Tag Archives: Feature

Angler reels in county’s top ag award

thumb image
Capt. Scott Moore aboard his fishing boat. Islander Courtesy Photo

Capt. Scott Moore has been fishing and running the waters around Anna Maria Island for more than half a century.

He farms the Gulf of Mexico.

On Oct. 17, the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame announced Moore is the 2019 hall of fame inductee.

“My ranching friends are telling me I have to come out and pick tomatoes or brand a bull,” Moore told The Islander Oct. 18 in response to the award.

“But seriously, it’s quite a big deal. I’m so glad that they recognized the fishing community and how important it is to our area, tourism and our lives,” Moore said.

A news release from the hall of fame said of the excellent nominations from the community: “The most impressive was someone who doesn’t own a big green tractor or cows or a thousand acres of land to cultivate. Scott Moore owns a charter boat!”

Moore is being honored for his lifetime of dedication and commitment as a skilled captain, an ocean steward, conservationist and educator, the release said.

Moore serves on several fishery committees, both locally and nationally, and has demonstrated how partnerships between scientists and fishers can protect and restore marine ecosystems, the release stated.

Moore moved in 1952 to Bradenton from Cape Cod with his family.

They owned charter and whale-watching boats at the cape, and continued with charters in their new Florida home.

In 1979, Moore moved to Holmes Beach, where he lives today. Following in his father’s fishing lifestyle, son Justin also became a captain. Both run charters for hire. One might say they’re sons of the sons of sailors.

“My wife and my kids put a lot of information together for the nomination,” Moore said. “And a lot of people who have fished with me over the years also wrote letters. It’s phenomenal.”

Moore will be inducted into the hall of fame during a Nov. 21 luncheon at the Palmetto Women’s Club, 910 Sixth St. W., Palmetto.

The Manatee County Agricultural Museum and the Palmetto Historical Commission will host the luncheon.

There is no charge to attend, but reservations are required. Call Jordan Chancey at 941-545-8816 or email palmettofcw@yahoo.com to make a reservation.

Renourishment coming in 2020

thumb image
High surf pounds the groins in the Gulf of Mexico in Bradenton Beach in December 2018. About 10 feet of sand is lost to erosion every year on Anna Maria Island’s coastline, according to officials. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

An endless battle with Mother Nature continues: Sand in, sand out along Anna Maria Island’s shorelines.

Manatee County commissioners voted earlier this month to approve agreements advancing two beach renourishment projects in 2020 stretching on the shoreline from Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach, then to Longboat Pass.

The county is partnering with the Army Corps of Engineering as the non-federal sponsor of the projects.

The so-called “central beach project” will stretch from 78th Street North in Holmes Beach to about Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach. Federal funding from the Corps will pay 59.05% of the cost and the remaining 40.95% will be split between the state and county.

The southern renourishment will begin at Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach and end at Longboat Pass. The cost for this phase will be split 50/50 between the state and county.

Most of the funds for the two projects — they will be combined to save money — will come from federal and state governments, but Manatee County’s tourist development tax is the local funding source.

The 5% tourist tax is collected on rentals of less than six months, and money must be spent on tourist-related projects.

Combining the projects offers savings by avoiding the need to hire a separate contractor to mobilize for each project, which can exceed more than $5 million a time, according to the letter of financial capability presented to commissioners by Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and National Resources Department.

According to documents presented at the Oct. 8 commission meeting, federal money — about $11.9 million — for the central beach project was provided in response to requests from several states bordering the Gulf of Mexico following beach erosion from hurricanes such as Irma in 2017.

According to a Sept. 29 letter from the Corps, the county’s financial commitment to the Corps is $15,934,046 — $8,054,046 for the central beach project and $6,175,000 for the Bradenton Beach to Longboat Pass project.

Payment will be due from the county by Dec. 1 in order to bid the project by Dec. 10.

Final documents and recommended edits will be provided to the commission by Manatee County attorney William Clague at a Nov. 19 meeting.

Hunsicker said more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand will be dredged from a sandbar offshore at the northern end of Anna Maria Island and pumped into pipes to the renourishment area.

Work could begin in February 2020 and last for about six months.

