Tag Archives: News

Stone crab season kicks off with new limitations

‘Tis the season for stone crabs!

But it’ll be a little different in 2020, the year of the pandemic.

The changes, however, are owning to protections for the stone crab species, which has been in decline.

Florida’s stone crab season will begin Oct. 15 with changes to protect stone crab populations, including ending the harvest season May 2, 2021, two weeks earlier than usual.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission instituted the changes earlier this year due to concerns with declining crab populations.

Other changes include:

  • Increasing the minimum claw size limit by 0.125 inches, from 2.75 inches to 2.875 inches;
  • Limiting possession of whole stone crabs on the water to two checker boxes that are limited to 3-by-2-feet or 24 cubic feet in volume;
  • And advancing the season end from May 15 to May 2.

The FWC also will limit crabbers to plastic and wood crab traps with 2.375-inch escape rings before the 2023-24 stone crab season begins.

Crabbers only can harvest claws from non-egg bearing stone crabs that meet the 2.875-inch minimum claw size.

Karen Bell, a founding member of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish market and restaurant, told The Islander Oct. 9 that many Cortez crabbers already have placed traps in the water — which is allowed 10 days before the harvest begins.

Crabbers can set and check the traps in the water, but cannot harvest any crabs until Oct. 15.

“As far as the markets will be, that’s kind of sketchy,” Bell said. “It’s an expensive item in general, which makes it a little more precarious as far as if they will move easily.”

Bell has noticed many people purchasing cheaper seafood and she assumes that is due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“People don’t seem to be spending a lot of money right now, so less expensive fish seem to be what people are looking for right now,” she said.

Prices for stone crabs vary, but usually, they sell for at least $30 a serving at restaurants.

Several local restaurants offer the delicacy, including The Sandbar Restaurant, Anna Maria; Blue Marlin Seafood Restaurant, Bradenton Beach; Swordfish Grill, Cortez; and Harry’s Continental Kitchens on Longboat Key, among others.

Cortez also has several markets that traditionally sell the delicacy during season, including Bell, Star Fish Co. Market & Restaurant and Cortez Bait & Seafood Market.

Eyes on the road – 10-14-2020

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following:

  • Cortez Road and 119th Street West in Cortez: Work to realign the intersection of 119th Street West at Cortez Road/State Road 684 continues. Phase 2 involves a new traffic pattern and shifting construction to the north side of Cortez Road. Thru traffic will use the south side of Cortez Road. Also, outbound lanes of Harbor Landing Drive will be closed and traffic into Harbor Landings will be detoured to the west on 127th Street.
  • Multiple locations in Bradenton Beach: A county pipeline replacement project continues. Impacted areas include Gulf Drive, Bay Drive South, Church Avenue and Cortez Road. Expect construction in rights of way and increased truck traffic.

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

And, a reminder, a fare-free trolley operates daily on Anna Maria Island.

— Lisa Neff

Bradenton man arrested for DUI in Holmes Beach

A Bradenton man was arrested Oct. 4 for driving under the influence of alcohol in Holmes Beach.

Cody Conachen, 34, was arrested at 2:03 a.m. in the 5800 block of Gulf Drive by a Holmes Beach police officer.

According to the HBPD report, the officer

observed the motorist driving south on Gulf Drive at a high rate of speed for wet road conditions. The license plate lights were not functioning.

The officer stopped the driver and reported Conachen smelled of alcohol and he mumbled and repeated responses to the officer’s questions.

The officer called for a backup officer to conduct a field sobriety test, which Conachen failed. His blood-alcohol level was 0.186 and 0.205 on two tests. The legal alcohol limit is 0.08.

Conachen was arrested for DUI, fourth or subsequent violation, with a blood-alcohol content over 0.15, transported to the Manatee County jail and released that day on a $1500 bond.

His arraignment has been set for Oct. 30.

