Tag Archives: News

AMI Bridge construction: Way down the road

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Bradenton resident Tony Rivera tosses his crab trap Aug. 14 near the western side of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico and also lived in Boston, says crabbing by the bridge is a favorite pastime. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

Tony Rivera moved to Bradenton just a year ago, but he’s already been crabbing at the Anna Maria Island Bridge at least 15 times.

He likes to go there with his 3-year-old grandson, Andrew Carmona, where they form memorable bonds while taking in the fresh air and the boundless view. In between tosses of his crab trap near the Kingfish Boat Ramp at the western end of the bridge, Rivera will tell you he’s uncertain about plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to replace the 62-year-old drawbridge with a high fixed span.

“Sincerely, I hadn’t heard about it,” he said Aug. 14. “But I think it would make it a bit more difficult to toss the crab traps.”

He needn’t worry yet — or for many years. By the time the new bridge is scheduled to open, young Andrew will be a teenager.

Although the DOT has said the bridge must be replaced, having determined it is “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient,” construction on a new span is not scheduled to begin until fiscal 2029. By the agency’s own accounting, construction could take two to three years or longer to complete.

The bridge, built in 1957, has undergone six structural repairs since 1978 and has exceeded its life span of 50 years, said DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick. Major repairs were undertaken in 2009, and the most recent fixes occurred in 2013.

But a $6.2 million design plan on the 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge replacement will not be completed until fiscal year 2022-23, Rick said Aug. 15 in an email to The Islander.

Right-of-way acquisition, the next step, should not take long or cost much because there are no significant structures that must be bought. Nonetheless, right of way has not yet been funded.

Neither has construction.

In addition to the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the DOT also wants to replace the Cortez bascule bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span. That effort has drawn strong opposition from people who believe a large bridge would destroy the character of the historic fishing village.

The DOT maintains that building new bridges is more economically sound than continued repairs, which would increase in scope but prove less effective because of continued deterioration.

The agency has pegged the cost of the Anna Maria Island Bridge at $76 million and the Cortez Bridge at $72 million. Both cost estimates account for inflation and rising costs, Rick said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration estimated in a report three years ago that construction for the Anna Maria Island Bridge would cost $87 million.

It’s been a long, choppy effort to get both bridges replaced.

The Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 span, linking Holmes Beach and Perico Island, is further along because design work, which began in late 2015, is about 60 percent complete, Rick said.

About $6.4 million for design of the new bridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach has been allocated and an engineering firm has been chosen, but that work has not started because a project development and environment study has yet to be made public.

That study, started in 2013, is expected to be released no sooner than the end of this year, Rick said. It will provide analysis of the environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical effects of the new bridge.

In contrast, the PD&E study for the AMI Bridge was completed in 2010 and approved by the Federal Highway Administration in January 2016.

The study determined that construction of the bridge would have no negative effect on air quality, would not add to long-term noise and would not affect natural resources, such as coastal barriers, aquatic preserves and recreation areas.

The study also said the bridge would not harm the golden leather fern and the brown pelican but named 21 types of birds, fish and mammals that the span “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect.” Among these were 11 kinds of birds, six types of turtles, two kinds of fish and the West Indian manatee and Eastern indigo snake.

In addition, the DOT says the bridge would disturb 1.2 acres of mangroves and 2 acres of seagrass. That disturbance would be mitigated, the DOT says, though the agency has not determined how.

“FDOT will coordinate with the appropriate regulator agencies during the permitting process to identify the viable mitigation alternatives,” Rick wrote in his email to The Islander.

The permitting process has not begun, he said.

Preliminary plans call for the bridge to be 69 feet wide, with each direction having a 12-foot travel lane, an 11-foot shoulder for emergency vehicles to pass and 10 feet of sidewalk.

Total length would be about 3,150 feet, about the same as the current 3,123-foot span.

The bridge would be built about 14 feet parallel and to the south of the existing bridge, which would be demolished once the new span opened.

But, for now, that’s all a ways off. The Federal Highway Administration estimated three years ago that completion would occur sometime before 2035.

