Vol 5 No. 48 - August 17, 2005


Study: Red tide not caused by wastewater

Red tide creating dead zones

Consolidation ballot wording approved

Commission decreases millage in Holmes Beach

County planning lifeguard station at Coquina

Captain Kim: Ready for prime time

Board struggles with comp plan

Record number of turtles wash up on beach





Study: Red tide not caused by wastewater

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Wastewater discharged from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the Gulf of Mexico and Bishop Harbor has not caused or fed the current red tide bloom, according to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

Two years ago, heavy rainfall caused the wastewater – a byproduct of phosphate manufacturing – to spill over open retention ponds at the abandoned plant near Port Manatee. The Environmental Protection Agency approved the emergency discharge of the treated wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico, but further permits were denied, and since then the water has been discharged into Bishop Harbor, north of Palmetto.

Ongoing studies done in Bishop Harbor and in the laboratory support the preliminary conclusions of tests done in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, according to FWRI researcher Dr. Cynthia Heil.

"We conclude that this red tide was not caused by the Gulf discharge," said Heil, whose research team has worked with the USF Marine Science Department and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the studies.

In a 2003 study conducted by FWRI, red tide was found in only two of 271 water samples taken in the Gulf of Mexico discharge area during and after the wastewater discharge. Both samples contained trace concentrations of red tide.

The tests also showed no increase in the reddish-brown color that indicates the presence of red tide and showed that currents carried the wastewater away from the coastal areas where red tide has historically bloomed and out to sea, where the water lacks sufficient nutrients for red tide.

"The discharge site was too far offshore" to affect the red tide, Heil said.

Tests conducted in 2003-2004 in Bishop Harbor, where the wastewater is still being discharged, show that the local red tide species, Karenia brevis, did not survive there. And this year, tests showed only trace concentrations of red tide in the harbor, while low to high concentrations have been recorded in neighboring Tampa Bay.

"Bishop Harbor is one of the only areas where we don’t have red tide right now," Heil said, adding that the nitrogen and other nutrients in the wastewater do feed two other algae species.

But the nitrogen in the wastewater is non-organic, and red tide thrives on organic nitrogen, which is produced by plants, Heil said.

The results were further bolstered by two laboratory studies in which Piney Point wastewater was added to red tide cultures, and actually slowed the growth of the algae.

Long-term impacts of the wastewater discharge on red tide may not be noticeable yet, said Glenn Compton, chairman of environmental group ManaSota-88.

"I’m skeptical of the conclusions," he said. "In order to make those conclusions, you need to study it for many years. It’s too early to say."

The studies are ongoing, Heil said.

Mote Marine Laboratory reports that red tide was present in Sarasota Bay in low to medium concentrations throughout last week with a patch of high concentration in New Pass. FWRI reported very low to low cell counts from Longboat Pass south to Boca Grande Pass.

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Red tide creating dead zones

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

On a shallow rock reef a few steps into the Gulf from Bradenton Beach, the fish came back last week.

It was a perfect snorkeling day, with no red tide in sight. Half a dozen yellowtail snapper criss-crossed the algae-covered rocks, a hermit crab stuck out its open claw from under a rock, hoping for a passing morsel, and a school of tiny fingerlings glistened as they changed directions.

But three miles out, it was a different, and frightening, story, especially for commercial fishermen and recreational charter boat operators who make their livings in the Gulf.

A diver noticed his silver jewelry and coins turning black. Fisherman saw dead sea turtles floating on the surface. A boater smelled rotten eggs.

And in some spots, the fish were gone.

Boaters have been calling the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute since Aug. 1, reporting massive offshore fish kills from Sarasota north to New Port Richey from three to 23 miles out.

Everything from baitfish to goliath grouper is dead in some areas, according to the reports, including corals, sponges, crabs, worms, mollusks, sea urchins and starfish.

The institute links the deaths to red tide, both from direct contact with the toxic algae and as an indirect result of the red tide organism sucking oxygen out of the water.

Last week, FWRI got emergency funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a three-day research cruise to take offshore water, sediment and biological samples. They confirmed the reports of dead zones with low or no oxygen.

In places where no oxygen was found in the water, bacteria – possibly from marine life carcasses – was producing hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and tarnishes silver.

It’s not the first time this has happened, according to FWRI. After a red tide in the summer of 1971, in the same general area as the current red tide, it took up to two years for the fish to recolonize the reefs and five years for the fish populations to reach normal ranges.

The most recent fish kill statistics show red tide fish kills in the thousands on Aug. 2 at Longboat Key (Key West grunt, red grouper, gag grouper, puffer fish), an unknown count on Aug. 4 near Port Manatee at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (red drum), thousands on Aug. 5 at Holmes Beach (unknown species) and an unknown count on Aug. 10 along Bradenton Beach (unknown species).

