The floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach soon may be open to the public.
Public works director Tom Woodard said Nov. 26 that Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall was cross-bracing four timber pilings to form a support structure for the gangway, the walkway connecting the pier to the dock. The gangway was pulling away from the pier and removed.
The dock was closed Oct. 4 for repairs to the gangway.
The pilings form the foundation of a support structure, where the gangway will rest when it is reinstalled. It previously was connected to the pier.
Work the week of Nov. 25 involved cross-bracing the pilings with lumber and placement of a support beam between the pilings closest to the pier.
The final step will be to build a 6-foot extension of the pier deck to connect to the support beam and gangway.
Duncan also will install safety railings on the floating dock.
Duncan took Nov. 28-29 off to celebrate Thanksgiving, but Woodard said the contractor would complete the job “hopefully by Dec. 6.”
He added that the city would open the dock to the public when the work is finished.
City officials opened the dock 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, which cost $191,524, replaced one damaged by storms and removed in 2017.
The dock was closed within a month of opening because of the gangway.
The repair will cost $73,317, including the cost of 18 new rollers — the mechanisms connecting the dock platforms to the support pilings to allow for tidal movement — after the city procures the parts from Ronautica Marinas.
Every holiday tradition has a story.
Just stop into Jackie Estes’ cozy cafe in Holmes Beach, help yourself to coffee and pull up a chair. Estes will tell you about an island tradition that started 24 years ago.
It’s the tale of a Christmas tree. But, this is no ordinary tree.
Estes calls it a Giving Tree.
It shines with the usual constellation of Yuletide accouterments: lights, ribbons, baubles. But this tree has something more — tags that call out for gifts for underprivileged children in the community.
Estes encourages her customers at Paradise Cafe, Bagels and Catering to pull a tag from the tree. Each tag references a child age 12 or younger and clothing size. The children’s names are withheld.
Customers then purchase clothing and toys to help make that child’s Christmas morning a little brighter. Estes then makes sure every child gets their gifts.
It’s a tradition that has been growing since Estes started it nearly a quarter-century ago. And, like many traditions, it started by accident.
Estes said her grandson mentioned one day that there was a girl at Anna Maria Elementary School who wore the same dress every day.
“Her shoes were taped,” Estes recalled.
Estes, who was a school volunteer, worked with the guidance counselor to solicit donations and provide new clothes and shoes, plus some needed household items for the child and her family.
As she learned of other kids and families with similar circumstances, Estes hit upon the idea of a Giving Tree.
“Each year, it has gotten more and more involved,” she said. “Our peak year, we probably had 75 kids. It’s just snowballed each year.”
As the island’s residential base has shifted over the years to rentals and a more well-to-do demographic, Estes said, there are fewer island kids. So the program has been extended to include youngsters from the mainland.
Estes won’t accept cash donations, but she gets assistance from friends, customers and others who provide contacts and help distribute gifts.
“Everyone’s been so good,” Estes said.
“Please come and get a tag,” she added. “We’ll make sure (your gift) goes where it needs to go.”
For more about the Giving Tree, call Estes at 941-779-1212 or visit the cafe at 3220 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach.
Investigators now have the reason for why laughing gulls were found dead in October on Passage Key.
Researchers with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in Athens informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Save Our Seabirds in mid-November that aspergillosis killed the birds. The fungal infection is common in the warm, moist environs of Florida.
Dana Leworthy, avian hospital administrator with Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota, told The Islander aspergillosis can come from any rotten item and laughing gulls are known for consuming most anything.
“It grows in swampy areas or on dead fish,” Leworthy said of the fungus. “It can reproduce without hesitation.”
More than 30 dead gulls were retrieved by the FWC for testing Oct. 13.
And they were found to have microscopic lesions in their throats.
Lesions and growths are two symptoms of aspergillosis, which can cause lung problems, including respiratory issues.
