Tag Archives: News

Nests hatch, data collected through rain, high tides

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A group gathers to observe Aug. 1 as AMITW volunteer Lena Whitesell excavates a loggerhead nest on the beach near 74th Street in Holmes Beach. The nest contained 23 hatched eggs, 65 unhatched eggs and four live hatchlings, which were released to the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photos: AMITW
Three hatchlings — discovered Aug. 1 in a nest during an excavation on the beach near 74th Street in Holmes Beach — make their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
An excavation Aug. 4 of a washed-over nest on the beach in Bradenton Beach produced 87 whole, unhatched eggs. The nest likely had been flooded during recent rains and high tides. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

Heavy rain and high tides are part of summer on the Gulf coast.

Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said Aug. 1 that some people have concerns over sea turtle nests that appear to be precariously close to the waterline, considering recent storm events.

Fox said about 40 nests were washed over by waves in storms and high tides, and she couldn’t be sure how many nests were flooded or washed out, or the viability of the eggs in the clutch.

In washed-over nests, sea turtle eggs can absorb water and the hatchlings can drown before they emerge.

As of Aug. 3, 96 nests had hatched since July 3, and 411 remain to hatch.

Fox said if a nest doesn’t show signs of hatching after 70 days, AMITW volunteers excavate it and record the data.

Normally, the volunteers excavate a nest 72 hours after it hatches to record the number of eggs hatched, how many failed to hatch, or if live hatchlings remain.

Live hatchlings are released to the Gulf of Mexico.

Based on Manatee County contracts with state and federal agencies for beach renourishment, Turtle Watch shares its data.

Fox said if volunteers excavate a washed-over nest and the eggs look as though they could still hatch, they cover the nest with sand — and wait.

She said a clutch, which contains about 100 eggs, can run up to about 24 inches deep in the sand, making some eggs less vulnerable to flooding.

“You never know what will hatch,” she said. “They were here doing this way before we came along. Mother Nature is full of surprises.”

Illuminating Florida’s ‘flagship’ Sunshine Skyway Bridge

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An image taken from a Florida Department of Transportation video shows “elegant” lighting on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, part of a $15 million project to outfit the bridge profile and underside columns with color changeable, high-efficiency LED fixtures. The DOT expects to complete the project this fall. The Skyway, visible from Anna Maria Island, is Florida’s “flagship bridge,” according to the DOT. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

When the sun sets west of Anna Maria Island, “sunset” lights will shine to the east on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The state transportation department is outfitting Florida’s flagship bridge — visible from many locations on AMI’s north end and bayfront vistas — with 1,824 LED fixtures.

The bridge across Tampa Bay on Interstate 275 has long been outfitted with lights shining upward on the yellow cables, but the new fixtures are high-efficiency and color changeable and they will light the underside of the bridge and pilings.

In addition to “sunset” colors, the lights will change to “new year,” “verdant green,” “waves,” “gateway” “patriotic,” “purple majestic” and “elegant.”

An example of “verdant green” LED lighting on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay on Interstate 275. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

The DOT is installing the fixtures — varying between 48 and 205 watts — on the bridge profile and underside columns.

The lighted section of the bridge will include the slopes and main span for a total of 8,860 feet — or 1.7 miles.

Profile lights along the main span and high-level approaches are being mounted on brackets.

As for the columns, they will be illuminated by floodlighting fixtures mounted to the underside of the deck and box girders, washing along the height of each column and fading near the waterline, according to DOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson.

An example of how “Patriotic” lighting will look on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

“The Skyway is the gateway to Tampa Bay and the flagship bridge of Florida,” read an outline for the project provided Aug. 1 by Carson. “The Skyway lighting project is a unique enhancement, unlike any other in the world. The project will stand for the Tampa Bay region as an inspiration for residents and all who visit.”