Research is ongoing. To report fish kills, call FWRI’s hotline at 800-636-0511.

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Consolidation ballot wording approved

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners approved language for a non-binding referendum on consolidation after turning down a recommendation to determine the cost of a feasibility study first.

The city’s referendum will read: Should Holmes Beach explore the feasibility of consolidating the three Island cities?

Commissioner Don Maloney attempted to convince the others to scuttle the referendum.

"I see as our purpose to study the cost of a feasibility study on consolidation and then present that number to voters for their approval. People want to know the cost first."

Maloney said he has contacted several experts who are willing to perform a study.

"I think that’s an awful idea," Commissioner Roger Lutz responded. "We always figure out a reason not to move it forward. Whenever we’re running for office we’re all for it, but when it’s time to vote, were against it."

He said City Treasurer Rick Ashley could study the budgets of the three cities and determine where there is duplication and how to save money.

"Let’s find out if the people are OK with it," Lutz continued. "If it’s got a chance politically, then we start building a case to see if we can sell it."

"People keep asking how much it will cost them if they say yes," Maloney persisted. "I don’t see any reason for a public vote at all. A resolution to look into that (the cost of a feasibility study) would be all that’s necessary."

Lutz said if people don’t want the cities to explore consolidation, there’s no point in spending money for a study first."

Mayor Carol Whitmore pointed out that she spent a year trying to consolidate the three public works departments and then the other two cities nixed the idea.

Whitmore said that Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn asked that the cities add to the referendum a $30,000 cost per city for a study if the referendum is approved.

"I never envisioned this as asking permission to spend money," Lutz responded. "I think it is important that we get a feel from the citizens that we do it. I don’t think this is wise to turn this into a money-spending issue."

Commissioner Pat Morton agreed and added, "It’s putting the cart before the horse."

Whitmore asked if the other two cities must have the same language on their referendums. City Attorney Patricia Petruff said they do not, but it must be clear that it has the same meaning.


Commission decreases millage in Holmes Beach

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — At the recommendation of City Treasurer Rick Ashley, commissioners agreed to lower the city’s millage rate from 2.0 to 1.9 for the 2005-06 fiscal year.

"Since the first draft, I’ve been meeting individually with commissioners," Ashley explained. "I’ve made corrections to the document and additions based on comments that have come to me. This budget is a 1.9 mil budget, and it is as comfortable as I felt we could go at this point without starting to cut some things."

Ashley said he made the following changes since the first draft was presented on July 12:

• Added $30,000 for a possible consolidation study and money for memberships and training, both to the mayor and commission budget;

• Added two requests from outside agencies — $1,500 each for Mote Marine and the Anna Maria Elementary School PTO;

• Added $15,000 for the fuel tank that will be jointly owned by the city and the fire district.

He said he corrected an error in the public works department of $10,000 for records’ management. He also increased the carryover and reserve to $1,750,000 and doubled the contingency account to $100,000.

"If we have any extra cash, I would like to see and our auditors have suggested that we try to build our reserves up a little bit higher due to inflation and everything else that’s happened over the last few years. We also all got a little taste of what a catastrophic event could do to us last year. Our cost for cleanup during that one storm was $60,000."

Mayor Carol Whitmore said that one reason the city can lower the millage is because it has planned so well in the past.

"We had a 20.64 percent increase in assessments, too," Ashley added.

Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger, who had protested the millage rate in the past, said he was happy with it.

The total proposed budget is $10,147,903. The revenue side shows $1,077,173 from federal sources, $5,989,901 from state sources and $3,080,829 from local sources.

The expense side shows $244,127 for mayor and commission, $623,733 for general government, $119,641 for code enforcement, $1,775,230 for the police department, $5,051,035 for the public works department, $2,310,000 in carryover and reserves and $33,137 in Hagen funds (dedicated projects).

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County planning lifeguard station at Coquina

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Manatee County is planning on building a lifeguard station complete with a meeting room, training facilities and equipment storage in Coquina Park Bayside, south of Bradenton Beach.

Building Official Ed McAdam told the Scenic Highway committee last week that county officials approached him with plans for the facility. Public Works Director Dottie Poindexter said it would resemble the large shelter and public restrooms recently built on north Coquina Beach. Manatee County owns the beach and bayside parks. He said the facility would be about 200 yards north of where the city formerly had a recycling collection area with bins and a trailer. The city abandoned the area when it went to home recycling pickup two years ago.

