Tag Archives: Feature

AMI Bridge construction: Way down the road

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Bradenton resident Tony Rivera tosses his crab trap Aug. 14 near the western side of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico and also lived in Boston, says crabbing by the bridge is a favorite pastime. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

Tony Rivera moved to Bradenton just a year ago, but he’s already been crabbing at the Anna Maria Island Bridge at least 15 times.

He likes to go there with his 3-year-old grandson, Andrew Carmona, where they form memorable bonds while taking in the fresh air and the boundless view. In between tosses of his crab trap near the Kingfish Boat Ramp at the western end of the bridge, Rivera will tell you he’s uncertain about plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to replace the 62-year-old drawbridge with a high fixed span.

“Sincerely, I hadn’t heard about it,” he said Aug. 14. “But I think it would make it a bit more difficult to toss the crab traps.”

He needn’t worry yet — or for many years. By the time the new bridge is scheduled to open, young Andrew will be a teenager.

Although the DOT has said the bridge must be replaced, having determined it is “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient,” construction on a new span is not scheduled to begin until fiscal 2029. By the agency’s own accounting, construction could take two to three years or longer to complete.

The bridge, built in 1957, has undergone six structural repairs since 1978 and has exceeded its life span of 50 years, said DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick. Major repairs were undertaken in 2009, and the most recent fixes occurred in 2013.

But a $6.2 million design plan on the 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge replacement will not be completed until fiscal year 2022-23, Rick said Aug. 15 in an email to The Islander.

Right-of-way acquisition, the next step, should not take long or cost much because there are no significant structures that must be bought. Nonetheless, right of way has not yet been funded.

Neither has construction.

In addition to the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the DOT also wants to replace the Cortez bascule bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span. That effort has drawn strong opposition from people who believe a large bridge would destroy the character of the historic fishing village.

The DOT maintains that building new bridges is more economically sound than continued repairs, which would increase in scope but prove less effective because of continued deterioration.

The agency has pegged the cost of the Anna Maria Island Bridge at $76 million and the Cortez Bridge at $72 million. Both cost estimates account for inflation and rising costs, Rick said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration estimated in a report three years ago that construction for the Anna Maria Island Bridge would cost $87 million.

It’s been a long, choppy effort to get both bridges replaced.

The Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 span, linking Holmes Beach and Perico Island, is further along because design work, which began in late 2015, is about 60 percent complete, Rick said.

About $6.4 million for design of the new bridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach has been allocated and an engineering firm has been chosen, but that work has not started because a project development and environment study has yet to be made public.

That study, started in 2013, is expected to be released no sooner than the end of this year, Rick said. It will provide analysis of the environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical effects of the new bridge.

In contrast, the PD&E study for the AMI Bridge was completed in 2010 and approved by the Federal Highway Administration in January 2016.

The study determined that construction of the bridge would have no negative effect on air quality, would not add to long-term noise and would not affect natural resources, such as coastal barriers, aquatic preserves and recreation areas.

The study also said the bridge would not harm the golden leather fern and the brown pelican but named 21 types of birds, fish and mammals that the span “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect.” Among these were 11 kinds of birds, six types of turtles, two kinds of fish and the West Indian manatee and Eastern indigo snake.

In addition, the DOT says the bridge would disturb 1.2 acres of mangroves and 2 acres of seagrass. That disturbance would be mitigated, the DOT says, though the agency has not determined how.

“FDOT will coordinate with the appropriate regulator agencies during the permitting process to identify the viable mitigation alternatives,” Rick wrote in his email to The Islander.

The permitting process has not begun, he said.

Preliminary plans call for the bridge to be 69 feet wide, with each direction having a 12-foot travel lane, an 11-foot shoulder for emergency vehicles to pass and 10 feet of sidewalk.

Total length would be about 3,150 feet, about the same as the current 3,123-foot span.

The bridge would be built about 14 feet parallel and to the south of the existing bridge, which would be demolished once the new span opened.

But, for now, that’s all a ways off. The Federal Highway Administration estimated three years ago that completion would occur sometime before 2035.

That means little Andrew Carmona, who barely reaches above his grandfather’s waist now and can’t yet toss a crab trap, may be one of the first to drive his car across. Maybe he’ll be taking his grandfather for a ride while they reminisce about the great times they spent there back in the good old days.

Bridge openings

The DOT allows drawbridge openings for the Anna Maria Island Bridge 6 a.m.-7p.m. at 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour.

