Tag Archives: Community

Eyes on the road – 10-16-2019

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Oct. 14:

  • 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.

The DOT said the contractor has about another month of work. “Weather delays, holidays and unforeseen conditions prompted the longer timetable,” according to DOT spokesman Brian Rick.

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.

Cortez megabridge opponents face tick, tick, ticking clock

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The DOT plan for the 65-foot fixed bridge landing area in Cortez. Islander Courtesy Graphic
Longtime Cortez resident Plum Taylor believes a big bridge would destroy the character of the fishing village. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
DOT District 1 Secretary LK Nandam says the transportation agency would not do anything to harm the character of a community. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Kaye Bell, president of the Cortez Cultural Center, says Cortez has been able to maintain its character because no large developments have been able to come in. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

Opponents of the Cortez Road megabridge proposed by the Florida Department of Transportation may be running out of time.

The DOT has said it expects to release results of its Cortez Bridge Project Development and Environment Study by the end of the year. One transportation authority told The Islander it could be much sooner.

Once the PD&E study is released, the DOT can move ahead with a $6.4 million design contract with the engineering firm H.W. Lochner Inc.

And once design work begins, it may be difficult for opponents to stop the momentum toward construction of the 65-foot-clearance fixed span the DOT said it wants to replace the 62-year-old Cortez Bridge.

“Once they get so far down a road, it’s harder to make changes,” David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Planning Organization, said Sept. 26.

Still, some megabridge opponents believe they have time.

“Our hands are not tied to determine the height,” Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore told fellow board members at an Aug. 20 meeting. “It’s not too late to meet with the DOT to determine the height.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, who also opposes the big bridge, is not so sure.

“That’s a good question,” he told The Islander Oct. 3 when asked if there is sufficient time to change the plans. “I don’t know. They could say let’s stop and reconsider. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Despite DOT public hearings in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and the agency’s announcement in April 2018 that the high fixed span would replace the bascule bridge, official opposition didn’t begin to solidify until Whitmore spoke to the other six commissioners at their board meeting and asked for support.

She did not get it.

But she did get support in mid-September from the Island Transportation Planning Organization, which consists of the three mayors on Anna Maria Island. The ITPO passed a measure to support Whitmore’s proposed compromise of a 45-foot drawbridge.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth voted in favor of the motion. Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, who did not attend the ITPO meeting, followed up a week later with a letter to DOT District Secretary L.K. Nandam saying his city also opposes the high bridge.

“This project will not only negatively impact residents and property owners in Cortez village, but on our island community as well,” Murphy wrote.

The Bradenton Beach City Commission passed a resolution Oct. 3 supporting Chappie’s efforts to work toward alternatives to the 65-foot-clearance bridge.

The mayor said he will pass along the city’s opposition to local legislators in Tallahassee.

“There’s really not a whole lot we can do,” he said.  “I’ll let them know once again.”

The Holmes Beach City Commission has voted to draft a letter in support of Whitmore’s compromise.

The strongest opposition, though, comes from Cortez residents, who have spent decades fighting DOT efforts to build a high bridge. These opponents maintain a big bridge would permanently damage the character of Cortez, which was designated a U.S. historic district in 1995, largely due to the grass-roots efforts of longtime residents Linda Molto and Mary Fulford Green.

“Oh, my Lord, if that big old bridge comes in here, it would destroy Cortez,” said Plum Taylor, 85, who has lived in the fishing village since 1952. Her late husband’s family was one of the original five families to settle Cortez in the 1890s.

“Cortez remains quaint because nothing big has been able to come in,” said Kaye Bell, 78, president of the Cortez Cultural Center.

Nandam told The Islander Sept. 23 that community input is part of the PD&E process.

“We would not pick a design of a bridge that would be damaging to any community,” he said. “Our mission is community success.”

The fight over the Cortez Bridge dates to 1989, when the DOT announced it would build a 65-foot-clearance fixed span to replace the 1957 drawbridge.

Public outcry led the DOT to abandon its plans to replace the bridge in the early1990s.

