 2, after a break in a force main during construction activity near 34th Street West and 60th Avenue West in Bradenton.
Gov. Ron DeSantis axed $1 billion from Florida’s proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
But Bradenton Beach’s request for $2 million to bury utilities along Gulf Drive was spared the chopping block.
DeSantis signed a $92.2 billion budget June 29 that included the city’s request for the state’s new fiscal year, which began July 1.
State Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, introduced House Bill 3843 to the Legislature containing the appropriation for the city project.
State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, sponsored the companion bill and asked for $2 million.
Mayfield’s request stated, “The project will implement resiliency measures that will relocate all overhead power lines to underground. This project will connect to the Longboat Key Underground Electric Project and extend to the northern city limits as funds allow.”
Bradenton Beach will offset costs for surveys, design, bidding, permitting and construction with the state funding.
The proposed Gulf Drive project would be similar to the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency’s undergrounding project on Bridge Street, which remains in progress.
The CRA contracted Wilco Electrical to bury utility lines on Bridge Street, switch properties on the street to the underground system, then remove the existing above-ground utility lines and poles.
Wilco had constructed the underground utility system and started July 3 to switch Bridge Street businesses onto the new system. The above-ground utility poles remain.
The proposed Gulf Drive project funded by the state remains in the planning phase.
Robinson, who attended a June 30 meeting to congratulate Bradenton Beach officials on the funding, said the project would protect utility lines during hurricanes.
“If you look at the projects that the governor didn’t veto, I think generally you can say they have a state interest in mind,” Robinson said. “They’re really a need as opposed to a want.”
“I’m very pleased that the governor didn’t veto that,” he continued.
Mayor John Chappie and the commissioners thanked Robinson for his efforts to secure funding for the city.
“I just want to thank you so much for everything you’re doing,” Chappie said. “You’re doing an excellent job and it is so greatly appreciated. …You’ve listened to us and helped us in many different cases.”
“Thank you very much,” Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said. “And, you have my vote!”
Robinson, in his reelection bid for the Florida House District 71 seat, will face Democrat Andre “Andy” Mele in November.
Face masks may be mandatory for a while in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach.
But Bradenton Beach has not enacted such a policy.
Bradenton Beach city commissioners met June 30 to address extending a declaration of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when a face mask request came from resident Lynn Selander, who wrote a letter that was read by city clerk Terri Sanclemente during public comment.
“As a very concerned citizen of Bradenton Beach, of a certain age with underlying medical conditions, I am asking that you take decisive action … by requiring face masks to be worn in public,” Selander wrote. “Recommending is not enough.”
Manatee County commissioners, in June, voted to endorse a recommendation from the Florida Surgeon General to wear face coverings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends masks.
Selander, wrote, “This is a very small thing we can all do that can mean the difference between life and death for ourselves and the vulnerable among us as our infection numbers continue to spike. This is not a political issue. It is a human issue. Please, step up and mandate the wearing of face coverings in public.”
Bradenton Beach commissioners did not address Selander’s request after hearing her letter, but extended the city’s state of emergency for another week.
Selander wasn’t alone in her hopes the city would adopt a face mask policy.
“I wish Bradenton Beach would follow suit,” Tampa-resident Kate Calton commented on a Facebook post about the cities of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach mandating masks. “So many people indoors without masks!”
“I wonder why Bradenton Beach is not requiring masks like the other island cities,” Bradenton resident Linda Larson commented. “It is needed!”
However, Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ralph Cole told The Islander July 3 that the city shouldn’t go “above and beyond” safety recommendations from the state or the county.
“I think people should make their own decision on (wearing face masks),” Cole said. “I believe one of the fundamental freedoms in your life is to decide stuff like that. That’s just the way I was raised.”
Mayor John Chappie and Commissioners Jake Spooner, Marilyn Maro and Jan Vosburgh did not respond to phone calls July 3 from The Islander asking for their opinions on mandatory face masks.
In Anna Maria
Anna Maria city commissioners met July 2 to discuss extending the city’s emergency order requiring people to wear masks in some situations.
