Tag Archives: News

Construction begins on city pier restaurant, bait shop

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Kathy Pastorius, boating with husband Roque, looks over the bow Oct. 8 at the construction of the restaurant and bait shop on the new Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Roque Pastorius

Work on the T-end building for the new Anna Maria City Pier finally is underway.

Holmes Beach-based Mason Martin Builders began framing the restaurant and bait shop Oct. 7 after completion of repairs to the damaged walkway.

Mayor Dan Murphy and public works manager Dean Jones visited the pier Oct. 10 to inspect
the work. Murphy told commissioners the same day that the structure is sound — a “monument to stability.”

Mason Martin Builders is expected to complete work on the T-end buildings by April 2020, according to Murphy.

“I think the way things are progressing that we will finish earlier than that,” Murphy wrote in an Oct. 11 email to The Islander.

The original 1911-built pier was removed due to damages sustained during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The pier was deemed destroyed based on terms of the city’s insurance.

The city contracted i+iconSOUTHEAST in November 2018 to build the new pier.

Murphy said i+icon would return in November to finish decking, including a portion of the walkway damaged when a work barge rammed the structure.

In the meantime, Murphy said bird feces on the walkway has become an issue.

City employees power-washed the pier several times, but the stains proved difficult to remove. Murphy said the walkway would be pressure-washed Oct. 11 and Oct. 14. Then protective plywood will be placed over the decking.

To handle such issues, Murphy suggested commissioners create a pier oversight committee of residents and experts when the pier is complete. The committee would advise the commission on how to manage and care for the pier.


Lease negotiations

Murphy said he recently met with Mario Schoenfelder, the pier tenant since 2000, and he expects Schoenfelder’s proposal for lease payments by Oct. 18.

He will call for an emergency commission meeting when he receives the proposal.

“We’re at a critical point,” Murphy said. “I think it would be good to consider that as quickly as possible.”

Schoenfelder has two base payment options to consider.

One option includes a $21,600 monthly base payment, along with either a 3% annual increase — to begin after the first year — or an annual adjustment based on the consumer price index.

The other option includes an $18,900 monthly base payment, subject to the same options for annual increases as the first option. However, this option requires that Schoenfelder pay $250,000 at the signing.

Schoenfelder, who splits his time between Holmes Beach and Germany, originally signed a lease for 10 years, with two five-year options and a $5,000 monthly lease payment, which was subject to periodic increases of $500.

The monthly payments, which escalated to $11,900, were discontinued after the city closed the pier in September 2017.

In September, Murphy and Schoenfelder tentatively agreed to a 10-year lease length, with two five-year extensions — the same length of the current lease.

Holmes Beach to build skate bowl at city field

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An artist rendering shows a skate bowl, which was added to plans for the new skate park at city field, with completion planned for December. Materials and labor for the bowl, which is projected to cost about $100,000, are being donated by Tom Sanger Pool and Spa of Bradenton, with assistance from other contractors. The Y-shaped bowl will be about 4 feet deep and, at 800 square feet, about three times the size of an average swimming pool. Islander File Photo

Bradenton Beach floating dock closes, gangway ‘unsafe’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, the dock remains closed.

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

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

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

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

Opponents lack plans, manpower to battle DOT on Cortez Bridge

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

Get ready for a shock.

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

Why weren’t they ready?

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

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

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


“I’m not really sure,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Construction is not funded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We aren’t there yet,” Molto said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chappie also said he will work with the local delegation.

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

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



Galvano: Big bridge points to future

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

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

— Arthur Brice

Holmes Beach says ‘time will tell’ for Spring Lake improvement

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A bird stands Oct. 10 next to a drain pipe on the southwest corner of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. The presence of birds and minnows indicates the lake is recovering, according to Eran Wasserman, city director of development services.
Bubbling at the surface of Spring Lake Oct. 10 indicates the aeration system is operating. The city recently began aerating 24-7 to improve conditions. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Minnows swim Oct. 10 near the surface of Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. An aeration system activated Sept. 17 killed some fish in the lake, which appears to be recovering from the shock of activation.

Spring Lake in Holmes Beach is showing signs of improvement.

Minnows swam Oct. 10 near the surface of the lake and, though the water was brown, it no longer strongly smelled of sulfur. An aeration system was activated Sept. 17 to circulate stagnant water and infuse the lake with oxygen.

Upon activation of the system, the lake, surrounded by homes between 68th and 70th streets, became murky, smelly and more than 1,000 fish died, prompting complaints from lakeside residents and property owners.