Many newer bridges in the state feature aesthetic lighting, including the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the Fuller Warren Bridge and Main Street bridges in Jacksonville, Hathaway Bridge in Panama City, 17th Street Bridge in Miami, five bridges crossing the Hillsborough River in Tampa and the John Ringling Causeway Bridge in Sarasota.

The Skyway Bridge lighting promises aesthetic value, but also will add safety and security to the underside of the bridge, which is dark now, according to Carson’s outline.

Tolls collected on the Skyway paid for the project, expected to cost about $15 million.

The DOT says the project will be completed this fall.


Judge defers ruling in three Holmes Beach-Bert Harris cases

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12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin, left, holds an off-the-record discussion with attorneys for the city of Holmes Beach and attorneys for the property owners suing the city under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

One court ruling was pushed down the road.

A 12th Circuit judge put his decision on hold after attorneys sparred over a consolidated pretrial motion in three Holmes Beach cases over the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Representing three property owners, Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson law firm in Bradenton, argued July 30 the city of Holmes Beach “knew what it was getting into” when it failed to offer changes in the allowable uses or settlements for his clients’ claims.

Since 2016, more than 80 property owners invoked the Bert Harris law against Holmes Beach by filing claims at city hall, and 11 lawsuits — eight represented by the Najmy firm — sprung from the claims.

Thomas asked Judge Charles Sniffin to enter judgments finding the city liable under the act that allows landowners to seek the loss of fair market value due to unfair government actions.

Sniffin told Thomas he wasn’t denying his motion, but rather allowing the parties time for discovery and to append their arguments after depositions, inspections and other discovery.

“The case law is very clear that the court commits irreversible error if it grants summary judgment when discovery is outstanding,” Sniffin said.

He deferred ruling for 90 days.

Under the act, the city was required to respond to claimants within 150 days of the filings.

In response to each claim, the city sent a letter suggesting no settlement or compromise to the then-new 2015-16 rental laws, enacted by the city after residents complained of parking, noise, garbage and other quality-of-life issues.

Thomas argued his clients were eligible to recover under Bert Harris when the city enacted a May 1, 2016, regulatory scheme to enforce a Sept. 8, 2015, two-person per bedroom ordinance.

He also disputed the city’s defenses, including a statute of limitations running from the September 2015 enactment and appraisals, saying the judge could rule on such legal questions.

Thomas said his clients lost investment expectations, including:

  • Brian Wien rented his five-bedroom rental home at 111 81st St. to at least 12 occupants until the law restricted him to 10.
  • 307 66th LLC and Robert and Michelle Carl rented their six-bedroom units at 118 50th St. and 307 66th to at least 16 guests, respectively, until the law restricted them to no more than 12 guests.

Thomas argued the city inordinately burdened his clients for three-four years.

Jay Daigneault, the city’s attorney, argued back.

He called the plaintiffs’ motion premature due to “an undeveloped record,” saying the exchange of documents, depositions and inspections is incomplete.

Daigneault also argued the owners failed to make a formal denial.

He also pointed to the city’s two-person per bedroom restriction in the comprehensive plan.

Thomas countered the comp plan isn’t a local ordinance or regulation contemplated by Bert Harris.

As far as pre-suit requirements, Thomas said the plaintiffs should be able to invoke the “futility exception” based on takings, since the city had no means to grant a variance under its rental laws.

Addressing the not-yet-completed exchange of records, Thomas said many items sought by the city are not relevant, such as names of hundreds of renters, insurance policies and detailed financial information.

Daigneault argued a host of issues surround the owners’ claims, such as how the law was applied to the properties and the plaintiffs’ claims on bedrooms.

Daigneault estimated the parties would need four-six months to complete discovery.

After hearing the arguments, the judge singled out the issue of discovery and agreed to allow time for completion, “but not four-six months.”

Anna Maria faces ADA compliance issue on new pier

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An archival photograph, circa 1924, of the Anna Maria City Pier shows railings, which former Anna Maria City Commissioner Gene Aubry says should be installed on the new pier. Islander File Photo

Former Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry protested at city hall, and then made a complaint in July based on what he said is a deficient design for the new Anna Maria City Pier.

