Tag Archives: Feature

Treehouse owners file new case in federal court

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The treehouse in Holmes Beach stands tall in an Australian pine tree March 28 on the beachfront at Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St. The owners took their quest to keep the treehouse to federal court in Tampa at the end of March. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen opened a new front for the treehouse in federal court.

The Holmes Beach couple filed a six-count federal lawsuit, naming the city of Holmes Beach, mayors, commissioners, building and code enforcement officials and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as DEP officials.

It is the second complaint filed in March by Tran and Hazen in the U.S. Middle District of Florida.

A prior complaint was superseded by the new, amended complaint served at city hall March 27. DEP officials are in the process of being served, Tran said March 29.

The six counts allege civil and constitutional violations under federal laws — Title 42, Section 1983, civil rights; Title 42, Sections 1985-1986, neglect and failure to prevent abuse; Fifth and 14th amendments, due process and equal protection; the First Amendment; the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the suit, Tran and Hazen request a review by three federal district judges and an unspecified amount of money damages.

The lawsuit also states the couple sued to enjoin the city’s enforcement action “to destroy their treehouse” and seek damages for the city’s action “in violation of civil and inalienable rights.”

An anonymous complaint brought the treehouse to the city’s attention in 2011. The DEP also was alerted to the treehouse, which apparently violated the state’s setback from the mean-high waterline.

The new federal lawsuit is 96 pages.

The allegations include:

  • “With smiles, the city watched the plaintiffs build the look-alike Robinson Crusoe treehouse until one day, a caller complained” about the treehouse built without a permit.
  • The building officials ordered the treehouse torn down, “circulated false facts” about the treehouse, “leading haters” to scream at the plaintiffs: “Burn the treehouse, move it back to the Mekong Delta, get off the island, pack your wife and send her back to Vietnam.”

Asked about the allegations March 29, Tran said she had no further comment.

Tran acknowledged filing an amended complaint March 25 with the same underlying facts as the prior suit but with different causes of action.

The amended complaint came in response to a March 5 order from 12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen, which ruled the owners’ last petition for injunctive relief deficient in several respects, including a failure to allege a factual basis that imminent harm would befall the treehouse if he didn’t grant the owners’ petition.

In amending the state complaint, Tran and Hazen refashioned their claim, calling it an action for negligence and petition for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief in addition to a violation-of-rights case.

The next hearing in the Tran-Hazen constitutional case in state court is set for 9 a.m. April 29 in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave., W., Bradenton.

Also, in a Manatee County courtroom, the city’s 2018 enforcement case is set for May 9 and June 3 hearings.

The federal proceedings will be conducted in the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., Tampa.

Through Feb. 28, the city paid $156,403.92 in treehouse legal costs, according to city treasurer Lori Hill.

Jim Dye, a partner with city attorney Patricia Petruff in the law firm Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, has handled the treehouse cases for the city since 2013. He said March 29 he’s gone through the latest pleadings and labeled them “highly imaginative.”

About the possibility of settling the cases, Dye said: “I like to say: Never say never,” but because the treehouse dispute is a regulatory issue — the fact the structure lies within a city setback — the attorney said he was doubtful a settlement could occur.

Also, because the federal suit alleges damages, Dye expects the city’s Florida League of Cities’ insurance arm to assign attorneys to the case. He said his firm will continue to handle the state cases.


Treehouse background

Tran and Hazen have lost a string of cases since 2013 to keep the structure — built without state and city permits — after the city code enforcement boards, and, subsequently, a magistrate ordered the treehouse be removed and set daily fines.

Currently, the city is seeking in state court to enforce the 2016 magistrate’s order requiring the treehouse removal and a $50 per day fine, which has accumulated to more than $67,000.

After trying to negotiate an after-the-fact permit with the DEP and inquiries about applying for a permit with the city, the owners were turned away as the city stood firm against the setback issue for the treehouse.

And the court cases began.

In 2013, Tran and Hazen appealed the city code board’s decision to the 12th Circuit Court — saying they were lulled into not getting permits by building officials and commissioners, but the rules changed under newly hired city officials. Tran and Hazen were unable to satisfy the city’s request for a permit.