The agency instead turned its attention to the Anna Maria Island Bridge, with plans for a 65-foot-clearance fixed span, same as it had wanted for Cortez.

More than 70 opponents formed a grass-roots organization called Save Anna Maria Inc. in 1993 and won a lawsuit in 1997 that halted plans for the bridge over environmental concerns, including seagrass destruction.

All was quiet for a few years, but the DOT came back with a study in 2010 that determined the Anna Maria Island Bridge would have no significant impact on such factors as natural resources and wildlife. The Federal Highway Administration approved the study in 2016.

SAM disbanded in October 2017.

The prevailing belief among local officials and some activists was that the DOT would build a high span to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge and retain the Cortez Bridge or replace it with a similar bascule bridge.

That belief turned out to be wrong.

The DOT began its PD&E study for the Cortez Bridge in 2013 and announced five years later it would build the 65-foot-clearance bridge.

Longtime Cortez resident Molto said she was not surprised.

“We had a feeling it would come back,” she told The Islander in August. “We know the DOT. We just know them. Because we dealt with them before, we know who they are.”

Molto said the anti-bridge efforts are just getting started, haltingly. Many of the old-timers have died, she said, and many of the young people from that era have moved away.

Opponents now face a ticking clock.

Once design begins, it will take at least two years to complete, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick told The Islander in August. The DOT likely will hold public meetings during that period, Rick said.

After that would come right-of-way acquisition, then construction.

Rick said right-of-way acquisition is expected to be funded for fiscal years 2024-27, beyond the scope of the DOT’s current five-year work program, which ends in 2024.

Construction also is not funded.

That timetable gives opponents hope that it’s not too late.

“I have nothing against the DOT,” Whitmore told the ITPO at its Sept. 16 meeting, “but I know we can still change it.

“This is our last chance, truthfully, in my lifetime and your lifetime that we can protect the village of Cortez.”


Young artists at work

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Jacob Winstead, 6, works on his pumpkin’s design Oct. 5 with an abundant choice of crafting supplies at the Island Library’s pumpkin decorating contest. At the end of the table is library volunteer Cheryl Unruh helping Andrew Huefner, 10, with his pumpkin’s decorations. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
The Island Library activity room was full of young artists and their parents as they expressed their artistic talents and were rewarded with prizes. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Jonathan Bachman, 8, considers his next decorating step as his father’s decorated pumpkin seems to look worried that the purple glitter in Jonathan’s hands might be intended for him. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Three-year-old Juliette Sato is the picture of concentration as she starts painting her pumpkin at the Oct. 5 Island Library’s pumpkin decorating contest. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Aria Roadman, 9, ponders where she wants to glue embellishments onto her pumpkin while at the Island Library’s pumpkin make-and-take decorating contest Oct. 5. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

Anna Maria mayor outlines options for pier lease payments

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I+iconSOUTHEAST employees work Oct. 2 to repair the new Anna Maria City Pier walkway following damages that resulted when an employee erred and steered the construction barge into the structure. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Lease negotiations for the new Anna Maria City Pier are progressing.

Mayor Dan Murphy Sept. 30 emailed Mario Schoenfelder, the pier tenant since 2000, proposing two base payment options. The current lease will expire in December 2020.

One option includes a monthly base payment of $21,600, along with either a 3% annual increase — to begin after the first year — or an annual adjustment based on the consumer price index.

A second option includes a monthly base payment of $18,900, subject to the same options for annual increases as the first option. However, the lessee would pay $250,000 upon signing the lease.

Schoenfelder, who splits his time between Holmes Beach and Germany, originally signed a lease with the city for 10 years, with two five-year options and a $5,000 monthly lease payment, which was subject to periodic increases of $500.

The monthly payments, which escalated to $11,900, were discontinued after the city closed the pier in September 2017. That year, the original 1911-built pier was deemed destroyed due to damages sustained in Hurricane Irma. Later, the pier was torn down and the city contracted i+icon to construct the new pier structure, including the T-end.

