Tag Archives: News

Autumn visitors boost tourist tax collections

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People get ready to watch the sun set on the Gulf of Mexico, a favorite pastime on AMI, Nov. 9 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Manatee County tourist tax collections in October exceeded 2018 totals by more than $145,000. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

The weather cooled in Manatee County, but Manatee County tourist tax collections heated up.

In October, a net total of $783,135.52 was collected in tourist taxes — the rate is 5% and the tax, also known as the bed tax or resort tax, is collected on overnight rentals of six months or less.

The net was $145,146.52 over the 2018 collection of $637,989.00.

On Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach led with $179,003.91 or 22.86% of collections.

Anna Maria followed, with $101,123.47 or 12.91% of tourist taxes in the coffers.

Bradenton Beach collected $47,806.18 or 6.10% of the county totals.

Unincorporated Manatee County overall led collections with $299,7445.67 or 38.28% of the tourist taxes in the county.

Bradenton rang up $74,450.20 — 9.51% of the total — and Palmetto rounded out the numbers with $4,758.63 or 0.61%.

The 2019 number was the highest tourist tax collection of the previous five-years for October.

Numbers for 2014-2018 were:

  • 2014 — $534,624.23.
  • 2015 — $594,078.77.
  • 2016 — $660,565.44.
  • 2017 — $698,988.44.
  • 2018 — $637,989.00.

Tourist tax money is collected by the state and then funded back to the county.

State law requires using resort tax funds for tourism-related projects only.

Expenditures of the tourist tax dollars are recommended to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners by the tourist development council, a group of nine individuals, including business people and local officials, appointed to four-year terms.

Tourist tax collections are reported in arrears and October numbers were released Dec. 1.

The November numbers will be released Jan. 1, 2020.

The fiscal year runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30.

The mullet are runnin’

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John Banyas shows off a fat mullet Dec. 5 at his fish processing plant on the waterfront in Cortez. Islander Photo: Mike Tokars

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Cortez.

Around this time of year, the mullet run in local waters and commercial fishers give chase.

“The mullet run is a term used to describe the spawning migration,” said Michelle Kerr, public information specialist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Like other fish from rivers, estuaries and bays, mullet congregate and then run in schools to offshore environments to complete the spawning cycle.

This is when fishers target the mullet.

John Banyas, owner of Swordfish Grill & Tiki Bar, N.E. Taylor Boatworks, Killer Bait and the Cortez Bait and Seafood fish house on the waterfront in Cortez, says this year’s run is “better than last year.”

Banyas said there are 15-20 local boats catching fish and 40-50 boats from other areas, including out of state.

To catch mullet, fishers must use cast nets or seines and it’s back-breaking work.

Banyas told The Islander this year’s run began on Thanksgiving and will last until a few weeks after Christmas.

“They like to run during cold fronts,” Banyas said of the mullet. “The first front was OK. The fish are alive — there’s no red tide, so that’s good.”

Northwesterly winds and a dropping barometric pressure trigger mullet migration from canals and backwater in large schools to spawn in the Gulf of Mexico.

Catching the mullet before they spawn is the fishers’ goal.

But the state of the market is bad news.

“The price is in the gutter,” said Banyas. “The market is flooded. People didn’t make a lot of money last year and there’s not a lot of fishermen around.”

Local fisher Christian Chamberlain, 29, of Bradenton, said this year is “not looking good at all.”

Chamberlain, who sells his catch to Banyas, said, “There’s too much pollution and there’s not many fish around at all.”

Processors say female eggs — red roe — are popular in Europe and Asia and demand the highest price.

FWC law enforcement spokesman Robert Klepper told The Islander the state increases patrols during mullet runs to ensure fish are properly handled and stored on ice and to prevent mullet waste.

Bradenton Beach dock reopens, but some parts wait on deck

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Duncan Seawall employees set the gangway connection Dec. 3 between the Historic Bridge Street Pier and the floating dock after building a support structure and extension for the metal ramp. Islander Courtesy Photo: Tom Woodard

Boating to the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach is a possibility once again.

