Vol 5 No. 50 - August 31, 2005

 

�Devastation zone� tag sought for Gulf

Consolidation study dead - sort of

Key Royale channel to be closed during bridge construction

Bayfest to return, bigger and better

Panel wants beachfront lifeguard station

Foam makes tourists sick

Expansion of non-conforming use OK�d

Katrina takes toll on turtle nests

 

 

 

‘Devastation zone’ tag sought for Gulf

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

LONGBOAT KEY – Wayne Genthner is trying to turn the tide.

Ever since he discovered a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by red tide earlier this month, the charter boat captain has been worried about the environment, the tourist industry, the commercial and recreational fishing industries and his business, Longboat Key-based Wolfmouth Charters.

He’s been lobbying elected officials for emergency funds for red tide research to find the cause and the cure of the massive offshore fish kills, and now suggests a federal aid program declaring the Gulf an "ecological/economic devastation zone" to help businesses hit hard by red tide.

Genthner has approached state Rep. Bill Galvano and the Sarasota County Commission about getting funds for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg (FWRI) and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to work together on red tide. The research groups have put together a proposal for a funding package for a broad study that would coordinate efforts between them, he said, adding that it may take a special session of the Legislature to approve the funding.

And to help commercial and recreational fishermen and charter boat businesses who made their livings in what is now a dead zone, Genthner suggests declaring the Gulf an "ecological/economic devastation zone," a whole new category of aid for what he calls an unprecedented event.

The dead zone can’t be declared a typical disaster area, because that applies to a populated region that has been hit by a single natural disaster like a freeze or a hurricane, he said, while red tide is an ongoing disaster that has lasted all year.

Some fear the official declaration of a "devastation zone" could hurt tourism, according to members of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) in the commercial fishing village of Cortez.

The suggestion of declaring a red tide economic impact zone has never gone over well because of the fear that it would keep tourists away, board member John Stevely said at a FISH meeting last week.

And commercial fishermen fear a decline in their businesses if tourists are not here to visit restaurants and order the seafood they catch, FISH board member Mark Ibasfalean said.

In addition, many Cortez fishermen would refuse to accept federal aid, said FISH board member and charter Capt. Zach Zacharias. Cortez fishing families have long prided themselves on not taking charity from the government, even during the Depression era.

But without the zone, there may not be an environment for anyone to fish or tour, Genthner said.

"Let’s just be honest with tourists," he said. "We have an ethical and moral obligation to tell them there’s nothing to catch. We can’t just run them around on the water and not give them the experience they’re looking for. When tourists came down here to go to the beach, they didn’t expect to be gagging on red tide and swimming in a toxic cocktail."

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the longest red tide episode in recent memory,

Genthner said, including lawn fertilizer, farm fertilizer, phosphate manufacturing, sewage and septic tanks, power plants and stormwater runoff that produce nutrients that feed red tide.

Blaming just one source, such as Piney Point phosphate plant wastewater, is shortsighted, he said, citing two recent studies by FWRI and University of Miami researcher Larry Brand that found the discharged wastewater did not cause red tide.

"More nitrogen comes out of power plant smokestacks than that highly-treated wastewater," he said. "You have the phosphate on the Peace River, the sugar cane farms on the Caloosahatchee. We are just dumping stuff into the water."

It’s too late to hope that red tide will go away on its own, Genthner said.

"Most of this problem is because we haven’t reduced coastal nourishment pollution, and those chickens have come home to roost," he said. "It’s a whole accumulation of lifestyle choices we have made. We have honored green lawns and tasty tomatoes over a healthy reef."

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Consolidation study dead - sort of

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

There will be no Island-wide referendum asking voters whether or not they want to go forward with a study of consolidating the three cities into one political entity — at least for now.

All three cities were considering whether or not to poll their voters to see if there was enough interest to fund a study of the pros and cons of consolidation.

A tie vote at the Aug. 25 Anna Maria city commission meeting killed the referendum in that city. Commissioners Dale Woodland and Carol Ann Magill voted against putting the issue to the voters.

Woodland had indicated earlier that he was against consolidation but not necessarily against the referendum, but his vote was against placing the referendum on the ballot.