In September, Murphy and Schoenfelder tentatively agreed to a 10-year lease length, with two five-year extensions — the same length of the current lease.

Schoenfelder had not responded to Murphy’s lease payment proposals as of Oct. 4.


Flying high with the HBPD

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The Holmes Beach Police Department-sponsored National Night Out fills city field Oct. 1 with free fun and games for kids, along with plenty of giveaways, food and music. HBPD and city staff mingled with the crowd and a large crew of volunteers, promoting police-community partnerships. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Children race to hand off their sacks to adults and cross the finish line Oct. 1 at one of several National Night Out games. The event, sponsored by the Holmes Beach Police Department and the city of Holmes Beach at city field, featured giveaways, food, music, games, bounce houses and slides. HBPD staff mingled with the crowd, promoting police-community partnerships. Islander Photos: Sarah Brice
A child raises his arms up at the top of the giant inflatable slide, here he has a bird’s eye view of the turnout for National Night Out.
With elbows out and arms flapping, enthusiasm abounds among kids of all ages as they follow Denise Johnson in the “Chicken Dance.”
Bella Raines, 9, takes center stage Oct. 1 at HBPD Night Out to sing “Let it Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.” She was awarded a new bike and helmet for her performance.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer hands out prize tickets to a sea of hopeful hands. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Holmes Beach Commissioner Pat Morton takes a dunking in stride for HBPD Night Out.
Paul Fowler, 6, and brother Nolan, 3, land in a fun tumble at the bottom of the giant inflatable slide at HBPD’s Night Out Oct. 1 at city field.

Community center drops to $51K in the red, 2 months into FY

Nonprofit plans to fundraise by growing green initiatives

The Center of Anna Maria Island’s 2019-20 fiscal year is off to a slow start.

The center is $51,706 in the red after two months of its fiscal year, which began July 1. The center was $82,328 in the black after the same period in 2018-19 — a $134,034 difference.

Almost three-quarters of the center’s shortfall compared with last year can be attributed to a lack of fundraising. In 2018-19, the center collected $124,913 in donations, sponsorships, tickets and merchandise sales through August, but only raised $31,461 in July-August 2019.

Treasurer Christine Hicks said the main reason for the shortfall is because the nonprofit received estate money that “carried (the center) through” the first two months of 2018.

Also, in 2018, the city of Anna Maria contributed $18,500 to the center. The center has not requested city funding this year.

Expenditures also increased from $134,147 in July-August 2018 to $192,289 this year. The increase partly is due to the hiring of Jim McDaniel in July as development director.

“Don’t be shocked,” board chair David Zaccagnino said at a Sept. 30 meeting. “This is normal. We’re fully staffed, and this is our slow, slow, slow time of the year. We budgeted for this.”

“We have money in the bank to cover this shortfall,” he continued. “It happens.”

The center finished $166,000 in the black for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended June 30.


Turning green

A slow start to fundraising hasn’t slowed the center’s work on green initiatives.

McDaniel introduced to the board of directors new aspects of the center’s green initiatives — a series of projects designed to make the center and the community more environmentally friendly.

He said the center plans to purchase mini-reefs — small structures placed underwater to cultivate sea life that in turn, cleans the water — for resale starting Nov. 16. People also will have the option to pay for a center wish list item alongside the mini-reef.

The wish list will include technology items, as well as fitness and sports equipment.

The proceeds will benefit the center’s community wellness programs and a set of green initiatives, which executive director Chris Culhane said began with replacing the center’s halogen light bulbs with LED bulbs.

He added that staff also are working on phasing out single-use plastic water bottles at the center.

“This is just the beginning,” said Culhane.

He said another green initiative, a composting program, will be launched soon.

The nonprofit partnered with Sunshine Community Compost to train staff and oversee the program. SCC will work with the center and its community volunteers to maintain the program.

Certain green-themed merchandise sales also will support the effort, including T-shirts and water bottles, with proceeds earmarked for the annual fund.