The order, which must be renewed every seven days, requires people to wear face coverings inside businesses except when eating or drinking or working in an office that maintains 6 feet of social distancing between employees.
The policy also established a $50 fine for violations.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told commissioners code enforcement officers had yet to issue a fine for a violation and that business owners had largely gained compliance from patrons.
Murphy added that he received mostly positive feedback from the public regarding the order, except for one man who claimed the order infringed on his rights.
Initially, instead of leaving the decision to extend the order to Murphy, commissioners had agreed to meet again to discuss potentially requiring people to wear masks in some outdoor situations.
However, Murphy recommended against extending the order outdoors.
“I don’t think we can impinge on someone’s personal rights that much as a government,” he said. “And I know we can’t enforce it.”
Commissioner Mark Short expressed concern with people gathering in queues and disregarding social distancing while waiting to enter a business. He suggested adding a recommendation to the order that people wear masks when in such situations.
Commissioners agreed with Short’s suggestion.
They also agreed to create educational signage to provide to local businesses, as well as request vacation rental owners and management to educate their guests about the city’s order upon checking in.
The commission reached a consensus to extend the order for seven days with the suggested changes.
Commissioners also agreed not to meet again to extend the order, instead authorizing Murphy to extend the order after individually gathering the commissioners’ opinions via email.
In Holmes Beach
Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said the city’s emergency ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings in some situations had worked “great.”
“The community is so supportive of this directive,” Titsworth said July 2.
“I believe it has been successful,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander July 2. “We’ve seen a lot more people wearing masks lately.”
The ordinance established a $250 fine for a first violation and a $500 fine for subsequent violations, but the city had issued no fines as of July 2.
“We haven’t had any violations,” Tokajer said. “And we haven’t had a lot of (verbal warnings) because it’s on the business owners to make contact with the people themselves, and they only call us if the people are noncompliant.”
“It has not been a struggle (to enforce the policy),” the chief continued.
Sean Murphy, the owner of a bar and two restaurants in Holmes Beach, expressed satisfaction with the city’s face mask policy.
“We had a relatively stable environment, where the residents of the island were being careful and wearing masks,” said Sean Murphy. “But recently we’ve had nonresidents flooding our businesses and streets, and they aren’t wearing masks and they’re bringing COVID with them.”
“The city has done a good job in requiring masks,” he continued. “Let’s hope the citizens have the good sense to follow up.”
Just when it appeared safer, the numbers took a turn for the worse.
Manatee County reported a record 288 positive cases on one day July 3.
As of July 1, 3,156 people in the county tested positive for the novel coronavirus of 41,788 people tested. As of June 26, there were 2,002 positive cases of 34,662 people tested.
The county ranked 11th of 67 counties for positive cases, a status held since May.
Since March in Manatee County, 272 people have been hospitalized and 130 people have died due to the virus while 1,103 were reported recovered, according to DOH-Manatee reporting June 26.
Additionally, 19 nonresidents visiting the county tested positive as of July 1, compared with seven infected nonresidents at the end of May.
Nonresidents are people who test positive in Florida but are residents of another state.
As of July 1, nine people in Bradenton Beach, seven people in Holmes Beach and one person in Anna Maria tested positive. The numbers are up from the end of May, when one person each in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach had tested positive.
To slow the spread of the virus, elected officials in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach, as well as Longboat Key, approved orders mandating face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, with some exceptions.
Bradenton Beach has not discussed a mandate for masks.
Manatee County discussed but did not mandate masks, despite the uptick in positive cases, which Jake Saur, county director of public safety, said is not due to increased testing, as testing has remained at about the same rate since June 1. Positive cases have increased in a younger population and more tests seems unconnected, according to Saur.
At a county commission meeting in April, Josh Barnett, county health care services manager, shared data that showed the county must test 10% of its population — about 40,000 people — for an accurate sample to gauge spread.
The county met its testing goal July 1, but was still struggling to contain the spread of the virus after the state entered phase 2 of its coronavirus recovery plan June 5.