"Not one resident I talked to is in favor of consolidating all three cities into one government," Woodland said. "In no way do we want to give up our city, our government, our comp plan, our vision statement. We don't need to go to a referendum."

With Commissioner Duke Miller out of town and unable to attend the meeting, the tie vote killed Commissioner Linda Cramer's motion to put the referendum on the ballot, since there was no majority in favor of the issue.

No one knows how Miller would have voted. He's due back Sept. 6. There isn't a voting meeting scheduled before the deadline for getting the referendum on the ballot, so unless a commissioner calls a special meeting to reconsider the issue again, the referendum will not be on the Anna Maria ballot in November.

Holmes Beach had already approved placing the referendum on the ballot. Mayor Carol Whitmore said she's disappointed in Anna Maria's city commission vote.

"Carol Ann and Dale's votes denied not only their citizens the right to decide, they denied my voters the right to decide if they want to find out more about consolidation," Whitmore said. "We don't really know about the benefits of consolidation, so they don't even know what they voted against."

She said she may very well recommend to her commission that the referendum go forward so at least the residents of Holmes Beach will have a chance to voice their opinion.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie told The Sun that his commission is scheduled to decide whether or not to include the consolidation study referendum on their ballot at their Sept. 1 meeting. He said he's planning to leave that issue on the agenda for discussion.

The plan had been that to go forward with the study, all three Island cities had to participate. It appears now that the referendum may proceed for at least one and possibly two of the Island cities, but probably the consolidation study is a dead issue — for now.

"I'm tired of working on this issue," Whitmore said. "I have no interest in pursuing it. I'm not interested in a consolidation of services. We tried that, and it didn't work. I'm not subjecting myself or my staff to the stress of this again. If someone else wants to look into it after I leave office, let them."

Meanwhile, Don Schroder, who has worked diligently to get the referendum placed on the ballot, said he's disappointed with Anna Maria's stance, but he wasn't sure what the next step would be. He said it's way too early to discuss what may come next.

"I made my case," he said. "I feel that every resident on this Island was disenfranchised by their vote. We had the right to know how the voters feel. They made a decision they didn't have to make. Not only will Anna Maria voters not get to make their wishes known, but also the residents in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach are denied that opportunity."

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney has long been a vocal champion of consolidation. He said he, too, was disappointed in the Anna Maria vote and doubts the issue will get serious consideration anytime soon.

"I don't see anything happening for the foreseeable future," Maloney said. "You know, I'm sure, that this is my 10th anniversary with this. I don't know what will happen next. What we tried to do this time was to see how the people themselves feel. We couldn't get across to them that all we were trying to find out is if the voters think this would work or even what it's about."

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Key Royale channel to be closed during bridge construction

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Engineers from the Florida Department of Transportation said the Key Royale channel will be closed to boat traffic for possibly nine to 12 months while the bridge is being replaced.

"Maintaining boat traffic will be a problem," DOT District Permit Engineer Jim Wilt explained at an informational meeting held at St. Bernard Church last week. "We asked for permission to close it down for the duration of the contract for safety reasons."

Wilt said because there is no place to store materials except on a barge in the channel and the contractor must also drive piles, the channel must close during construction.

"We want input from local boaters on whether it will create a problem," Wilt said. "It will be an imposition on local boaters if they’re going south, but we want to be on the safe side. People that I’ve talked to tonight said it would be minor inconvenience, but they know it has to be done and they want the bridge."

DOT Design Engineer Ed Ponce said the department would advertise for a contractor in November and December and the contract would be let on Jan. 25, 2006.

"It will take a couple of months to award and execute the contract," Ponce said. "Construction will probably begin in April 2006 and take 200 to 300 days.’

Ponce said there would be lane closures during construction, but one lane would be maintained at all times. DOT Public Information Director Cindy Clemmons-Adente said Key Royale residents would receive weekly updates on the project’s progress.

Construction and comments
The bridge will be replaced with a two-lane, low-level bridge. Lanes will be 12 feet wide, and there will be five-foot wide sidewalks. The minimum vertical navigational clearance will increase from 9.3 feet above mean high water to 10.3 feet.