Eran Wasserman, the city’s director of development services, said the city started running the aeration system around the clock Oct. 10, compared with six hours nightly for several weeks prior.

Wasserman said the city would test water quality at the end of the month and again in January.

However, he said the first test might be premature, as the lake requires time to recover.

“It just takes time to tell if it’s working,” Wasserman said. “We just have to wait and see.”

The lake bottom has about 3 feet of accumulated sludge and suffers the impact of a sewage spill in 2015, when about 22,000 gallons of waste from a broken Manatee County sewer line entered the lake. After the spill, the county provided the city and the health department with reports indicating the lake was healthy. Subsequent testing determined the muck on the lake bottom mostly is algae, which digests pollutants, but requires oxygen.

The city installed the aeration system to circulate oxygen and break down the sludge.

However, lakefront residents were alarmed after the system activation, when the lake condition became dire.

At an Oct. 8 commission meeting, Terry Schaefer, a candidate in the Nov. 5 commission election, said a water quality expert retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered to consult with the city about the lake and provide an analysis at no cost. Schaefer said his friend would want access to reports on the lake.

Mayor Judy Titsworth suggested Schaefer ask his friend to contact Wasserman.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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

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

State of the City by Mayor Judy Titsworth

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Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth delivers a “state of the city” address at the Oct. 8 city meeting. The statement detailed developments in the city since Titsworth was elected November 2018, including the budget, capital improvements, departments, boards and a request for proposals for a revised comprehensive plan. “Civic duty is at an all-time high in our city and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Titsworth said. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

It is my honor to share with you the accomplishments that we have made in my first year in office. This year has flown by and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I would first like to recognize our staff. To say that I am proud of them is an understatement. They have been given the support they need to grow individually and as a team. Their “can do” attitude not only is a blessing for the city but a skill that will continue to serve them well. My six years as a commissioner has served me well and allowed me the time to understand our cities strengths and weaknesses.

My first objective was to improve our customer service in all departments. The addition of a Director of Development Services was created to perform complex professional and administrative work in directing and coordinating the services to the community pursuant to all aspects of land use and development. I welcome Eran Wasserman to this position and will offer him the support needed to allow this department to succeed.

Neal Schwartz as building official is a hire that I am equally proud of. He came to us with much experience in the Florida coastal communities and has exceptional knowledge of the Florida building code. I give a huge thank you to John Fernandez for stepping up to the job in the interim period. I couldn’t have done this without John. His civic duty to the City of Holmes Beach is a gift that keeps giving as he has called in to help on more than one occasion.

Bringing our planner, Bill Brisson, on staff gave us the ability to have a “planner on call” and as a user in our citizen serve portal in the review of code compliance in permitting and business tax applications. His customer service skills and knowledge of planning and zoning is an asset.

Although Neal brings to us his Flood Plain Manager Qualifications and historical knowledge, it came highly recommended that we have someone other than the building official to perform these functions for the city. I thank Lynn Burnett, our city engineer, on receiving her timely certifications as she is providing the City with these skills in meeting our goals to improve our CRS rating for our citizens. We have also added Lynn to our citizen serve portal and included her in the review process of all permits. This proactive approach to storm water retention on private property is becoming more and more crucial in our efforts in resiliency.

Our code enforcement team was in need of support. Not only did they need the help of a skilled clerk to process and coordinate citizen outreach, NOVs, and special magistrate proceedings but they needed office space. Their office was moved into the ground floor office space of the annex building at public works. They have changed their name to “code compliance” as this is more in keeping with their mission in promoting awareness and education into bringing properties into compliance. They received 3 trucks from the police department and we will be self funding the replacement vehicles as needed. JT has been promoted to Supervisor. Our budget includes the addition of one more position, a full time clerk, so that Robyn can assist as an additional code officer. We have had 2 special magistrate hearings and will continue to use these proceedings for the enforcement of our codes and bringing properties into compliance as necessary.

Our VRC program is more efficient and cost effective thanks to the departments working together in the collection and inspection process. With the addition of monthly rentals into this program, I thank Ami in advance for her ability to expand her services with her continued exemplary customer service skills.

Our License Plate Reader system is an asset to our Police Department and the Chief is very pleased with its performance. Crime continues to go down in our city and the presence of our police officers should continue to make our City a safe place to live. I thank Chief for continuing to make this city a safe place to call home.

