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COVID-19 snowballs, AMI beaches closed

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The Manatee Public Beach is busy with clustered families and groups March 19 up and down the beach, but an announced government closure the next day, March 20, resulted in the quiet beach pictured below. islander Photos: courtesy HBPd chief Bill tokajer
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a series of executive orders to deal with the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus, the week of March 16. Islander Photo: Courtesy Florida Governor’s Office
The parking lot at the Manatee Public Beach is barricaded and posted March 20: “Beach Closed.” Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Manatee County code enforcement officers assemble about 5:30 a.m. March 20 in the Publix Super Market parking lot in Holmes Beach. The officers were to assist in monitoring the public beaches, as a closure went into effect at 6 a.m. that day. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The local fight against the spread of COVID-19 has ratcheted up to meet the crisis.

The cities of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, as well as Manatee County, declared states of emergency March 16-17, granting the local governments additional powers to enact measures to mitigate the pandemic — and to seek aid in the post-pandemic phase, when it comes.

The state emergency was declared March 9.

The declarations come as confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Florida continued to skyrocket. There were 1,007 confirmed cases across the state as of March 23 — up from 136 on March 16 — including 13 Manatee County cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.

After spending the previous week installing hand sanitizer in public buildings to counter the virus’ spread, the municipalities began applying emergency powers to restrict access the week of March 16.

While government operations continued, all three island cities closed buildings to the public. City staff posted closure notices at the entrances, asking people to contact them by phone, email, fax or by visiting their websites.

The cities also canceled nonessential meetings and made plans to conduct virtual meetings to prevent the potential spread of the virus among officials and staff.

An Anna Maria Commission meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 26, will be conducted via conference call. People can listen in by calling 1-571-317-3112 and using the access code 707-522-589.

Such meetings normally would violate the Florida Sunshine Law, which guarantees open meetings, however, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave an executive order March 20 to temporarily suspend state statutes requiring a physical quorum for a governing body to meet, as well as allowing municipalities to use communications technology to conduct virtual meetings.

DeSantis also ordered the closure of gyms and fitness centers and suspended all restaurant dining room service and alcohol consumption.

Manatee County’s decision to close beaches to the general public March 20 until further notice was another measure to mitigate the virus’ spread.

Parking for the beaches, including Coquina Beach, Cortez Beach and Manatee Beach, was blocked by barricades and notices.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies and county code enforcement officers were stationed along the beaches and at access roads to educate people and encourage social distancing.

County lifeguards also remained at Coquina and Manatee beaches 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to ensure safety. Double red flags indicating a no-swim order were posted at lifeguard stands.

Manatee County information outreach manager Nicholas Azzara, during a March 20 news conference, said despite the increased presence of officers on the beaches, the closures were intended to be self-policed.

“We are relying on our residents and visitors to make a good-faith effort in heeding those warnings,” Azzara said. “There should be no mixed messages: We’re asking people to avoid the beaches.”

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said, “We are not out there trying to incarcerate people for being on the beach. We are asking for voluntary compliance.”

Wells added — to quell rumors he’d seen on social media — there were no plans to enact martial law and lock down or force residents to stay in their homes.


Local reaction

According to an official message posted on Anna Maria’s website, www.cityofannamaria.com, “although our beaches remain closed to the general public, they are open to residents and their guests while practicing safe social distancing.”

Another message on the website cautioned people against visiting the city during the pandemic, noting the beach closures and restaurant limitations.

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby said the parking closures were intended to reduce the number of tourists and other visitors accessing the beaches — not to prevent residents from enjoying the beach on private property.

Cosby said the police department planned to pay overtime to maintain a heightened presence.

“We’re going to get to the point where people start going stir-crazy,” he said. “So we want to make sure we have enough people on duty to handle something if it comes up.”

Cosby added there were no plans to limit access to the island. He said there were discussions about setting up a checkpoint and monitoring people entering the island, but some officials from the island cities and Longboat Key opposed the idea.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said the island mayors were communicating daily with each other and the county to coordinate a unified response against the virus.

“We’re all in this together, and we’re going to get through it,” Chappie said. “We are a strong nation and a strong community.”