The same schedule applies to the Cortez Bridge. Both open on signal 7 p.m.-6 a.m. The Longboat Pass Bridge opens on demand.

In many instances, the DOT said, between two and seven watercraft pass through the AMI Bridge during each opening.

According to the agency, the AMI Bridge had 2,686 openings in 2017, which averaged about 224 a month.

Prolonged red tide in 2018-19 deceased the number of openings, thus the DOT does not consider it a typical year.

So far this year, the DOT said, openings are on pace with 2017.

Anna Maria City Pier decking on tap, handrail dispute continues

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Workers place decking Aug. 13 on the facia of the concrete platform at the T-end of the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Courtesy Dean Jones/Anna Maria Public Works
Workers stage Aug. 14 for construction on the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Boaters fish and sightsee Aug. 14 near the T-end of the Anna Maria City Pier. The end of the pier is expected to become a construction site for a restaurant and bait shop the first week in September.
Sept. 11, 2017, a day after Hurricane Irma damaged the AMCP roof. Islander File Photo: Jack Elka
July 2018: Demolition at the AMCP was underway in earnest. Islander File Photo

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho.

Work on a planned restaurant and bait shop will begin the first week in September and still to be finished is the T-end and walkway planking, as well as electrical conduit work.

That’s the word Aug. 16 from Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy about the Anna Maria City Pier.

He hopes the pier will open to the public in 60-90 days — before the amenities are complete.

At an Aug. 20 meeting, after press time for The Islander, Manatee County commissioners were expected to appropriate an additional $435,000 in tourist development dollars to a $1.5 million contribution to the pier project.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau director Elliott Falcione and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore expected no problems with the approval.

“I’m sure the board will approve it. And if they need more, we could probably do it. We need to get it done,” Whitmore told The Islander Aug. 16.

Anna Maria has budgeted the total cost of the pier demolition, construction and improvements at $5.9 million with financial assistance from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as the county tourist development council.

The new pier replaces the historic pier built in 1911. It underwent numerous remodels before Hurricane Irma in September 2017 brought about extensive damage and it was declared destroyed.

Update on railings

Posts where lighting will be placed on the 800-foot-long pier walkway and the lack of handrails on the pier are issues raised by Gene Aubry, a former Anna Maria commissioner and architect.

“I was going to congratulate the mayor for putting up railings,” Aubry said when he recently saw the posts go up on the pier.

Aubry asked the Anna Maria City Commission in January to consider including railings — for safety, U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and historical reasons — and was turned down.

The ADA was enacted as a federal law in 1990 to give people with disabilities equal rights in public and private places open to the general public.

“If you’re blind, what kind of construction is that?” Aubry asked.

“I was doing ADA designs before the ADA passed,” Aubry said.

The former commissioner also said he doesn’t recall seeing posts in pictorial depictions of the new pier that were made available to the public but, he added the posts could serve as a way to link the proposed railings.

Aubry also suggested using the engraved planks that were removed from the pier before it was demolished for the new handrails.

Asked if the city commission would reconsider handrails for the pier, the mayor said: “I don’t know, and it is not my place to offer predictions one way or the other on how the commission will weigh in on any given issue.

“In this case, they took a vote many months ago to not have handrails. That still stands as my direction in the construction.”

Aubry filed an ADA complaint over the pier railing July 15 with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In an Aug. 15 email to The Islander, DOJ spokeswoman Kelly Laco said, “DOJ does not comment on investigations.”

No-swim advisory returns to south side of causeway beach

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A sign warns of high bacteria levels Aug. 17 on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway, where a boy dips a net and a man plays with his dog.
A group of eight riders leave the shore on the north side of Palma Sola Bay Aug. 17 for a surf-riding experience. The guest riders are accompanied by tour guides who walk the horses on leads. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

Caution: Swimming is not advised in Palma Sola Bay — again.

The Florida Department of Health advised Aug. 15 that people should stay out of Palma Sola Bay on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway where the bay is divided by traffic, due to high levels of fecal matter.

A posted sign on the causeway alerts swimmers to an “increased risk of illness” and refers inquiries to a state website.

The causeway beach is about 1,000 feet west of 81st Street on Manatee Avenue West.

The trigger for the advisory, according to Tom Larkin, director of Manatee County Environmental Health, was an Aug. 13 test of 96 colony-forming units of enterococci bacteria in 100 milliliters of water in a sample after a test the day before registered 767 colony-forming units.

The health department’s threshold for safe swimming is 70 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of sample based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency epidemiological studies.