Spring Lake is improving, and with the addition of the aeration should continue to sustain life, bring clarity to the lake and improve the habitat for aquatic life forms. Although the startup has been challenging, the public works department continued to monitor the progress to make any adverse affects as minimal as possible and I thank them for that.

The improvements to our City Park are underway with a new and improved skate park, Dog Park and a multi use field. With sincere thanks to the Hagan Foundation we are able to replace our playground equipment and move it to its new location in the park. Tom Sanger from Sanger Pools and donations from area contractors has graciously donated the material and labor in participation for this skate park and I cannot thank them enough for this generous donation. I understand that both the Chief and Dave Zaccagnino worked diligently to find the donations for this bowl and I appreciate that we have a community that is once again willing to give.

We have successfully completed our first phase in our multi use path. We will continue to improve the bike lanes in our city as well as crosswalk visibility. We are currently in the next phase of our storm water infiltration South of Manatee Ave and are in the planning stages of much needed improvements to Marina Drive and the seawall at City Center.

We are currently adding water and fish cleaning stations to the City owned t-end boat docks on Marina Drive. These are available for rent by our residents. We will begin dredging at the Holmes Beach boat ramp and 65th St canal. More dredging will be required using either the local option 5 cent gas tax or other revenue sources in the near future.

Thanks to Lori Hill our City Treasurer, we were able to continue to grow our reserves including additional reserves for our Bert Harris lawsuits and again, have a glowing audit. I would also like to thank her for the format in which the commission is now receiving the quarterly financial reporting as it allows them the ability to monitor our financials at a point in time with the anticipated projections to fiscal year end.

We have successfully completed an RFP for the rewrite of our comprehensive plan. The planning commission played a large part and I praise them for their efforts. Eran stepped up to lend his skills in the rating process and now the hard work begins. As for the planning commission, we have never had so many applicants for open positions. Civic duty is at an all time high in our city and I couldn’t be more pleased. Thanks to all who have applied to these positions and I urge others to give of their time and skills for open positions on our boards as they become available.

This was the first year that we had a real presence at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference. Last year the Chief and I attended. This year not only did I and the chief attend, but our Engineer and Director of Development Services and Sergeant Pilato were also in attendance. Much is gained from these conferences in preparedness, recovery and lessons learned. I contracted Eran from LTA to perform our Director of Emergency Operations in the Recovery and Chief Tokajer will continue to be the director for preparations. We have updated our EOC plan, developed our Emergency Comprehensive Plan and our hard at work on our department specific Coop plan.

We have updated our Employee Handbook. I thank Mary for her efforts in this lengthy process that covered the period of an outgoing and an incoming mayor. We not only improved our job descriptions but also our employee evaluation process. Mary rallied through an unfortunate injury this year and I thank her for her commitment to the city.

We have joined the Tampa Bay Resiliency Coalition and have modified our comprehensive plan to come into compliance with recommended resiliency goals. I thank Lynn and Bill Brisson for their help in this endeavor and the commission for their approval.

Our City Clerk was elected as VP of the Florida Association of City Clerks. She has been a tremendous asset to our staff and is currently training 2 assistant deputy clerks to help in her department. She continues to amaze me with her skills in multi tasking and her gracious attitude to all. The commission approved moving qualifying for city elections to the supervisor of elections which allow Stacy to stay focused on all of her other many duties.

We have prevailed in our first 2 Bert Harris claims and are continuing to defend our right to self police with respect to our comprehensive plan. Our citizens deserve a commission that will continue to legislate for the betterment of our city and I applaud their continued efforts.

On a personal note I have completed the advanced institute for elected officials and was recently

Elected to the Board of the Florida League of Mayors and will be representing our district at the conferences and legislative days. There is strength in numbers and with the Leagues priorities in supporting clean air and water, home rule, protection of wetlands and resiliency, I feel this an important opportunity to address many issues facing our coastal cities in Florida.

Thank you and again, it has been an honor to serve.


Gulls die, but why? List of possibilities runs long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scientists, others weigh in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No swim’ advisory issued for Palma Sola beach

The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County Oct. 11 issued a “no swim” advisory for the Palma Sola beach south access.

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

The issuance of an advisory indicates water contact may pose an increased risk of infectious diseases to humans.

Health officials in the county received testing results Oct. 7 and Oct. 9 that showed an elevated level of enterococci bacteria. Enteric bacteria may cause human disease, infections or rashes.

The advisory will be in effect until the water meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safety guidelines.

For more information, call the health department at 941-714-7593.