Tag Archives: Feature

Anna Maria pier rammed by barge

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I+iconSOUTHEAST workers were installing planks on the Anna Maria City Pier the morning of Sept. 10 before the contractor’s barge, shown here at the T-end, rammed the pier and pushed a row of pilings and about 15-20 feet of walkway out of kilter. Islander Photos: Jack Elka
Before … I+iconSOUTH-EAST workers install planks on the Anna Maria City Pier the morning of Sept. 10 — before the contractor’s barge rammed the walkway. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
… and after crash A diver waves from the water Sept. 14 on the north side of the Anna Maria City Pier, where he surveys underwater damage to the pier after the contractor’s barge crashed Sept. 10 and pushed pilings and about 20 feet of walkway framing out of alignment. At the T-end, rafters and other materials for the restaurant, bait shop and restrooms are piled up, awaiting the start of construction. Islander Photo: Courtesy Anna Maria
i+iconSoutHeaSt worker michael Butz, right, and a co-worker prepare Sept. 11 to deliver a load of building materials from the Kingfish Boat ramp in Holmes Beach to the anna maria city Pier on the barge that rammed the pier a day earlier. the materials are for the t-end buildings on the pier. islander Photo: ryan Paice

Hurricane Irma damaged the Anna Maria City Pier beyond repair in 2017, but the impact when the contractor’s barge crashed into the partially completed walkway Sept. 10 is only a minor setback for the ongoing project.

Work on the Anna Maria City Pier is proceeding — including an assessment by divers of the submerged pilings — despite the damage to a 15- to 20-foot section of the walkway.

The planking and T-end restaurant, bait shop and bathroom work will continue, according to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.

“The barge came in too fast,” he said of the crash into the pier.

The barge slammed into the 800-foot-long walkway about two thirds of the way out to the T-end of the pier.

Michael Butz, was operating the barge and lost control as he was attempting to dock for the night, Murphy said.

Butz, who works for I+iconSOUTHEAST, told The Islander Sept. 12, as he was preparing to move materials on the barge from Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach to the pier, “Tell the people, I’m really sorry.”

The city contracted with I+icon in November 2018 to construct the 800-foot pier structure, walkway and T-end.

Work on the T-end buildings by Mason Martin construction is set to begin the week of Sept. 16, as previously scheduled.

“It’s still a go,” Murphy said Sept. 12.

The Coast Guard investigation

Chief Zachary Gray of the U.S. Coast Guard-Station Cortez said a crew from Cortez was on scene after the crash Sept. 10 to ensure no one was hurt.

There were no reports of injuries.

He added the Coast Guard’s investigations’ division, headed by Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Jensen of Sector St. Petersburg, is in charge of the crash investigation.

St. Petersburg Sector Petty Officer First Class Ayla Kelley said Sept. 12 there have been no charges as a result of the incident and that one investigator visited the scene.

She also said the division was looking to determine why the collision occurred, interviewing the captain and any other witnesses, but had no further comment on the pending investigation.

What’s next for the damaged pier?

“I+icon needs to develop a plan to fix it. The engineer has to sign off,” Murphy said.

“And I will review any plan before the work starts,” he added.

The crash destroyed two pilings, beams, stringers and utility conduits, he said.

Murphy didn’t have an estimate of the repair costs, but said I+icon is responsible for the damages caused by the barge, “whatever it is.”

Before the crash, Murphy hoped for a January reopening of the pier, but the bathrooms and restaurant are not expected to open at that time.

After the crash, the mayor said he didn’t know if that timeline would be affected.

The 1911 pier is being rebuilt due to damages sustained during Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Anna Maria commissioner fails to qualify for re-election

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Commissioner Dale Woodland

You know what they say about assumptions.

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett called Commissioner Dale Woodland Sept. 4 to inform the commissioner he failed to qualify for re-election in November because he paid the $48 qualifying fee with a personal check.

Candidates are required to pay fees with a check drawn from a designated campaign account.

Woodland, who has served seven two-year terms as commissioner, said in a Sept. 12 interview with The Islander that he didn’t create a campaign account for his re-election because of the fee he would incur at his bank, Wells Fargo.

He added that he submitted the payment to the SOE on Aug. 19, the first day qualifying opened, and assumed he would hear from the SOE before qualification closed Aug. 30 if the payment was not acceptable.

