After the insurrection at the Capitol Building Jan. 6, tensions surrounding Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration are high.
So is the need for tight and skilled security on Inauguration Day, which is Jan. 20.
Law enforcement in Washington, D.C., will have a handful of Anna Maria Island’s finest to help.
Six island officers were headed to the nation’s capital this week to help the U.S. Secret Service, the federal coordinator for security at the inauguration.
Officers Roy Joslin and Devon Straight are the Bradenton Beach Police Department’s choices to attend, according to BBPD Chief Sam Speciale.
Sgt. Mike Walker and Officers Christine LaBranche, Lee Diehl and Adam DeSantis from the Holmes Beach Police Department also are to attend the inauguration, according to HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer.
Tokajer told The Islander Jan. 13 that he is excited for his officers to participate.
“It is an honor,” Tokajer said. “It’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the officers. …Just being able to participate in something like an inauguration is an honor.”
“The fact that we can help out from our small little part of the world is something we’re very happy with,” he added.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Joslin said about being selected as one of BBPD’s attending officers. “I was very surprised and excited when I was asked. And it’s definitely a privilege.”
However, Joslin expressed “mixed feelings” about serving as security amid the political turmoil that led to the insurrection Jan. 6 and the loss of life, including the deaths of two U.S. Capitol Police.
“Obviously, I’m happy to be there but, then again, I don’t want something major to go down,” Joslin said. “If something happens to me and Officer Straight … with only 10 full-time officers in Bradenton Beach, if two of us go down, that’s not going to look too good — but I don’t think that’ll ever happen. Hopefully.”
Joslin said he and Straight would leave for the capital Jan. 18 and, later that day, be sworn into service for the inauguration.
He said they would learn Jan. 19 more about their roles and where they would be stationed for the inauguration.
“It’s going to be more detailed when we get there,” Joslin said. “But I believe we’re going to have to be out there by around 3 a.m. …And I think it gets over with somewhere close to midnight.”
“It’ll be very busy, with no sleep,” he continued. “But I’m just happy to go up there and be used as whatever I need to be used as to make sure everything’s secure.”
Tokajer said plans for the officers to attend were in the works for 6-8 months and the violence Jan. 6 didn’t change any minds about going.
“This is a time when they need more officers who are well-trained and know the right thing to do,” Tokajer said. “It would be wrong of us — when we know that they need more people than they presently have — to say ‘no.’”
“The event that happened this last week, although horrific, does not sway us from us going and assisting another law enforcement agency and making sure everything is safe,” he continued.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation in Anna Maria did not respond to calls Jan. 14 and Jan. 15 from The Islander.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth told The Islander Jan. 14 that city staff decided Jan. 6 to close city hall in response to the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida.
The city first closed its doors in early 2020 to curb the coronavirus's spread between staff and members of the public but reopened in the fall, when the number of new statewide COVID-19 cases hovered around 5,000 per day in the state.
“When everyone else started opening, we opened again,” Titsworth said. “Even though we didn’t feel ready, we just felt we had to, so we took on extra precautions.”
However, the number of new cases spiked after the winter holidays.
Other than Jan. 1, when Florida did not process any COVID-19 tests, the state has recorded more than 10,000 new cases every day since the new year — including a single-day record-high 31,518 new cases Jan. 2.
Titsworth said city staffers, who meet Wednesdays, discussed the issue Jan. 6.
She said building department staff, who had previously argued to keep city hall open, saw the spiking case numbers and reversed course.
“We’re so small. If we lose any one department, we could be shut down for weeks, the mayor said.
“Once the numbers kept going up and the new variant came around, they decided ‘OK, we’ll change our minds,’” she continued.
For now, city hall will be locked.
Members of the public must make appointments to enter city hall or call a number posted on the front door for assistance.
“If they really need us for immediate assistance, we’ll meet them at the door right away,” Titsworth said.
Once inside, city staff will check visitors’ temperatures with a noncontact infrared thermometer, since a feverish temperature is often one of the symptoms of COVID-19.