The construction is planned in two phases.

Phase I: remove the north portion of the existing bridge, maintain traffic on the remainder of the existing bridge by providing one-way traffic on a single 10-foot lane controlled by a portable traffic signal and build the north portion.

Phase II: Switch the single lane of traffic to the north portion of the new bridge controlled by a portable traffic signal, remove the remaining portion of the old bridge and construct the south portion of the bridge.

The construction requires permits from three agencies — the Coast Guard, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We should be getting the Swiftmud permit in the mail any day, and we are expecting the permit from the Corps soon," Wilt said. "We’re trying to get a record fast issuance with the Coast Guard permit, but we probably won’t get it until December or January."

The cost of the bridge is currently estimated at $2.1 million, up from the initial estimate of $1.3 million. Ponce said the DOT would update the cost immediately before the contract is let. The city is advancing the funding and will be reimbursed by the DOT.

DOT officials are seeking comments from residents. The deadline is Sept. 6. Comments can be mailed to Dick Combs, deputy director of transportation development, Florida Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL 33813.

 

Bayfest to return, bigger and better

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – It's the first festival of the season and for many, it's a time to shake off the hot summer, hurricane- season doldrums.

Bayfest 2005, hosted by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, will be a day of fun, food and shopping along Pine Avenue. The Anna Maria Island Sun is the event sponsor.

Bayfest organizer Cindy Thompson is already at work to make it bigger and better than last year’s festival, which was widely regarded as one of the finest festivals the Island has ever seen.

"We have the whole street available again and we intend to fill it," she said. "We will have more than 100 booths for arts and crafts and not-for-profit organizations. Last year, we had 96 and I already have commitments for more than that."

Once again, there will be a children's area and the popular, classic car display also will return.

"We expect to have around 100 classic cars with the help of a local car club," she said. "A disc jockey from Oldies 108 will be there to emcee."

The children's area will feature fun and games, while grownups can sample live music from local bands and solo artists on two separate stages.

"We will have a main stage with acts including Koko Ray, Almost Famous, a steel drum band and a D.J. to play between the acts," she said. "Then there will be a children's stage where Jimi Gee will lead his students in various bands including the Island Hobbits, Magic Tree Conspiracy and the Edison Band, plus there will be a performance by Eric von Hahmann."

In addition, there will be food booths.

"We already have 19 commitments for food booths," she said. "We will also have beer trucks at each end of the street and the Chamber Margarita Bar."

A portion of the proceeds goes toward the AMI Chamber Scholarship Fund.

There is still time to join the fun. Anybody wanting to rent a booth should call Cindy Thompson at 761-4766.

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Panel wants beachfront lifeguard station

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Plans for a bayside lifeguard station received a cold reception from the Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity last week and the mayor hopes talks with the county administrator can rescue the plans.

Bill O'Shea, of the Manatee County Planning Department, brought project architect Mike Bryant, of Fawley and Bryant Architects, with him to the Scenic Highway meeting to show the committee scaled down plans for the project. It would be a single-story, 22-foot-high elevated building with room inside for lifeguards to store their equipment. There would also be room for training and space for parking boats and rescue equipment beneath the building.

The problem is that the committee felt it was on the wrong side of Gulf Drive. The station would be near the northernmost boat launch in Coquina Park Bayside, where the city would like to put a park and ride lot for people who work in the city to make more room for shoppers and diners to park in the city's business district.

After seeing the plans, committee member Mike Pierce said he thought the facility would be more useful on the beach near the bus turnaround. Mayor John Chappie suggested the snack bar at Coquina Beach, saying they could rehabilitate the snack bar and incorporate the station in the design. Chappie expressed disappointment that the county did not include the city in the planning process.

"We had an interlocal agreement that the county would consult the city when it was planning projects in the county parks here," he said. "The county spent $1.5 million to rehab Manatee County Beach, but nothing has been done to rebuild the semi-permeable groins along Coquina Beach.

"Coquina Beach is the most visited place in the county," he said. "This is the draw, folks, and we can't get the county to spend money here."

Chappie said he did not want to delay the lifeguard station because he realizes they need a place to store their equipment.