“I’m mainly frustrated with myself for allowing this to happen,” Woodland said. “I mean, I can’t blame anybody but myself. I made a mistake.”

Woodland said he plans to apply for reappointment when his term expires in November.

“I feel pretty confident (I will be reappointed),” he said. “I’ve been working with these commissioners for a long time, and they’re the ones that will make the ultimate decision.

“I’m confident. We’ll just see how it all plays out,” he added.

With Woodland disqualified, incumbent Commissioner Carol Carter and planning and zoning board Chair Jonathan Crane — the only two candidates to qualify for three commission seats in the Nov. 5 election — are automatically elected.

The appointment of Woodland’s seat in November will be the second appointment by city commissioners since the election qualifying closed.

Commission Chair Brian Seymour resigned in a letter to Mayor Dan Murphy effective the date of qualifying in August, leaving his seat to be appointed by the commission, prior to Woodland’s disqualification.

The city put out a call for applications for Seymour’s seat and the commission — including Commissioner Doug Copeland, who opted not to seek another term on the November ballot — is expected to select from those applicants Thursday, Sept. 26.

Seymour’s resignation letter to Murphy did not provide a reason for his departure, but it was tendered a day after city commissioners voted against an amendment that would have allowed him to open a liquor store at a storefront near the Anna Maria General Store, which he owns.

The chosen applicant will serve the remainder of Seymour’s two-year term, through November 2020.

Applicants for Seymour’s seat must be Anna Maria residents for at least two years and be qualified to vote in the city. The deadline to apply is 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24. City employees, as well as anyone holding another municipal office, cannot apply.

An application can be found on the city’s website at cityofannamaria.com or at city hall at 10005 Gulf Drive.

Completed applications will be provided to commissioners as they are received and applicants will have a chance to make a presentation to the commission at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at city hall.

Commissioners Carol Carter, Copeland, and Amy Tripp will cast ballots to fill Seymour’s seat.

The ballots will be revealed at the meeting after the votes are counted and the new commissioner is announced.

There has not yet been a call for applicants to fill Woodland’s seat, but the same process will be used to fill his seat in November, after Crane is sworn into office.

Commissioners are paid $4,800 a year.

Anna Maria had 1,076 active voters as of Aug. 30, according to the SOE.

Last of 4 men in shark-dragging case takes plea deal

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Screenshots from the viral video of a shark-dragging that occurred near Egmont Key in June 2017 show three of the four men as they watched the shark being dragged behind the boat. Islander File Photos
Robert “Bo” Benac

By Kathy Prucnell and ChrisAnn Silver Esformes, Islander Reporters

The shark-dragging case that entangled four men in cries of animal cruelty for months on social media has concluded.

“The Benac case is over,” said Mike Moore, 13th Judicial Circuit Court public information officer, after the last of the three defendants charged for the June 2017 shark dragging near Egmont Key reached a plea deal.

With a court-sanctioned agreement, Robert “Bo” Benac of Bradenton was sentenced Sept. 12 to 11 months probation, 10 days in jail, $2,500 fine, 250 hours of community service — half with an animal shelter — and a three-year revocation of his fishing license, according to Moore. Benac also received credit for one day served in jail after his December 2017 arrest.

Benac’s case stems from videos posted on social media showing him with three other men, Burns Easterling, Spencer Heintz and Michael Wenzel on a June 26, 2017, fishing trip in the waters north of Anna Maria Island.

One video shows the men laughing as the shark was dragged off the back of their speeding boat. Other videos showed them spearing and shooting sharks with guns.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the state attorney offices in Hillsborough and Manatee counties spent six months investigating before filing the charges against three of the men, as public outrage on social media swelled to the governor’s office.

“He’ll start at 3 p.m. Friday,” Moore said, referring to Benac’s time in the Hillsborough County jail.

According to Moore, the felony aggravated animal cruelty charge levied for shooting a bull shark was reduced to a lesser charge and the same charge for the incident involving a blacktip shark — the dragging behind the fishing boat — was dropped.

A misdemeanor charge for violating an FWC rule that restricts methods of taking wildlife also was reduced for Benac, Moore said.

He is the son of Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Wenzel, the boat’s captain, pleaded guilty in February to animal cruelty and use of an illegal method to catch a shark. He was fined $2,733.27 and sentenced to 10 days in jail and 11 months probation, including 100 hours of community service. Wenzel also lost his fishing license for five years.