People are required to wear face masks and social distance within city hall.
Titsworth said she hadn’t received any negative feedback regarding the closure.
“I haven’t heard of anyone that’s upset,” Titsworth said. “I think everyone pretty much now understands. …I definitely feel the staff is safer.”
In the meantime, nothing has changed in the island’s other two cities.
Both Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach closed the doors of their city halls last year and have yet to reopen them to the general public.
For now, people must make appointments to enter either building and city staffers check temperatures before admitting visitors.
Also, people must wear face masks and social distance in both city halls.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy wrote in a Jan. 15 email to The Islander that the city-sponsored events at City Pier Park — the Farmers Market and Movies in the Park on Tuesdays with face masks and social distancing required — would continue without changes.
New PPP relief offered
Another round of financial assistance is on the way.
The federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program reopened Jan. 13 for another round of loans and new borrowers' opportunities.
This round of PPP loans is available to some businesses previously ineligible for funding, including 501(c)(6) housing cooperatives and direct-marketing organizations.
The loans also can be used to cover some expenses previously uncovered by the program, including property damage costs, supplier costs and worker protection.
For more information, visit www.sba.gov.
— Ryan Paice
The beaches are clean, but the hull of a shrimp trawler that wrecked two miles off Anna Maria Island remains on the seabed.
The crew of the Warrior, owned by the Tampa-based Versaggi Shrimp Corp., required rescue from the U.S. Coast Guard the night of Jan. 8 after the vessel began flooding.
Nobody was hurt, but flotsam from the broken-up vessel was littered across island beaches.
With help from Manatee County, public works crews from the island municipalities removed much of the washed-up debris Jan. 9.
Arthur “Art” Whiting from Tampa-based Harden Marine Associates, Versaggi’s insurance adjuster, told The Islander Jan. 14 that the cleanup wasn’t finished. A portion of the hull — including up to three gas tanks capable of holding thousands of gallons of diesel — remained intact in 14 feet of water.
Whiting hired Tarpon Springs-based Florida Dredge and Dock and Palmetto-based DiveCom Marine to inspect the wreckage, remove the gas tanks and salvage any remaining valuable parts from the hull.
DiveCom divers began inspecting the hull Jan. 14 to locate the fuel tanks and prepare for their removal, according to Whiting.
“If the tanks aren’t in there, then we’ve got another situation, but we believe the remaining tankage is still in the hull,” Whiting said. “So, they will remove parts of the hull to get at those and get them out. …From a pollution standpoint, that would take care of just about everything.”
Whiting said a pollution containment boom — a floating dam designed to contain oil spills to a small area — was placed in the water above the wreckage as a precaution for any gas leaks.
However, he said weather could be a factor in completing the job, since inclement conditions could complicate the tank removal and render the boom ineffective.
“So far, we’ve had excellent cooperation with our contractors,” Whiting said. “Everything’s gone smoothly.”
Lawsuits come with a cost.
A treehouse built without permits in Holmes Beach in 2011 has resulted in four pending lawsuits with the city and Florida Department of Environmental Protection lasting nearly 10 years, with a new plea by the treehouse owners to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acting without legal representation, property owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran-Hazen filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 22, 2020, in a further attempt to keep the “Robinson Crusoe-style” treehouse — illegally built within the setback for the state’s erosion control line — from being removed by the city.
A writ of certiorari requests that the lower court send up the case for review by the high court. The case in the lower court was denied a review and hearing in spite of numerous opportunities afforded the Hazens to correct defaults in their case.
More recently, the city declined to renew the Hazens’ vacation rental certificates for their four short-term rentals — based on noncompliance with the treehouse orders, including demolition and daily fines — and the Hazens apparently have defied the city by continuing to allow occupancy at Angelino’s Sea Lodge.
The Hazens also reside at the multi-unit property in the 2800 block of Avenue E in Holmes Beach.