Other news

In other news, the nonprofit is planning repairs, maintenance and renovation projects for the 12-year-old building, including the bathrooms, spending $15,000 allocated and approved by the island cities from the county concession funds, as well as repairing or replacing 14 AC units.

Culhane wrote in an Oct. 3 email to The Islander that the center is taking bids for the bathroom-plumbing remodeling.


Bed tax collections surpass August 2018 totals

The dog days of summer brought in a flock of visitors to Anna Maria Island, producing an uptick in August tourist tax collections.

The 2019 bed tax collection of $882,349.76 was more than $100,000 higher than the August 2018 total of $768.904.44, after deducting a 3% tax office collection fee.

The county tourist tax rate is 5%. The tax, also known as the bed tax or resort tax, is collected on overnight rentals of six months or less.

Year-to-date collections also were well above 2018’s $13,544,573.70, ringing in at $14,787,910.30 for Oct.1-Aug.31.

The arrival of red tide in Aug. 2018 may have contributed to lower numbers last year, and the 2019 total lagged behind August collections for other years, with the exception of 2014.

Holmes Beach continued to lead the three island cities in tourist tax collections with $206,561.03 or 23.41% of the August collections.

Anna Maria collected $128,828.47 or 14.60% of bed tax totals.

Bradenton Beach pulled in $49,520.51 or 5.61% of the total collected.

Other numbers of interest:

  • The city of Bradenton, with 8.04% of money collected at $70,978.28.
  • Longboat Key, with 8.33% of collections.
  • Palmetto, with $1,353.40 or 0.15% of collected bed tax.
  • Unincorporated Manatee County areas accounted for $351,607.13 or 39.85% of bed tax collections.

The money is collected by the state and is then funded back to the county. State law requires using resort tax funds for tourism-related projects only.

The money funds the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Bradenton Area Convention Center, as well as ongoing tourist-related entities such as Realize Bradenton and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and beach renourishment on Anna Maria Island, it partially funds.

Tourist tax collections are reported in arrears and August numbers were released Oct.1.


Bed tax collections:

  • August 2014, $838,256.80.
  • August 2015, $940,044.17.
  • August 2016, $1,141,394.30.
  • August 2017, $1,208,085.18.
  • August 2018, $917,836.85.
  • August 2019,

Eyes on the road

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Oct. 7:

  • 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.

Islander to host Popcorn and Politics

The Islander’s traditional Popcorn and Politics election forum will be 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at the Arbor, located under the banyan tree on the south side of the Doctor’s Office, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach.

The newspaper is inviting candidates for elected office in Holmes Beach to speak, as well as the automatically elected commissioners in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

Voters and elected officials are welcome.

The free event will feature politics, campaigning and, of course, popcorn and libations.

The Holmes Beach election will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, with polling 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Stagnant Holmes Beach lake sparks concerns, stirs action

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Dead fish float Sept. 22 in the murky water in Holmes Beach’s Spring Lake, which is undergoing aeration intended to improve water quality. Islander Photo: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Stagnant water and dead fish surround an outlet that runs from the southwest corner of Spring Lake under Palm Drive to the grand canal — 66th Street — along Marina Drive in Holmes Beach — but saltwater from the canal no longer flushes the lake. Islander Photos: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes

People who live on Spring Lake in Holmes Beach are concerned about their health and property values.

The lake is suffering.

At a Sept. 24 city commission meeting, Eran Wasserman, project manager for LTA engineers, the engineering firm contracted by the city, reviewed the status of the lake following resident complaints of a stench and numerous dead fish after the Sept. 17 activation of an aeration system.

The city commission approved the installation of the system to clean the brackish lake between 68th and 70th streets, which accumulated 3 feet of muck after a sewage spill in 2015. About 22,000 gallons of waste poured from a ruptured Manatee County sewer line into the lake.

Following testing in March that indicated poor water quality, the city decided to install a system that would generate millions of small air bubbles to circulate and blend the murky, salt- and freshwater mixture and vent harmful gases, allowing more oxygen absorption.