Charges against Heintz were dropped by the state in May 2018 after prosecutors agreed his actions were not criminal.

Easterling cooperated with authorities and was not charged.

Holmes Beach considers tax, licenses for monthly rentals

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Commissioners Pat Morton and Carol Soustek take part in the commission discussion on rental fees Sept. 10 in chambers, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach already taxes short-term rentals in its vacation rental program.

At a Sept. 10 meeting, the mayor and city commissioners reached consensus to draft an ordinance regulating long-term — monthly and seasonal — rentals, including a tax on the property owners.

If enacted, the ordinance stipulates that monthly rentals are subject to the same regulations and fees as weekly rentals, which means long-term rental owners would go from no fee to licensing and a payment of $545 every three years, while weekly vacation rental owners would pay $545 every two years.

“This basically just turns our monthly into the same thing we require for weekly,” Mayor Judy Titsworth said Sept. 10.

She said that administering monthly rentals requires the same amount of work for city staff as weekly rentals. So she determined both types of rental units should be charged the same fee.

“We are doing the exact same thing for monthly as we are for weekly,” she said. “How can we charge differently for one than the other when we are using the same exact program and inspections.”

Titsworth said she directed city treasurer Lori Hill to come up with a total “break even cost” for the vacation rental certificate program. Hill determined, each unit owner would pay $545 biennially for the city to break even, based on the current number of rental units in the city — 1,378.

At the Sept. 10 meeting, commissioners approved the first reading of an amended VRC ordinance, which increased the biennial fee for weekly rentals from $150 to $695.

At the work session following the meeting, Titsworth said, if commissioners approve the monthly rental ordinance, the fee for weekly rentals could be lowered to $545 on final reading.

Commission Chair Jim Kihm agreed with Titsworth.

“It’s not so much what category you’re in, but what work is required by our code compliance people to do the inspections,” he said.

Commissioner Carol Soustek, who owns a long-term rental, said she is concerned the increased fee could lead to fewer monthly rentals in a city where long-term rentals are diminishing.

“My worry is that we have so very few monthlies,” she said. “We have more people wanting to rent the monthlies than we have a supply. And most of the monthlies are residents who rent (their) places to offset cost factors that have hit them over the years.”

Soustek also said many monthly or seasonal renters are a part of the community, and don’t create the same noise, trash and parking problems associated with short-term renters.

Commissioner Pat Morton agreed with Soustek. “I’m worried we’re driving them out,” he said of long-term rental owners.

Titsworth suggested the city charge the $545 fee every four years for long-term rentals, instead of two.

But, Kihm said it could become a safety concern.

He preferred to have “more eyes on it and make sure everything is being operated properly,” adding the costs are estimates, so the fee could change.

Soustek asked the commission to compromise on three-year fees and inspections for monthly rentals.

The commission reached consensus to amend the draft ordinance to include a three-year $545 fee for monthly rentals and two years for weekly rentals, and move it to a first reading and public hearing.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, with a work session to follow.

… and takes steps to amend vacation rental regulations

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Attorney Stephen Dye, sitting in Sept. 10 for Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff, both partners in the Dye Harrison law firm, offers his view during the commission meeting. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach is tackling changes to the 2016 vacation rental certificate program.

At their Sept. 10 meeting, commissioners approved 4-0 the first reading of an amended vacation rental ordinance, with some changes.

Commissioner Rick Hurst was absent with excuse.

Previously, Commissioner Kim Rash asked that the ordinance be amended to state that “excessive and boisterous noise” is not allowed at any time, not just during the quiet hours of 10 p.m.-7 a.m.

The commission agreed to expand the language about noise in a residential area, including a stipulation that only “quiet conversation” can occur 10 p.m.-7 a.m., in a pamphlet to be placed in rental units and advertising.

Additionally, attorney Stephen Dye, sitting in for vacationing city attorney Patricia Petruff, both principles in the Dye Harrison law firm, noticed some repetitive phrasing in the section of the ordinance dealing with advertising for vacation rentals.

The commission agreed the language should be amended before the final reading and public hearing.

At a previous meeting, commissioners agreed to a recommendation from staff to raise the fee from $150 to $695 for initial application and biennial renewals to cover program costs.