They are on a path toward a new hearing before a city-appointed magistrate, where they could be fined for renting without a vacation rental certificate.
And now, the owners have initiated a web campaign to raise funds to help with their fight.
The online funding page was created Jan. 2. On it, Tran-Hazen wrote, “My husband, Richard and I need to raise funds for our Tree of Love for Justice and Liberty. Under color of laws, we are losing our rights to use and enjoy our property, to grow trees and plants that we love, to rent for income and to have equal access to fair justice faster than sea level rise, storm erosion or climate change.”
In a Jan. 7 interview with The Islander, Tran-Hazen said the city and the DEP have until Feb. 3 to respond to the certiorari.
According to Tran-Hazen, the couple has spent more than $170,000 on legal fees for their lawsuits and can no longer afford attorney representation.
Additionally, the city ordered a $500 per day fine Oct. 16, 2020, until the treehouse comes down.
The city has noticed the couple that their vacation rental license for the property will not be renewed until they comply with city orders, including payment of nearly $100,000 in code violation fines.
“We have issues that we raised in our document that we feel are very important to pro se litigants like us that can no longer afford lawyers,” Tran-Hazen said.
Correction to high court
A story in the Jan. 6 Islander incorrectly stated the owners of the beachfront treehouse in Holmes Beach had filed a plea with the Florida Supreme Court. The plea was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued three mariners Jan. 8 from a sinking Versaggi Shrimp Corp. trawler, the Warrior, two miles west of Anna Maria Island.
“Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg received a call on VHF-Channel 16 from the Warrior operator reporting they had 2-feet of water on board and pumps were unable to keep up with the flooding,” a Coast Guard news release stated.
A Coast Guard boat from Cortez and a helicopter from Clearwater responded about 7:50 p.m. Jan. 8, and evacuated three crew to a dock in Cortez “with no medical concerns,” according to the release.
Debris from the Warrior was scattered in the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay from Egmont Key to Longboat Key, according to a chart from the Coast Guard.
Anna Maria’s northernmost point is nearest the site of the sunken shrimper in Tampa Bay.
A caller reported to The Islander the following morning that some debris had reached the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria.
Mayor Dan Murphy wrote in a Jan. 10 email to The Islander that public works staff, with help from Manatee County, had removed most of the debris from its beaches.
“As to the remains of the trawler, salvage operations with divers are scheduled to begin today (Jan. 10) just off of Bean Point, where the trawler ran aground,” Murphy wrote. He noted that the fuel tank (maximum capacity 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel) remained with the hull in approximately 14 feet of water.
“Still, this tank continues to pose a potential threat to our beaches should it rupture prior to or during salvage operations,” he added.
In the meantime, the city placed debris from the wreckage into dumpsters near the Anna Maria Island Historical Society museum, 402 Pine Ave., for later disposal.
Murphy wrote that Versaggi’s insurance adjuster would inspect the debris “this week” and would cover the cost of the city’s cleanup work.
Another caller, Tjet Martin, reported observing large amounts of debris strewn along the shoreline “as far as I could see” in Bradenton Beach.
The Bradenton Beach tram has been shuttling passengers between the beach and the business district for two months.
But much about the Community Redevelopment Agency’s service remains unfinished.
CRA members Jan. 6 discussed improving service with a route map, signage and a more detailed monthly report on the tram’s performance.
The tram has built up a small but consistent ridership, averaging 108 people per day, according to its operator, Easy Parking Group.
From Nov. 11-30, the first days of operation, tram operators recorded 1,994 passengers — that’s about 104.9 passengers per day.
From Dec. 1-27, tram operators serviced 2,980 passengers — 110.3 per day — aboard the low-speed vehicle. The tram set its highest single-day ridership of 173 passengers on Christmas Day.
The report did not provide ridership information for Dec. 28-31.
The most popular stops along the route were “beach parking,” the Bradenton Beach Police Department on Highland Avenue and the Daiquiri Deck at 107 Bridge St.