Hunsicker noted that beaches on the Gulf coast can lose 10 feet in depth and width every year.

DOT plans to spend $8M to acquire land for new Cortez Bridge

thumb image

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to spend $8 million by 2025 for right-of-way acquisition for the megabridge the agency wants to build to replace the Cortez Bridge.

The DOT’s tentative five-year work program for fiscal years 2021-25, released Oct. 21, says the agency plans to spend about $3.9 million in fiscal 2020-21, about $1 million in fiscal 2023-24 and $3.1 million in fiscal 2024-25 to acquire property for a new bridge.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30.

The DOT plans to spend about $1 million during the same time period for repair and rehabilitation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

According to the agency’s plan, $146,000 will be spent in fiscal 2022-23 and $897,501 in fiscal 2023-24. Most of that amount will be spent on preliminary engineering.

The DOT also plans to spend a total of $550,000 by 2023 during work for replacement of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Of that amount, $100,000 will be spent on preliminary engineering in fiscal 2020-21. Environmental work will account for $25,000 in fiscal 2021-22 and $425,000 in fiscal 2022-23.

None of these planned expenditures has been budgeted. Amounts and time frames often change by the time the fiscal year budget is allocated.

The DOT plans to replace the Anna Maria Island and Cortez drawbridges with 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridges.

A $6.2 million design plan for the AMI Bridge will not be completed until fiscal year 2022-23, and construction is not scheduled to start until fiscal 2029, the DOT said in August. Construction could take at least two or three years, the agency said.

The bridge, built in 1957, has undergone six structural repairs since 1978, the most recent in 2013.

The DOT released a project development and environment study for the Cortez Bridge replacement in early October and has started a $6.4 million design project scheduled to take several years.

The Cortez drawbridge also was completed in 1957. Major repairs were done in 1996, 2010 and 2015.

From chief to chief … A change of command at West Manatee Fire Rescue District

thumb image
Fire Chief Ben Rigney thanks his grandfather Hugh Holmes Sr., a onetime volunteer firefighter and Anna Maria Fire commissioner, after Holmes pinned Rigney with the badge of fire chief Oct. 17, as Fire Chief Andy Price, the first chief of the district, applauds.
WMFR Fire Chief Ben Rigney poses Oct. 15 with his family after taking the oath of office while commissioners look on.
Former Fire Chief Tom Sousa gathers with his family after his Oct. 17 retirement from West Manatee Fire Rescue. WMFR has had three chiefs since the district formed in 2000.
Fire chiefs Tom Sousa and Ben Rigney bow their heads Oct. 17 during a moment of silence at the WMFR change of command ceremony.

WMFR announces fire station open house

Firefighters and the community give it up for the kids.

West Manatee Fire Rescue will host an open house 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Station 1, 407 67th St. W., Bradenton — and is billing it as the “hottest” event of the day.

Fun on tap includes bounce houses, a dunk tank — featuring “Dunk the Chief”— a face painter and a glitter tattoo artist, and close-up looks at the district fire engine, ladder truck and fire boat. There will be station tours, and an obstacle course for kids who will be provided with custom gear for the challenge.

And there will be music! Holmes Beach code enforcement officer JT Thomas will deejay the event.

Pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks will be free.

Community sponsors include Domino’s Pizza, providing 100 pizzas, Blake Medical Center, donating $1,000, Kiwanis Keys & Canes volunteers will be on hand to help during the event and Winn Dixie is providing drinks and cooks.

The WMFR open house is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact WMFR Fire Marshal Rodney Kwiatkowski at kwiatkr@wmfr.org or 941-201-7904.

Bradenton Beach floating dock closes, gangway ‘unsafe’

thumb image
The entrance to the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach remains closed Oct. 10 due to safety concerns with the gangway that connects the dock to the pier. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Problems with a gangway providing people access to the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach led to the dock’s closure.

The dock was installed in August, but the gangway — the walkway connecting the dock to the pier — was part of the installation of the original dock in 2015.

Public works director Tom Woodard wrote in an Oct. 7 email to The Islander that structural engineer Glenn Warburton from Bradenton-based Delta Engineering inspected the gangway Oct. 4. Warburton recommended the city close the dock due to safety concerns.