That means little Andrew Carmona, who barely reaches above his grandfather’s waist now and can’t yet toss a crab trap, may be one of the first to drive his car across. Maybe he’ll be taking his grandfather for a ride while they reminisce about the great times they spent there back in the good old days.

Bridge openings

The DOT allows drawbridge openings for the Anna Maria Island Bridge 6 a.m.-7p.m. at 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour.

The same schedule applies to the Cortez Bridge. Both open on signal 7 p.m.-6 a.m. The Longboat Pass Bridge opens on demand.

In many instances, the DOT said, between two and seven watercraft pass through the AMI Bridge during each opening.

According to the agency, the AMI Bridge had 2,686 openings in 2017, which averaged about 224 a month.

Prolonged red tide in 2018-19 deceased the number of openings, thus the DOT does not consider it a typical year.

So far this year, the DOT said, openings are on pace with 2017.

Anna Maria City Pier decking on tap, handrail dispute continues

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Workers place decking Aug. 13 on the facia of the concrete platform at the T-end of the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Courtesy Dean Jones/Anna Maria Public Works
Workers stage Aug. 14 for construction on the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Boaters fish and sightsee Aug. 14 near the T-end of the Anna Maria City Pier. The end of the pier is expected to become a construction site for a restaurant and bait shop the first week in September.
Sept. 11, 2017, a day after Hurricane Irma damaged the AMCP roof. Islander File Photo: Jack Elka
July 2018: Demolition at the AMCP was underway in earnest. Islander File Photo

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho.

Work on a planned restaurant and bait shop will begin the first week in September and still to be finished is the T-end and walkway planking, as well as electrical conduit work.

That’s the word Aug. 16 from Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy about the Anna Maria City Pier.

He hopes the pier will open to the public in 60-90 days — before the amenities are complete.

At an Aug. 20 meeting, after press time for The Islander, Manatee County commissioners were expected to appropriate an additional $435,000 in tourist development dollars to a $1.5 million contribution to the pier project.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau director Elliott Falcione and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore expected no problems with the approval.

“I’m sure the board will approve it. And if they need more, we could probably do it. We need to get it done,” Whitmore told The Islander Aug. 16.

Anna Maria has budgeted the total cost of the pier demolition, construction and improvements at $5.9 million with financial assistance from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as the county tourist development council.

The new pier replaces the historic pier built in 1911. It underwent numerous remodels before Hurricane Irma in September 2017 brought about extensive damage and it was declared destroyed.

Update on railings

Posts where lighting will be placed on the 800-foot-long pier walkway and the lack of handrails on the pier are issues raised by Gene Aubry, a former Anna Maria commissioner and architect.

“I was going to congratulate the mayor for putting up railings,” Aubry said when he recently saw the posts go up on the pier.

Aubry asked the Anna Maria City Commission in January to consider including railings — for safety, U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and historical reasons — and was turned down.

The ADA was enacted as a federal law in 1990 to give people with disabilities equal rights in public and private places open to the general public.

“If you’re blind, what kind of construction is that?” Aubry asked.

“I was doing ADA designs before the ADA passed,” Aubry said.

The former commissioner also said he doesn’t recall seeing posts in pictorial depictions of the new pier that were made available to the public but, he added the posts could serve as a way to link the proposed railings.

Aubry also suggested using the engraved planks that were removed from the pier before it was demolished for the new handrails.

Asked if the city commission would reconsider handrails for the pier, the mayor said: “I don’t know, and it is not my place to offer predictions one way or the other on how the commission will weigh in on any given issue.

“In this case, they took a vote many months ago to not have handrails. That still stands as my direction in the construction.”

Aubry filed an ADA complaint over the pier railing July 15 with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In an Aug. 15 email to The Islander, DOJ spokeswoman Kelly Laco said, “DOJ does not comment on investigations.”

No-swim advisory returns to south side of causeway beach

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A sign warns of high bacteria levels Aug. 17 on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway, where a boy dips a net and a man plays with his dog.
A group of eight riders leave the shore on the north side of Palma Sola Bay Aug. 17 for a surf-riding experience. The guest riders are accompanied by tour guides who walk the horses on leads. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

Caution: Swimming is not advised in Palma Sola Bay — again.