#AMItogether. #AloneTogether.


Reduce risk of infection by:

  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer;
  • Covering nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or elbow;
  • Avoid close contact with people.

For more information on coronavirus in Florida, visit the health department’s COVID-19 webpage at www.floridahealth.gov/covid-19.

If you suspect you may have COVID-19, call 941-242-6649 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday or email covid-19@flhealth.gov.

COVID-19 cautions spark cancellations

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Rebecca Boughner of Fort Wayne, Indiana, exits the Artists’ Guild Gallery after browsing March 12. The gallery, operated by the Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island in the Island Shopping Center at 5414 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, canceled its reception and fundraiser March 13 due to concerns about COVID-19. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The datebook got messy.

March 12 was the day Anna Maria Island groups and institutions announced the first round of event cancellations, taking precautions and safeguards as COVID-19, the new coronavirus, was declared a global pandemic.

Calls came into The Islander’s newspaper office.

Notices arrived via email to editors’ accounts.

And posts popped up on Facebook.

First with a notice, the Artists’ Guild Gallery in Holmes Beach decided to cancel the March 13 artists’ reception and paint-around fundraiser to help the nonprofit group raise rent money for the gallery.

“I am sorry to bring you this news,” Sharon Tarras, AGAMI president said, citing “health risks posed by the coronavirus.”

Soon after, Island Gallery West in Holmes Beach also canceled its March 13 artist reception and the Anna Maria Island Privateers postponed their Thieves Market set for March 14.

The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the southeast also got sidelined, as founder and organizer Sean Murphy announced March 12 the postponement of the Irish-themed celebration he’d booked for March 15 in Holmes Beach.

Murphy, owner of the Doctor’s Office, Beach Bistro and Eat Here in Holmes Beach, provided a notice framed in Kelly green that ended with a shamrock: “The Irish are good at tragedy … and hilarity. Our history abounds with famines and celebrations.

“In an effort to take all measures available to help ensure public safety and at the request of our chief of police and emergency services we are postponing our annual St. Patrick’s Day parade until a time when public gatherings are more carefree.”

The announcement indicated the holiday would be celebrated “a little later in the year.”

The Center of Anna Maria Island also made a major cancelation, postponing the annual tour of homes — one of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers — to 2021. The tour of five homes had been scheduled for March 21.

“The center’s No. 1 priority is the safety of our members, volunteers, participants and staff,” read a statement from the center. “With concerns about COVID-19, we have made the decision to postpone the 27th Annual Tour of Homes until next year.”

The center said tickets purchased for $25 each could be redeemed on the 2021 tour and tickets sold for the raffle of the tour of homes quilt also would be honored in 2021.

The center also postponed The Grass Roots concert set for March 19 until December.

As of March 14, the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, planned to stay open to offer fitness classes, youth programs and sports.

“We will continue to stay informed and make decisions based on the information and recommendations from health officials,” the center notice read. “If this changes, we will send out emails and post on our social media to make sure everyone is informed on all of the decisions we make.”

At the Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach, the decision was made to cancel Thursday night bingo games for the rest of the season, as well as a roasted-chicken community dinner, set for March 20.

“We are sorry for the short notice, but due to the virus concerns and close quarters at the center, we have made this decision,” read a notice from Linda Yarger of the center. “Hope to see you next January.”

The Anna Maria Island Garden Club also announced a calendar change — the annual flower show scheduled for March 18 at Roser Memorial Community Church would not take place.

And the AMI/West Manatee Democratic Club canceled its March meeting in Bradenton.

Local sports also took a hit, as Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of spring training March 12 and pushed back the start of the regular season for MLB and minor league ball at least two weeks.

At LECOM Park in Bradenton, the Pittsburgh Pirates played one final exhibition game before the premature end of their training days. The Pirates took on the Toronto Blue Jays March 12 and lost 7-5.

“I flew down to see the Pirates and Twins and I’m really sorry I won’t get to see that game,” said baseball fan and Minnesotan Carla Lewis. “But we need to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The cancellations came in a wave as more organizations and institutions at home and around the world heeded public health officials calls for “social distancing” to slow the rate of infections by reducing exposure and keeping people at higher risk — those over age 60 and those with chronic medical conditions — from crowds.