The commission also is considering adding monthly vacation rentals to the certificate program, and lowering the application fee for weekly rentals to $545.

The new fee for re-inspection would be $50. A second re-inspection now incurs a $75 fee for owners.

Additionally, the change of authorized agent fee increased from $35 to $50.

Based on commission consensus, violations with a $150 fee for a first offense would include:
• Advertising that violates city codes or ordinances;
• Failing to list the amount of parking spaces at a rental property;
• Neglecting to register new rental agents within 15 business days;
• Failing to schedule an inspection within 30 days of application;
• And, failing to schedule a re-inspection within 30 days of an inspection failure.

The city would give the property owner 48 hours to come into compliance before issuance of a second citation.

Additional violations within 12 months of the first violation would result in a $500 fine unless, after a hearing, the special magistrate chooses to reduce or increase the fine.

Improper placement of a short-term rental sign on a property also would trigger a $150 fine, but the city would allow 24 hours to comply before issuing a second violation.

A $250 first violation would be issued for exceeding maximum occupancy limits, advertising without a valid certificate and advertising that does not state a seven-day minimum stay.

Renting a property without a valid vacation rental certificate would incur a $500 fine.

The maximum fine for all violations would be an irreversible fine of $5,000.

The second reading, final public hearing and a vote on the vacation rental ordinance will be set for a future meeting.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

SOE rejects Bradenton Beach ballot initiatives

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Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson, attending the Sept. 4 Bradenton Beach city commission meeting, will represent the city at a Sept. 20 hearing regarding four charter ballot initiatives. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Take one step forward, two steps back.

You’re in Bradenton Beach.

Four proposed charter amendments petitioned by the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods political action committee failed to make the Nov. 5 Bradenton Beach ballot under a decision by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.

City commissioners learned of the decision Sept. 5,  the day after they approved a resolution for the vote.

“The ballot language does not comply with Florida Statutes, specifically 101.161,” Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett wrote in a Sept. 5 letter to Bradenton Beach city clerk Terri Sanclemente. “I do not believe it is in my authority to change or create any ballot wording, so I will be unable to place these questions on any ballot.”

“I had previously indicated Sept. 5, 2019, as the deadline to get any amendments on the ballot,” Bennett continued. He offered to extend the deadline to Sept. 9, but no later.

The charter amendment subjects for the ballot include:

  • Prohibit construction of a multilevel parking garage in the city;
  • Require city commission vacancies be filled by election;
  • Prevent construction within setbacks;
  • Establish a full-time city manager.

The state law Bennett referred to requires a ballot title of up to 15 words, as well as a ballot summary not to exceed 75 words, including amendments to a city charter, which acts as a municipal constitution.

The ballot language, which Bradenton Beach commissioners adopted Sept. 4 in a resolution to the SOE, exceed the word limit, according to Bennett.

Blame for the city’s failure to put the questions on this year’s ballot is up in the air.

Judge Lon Arend of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court made it the city’s responsibility to determine the ballot language to conform with state law in his final judgment, but city attorney Ricinda Perry refused to change the language, saying KORN attorney Robert Hendrickson advised against changing any wording.

Perry said Hendrickson threatened to file for sanctions against her and the city if she altered the wording of the questions. She said she sought changes to the wording from KORN co-founders John Metz and Reed Mapes on multiple occasions, to no avail.

She added, in the commission meetings held to discuss the ballot questions in the six months since Arend ruled that they must be submitted to the SOE for the ballot, KORN representatives made no objections and offered no changes to the wording.

Perry said that, after hearing about the SOE’s rejection of the ballot wording, Hendrickson is proposing new language to conform with state law.

But, Perry said she is unwilling to alter the wording because that would change what the voters read when they signed the petitions.

The petition forms contained KORN’s proposed ballot language.

“We’re saying, ‘This is how you shopped it, it’s not fair to pull a bait-and-switch,’” Perry said.

Additionally, Perry said she didn’t understand some of the initiatives, and Metz and Mapes haven’t provided clarification.

On Aug. 27, prior to the SOE decision, Hendrickson filed a second motion to enforce Arend’s final judgment, claiming the ballot language doesn’t meet the criteria of the state law because the city added a summary to the original text that exceeds the word limit and includes the ballot title as the ballot question.

“For some reason there are some added words that might make the SOE not accept them,” Metz said in an interview with The Islander Sept. 5. “I don’t know what that’s about, but it would be a travesty.”

