Tag Archives: Community

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.

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

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.

City, center host forum on sea level rise

The city of Anna Maria and the Center of Anna Maria Island will welcome an author and expert on sea level rise during a program Dec. 10.

John Englander, an expert on the sea level rise and its impact on coastal communities, will address the public at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Englander, according to a news release, will discuss the science of sea level rise and potential solutions in practical terms, tailored to residents and property owners.

Englander is the author of “High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis.”

The release said, “His eye-opening presentation is a must-see.”

The presentation is free to attend and reservations are not required, but to confirm a seat, people can contact deputy city clerk Debbie Haynes at 941-708-6130 or depclerk@cityofannamaria.com

For more information about Englander, go online to johnenglander.net.

Islander adds to reporting team

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Leslie Lake

The Islander recently hired Leslie Lake as an addition to its editorial team.

Leslie Lake is a Connecticut transplant, with extensive experience in reporting on police and courts.

She worked as a crime reporter for eight years for Hearst Connecticut Media and covered an array of stories, ranging from simple violations to homicides.

Many of her stories were picked up nationwide.

She has been visiting family in Bradenton for many years and became familiar with the local community before making the move to the area.

“I look forward to becoming an integral part of the local community by shining a light on police and court matters,” Lake said.

The beat was reported by Kathy Prucnell, who recently relocated to the Chicago area.