Contact with the water may cause gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea, and increase the risk for infectious diseases.

Asked why the bay twice exceeded the EPA standard in as many months, Larkin wrote in an Aug. 16 email: “We don’t have any thoughts on the cause for the recent test results.”

He said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will investigate wastewater treatment facilities within a mile “to determine if a facility experienced an incident that may have contributed to the contamination.”

Human and animal intestinal bacteria can spill into the bay through sewer-line breaks, leaching septic systems, lift station failures and stormwater runoff.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore voiced her concerns for the health of Palma Sola Bay at a July 30 Council of Governments meeting and in an Aug. 16 interview with The Islander.

Whitmore pointed to septic systems in Northwest Bradenton and horses — tourist attractions that provide “surf-riding” on horseback in the bay that are apparently authorized by the city of Bradenton and state of Florida — that could be associated with what she sees as a longstanding problem with the bay having a limited tidal flow.

The south side of Palma Sola Bay is one of seven beach locations in Manatee County tested weekly for the bacteria. The others are Bayfront Park in Anna Maria, Coquina north and south beaches and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach and Whitney Beach in Longboat Key.

As of the last week in July, the department began testing for enterococci once a week as new funding from the state became available, Larkin said. The testing previously was biweekly.

“Our sampling results this week indicate the other Manatee beach sites meet the guidelines for swimming,” he wrote.

In July, the DOH issued the no-swim advisory for the bay site after testing showed 24,196 and 422 colony-forming units of enterococci in 100 milliliters of water. The advisory was lifted after retesting indicated the presence of 30 colony-forming units of enterococci.

No line break, lift station or other utility-related incident is to blame for the recent surge in bacteria in Palma Sola Bay, according to Manatee County Utilities Department spokeswoman Amy Pilson.

The last reported sewage spills in the bay occurred between December 2017 and February 2018 when contractors ruptured sewer lines and more than 6 million gallons of raw sewage spewed through the adjacent land and tributaries, according to county and state records.

The advisory will be in effect until the DOH testing shows the federal guidelines are met.

Larkin said the department will be testing next during the week of Aug. 19.

For more information, the advisory lists the website, www.doh.state.fl.us, and says to select “Beach Water Quality” from the A-Z topics list.

Treehouse case dismissed in federal court

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A treehouse built by Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen remains Aug. 14 on the beachfront in an Australian pine at their 103 29th St. property in Holmes Beach, despite six years of litigation aimed at having it removed. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Three strikes at a treehouse complaint and the case was thrown out of federal court.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Aug. 6 dismissed treehouse owners’ Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen case against the city of Holmes Beach and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after three tries. Moody called the owners’ attempts “impermissibly unclear.”

The owners, who filed the case in March without an attorney, fired back Aug. 8 with a motion asking the judge to reconsider the ruling.

The motion said a court rule gave Tran and Hazen until Aug. 11 to respond to a DEP dismissal motion, calling the judge’s oversight “clearly an ‘extraordinary circumstance.’”

In an Aug. 14 email to The Islander, Tran added, “I don’t know what to expect, but pray that we have given the court good reasons to consider.”

The judge dismissed the treehouse owners’ case with prejudice — meaning the owners are precluded from re-filing the same claim — agreeing with city and DEP motions that the complaint made it difficult to understand “what facts relate to what legal claims.”

In his order, Moody found Tran and Hazen had “numerous opportunities to raise their claims in prior litigation” in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court and “absent any new factual developments” there was no legal basis to revive the litigation.

Asked about the owners’ motion to reconsider, attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask Daigneault — the Clearwater law firm assigned the treehouse cases alleging money damage by the city’s insurer — was unconcerned.

“The treehouse cases are being defended aggressively, as they should be. We’re looking to bring them to a conclusion as quickly as we can,” Daigneault said.

Tran and Hazen reside at 103 29th St., where they operate four short-term rental units and built a beachfront structure — the two-story elevated treehouse — in an Australian pine tree, without city or state permits in 2011.

An anonymous complaint to the city triggered a trail of litigation, including the dismissed federal case. No other litigation is pending in federal court.

Three treehouse cases are pending in circuit court, as of Aug. 19.

In one case, a September hearing is set for city and DEP motions to dismiss a complaint by the owners alleging negligence and violation of rights and seeking injunctive relief and unspecified money damages.

Another case, in which the owners are represented by Sarasota attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill, challenges a city ordinance requiring a 50-foot setback from the erosion control line. First filed in circuit court in 2013, the owners claim the setback is an unconstitutional taking.