“We’ve got a lot of personalities here that don’t want to give up their power,” he continued.

The next day, Perry told The Islander that she doesn’t understand why Hendrickson would say the city added the ballot summaries. She said KORN provided the summaries to voters on the petitions.


Court hearing

Despite Bennett’s short extension of the deadline for the ballot questions from Sept. 5 to Sept. 9, Perry said she won’t propose changes until a court hearing is held to determine a course of action.

Perry said a three-hour hearing with Judge Edward Nicholas of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, but she can’t attend. She suggested retaining Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson to represent the city.

Commissioner Jake Spooner, at the Sept. 4 meeting, moved to retain Johnson for the hearing, and Commissioner Ralph Cole seconded the motion.

The motion passed 4-0.

Commissioner Randy White was absent with excuse.

Perry said that, if the hearing results in the city having to redraft the language of the initiatives to meet SOE requirements, the city could schedule a special election for the amendments or await the November 2020 general election.

HB, owners await ruling on 6 Bert Harris property cases

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Judge Charles Sniffin listens Sept. 4 in his Manatee County courtroom to a pretrial motion from the city of Holmes Beach in six cases filed under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Protection Act. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Same fact pattern. Same legal issues. Two results.

The city of Holmes Beach hoped to bring an end to 11 cases of property owners suing under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights at Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 hearings — but so far, that’s not happening.

With motions for judgments on the pleadings, the city claimed the owners’ lawsuits were improper and based on untimely filings.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin postponed ruling Sept. 4 on six cases, saying he would take the matter “under advisement” before issuing a written order.

A week earlier, in another Manatee County courtroom, Judge Edward Nicholas ruled from the bench accepting the owners’ argument they were proper and timely and allowed five other cases to proceed.

The 11 lawsuits involve property owners who, before the city’s 2015-16 short-term rental ordinances limited occupancy to two-persons per bedroom, were not restricted as to the number of occupants.

Clearwater attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask, Daigneault, assigned by the city’s insurer, Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, argued the vacation rental owners’ failed to file their claim within one year of the adoption of the 2015 occupancy ordinance and to request a variance from the occupancy law.

Attorney Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson Bradenton law firm, representing the property owners in the 11 lawsuits, argued the clock started ticking in 2016 after an ordinance set in motion the enforcement of the occupancy rule and that requesting a variance would have been futile.

The city commission enacted the ordinances in response to a public call to address issues stemming from a proliferation of large rental houses.

Mayor Judy Titsworth watched the proceedings Sept. 4, and after the hearing said, “Whichever way it goes, it’s part of the procedure.”

Thomas defended against the city motion alongside five Najmy attorneys.

More than 80 property owners invoked the Bert Harris law by filing claims in Holmes Beach in 2017, claiming an inordinate burden caused by the occupancy ordinance that resulted in a loss of market value.

Fifteen of these claims were upped to lawsuits.

Two were voluntarily dismissed by the owners and in one case, the owners lost at trial.

The owners’ claims heard by Sniffin Sept. 4, the corresponding rental properties and alleged losses based on appraisals are:

  • Shawn Kaleta, 204 72nd St., $400,000.
  • Brian Wien, 111 81st St., $220,000.
  • Robert and Michelle Carl, 118th 50th St., $400,000.
  • 307 66th LLC, 307 66th St., Unit B, $295,000.
  • 302 55th LLC, 302 55th St., $655,000.
  • R. Carlile Roberts, 6422 Gulf Drive, Unit 5, $380,000

Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes has a claim for 211 54th St. pending before Sniffin for $395,000, but was not heard with the others.

In the 11 lawsuits, alleged damages total $4.895 million — all claimed due to market value losses stemming from the city’s 2015 occupancy ordinance and a 2016 ordinance setting the May date for its enforcement.

According to city officials, the Bert Harris claims have been submitted to FMIT under the city’s insurance policies.

The next hearing for pending cases was 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 9, after press time for The Islander.

Seasoned warriors back to fight DOT over Cortez megabridge

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Cortez resident Linda Molto says she’s ready to take up the fight again to keep a high bridge from slicing through the historic fishing village. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola fought efforts in the 1990s to keep the state DOT from building a megabridge to Anna Maria Island. She and others opposed to the high span have maintained for years it would permanently damage the character of historic Cortez. “What’s it going to do to the fishing village?” she asked. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

The years may have slowed down their bodies or their memories, but not their spirits.