As cancellations multiplied, some groups took a wait-and-see approach but, by the weekend, issued cancellation notices.

The Island Players had sent an email to ticketholders March 11 that read in part, “The health and safety of our audiences is of the highest importance to us. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are prepared for many scenarios. Currently, all performances at the Island Players’ theater are continuing as planned.”

But March 14, the theater group canceled those performances.

The Friends of the Island Library also canceled a book sale set for March 20-21 at the Holmes Beach institution.

Meanwhile, some island institutions provided and promoted alternative means of participating.

Roser Memorial Community Church, for example, continued to hold activities and worship at 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, but also reminded worshippers they can watch live-streaming of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services at roserchurch.com/worship.

Slaying it on the causeway

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Dragon boats, paddlers take on Palma Sola Bay The first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival brings paddlers March 7 to the Palma Sola Causeway for a day of races. According to organizer Melinda Bradway, 48 teams competed, including some community teams, in the largest event held in the Southeast. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
The Invictus Paddling Club competes in an early race at the Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival on the Palma Sola Causeway.
The Mainsail Vacation Rentals Team prepares to race in a 200-meter contest at the Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival.
Members of Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons shove up in their boat to compete against Mainsail Vacation Rentals and Longboat or Bust! in a 200-meter race on Palma Sola Bay. Longboat placed first, Holmes Beach second and Mainsail third.
Cheerleaders encourage AMI Paddlers from Paradise at the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival, held March 7 on the Palma Sola Causeway.
Paddlers ready for a race while dragon boats await teams at the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival. Race day was March 7, when 48 teams, plus some local “community teams,” assembled on the Palma Sola Causeway to compete.
AMI Paddlers from Paradise step out of their dragon boat after competing in a 500-meter race in Palma Sola Bay. The island-based team also hosted the daylong festival.

They came to socialize, celebrate and slay.

And the paddlers who competed March 7 in the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival on the Palma Sola Causeway beach also did some shivering on the windy, chilly Saturday, as did the friends, family and curiosity-seekers who showed up to cheer them from start to finish.

The island-based AMI Paddlers from Paradise hosted the Pan Am Dragon Boat event, months in the making, as well as competed and won bling.

Paddlers from Paradise brought 48 teams from throughout the southeast United States to compete in 500- and 200-meter races.

Several “community teams,” including Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons, Longboat or Bust!, city of Anna Maria, Mainsail Vacation Rentals and Hancock Whitney Bank, also competed.

In addition, participants and racing fans brought nonperishables to donate to the Food Bank of Manatee.

Organizer Melinda Bradway of AMI Paddlers described the festival, with more than 500 paddlers, as “fantastic” and provided some results of local interest the day after::

• AMI Paddlers from Paradise’ senior women’s team finished first and won gold.

• AMI’s premier women’s team finished second by less than a second and took home silver.

• AMI’s senior mixed team finished third and won bronze.

• In the first annual “Island City Championship,” Longboat Key “or Bust” won gold, Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons won silver and Anna Maria took home bronze.

• In the first annual ‘Community Business Championship, gold went to the Spartans, Hancock Whitney Bank won silver and Mainsail Vacation Rentals won bronze.

Bradway said the festival was the second largest in the Southeast.

For more information, go online to results.panamdragonboat.com/ami/.

— Lisa Neff

Engine 131 to the rescue

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A Feb. 19 fire in the downstairs unoccupied apartment of a two-story residence at 849 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, caused about $30,000 in damages, according to West Manatee Fire Rescue. An incident report by investigator Keith Miller said the cause of the fire remained “undetermined.” WMFR documented moderate smoke damage from the fire, which started in the kitchen area behind a small refrigerator and continued up the wall. A construction crew working next door to the building broke some windows to pour water inside in an attempt to extinguish the fire. A call to 911 brought WMFR’s Engine 131 and crew within 5 minutes, resident Deborah Beazley said in a statement. The electricity to the building was turned off and the occupants of the upstairs unit were told to leave. Islander Photo: Courtesy WMFR

It’s open!