— ChrisAnn Allen


Pet blessings … blessed pets

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Chewy, 15, accepts blessings Oct. 3 from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church pastor Doug Kings. Chewy and his human, Lori Hill, Holmes Beach city treasurer, are locals who annually attend the event, which is in its 10th year.
Island guests Bambi, right, and her human, Erica Ewing, in the front seat, along with Lola and her human, Becky Ewing, drive by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach Oct. 3 for blessings, before heading home the next day to Sidney, Ohio.
The Rev. Doug Kings offers blessings Oct. 3 to Jake, left, Teddy, right, and Buddy, hiding in the rear, in their owner’s vehicle. This year’s event was a drive-thru of sorts in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Kings said the event commemorates St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, recognizing and thanking pets for the role they play in the lives of humans.
Island local Willow, an 8-year-old coton de Tulear, receives the blessing of the Rev. Doug Kings Oct. 3: “Gracious Creator, bless Willow today with your love and protections. Fill his life with fun and adventure, calm his anxieties and heal him of any ailments, and give him a long and happy life.”
Donations of pet supplies collected Oct. 3 as part of the annual pet blessing at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church this year are going to the nonprofit Moonracer No Kill Animal Rescue, according to the Rev. Doug Kings. Moonracer is based at The Islander newspaper office in Holmes Beach, where owner Lisa Williams is office manager. Islander Photo: Amy V.T. Moriarty

County repeals mask mandate, island cities adjust

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The Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge, 110 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, is host for libations and lunch Oct. 2 around the bar. People in Bradenton Beach were required by a county mandate to wear face masks within businesses when social distancing couldn’t be maintained, but the county voted Sept. 29, on the heels of the governor’s Sept. 25 order eliminating the teeth from the mandate, to repeal the order. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
A sign posted Oct. 2 at the Cortez Bridge-Gulf Drive entrance to Bradenton Beach encourages people to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

The county face mask mandate didn’t last long without fines for enforcement.

Manatee County commissioners voted 4-3 Sept. 29 to rescind and repeal the mandate adopted in July that required people to wear face masks inside businesses when they couldn’t maintain at least 6 feet of social distance and allowed for fines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Priscilla Trace, Stephen Jonsson and Betsy Benac, who previously supported the mandate, voted to rescind the mandate.

Commissioners Carol Whitmore, Misty Servia and Reggie Bellamy opposed the motion.

The vote followed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision Sept. 25 to issue an emergency order to enter phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.

Phase 3 lifted several restrictions, allowing restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity for the first time since March.

It also stripped local governments of their ability to fine people for coronavirus-related violations, including noncompliance with mask mandates.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on preventing the spread of the virus, stating that “masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice. This is called source control.”

The CDC recommendation is based on what scientists know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 paired with evidence showing masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

Florida lacks the kind of statewide mandate that exists in 33 other states so, in the summer, with COVID-19 cases spiking, many local governments implemented mandates, including Manatee County, Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key.

Assistant county attorney Bill Clague told commissioners that Phase 3 prevented law enforcement officers from effectively enforcing the mandate even though the county had not issued a single fine for violating the mandate.

“Our face coverings resolution imposes mandatory requirements to wear face coverings and imposes fines on individuals who don’t comply,” Clague said. “Under the executive order, that is no longer enforceable.”

Clague said the county mandate “achieved quite a bit of compliance,” but needed to hold businesses responsible since, under phase 3, the only way to enforce a mask mandate is by trespassing violators.

However, he cited concerns with placing the weight of enforcement on businesses.

“The cleanest and most legally defensible way to handle this now is to repeal the resolution,” Clague added.

Commissioners had conflicting views on the mandate’s effectiveness.

“I don’t think the mandate really made a big difference,” Baugh said in support of repeal. “It’s really up to each individual business as to whether they want to enforce the wearing of masks or not.”

Whitmore argued that face masks were shown to be an effective countermeasure to the coronavirus’ spread, adding that the mandate should be altered, not repealed.

“I know masks make a difference,” said Whitmore, whose career was in nursing. “Masks do work, but I don’t think we can continue with the same ordinance we have today.”

Speakers at the meeting offered mixed takes.

“I just wanted to thank the commission for the mask mandate,” Bob Slicker said. “Scientific studies have shown across the board that masks work… .This is about taking care of people.”

Slicker, general manager of Swordfish Grill in Cortez, said the mandate made it easier for his employees to require mask usage among customers.

County resident Andrea Griffin argued against the mandate, stating that it violated her rights.

“Our numbers are down. Why keep doing this to county residents?” Griffin asked. “We can govern ourselves. I don’t need someone telling me what’s right for my family.”

“I haven’t worn a mask before. I will not wear a mask going forward. I didn’t wear a mask coming in here. I refuse to wear a mask because it’s not your decision what I do with my body,” she added.

Trace moved to rescind and repeal the mandate. Baugh seconded the motion, which passed 4-3.