The gangway was pulling from the pier at the connection and flexing when walked upon. Woodard informed Police Chief Sam Speciale and building official Steve Gilbert about the issues.

Speciale contacted Gibsonton-based Hecker Marine Construction, the contractor that installed the $191,524 dock. Hecker responded that it can’t be held responsible since the installation of the gangway was not in its contract.

Woodard asked Steve Porter, general manager of Duncan Seawall in Sarasota, to look at the gangway and Porter concluded the connection was inadequate and needed to be re-engineered.

So, Woodard contacted Warburton, who said he would expedite a written evaluation, including a suggested repair.

The city will need to hire a contractor to repair the gangway.

In the meantime, the dock remains closed.

“I understand that the day dock has been unavailable for use for too long already, but the liability must be addressed,” Woodard wrote to The Islander.

City officials opened the dock for public use Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to failures by the company originally contracted to build and install the dock. The dock replaced one removed in 2017 due to damage by storms — and crashing boats that broke anchor.

Sherman Baldwin, the owner of Paradise Boat Tours, which launches boat tours from the dock, isn’t concerned with the setback.

“Obviously, safety first,” Baldwin said. “I appreciate the city identifying a problem and working toward a solution as quickly as they have. And, frankly, I’m very thankful it’s happening now and not in the middle of high season!”

Opponents lack plans, manpower to battle DOT on Cortez Bridge

thumb image
The Cortez Bridge spans the Intracoastal Waterway, connecting Anna Maria Sound to Sarasota Bay, and the city of Bradenton Beach to Cortez and mainland Manatee County. Islander Courtesy Graphic
The “typical section: of the proposed 65-foot high-level fixed-bridge.” The graphic is from the “final preliminary engineering report” released Oct. 10 by the DOT. Islander Courtesy Images
A chart in the newly released analysis on the Cortez Bridge shows a 2013 summary of mast heights for boats at the Cortez Bridge.
Nancy Deal, standing, speaks Aug. 13, 2017, to DOT representatives among a full house of people, many of whom rose to give public comment against the DOT’s options to replace the Cortez Bridge. The hearing was held at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Bradenton. It was the last public meeting before the DOT plans were finalized to replace the bridge that opened in 1957. Islander File Photo: Bonner Joy

Get ready for a shock.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced 17 months ago it planned to replace the aging Cortez Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge, but opponents of the bridge were mostly unprepared for a fight when the agency announced Oct. 10 it is moving forward with the megabridge.

Why weren’t they ready?

“I don’t think there’s a good answer for that,” said Nancy Deal, a Holmes Beach resident who has been fighting DOT efforts to build big bridges to Anna Maria Island since moving to Holmes Beach in 2001.

“The bottom line is we didn’t think they’d do it,” Deal told The Islander, hours after the DOT announced its final plans.

“We’re going to fight like hell,” bridge antagonist Joe Kane of Cortez said shortly after the DOT announcement.

How?

“I’m not really sure,” he said.

Linda Molto, a Cortez activist who has been battling DOT efforts to build a big bridge to Cortez since the late 1980s, also didn’t offer any concrete solutions.

“We will talk with them about other options,” she said shortly after the announcement.

The DOT said Oct. 10 it had approved the project development and environment study, clearing the way for design work to begin on the 65-foot-clearance fixed bridge. The DOT had announced on April 23, 2018, that it had chosen the high-bridge option.

The other two options were to repair the existing bridge or build a 35-foot-clearance drawbridge.

Right-of-way acquisition is funded in fiscal years 2021, 2024 and 2025, the DOT said.

Construction is not funded.

Critics of the mile-long bridge say it will destroy the character of the historic fishing village of Cortez and that the DOT is ramrodding the project through over the vehement objections of local residents.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, the city commission and many of their constituents on the islandside of the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway linking the island to Cortez also are opposed.

The DOT counters that the high bridge is the most cost-effective option and that the agency would not do anything to harm the character of a community.

The Cortez drawbridge was completed in 1957 and has a boating clearance of 21 feet.

The DOT says inspections done in 2008 show that the bridge is “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient” and will need further repairs if not replaced. Major repairs were done in 1996, 2010 and 2015.