The city contends the issue was decided already and cannot be relitigated.

Another pending case involves the city’s petition to enforce a special magistrate order requiring the treehouse be removed and assessing a $50 per day fine since July 2015 — now at more than $74,200.

Earlier this year, Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled he would hear the state constitutional challenge prior to the city-initiated case.

The city and DEP’s motions to dismiss the owners’ pro-se complaint are set for hearing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Anna Maria mayor updates county tourism officials on pier

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Bicycling, Brendan Sweetman and son Rangi Sweetman, 14, of Nashville, Tennessee, wait for relatives at the Anna Maria City Pier, which remained closed to the public Aug. 7. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

August and September hold promise for progress on the Anna Maria City Pier.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy updated county tourism officials Aug. 1 on the status of the pier construction, as well as the planned construction of a restaurant and bait shop at the T-end.

Contributions from Manatee County, totaling $1.935 million after an expected $435,000 addition in August, will be “100 percent from tourist development tax,” said Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor Bureau director Elliott Falcione.

The project — from the commission’s decision to replace and not repair the pier to letting contracts for the walkway and understructure as well as the restaurant and bait shop — has been ongoing for two years, since Hurricane Irma damaged the pier and its amenities in September 2017.

Falcione said the county reimburses Anna Maria after the city facilitates and pays contractors, and he expects county commissioners will vote for the increase in funding Aug. 20 because “he meets one-on-one with them” prior to his budget recommendations.

In an email to Monica Luff, assistant to Falcione, Murphy reported the status of the pier.

  • Piles, supports and stringers for the walkway are covered with plywood, awaiting the permanent hardwood ipe decking, so workers can access the end of the pier.
  • A concrete platform at the T-end is complete.
  • Conduits for utilities are partially in place.

Looking forward, Murphy anticipated:

  • Electrical lines were to be installed the week of Aug. 5 for light posts on the walkway.
  • Throughout August, weather permitting, a small boat landing will be framed. Pier planks and T-end fascia also will be installed in August.

According to the mayor, there is an open issue about a fire suppression line.

“We will follow the code. But, as far as its location, material and size, the engineers are wrestling with that,” Murphy told The Islander Aug. 8, adding there should be a resolution in the next couple of months.

In July, Anna Maria commissioners approved a $967,000 contract with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach to construct the restaurant and bait shop. The contract has a Feb. 10, 2020, completion date.

Still undecided is who will be responsible for some of the improvements.

Mario Schoenfelder holds the lease for the restaurant until December 2020, and rent payments have been abated since Hurricane Irma caused much of the pier damage in September 2017.

In November 2018, the city engaged i+conSOUTHEAST with a $3.3 million contract for pier understructure and walkway improvements. The contract completion date, adjusted by change orders, is now Sept. 16, according to Murphy.

The total cost of the pier — demolition, construction and improvements — is budgeted at $5.9 million.

In addition to the county tourist development dollars, the city expects reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state.

The new pier replaces the historic pier built in 1911, which underwent numerous remodels before it was declared destroyed in 2017.

Good news or bad?: Cortez Bridge years from replacement

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The view from the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill includes the draw opening on the Cortez Bridge Aug. 4. The DOT has recommended replacing the drawbridge with a high-fixed span bridge. Islander Photos: Sarah Brice
Tide Tables restaurant owner Bobby Woodson is confident loyal patrons will still find his waterfront restaurant — at the southeast corner of the Cortez Bridge in Cortez — during construction and after the new bridge is built. Islander Photos: Sarah Brice
Kim Shepherd, 26-year owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle at the base of the Cortez Bridge, is concerned that a megabridge linking Cortez to Bradenton Beach would harm the Cortez community.
Joe Rogers, chief operating officer of the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill, says a new bridge is needed but he believes how big a span should reopen for debate.
Michael Bazzy, whose family has owned the Bradenton Beach Marina since 1981, says although construction may affect his business at the base of the bridge in Bradenton Beach, he’s not concerned. He added, he has good relations with the DOT.
The view looking north across the deck at Annie’s Bait and Tackle in Cortez includes activity at the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill in the fishing village of Cortez. The views from Annie’s and the Seafood Shack include the span of the Cortez Bridge across Sarasota Bay from Cortez.
Annie’s Bait and Tackle offers patrons outdoor seating with a view of the Cortez Bridge.

If you’ve been looking forward to — or dreading — the proposed replacement of the Cortez drawbridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge, you’re going to have to wait a while. Quite a while.