The report lacked details on peak ridership.
City attorney Ricinda Perry, appointed by the CRA to coordinate the project, told the CRA membership that revenue for advertisements on the tram fell short of expectations.
The tram is intended to transport people between the large parking lots at the Coquina and Cortez beaches and the CRA district, where parking is limited. The service is functionally similar to the island’s fare-free trolleys but the route is limited to the beach parking lots and Bridge Street and the surrounding commercial district.
The CRA had hoped to subsidize its budget for the tram with ad revenue.
Five merchants agreed to advertise on the tram for a total of $2,475 per month — far below the $8,675 monthly cost of running the service.
“The money’s not there,” Perry said. “We’re asking. We’re just not receiving as much as we hoped when it comes to advertising.”
“Nobody wants to invest in a concept, they want to invest in proof,” she added. “We’re still building that proof.”
BridgeWalk motel owner Angela Rodocker suggested the CRA advertise to attract riders.
Bradenton Beach Marina owner Mike Bazzy, who also spoke during public comment, said the CRA should place signs at regular stops that show the tram’s route and provides directions for riders.
Perry said the CRA would need more information from Easy Parking on stops, but she hoped to identify specific stops before the next meeting in February.
CRA members voted 6-0 to request Easy Parking provide additional details about monthly operations.
CRA member Ed Chiles, a local restaurateur, was absent with excuse.
The board did not discuss Easy Parking’s report, but CRA Chair/City Commissioner Ralph Cole requested that the company’s owner, Joshua La Rose, attend the agency’s monthly meetings to provide service updates.
The tram is set to cost the CRA $113,150 over the course of the yearlong pilot program. The CRA’s contract with Easy Parking will expire Nov. 1, 2021, but can be extended or terminated at any time.
The tram runs 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. The service also services employees 10-11 p.m.
They are taking it to the top.
And not the treetops.
A treehouse — built without a permit in Holmes Beach in 2011 — still has four pending lawsuits in various courts spanning nearly 10 years and the owners are attempting to move up the legal fight.
“I give them a lot of credit for being persistent,” attorney Jay Daigneault, of the Trask, Daigneault, firm in Clearwater, representing the city in this case, said Dec. 30, 2020, in response to their most recent filing with the Florida Supreme Court.
Owners Richard Hazen and Huong Lynn Tran filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the state’s high court Dec. 29 in another attempt to keep their treehouse from being removed by the city.
The petition, an appeal, cites earlier cases that were denied hearings, stating that the 11th Circuit Court “already set itself apart” from accepting results of similar cases and “petitioners pray that this court grants their petition for writ of certiorari.”
The writ requests that the Supreme Court order a lower court to send up the court record for review.
Meanwhile, the city issued a code violation Dec. 29, 2020, citing the treehouse owners with operating an unregistered rental as part of the other four vacation rentals on the property.
According to city code compliance director JT Thomas, $95,600 in fines is due to the city and must be paid for a vacation rental certificate to be viable.
The issuance of a vacation rental certificate is predicated on the property owners maintaining good standing with the city.
Tran and Hazen will be cited $500 per day if they continue to provide short-term rentals on the property, a vacation accommodation named Angelino’s Sea Lodge.
Daigneault said they went to the Supreme Court because it is the state’s “court of last resort.”
The writ reads much like the other pro se — lacking an attorney — filings, with incomplete and jumbled statements that distort the case background.
“This is largely gibberish, but this is one way to get what they want,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court has no requirement to review such cases and hears only about 2.5% of those that come before it.
“The fact of the matter is that the treehouse needs to come down,” he said. “And it is going to come down at some point. The question is when.”
The couple previously sought a hearing on a constitutional claim with the U.S. Supreme Court — after being denied hearings in the appeal courts after a civil court ruling on a petition for a vote by the Holmes Beach electorate was declined due to state law. The court declined to hear the case without comment.
Attempts to contact Tran and Hazen Dec. 29 were unanswered.