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Manny Villalobos, 16, of Bradenton, catches air Feb. 15 as he rips off the rim of the skate bowl at the new Holmes Beach Community Skate Park.
Holmes Beach staff and some city officials — joined by a bevy of grommets — cut the ribbon Feb. 15 on the new Holmes Beach Community Skate Park in the 5800 block of Marina Drive. The first 100 guests received free hats and T-shirts from the city. Free hot dogs were dished up by Beach Bistro staff and Poppo’s Taqueria pumped out free burritos. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Tito Porrata, left, lead designer with American Ramp Co., Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, Mayor Judy Titsworth, city engineer Lynn Burnett, director of development services Eran Wasserman and Tom Sanger of Tom Sanger Pool and Spa stand in the skate bowl Feb. 15 to cheer for the new skate park. A team of city staff, elected officials, residents and business owners worked together to create the park.
Skaters and revelers celebrate Feb. 15 the grand opening of the Community Skate Park in Holmes Beach, along Marina Drive in the 5800 block.
Mason Timmons, 9, of Bradenton, rolls up a ramp Feb. 15, as people gather for the grand opening of the new Holmes Beach Community Skate Park in the 5800 block of Marina Drive.
Tito Porrata, lead designer for the American Ramp Co. for the new Holmes Beach Community Skate Park, prepares Feb. 15 to roll through street skate portion of the park during the grand opening.
Tisha Mooney, left, Anna Rehorn, Sophia Belsito and Maddi Davenport of the West Coast Surf Shop in Holmes Beach, host a table with raffle prizes Feb. 15 while True Green, 12, of Bradenton, fills out a ticket. The prizes were skateboard decks and grip tape.

13th annual AME Dolphin Dash takes off

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Runners in the AME Dolphin Dash 5K take their marks at the starting line in the school parking lot, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. The course will take then through the streets of Holmes Beach and back to finish line at the school.
Anna Maria Elementary kids take their marks in the 1-mile fun run Feb. 8 at the 13th annual Dolphin Dash, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Brook Morrison
Danny Fitzwater of Sebring leads the pack on Holmes Boulevard Feb. 8 during the AME Dolphin Dash 5K on the streets in Holmes Beach.
AME first-grader Giuliana Bankert and father Darin Bankert run towards the finish line Feb. 8 at during the 1-mile race at the 13th annual Dolphin Dash.
Sue Hall of London holds her trophy Feb. 8 for overall female winner at the 2020 Dolphin Dash 5K to benefit Anna Maria Elementary.
Carol Westerman takes home the first-place medal for the 80-plus age category Feb. 8 at the AME Dolphin Dash 5K.

Centenarian honored for WWII service

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World War II veteran Alvaro “Al” Fernandez, 100, is pinned Jan. 31 by Korean War veteran Terry Willis, an honor guard member with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10141 in Bradenton, at Fernandez’s home on Sixth Avenue in Holmes Beach. The pinning was part of the Tidewell Hospice Honors Veterans Program. Fernandez was a U.S. Air Force communications sergeant. He also received a certificate and his wife Yolanda and daughter Margie received veteran caretaker pins. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