“It’s not going to happen immediately,” said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Brian R. Rick.

Most likely, if it happens, it won’t be for another 10 years or so.

The DOT is expected to release results of its Cortez Bridge Project Development and Environment Study by the end of the year. The study, started in 2013, determines what environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical effects the new bridge would have on the area, particularly the historic fishing village of Cortez.

After that would come the design phase, then right-of-way acquisition, then finally construction.

About $6.4 million has been allocated for design, which has been awarded to the engineering firm H.W. Lochner Inc., but design work has not started, the DOT’s Rick said in a phone interview Aug. 5.

Once design begins, it will take about two years to complete. The DOT likely will hold public meetings during that time period, 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 2023-24. So that aspect of the new bridge is not funded.

Construction is not funded either.

An April 23, 2018, announcement by DOT communications manager Zachary Burch said the agency recommended the fixed span and design was scheduled to begin later that year and right-of-way acquisition was funded for fiscal 2020 and 2021. But Rick told The Islander additional work needed on the project development and environment study delayed the timetable.

Some Cortez merchants are in no hurry to see the new bridge built. Count Kim Shepherd among them.

“They’re dissecting the village,” said Shepherd, owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle Shop for the past 26 years. “I don’t agree with that. They’re dissecting a town.”

Annie’s is situated on the waterfront in Cortez at the northeast corner of the bridge.

Preliminary plans call for the eastern part of the bridge to ramp up on Cortez Road at 123rd Street West. Parts of the village on either side of Cortez Road between 123rd Street and Sarasota Bay would be connected under the bridge. Service roads would deliver vehicular traffic to that area, which is home to several businesses.

But Shepherd is not sure that would be enough.

“I think it’s going to be hard for people to get to us even with the access road,” she said in an interview in her vintage bait shop. “It’s going to affect the whole village.”

Disruption during construction would be even worse, she said, pointing to what happened during repair work to the bridge in 2015.

“Even with signs, we took a hit,” she said.

Some other Cortez merchants take a more wait-and-see attitude.

“I’ve been told by the DOT it’s at least eight years up the road,” said Bobby Woodson, owner of Tide Tables Restaurant and Marina on the waterfront at the base of the bridge in Cortez.

The DOT will have to keep a pathway open to his restaurant during construction, Woodson said. And he’s counting on his customers.

“We’ve built a clientele during the past 5 1/2 years,” he said. “They’ll find us.”

And by the time construction starts, Woodson said, the restaurant will have built an even larger clientele.

“We’re going to be just fine,” he said during an interview at the restaurant.

Joe Rogers, chief operating officer at the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill, also expressed optimism that the Shack will thrive.

“Hopefully, people will still find us,” he said from the marina behind the restaurant. “People seek out waterfront restaurants. It’s just going to take them a while longer.

“We’ll have a ton of signage.”

On the western side of the bridge, Michael Bazzy, owner of the Bradenton Beach Marina, said he doesn’t expect to see a new span any time soon.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Bazzy, whose family has owned the marina since 1981.

Regardless, he expects to come out fine.

“I’m not really concerned,” he said. “We’ve always had real good relations with the DOT.”

Rogers agrees that a new bridge is needed. He’s just not sure that it has to be the 65-foot-clearance fixed span, as recommended by the DOT last year.

“We need a bridge,” he said. “What size is debatable.”

The DOT notes that the bridge, which was built in 1956, has already had three major repair projects — in 1996, 2010 and 2015 — and needs to be replaced.

“Future repair projects would likely increase in scope, traffic disruptions and cost, and yet decrease in effectiveness due to continued deterioration of the bridge,” the agency said in the April 2018 announcement.

Rogers said whatever is built needs to last.

“They have to think long term,” he said. “It’s got to be good for another 50 years.”

The DOT says a new fixed-span bridge would have a 75-year life span.

“A fixed bridge is resoundingly the best financial investment for taxpayers,” the announcement said.

Other options were drawbridges with vertical clearances of 21 or 35 feet.

The DOT said the high span would cost $72 million to build and maintains that “construction costs, including design and construction, saves approximately $23.9 million compared to a new mid-level drawbridge.”

The high bridge, the DOT said, would save $11.2 million in maintenance and construction costs compared to a new drawbridge.

Indications six years ago were that most local residents opposed any new bridge, no matter the height.

A DOT mail survey answered by nearly 850 local residents in spring 2013 showed 51% of respondents were in favor of rehabilitating the Cortez Bridge, while 43% favored replacement.