The Florida Department of Health advised Aug. 15 that people should stay out of Palma Sola Bay on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway where the bay is divided by traffic, due to high levels of fecal matter.

A posted sign on the causeway alerts swimmers to an “increased risk of illness” and refers inquiries to a state website.

The causeway beach is about 1,000 feet west of 81st Street on Manatee Avenue West.

The trigger for the advisory, according to Tom Larkin, director of Manatee County Environmental Health, was an Aug. 13 test of 96 colony-forming units of enterococci bacteria in 100 milliliters of water in a sample after a test the day before registered 767 colony-forming units.

The health department’s threshold for safe swimming is 70 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of sample based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency epidemiological studies.

Contact with the water may cause gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea, and increase the risk for infectious diseases.

Asked why the bay twice exceeded the EPA standard in as many months, Larkin wrote in an Aug. 16 email: “We don’t have any thoughts on the cause for the recent test results.”

He said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will investigate wastewater treatment facilities within a mile “to determine if a facility experienced an incident that may have contributed to the contamination.”

Human and animal intestinal bacteria can spill into the bay through sewer-line breaks, leaching septic systems, lift station failures and stormwater runoff.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore voiced her concerns for the health of Palma Sola Bay at a July 30 Council of Governments meeting and in an Aug. 16 interview with The Islander.

Whitmore pointed to septic systems in Northwest Bradenton and horses — tourist attractions that provide “surf-riding” on horseback in the bay that are apparently authorized by the city of Bradenton and state of Florida — that could be associated with what she sees as a longstanding problem with the bay having a limited tidal flow.

The south side of Palma Sola Bay is one of seven beach locations in Manatee County tested weekly for the bacteria. The others are Bayfront Park in Anna Maria, Coquina north and south beaches and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach and Whitney Beach in Longboat Key.

As of the last week in July, the department began testing for enterococci once a week as new funding from the state became available, Larkin said. The testing previously was biweekly.

“Our sampling results this week indicate the other Manatee beach sites meet the guidelines for swimming,” he wrote.

In July, the DOH issued the no-swim advisory for the bay site after testing showed 24,196 and 422 colony-forming units of enterococci in 100 milliliters of water. The advisory was lifted after retesting indicated the presence of 30 colony-forming units of enterococci.

No line break, lift station or other utility-related incident is to blame for the recent surge in bacteria in Palma Sola Bay, according to Manatee County Utilities Department spokeswoman Amy Pilson.

The last reported sewage spills in the bay occurred between December 2017 and February 2018 when contractors ruptured sewer lines and more than 6 million gallons of raw sewage spewed through the adjacent land and tributaries, according to county and state records.

The advisory will be in effect until the DOH testing shows the federal guidelines are met.

Larkin said the department will be testing next during the week of Aug. 19.

For more information, the advisory lists the website, www.doh.state.fl.us, and says to select “Beach Water Quality” from the A-Z topics list.

County staff recommends user fees at boat ramps

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A boater puts in at the Kingfish Boat Ramp, which is maintained by Manatee County and located in Holmes Beach, west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on the north side of Manatee Avenue.
The Palma Sola Boat Ramp, maintained by Manatee County and located on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway, is closed for repairs. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Manatee County staff think boaters will pay a little to play, or work.

But Manatee County commissioners are divided over whether to ask boaters for user fees at the nine county-maintained boat ramps.

The idea of instituting paid-parking at the boat ramps was floated during a commission workshop in January.

At a commission workshop Aug. 15 at the administration building in Bradenton, county staff recommended going with paid parking at the boat ramps, possibly $5 a day.

Other counties collect such fees: 75 cents per hour in Charlotte, $6 a day in Pinellas and $5 a day in Pasco and Hillsborough. Hillsborough County collected more than $250,000 in fiscal 2017 from user fees at its ramps.

Manatee County staff estimated a gross revenue of $146,500 per year from paid-parking at its ramps. The county could generate about $500 a year per space based on a $5 daily rate. And there are 273 trailer spaces in the county.