"They have been working out of a shed next to the restrooms on the bayside," he said. "But we need to be brought in on this."

Mike Sosadeeter, of the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department and a member of the Scenic Highway committee, also expressed concern.

"We didn't know about this," he said. "Since we have to maintain the facility, it would have been nice if they had included us in the planning stage."

"I see a lot of disconnect here," said Chappie. "We need to bring this all together."

City Commissioner Bill Shearon, the city's liaison to the committee, said putting it on the beach would be better all around.

"That's where the multi-use trail will go and that's where the beachgoers will be," he said.

"There should be a point man for the county who could communicate with all these agencies," said Bradenton Beach Building Official Ed McAdam. "The county needs to pull a team together to address all these issues."

Chappie said he had talked with county administrator Ernie Padgett and county commission chairman Ron Getman about the project earlier and they told him to bring his concerns to them after seeing the plans. Sosadeeter said he would also be talking with Padgett to express his department's concern.

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Foam makes tourists sick

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The high waves caused by Katrina’s passage brought out the surfers over the weekend, but the Category 5 hurricane also caused a return of a summer-long nemesis, red tide.

As the winds from Katrina shifted, they blew in the single celled organisms that give off noxious fumes when they bloom in high concentration. Mixed with the foam from the wave action, it caused two swimmers at Cortez Beach to call for help.

“Two people ingested it when they got near the foam,” said Capt. Joe Westerman, head lifeguard for the Manatee County Department of Safety. “We had to call for EMS.”

Westerman said the unidentified men were revived and did not require hospitalization.

Jay Moyles, of the Department of Safety, said the same situation occurred with a former lifeguard several years ago.

“He was surfing and got off his board,” Moyles said. “When he came up, he breathed in some foam and he said he literally could not catch his breath.”

Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, red tide researcher at Mote Marine Laboratory, said the foam picks up the toxin in heavy concentrations.

“Dr. Richard Pierce, a fellow scientist at Mote, found the foam has 10 times the toxin than water.”

Moyles said people should avoid the foam on the beaches.

“Being as it is a neurological toxin, it can be very bad,” he said.

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Expansion of non-conforming use OK�d

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — The board of adjustment last week granted its first variance for expansion of a non-conforming use.

Developer Pat McConnell wants to add 450 square feet, or 225 square feet per unit, to a duplex at 2913 Avenue E. The additional space would allow for a second bedroom and bathroom.

Expansions of non-conformities are generally handled through the building department, but because this one was an expansion of use, it had to come before the board, Emily Anne Smith, of O’Brien and Smith Architecture, explained to the board. At the time it was built, duplexes were permitted on 5,000 square-foot lots, however, the 1989 comprehensive plan changed the duplex lot size to 8,750 square feet.

The only other option to improve the property is to demolish the structure and build an elevated one, Smith said.

"People want to keep the character of the small cottage homes," she pointed out, adding that the project would promote affordable housing on the Island.

"Affordable housing can only be created through existing non-conforming structures," McConnell added. "If you can split the cost of the ownership between two parties, you can create as close to affordable housing that you can have on this Island. If we don’t do something like this to promote affordable housing, the only people who can afford to live here will be the billionaires."

Pro and con
"This is a no-brainer," neighbor David Zaccagnino stressed. "This is the kind of thing that we want to see. Not where they come in and clear the lot and build this huge thing."

Neighbor Rick Wheeler agreed with Zaccagnino and added, "Pat is doing everything right for this neighborhood."

‘A livable family unit is two bedrooms," Barry Gould, of Island Vacation Properties, pointed out. "People come into my office looking for affordable housing. Here’s an opportunity for the city to take a stand and answer the call for something affordable. Where does the city really see itself 10 years from now? Are all these little houses that are up and down the street going to be 35 feet tall?"

Neighbors Kathleen and David Toale spoke in opposition, expressing fears that the city’s flood insurance would be jeopardized if the variance were allowed.

"Holmes Beach’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is based on your ability to adopt and enforce sound floodplain management," Kathleen Toale said. "Ignoring the rules places all the citizens in jeopardy," adding that in a worst case scenario, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could suspend the city’s flood insurance.