Researchers call aspergillosis “the great pretender” because it mimics so many other diseases and can display a variety of symptoms, Leworthy said.
Aspergillosis was definitively confirmed by blood tests at the University of Georgia.
But where or how the gulls contracted the fungus remains a mystery.
Leworthy speculated they may have become infected eating a single rotten food source.
The fungus is common in birds, but Leworthy said it was “weird” only the laughing gulls were affected and found dead on Passage Key. No other bird species appeared to be sickened on Passage Key.
“Maybe they had some sort of stressor that made them more susceptible to illness,” Leworthy said. “It’s just very strange that they were the only ones.”
The Passage Key gulls were not the only group of gulls that died mysteriously in October.
Before the Passage Key incident, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were taken to Save Our Seabirds from Siesta Key. More than half died within 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Nine more birds died on the beaches. Their cause of death has not been established.
The incident ended and no birds have turned up dead since October.
Construction of the T-end restaurant, bathrooms and bait shop at the new Anna Maria City Pier is on hold, awaiting resolution of a design conflict.
Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander in a Nov. 20 email that Mason Martin, the contractor hired to construct the accessory buildings on the T-end had begun resolving the discrepancy in the angles of the concrete base and the buildings.
Ayres Engineering designed the T-end with a pitch to allow for stormwater runoff, but architects from Schimberg Group designed the restaurant and bait shop for a level surface.
The solution, which Murphy said should take Mason Martin three weeks to complete, involves raising door headers, leveling the floors by pouring additional concrete, expanding drain holes in the base and adding a curb around the perimeter.
Murphy has previously said the fix would cost around $100,000 and it will be paid by Ayres.
Public works manager Dean Jones took The Islander on a Nov. 22 tour of the pier, where it wasn’t clear which part of the solution was being addressed.
More apparent was Mason Martin’s work setting ipe wood on the walkway.
As of Nov. 22, much of the walkway decking was finished, except on the north side, which was left open to allow the installation of a fire line in the understructure. Murphy said other structural components and conduits must be installed in the space as well.
While most of the walkway is finished, almost none of it is visible due to plywood laid over top to protect the material from bird excrement.
The birds have not vacated the pier.
Jones said the city would powerwash the decking before opening the pier to the public.
He added that the public’s return will likely stave off the birds somewhat and mitigate the problem.
Jones said Mason Martin bagged the ends of walkway posts to protect connections from the elements for lighting fixtures, that have yet to be manufactured. He could not provide an estimate for when the lighting would be installed.
At the T-end, the contractor has come close to finishing the roof, as well as the shells that will house the bait shop and restrooms, but has yet to begin the restaurant.
Murphy wrote that he expects the contractor will complete construction on the buildings and platform by February 2020 “or sooner.”
Previously, the mayor had estimated completion by January.
A familiar face has joined the Bradenton Beach City Commission.
City clerk Terri Sanclemente swore three city officials into office Nov. 18, including returning Commissioner Jan Vosburgh, who termed out of office in 2016. The others are re-elected Mayor John Chappie and Commissioner Jake Spooner.
City code allows officials to serve three consecutive two-year terms before terming out, but does not restrict them from running for office again after a year.
Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and Priscilla Trace attended the ceremony as members of the audience.
Vosburgh claimed Randy White’s post as commissioner of Ward 3 for a two-year term.
White initially said he would run for re-election but withdrew from the race after Vosburgh qualified.
Vosburgh told The Islander in a Nov. 19 interview that she’s happy to return as commissioner, and has attended recent meetings to get acquainted with the current issues at play.
“It’s going to take me a little while, but I’m a seasoned commissioner so it shouldn’t take too long,” Vosburgh said. “I’m happy to be back serving the people of Bradenton Beach alongside Mayor Chappie and the other commissioners.”
Chappie and Spooner were re-elected to two-year terms.
Chappie will serve his second consecutive term as mayor. He is a former county commissioner and served as mayor 2001-07.