Also in state court, the couple petitioned for a ballot question — to let the voters decide if the treehouse should be grandfathered, only to be told a state law precluded a development initiative by petition, despite the steps stated in the city charter. That case was brought for a review before the U.S. Supreme Court — but the review was denied.

Three other cases — the city’s code enforcement claim, the couple’s pro se attempt to stop the code case and Tran and Hazen’s constitutional argument against the setback regulation — are still pending in state court.

Celebrity costs run $200k in tourist tax dollars

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Jane Seymour poses Jan. 18 with her self-portrait at the Studio at Gulf and Pine in Anna Maria. Her appearance at the gallery was paid with tourism tax dollars. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

She has celebrity power.

And her draw for Manatee County cost taxpayers a pretty penny.

In January, a three-day visit by Jane Seymour to the Bradenton area included the unveiling of a 7-foot tall “Open Heart Icon” by Seymour at the Bradenton Riverwalk, an invitation-only reception at the Studio at Gulf and Pine in Anna Maria and a lecture at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton.

But will the cost of at least $193,981.50 bring a return for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council?

Guests at the Studio art reception clamored for photos with the star.

There was a lot of browsing of the dozens of the prints, oils and statues offered for sale — priced $2,000-$30,000 — at the Studio. However, not one item sold, according to Tina Chiles, who manages the art gallery.

Chiles’ husband, Ed, is a member of the TDC board. He owns the Studio at Gulf and Pine, the Sandbar and Beach House restaurants on Anna Maria Island, and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub on Longboat Key.

Earlier that day, Seymour attended an unveiling of the 7-foot-tall icon of her “Open Hearts” jewelry design purchased by the TDC for the Realize Bradenton Art Walk Project. She also spoke Jan. 19 at a ticketed event at the MPAC.

In the talk, “Jane Seymour Art — Up Close and Personal,” she shared her philosophy and her life challenges with the audience. One of her sons, a musician, opened the two-hour show.

The event did not sell out, and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau offered some tickets to locals at no cost to fill the seats, according to an Islander source.

Seymour’s appearance and a series of music concerts held at nonprofit venues were promoted by the BACVB to help businesses and workers overcome the impacts of red tide in 2018.

Much earlier, however, before the outbreak of red tide in Manatee County, on June 18, 2018, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, asked the Manatee County Tourist Development Council to amend an agreement with Realize Bradenton to increase funding for art in the urban core $150,000, as a one-time expenditure.

Realize Bradenton is a nonprofit that promotes redevelopment and economic growth in downtown Bradenton. Riverwalk is a 1.5-mile downtown city park overlooking the Manatee River. It includes a splash pad, skate park, open lawns and numerous public art exhibits.

The TDC makes recommendations to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners on how to spend tourism development tax collections.

A 5 percent resort or “tourist tax” is paid on rentals of six months or less in the county, and use of that money is restricted to develop and promote tourism in Manatee County.

The meeting minutes show that Falcione said the success of the Realize Bradenton Art Walk was resonating well in the marketplace and the BACVB wanted to continue its partnership by allowing Realize Bradenton to add more artwork at Riverwalk.

The motion to approve the expense carried unanimously. The minutes include “Exhibit A,” a description of the project, which states the county would reimburse Realize Bradenton in an amount of $182,065, including $150,000 for a permanent mounted sculpture with a first payment of $67,500 after Realize Bradenton executed an agreement with Coral Canyon Publishing and Gallery for a “one-of-a-kind art sculpture” for the park.

Coral Canyon and its director, Susan Nagy-Luks of California, represent Seymour, among others.

Records provided to The Islander by Manatee County show a $602.39 reimbursement to Nagy-Luks for airfare and parking for a May 15-18, 2018, visit to Bradenton — a month before Falcione recommended the Realize art purchase to the TDC.

Jodi Carroll, manager of Realize Bradenton, said in a March 29 email that a “majority of the art in the Bradenton public collection was created by artists residing in Florida, however, we do have pieces that were created by artists outside of the state.”

She added, “The sculpture titled Open Heart Icon, created by Seymour, was a gift to the city of Bradenton public art collection from the Tourist Development Council.”

A summary of the “Open Hearts Sculpture Event with Jayne (sic) Seymour” furnished to The Islander by Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, shows $193,98150 was spent for the creation and installation of the sculpture at Riverwalk and for bringing Seymour to the area for three days.