The new bridge would have two lanes, the same as the current span, but would include two 10-foot-wide shoulders and 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the DOT says.

Molto and Deal discounted filing a lawsuit, an avenue the Save Anna Maria citizens’ group used in the 1990s to temporarily stop the DOT from building a 65-foot-clearance fixed span to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue.

The DOT eventually redesigned the bridge to disway environmental impacts, which prevailed. The design work on the new Anna Maria Island megabridge is well underway.

“I doubt it, simply because we don’t have as many people as before,” Deal said about a possible lawsuit.

“We aren’t there yet,” Molto said.

In another possible setback, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who has been advocating for the construction of a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge, told The Islander on Oct. 11 she would not support the 35-foot alternative the DOT included in the PD&E.

“Too low,” she said. “It’s only 15 feet taller than the current one, thus many more bridge openings (than a 45-foot-clearance bridge).

The DOT announced in July 2016 it had dropped the 45-foot-clearance bridge in favor of a 35-foot version, but Whitmore told The Islander on Oct. 12 she had seen plans after that date that included the 45-foot option.

Nevertheless, she said, DOT District 1 Secretary LK Nandam informed her Oct. 10 that the 45-foot version had been removed from consideration.

“I’m disappointed that the state took out the 45-foot option, and I’m sure they did it so they could eventually get to the 65-foot bridge,” she told The Islander.

Whitmore is the only Manatee County commissioner who opposes the 65-foot-clearance bridge. Efforts by local governments to battle the bridge didn’t seem to come together until after Whitmore asked fellow board members at an Aug. 20 meeting to join her in fighting the megabridge. They declined.

The Island Transportation Planning Organization, comprising the mayors of the three Anna Maria Island cities, voted Sept. 16 to support her efforts to build a 45-foot bridge.

The three AMI cities also have voted individually to oppose the 65-foot-clearance fixed span.

Whitmore said in an Oct. 10 interview she will lobby members of the local delegation in the Senate and House of Representatives when she goes to Tallahassee later this month, particularly Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Galvano said in a Sept. 26 interview with The Islander he supports the 65-foot-clearance bridge. Whitmore said she is aware of Galvano’s position. She knows it will be a tough sell.

“I’m going to talk with him so he can see where we’re coming from, from the people who actually live there,” she said. “I respect his opinion, and I know he respects mine.”

Chappie also said he will work with the local delegation.

“There’s not really a whole lot we can do,” he told The Islander Oct. 3. “I’ll let them know once again.”

In the meantime, the DOT says design work has begun under a $6.4 million contract with the H.W. Lochner engineering firm.

 

 

Galvano: Big bridge points to future

Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, offered thoughts on the Cortez Bridge in a Sept. 26 interview with The Islander:

  • “I must give deference to the DOT. When you’re spending that type of money, you need to think way into the future.”
  • “Growth changes everything. When we’re talking about taxpayer dollars, all of these things have to come into play to maximize the effectiveness of those dollars.”
  • “It’s unfortunate that transportation in this state has been planned in remedial fashion rather than proactive fashion. You have to start somewhere. The bridge fits into a modern transportation plan.”
  • “At some point, you have to recognize the nature of our communities continues to change. We have to look at the greater good.”

— Arthur Brice

Spooks, smiles and sweets for all at AME-PTO Fall Festival

thumb image
Anna Maria Elementary-Parent Teacher Organization co-secretary Alana Fleischer, left, president Jamie Hinckle and co-secretary Nicole Plummer ride the fun slide, Oct. 12, during the 2019 AME-PTO Fall Festival at the Center of Anna Maria Island, 407 Magnolia Ave, Anna Maria.
AME students and teachers parade on Pine Avenue Oct. 12 to begin the Fall Festival.
AME first-grader Beau Canup holds his lazer gun, Oct. 12, during a game in the Center of Anna Maria Island gymnasium at the AME-PTO Fall Festival.
AME third-grader Ian Hrebinko steps up to the pumpkin painting booth Oct. 12 during the AME-PTO Fall Festival.
AME principal Jackie Featherston surveys creepy toys at the entrance to the Fall Festival Haunted Toy Shop Oct. 12. “Every year it seems to be getting better,” Featherston said.
AME kindergarten through fifth-grade 2019 Fall Festival costume winners pose Oct. 12 on stage at the center.
AME second-grade student Polea Vacek is costumed as an apple tree.
AME-PTO Fall Festival-goers and vendors fill the field at the Fall Festival Oct. 12 at the center.
AME first-grader Kellen Hunt models his trophy costume Oct. 12 at Fall Festival. “I’m having fun,” said Kellen, who won a prize for his trophy costume.
AME parents, students and staff crowd the gym at the center, awaiting the costume winner announcements at Fall Festival.
Kenda Christenson, 3, is all smiles for pizza Oct. 12, while having lunch with Sierra Hall and Bayshore Elementary second-grader Drake Hall at Fall Festival. “I’m not scared to go in the haunted house at all,” said Drake.