Commissioners also unanimously voted to adopt an advisory proclamation proposed by Benac encouraging people to wear face masks if they can’t maintain social distancing.

“I want to make it clear: the recommendation on masks is not being changed by any medical professional,” Benac said. “They still say we should be wearing them.”

Also, the county requires masks in its facilities, including the libraries and administration buildings, and the county’s state of emergency remains in place.

A face masks order remains to be considered by the Manatee County School District at an Oct. 8  workshop and, possibly, the board’s Oct. 13 meeting.


Island reaction, adjustments

Anna Maria Island’s three cities dealt with the recent wave of changes differently.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said Sept. 30 that the city’s mask mandate remains while criticizing the county decision to repeal the mandate.

“It is apparent masks and social distancing are working to protect our citizens from COVID-19,” Titsworth said. “Out of respect for the health care providers and our citizens, the mandate should not have been lifted.”

Holmes Beach’s mask mandate places the responsibility of enforcing the requirement on businesses. Under phase 3, the only change is the city can’t fine businesses for failing to enforce the mandate, and there had been no instances of that occurring before the governor’s order.

“Nothing has changed. We still require masks and that businesses continue to enforce mask ordinances,” Titsworth said. “A vaccine still is a long way out and we don’t know at this time if it will be a success.”

In Anna Maria, the mayor retracted the city mandate but laid out a new order.

Mayor Dan Murphy issued an executive order Oct. 2 allowing businesses and special events to require face masks, as well as established trespass requests as the only method to enforce such requirements.

“We view the value of face masks differently than the county commissioners,” Murphy wrote in an Oct. 2 email. “But what they did is their choice.”

When asked if he thought it was a good decision to strip local governments of their ability to levy fines for coronavirus-related violations, Murphy wrote, “Not in Anna Maria’s case, with our elderly and vulnerable population, but we will adjust as best we can.”

Bradenton Beach never enacted a mask mandate, instead depending on the county’s mandate.

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby told city commissioners Oct. 1 that he isn’t concerned with the mandate’s repeal.

Face mask violations weren’t am issue, he said.

“We’ve only had one issue so far, so I’m not that worried about it,” Cosby said, adding that most businesses still have signs requiring mask-wearing.

He said a person who refuses to comply with a business requirement could be trespassed and, if they remained on-site or returned to the business they could be arrested.

Mayor John Chappie did not respond to a Sept. 30 email from The Islander.

Shorebirds flock to AMI, sea turtles abandon nesting

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A ruddy turnstone stands at the shoreline’s edge in Anna Maria in August. The species usually migrates to the Bahamas for the winter, but might stay longer this year due to shoreline damage from Hurricane Dorian in 2019, according to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director. Islander Photo: Kathy Doddridge
Shorebirds of various species flock Sept. 29 to a makeshift peninsula of sand in the wake of a beach renourishment project on the shore in the 1100 block of Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

As sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island wraps up, shorebirds are going wild.

Twelve of 349 sea turtle nests remain as of Sept. 30 in an Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch “nursery” on the beach near White Avenue and Peppertree Lane — near the Anna Maria/Holmes Beach boundary — according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox.

The nesting and hatching season officially ends Oct. 31.

As of Sept. 30, 19,256 hatchlings had emerged from the relocated nests and crawled to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hundreds of loggerhead nests and one green sea turtle nest laid in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach since the season started in late April were relocated to Anna Maria due to the ongoing $17 million beach renourishment project, which includes pumping sand from offshore to renourish eroded beaches.

Following Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission protocol, the nests were moved so they would not be destroyed by the project and the hatch rate has been good, Fox said Sept. 30.

Now, shorebirds are enjoying the bounty of fresh food provided by the new sand, pumped in from offshore borrow areas.

“Shorebirds, including royal terns, sandwich terns, all wading bird species, our local laughing gulls and the black skimmers that will stay and winter with us, are really enjoying treats from the new sand,” Fox said Sept. 30. “We also have been watching a banded group of American oystercatchers along the shoreline.”

AMITW includes shorebird monitoring.

She added that colorful ruddy turnstones, which usually would be heading to the Bahamas for winter, have flocked to the island in larger numbers this year and might stay longer.

“We suspect the ruddys were not able to return to their local Bahama shoreline this year because of Hurricane Dorian’s hit last summer,” she said. “They seem to have relocated here and are loving the nourishment project.”

Fox also said the fencing around the renourishment project allows the birds to move more freely, without human interference. And the equipment poses no threat.