Whitmore, a Manatee County commissioner-at-large and chair of the TDC, said March 29, “The city of Bradenton has the original sculpture with none of its kind in Florida.”

Whitmore, who works in downtown Bradenton near Riverfront Park as a nurse, also said, “I see people all the time taking photos next to the sculpture. Her art is well known in the art community all over the globe.”

The amount includes $45,000 for Seymour’s appearance and $137,116.84 paid to Realize Bradenton for the replica “Open Heart.”

Also listed: $8,118.35 in airfare, parking, entertainment and lodging expenses for Nagy-Luks for advance preparation and expenses during the January event.

Other costs were $1,047.50 for tent rental for the Jan. 18 unveiling at Riverwalk, $2,500 for shipping the icon to Riverwalk and $198.81 in costs for invitations, email marketing and a Facebook promotion.

The numbers furnished to The Islander do not include costs incurred by the Studio at Gulf and Pine, shipping charges for the displays or catering for the Jan. 18 private reception.

Chiles’ studio paid shipping to and from Anna Maria for nearly 50 items. An agreed upon commission split, which the Studio declined to discuss, became a moot point, since none of Seymour’s art sold.

The one-page summary does not include costs incurred by the Manatee Performing Arts Center, and how much or who else was paid or revenue earned in conjunction with Seymour’s lecture.

According to a U.S. News & World Report article Jan. 21 on the Open Hearts Icon unveiling in Bradenton, Falcione first met Seymour at an art show while on a business trip some 10 months before her appearances in Manatee County. He failed to say April 1 where and when they met in an email exchange.

Falcione was quoted in the U.S. News article as saying, “There is no doubt that showcasing arts and culture and heritage in the marketplace is a big part of our sustainability of visitation.”

It also was reported in the same article that the statue was a gift to the city of Bradenton from the BACVB, the TDC, the Manatee county commission, Fawley Bryant Architecture, Kimley Horn and NDC Construction.

Whitmore advised The Islander by email March 29 she was working to fulfill the public information request initially made to Falcione March 15, regarding expenditures related to Seymour’s visit and the related music concerts.

The BACVB and Whitmore also were asked to furnish contracts for the promoter and entertainers and the expenses related to the music concerts sponsored by the BACVB with funding from the TDC — events that were held at the MPAC and the Center of Anna Maria Island.

Florida’s open records laws provide the opportunity for anyone to request records from public agencies, government entities, and those accepting and spending public funds.

Falcione told The Islander the concert accounting would be made public by Janene Amick of the MPAC, the ticket agent for the concerts, at the Monday, April 15, TDC meeting to be held at the Center of Anna Maria Island in Anna Maria.

Chris Culhane, executive director of the center ,said last week he had only gross sales information for the concerts at the center.

Amick was out of town and could not be reached for comment and an email to Coral Canyon Publishing remained unanswered as of press time.

Finders keepers: Islander offers gold egg for treasure hunt

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Anna Maria resident Flor Winebrenner’s golden egg. Islander Courtesy Photo

By Joe Konyou

Islander Reporter

Flor Winebrenner is going to lay a golden egg.

Then she’ll wait and watch for someone with a keen eye to find the prize.

“The egg is worth about $12,000,” said Winebrenner, who moved to Anna Maria in September 2018 from her farm outside Carbondale, Illinois. “Whoever finds the egg gets to keep the egg.”

In Illinois, Winebrenner managed her family’s farm. After selling the 6,000-acre property to the state to expand Southern Illinois University’s agricultural education program, the retiree had quite the nest egg.

“I’m fortunate and I want to share the wealth,” she told The Islander in an exclusive interview March 21. “The property was in my family for so many years — more than a hundred years. And we did well.”

Winebrenner decided to put some money into a farm assistance program back in Illinois, invest in a cottage near Anna Maria’s Bayfront Park and share some of her hard-earned fortune.

Early April 1, she plans to hide the golden egg in Bayfront Park while she’s taking her regular morning walk.

“I had the egg made years ago,” she said. “I know, it was an eccentric thing to do but my husband and I always loved the message of the Aesop fable.”

Winebrenner’s favorite tale was “The Goose and the Golden Egg,” not “Jack and the Beanstalk,” which also features a goose that lays golden eggs.