Staff estimated the installation cost of the parking equipment at $65,000 — 10 solar-powered electronic machines at nine ramps. With the monthly data plan for each machine at $45, county staff calculated a return on investment at six months.

Ramp revenue would go toward the installation of navigation aids, construction of artificial reefs, maintenance and upgrades at the ramps and possibly new ramps.

But commissioners were divided on the recommendation, some in favor, some opposed.

“I have no problem with the parking,” said Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, endorsing the user fee and taking the opportunity to stress the need for more facilities, especially north of the Manatee River.

Commissioner Betsy Benac said, “User fees, to me, makes sense as we continue to grow.”

And Commission Chair Stephen Jonsson, who represents west Manatee and the islands, said, “I’m a big user-fee person — $5 a day, that’s barely 2 gallons of gas.”

But, said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, “When you look at the amount of money you get, that’s nothing compared to what our budget is.”

“I just don’t support charging to park our boats,” she said during the work meeting, where no vote took place.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the parks and natural resources department, recommended the user fee, but also acknowledged, “Paid parking is not a silver bullet.”

He and his staff reviewed the expense of building, upgrading and maintaining the ramps, as well as artificial reefs and navigational aids using a pot of county, regional, state and federal money.

 

Ramp repairs and rebuilds

Three county ramps are on Anna Maria Island — Kingfish on Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach and Coquina North and Coquina South in Bradenton Beach.

A fourth ramp is nearby, on the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway.

During the workshop, commissioners and staff reviewed planned improvements at three of those ramps — Palma Sola, Kingfish and Coquina South. The Coquina North ramp was improved in 2018.

The county plans interim repairs at the Kingfish ramp in 2020, as a structural engineering inspection in April determined the seawall is near the end of its lifespan. Additionally, the wooden docks need replacing and the cable system at the launch is showing signs of settling.

“Kingfish is the busiest boat ramp in the county,” said Alan Lai Hipp, environmental program manager for marine resources, part of the natural resources department. “But it is aged.”

For 2023, the county plans a renovation of Kingfish, with design and permitting planned in fiscal year 2020-21 and construction in fiscal 2021-22 using funds under the RESTORE Act, which put the civil penalties paid for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into a trust fund to restore and protect the Gulf coast’s natural resources, fisheries, beaches and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

“We jumpstarted Kingfish in our schedule,” said Hunsicker.

The department also shifted funding priorities to use the RESTORE money.

Work at the Coquina South Ramp includes a renovation in 2028 and, in 2021, interim repairs, including a dock replacement.

“It’s a very popular ramp,” Lai Hipp said.

The Palma Sola Ramp improvements, delayed for months after the facility’s closure in January, will take place in 2020, with a full renovation planned in 2022.

The county assumed maintenance responsibility for the ramp in January, taking over for the city of Bradenton, and closed the facility for repairs.

The 2020 work will involve lowering the docks, grading and smoothing the parking lot, landscaping and dredging.

Referring to a recent discussion about relocating the ramp, Lai Hipp said that is not the plan due to the impact such a project would have on seagrass in the bay.

So the renovation, he said, will be in the footprint of the existing ramp.

Treehouse case dismissed in federal court

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A treehouse built by Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen remains Aug. 14 on the beachfront in an Australian pine at their 103 29th St. property in Holmes Beach, despite six years of litigation aimed at having it removed. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Three strikes at a treehouse complaint and the case was thrown out of federal court.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Aug. 6 dismissed treehouse owners’ Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen case against the city of Holmes Beach and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after three tries. Moody called the owners’ attempts “impermissibly unclear.”

The owners, who filed the case in March without an attorney, fired back Aug. 8 with a motion asking the judge to reconsider the ruling.

The motion said a court rule gave Tran and Hazen until Aug. 11 to respond to a DEP dismissal motion, calling the judge’s oversight “clearly an ‘extraordinary circumstance.’”

In an Aug. 14 email to The Islander, Tran added, “I don’t know what to expect, but pray that we have given the court good reasons to consider.”

The judge dismissed the treehouse owners’ case with prejudice — meaning the owners are precluded from re-filing the same claim — agreeing with city and DEP motions that the complaint made it difficult to understand “what facts relate to what legal claims.”