The new structure would be near land Bradenton Beach wants to use for a park and ride for employees of businesses in the city. The scarcity of parking spaces on and near Bridge Street has been a problem since businesses opened in the city's commercial district, and the plan calls for employees to park in the proposed lot and take the trolley to their jobs. A supplemental shuttle van for employees who work after 10:30 p.m., when the trolley ceases operating every night, is also in the plan. Poindexter said the county will come back with a new rendering of the lifeguard station in the future, and the committee said it would invite county officials to one of its meetings to view the rendering and discuss the possibility of having the park and ride next to the station.

In other news, the committee said it would wait until a multi-use path is built from Fifth Street South through Coquina Beach before it builds bollards between the Cortez Beach parking area and Gulf Drive. Member Mike Sosadeeter, who works for Manatee County Parks and Recreation, said his department is afraid there is not enough room for the trail and the parking lot due to a Florida Department of Transportation setback requirement. The bollards would have an opening for entering the parking area and another for exiting. The committee wanted to limit ingress and egress to keep down confusion in the area, which leads to traffic accidents.

Sosadeeter said the county commission will decide soon on how much money it will spend to build the multi-use trail. The county got a grant, with the help of the city, to pay for some of the trailer and the city donated a set amount. The county agreed to take up the slack, which is increasing due to rising costs for materials and labor. Sosadeeter said the county is looking at a redesign to lower the cost.

"The cost is estimated at $421,000, and the redesign might lower that to around $350,000," he said. "Realistically, we're six months from starting construction on it."

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Captain Kim: Ready for prime time

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – Local fishing holes, personality profiles and boater-accessible restaurants are among the features coming up on a new weekly television program based in Cortez.

Captain Kim’s Adventures began airing last month on Suncoast Network 96, a Bright House cable channel. The weekly 30-minute program airs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

Cortez charter boat Captain Kim Ibasfalean is the creator and host of the all-girl show, which also features Kathe Fannon, Charlotte Huntley, Erin Garner and Renee Bailey.

"I have so much to show people," she says, adding that she was bitten by the show business bug when she worked on the 2003 movie “Out of Time,” filmed partly in Cortez.

Upcoming episodes will feature profiles of longtime Cortez resident Wyman Coarsey; Roger Allen, the coordinator of the Florida Gulf Coast Maritime Museum at Cortez; and local diver Ed Ryan, who maintains aquariums for Disney World.

Other segments will feature fishing spots and eco-tourism destinations from Anna Maria Island south to Siesta Key that Captain Kim visits in her day job, says her husband, Mark Ibasfalean, who works behind the scenes with his brother, Bryan Ibasfalean, and channel 96 staff to videotape and produce the program.

The team hopes to produce at least 30 shows during the first 52 weeks, with a few reruns, he says.

"As we get more footage, we’ll run new shows more frequently," says Ibasfalean, who also works as a dockbuilder and stone crabber. An outdoors show is much more time-consuming than videotaping an indoor studio program, he says; sometimes a second boat is needed just to carry equipment.

Sarasota-based Suncoast Network, which launched channel 96 earlier this year with infomercials, is gradually adding programs like Captain Kim’s Adventures that are not infomercials.

The station sells the airtime to the program producers, who sell their own commercials, which can be produced by the advertisers, the program producers or channel 96 staff.

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Board struggles with comp plan

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — There are several thorny issues confronting members of the planning and zoning board, which is going through a series of public hearings on revisions to the comprehensive plan.

Should the medium density zone in the city, where duplexes are currently allowed and where lots that are 50 by 100 feet, stay as is, or should it be eliminated?

"If it's eliminated, would I be allowed to rebuild?" asked Robin Wall, a resident who owns one such lot with a ground level home.

"Am I allowed to rebuild now? What if I want to sell my property and the new owner wants to tear down the existing house and build a stilt house?"

Building Official Kevin Donohue said no one can "willfully destroy" an existing non-conforming home and then rebuild. However, if that home is destroyed to more than 50 percent of its value, it can be rebuilt — to current-day standards. That includes elevating ground-level homes.

Members of the P&Z board tried to find a way to allow those homes to be rebuilt in the event they are struck by fire or a catastrophic hurricane.

"I think they should be able to put back what was there," said Margaret Jenkins, a member of the board.

Not so fast, said Donohue. There's flood insurance to consider. You have to follow FEMA rules, which mandate elevation in all new construction.

"What if they decide not to have flood insurance?" asked board member Randall Stover?

"That creates problems with getting mortgages," Donohue said. "And flood insurance is an issue for the entire community.

“If you don't follow FEMA's rules, you put the ability of the entire community to get flood insurance in jeopardy."

Stover said he thinks the city commission ought to investigate self-insurance for the community. That way, "the federal government won't be dictating to us."

Another problematic issue is what to do about residential properties that have been built in the commercial zone?