In the Aesop fable, a countryman possesses a goose that daily laid a glittering golden egg that he sold on trips to the market. But the man grew greedy and impatient and decided he wanted more than a golden egg each day.

“You know what happened,” Winebrenner said. “He got the idea to kill the goose, cut it open and collect a bunch of golden eggs at once. Instead, he had a dead goose and no more eggs.”

She commissioned a Carbondale blacksmith to create the golden egg to remind her to appreciate her wealth and feel compassion for the animals kept on her farm.

“I’ve lived the message,” Winebrenner said. “Now it is time to pass on the golden egg, with a caution not to be the kind to kill the goose that lays them.

“And also time to say, ‘Happy April Fool’s Day.’”

Editor’s note: Joe Konyou is a pseudonym for Islander editor Lisa Neff. She and the rest of the staff at the newspaper wish you a foolish April 1.

Holmes Beach Building official resigns

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Holmes Beach building official Jim McGuinness resigned March 18. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach needs a new building official.

“Please, inform the commissioners that as of this morning I have accepted the resignation of Jim McGuinness,” Mayor Judy Titsworth wrote March 18 to city clerk Stacey Johnston. “I currently have asked John Fernandez to cover for him on a very short-term basis, while I seek a qualified temporary person and an applicant to fill this charter position by consensus of the commission.”

At a March 21 charter review commission meeting, Titsworth said Fernandez, formerly a planner with the city, and also the town of Longboat Key, “is wonderful,” but recently retired. Fernandez was once the superintendent of public works in Holmes Beach, before taking a job on Longboat Key.

Titsworth said she will conduct a search for a persone to succeed McGuinness.

She suggested the charter review commissioners consider removing building official as a charter position.

“Filling this position may require us going to an outside provider,” she said. “It seems like it’s the way of the times now.”

Titsworth said she would prefer an employee, but she also is willing to subcontract.

“I’m seeking a qualified official, with strong customer relations skills,” she said.

McGuinness, who served as building official for about four years, was not available for comment.

Holmes Beach resident takes aim at city for dock approval

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The owners of 606 Crestwood Lane on Key Royale in Holmes Beach claim a newly constructed dock and boatlifts at 604 Crestwood Lane infringe upon their riparian rights. Laurie and Robert Mock own the home on the left, including the white fence. Islander Photo: Courtesy Laurie Mock

A Holmes Beach resident is taking issue with the city over her neighbor’s dock.

But it appears the dispute will be decided in court or by the state, not the city.

In a Feb. 20 email to Mayor Judy Titsworth, Laurie Mock of Crestwood Lane said a dock built by her neighbor was improperly permitted and the boat and Jet Ski lifts encroach on her riparian rights.

Riparian rights are the interests of landowners that may attach to real property that connects to an adjacent body of water.

Mock wrote that a marine consultant looked at the property and said the dock, permitted by the city in November 2018, should not have been approved for construction.

She cited a section of the city code of ordinances that states, “No dock, wharf, pier, mooring piles, groins or other structures extending into or over waterways shall be erected or installed except upon issuance of a permit from the department of public works.”

Plans and permits from other agencies also must be obtained.

Additionally, she included a portion of the city land development code that states a dock and an access walkway must have a 25-foot setback from adjoining property lines — a requirement that Mock claims was ignored. She questioned in the email the qualifications of city staff to sign off on permits.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth responded Feb. 21 that she understands Mock has concerns with setbacks and work performed without a permit.

The mayor told Mock she would discuss the dock with the city planner.

Titsworth said she later spoke with Mock and suggested she speak with the dock owner prior to receipt of a March 18 email from Mock in which she asked Titsworth to provide a “determination in writing.”

Manatee County property records show the owners of 604 Crestwood Lane are Mary and Carmine Stella. The Islander was unable to reach them for comment.

Titsworth responded that day that she was not sure what Mock required since the final inspection occurred and the project is completed.

“Please, let us know once you hear from your riparian survey provider,” Titsworth wrote.

The mayor also inquired about whether Mock was able to talk to the neighbor about moving the lifts to the other side of their dock.

Titsworth asked to alert her of any determination by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after its inspection and, she replied, yes, the building official — who resigned March 18 — was qualified to sign permits.

