Vol 6 No. 32 - May 3, 2006


Piers escape damage - so far

Bridges to open each half hour

Building permit fee changed for Community Center

Commission clarifies sign code issues

Affaire to Remember auction surpasses goal

Legislature to form insurance task force

National skating champs live quiet Island life

Turtle nesting season opener




Piers escape damage - so far

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – Huge pieces of renourishment equipment being stored in Tampa Bay off Bayfront Park are placing both piers in the city at risk of being damaged or destroyed, according to the piers’ managers and at least one city commissioner.

In fact, on at least two occasions, large sections of pipe or other equipment have broken free during rough weather and narrowly missed smashing into the relatively slender pier pilings.

"One of the pontoons where they float their pipes broke loose and came ashore just 10-feet from the pier," said Dave Cochran, manager of the Rod & Reel Pier. "Just a little further to the north and we would have had a bad situation."

"That is not the most prudent place to store all that equipment," added David Sork, manager of The City Pier Restaurant. "It’s between two of the most vulnerable structures on the West Coast of Florida."

Sork said so far there has only been one close call at the pier he manages.

"Some equipment broke loose when one of the fronts came through and came very close to the pier," he said. "Both piers are vulnerable. When you have something the size of that renourishment equipment crashing into an eight-inch piling, you have a problem."

City Commissioner Dale Woodland said he’s become convinced that the Bayfront Park location is a poor choice for equipment storage,

"We’ve had some close calls," he said. "They’ve lost some of the pipes more than once. So far, we’ve been lucky with these fronts. The wind has been out of the north, northwest, or southeast, but if it were to ever come out of the northeast and straight onshore, we’d be in trouble. Those little pilings wouldn’t stand up to those huge, great big pieces of equipment."

Woodland said he’s expressed his concerns to Manatee County Ecosystems Management Director Charlie Huntsicker, and he hopes that in the future, some other place will be found for equipment storage.

"I don’t care who the contractor is, it’s obvious that this is a bad place to store equipment," he noted. "And with Goodloe, it’s been especially bad because of the delays."

Woodland noted that usually a contractor wants to get in and get out and finished with the job as quickly as possible.

"That’s the way the contractor makes his money," Woodland. "Delays are costly for a contractor, and delays leave the window of vulnerability for something like those piers open way too long."

Woodland said he would work hard to see that alternate storage sites are selected for any future projects on the Island.

"There are plenty of other places that can be found without compromising the piers," he said. "We’ve seen what Bradenton Beach has gone through with their pier. Permits take forever now, and it’s just difficult to rebuild."

Woodland said there’s also the loss of revenue to consider.

"Those piers are a real asset for the city, and we simply can’t put them at risk like this," he concluded.

Ben Goodloe, project manager for Goodloe Marine, Inc., the renourishment contractor, said the location of the barge is the only area designated by state agencies for storage of equipment. He said they take extra precautions when the weather gets real bad.

"Last year, we moved the barge and equipment out of the area when there was a hurricane nearby," he said. "We have talked with the commissioner about it and he said there were pipes 50 feet from the pier, but when we checked it out, they were 400 feet away."

Goodloe said they also got a complaint from a resident who said the pipe was within 1,000 of her beach, but that he looked at it and it was more like 10,000 feet away.

"We have to use that area to store our pipes," he reiterated. "It’s the only one designated."


Bridges to open each half hour

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

Motorists will be happier when crossing Island bridges next season according to a ruling by the Coast Guard.

"The Coast Guard decided today that the bridges will have half-hour openings from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during four months of the winter season," Mike Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency, announced Monday. "On May 15, officials of the Island Transportation Planning Agency will select the four months. This is a positive step and another tool to eliminate some of the congestion at the bridges."

Howe said the question of which months would also be discussed at the May 17 meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials.

"It’s better than nothing," Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore remarked, alluding to the fact that the Coast Guard did not agree to closing the Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges during morning and evening rush hours. "At least they’ll let us pick the months."

According to Michael Lieberum, assistant chief of operations for the Seventh Coast Guard District, "This has not been an easy decision. As stated previously, the vehicle traffic counts and bridge logs do not support changing the existing bridge regulations.

"On the other hand, your area does have a serious vehicle traffic problem during the winter months. Some of these problems are directly related road construction/maintenance projects and some are related to vehicle traffic flow issues in the vicinity of these drawbridges."

"I’m very pleased," Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie exclaimed. "It’s wonderful that the three Island cities and Longboat Key worked together to come to some resolution in this. Let’s give it a run and see how it goes."