Katie Pierola and Linda Molto began battling the Florida Department of Transportation 30 years ago when the agency announced plans to build a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span to replace the Cortez Bridge.

Pierola and Molto prevailed then, but the DOT has returned with plans to build a megabridge between Bradenton Beach and the historic fishing village of Cortez

Pierola and Molto say they’ve returned too.

“I would never not be involved,” Molto, 74, told The Islander in an Aug. 29 interview.

Pierola, 86, may have knee surgery in November and uses a walker to get around.

“I can’t jump in the car,” she said in an interview Aug. 29. “I can’t go to meetings like I used to. But I still get involved.”

Neither woman is surprised by the DOT’s efforts.

“We had a feeling it would come back,” Molto said. “We know the DOT. We just know them. Because we dealt with them before, we know who they are.”

Said Pierola, “They haven’t given up. That’s bad because of all the work we did to save that bridge.”

When the DOT announced its plans in 1989, Molto, who lives in Cortez, joined forces with Pierola, who was mayor of Bradenton Beach from 1989-92.

Public outcry led the DOT to abandon plans for the Cortez Bridge in the early1990s.

But the agency then announced plans to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span, same as it wanted for Cortez.

Pierola and more than 70 other activists answered by forming Save Anna Maria in 1993.

SAM won a lawsuit against the DOT in 1997 that halted plans for the bridge over concerns for seagrass beds and shallow waters.

That quieted the waters for more than a decade.

The DOT came back with a study completed in 2010 that determined the Anna Maria Island Bridge would have no significant impact on natural resources and wildlife, among other factors. The Federal Highway Administration approved the study in 2016.

SAM disbanded in October 2017.

The prevailing notion among local officials and bridge opponents was that the DOT would get a high span for the Anna Maria Island Bridge, and leave the Cortez structure alone.

It was not to be.

The DOT began a study in 2013 on options for replacing the Cortez Bridge and announced in April 2018 that it would build a 65-foot bridge.

Molto, who admits to a failing memory, says the anti-bridge brigade is now just getting started. Slowly.

They have had one meeting, she said, but don’t really know what’s next.

The passage of time has weakened the bonds.

“We knew everybody back then,” she said. “Now, we don’t. We had a history with the island, and they had a history with us. It’s not gone, but it’s not what it was.

“When the old-timers died, a lot of the young ones decided they did not want to live here any more or they didn’t want to fish and went elsewhere.”

Opponents of the high span have maintained for years it would permanently damage the character of Cortez, which was designated a U.S. historic district in 1995 — largely due to the grass-root efforts of Linda Molto and Mary Fulford Green.

“What’s it going to do to the fishing village?” Pierola asked.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who represents the residents countywide, is the only member of the seven-member board who opposes the high bridge. She is making another push to see it replaced by a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge.

Molto says she wishes the rest of the commission would oppose the high bridge.

“I don’t understand why the county would want to do something like that to Cortez,” Molto said.

Holmes Beach resident Nancy Deal served in a leadership post with SAM after joining the group in 2001. She strongly criticizes the DOT, which has its regional headquarters in Polk County.

“A bureaucrat is making a decision that affects people’s lives,” she told The Islander in an Aug. 28 telephone interview. “Someone sitting in Bartow.”

Whitmore says the DOT may be tone deaf to this issue.

“I think they don’t understand the long heritage of the Cortez fishing village and its role in the state of Florida,” she said in a telephone interview Aug. 30. “With all due respect, they should consider it. Once the fishing village’s character is gone, it will never come back.”

DOT District 1 secretary LK Nandam said in a statement emailed to The Islander on Aug. 22 that all due care is being taken to preserve the village.

“We go through an extensive project development process, which follows both federal and state requirements, to seek the best solution for the entire community,” Nandam wrote.

“The department will continue its engagement with the communities, particularly, Cortez village and Bradenton Beach, as we prepare the design for the bridge,” he wrote later in his statement.

County Commission Chair Stephen Jonsson, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, said in an Aug. 23 interview with The Islander that he feels comfortable that the DOT will preserve the character of the village.

“In my conversations with the DOT,” he said, “that’s something they’re very sensitive to.”

