Tag Archives: News

First sea turtles of 2019 attempt to nest

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Sea turtle tracks in the sand, spotted by AMITW volunteers — lead from the water and back again early morning April 27 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. The activity was deemed a “false crawl” — no nest was found. Islander Photo: AMITW

The loggerheads are off to an early start on Anna Maria Island.

Sea turtle nesting season officially began May 1, but the first activity of the season — three false crawls — was spotted on island beaches April 27.

A false crawl occurs when a female turtle leaves the Gulf of Mexico to nest, but returns to the water without laying her eggs. The season often begins with false crawls as the female sea turtles are “testing the temperature of the sand” before depositing their eggs, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

“It’s gotten warmer recently and everything with sea turtles is about temperature,” Fox said April 27 regarding the early activity.

The first nest of a record-breaking 534 nests last season was spotted May 13, 2018, at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Also, as of April 27, Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota had documented seven nests south of AMI on the beaches of Casey Key, Longboat Key and Venice.

Every year, officially May 1-Oct. 31, female sea turtles — mostly loggerheads on the Gulf Coast — return to beaches near where they hatched to lay their eggs.

Each of the 73 turtle watch volunteers is assigned to walk a turn on a 1-mile stretch of beach just after sunrise, looking for the tell-tale tracks that indicate a sea turtle came ashore to nest.

Later in the season, they will scan the shore for signs of hatches.

Once spotted, nests are marked with tape and stakes and observed for data and protection.

Fox said several people she spoke with on the beach April 27 near where the false crawls were spotted recognized the tracks as being made by sea turtles.

“I was impressed that the public knew what the tracks were,” Fox said. “It’s good to know that people are out there keeping an eye on our wildlife.”

For more information on sea turtle nesting on AMI, contact Fox at suzifox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Visit myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights” or “Wildlife Friendly Lighting” for information on keeping beaches safe for sea turtles.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

Bradenton Beach defendants reject new settlement offer

Another offer, another rejection.

The back-and-forth continues in the case of Bradenton Beach and ex-Mayor Jack Clarke v. six former city board members.

And a slew of depositions and a court date draws near.

The offer, which was approved by the mayor and city commissioners at an April 9 shade meeting, would allow the defendants pay legal fees incurred by taxpayers — now $203,118.93 — to end the suit with no admission of guilt.

But the defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — have said they will not accept the newest offer proferred by the city to settle the lawsuit alleging they violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

The defendants were given until May 2 to accept or decline the offer.

The suit claims the defendants discussed city matters at meetings of the grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, of which the defendants were members while also serving on volunteer city boards. According to the city’s allegations, the meetings were not properly noticed and the defendants also communicated city business through emails, texts and phone calls.

The latest offer also stipulates that the defendants must provide all requested public records to the city’s attorney for the lawsuit, Robert Watrous, within 30 days of agreeing to the terms.

“Where do they think we are going to come up with $200,000?” Martin said in an April 27 interview with The Islander. “Five of the six of us have gone pro se.”

Martin said the five defendants are without legal representation because they can’t afford the expense of an attorney.

In March, the city made an offer that would have required the defendants each pay fines of $500 and admit they violated the Sunshine Law.

The defendants responded with an “offer to compromise,” to make a $10,000 donation to the Annie Silver Community Center or a suitable nonprofit and exclude any admission of guilt and the $500 per-person fine.

Their offer also stipulated that the city and the defendants each would pay their own legal fees.

If no counteroffer is made by the defendants and accepted by the city, the mayor, former Mayor Bill Shearon, city commissioners, some city staff, Metz, Rose Vincent and several former members of CNOBB will be deposed on various dates in May and June. The defendants also hope to continue deposing the city attorney, who also is co-counsel with Watrous.

As of April 27, hearings is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 3, and 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, with Judge Edward Nicholas of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

Emergency responses mark end of Easter holiday

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After early storms on Easter weekend, blue skies returned April 21 for bicyclists and fishers on the bridge that links Perico Island and the Robinson Preserve near Manatee Avenue. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

High winds kicked up the surf Easter weekend and sent emergency responders into action on Anna Maria Island.

At 12:50 p.m. April 19, first responders rescued a man in his 20s or 30s near Bean Point in the Gulf of Mexico amid intermittent rain showers and gusts 30-40 mph, as reported by Weather Underground at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

The man was pulled 250 yards out to sea by a rip current where the Gulf meets Tampa Bay, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Jones, who heads the Anna Maria-MCSO substation.