Aubry, who also is an architect, filed a U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act complaint based on the design and plans for the new Anna Maria City Pier walkway and T-end that lack handrails.

The ADA was put into law in 1990 to alleviate discrimination based on disability. The purpose of the act is to give people with disabilities equal rights and opportunities in public life, including, jobs, schools, transportation and any public or private places open to the general public.

The ADA includes building code requirements, which Aubry said the city will not meet if it constructs the new pier as planned.

Aubry filed his complaint July 15 with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., writing the city is discriminating against the disabled by refusing to install a handrail along the pier walkway.

“It’s not safe walking on a pier over water without a railing, especially if you’re blind,” Aubry said July 31 in an interview with The Islander.

Aubry points to photos of the pier dating back to 1924 that depict a handrail. The pier was originally built in 1911 to promote tourism to the city.

He says that if the city wants to replicate the original pier — and provide safety for people who want to enjoy the amenities — it should have a handrail.

He initially presented his concern about the lack of handrails on the pier in January to the city commission and mayor. But, he said, city officials did not give him a response.

At the time, Commissioner Brian Seymour told The Islander the city officials heard Aubry’s concern, but most of the public was against a railing.

Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander Aug. 1 that the city has followed government guidelines for construction, including ADA regulations.

The pier also is a boat landing, permitting boats to dock and tie-off. And, according to ADA regulations, boat landings do not require handrails, according to Murphy.

Aubry told The Islander he would not consider other action until after the ADA processed his complaint.

As of Aug. 2, The Islander was unable to reach the DOJ with regard to Aubry’s ADA complaint.

Holmes Beach special magistrate issues rental violations

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Attorney Michael Connolly, Holmes Beach’s special magistrate, hears a code compliance case July 31 at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Holmes Beach is cracking down on short-term rental violations.

At a July 31 code violation hearing, special magistrate Michael Connolly ruled that two rental properties with the same owner violated city codes by advertising and renting for a three-night minimum stay in a residential zone that limits rentals to a 30-night minimum stay.

Six of eight cases were continued to a hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

The two cases heard by Connolly were cited for two alleged violations each at two properties on 28th Street, both owned by Anthony Properties Inc. of Tampa.

Stacy Dorsey, executive assistant to Anthony Properties owner John Anthony, asked July 31 for a continuance because Anthony was on vacation through Aug. 5.

Connolly did not grant the request, saying the hearing notice was posted July 2, providing Anthony enough time to seek continuance for a case already continued several times.

JT Thomas, code compliance supervisor, testified that the properties violated regulations for the R1 zoning district, where property owners are limited to a 30-night minimum stay.

Thomas said he posted the notice of violation May 23 and presented photographs of different vehicles coming and going from the property every few days.

Additionally, Nate Brown, the code officer who monitors vacation rental advertising, said the property owner advertised a three-night minimum stay for both properties, including on Airbnb.com, VRBO.com and FlipKey.com.

He said the properties were flagged by the websites as possible violators. He then investigated by attempting to book three-night stays at both properties, which he accomplished online until July 31.

Thomas said, for the property owner to be compliant, he needs to change minimum stay for the properties to 30 nights, and he recommended a fine of $127.24 for administrative costs and $100-$250 per day, at the judge’s discretion, from the date of the notification until the properties are brought into compliance.

Dorsey asked if friends and family can stay at the properties for less than 30 nights.

Thomas said, “Yes, but in the last two weeks, it seems like they have had a lot of friends and family coming weekly.”

Connolly determined Anthony Properties Inc. was guilty of violations for illegal advertising and renting for an illegal minimum stay.

He said the violations must be corrected by Aug. 7 and ordered the violator to pay $127.24 in administrative costs for each property. And, if the violations are not corrected by Aug. 7, a $250 fine per day for each property would commence Aug. 8 and continue until the city determines the properties are in compliance.