Spooner, who owns the Bridge Street Bazaar, Fish Hole Miniature Gold and the incoming Daquiri Deck building on Bridge Street, will serve his third consecutive term as commissioner. Each of his elections came without opposition.
The three also will serve as members of the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA promotes restoration, growth and tourism for the district bordered by Cortez Road, Sarasota Bay, Fifth Street South and the Gulf of Mexico by funding capital improvement projects with incremental tax revenue.
Their first city commission and CRA meetings were Nov. 21.
Work began the week of Nov. 18 on the first wave of repairs for the new floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.
Workers from Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall Nov. 19 removed the gangway, because the walkway connecting the dock to the pier was pulling away from the pier.
Duncan drove four pilings Nov. 20 to form the foundation of the gangway’s support structure in the bay for the gangway, which will rest on the support structure instead of the pier.
For the final step in the repair, Duncan will build a 6-foot extension of the pier deck to connect to the support structure and the gangway.
The contractor also will install safety railings along the floating dock after completing the gangway connection.
Public works director Tom Woodard told The Islander in a Nov. 20 email that he expects work to be completed by the first week of December.
The work will cost $73,317 and includes the expense of the installation of 18 new rollers — the mechanisms connecting the dock platforms to the support pilings to allow for tidal movement — after the city furnishes the parts from Ronautica Marinas.
— Ryan Paice
Anglers didn’t have to wait long for the return of a prime fishing spot in Anna Maria.
And the grill was barely cool.
A sinking piling led to the partial collapse of the walkway, prompting the Nov. 20 closure of the 72-year-old pier, restaurant and fishing operation, according to Dave Cochran, the pier’s general manager.
Former Commissioner Doug Copeland, who strolled from his home to the Rod & Reel Nov. 21 to look at the damage, expressed hope repairs would wrap up quickly.
“I hope they can get it repaired and open as soon as possible,” he said.
Fortunately, repair work on the pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, by Holmes Beach-based contractor James G. Annis started and wrapped up Nov. 22. The walkway passed inspection by the city the same day, allowing the pier to reopen Nov. 23.
Cochran said pier employees had alerted to the problems with the walkway — on the south side of the structure around 20-30 feet from land — and plans were made to address the issue in December.
However, the walkway began to soften and collapse Nov. 20.
The entrance was cordoned off for safety by pier staff, and a deputy from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation was posted in the parking lot Nov. 20 to keep people off the structure.
Cochran said the pier requires frequent repairs, but he couldn’t remember the last work on the structure.
He also said the pier is inspected annually, but an inspector hadn’t been brought out to investigate the failed piling before its repair.
“It happens,” Cochran said. “It’s something that needed to be attended to and we’re attending to it.”
The pier’s temporary closure marked the first time the structure required major repair since a fire caused extensive damage in 2014. The fire put the pier and its employees out of commission for four months.
This issue was solved in a matter of days.
Mayor Dan Murphy wrote in a Nov. 21 email to The Islander that piers are subject to the toll of saltwater and tides, which can lead to unsafe conditions.
“All structures on, over and near open water, similar to the city pier which was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, require constant maintenance,” he wrote.
The Rod & Reel is owned by Mario Schoenfelder, who also is the current tenant of the Anna Maria City Pier. With the R&R closed and a new city pier under construction, north-end anglers found themselves without a pier to cast from and no place nearby to purchase bait.
Diners also were turned away during the closure at a time of year when the normal breakfast, lunch and dinner business at the pier is typically brisk.
Restaurant employees and the bait shop staff were sent home.
Murphy said the city was not involved with the repairs for the privately-owned Rod & Reel, other than to issue the required permits and inspect the work after completion.
However, he commended the R&R’s handling of the issue.
“The city’s primary concern is public safety,” Murphy wrote. “We are pleased that the Rod & Reel took it upon themselves to close their pier once they recognized the danger.”
All is well that ends well, one pier worker was overheard saying.