Public works director Tom Woodard emailed city officials Dec. 4, informing them the dock is open for public use. The dock was closed Oct. 4 when public works employees noticed the gangway — the walkway connecting the pier to the dock — was pulling away from the pier.

The dock allows boaters to tie up to the structure and access the pier, which houses Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurant and Paradise Boat Tours, which launches boat tours from the dock.

The city’s community redevelopment agency, which funded the dock, hired Duncan Seawall to construct a support structure with four cross-braced timber pilings for the gangway to rest on instead of the pier. The contractor also extended the pier to the structure to complete the walkway.

Woodard told The Islander Dec. 3 that Duncan had placed the gangway. The next day, building official Steve Gilbert confirmed the gangway connection passed city inspection and the dock was ready for use.

“I’m happy about the dock, albeit it was fraught with disappointment, frustrations and challenges,” Sherman Baldwin, owner of Paradise Boat Tours and president of the Bradenton Beach Area Merchants, told The Islander in a Dec. 5 interview. “But the fact of the matter is, today we have an amazing dock and we’re going to be all set for high season.”

Baldwin said he’s happy the dock opened in early December instead of later in the winter-spring tourism season, which, he said, “would be devastating.”

However, work on the dock remains unfinished.

Duncan’s contract with the CRA includes the installation of a safety railing and ladders at the dock, as well as the replacement of 18 rollers — the mechanisms connecting the platforms to the support pilings that allow for tidal movement — but the city must furnish the parts.

Duncan was set to install safety railings Dec. 4, but Woodard told CRA members at a meeting that day that the products purchased through Golden Marine Systems had issues. He said he received three straight segments of safety railing, but no corner pieces.

Woodard added that the railing and ladders don’t utilize the track system. The system was designed by Technomarine Construction, the dock’s original designer and manufacturer, along the side of the dock to allow for attachments.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the CRA either could ask Golden to remanufacture the railing and ladders to fit the track system or purchase the components through Ronautica Marinas, the contractor Technomarine hired to manufacture several parts of the dock.

She said the contractor also could provide rollers to replace 18 rollers installed by Hecker Construction that failed to meet Technomarine’s design.

Golden could provide the three components for $14,000. The same items would cost $20,000 from Ronautica due to a $6,000 overseas shipping cost, according to Perry.

CRA Chair Ralph Cole, a city commissioner, preferred contacting Golden about remanufacturing or changing the railing and ladders.

“We need to give that company the chance to make this right,” Cole said.

Mayor John Chappie, also a CRA member, moved to direct Cole, Woodard and Police Chief Sam Speciale to discuss the insufficiencies of the railings and ladders with Golden.

CRA member Jan Vosburgh, a city commissioner, seconded the motion.

CRA members voted 5-0 to approve the motion. CRA members Ed Chiles and Jake Spooner, a city commissioner, were absent with excuse.

If Golden will remanufacture or change the products to fit the track system, the CRA also will purchase replacement rollers from Golden.

But if Golden refuses to change the railing and ladders, the CRA will purchase all three components through Ronautica for a cost not to exceed $25,000.

Perry said Hecker is responsible for damages caused by the improper installation of the gangway and rollers. However, the contractor has retained an attorney and plans to oppose paying the cost.

City officials first opened the dock Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to failures by the company originally contracted to build and install the dock. The dock, which cost $191,524, replaced one damaged by storms and removed in 2017.

Anna Maria swears in 2 commissioners, 1 seat remains unfilled

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Anna Maria City Commissioner Jonathan Crane takes his oath of office before city clerk Leanne Addy at the organizational meeting Dec. 5. Islander Photos: Phil Colpas
Anna Maria City Commissioner Carol Carter takes her oath of office before city clerk Leanne Addy at the organizational meeting Dec. 5.