The man’s mother told sheriff’s deputies her son was a good swimmer and familiar with the tides and currents.

Manatee County lifeguard Justin Gaeta swam to the distressed swimmer, shared his rescue board and the pair awaited a West Manatee Fire Rescue boat, which brought them to shore near the Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, according to MCSO and WMFR reports.

Manatee County Emergency Medical Services treated the swimmer at the scene for fatigue.

Another water rescue came two days later in the Gulf near the end of 52nd Street in Holmes Beach with a county lifeguard rendering aid before EMS transported the man to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

Two men on personal watercraft were navigating rough waters in the Gulf when one man lost control of his PWC, which then flipped onto him, according to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

The Holmes Beach and Anna Maria incidents were among 62 incidents that called in county marine rescue lifeguards March 23-April 22, including 23 water rescues. “Ten on Easter weekend alone,” according to Joe Westerman, chief of the Manatee County Beach Patrol Division.

Ben Rigney, WMFR battalion chief, said units from station 2, 10350 Cortez Road W., and station 3, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, responded to 125 calls April 1-21, including the April 19 water rescue in Anna Maria.

Mid-April marked the end of spring breaks across the United States, according to STA Travel, a student and youth travel company that tracks spring breaks of college and high school students.

Bradenton Beach Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz described the BBPD as “extremely busy” April 1-21.

In years past, beachgoers to Coquina Park parked illegally on Gulf Drive South with BBPD ticketing hundreds of scofflaws.

“This year I think the signage really helped,” he said, referring to the county’s electronic signs warning motorists of “limited parking” due to the closed lot at the south end of the beach, where there is an ongoing paving project in the parking lot.

At Coquina Park April 21, BBPD helped reunite a 10-year-old with parents about 50 feet away from the lost child.

Also that day, a disoriented woman wandered a few blocks away from Harvey Memorial Community Church and Bradenton Beach police officers found her.

According to Jones, Diaz and Tokajer, spring break vacationers were well behaved for the most part.

“There were a lot of people on the island. They all followed the rules or they were asked to leave,” Tokajer said.

‘Mayday, mayday, mayday Coast Guard’

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On May 9, 1980, a mayday call went out, alerting the U.S. Coast Guard that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning Tampa Bay between Pinellas and Manatee counties was “down.” In a squall, the Summit Venture collided with the bridge, collapsing the southbound lane, sending vehicles and passengers plummeting into the water below. Thirty-five people died. The Islander invites readers to share their recollections of that day. Email news@islander.org or text 941-778-9392. Please include your name, where you live and where you were May 9, 1980. Islander File Photo

Judge puts treehouse setback case first on docket

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Sunset falls on the treehouse April 24 near the 29th Street beach access. The structure in an Australian pine tree is the subject of litigation between owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen and the city of Holmes Beach and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Treehouse huggers stay tuned.

12th Circuit Judge Ed Nicholas decided April 29 to move ahead with the owners’ 2013 case to declare a city setback unconstitutional before ruling on an enforcement case seeking to enforce city orders to remove the structure and pay fines.

“We’ll take the June 3 date off the calendar with regard to the city enforcement case and let the declaratory judgment case move forward first,” Nicholas said April 29 after the attorneys agreed.

Owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen built the two-deck structure in a tree at their residence, 103 29th St., without state or city building permits. They also operate four short-term rental units there.

Treehouse disputes have run through city code enforcement, the circuit and appellate courts in Florida and once to the U.S. Supreme Court since 2013 — with the owners losing at each juncture.

In the declaratory judgment case, the owners are challenging the constitutionality of the city’s setback from the erosion control high-mean water line.

Through attorney David Levin of the law firm Icard Merrill, the couple wants the judge to declare the rights of the parties to prevent Holmes Beach from enforcing its setback, claiming they relied on city assurances that no permit was necessary for the structure.

Former Judge Jannette Dunnigan ruled the treehouse owners’ reliance on a conversation with a building official about permitting for a treehouse was unjustified in a prior case. No permit was applied for and plans were submitted. Dunnigan’s ruling was affirmed by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Levin contends the city setback conflicts with state laws that allow exceptions for accessory structures, such as their treehouse.

According to attorney Jim Dye of Dye Harrison, a partner with city attorney Patricia Petruff, state environmental laws do not conflict with the city setback ordinance, but rather work with the ordinance.