Mock wrote March 19 that Titsworth’s response was “very very concerning.” She questioned city planner Bill Brisson’s experience dealing with riparian rights and said she wants a determination in writing “of the improper approval of the dock and lift at 604 Crestwood Lane.”

Mock questioned the ability of city leaders to govern.

In a March 21 interview with The Islander, Titsworth said she told Mock the city’s jurisdiction stops at the seawall and riparian line dispute is with her neighbor.

“My thought is, why are we issuing the permit for Florida outstanding waterways?” Titsworth asked.

The mayor questioned whether the DEP exempted a permit in state waters.          She also noted that riparian lines can vary depending on the surveyor.

The underwater land could be state land or it could be deeded to the property owners.

Mock submitted a survey of the setbacks by Leo Mills and Associates to the city.

“They pay for their surveys and go to court and the judge makes the determination,” Titsworth said.

Titsworth said, in the meantime, she awaits the DEP dock inspection report.

Island mayors downshift paid beach parking

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Beachgoers walk to the Manatee Public Beach as motorists arrive to seek parking March 14 near the county-operated beach at 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Eden Hoffelmeyer, 2, of Sparta, Illinois, waits in her car seat while her parents unload beach gear at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. The Hoffelmeyer family was on holiday March 14 from Sparta, Illinois. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Isaac Hoffelmeyer, 5, of Sparta Illinois, waits for his parents David and Christina to unpack the family van March 14 at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. The family, including Amelia, 7, and Eden, 2, was on a spring holiday. Another driver in a van from Ontario, loaded with people, is searching for parking.

Before they see the beach, many Manatee Public Beach visitors see brake lights and turn signals as they circle the parking lot seeking a parking space.

Might they also someday see parking meters at Manatee County beaches, as well as at boat ramps?

The concept of paid-beach parking resurfaced in late February during a preliminary budget discussion among county commissioners.

At the meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Stephen Jonsson, whose district includes west Manatee, Anna Maria Island and north Longboat Key, observed Pinellas County beaches have paid-parking and that user fees can help pay for amenities.

“I am just supporting research to determine what the feasibility may be and what consequences might also develop,” Jonsson said in a statement March 14 to The Islander.

Island mayors, assembled March 11 at Anna Maria City Hall for an Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting, said they have an idea the consequences would be negative.

The ITPO consists of the island mayors and generally assembles before a meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes an island mayor. The next MPO meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, March 25, at the Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.

At the ITPO meeting, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth expressed concern that the county commission may consider instituting paid parking at its beaches.

“I think that’s going to impact everybody,” said Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.

In Anna Maria, the county maintains Bayfront Park on the bayside, but the city owns the property.

In Holmes Beach, the county owns and maintains the Manatee Public Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and also operates the city-owned Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue.

In Bradenton Beach, the county owns and maintains the Cortez and Coquina beaches, as well as the Leffis Key preserve and boat ramps on the bayside of the park.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie observed, “One-third of our city is county property.”

“It would have a traumatic effect on our neighborhoods,” Chappie said of paid parking at the beaches. “I was surprised when they came up with it all of a sudden.”

Titsworth replied, “And they’re talking about the boat ramps, too.”

At the Kingfish ramp March 14, Johan Rodriguez of Palmetto was putting his boat into the water.

Asked whether he’d pay to park at the ramp, Rodriguez said, “Don’t we already pay for this with our taxes?”

At the Manatee Public Beach, Martha Wilcox, a seasonal resident from Vermont, said she wouldn’t balk at paying for parking, provided parking was made more abundant.

“I don’t want to be asked to pay $10 an hour after driving around 30 minutes looking for a parking space,” she said. “If you are going to sell parking, you better have it to sell.”

Eight out of 10 beachgoers polled by The Islander said they wouldn’t mind paying to park at the public beach if the fee were modest and space abundant.

And yet, said Donna Snyder, who was visiting the island from Kansas City, Missouri, “If we knew of free parking, we’d probably use it.”

Titsworth, at the ITPO meeting, surmised that charging for parking at Manatee Public Beach would push people to search for free parking in residential neighborhoods or encourage them to poach spaces at nearby businesses, specifically the Public Super Market on East Bay Drive.

Murphy said Anna Maria officials studied paid parking for the city and found “it doesn’t have any payback.”

Chappie said he would invite a county commissioner to attend the next Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting — possibly in April — to discuss the matter.