Of those in favor of bridge replacement, 56 percent were opposed to a high-level fixed span and 38 percent were in favor of a mega-bridge.

Of those opposed to a high bridge, 19% wanted a mid-level drawbridge and 33% wanted a low-level drawbridge.

Among local communities, Cortez had the highest level of opposition to a replacement bridge. Sixty-two percent of respondents favored rehabilitation and 33% wanted a replacement.

Anna Maria respondents wanted rehabilitation over replacement 54-43. Bradenton Beach was 52-39.

Holmes Beach and Longboat Key respondents favored replacement.

Holmes Beach came in at 50-45 in favor of a new bridge and Longboat Key answered 86-14 in favor of a replacement

But the DOT decided in 2016 not to rehabilitate the bridge.

Longboat Key town manager Tom Harmer said he has been talking with the DOT about making it easier for motorists to get on and off the Key. But he said in a phone interview Aug. 6 that he realizes a new Cortez Bridge is only part of the solution.

Longboat Key residents driving off the island to the north still have traffic chokepoints at the Longboat Pass drawbridge and the intersection at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach.

And the initial plans for the high-level bridge call for only two lanes of vehicular traffic, same as the current span.

“Our issue really is traffic congestion,” Harmer said. “We do think they should consider additional lanes [on the bridge] and intersection improvements.”

Harmer said he has made those suggestions to the DOT.

DOT officials note that a high-clearance fixed bridge would allow boat traffic to pass unimpeded, which would result in less traffic disruption.

According to the DOT, the Cortez Bridge had 3,101 openings in 2017, averaging about 258 a month. They attributed fewer openings in 2018 to the extended red tide outbreak, so it’s not representative of a typical year. Bridge openings so far this year are comparable to 2017 levels, the agency said.

Over at Annie’s, where you can almost reach out and touch the bridge, Shepherd says the DOT’s construction delay is great news. She wants her small spot in paradise to stay just like it is.

“It’s a little village that’s been here forever,” she said. “It’s one of the last working fishing villages still around.”

Sea turtle nesting slows, hatchlings surge to the Gulf

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Joellah Bouwman, left, 9, and her sister Jonathah, both of Grand Rapids, Michigan, listen Aug. 9 as AMITW volunteer Kathy Doddridge shows them two sea turtle eggs — one hatched and one unhatched — following a nest excavation on the beach near 22nd Street in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
As of Aug. 9, 336 sea turtle nests remain to hatch on Anna Maria Island beaches.
Daniela Garcia, AMITW volunteer, excavates a loggerhead nest on the beach near 22nd Street in Bradenton Beach. Turtle watch volunteers wait 72 hours after a nest hatches to collect data. This nest contained 76 hatched and seven unhatched eggs.

Anna Maria Island is neck and neck with last year’s sea turtle nesting numbers.

Most nesting is finished, but many hatchlings are yet to emerge.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported Aug. 9 that 513 nests had been laid on island beaches since nesting season started May 1.

As of Aug. 9, 336 nests remained to hatch.

In 2018, there were 534 loggerhead nests by Oct. 31, breaking the 2017 record of 488.

“We are approaching another record-breaking season,” Fox said. “Now we just have to make sure lighting is compliant so the hatchlings make it to the water.”

Lighting is a concern for turtle-watchers.

Hatchlings, as with nesting female sea turtles, follow their instincts toward the reflection of the moon and stars on the Gulf of Mexico. Light visible from the shoreline can disorient them, leading to predation, dehydration, exhaustion and death.

Beachfront properties are required to have low, shielded exterior lighting that meets Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission standards and indoor lights must be turned off or shielded by curtains or blinds.

Fox said her volunteers — who walk the beach each morning during nesting season, looking for signs of nesting or hatching activity just after sunrise — said some interior lights are unshielded, which can lead to disorientations.

“It’s difficult, because the turnover at resorts and rentals is high,” she said. “A lot of people are here having fun and just don’t know they are supposed to close their blinds.”

According to Fox, most of the island is in compliance with sea turtle regulations for lighting, but some property owners — mostly in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach — are still in the process of upgrading to turtle-friendly bulbs and fixtures.

She said volunteers walking the north end of Anna Maria reported nearly 100 nests as of Aug. 7 — nearly twice the number of nests documented there in 2018.

“People have been really good about their lights up there,” adding that turtle watch volunteer Debbie Haynes is also the city’s code compliance officer.

Bill Booher, a turtle watch volunteer who walks a section of the beach in Anna Maria, said he’s spotted 20 nests on his patrol so far this season.