New park open for pups, peeps

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Bailey, a golden retriever, makes a splash Jan. 25 while drinking from a “hydrant” water fountain, new to the improved dog park in Holmes Beach. The park officially opened Saturday morning with a ribbon-cutting celebration. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Officials cut the leash, er, ribbon Carol Soustek, left, Holmes Beach commissioner, Eran Wasserman, director of development services, Carol Whitmore, Manatee County commissioner, Holmes Beach Commissioner Terry Schaefer, Mayor Judy Titsworth and Holmes Beach Commissioners Jim Kihm and Kim Rash with his pup, cut the ribbon Jan. 25 on the new city dog park between 59th and 63rd streets and Flotilla Drive in Holmes Beach.
Jack Elka’s drone-mounted camera views capture the expanse of the new dog park at the recreational field in Holmes Beach.
Jack Elka’s drone-mounted camera views capture the expanse of the new dog park at the recreational field in Holmes Beach.
Jack Elka’s drone-mounted camera views capture the expanse of the new dog park at the recreational field in Holmes Beach.
Plenty of dogs attended the opening of the new park Jan. 25 for a run and some fun during the ribbon-cutting festivities for the $50,000 large dog park on the multiuse field — at the site of the former Birdie Tebbetts baseball diamond — adjacent to Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Also attending, vendors, including Manatee County Animal Services, Animal Network and a pet rescue group, Running Rover pet-sitting service, Three Dog Bakery with treats for the pups and Painting with a Twist. Poppo’s Taqueria of Anna Maria provided free breakfast burritos to the “peeps” at the event.
Plenty of dogs attended the opening of the new park Jan. 25 for a run and some fun during the ribbon-cutting festivities for the $50,000 large dog park on the multiuse field — at the site of the former Birdie Tebbetts baseball diamond — adjacent to Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Also attending, vendors, including Manatee County Animal Services, Animal Network and a pet rescue group, Running Rover pet-sitting service, Three Dog Bakery with treats for the pups and Painting with a Twist. Poppo’s Taqueria of Anna Maria provided free breakfast burritos to the “peeps” at the event.
Pup treats Bazooka, a 5-year-old eski-poodle, accepts a treat Jan. 25 from Liz Naughton, manager of Three Dog Bakery, during the grand opening of the new dog park in the recreational complex between 59th Street, 63rd Street and Flotilla Drive in Holmes Beach, as owner Evelyn Taylor of Holmes Beach looks on.

Anna Maria faces hurdles for February pier opening

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Pre-demolition in 2018, the Anna Maria City Pier held memories for many people, including messages on engraved planks. Islander File Photo: Jack Elka

Anglers may be able to enjoy fishing off the Anna Maria City Pier by late February.

The mayor says there are hurdles, but maintains the pier contractor is on track.

Still, the buildings that were to house a restaurant and bait shop at the T-end of the pier will remain empty.

The historic pier was originally built in 1911 and closed after being damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The pier remained closed and was demolished by the city in 2018.

New construction began in January 2019.

“The pier is coming along nicely,” Murphy said at a Jan. 9 city commission meeting.

Most of the issues that arose in construction have been corrected, including a 3-inch gap on the platform at the T-end that was “fixed weeks ago,” Murphy said.

“Framing, siding, windows and most doors are up and hung,” he added.

As far as the bathrooms, power, sewer, water and fire suppression line, the mayor said “there are some hurdles with each one of these issues. But we’re still on track for an end-of-February opening.”

Some issues remained with getting power hooked up to the pier from the shoreside, but Murphy said he is working closely with Florida Power & Light remains confident the problems will be resolved in a timely fashion.


Pier tenant sought

The city commission Jan. 10 voted unanimously to decline the final lease offer from Mario Schoenfelder — pier operator since 2000 — and will instead seek requests for proposals from prospective tenants.

Although Mayor Dan Murphy said he and Schoenfelder had come to an agreement on many details, there remained two outstanding issues: insurance and rent payments.

In part, because Schoenfelder said he would be willing to spend $800,000 in pier improvements, Murphy recommended to the commission that the city pick up the tab for casualty, fire and wind insurance at an estimated annual cost of $50,000.

Schoenfelder was presented with two payment options: $18,900 or $21,600 per month, both with either a 3% annual increase after the first year or an annual adjustment based on the consumer price index.

But the option to make lower monthly payments called for an additional $250,000 from Schoenfelder on signing.

Schoenfelder countered with his own offer: $8,000 per month with payments abated for six months until the restaurant is opened and CPI-based adjustments kick in after three years.

There were other specifics to both offers. But in the end, there was too wide a gap between what the city was asking and what Schoenfelder was offering.

As to the prospects for a pier restaurant-bait shop operation, Murphy wrote a Jan. 18 text to The Islander: “It’s too soon to tell who is seriously interested but we have had quite a few calls about the RFP.”

Murphy said Jan. 10 that he wanted to issue the RFP by Jan. 15, but Jan. 18, he texted that the RFP “won’t go out until next week.”