Jonsson, to The Islander, said the next step might be a work session.

“I have absolutely no idea what revenues could be generated,” he stated, but revenue generated could be used to maintain the beaches and also encourage other modes of transportation to and on the island.

Near the meeting’s conclusion, Murphy observed it was the last session of the ITPO in Anna Maria for four years. The chair will shift to Chappie, and the meetings will take place at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive, beginning at 2 p.m. Monday, May 6.


Parking consultant study suggests paid parking
For the ongoing Barrier Islands Traffic Study, a Tampa consulting firm evaluated parking on the islands in Manatee and Sarasota counties and offered a series of recommendations, including paid parking in key public areas.

The study by Walker Consultants, presented last April, listed eight general recommendations for the study area, including charging “a fee to park in the most convenient public parking locations” because “implementing a fee-to-park strategy will support a best-practice policy for managing demand by price. The goal would be to make at least 15 percent of the localized parking inventory available for use at all times by creating parking turnover and encouraging alternative transit and commuter options.”

Another recommendation was to use parking revenues to lease park-and-ride locations.

A third recommendation was to use parking revenues to support bonds to build structured public parking “convenient to public-use areas and commercial corridors.”

Specific to Anna Maria Island, the report recommended working with local churches to use parking lots, developing an electronic wayfinding system so motorists can find parking spaces, establishing park-and-ride locations on the mainland, and, in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, charging “a fee to park at designated public beach parking spaces.”

AM city pier pile-driving progresses, decking ‘on deck’

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Cheryl Southerly, visiting from Bradenton, looks out over the water March 16 where piles are being driven for the new Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Work installing walkway pilings for the new Anna Maria City Pier continues.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, at a city commission meeting March 14, said i+iconSOUTHEAST workers were driving 15 walkway pilings near the T-end the same day. The section is planned to serve as a landing area for small watercraft and is beefed up to include three pilings per row, while the remainder of the walkway will have two pilings per row.

Murphy said pile-driving for the boat landing would wrap up March 25, when Icon will start driving 126 walkway pilings near the shore side, moving east.

The 141 walkway pilings make up almost three quarters of the 201 pilings planned for the 776-foot pier, and should be driven and leveled by April 26, according to the mayor.

He said Icon would use a second barge to deliver pilings to the construction site to avoid interrupting work.

Next on deck, after the pile-driving, Icon will place the concrete deck on the T-end and install wood bents to support the walkway. Murphy said materials would again be brought by a barge to the site.

He said the city purchase of decking materials will save $30,000 in taxes that would have been charged if Icon made the purchase.

Murphy said he would have the purchase order for the ipe wood, as well as any potential change orders on the construction, ready for commission consideration by March 18.

City commissioners will vote during an emergency meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 21.

Also, Murphy said 20 small pilings that were added along the shore to hold fencing during the demolition of the pier, would be removed “some time in the future.”

The city’s contract with Icon requires the contractor to complete the walkway and T-end by Aug. 26 or pay a $975 penalty for every workday after the deadline.

Murphy also said he scheduled a meeting with pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder for April 10 to update him on the project.

The city has yet to discuss a request for proposals to construct the restaurant and bait shop at the T-end.

2018 red tide outbreak — not Mother Nature’s doing

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Linda Jones receives the Suncoast Waterkeeper Environmental Achievement Award March 3, recognizing decades of activism and opposition to phosphate mining and inappropriate development. Jones led the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club in opposition to Long Bar Pointe.
The blue line on the graph represents an average of 10 years of FWC data from years before Florida’s development boom, depicting red tide as it may have been historically, when the Conquistadors arrived and began keeping records. The red line represents more recent averages of FWC data. A line for 2010-19 would be off the graph. Islander Graphic: Larry Brand
A microscopic-size cell of Karenia brevis, the species responsible for red tide. Islander Courtesy Photo

By Andy Mele, Special to The Islander

As 150 guests at the Suncoast Waterkeeper Brunch for the Bay learned March 3, the red tide bloom in 2018 was not a natural occurrence.

The determining factor in today’s red tides, after all variables are accounted for, is human-induced nutrient pollution — primarily nitrates and phosphates. Nutrients are not merely a marginal contributor, as some institutions and elected officials would like us to believe.