Connolly suggested Thomas check advertisements Aug. 7-8, as well as attempt to book a shorter stay and visit the properties to see if there is evidence of short-term rentals. If there is such evidence, the properties would be brought back to the Sept. 11 special magistrate hearing to begin the fee imposition.

Resort corrects ‘unfriendly’ sea turtle lighting

Nesting sea turtle numbers on Anna Maria Island continue to rise each year.

The increase in nests is due to increased education and better sea turtle-friendly lighting practices, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, Suzi Fox.

But lights visible from the shoreline can disorient hatchlings away from their journey to the Gulf, leading to death from dehydration, exhaustion or predation.

“Unfriendly turtle lights” at the Anna Maria Beach Resort, 6306 Gulf Drive, formerly the Blue Water Beach Club, were the apparent cause of disorientations over the July 4 holiday.

Fox wrote the lights were still out of compliance in a July 25 email to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

As of Aug. 4, there were 507 nests on the island, compared with 504 on the same date in 2018.

Sea turtles nest here “because the beaches are dark at night,” Fox said. “If we want them to keep coming back, we have to make sure it stays that way.”

As of Aug. 4, 96 nests had hatched, with 411 remaining on island beaches.

When sea turtles hatch, they are drawn by their instincts to the reflection of the stars on the Gulf of Mexico, and from now through October, hatchlings are emerging from nests in the sand by the thousands.

At a July 31 code violation hearing, attorney Michael Connolly, Holmes Beach special magistrate, granted a continuance of a hearing for the corporate owner, Blue Water Resort AMI LLC, on two possible violations, including one concerning turtle-friendly lighting.

Attorney Aaron Thomas, representing the owner, asked that the case be continued pending compliance.

Thomas said the problem lights were replaced with turtle-friendly bulbs July 29, which was confirmed by Holmes Beach code compliance supervisor JT Thomas.

Connolly continued the case to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Fox said July 31 she is concerned some lights in the stairwell are still visible from the beach and should be changed out for amber-colored Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs. She spoke July 31 with resort representative Allen Pullen, who said the resort is willing to work with Fox to ensure the property is turtle-friendly.

“They said they were willing to go the extra mile,” Fox said.

She said grant money from the Sea Turtle Conservancy helps with the cost of the bulbs.

She also said garage lights at the resort’s neighbor to the north, La Plage, 6424 Gulf Drive, as well as several properties in Bradenton Beach, need amber bulbs.

“We just need to get them set up and get those lights changed out,” Fox said. “We are almost there and the island is looking good — for people and sea turtles.”

AM city pier contractor runs up on design flaw

Yes, Anna Maria, we have a problem.

Five utility conduits that fail to meet code on the new Anna Maria City Pier must be relocated.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander Aug. 1 about a design error that is resulting in a change and relocation of the electrical conduits — at no cost to the city.

The design firm, Ayres Associates, will cover any expense due to the error.

Also, Murphy said the relocation of the conduits by the electrical contractor would not delay construction on the pier, and i+iconSOUTHEAST still is on track to finish the pier’s walkway and T-end in September.

The next stage in the project involves the construction of the shell structures for the restaurant, bait shop and restrooms on the T-end, which Murphy said will be completed by late December or early January by Holmes Beach-based contractor Mason Martin.

Murphy estimated Aug. 1 work on the restaurant-bait shop would begin within the next 30 days. Mason Martin is contracted to finish the building within 200 days, putting the deadline at Feb. 10, 2020.

Still to be resolved is the contract with the leaseholder of the pier, Mario Schoenfelder, according to the mayor.

Murphy said the city is negotiating with Schoenfelder on the terms of a new lease and city commissioners are engaged in the process.

When completed, the replacement pier is estimated to cost $5.9 million, including demolition and construction.