In his order, Moody found Tran and Hazen had “numerous opportunities to raise their claims in prior litigation” in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court and “absent any new factual developments” there was no legal basis to revive the litigation.

Asked about the owners’ motion to reconsider, attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask Daigneault — the Clearwater law firm assigned the treehouse cases alleging money damage by the city’s insurer — was unconcerned.

“The treehouse cases are being defended aggressively, as they should be. We’re looking to bring them to a conclusion as quickly as we can,” Daigneault said.

Tran and Hazen reside at 103 29th St., where they operate four short-term rental units and built a beachfront structure — the two-story elevated treehouse — in an Australian pine tree, without city or state permits in 2011.

An anonymous complaint to the city triggered a trail of litigation, including the dismissed federal case. No other litigation is pending in federal court.

Three treehouse cases are pending in circuit court, as of Aug. 19.

In one case, a September hearing is set for city and DEP motions to dismiss a complaint by the owners alleging negligence and violation of rights and seeking injunctive relief and unspecified money damages.

Another case, in which the owners are represented by Sarasota attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill, challenges a city ordinance requiring a 50-foot setback from the erosion control line. First filed in circuit court in 2013, the owners claim the setback is an unconstitutional taking.

The city contends the issue was decided already and cannot be relitigated.

Another pending case involves the city’s petition to enforce a special magistrate order requiring the treehouse be removed and assessing a $50 per day fine since July 2015 — now at more than $74,200.

Earlier this year, Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled he would hear the state constitutional challenge prior to the city-initiated case.

The city and DEP’s motions to dismiss the owners’ pro-se complaint are set for hearing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Bradenton Beach dock brings back boaters, business

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Paradise Boat Tours passengers board a vessel for an Aug. 18 tour to see dolphins, manatees, stingrays and more in the Intracoastal Waterway. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

A steady stream of people are using the newly opened floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar and a former community redevelopment agency member, said in an Aug. 14 interview with The Islander that the dock has brought his restaurant a wave of business since it opened.

Bradenton Beach officials opened the dock for public use Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to Technomarine Construction, the company originally contracted to build and install the dock.

The dock replaced a dock damaged by storms — and crashing boats that broke anchor — and was removed in 2017 for public safety.

“It’s getting great usage already,” Horne said. “We’re seeing lots and lots of boats there every day, and it’s great to see people back on Bridge Street — coming by water.

“We’ve had a lot of our guests come by boats, and you can’t wipe the smile off the face of people arriving by boat, let me tell you.”

Horne added that one group of people from Sarasota came in 11 boats in a trip to Bradenton Beach and his restaurant.

The city also plans to install finger docks at the pier and a boat lift to hold the marine patrol boat for the exclusive use of the Bradenton Beach Police Department.

CRA Chair Ralph Cole, a city commissioner, said the city awaits permitting for the projects.

In the meantime, docking comes on a first-come, first-serve basis for private and commercial vessels. Commercial vessels can dock for 10 minutes to load and offload passengers, as no business can be conducted at the dock. Private vessels can dock without a time restriction during the day.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said in an Aug. 14 interview with The Islander that the dock is intended to bring people to Bridge Street during business hours, so overnight docking is not permitted. The dock should be clear 3-9 a.m., but Speciale said the police department doesn’t follow a strict timeframe for its closure.

He added there is no size limit for docking vessels other than what is dictated by the channel that leads from the Intracoastal Waterway to the dock.

Capt. Sherman Baldwin, owner of Paradise Boat Tours, operating from a storefront at the foot of the pier, told The Islander Aug. 14 that his tour business, along with Bradenton Beach Parasailing and several charter fishers, is using the dock for loading and offloading passengers.

Baldwin also used the previous dock and relied on the city-owned dinghy dock at the foot of the pier in its absence.

Baldwin, who serves as vice president of the Bridge Street Merchants, also has planned for years to launch a 149-passenger water taxi between Bradenton Beach, Sarasota and Bradenton. Installation of the dock was the last obstacle in the way of the water taxi, but he said the venture was tabled after more than two years of waiting.