Round one goes to the Florida Department of Transportation.
The DOT has dismissed a legal challenge to the agency’s plan to replace the Cortez Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span.
“It was expected,” said former County Commissioner Joe McClash, who filed the challenge.
McClash’s request in October for a formal administrative hearing contained 25 instances in which he says the DOT acted wrongly.
In an “order of dismissal without prejudice” issued Nov. 13, the DOT said the matter is under federal jurisdiction, not state.
McClash said Nov. 22 that he had filed an amended petition in which he argues that the state also has jurisdiction.
The DOT announced Oct. 10 it had approved a yearslong project development and environment study and was going ahead with design work for the 65-foot-clearance fixed bridge.
The transportation agency made a brief statement when McClash filed his legal petition last month.
“The department is highly confident that we followed all applicable state and federal guidelines related to this PD&E study; however, since this is now a legal matter, we cannot provide comment,” DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick wrote in an Oct. 24 email to The Islander.
The DOT appears to be trying to shore up support in Cortez for the megabridge, which some residents strongly oppose.
District 1 Secretary LK Nandam, based in Bartow, held a private meeting with Cortez businessman John Banyas at his Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar Nov. 15. An Islander reporter was told he could not attend.
Nandam declined to comment on the meeting when asked in person Nov. 18, but Banyas said in a Nov. 20 telephone interview the bridge was discussed.
“I could go either way, but I think the taller bridge makes sense,” he said.
Cortez businesswoman Karen Bell, a leader in the local seafood industry, has publicly expressed her support for a high bridge.
McClash, who served on the county commission from 1990 to 2012, is joined in his quest for the administrative hearing by three organizations and three Cortez residents, including another former county commissioner.
“This is a signal to the DOT to do the right thing,” McClash said last month. “It is intended to give them a taste of what’s coming.”
In addition to the megabridge, the DOT also considered in the study making repairs to the 62-year-old drawbridge or replacing it with a 35-foot-clearance drawbridge.
The current drawbridge, with a clearance height of about 17 feet, had major repairs done in 1996, 2010 and 2015 and the DOT says it has outlived its lifespan.
Opponents of the high bridge say it would change the character of the fishing village of Cortez, designated a historic district in 1995. Many residents have been fighting the megabridge since the DOT revealed a plan for it in 1989.
“The DOT had a number of bridges they were trying to drop down everyone’s throats in the 1980s and ’90s,” McClash said last month.
McClash and many others don’t oppose replacing the bridge, they just don’t want a megabridge.
“It will have a major impact to the village of Cortez,” McClash told The Islander Oct. 25. “It will not be able to survive placing this megastructure within the village.”
Joe Kane, one of the petitioners in the legal challenge, has lived in Cortez for more than two decades.
“The more I researched the proposal, the more monstrous it became,” Kane told The Islander Oct. 25. “It’s a death sentence for Cortez, as well as Bradenton Beach.”
The bridge, located on Cortez Road, crosses the Intracoastal Waterway from Cortez and the mainland to Anna Maria Island, where it empties onto Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.
Linda Molto, another petitioner, has lived in Cortez 34 years.
“It’s the wrong bridge for the wrong place,” she said in an Oct. 24 interview with The Islander.
The Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue, a second drawbridge connecting the island to the mainland built the same year, also is slated to be replaced by a 65-foot-clearance fixed span. Its design schedule is further along than the Cortez Bridge because the DOT approved it first.
Jane von Hahmann, a 43-year Cortez resident who served on the county commission 2001-08, also is a petitioner in McClash’s legal challenge.
Others are the environmental group ManaSota-88 and two other nonprofits, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Cortez Village Historical Society.
The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization is not part of the challenge, which executive director David Hutchinson called “a procedural matter.”
“The MPO has no support for any particular design, but we’ve consistently supported expeditious replacement of the bridge,” Hutchinson said Oct. 25.
Editor’s note: This report was updated Nov. 22.