Child rescued from pool in Anna Maria

Deputies responding to a call for a lost child, quickly learned the 3-year-old had been found in a swimming pool.

The toddler was expected to make a full recovery after being found in the pool at about 5 p.m. July 28 in the 11000 block of Gulf Drive in Anna Maria.

The family, vacationing from Tampa, first called 911 to report they had lost track of a child.

First on the scene was Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Desch, who arrived to see the father holding the child — conscious, crying and coughing — according to the MCSO report.

Josiah M. Argote, 3, was quickly cared for by medical personnel at the scene.

According to Desch’s report, medics feared Josiah was at risk for “dry drowning,” which can cause a spasm and closure of the airway.

From Anna Maria, he was taken by ambulance to city field in Holmes Beach for transport by medical helicopter to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and transferred to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, also in St. Petersburg, according to Rodney Kwiatkowski, an inspector and information officer with West Manatee Fire Rescue.

Josiah’s mother accompanied her son on the flight to the hospital, Kwiatkowski said in an Aug. 2 text to The Islander.

“We are pleased to report, the last we heard, the child is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery, he said.

His father performed CPR before help arrived, according to the WMFR report.

As for safety precautions, Desch reported the pool has a gated 6-foot fence.

Holmes Beach man arrested for crime spree

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A Manatee County K-9 sheriff deputy literally took a bite out of crime.

Mason Bannister, 26, of Holmes Beach, was arrested by deputies for carjacking, aggravated battery and burglary of unoccupied conveyances.

Law enforcement was dispatched to the Shell gas station, 8471 Lockwood Ridge, Sarasota, at 9:58 a.m. July 20 after a store clerk was “viciously and suddenly headbutted” by a man who met the description of Mason Bannister, according to an MCSO report.

MCSO arrived at the Shell and found a victim with a swollen and bloody lip, holding one of his front teeth in a paper towel.

Witnesses told police a man tried to pay with a card that wouldn’t process, attacked the store clerk and knocked him to the floor.

The attacker was seen on a store video, grabbing his food and ducking under a camera as he exited the store.

MCSO dispatchers broadcast a be-on-the-lookout report for Bannister, who was later reported as the perpetrator in a nearby attempted carjacking in which the victim refused to leave the car and also an attempted car burglary.

At Lockwood Ridge and Vintage Drive, MCSO  searched and apprehended the suspect with help from a K-9 deputy. The K-9 bit the suspect.

Bannister was transported to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center for treatment.

At Bannister’s first appearance in 12th Circuit Court, a probable cause hearing was postponed for 48 hours due to his hospitalization.

He was next transported to the Manatee County jail, where he was held without bond as of Aug. 2.

His arraignment is set for 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 23, in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Heads in beds generate $1.6M in tourist tax in June

Overnight stays in Manatee County generated more than $1.6 million in bed taxes in June.

The county bed tax of 5%, also known as the tourist development tax, is collected on overnight rentals of less than six months.

The Manatee County Tax Collector’s office released on Aug. 1 the tourist development tax collection numbers for June, the most recent month available.

They showed $12,937,076 collected between the beginning of the fiscal year, October 2018, and June.

In June, the total tax collected was $1,653,009, up from the $1,527,732 in June 2018.

About 26.71% of the tax collected, $441,504, was generated in Holmes Beach.

The tax collected from Anna Maria in June was $291,648, about 17.64% of the total.

Bradenton Beach produced about 8.85% of the tax collected in June — $146,271.

Some more numbers for June:

  • Bradenton, $109,303, 17.64% of the collection.
  • Longboat Key, $171,063, 10.35%.
  • Palmetto, $5,809, 0.35%.
  • Unincorporated Manatee County, $487,410, 29.49%.

So far this fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30, the month for the largest tourist tax collection was March, coinciding with spring break. The county collected $2,725,570 that month.

The second-largest amount, exceeding $1.8 million, was collected in February.

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 construction of the new Anna Maria City Pier.

— Lisa Neff