“People were worried that the loud machinery might frighten the birds,” she said. “But it is quite the opposite.”

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

For more information on the nesting season, contact AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at suzifox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Longboat Key faces $240k fine for sewage spill

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A DEP map indicates the location of a break in June in a wastewater pipeline from Longboat Key across Sarasota Bay to the mainland in unincorporated Manatee County. A county sanitary sewer and water reclamation facility is east of the spill. Islander File Image

The penalties go beyond monetary fines.

Longboat Key also faces a state order to replace its sewer pipeline.

Town officials at press time were reviewing the proposed order from the state setting forth penalties for spilling millions of gallons of sewage in a mangrove wetland about 350 feet from Sarasota Bay.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Sept. 28 that the town should either pay a $262,652 fine or create an environmental enhancement project of greater value.

The spill from the town’s only wastewater pipeline began June 17 on the mainland and continued until June 30, when crews cleared a path through the mangroves on undeveloped land at Long Bar Pointe to make repairs. Developer Carlos Beruff owns the land where the spill occurred.

A town consultant estimated 11 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from the pipeline, but the town maintains there was minimal impact on the bay and “nature” handled the cleanup.

A DEP estimate put the spill at 17 million gallons and the earliest estimate, provided by the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper, put the leak at 26 million gallons.

In its proposed order, the DEP said the town violated state rules by:

  • Failing to maintain equipment;
  • Discharging wastewater without authorization;
  • Failing to obtain permission to alter mangroves;
  • Failing to secure approval for dredge-and-fill activities.

As a result, the DEP said the town must pay the state $242,652.50 in a settlement or off-set the amount by implementing an in-kind environmental enhancement project valued at $362,476.75.

Also, per the order, the town must submit a sewer overflow response plan that includes procedures for sampling discharged wastewater.

The DEP proposal also requires LBK to:

  • Off-set the impact of the pollution by purchasing 0.3 saltwater forested mitigation credits from the Nature Coast Mitigation Bank;
  • Remove any fill material and return the site of damaged and cleared mangroves at the spill to “pre-fill conditions” as part of a mangrove restoration action;
  • Submit a plan, including start and completion dates, to install a new force main;
  • File permits for any impacts to wetlands, mangroves or waters with installing a new pipeline.

As to replacement of the decades’ old wastewater line that partly runs across the bottom of Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key town manager Tom Harmer said the project was in the works before the spill, with town officials and consultants working on engineering and permitting.

“We have asked them to work with the permitting agencies on an expedited process,” Harmer said. “We do not have a timeline yet on when we will be able to receive the required approvals. Once the permit and conditions are determined, we will be able to finalize the plans, funding and schedule for construction of the pipeline.”

He added, “The town’s plan is to move forward as soon as practical.”

The deadline is Oct. 23 for the town to sign and return the proposed order to the state, DEP public information manager Shannon Herbon said Oct. 1.

However, the town could reject the state’s settlement and seek a hearing.

Harmer told The Islander Oct. 1 that the town will follow up before the deadline with the DEP to discuss the order.

Police chief provides permit parking update, fine increase

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Parking signs posted along some Holmes Beach streets, including the north side of 45th Street, east of Second Avenue, were approved with implementation of a new permit parking system in July. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Holmes Beach is ready to embark on a permit parking program.

The city also is considering a rise in parking fines.

At a teleconferenced commission meeting Sept. 22, Police Chief Bill Tokajer updated the mayor and commissioners on the permit program, which offers residents and property owners decals for on-street parking in areas where parking has previously been prohibited.

Tokajer said the permit application is ready and the signs are posted.

Meanwhile, he is working with Citizenserve, the city’s internet documents platform, to get a payment system online by the first week of October.

Commissioners approved a “parking-by-permit-only zone” in July.

For $15 per vehicle, residents and owners can obtain decals for parking 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in 619 spots removed from city streets when beach parking reopened following an emergency order for coronavirus closures.

Parking in the zone is unlimited 5 p.m.-9 a.m.

The zone was established for a six-month test period, which starts when the program is fully operational.

In July, commissioners also reached a consensus to increase parking fines from $50 to $75.

Tokajer said Sept. 22, at the commission’s request, he reviewed the cost for parking fines and quantities of tickets in neighboring cities.

He said in 2018, Holmes Beach police officers issued 1,742 parking tickets. In 2019 officers wrote 1,690 tickets and, in 2020, through August, 2,703 parking tickets were issued.