The plan included the reopening of bars and gyms and lessened restrictions at restaurants and retail stores. Twenty-one days later, June 26, the state ordered bars to cease selling alcohol for on-site consumption due to the increase in positive cases.
The state also ramped up — but did not mandate — the push for face coverings and social distancing.
A Florida Surgeon General’s advisory states, “All individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when exposed to people outside of their household, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
The virus mainly is spread person to person, by respiratory droplets and multiple studies show wearing masks in public corresponds is one of the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a nurse and former mayor of Holmes Beach, said July 1 that she supported the mask mandate that failed to pass her board, as well as the mandates passed in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach.
“People are here on the island on vacation and I am very concerned they are not taking this seriously and wearing masks,” she said. “No one is immune to this. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you are a tourist or a resident. It’s like a wildfire.”
Where can islanders go for testing?
The closest coronavirus testing site to Anna Maria Island is at Home Depot, 2350 Cortez Road, Bradenton.
The testing site in the parking lot is open seven days a week — 9 a.m.-5 p.m. or until the limit of 100 tests per day is reached.
Specimens are sent to Quest Diagnostics and results become available within 5–7 days.
Testing is free and available to anyone over the age of 18, regardless of symptoms.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, breathing trouble, sore throat, muscle pain and loss of taste or smell.
Most people develop only mild symptoms.
But some people, usually those with other medical complications, can develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia.
— ChrisAnn Allen
COVID-19 won’t keep the Center of Anna Maria Island down for long.
The nonprofit announced July 1 via its website, www.centerami.org, that it would reopen Monday, July 13, 18 days after the June 25 closure, the result of a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 and others who displayed symptoms of the virus.
The staff member tested positive in a round of testing, while others had received negative results as of July 3.
During the closure, the nonprofit hired a professional crew to disinfect the facility and is tackling repairs, maintenance and staff training that usually take place in August.
Executive director Chris Culhane wrote in a July 3 email to The Islander that the nonprofit community center also was evaluating safety measures considering the situation, but the measures they had in place prior to closing appear to have worked.
“There is no evidence that our positive staff member contracted the virus at the center and, in fact, the opposite is probably most likely,” Culhane wrote. “It appears that our quick and decisive actions, as well as strict policies already in place, have mitigated any other issues.”
Before its most recent closure, the center implemented safety measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as maintaining 6 feet of distance between people participating in fitness classes.
However, Anna Maria Commissioner Jonathan Crane expressed concern about the center’s safety measures at a July 2 city meeting. He said he’d seen children in the nonprofit’s summer camp disregard social distancing guidelines and instructors without face masks.
“We give them money from time to time, so we ought to be able to tell them to straighten up,” Crane said.
Anna Maria deputy clerk Debbie Haynes told the commission she also worked as a fitness instructor at the center and couldn’t use a mask during the classes because it restricted her breathing and other instructors were having the same problem.
Commissioner Mark Short, also a center board member, said he would relay Crane’s concerns to the nonprofit.
But Culhane, on hearing of Crane’s concerns, referenced “all of the research and studies coming out showing that the spread of the coronavirus in children from ages 5-12 years old is highly unlikely.”
“I would also point out that zero children at the center have tested positive and zero staff members that work with the children every day have tested positive,” he wrote.
“I would hope that this is clear proof that the center is clearly ‘doing enough’ to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
Center funding, budget
Despite the pandemic, Culhane said the nonprofit projected the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended June 30, will finish in the black.
He credited a $84,217 loan the center received through the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program for keeping the nonprofit afloat. The loan subsidized the center’s payroll and employee health care, utilities and overhead costs.
If the nonprofit is required to repay the PPP loan, it will mature in two years and carries a 1% interest rate per annum.
However, Culhane said the budget for the nonprofit’s 2020-21 fiscal year remained incomplete as of July 3, even though the fiscal year began July 1.
“Due to many of the unknowns, the budget will remain a work in progress and we will more or less produce two or three budgets with a best- and worst-case scenario,” he wrote.