The Anna Maria City Commission made official a four-term veteran’s re-election and welcomed a new commissioner at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Commissioner Carol Carter was sworn in after being automatically re-elected to her fourth two-year term in November.

Carol Carter and her husband Bob bought a house on Anna Maria in 2001, and have been full-time residents since 2006.

Before moving to the city, Carter was vice-chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, chief fundraiser for Carnegie Mellon University and vice president of Duquesne University and the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Since becoming a Florida resident, she has served as vice president of New College Foundation and the national fundraiser for Feeding America and the Alzheimer’s Association.

New Commissioner Jonathan Crane also was sworn in at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Formerly chair of the city’s planning and zoning board, Crane ran unopposed for the seat vacated by Doug Copeland, who served three full terms on the commission but did not seek re-election in November.

Former Commissioner Dale Woodland, who served seven two-year terms as commissioner, failed to qualify for re-election in November because he paid the $48 qualifying fee with a personal check.

Candidates are required to pay fees with a check drawn from a designated campaign account.

Due to Woodland’s vacant seat, Mayor Dan Murphy suggested waiting to vote on the nominations of chair and vice-chair until January.

Commissioner Mark Short made a motion to delay the vote as suggested. The motion passed unanimously.

The mayor will serve as chairperson until a chairperson on the commission is chosen.

The commission agreed to accept applications for Woodland’s vacant seat through the close of business Jan. 8, 2020. Murphy said he would furnish updates on this.

The commission also is seeking judges and nominations for resident-of-the-year by its next regular meeting Jan. 9.

Commissioners are paid $4,800 a year.

Anna Maria had 1,076 active voters as of Aug. 30, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.

Island transportation wish list passes under microscope

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David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee MPO, carries the gavel to his seat for the Oct. 21 meeting of the joint MPO/DOT Choices: Scenario Planning Workshop at Manatee Technical College in Bradenton. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

Elbows out.

Six proposed Anna Maria Island traffic projects start jostling this week to see if they can land a spot on the Florida Department of Transportation’s next five-year work program.

The yearly process is competitive, with the DOT receiving dozens of proposals from Manatee and Sarasota counties but choosing only 10-12.

“They don’t have enough funding to fund anywhere near all of the (proposals),” said David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Sometimes, they only fund progress on previously prioritized projects, so not much is guaranteed.”

The proposed projects are initially submitted by local governments in the two counties to the MPO, which analyzes and ranks them and then passes those recommendations to the DOT.

The application deadline to submit projects to the MPO was Dec. 5.

MPO analysis starts this week.

Determining factors include whether a project already has funding and what Hutchinson described as “constructability.”

MPO staff will submit the ranked list to the organization’s board Jan. 27.

The MPO board then will submit its ranked list of recommendations to the DOT March 15. That list will be for projects added to the fifth year of the DOT’s five-year plan for the fiscal 2022-26 work program. The fiscal year in Florida starts July 1.

The DOT will announce its selections in the fall.

The top two projects submitted by the Island Transportation Planning Organization are almost certainly guaranteed high ranking on the MPO’s list and a slot on the DOT’s next work plan because they are already funded for fiscal 2021-25.

Those projects — bridges to replace the Anna Maria Island and Cortez spans — have been on the DOT work program for years. Environmental studies have been completed for both spans, and design work has begun.

“They’re already on the list,” Hutchinson told The Islander Dec. 6. “They’ll stay on that list. The DOT is looking to fund those soon because, for example, the Cortez Bridge will be in need of replacement in 10 to 15 years.”

Two other proposed AMI projects — both in Bradenton Beach — also were on the 2021-25 DOT work program and likely will advance to the next round.

They are drainage improvements from Ninth Street North to Avenue C and a study to complete street improvements from the Longboat Pass Bridge to the northern city limits.

Whether the remaining two projects — both in Holmes Beach — make the cut won’t be known until the DOT releases the 2022-26 funding list late next year.