Property owner Joe White wants to be sure he can rebuild his non-conforming house in the event of disaster.

"We built our home in 1987," he said. "We hope to preserve our home under the new comp plan."

White wants his lot to be a residential enclave in the commercial zone.

A neighboring property owner, whose house was actually built after the existing comprehensive plan was enacted, may have a stickier issue. No residential uses are permitted in the commercial zone. A permit for that house should not have been issued without a change to the zoning maps.

Zoning snafu
That's the same issue that property owner Amador Salinas is faced with. He owns the property at 9907 Gulf Drive.

"We were told our lot's zoning had been changed to residential," Salinas said. "We want to build our retirement house there, but now we find that the zoning is commercial."

A check of the city's records revealed that the city commission approved an ordinance changing the zoning on the Salinas lot, which is located on the south east corner of Gulf Drive and Spring Ave.

The zoning of the adjacent lot was included in that ordinance. A house stands on that lot today.

However, the change was never registered at the state level in the future land use map, which establishes the zoning districts. To make changes in the future land use map requires a change in the comprehensive plan, a lengthy process.

Apparently, no one knew the procedure in 1997 when the change was granted.

Another issue is whether or not the small, family-operated motels that are nestled in residential areas will be allowed to rebuild in the event of disaster.

They are non-conforming uses today, and as such, they are in jeopardy.

Land Planner Bob Schmitt, who has been hired by business owners in the city (see related story), suggested that the board consider making a zoning category for resorts.

He also asked the board to extend the same protection and concern to the property owners in the ROR (residential/office/retail) and commercial zones that they are extending to property owners in the residential districts.

"And I think it would be a mistake to take the medium density zoning away," Schmitt said. “You want to leave as few non-conformities as possible."

The P&Z board heard suggestions from the community about changes to the infrastructure, traffic and housing elements of the plan and then moved on to hearing more comments on the land use element of the plan, which includes the zoning map.

There was very little discussion among the members of the board. The bulk of the meeting was devoted to hearing from the public.

The comprehensive plan is the document that outlines the way the community will look in the future. In cases of conflict with ordinances or codes, the comp plan trumps all else.

The P&Z board is holding public hearings and then will make changes to the plan before forwarding it to the city commission.

The commission will hold its own public hearings, finalize any changes to the document and forward it to the Florida Department of Community Affairs in Tallahassee, where it will either be approved or sent back to the city for further revision.

The next public hearing before the planning and zoning board will be held Monday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. at city hall.

The board will hold a business meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. and break for the public hearing after which, they will resume their business meeting.

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Record number of turtles wash up on beach

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

A record number of dead and ailing sea turtles are washing up on Gulf Coast beaches. Sea turtle strandings include dead and sick or injured live turtles.

All indications are that the unusual number of strandings is related to the on-going red tide outbreak in southwest Florida, according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Dr. Debbie Fauquier.

"The initial findings indicate that exposure to red tide is the most likely cause of much of the mortality," Fauquier said. "As is always the case, there are still some turtles that are succumbing to other mortality factors — boat collisions, entanglements and chronic illness, but the preliminary explanation for the unusually high number of deaths is exposure to red tide."

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also documenting many sea turtle strandings and is rehabilitating a record number of turtles at its facility.

Mote received a grant from the sea turtle license plate fund to investigate the effects of red tide on marine turtles, so Fauquier was able to check into the cause of the record number of strandings.

In Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, there were 45 strandings between July 24 and August 10. The average for that time is six strandings.

AMI strandings
Anna Maria Island has seen its share of strandings. During the last week alone, AMI Turtle Watch volunteers dealt with a total of 13 strandings. Three ailing turtles are still alive and are being cared for at Mote.

"It's just awful," said AMI Turtle Watch Chief Suzi Fox. "We don't know if we're coming or going we're so busy. If we get a live turtle, the people from Mote come right out and start treatment on the spot. I think the three that are still living would have died without immediate treatment."

Fox said the dead turtles are buried where they wash up or where they are brought to shore.

"We have wonderful help from the public works departments of all three Island cities," she said. "You couldn't find a better group of people than the public works people. We love them."

How you can help
Mote is swamped, according to Fox. Rehabilitating a sea turtle can be quite costly, and with the record number of live strandings, funds are running low.

"People on our Island have always answered the call to help turtles," Fox said. "Anna Maria Island residents always dig deep in their pockets to help out."

It's Fox's hope that that Island residents will be willing to dig deep again to help care for the ailing turtles — two of which were restored to health and released last week well south of the red tide area.

If you want to help, you can write a check to Mote Marine Laboratory Sea Turtle Program. On the memo line write "sick and injured turtles." Mail to Mote Marine Laboratory, Attn: Sea Turtle Program, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236.

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