True, Karenia brevis, the toxic alga that populates the lethal blooms we call red tide is a naturally occurring organism. It is found in waters around the globe.

And, yes, red tides have been documented since the arrival of Europeans to Florida’s shore. But there is a difference between the naturally occurring red tides and the rapidly growing red tides we have endured for decades.

About Karenia brevis
Karenia brevis is also known as red tide when its numbers become higher than 1,000 cells per liter. K.brevis emits brevetoxins that can become airborne in water spray and wind. At concentrations above 10,000 cells/liter, red tide can cause respiratory symptoms in humans. Above 50,000 cells per liter, fish mortality begins to occur. Above 1,000,000 cells/liter, discoloration of the water can be seen. Concentrations as high as 50,000,000 cells/liter were observed during the 2018 red tide event.

Larry Brand, Ph.D. and a research scientist at the University of Miami, was the featured speaker at Suncoast Waterkeeper’s annual brunch at the Bradenton Yacht Club in Palmetto.

Brand told his audience there is a fifteenfold increase in K. brevis concentrations that is contributing to today’s mega-blooms. After accounting for geological and geographical contributions to red tide, Brand said, “The only remaining variable that has increased enough to account for it is us.”

Brand explained some of the complexities of Florida’s red tide. Plants — and algae are plants — require 16 parts nitrogen to one part phosphorus. Where that 16N:1P ratio is found, there can be a natural red tide bloom.

The waters on the East Coast of Florida — where the St. Lucie Canal empties Lake Okeechobee discharges thick with toxic blue-green algae — are dominated by limestone deposits and are naturally rich in nitrogen. Hence, phosphorus is required to provide the optimum 16:1 nutrient that drives algal growth. No phosphorus, no algae. Phosphorus is relatively scarce on the East Coast.

On the southwest Gulf Coast, however, the opposite circumstances prevail. Because of massive natural phosphate formations underlying west-central Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, the coastal waters are rich in phosphorus from a variety of inputs, including phosphate mine drainage. Here, algae need nitrogen to stimulate growth. No nitrogen, no algae. It’s called “nitrogen-limited.”

However, when Lake Okeechobee’s nitrogen-rich blue-green algae enters the system from the Caloosahatchee River, the conditions for explosive growth are met.

Brand lists four principal sources of nitrogen: animal waste, crop fertilizer, stormwater runoff and illegal sewage discharges. All have increased exponentially since the 1950s along with Florida’s population and development, when the first sample run was conducted by FWC. In the 1950s, less than 10 percent of the Florida coastline was developed, while the remainder was woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. Today, more than 90 percent is developed and we’re flushing pollutants into the bays and Gulf.

Agricultural sources — animal waste and fertilizer — are the major causes of intense algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee. They are transported down the Kissimmee River, and pumped north from sugar cane fields south of the lake. The other two sources — stormwater and sewage — supply a steady diet of nutrients for red tide as it expands up and down the Gulf Coast.

Aside from people with respiratory symptoms who may suffer chronic asthma or COPD, the effects of K. brevis are immediately noticeable, leading people to leave the area, although no long-term or acute effects are known. The only known human fatalities associated with red tide have been from shellfish poisoning. Shellfish filter water through their gills to extract food and oxygen and, as K. brevis cells accumulate in shellfish, they can be fatal if eaten.

Blue-green algae, on the other hand, which is consumed by fish and shellfish, are suspected of having long-term impacts, specifically ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, without short-term impacts to warn of exposure. The correlations between algae and disease are still being studied, but an environmental toxin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine or BMAA, is found in both victims of the diseases and the blue-green algae.

BMAA appears to provide a causative link.

And BMAA has been documented in almost all shrimp and species of fish from the areas of the red tide bloom.

As a general caution, Brand suggested not consuming any seafood from areas impacted by red tide for several months after the event has subsided.

Data sets for 1954-63 are regarded as baseline “naturally-occurring” red tide, approximately what Hernando de Soto or Ponce de Leon might have seen in the 1500s — neither a threat to tourism nor an apocalyptic killer of fish and marine mammals.

But today’s conditions are both, according to Brand, and it’s worsening.