"This is not a hardship; this is a desire," David Toale said. "I request that you say no to the applicant."

Board deliberates
Chairman David Moynihan asked Assistant Public Works Director Bill Saunders to explain the FEMA issue.

"The city operates on adoption of FEMA guidelines," Saunders pointed out. "It’s in our code and that’s what we work with. The city is not putting itself or its property or its citizens in danger of losing their flood insurance or increasing their flood insurance rates."

Saunders said McConnell’s project is within the 30 percent land coverage as required by code, meets the setbacks, is under the 50 percent FEMA requirement and under 40 percent impervious coverage as required by code.

"Your decision is going to be controlled by the city’s code on the expansion of a non-conformity," City Attorney Jim Dye advised. "There are certain criteria set forth in the code. You’ve heard a lot of testimony that doesn’t go to the code, for example, affordability, the visioning process and the FEMA process. There is a place in the process where the FEMA criteria are taken into account, and it’s not at this level."

Moynihan read the criteria for expansion of a non-conformity and McConnell’s responses and noted, "The applicant has addressed each of those criteria."

"If they provide these guidelines and somebody follows them, not granting them could be infringing on their rights," member Mark Kimball observed.

Following the vote, Kathleen Toale said it is her understanding that no work can take place on the property until the board’s decision is recorded with the clerk of the circuit court.

Dye said that is correct and added, "This takes them up to the building permit stage. That will take time to be reviewed. There’s an automatic lag time until any work is done to the property."

See related story on page 15.

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Katrina takes toll on turtle nests

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

For the second time this summer, the turtle nests on Anna Maria beaches have taken a hit from a storm out in the Gulf.

First it was Dennis who passed by on the way to the Panhandle. The high surf and surge from that storm washed over all the nests that had been relocated to the north of the renourishment project.

"This time it wasn't quite as bad," said Suzi Fox, who heads up Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch. "With Dennis, the storm passed by a little closer to the Island, and the nests at the north end were inundated. We may have lost all of them."

Fox said Katrina wasn't quite that bad.
"We got to the south relocation area at about dawn on Sunday. There was high surf and a bit of a surge," she said. "The eggs from one of the nests were washing around in the surf. We were able to collect most of those and relocate them to higher ground."

Fox said she and AMITW volunteers Lee and Marvin Zerkel were at Coquina Beach at dawn Sunday to check on that area.

"We found one nest hatching," she said. "It was overcast and the temperature was sort of cool — especially with the wind. There was one hatchling with its head poking out of the nest. When it's cool like that, they think it's night and time to hatch."

Fox said the other turtles began emerging and she and the Zerkels discovered that the nest had been invaded by fire ants.

"We washed the ants off the hatchlings with salt water," she said. "We'll let them rest for a couple of days and give the surf time to calm down and then we'll release them.

Worker finds dead turtle
Bradenton Beach Public Works Employee Rob Greer and his wife, Sharon, came to the Island on Sunday to check out the beach.

"They found a 13-inch loggerhead that was dead," Fox said. "The turtle was freshly dead, and it showed no signs of trauma. I put it on ice so we could take it to Mote for a necropsy."

Fox said finding a turtle that size is unprecedented on Island shores.

"We've seen the adult females, of course, and both males and females sometimes strand here. Of course we see the babies when the nests hatch, but we've never seen one this size."

Loggerheads usually only return to the area of their natal beaches when they are mating and nesting, so it's unusual to find a juvenile anywhere in this vicinity, according to Fox.

"I'm curious to see what they say about it at Mote," she said.

Turtle release
The turtles from that nest that was found hatching on Sunday will be released into the Gulf on Wednesday evening, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m. by the southern-most bath house on Coquina Beach.

Fox said the public is welcome to come out and watch the hatchlings scramble to the sea.

"It's a good time for people to learn a bit about the sea turtles that nest on our shores," she said.

People are advised to come early.

"Tell everyone there can be no flashlights and no flash photography because it can distract the turtles. The flash photography may damage their eyes."

She added that if there is no wind, people coming to watch the release might want to bring some insect repellant.

"It can get buggy," she warned.

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