Those projects are an extension of the right turn lane from East Bay Drive onto Manatee Avenue and a study for multimodal capacity from 27th Street North to the Palm Drive-Gulf Drive intersection.

The DOT five-year budget for Manatee and Sarasota counties is usually about $700 million to $1 billion, which is about $140 million to $200 million a year, Hutchinson said.

The ebb and flow of the budget depends on such variables as gas tax revenues and federal and state funding levels.

Federal funding accounts for 25% of the state program, Hutchinson said.

The DOT funds several aspects of a work project, including environmental studies, design, right-of-way acquisition and construction. Placement on the agency’s work program can be for any of those categories.

The agency’s 2021-25 program lists an allocation of $1.251 million in 2024-25 for a project development and environment study for Bradenton Beach street improvements. The city resubmitted that request for fiscal 2022-26.

The DOT has allocated $117,000 for drainage improvements in Bradenton Beach in fiscal 2020-21. The city also resubmitted that request.

The 2021-25 DOT work program also has allocations to repair and later replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge and to build a new Cortez Bridge.

“They are in the production pipeline,” Hutchinson said.

For repair of the AMI Bridge, DOT has budgeted $146,000 for fiscal 2022-23 to conduct environmental studies and preliminary engineering and $897,501 for repair work in 2023-24.

For replacement of the bridge, the DOT has budgeted $100,000 for preliminary engineering for 2020-21 as well as environmental study allocations of $25,000 in 2021-22 and $425,000 in 2022-23.

That’s in addition to a $6.2 million design plan that has begun but will not be completed until fiscal 2022-23, according to DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick.

No construction funding has been allocated.

For the Cortez Bridge, the DOT has allocated nearly $8 million for right-of-way acquisition in fiscal 2021-25: more than $3.8 million for 2020-21, another $1 million for fiscal 2023-24 and more than $3.1 million for 2024-25.

Design work on the new bridge started this year under a $6.4 million contract with the H.W. Lochner engineering firm, Rick told The Islander in October.

Construction funding for the Cortez Bridge has not been allocated either.

Both 17-foot-clearance drawbridges are scheduled to be replaced by 65-foot-clearance fixed spans.

Construction of a Cortez megabridge has drawn strong opposition from many Cortez residents and the governments of the three AMI cities. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore also is a strong opponent.

They contend the high bridge would destroy the character of the Cortez fishing village, which was designated a U.S. historic district in 1995.

The DOT completed a $675,000 traffic study in September that looked at possible solutions for traffic woes on AMI and Longboat Key. Many of those suggested solutions looked at ways to minimize traffic on the islands, though, and for the most part were not included on the ITPO projects list.

Replacement of the 62-year-old Cortez and Anna Maria bridges was ranked eighth on the DOT’s Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study.

Among the top five recommendations were developing message boards for bridge openings, establishing rideshare pick-up and drop-off locations and restricting personal vehicle use to create car-free zones on the islands.

The DOT started the study early in 2017 at the request of the MPO.

The study consisted of three parts. Phase 1 examined prior studies, and Phase 2 listed potential improvements and recommendations.

The third phase ranked mid- and long-term projects and identified possible project funding.

BOLO: Surfer hunts board stolen in Bradenton Beach

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Contact Bradenton Beach police at 941-778-6311 if you spot the stolen surfboard pictured here. Islander Photo: Courtesy West Coast Surf Shop

A local man took to social media to seek the return of a surfboard he left on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.

The surfboard went missing Dec. 5.

Luke Norris posted a photo of the surfboard on his Facebook page with the following message: “I set this down for 5 minutes up Bridge Street, Anna Maria Island, Bradenton Beach, and it got stolen. It’s a Roberts surfboard, 5 foot 9 inches, with my name on it. Anyone sees it around let me know.”

West Coast Surf Shop owner Jim Brady shared Norris’ post on the store’s Facebook page.