Nandam and megabridge opponents agree that repair cost is a major factor.

The high span “would not require the extensive maintenance that traditional, lower-profile bridges have,” Nandam told The Islander.

“The DOT does not like bascule bridges because of the maintenance costs,” Deal said. “In our case, they don’t consider what it does to the community.”

The Cortez Bridge had major rehab projects in 1996, 2010 and 2015. The Anna Maria Island Bridge has had six structural repairs since 1978.

Both drawbridges have outlived their 50-year life spans, the DOT says. New bridges have 75-year life spans, according to the DOT.

Design work on the Anna Maria Island Bridge is about 60 percent complete, but won’t be finished until fiscal 2022-23, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick told The Islander in August.

Construction is not funded.

A $6.4 million contract has been awarded for bridge design, but work has not started, Rick said.

The DOT is waiting on the project development and environment study release, expected by the end of this year, the DOT spokesman said.

The study will determine the environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical impacts of the new bridge.

But Pierola and Molto are not waiting. They hear, in the words of 17th century English poet and politician Andrew Marvell, “time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

“We’re not going to let them off easy,” Molto said.

Pierola makes no excuses for her feistiness.

“I’m just the normal person on politics,” she said. “I am what I am. That’s it.”

Storm stalls pier, planking starts, lease negotiations continue

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Alexander and Elizabeth Barthalis, both of Palmetto, check Sept. 5 on construction progress at the Anna Maria City Pier. A fisher for 10 years at the pier before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, Alexander Barthalis told The Islander he’s been keeping an eye on the work so he can return to fish. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Walkway decking is installed Sept. 5 on the Anna Maria City Pier.

Two more weeks.

Construction work at Anna Maria City Pier was delayed two weeks, until mid-September, by precautionary measures in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s approach in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We’re putting things back together.” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said Sept. 5, as workers began installing Ipe planking on the 800-foot-long walkway.

Murphy said Sept. 9 that he expects the walkway will be done by Sept. 13, although some openings will be left for utility access.

I+conSOUTHEAST, the city’s pier contractor, enacted a hurricane preparedness plan Aug. 30 to protect the $5.9 million project, that removed the plywood walkway, covered light posts and secured the Ipe planks and other materials at the site.

The city contracted with I+con in November 2018 to replace and reconstruct the pier after Hurricane Irma damaged it in September 2017.

The path of Dorian spared Southwest Florida, although the storm caused vast destruction in the Bahamas and slammed the Outer Banks in North Carolina before spinning northward along the Atlantic coast.

With the timeline pushed from Sept. 1 to mid-September, January 2020 is the target date for the reopening the pier to the public, although the T-end buildings will be shells.

Construction plans for the restaurant, bait shop and restrooms do not include interior improvements.

The city entered a $967,000 contract in July with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach to rebuild the wood-frame structures — not the interiors.

Mason Martin is expected to deliver materials by barge to the T-end Sept. 13-14, including trusses and beams, and begin work Sept. 16, Murphy said.

Building lease terms, negotiations

Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing for a new lease for the restaurant operations with Mario Schoenfelder, who holds the current lease through December 2020. His lease payments were suspended after the pier was deemed destroyed.

Schoenfelder extended an offer in July for lease payments of $12,000 a month, beginning in December 2020, and no security deposit, for the T-end, restaurant, bait shop and bathrooms, as well as parking and the boat landing. He stipulated payments would begin after the first six months of operation to offset the costs of getting the business started.

However, the city has new terms in its plans.

In August, the commission determined Schoenfelder’s new lease would exclude bathrooms and other common areas and require a contract for maintenance from a third-party management company.

Schoenfelder proposed to maintain the interiors, while the city would maintain the outside.

Still to be negotiated are the lease terms, insurance requirements and taxes, as well as parking, but a pro-rata allocation based on square footage would be a “logical approach,” Murphy said Sept. 5.

He said he and Schoenfelder have been discussing a 10-year lease with an option for 10 more years.

The city budgeted $500,000 to cover the buildout, but Schoenfelder’s offer was for $250,000 for the buildout and $250,000 to go toward restaurant fixtures and equipment.

In subsequent emails to Murphy, Schoenfelder objected to presenting his investment offer as $250,000, saying the equipment, valued at $250,000, would remain after his lease.

“It’s just hogwash,” Murphy told The Islander Sept. 7.