The ozonators, bubblers and clay sprinklers being touted by Mote Marine Laboratory and some elected officials as fixes are unproven, wildly expensive and cannot be scaled up to levels needed to treat the coastline. Brand says they appear to be strategies for developing revenue from wealthy canal homeowners, and cannot be taken seriously as solutions to red tide.

He said it, and Suncoast Waterkeeper has been saying it since last summer: the only practical, meaningful and affordable solution is to stop the nutrient pollution at its source. And its true source is not at a dairy farm or a sugar cane field. It is in Tallahassee.

Here’s the Waterkeeper solution to red tide.

Florida urgently needs:
• Numeric, enforceable water quality standards and the FDEP staff and budget to enforce them.
• Common-sense limits on development.
• No more phosphate mining.
• Elected officials who understand that as the water goes, so goes Florida.
• A comprehensive water and aquifer management program, including conservation measures, pricing and limits.

Brand and Suncoast Waterkeeper maintain that without action and change, there is little chance for improvement and there’s a strong prospect the state’s water crisis will worsen.

Andy Mele, of Suncoast Waterkeeper, is an advocate for a better environment and responsible development in Manatee County. He is former executive director of a major Hudson River environmental group that was instrumental in forcing General Electric to remove 300,000 pounds of toxic PCBs from the river. He authored “Polluting for Pleasure,” the book that rendered two-stroke outboard motors all but extinct, keeping millions of gallons of oil and gasoline from U.S. waterways every year. He can be reached at andymele@mac.com.

First phase of Pine Avenue improvements previewed

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Anna Maria commissioners heard results of a Pine Avenue vehicle traffic and pedestrian safety study from public works manager Dean Jones, during a March 14 meeting. Jones completed is research on the 200 and 300 blocks of Pine Avenue. Islander Courtesy Photo: CofAM

Pedestrian safety, traffic and parking are long-established problems for Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

Public works manager Dean Jones, who was tasked by the city commission to suggest improvements block-by-block, presented his findings for the 200 and 300 blocks to city commissioners March 14.

Jones said he spent a week studying the avenue in-person, noting where people crossed Pine, identifying hot spots for potential problems and spacing for more parking. He said he conferred with Mayor Dan Murphy about his suggestions and made some changes before his presentation.

Murphy prefaced Jones’ presentation by stating the improvements are not final solutions, but rather short-term ideas for Pine Avenue. He added that the city would use contingency funds for any fixes.

For the 200 block, Jones proposed adding a high-intensity crosswalk near the trolley stop west of the Donut Experiment at 210C Pine Ave., as well as at the crosswalk on Pine Avenue on the south side of the intersection with North Shore Drive.

Jones also proposed crosswalk markings across North Shore at the intersection.

Currently, there are crosswalks on the north and east sides of the intersection, but Jones said he witnessed people disregarding them to walk across the other sides of the street.

Also, he suggested converting a “no parking area” on the south side of Pine across from the Donut Experiment to a loading zone to be used for deliveries to nearby shops.

Commissioner Doug Copeland said the conversion was a good idea, but suggested loading zone hours so the area also could be used for public parking — probably three spaces.

Jones said he would measure the area and return to the commission with suggestions for parking that would not impede access at the nearby trolley stop.

For the 300 block, Jones proposed adding high-intensity crosswalks on the south and west sides of the intersection at Crescent Drive and Pine — which he called unsafe for pedestrians — as well as a double-line crosswalk on the south side of Pine.

Currently, a high-intensity crosswalk is on the north side of the intersection, with a double-line crosswalk on the east side.

He also proposed a double-line crosswalk across the north side of the T-intersection at Los Cedros Drive and Pine, where no crosswalk currently exists.

Copeland asked Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Jones how he’d to encourage crosswalk use because he’s seen people cross Pine outside of crosswalks.

Jones said the city could launch a campaign encouraging crosswalk use or ticket offenders. Jaywalking in Anna Maria is a noncriminal infraction, punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $500 as determined by a judge or special magistrate.

Seymour suggested a public-safety day, when deputies would be stationed along the avenue to encourage crosswalk use, as well as ticket jaywalkers.

Jones said the next step would be to establish the cost — estimated at $10,000 — and gain commission approval for the improvements. The city would next issue a request for proposals to contractors.

Jones said he would finalize his proposal for the two blocks by the next commission meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28.

“At some point, something is going to happen, and we have to do something about it,” Jones said.