Gulls die, but why? List of possibilities runs long

thumb image
Ed Straight, owner of Wildlife Inc., holds a sick laughing gull brought Oct. 9 to his Bradenton Beach rehab center. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
A trio of laughing gulls, suffering from an unidentified illness, convalesce Oct. 9 at Wildlife Inc. in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
A dead laughing gull Oct. 8 on Passage Key north of Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jeanie Bystrom

Theories on the cause of a rash of sick and dead laughing gulls from those in the know are long on speculation and short on science.

A few dozen dead laughing gulls were found the week of Oct. 7 on Anna Maria Island and Passage Key. Also, at least two dozen dead laughing gulls were found in Sarasota County.

Wildlife rescuers, environmental scientists and red tide researchers speculated on the causes of the deaths — including botulism or red tide — but further puzzling is why only one species is being affected.

Ed Straight, the founder of Wildlife Inc., a rescue and rehab organization based in Bradenton Beach, received a tip Oct. 8 that gulls were found dead on Passage Key, the national wildlife refuge on a spit of land north of Anna Maria Island. The refuge was established in 1905 to help preserve nesting colonies of native seabirds and wading birds.

At Straight’s request, Jeannie Bystrom, a wildlife advocate who dedicates time rescuing birds entangled in fishing line, boated to Passage Key with her son. There, they found laughing gull carcasses — 23 dead birds — strewn across the beach and the vegetation. They found one bird alive and took it to Straight.

“It didn’t make it through the night,” Straight told The Islander Oct. 9.

Around 7 a.m. Oct. 9, Straight took in a sick gull — it also died — from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Later, when he went to Anna Maria to retrieve a sick bird near the city pier construction site, Straight saw another dead laughing gull in the parking lot.

Earlier in October, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were found on Siesta and Lido keys. They were taken to the Save our Seabirds facility on City Island, which is near Mote Marine Laboratory at the south end of Longboat Key.

More than half of those birds died in the first 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Meanwhile, nine more birds died on two Sarasota County beaches.

Straight, who with wife Gail has rescued and rehabbed wildlife for decades, called the laughing gull deaths “really weird.”

“Gail thinks maybe it’s a virus that’s just affecting the one species,” Straight said. Or, he wondered, perhaps the birds are feeding on a bad or rotting food source.

Straight told The Islander he thought the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was going to retrieve some birds from Passage Key for testing.

Michelle Kerr, the FWC Research Institute’s public information specialist, wrote an Oct. 11 email to The Islander: “FWC’s veterinarians have been in contact with Save Our Seabirds and are facilitating a shipment of specimens for testing to a diagnostic lab.”

However, the disposition of the Passage Key specimens remained unclear, and Kerr could not confirm if birds were retrieved by the FWC.

 

Scientists, others weigh in

Beth Forys is a professor of environmental science and biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. She is well-versed in the physiology and habits of laughing gulls, but the mortality event has her stumped.

“It’s quite a mystery,” Forys told The Islander Oct. 9.

“Laughing gulls are usually the last species of gulls to get sick from contamination or disease. They tend to be less affected. They eat dead fish and rancid stuff all the time, while other gulls eat only live fish.”

Forys theorized the gulls are getting sick from “some other site.” Since only background concentrations of red tide have been reported in Sarasota and Manatee county waters, she doubted a harmful algae bloom was to blame.