Baldwin Aug. 14 declined to comment on future plans for a water taxi.

Capt. Mark Hubbard, the owner of Madeira Beach-based Tampa Bay Ferry & Taxi, said he is interested in partnering with Baldwin on linking routes if he can get a water taxi location approved in Anna Maria or Holmes Beach.

Hubbard has pursued the launch of a service in the two cities since 2015, but said both city commissions rejected permits for the business.

He said he remains interested in launching a service in either city, but would only apply again if officials would reconsider their decisions.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, however, said he is not interested in a water taxi service because it would bring more tourists.

Eyes on the road

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Aug. 19:

  • Longboat Pass Bridge through September: Major repairs on the Longboat Pass Bridge on Gulf Drive between Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key take place through the summer. Overnight work requires decreasing lane sizes, flagging operations and occasional lane closures. Also, the DOT cautioned boaters to watch for equipment in the water.

For the latest road watch information, go online to fl511.com and swflroads.com or dial 511.

 To view traffic conditions, go online to smarttrafficinfo.org.

Anna Maria mayor updates county tourism officials on pier

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Bicycling, Brendan Sweetman and son Rangi Sweetman, 14, of Nashville, Tennessee, wait for relatives at the Anna Maria City Pier, which remained closed to the public Aug. 7. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

August and September hold promise for progress on the Anna Maria City Pier.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy updated county tourism officials Aug. 1 on the status of the pier construction, as well as the planned construction of a restaurant and bait shop at the T-end.

Contributions from Manatee County, totaling $1.935 million after an expected $435,000 addition in August, will be “100 percent from tourist development tax,” said Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor Bureau director Elliott Falcione.

The project — from the commission’s decision to replace and not repair the pier to letting contracts for the walkway and understructure as well as the restaurant and bait shop — has been ongoing for two years, since Hurricane Irma damaged the pier and its amenities in September 2017.

Falcione said the county reimburses Anna Maria after the city facilitates and pays contractors, and he expects county commissioners will vote for the increase in funding Aug. 20 because “he meets one-on-one with them” prior to his budget recommendations.

In an email to Monica Luff, assistant to Falcione, Murphy reported the status of the pier.

  • Piles, supports and stringers for the walkway are covered with plywood, awaiting the permanent hardwood ipe decking, so workers can access the end of the pier.
  • A concrete platform at the T-end is complete.
  • Conduits for utilities are partially in place.

Looking forward, Murphy anticipated:

  • Electrical lines were to be installed the week of Aug. 5 for light posts on the walkway.
  • Throughout August, weather permitting, a small boat landing will be framed. Pier planks and T-end fascia also will be installed in August.

According to the mayor, there is an open issue about a fire suppression line.

“We will follow the code. But, as far as its location, material and size, the engineers are wrestling with that,” Murphy told The Islander Aug. 8, adding there should be a resolution in the next couple of months.

In July, Anna Maria commissioners approved a $967,000 contract with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach to construct the restaurant and bait shop. The contract has a Feb. 10, 2020, completion date.

Still undecided is who will be responsible for some of the improvements.

Mario Schoenfelder holds the lease for the restaurant until December 2020, and rent payments have been abated since Hurricane Irma caused much of the pier damage in September 2017.

In November 2018, the city engaged i+conSOUTHEAST with a $3.3 million contract for pier understructure and walkway improvements. The contract completion date, adjusted by change orders, is now Sept. 16, according to Murphy.

The total cost of the pier — demolition, construction and improvements — is budgeted at $5.9 million.

In addition to the county tourist development dollars, the city expects reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state.

The new pier replaces the historic pier built in 1911, which underwent numerous remodels before it was declared destroyed in 2017.

Officer moves up

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Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and Officer Mike Walker — newly named a sergeant — show the sergeant stripes Walker will wear effective Aug. 24. Walker will be recognized for his promotion at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, in the Patricia A. Geyer Commission Chambers, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy HBPD

Holmes Beach Police Officer Mike Walker ranks.

Walker will be promoted Aug. 24 to sergeant.

Walker was named HBPD’s Officer of the Year in 2009, 2013, 2016 and 2019, and twice received a congressional award for dedication and professionalism.