“We haven’t heard that it’s been recovered yet,” Brady said Dec. 9. “We’ve never sold Roberts Surfboards, but I would say this one was worth in the $600-$650 range.  That’s what our other high-performance boards go for.”

Bradenton Beach police are on the case of the missing surfboard.

“We’re working on this right now BBPD Sgt. Lenard Diaz told The Islander.

— Leslie Lake


Despite design flaw, AM pier on track for February opening

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Only two workers were on hand Nov. 27 on the Anna Maria City Pier, where construction continues. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

Work to fix the Anna Maria City Pier design flaw continued the week of Dec. 9.

The new pier replaces the historic pier that was demolished after it was damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, remains on schedule for a February 2020 opening.

During the reconstruction process, Ayres Engineering built the base of the T-end with a pitch for stormwater runoff, but architect Schimberg Group designed the restaurant and bait shop for a level surface.

The solution involves raising door headers, raising areas by pouring more concrete, expanding drain holes in the platform and adding a curb around the perimeter.

The work will cost an additional $109,000, which Ayres Engineering agreed to pay.

Most of the concrete work has been done to level the floors in the restaurant, bait shop and bathrooms,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy wrote Dec. 6. in an email to The Islander “Still need some holes drilled for drainage and a few other minor cleanup issues. All should be complete with that project by the end of next week.”

The installation of lines for a fire suppression system is 20% complete, wrote Murphy. “Weather delays due to choppy bay waters kept them off the job this week for a few days. But we’re still on track for a February opening.”

At a special meeting of the city commission Dec. 5, Murphy asked for and received a motion to delay a vote on two city pier ordinances until such time as a new pier liaison can be established.

That position was previously held by Dale Woodland, who served 14 years as commissioner. Woodland failed to qualify for re-election in November, having erred in paying the $48 qualifying fee with a personal check.

Candidates are required to pay fees from a designated campaign account.

The ordinances in question include one that clarifies the rights and jurisdiction of the pier lessee and another that allows alternative methods of stormwater design.

The motion to delay the vote on the ordinances passed unanimously among the four commission members.

Anna Maria commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 26 to grant the current tenant of the pier, Mario Schoenfelder, a deadline extension from Dec. 13 to Dec. 31 on his final offer for a new lease.

Schoenfelder requested the extra time to perform a cost analysis based on the floor plan and equipment that will be needed in the bait shop and restaurant.


Eyes on the road 12-11-2019

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Dec. 9:

  • Bay Drive South in Bradenton Beach: Manatee County’s AMI Pipeline Replacement project involves work on Bay Drive South continuing north to Bridge Street, shifting to Church Avenue and continuing on Church to Cortez Road. Construction is expected to conclude this month.
  • Longboat Pass Bridge: Repairs to the Longboat Pass Bridge on Gulf Drive between Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key continue, with completion expected at the end of the month. The remaining work involves monitoring bridge openings and completing “punchlist” items.

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.

HBPD, EMS respond to near-drowning in Holmes Beach

An 80-year-old woman was rushed to Blake Medical Center Nov. 29 after a near-drowning in Holmes Beach.

The woman, described by Holmes Beach police as a “European visitor,” was not identified.

At around 3:15 p.m., the Holmes Beach Police Department and West Manatee Fire Rescue were dispatched to the beach in the area of White Avenue in response to a call.

The caller described a woman in a blue swim top and sweatpants, who was out of the water and not completely alert.

“A call came in about a near-drowning. Rescue 138 was the first on scene followed by Alpha 4,” said WMFR Administrative Battalion Chief Jay Johnson. “The patient was not breathing initially …” Johnson said, and he indicated she began struggling to breathe.

Johnson said Firefighter Cameron Frasier determined the woman had fluid in her airways and she went into cardiac arrest as her airway was cleared.

“She was transported by ambulance to Blake” in Bradenton, Johnson said, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit. She regained circulation during transport.

As of Dec. 5, there was no information available on the woman or her condition.