“The increase this year was because we closed all parking throughout the city and people were rebelling and they received tickets for that,” Tokajer said, in reference to the closure to on-street parking during the summer when restrictions were tightened to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In Holmes Beach, a general parking violation incurs a $50 fine, blocking an emergency access leads to a $75 fine and unlawful handicapped or Purple Heart parking triggers a $200 fine.

For general parking fines, Anna Maria charges $50, Bradenton Beach charges $75 and Longboat Key charges $30 but is raising it’s fine to $75 as part of a new ordinance.

Tokajer suggested an ordinance increasing the general fine to $75 and the fine for blocking an emergency access to $100. He also suggested a $200 fraudulent permit fee.

Commissioners reached a consensus on Tokajer’s requests and city attorney Patricia Petruff said she would prepare an ordinance for consideration at the next work session, following the meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, conducted via Zoom. Instructions to join the meeting are provided on the city’s website at holmesbeachfl.org.

Flipping for 50

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A dolphin, documented as part of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, catches a mullet. The program’s origins date to Oct. 3, 1970, when two male bottlenose dolphins were tagged in Palma Sola Bay. That event was the start of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which conducts the longest-running study of a wild dolphin population anywhere in the world. Islander Photos: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory
One of the dolphins monitored in the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which turns 50 years old this month. The program, started by Dr. Blair Irvine and today led by Dr. Randall Wells, was the first to document the year-round residency of populations of bottlenose dolphins in coastal waters. “What has developed over the decades is certainly beyond anything we could have imagined when we first started tagging dolphins,” Wells said in a statement released by Mote Marine Laboratory, where the Chicago Zoological Society program is based.

August tourist tax collection tops 2019 count

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Business is up Island local Jane Matthews-Dunn has her nails manicured Oct. 3 by Tonya Tran at Zen Nails & Spa at the Anna Maria Island Centre shopping plaza, 3224 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach. Salon owner Hieu Tran reported his business’ numbers were up in August over the same month in 2019. Islander Photo: Amy V.T. Moriarty

Tourist tax revenue in the dog days of August didn’t go to the dogs.

Tax revenue for the month — collected by the government in September and reported Oct. 1 — totaled $1,185,704.

In August 2019, the tax revenue was $909,638, resulting in an increase of 30.33% in August 2020.

Tax revenues for August 2020 also topped numbers for the month going back to at least 2014.

The tax is the 5% collected on accommodation rentals of six months or less.

The revenues began to rise in June after four months of decline when the state eased “safer-at-home” restrictions and lifted the ban on short-term vacation rentals.

Some recent history:

  • Tourist tax revenue in July was $1,398,555, the highest for the month in at least the past seven years.
  • Tourist tax revenue in June was $1,443,183, down 12.69 from June 2019.
  • In May, the revenue totaled $558,014, down from $1,093,869 in May 2019.
  • In April, overnight stays generated $449,904 in bed taxes, down 69.81% from April 2019.
  • In March, overnight stays grossed about $1.78 million in bed taxes, down 34.59% from March 2019.

About 31% of the August tax collected, $367,568, was generated in Holmes Beach, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector’s report.

The tax collected from Anna Maria accommodations was $208,962, about 17.62% of the total.

Bradenton Beach produced about 5.74% of the tax collected — $68,056.

Some more numbers for August:

  • Unincorporated Manatee County, $338,545, 28.55%;
  • Bradenton, $90,035, 7.59%;
  • Longboat Key, $108,679, 9.16%;
  • Palmetto, $4,014, 0.34%.

The state collection fee or commission on the tax is 3%, so the net collection for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council in August was $1,150,007.

The numbers showed $13,970,530 collected between the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2019, and Aug. 31.

The tax revenues must be used to boost and develop tourism, including funding for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Bradenton Area Convention Center and tourism-related entities, such as Realize Bradenton and the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as supporting projects, such as island beach renourishment and some funding for construction of the new Anna Maria City Pier.

The TDC recommends a budget, which is decided by the county commission.

The September numbers will be released in early November and the August numbers will be discussed at the next Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting, set for 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 19, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.


August tourist tax revenues

August 2014: $632,532

August 2015: $741,437

August 2016: $677,613

August 2017: $782,698

August 2018: $792,685

August 2019: $909,638

August 2020: $1,185,575

Source: Manatee County Tax Collector