She noted laughing gulls are much less sensitive to salmonella than other birds.

“They are just hearty birds,” Forys said. “I’m surprised it’s them.”

Save Our Seabird’s Hande said botulism might be a cause for the sickness.

“Red tide and botulism show similar symptoms,” Hande told The Islander Oct. 10. “But we have no red tide, according to the water testing, so….”

Hande said botulism poisoning spreads quickly in a bird colony, as birds ingest contaminated maggots.

“The neurological symptoms do suggest botulism,” he said.

Meanwhile, as of Oct. 11, dead and dying birds were still arriving at Wildlife Inc.

“I got four more sick gulls in yesterday,” Straight told The Islander Oct. 11.

“One from Coquina, one from the north end near the new pier again, one from somewhere else on the island and one from the Manatee River,” he reported. “One of them didn’t make it through the night.”

Straight also picked up a great white egret from the South Harbor Drive area in Holmes Beach. The bird was too weak to get out of the water.

“It’s just sitting on its haunches, not standing. Is it related? Who knows?” Straight said.

Record season, challenges

thumb image
A green sea turtle hatchling takes a close-up Sept. 30 before being transported by turtle watch volunteers to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota where it will be evaluated and released to the Gulf of Mexico. Turtle watch volunteers discovered the hatchling during a nest excavation at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW
People pause to observe Sept. 30 as turtle watch volunteers Lena Whitesell, left, and Jennifer Scott, excavate a green sea turtle nest. The nest hatched Sept. 27 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and contained 80 hatched and six unhatched eggs, as well as two dead and two live hatchlings.

Three cheers for volunteers!

It has been another record-breaking sea turtle nesting season for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

With 544 nests spotted on island beaches as of Oct. 4, the season broke the 2018 record of 534 nests. Nine nests were laid by green sea turtles, a less frequent visitor to the island when compared with loggerheads.

And the season officially ends Oct. 31, so volunteers still could come across a green turtle nest or two, as greens nest later in the year.

However, Suzi Fox, who, as AMITW executive director, is paid staff, said Oct. 3 the organization noted another record-breaker that it hopes not to best.

She said turtle watch volunteers documented 59 instances of mature or hatchling sea turtles being drawn away from the Gulf of Mexico by lighting visible from the shoreline — the most AMITW has documented since record-keeping began in the 1990s.

Disorientations were not included in the records maintained by volunteers in the ’90s.

In 2018, there were 50 disorientations.

After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles follow their instincts to the Gulf by the reflection of the moon and stars on the water’s surface. Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline draw turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.

Early in the season, which officially began May 1, nine nesting females disoriented upon emerging from the water to nest. Through Oct. 4, as hatchlings scurried up from nests in the sand by the hundreds, 50 nests on Anna Maria Island saw 11-50 hatchlings disorientated, turning away from the Gulf of Mexico upon emergence.

Fox said many hatchlings from nests north of 80th Street in Holmes Beach traveled south down the beach for several blocks, depending on the brightness of the moon the night they hatched. In one case, hatchlings crawled more than 10 blocks.

Streetlights could be to blame, according to Fox, who is working with Florida Power and Light to install amber-colored lights not visible to sea turtles and safe for humans.

She also said lights on the roof of the Walgreens store on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach emit sky-glow that could draw hatchlings from the beach.

Fox said she doesn’t anticipate a problem when asked Oct. 3 by The Islander about lighting at the Compass Hotel, a six-story building under construction at 12340 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, on Perico Island.

“I believe it will be too far from the beach to have any effect on the turtles,” she said, but added she would review a lighting plan for the building to be sure.

Fox said she purchased an instrument that reads sky-glow and will be learning to use the new tool and taking readings this month.

As of Oct. 4, 11 nests remained to hatch on the island and about 26,868 hatchlings had made their way to the Gulf.

Cortez megabridge opponents face tick, tick, ticking clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, some megabridge opponents believe they have time.

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

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

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

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

She did not get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM disbanded in October 2017.

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

That belief turned out to be wrong.

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

Longtime Cortez resident Molto said she was not surprised.

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

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

Opponents now face a ticking clock.

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

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

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

Construction also is not funded.

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

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

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