In 2009, he received a security management professional association service award.

With the HBPD, Walker served as a field training officer as well as a member of the honor guard and as the HBPD representative to the city police pension board.

He and his wife Maria are proud parents of a 10-month-old daughter, Kinsley.

Good news or bad?: Cortez Bridge years from replacement

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The view from the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill includes the draw opening on the Cortez Bridge Aug. 4. The DOT has recommended replacing the drawbridge with a high-fixed span bridge. Islander Photos: Sarah Brice
Tide Tables restaurant owner Bobby Woodson is confident loyal patrons will still find his waterfront restaurant — at the southeast corner of the Cortez Bridge in Cortez — during construction and after the new bridge is built. Islander Photos: Sarah Brice
Kim Shepherd, 26-year owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle at the base of the Cortez Bridge, is concerned that a megabridge linking Cortez to Bradenton Beach would harm the Cortez community.
Joe Rogers, chief operating officer of the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill, says a new bridge is needed but he believes how big a span should reopen for debate.
Michael Bazzy, whose family has owned the Bradenton Beach Marina since 1981, says although construction may affect his business at the base of the bridge in Bradenton Beach, he’s not concerned. He added, he has good relations with the DOT.
The view looking north across the deck at Annie’s Bait and Tackle in Cortez includes activity at the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill in the fishing village of Cortez. The views from Annie’s and the Seafood Shack include the span of the Cortez Bridge across Sarasota Bay from Cortez.
Annie’s Bait and Tackle offers patrons outdoor seating with a view of the Cortez Bridge.

If you’ve been looking forward to — or dreading — the proposed replacement of the Cortez drawbridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge, you’re going to have to wait a while. Quite a while.

“It’s not going to happen immediately,” said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Brian R. Rick.

Most likely, if it happens, it won’t be for another 10 years or so.

The DOT is expected to release results of its Cortez Bridge Project Development and Environment Study by the end of the year. The study, started in 2013, determines what environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical effects the new bridge would have on the area, particularly the historic fishing village of Cortez.

After that would come the design phase, then right-of-way acquisition, then finally construction.

About $6.4 million has been allocated for design, which has been awarded to the engineering firm H.W. Lochner Inc., but design work has not started, the DOT’s Rick said in a phone interview Aug. 5.

Once design begins, it will take about two years to complete. The DOT likely will hold public meetings during that time period, 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 2023-24. So that aspect of the new bridge is not funded.

Construction is not funded either.

An April 23, 2018, announcement by DOT communications manager Zachary Burch said the agency recommended the fixed span and design was scheduled to begin later that year and right-of-way acquisition was funded for fiscal 2020 and 2021. But Rick told The Islander additional work needed on the project development and environment study delayed the timetable.

Some Cortez merchants are in no hurry to see the new bridge built. Count Kim Shepherd among them.

“They’re dissecting the village,” said Shepherd, owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle Shop for the past 26 years. “I don’t agree with that. They’re dissecting a town.”

Annie’s is situated on the waterfront in Cortez at the northeast corner of the bridge.

Preliminary plans call for the eastern part of the bridge to ramp up on Cortez Road at 123rd Street West. Parts of the village on either side of Cortez Road between 123rd Street and Sarasota Bay would be connected under the bridge. Service roads would deliver vehicular traffic to that area, which is home to several businesses.

But Shepherd is not sure that would be enough.

“I think it’s going to be hard for people to get to us even with the access road,” she said in an interview in her vintage bait shop. “It’s going to affect the whole village.”

Disruption during construction would be even worse, she said, pointing to what happened during repair work to the bridge in 2015.

“Even with signs, we took a hit,” she said.

Some other Cortez merchants take a more wait-and-see attitude.

“I’ve been told by the DOT it’s at least eight years up the road,” said Bobby Woodson, owner of Tide Tables Restaurant and Marina on the waterfront at the base of the bridge in Cortez.

The DOT will have to keep a pathway open to his restaurant during construction, Woodson said. And he’s counting on his customers.

“We’ve built a clientele during the past 5 1/2 years,” he said. “They’ll find us.”