“I’m only having the best season I’ve ever had,” Booher said. “We can speculate as to why we are getting so many nests. But we don’t really know. So all we can do is be thankful and appreciate how lucky we are to have our turtles here.”

Students, parents, PTO begin ‘exceptional’ school year

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AME kindergarten teacher Kelly Crawford welcomes student Jack Palmer and his mother, Lauren, Aug. 12 on the first day of school. With her left hand in a cast, says Crawford, “I’m going to show my brand new students who sometimes tell me how they can’t write or read, that we are in this together and, for once, this lefty will be right.” Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
AME fifth-grader Kaiyla Mitchell, left, with mother Chawntel Mackey and fourth-grade daughter Tah Alieya hug at the Holmes Beach school. Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
AME art teacher Gary Wooten leads a group of bus-riding students from the bus to the reception area on the first day of the 2019-20 school year. Classes began Aug. 12. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
Anna Maria Elementary welcomes students Aug. 12 for the 2019-20 school year. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
AME third-grade students Colin Bankert and John Monetti walk towards the school entrance ahead of Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, Aug. 12 on the first day of school. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer opens the door and welcomes students and parents on the first day of school. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
Anna Maria Elementary’s staff in the front office serve parents, new and returning students and staff, especially with questions about the new year, at the start of the first day of school, Aug. 12. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
AME students line up to check out for breakfast Aug. 12. Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
AME children sit in a line with books before the first class begins on the first day of school. Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
Students reunite Aug. 12 at Anna Maria Elementary, ready to start a new school year. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
The Anna Maria Elementary school cafeteria bustles Aug. 12 with students, staff and parents on the first day of the 2019-20 school year. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison

By Brook Morrison

Islander Reporter

There is no question the A-grade “little school by the bay” is a tight community.

Anna Maria Elementary principal Jackie Featherston said Aug. 9 that she is “looking forward to seeing all of our students motivated to learn and grow in a positive learning environment, creating waves of great island memories.”

AME fifth-grader Heidi Querrard said she was happy to go back to school for her last year as she greeted third-grade students and parents in her mother Bridget’s classroom Aug. 8 during back-to-school night.

Bridget Querrard taught kindergarten for eight years at AME before being moved to the third-grade this year due to low kindergarten enrollment.

Querrard’s experience teaching fourth-grade for 10 years, as well as receiving National Board Certification in literacy, reading and language arts for early and middle childhood, prepared her for a “great third-grade year,” she said.

Several of Querrard’s former kindergarten students will be in her third-grade class.

Ceegan Cusack is one such boy. He said he is “very lucky to have” Querrard as his teacher again.

All 2018-2019 staff and teachers returned to AME for 2019-20, according to Featherston.

The 2019-20 school year will be filled with new memories and a focus on academic achievement.

New in 2020, there will be a time capsule with artifacts and drawings buried on the school grounds, similar to the capsule buried in 1994 and opened in May.

AME students will benefit from the “small classroom sizes, high standards and caring community feel,” said parent Meghann Bankert who has first- and third-grade students enrolled at AME.

Life is good when you’re an AME student.

And also when you are an AME parent, teacher or principal.

Bradenton Beach on deck for floating dock launch

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Bradenton Beach CRA Chair Ralph Cole, center, cuts the ribbon Aug. 2. He was joined by Manatee County deputy administrator John Osborne, left, County Commissioner Betsy Benac, Gary Tibbetts of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, Cole, County Commissioner Steve Jonsson, Mayor John Chappie, city attorney Ricinda Perry, treasurer Shayne Thompson, City Commissioner Jake Spooner and Anna Maria Oyster Bar owner John Horne at an opening ceremony for the new floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Hecker Construction works from a barge July 30 on the installation of the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Elected officials from Bradenton Beach and Manatee County as well as some members of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce step Aug. 2 onto the new floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice

Good things come to those who wait.

Gibsonton-based contractor Hecker Construction finished construction of a floating dock for the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach Aug. 1 after two-and-a-half years of turbulence generated by Technomarine Construction, the company originally contracted to build and install the dock.

CRA Chair Ralph Cole, a city commissioner, led a ribbon-cutting ceremony alongside other elected officials Aug. 2 to open the dock for public use.

“We’re all very excited about the floating dock finally coming to fruition,” Mayor John Chappie said in a July 31 interview. “It’s been a struggle, but we’re there, and that’s a good thing.”