“The 2013 case has come back around after a lot of things have been amended or already decided,” he said April 26.

At the hearing, Nicholas found the couple’s summary judgment motion moot, but left open the possibility of renewing it after the pleadings are in order.

To that end, the judge also ordered Tran/Hazen to amend their 2013 complaint within 20 days, denying the city’s motion to dismiss and granting its motion for a more definite statement.

Levin favored taking the constitutional case first because of the possibility of the judge ordering the treehouse demolished, saying he foresaw appeals from whatever side lost.

Dye had no objection.

The judge said if he were to rule to demolish it, he would stay such an order until the constitutional case was decided.

The city was alerted to the treehouse construction in 2011 by an anonymous complaint. A city code enforcement officer referred the matter to Florida Department of Environmental

Protection to determine compliance with coastal regulations.

The couple attempted to negotiate an after-the-fact permit with the DEP but that failed when the city refused to sign off, objecting to the treehouse within the 50-foot setback from the erosion control line. The line replaces the mean high-water line on renourished beaches in Florida.

Three other treehouse cases are pending in the 12th Circuit state court and one case is in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, in Tampa.

One pending case in state court is the city’s lawsuit against Tran and Hazen to enforce a 2016 order to fine the owners $50 per day and remove the treehouse. The city wants the court to enforce the removal and fine that has accumulated to more than $67,000.

Also pending are Tran/Hazen-initiated lawsuits in state and federal courts. A 2018 state court case alleges negligence, injunctive relief and violation of rights. In federal litigation served on the city in March, the couple is claiming federal civil rights, due process and equal protection infringement.

These cases were brought pro se by the owners, meaning without an attorney, and are in the initial pleading stages.

A hearing in the city’s enforcement case is set for May 9 at the judicial center in Bradenton..

The federal proceedings will be held in Tampa.

DOT: Barrier Island Traffic Study committee work concluded

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Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jim Kihm, left, converses April 23 with Frank Domingo, a project manager with Stantec consulting firm, while Manatee County School District official Linda Agresta, right, talks with Nathan Kautz of the Florida Department of Transportation. They gathered at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach for a meeting of the Barrier Islands Traffic Study steering committee. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff

The Florida Department of Transportation parked its Barrier Islands Traffic Study steering committee.

The DOT held the final meeting of the steering committee April 23 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach, though several local officials encouraged DOT staff to consider continuing consultations.

The state launched the three-part Barrier Islands Traffic Study — BITS — at the request of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional planning body with a 17-member board of elected officials.

Phase one involved reviewing prior studies and phase two involved listing potential improvements and recommendations.

Phase three, currently underway, involves ranking mid- and long-term projects, as well as identifying potential funding to complete the projects.

The DOT expects to conclude phase three in the fall and then present the final study in January 2020, at a public meeting.

Until then, the DOT and the study’s technical working group will be working on ranking recommendations for Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to Nathan Kautz, DOT traffic services engineer and a leader on the study.

Phase three also involves collecting more information about visitors to the area, travel patterns and parking needs.

At the steering committee meeting, Kautz and DOT planning manager Bessie Reina invited the committee — elected and appointed officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties — to share goals for their communities and assessments of the ongoing study.

Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly expressed concerns that some solutions haven’t happened quickly enough or may not happen at all.

Specifically, Daly said the study must address automobile congestion at the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road west of the Cortez Bridge.

An analysis of the intersection determined a roundabout is not feasible due to the cost of right of way acquisition.

If a roundabout isn’t the answer, what is the solution? asked Daly.

Congestion at the intersection must be addressed or “we’re not in any meaningful way accommodating or providing traffic mitigation off the island, and on the island, too,” said Daly.

He said he didn’t want BITS to be “just another study. …And I think there’s a danger, unless we can collectively latch on to some real results that can be put into effect.”

“There are a couple of things that kill roundabouts,” Kautz replied, adding that cost is only one factor.

BITS, he said, must look beyond capacity improvements on the barrier islands to put the focus on moving people, rather than merely moving vehicles.

“Capacity improvements are only going to get us so far,” Kautz said. “Capacity is short-term. We’re trying to figure out long-term.”

Long-term solutions involve moving people from point A to point B — and not necessarily in automobiles.

“With the ranking, we’ll look at the significance of improvements, try to figure out how to move more people in less space,” Kautz said.