And by the time construction starts, Woodson said, the restaurant will have built an even larger clientele.

“We’re going to be just fine,” he said during an interview at the restaurant.

Joe Rogers, chief operating officer at the Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill, also expressed optimism that the Shack will thrive.

“Hopefully, people will still find us,” he said from the marina behind the restaurant. “People seek out waterfront restaurants. It’s just going to take them a while longer.

“We’ll have a ton of signage.”

On the western side of the bridge, Michael Bazzy, owner of the Bradenton Beach Marina, said he doesn’t expect to see a new span any time soon.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Bazzy, whose family has owned the marina since 1981.

Regardless, he expects to come out fine.

“I’m not really concerned,” he said. “We’ve always had real good relations with the DOT.”

Rogers agrees that a new bridge is needed. He’s just not sure that it has to be the 65-foot-clearance fixed span, as recommended by the DOT last year.

“We need a bridge,” he said. “What size is debatable.”

The DOT notes that the bridge, which was built in 1956, has already had three major repair projects — in 1996, 2010 and 2015 — and needs to be replaced.

“Future repair projects would likely increase in scope, traffic disruptions and cost, and yet decrease in effectiveness due to continued deterioration of the bridge,” the agency said in the April 2018 announcement.

Rogers said whatever is built needs to last.

“They have to think long term,” he said. “It’s got to be good for another 50 years.”

The DOT says a new fixed-span bridge would have a 75-year life span.

“A fixed bridge is resoundingly the best financial investment for taxpayers,” the announcement said.

Other options were drawbridges with vertical clearances of 21 or 35 feet.

The DOT said the high span would cost $72 million to build and maintains that “construction costs, including design and construction, saves approximately $23.9 million compared to a new mid-level drawbridge.”

The high bridge, the DOT said, would save $11.2 million in maintenance and construction costs compared to a new drawbridge.

Indications six years ago were that most local residents opposed any new bridge, no matter the height.

A DOT mail survey answered by nearly 850 local residents in spring 2013 showed 51% of respondents were in favor of rehabilitating the Cortez Bridge, while 43% favored replacement.

Of those in favor of bridge replacement, 56 percent were opposed to a high-level fixed span and 38 percent were in favor of a mega-bridge.

Of those opposed to a high bridge, 19% wanted a mid-level drawbridge and 33% wanted a low-level drawbridge.

Among local communities, Cortez had the highest level of opposition to a replacement bridge. Sixty-two percent of respondents favored rehabilitation and 33% wanted a replacement.

Anna Maria respondents wanted rehabilitation over replacement 54-43. Bradenton Beach was 52-39.

Holmes Beach and Longboat Key respondents favored replacement.

Holmes Beach came in at 50-45 in favor of a new bridge and Longboat Key answered 86-14 in favor of a replacement

But the DOT decided in 2016 not to rehabilitate the bridge.

Longboat Key town manager Tom Harmer said he has been talking with the DOT about making it easier for motorists to get on and off the Key. But he said in a phone interview Aug. 6 that he realizes a new Cortez Bridge is only part of the solution.

Longboat Key residents driving off the island to the north still have traffic chokepoints at the Longboat Pass drawbridge and the intersection at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach.

And the initial plans for the high-level bridge call for only two lanes of vehicular traffic, same as the current span.

“Our issue really is traffic congestion,” Harmer said. “We do think they should consider additional lanes [on the bridge] and intersection improvements.”

Harmer said he has made those suggestions to the DOT.

DOT officials note that a high-clearance fixed bridge would allow boat traffic to pass unimpeded, which would result in less traffic disruption.

According to the DOT, the Cortez Bridge had 3,101 openings in 2017, averaging about 258 a month. They attributed fewer openings in 2018 to the extended red tide outbreak, so it’s not representative of a typical year. Bridge openings so far this year are comparable to 2017 levels, the agency said.

Over at Annie’s, where you can almost reach out and touch the bridge, Shepherd says the DOT’s construction delay is great news. She wants her small spot in paradise to stay just like it is.

“It’s a little village that’s been here forever,” she said. “It’s one of the last working fishing villages still around.”