The floating dock replaces a dock damaged by a storm and removed in 2017 for public safety. The city also plans to install finger docks at the pier and a boat lift to hold the city’s marine patrol boat for the exclusive use of the Bradenton Beach Police Department.

“It’s been something where we’ve waited and waited almost two-and-a-half years,” Sherman Baldwin, owner of the Paradise Boat Tours that operates from a storefront at the foot of the pier, said in an Aug. 2 interview. “Both as a business owner and as well as the vice president of the Bridge Street Merchants group, this is unquestionably a good day for all of Bridge Street.

Baldwin, who has planned for years to launch a 149-passenger water taxi between the new floating dock, Sarasota and Bradenton, declined to comment on the progress of the water taxi venture.

Eric Shaffer, a project manager from Hecker, said in a July 30 interview with The Islander that workers only had to install the gangway attaching the dock to the pier and put the finishing touches, such as capping piles, on the dock.

Installation of the gangway involved reinforcing the pier before placing sections of the gangway with a crane.

Shaffer said installing the gangway wasn’t included in the scope of services of their contract with the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency — which funded the dock project — but Hecker installed it at no additional cost to the CRA.

“I’m not going to do a change order or something like that, that’s not how our company operates,” he said.


Problems with drift vessels

Boats that break anchor and drift and unattended boars have been a problem in the past despite the efforts of Bradenton Beach Police Officer Eric Hill, who patrols the navigable waters near the pier.

“Just while we’ve been building there have been three or four that have gotten loose and ended up getting stuck on the side of the floating dock,” Shaffer said. “They need to look into that.”

“The floating dock isn’t meant for that, it’s for unloading and loading people onto vessels, not boats smashing up against it,” he continued.

City commissioners met July 31 to discuss repealing and replacing the current city ordinance to allow for more comprehensive regulations, including those for loose vessels that damage the dock.

Lt. John Cosby said BBPD is doing all it can do to regulate the waters, but lacks the ability to enforce the law for derelict vessels on boats that people use as a residence. He said the city should meet with the county to discuss legislative changes to allow the police more enforcement powers.

Other changes the city is pursuing include rewording the definition of a dinghy, limiting the amount of watercraft that can be attached to a main vessel and prohibiting beaching of vessels on public property.

Chappie directed city attorney Ricinda Perry to work with lobbyist David Ramba, and for Perry and Cosby to attend the next Manasota League of Cities meeting to push for legislative changes.

“It’s part of our ongoing effort to improve and clean up the city anchorage area that we have,” Chappie said Aug. 1. “It’s all about any kind of regulations that we may be able to have and use to improve and clean the area, and to make sure rules and regulations are being followed.”

Nests hatch, data collected through rain, high tides

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A group gathers to observe Aug. 1 as AMITW volunteer Lena Whitesell excavates a loggerhead nest on the beach near 74th Street in Holmes Beach. The nest contained 23 hatched eggs, 65 unhatched eggs and four live hatchlings, which were released to the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photos: AMITW
Three hatchlings — discovered Aug. 1 in a nest during an excavation on the beach near 74th Street in Holmes Beach — make their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
An excavation Aug. 4 of a washed-over nest on the beach in Bradenton Beach produced 87 whole, unhatched eggs. The nest likely had been flooded during recent rains and high tides. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Heavy rain and high tides are part of summer on the Gulf coast.

Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Aug. 1 that some people have concerns over sea turtle nests that appear to be precariously close to the waterline, considering recent storm events.

Fox said about 40 nests were washed over by waves in storms and high tides, and she couldn’t be sure how many nests were flooded or washed out, or the viability of the eggs in the clutch.

In washed-over nests, sea turtle eggs can absorb water and the hatchlings can drown before they emerge.

As of Aug. 3, 96 nests had hatched since July 3, and 411 remain to hatch.

Fox said if a nest doesn’t show signs of hatching after 70 days, AMITW volunteers excavate it and record the data.

Normally, the volunteers excavate a nest 72 hours after it hatches to record the number of eggs hatched, how many failed to hatch, or if live hatchlings remain.

Live hatchlings are released to the Gulf of Mexico.

Based on Manatee County contracts with state and federal agencies for beach renourishment, Turtle Watch shares its data.

Fox said if volunteers excavate a washed-over nest and the eggs look as though they could still hatch, they cover the nest with sand — and wait.

She said a clutch, which contains about 100 eggs, can run up to about 24 inches deep in the sand, making some eggs less vulnerable to flooding.

“You never know what will hatch,” she said. “They were here doing this way before we came along. Mother Nature is full of surprises.”