Lynn Burnett, the contracted city engineer for Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, said some short-term projects, specifically the construction of multiuse paths on the island and to the island, developed along with the study and help move people from A to B without autos.

“When you drove in, you drove by one of those projects,” she said.

Burnett shared a table with Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, who said they see more people walking and biking.

“I think they’re kind of getting the message: If you get in a car, you are going to be stuck,” Chappie said.

Titsworth said promoting walking and biking and alternative modes of transportation are positives, provided safety enhancements to infrastructure continue.

Such enhancements identified in phase two include completing the Anna Maria Island Trail with an 8-foot sidewalk and buffers, widening bike lanes and designating docking locations for water taxies.

The next task, said Kautz, is assigning ranks to those projects and many others, followed by deciding, “how do we get this project done.”

Holmes Beach commissioners approve Spring Lake aeration

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Maria Flint, left, of Bradenton and Massachusetts, looks on April 24 as Amanda Aker, also of Massachusetts, points out fish swimming in Spring Lake in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach is going to turn Spring Lake upside down.

At their April 23 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a motion to install an aeration system by Vertex Water Features of Pompano Beach in the brackish lake between 68th and 70th streets. The system will pump 7 million gallons of lake water with oxygen, allowing the entire lake, from bottom to surface, to turn over two times in 24 hours.

The lake, with 3 feet of muck accumulated at its bottom, recently underwent a review to determine the best form of cleanup.

At an April 9 commission meeting, Burnett said tests performed by Manatee County determined the bottom sludge mostly is algae, which digests pollutants. She said this is why prior water-quality testing indicated the lake is clean.

Previously, the city considered dredging the lake, but Burnett determined it would cost about $540,000 to dredge a foot of muck, versus less than $7,000 for the installation of the Vertex system, including water-quality testing and semiannual maintenance at $388 per year.

The aeration system will generate millions of small air bubbles, lifting bottom water to “turn over” and blend the salt- and freshwater to vent gases harmful to the lake, while allowing absorption of oxygen, according to a Nov. 7, 2018, email from Vertex sales manager Chris Byrne to Burnett.

Eram Wasserman, a project manager at Burnett’s firm, LTA Engineers, said the system comprises a compressor, valve box, tubing and four diffusers.

He said representatives from Vertex proposed installing the compressor next to a utility pole on the east side of 6800 Palm Drive due to availability of power to the compressor, ease of access for air tubes from the compressor to the lake and distance of the compressor from nearby residences.

According to the Vertex proposal, the noise level of the compressor, when installed in a Vertex “QuietAir” cabinet, “can be expected to be lower than a swimming pool pump.”

Wasserman said a similar system installed by Vertex at a pond in a neighborhood in Bradenton is “very quiet. The birds were louder than the compressor.”

Commission Chair Jim Kihm said unlike other aeration systems that create a spume of water in the middle of a lake, the Vertex system is on the bottom, reducing noise.

Commissioner Kim Rash said he spoke with several lakefront residents who previously shared concerns about the health of the lake. “Surprisingly, people seemed to be satisfied with putting the aerator in instead of dredging it out,” he said. “The ones that were most vocal seemed to be OK with it.”

Commissioner Rick Hurst asked how long it will take to see results.

Wasserman said water samples would be taken six months after the aeration is installed, this month or next, pending legal review of the contract with Vertex.

He said he is still researching marine life, such as mussels and oysters, which could consume algae to help with water quality.

“This would be the first major step to making Spring Lake a healthier lake,” Wasserman said.

WMFR-FISH explore options for old Cortez fire station

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The old Cortez fire station, 4523 123rd St. Court W., is the subject of talks between leaders of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and West Manatee Fire District. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

What’s new with the old Cortez fire station?

In the past several months — since Mary Fulford Green, a FISH member and Cortez historian, floated an idea to West Manatee Fire Rescue about creating a district fire museum in the station — WMFR staff researched the ownership.

The fruits of the research brought a 1997 deed for 4523 123rd St. Court W. to the forefront at a WMFR commission meeting April 16.

The deed granted FISH the fire station with conditions that give the district rights to the property if WMFR requires the use of the property for fire protection services; FISH uses the property for other than a public purpose; FISH fails to remain a nonprofit; or FISH attempts to convey it to an entity other than a nonprofit.

The Anna Maria Fire Control District transferred the property to FISH at a time when volunteer departments — Anna Maria Fire District and the Westside Fire Control District — were preparing to merge into the WMFR district. The new district was created May 20, 2000.