Wasserman said Sept. 24 that organic matter in the lake — dead fish and vegetation — breaks down without oxygen, resulting in muck. He said infusing the water with oxygen can break down and release gases and improve the lake water quality.

Consultant perspective

Wasserman introduced Chris Byrne, a consultant with Vertex Water Features, the company that installed the aeration system, to explain why the condition of the lake worsened after the system was activated, and what to expect as the lake aerates.

Byrne said his company took water samples from the lake that showed levels of phosphorus, nitrogen and ammonia at the bottom were 10 times higher than those at the surface.

“That’s a clear indicator that this pond is stratified and needs to be circulated,” he said. Water stratification happens when water of varied salinity, density and temperature form layers that act as barriers.

“Every now and then we come across a pond that is so bad, that even though we establish a protocol to minimize attrition of the fish, there is still some attrition,” he added.

Byrne said as the lake water circulates, the water quality readings at the surface will worsen.

“It’s just one of the growing pains you have to go through to properly circulate the lake,” he said.

Commissioner Rick Hurst asked how long it would take for the lake to recover.

Byrne said, “Every pond is different.” It could take months, he said, but the worst effects probably already occurred.

Commissioner Carol Soustek asked if running the system more frequently would speed up the process.

Byrne said that would kill more fish, but the gases would vent more quickly, leading to better water quality.

Residents speak

“Water at my house right now is greenish-brown and it looks like a sewer,” said Carol Grayson, who, along with her husband Boyd, has owned a home on the lake for six years. “The reason I’m hoarse right now is because I have asthma. The quality of the air is awful and I’m afraid I’m not even going to be able to stay here.”

Boyd Grayson also addressed the commission. He said two WaStop tidal valves installed in storm drains in 2017 between the lake and an adjacent canal to prevent tidal flow further disrupted the balance of the lake.

The drain pipes, which run under Palm Drive, allowed the lake to fill and flush saltwater from the canal.

“I just can’t imagine a better solution we could offer this lake than to let the tide back in and let 2 million gallons of water, twice a day, come through that lake and go back out,” he said. “Eventually, in the shortest period of time, that lake would be clean.”

“We all purchased our properties with a healthy, active lake as part of our value,” said Phil McDonald, also a lakefront homeowner. “Now we have a dead drainage pond as a viewshed.”

He added that the city did not send notices to people who live on the lake indicating there would be detrimental effects when the aeration system was turned on.

Tim Gibson purchased property on the lake 19 years ago. He said he chose the location above other spots on the island so he could fish for the mangrove snapper, redfish and juvenile tarpon that were present before the sewage spill.

“The fish are gone,” he said. “Manatee County killed that lake and turned it into a septic hole.”

Commission takes action

“We all want to make it right,” Mayor Judy Titsworth said. “But we can’t be wasteful of tax dollars based on fearmongering, or based on anything other than the facts. We have to rely on the professionals telling us what to do.”

She said the valves are needed to prevent flooding, and there are many lakes in the state that do not get tidal flow. They require aeration, like Spring Lake.

Titsworth said the recovery process would take time, but if the city determines the system is insufficient, the commission will consider other options, such as reopening the tidal valves.

Commission Chair Jim Kihm asked Wasserman and Byrne for recommendations.

Wasserman said he could respond to tidal flow questions, as that is city engineer Lynn Burnett’s area of expertise, and she was not in attendance.

Byrne, speaking to the aeration system, suggested running the system for seven or eight hours a night for two weeks to produce faster results.

After two weeks, he said it might be best to run the system around the clock.

The commission unanimously reached consensus to direct Wasserman to run the system throughout the night for two weeks, with water samples taken each week, before running it full-time.

Titsworth also asked Wasserman to provide the city with daily updates on the status of the lake, including visual water quality and fish kill numbers, until the lake begins to recover.

“I don’t want to solve it here, but I want a focused effort on this,” Kihm said. “And by the end of the week, I want a broader recommendation about what we are going to do in light of some of the comments we received this evening.”