WMFR Chief Tom Sousa told the commissioners he “stumbled upon” the deed while looking into the museum concept.

If FISH sold the property, the district would be asked to release the stipulations, according to Sousa. And if WMFR wanted to enforce a stipulation, court proceedings likely would ensue.

Sousa said he spoke to district attorney Jim Dye, who recommended clearing the deed of the stipulations with a quit-claim deed. He also called Karen Bell, FISH secretary, who advised she was unaware of the matter.

Dye recommended a new deed could be drawn up to prevent “this board and future boards any headaches,” Sousa said.

Dye told The Islander April 26, “If they want to get rid of the stipulations … a quit-claim deed is the best exit door.”

The commissioners had other ideas at their April meeting.

“I don’t see giving away any asset. If it’s not broke, why fix it?” Commissioner Al Robinson said.

Commission Chair David Bishop added, “We’re giving up something without getting something in return.” He didn’t see much liability maintaining the status quo.

The commissioners also spoke of the property’s value and location.

“We may want to move the EMTs there,” Robinson said, mentioning future access issues that could come with the Florida Department of Transportation plans for a high-span Cortez Bridge.

FISH president Kim McVey said April 24, “It’s been 22 years” that FISH has maintained the old fire station property, as well as paying its taxes and other expenses.

FISH receives income from leasing the building and recently purchased a new air conditioner for an apartment.

Jane von Hahmann, FISH vice president, said a Sea Scout group, which met from time to time in the building, stopped renting the space in October 2018.

All rent from the leases has gone into FISH coffers, which are managed by the nonprofit’s board, von Hahmann said.

Von Hahmann said she’ll be bringing up the WMFR inquiries to the board.

For future WMFR discussions, commissioners asked staff to list the pros and cons of releasing the deed stipulations, obtain an aerial photograph of the property and arrange a tour.

WMFR will meet in a workshop and regular meeting at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 21, respectively, upstairs at the Palma Sola Presbyterian Church, 6510 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.

The next FISH board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4515 124th St. W., Cortez.

AM City Pier restaurant, bait shop request for proposals issued

The city of Anna Maria is beginning to set its sights on the next phase of work on the new Anna Maria City Pier: the restaurant and bait shop on the T-end.

Pile-driving wrapped up April 17 and, while i+iconSOUTHEAST continues to construct the walkway and T-end, Anna Maria City Commission Chair Brian Seymour said April 25 the city had issued a request for proposals for the construction of the restaurant and bait shop on the T-end.

He added in an interview April 26 that Murphy and city staff compile and issue the RFP. He said the commission doesn’t have a say in the contents of RFPs before issuance, but would make recommendations on the proposals after bids are collected.

The RFP calls for the construction of a 2,460-square-foot building with a restaurant, bait shop and restrooms. The contractor must include water, sewer, fire protection, communication, gas and electric systems.

The document also establishes a 200-day deadline for construction, with a $495 daily fine for finishing late.

Contractors must submit their proposals to the city by May 20.

Mayor Dan Murphy said April 25 Icon returned that day loaded with frames, wood bents and other materials for the walkway construction.

Work installing wood bents to support the walkway resumed April 27, according to Murphy.

Most of the remaining materials needed to construct the pier will be delivered to the city. Murphy said concrete pile caps and decking for the T-end would be delivered to Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach in the next few weeks, to be loaded onto Icon’s barge.

Ipe decking for the pier walkway and to top the concrete deck at the T-end will be delivered to the city either the week beginning April 29 or May 6.

Murphy said Icon will close the landside pavilion again to work on the walkway close to shore. He said there were no dates set for the closures.

“We’re making good progress,” Murphy said. “Things are moving along, and it’s really starting to shape up.”

Additionally, the city hired divers in March to inspect underwater after two T-end pilings failed. Murphy said the divers reported no evidence of problems, including the two replacement piles.

Eyes on the road – 05-01-2019

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following notices for the week of April 29:

Avenue C: Right-of-way restoration continues along Avenue C, including installation of a stormwater infiltration system and driveway restoration. Once restoration is completed, paving will begin.

Coquina Beach: Manatee County is paving the south end of the Coquina Beach parking lot in Bradenton Beach. The south lot will be closed during the work.

Palma Sola Causeway on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 at the boat ramp: The Manatee County Palma Sola boat ramp is closed for construction activity.

For more information about the pipeline replacement projects on the island, go online to amipipereplacement.com.

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