Chappie said the ITPO’s recommendation would be taken back to each city commission for final approval.

"It’s great," Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said. "It’s a demonstration of what took years of perseverance and it finally paid off. It’s a good solution for both boaters and vehicle drivers."


Building permit fee changed for Community Center

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Commissioners last week approved a maximum building permit fee of $20,000 in order to give some relief to the Anna Maria Island Community Center, which will be replaced this summer.

Prior to discussion on changing the permit fee schedule, Mayor SueLynn told the board, "We received the blueprints for the Community Center for their building and added up all the permits. They come to a total of $56,000 to $57,000. We thought that was high given the fact that they are a not-for-profit organization and the city would not necessarily like to make money off of what they are doing."

She said that Building Official Kevin Donohue suggested that the city cap the fee at $20,000.

"It’s a $3 million building that will require a lot of his time and energy to do his inspections," SueLynn continued. "Given the fact that some residents are now paying $12,000 on permits for builders, we did not think $20,000 was unfair."

Commissioner Dale Woodland asked if the city should have the ability to waive some of the permit fees for other non-profit organizations.

"I’d have to look into it," City Attorney Jim Dye replied. "There would have to be some criteria created and a fair application of the criteria."

SueLynn said the permit application is in the building department, and the city has to act on it as soon as possible.

Chairman John Quam said the commission could change the fee by resolution at any time.
"For right now, you could pass it and it would allow you to take care of business for the next month or so," Dye said.

Former Commissioner Carol Ann Magill urged commissioners to establish criteria for non-profit organizations now, rather than change the fee twice.

In other business:

Two agenda items, the Archer Way lot split and the Sandbar’s final site plan, were continued to May.

Commissioners agreed to negotiate with Waste Management for a new contract rather than go out to bid because there are no other companies in the area that provide waste disposal services.

SueLynn announced that the North Shore Gladiolus drainage project would begin in the next two weeks and is expected to take 16 weeks to complete.

Commission clarifies sign code issues

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners agreed that real estate signs can have two pendants and a tube, after Chairman Rich Bohnenberger said the city’s sign code is unclear.

"A lot of things are gray (in the city sign code), so I thought it would be appropriate for the commission to decide what the intent of the code was," he told the board.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said according to research done by her office, "The code provides some guidance on signs that hang below. Those are considered pendant signs. They are not considered to be part of the real estate signs. Those signs are allowed but they need a permit."

She said the definition of real estate sign could be changed to include all signs affixed to the sign.

"That may be a starting place for discussion," she said. "The question becomes how much more than the basic rectangular sign are you going to allow them to hang above and below that sign?"

Bohnenberger asked if commissioners have an issue with a tube affixed to the sign. They agreed that tubes are OK.

He said another problem is that the code enforcement officer does not know the location of property lines in order to enforce the regulation banning signs in the right of way. Commissioners agreed that that the officer can remove anything that’s "obviously in the right of way."


Affaire to Remember auction surpasses goal

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The one night per year when the Island puts on a formal façade has come and gone, and officials at the Anna Maria Island Community Center were back in Island garb Monday, counting up the proceeds.

It looks like another winner.

Community Center Development Director Aida Matic-Chaffee said the gross amount collected was $364,795, including a matching pledge from an unidentified donor of $112,675. The matching amount will be applied to the Center’s construction fund for the new building to be constructed this summer and the rest of that amount, $252,120 minus expenses, will go toward the operating fund.

The winning part is the fact that they surpassed their expectations for the operating fund.

“We had set a goal of $188,000,” Matic-Chaffee said.

That’s the same goal Center officials set last year, and that auction raised exactly that amount, so this year’s operating fund amount is higher.

Last year’s total was more than $750,000, but it was not comparable to this year’s, according to Matic-Chaffee. She said last year, Ed Chiles organized a large cash call, and donors were able to make pledges that could be paid off over several years. Last year’s pledges started at $50,000 and this year’s highest cash call amount was $5,000.

This year, as before, Harry’s Continental Kitchen catered the dinner, the Anna Maria Oyster Bars provided the bar, the Chiles Group provided hors d’oeuvres, salad and rolls and Premier Beverage provided the wine.

Winners were drawn from four raffles that were conducted in conjunction with the Affaire to Remember. Florida State Senator Mike Bennett pulled out the winning ticket for a big-screen television set. Manatee County Judge Jannette Dunnigan, a Holmes Beach resident, won it. Other winners were Darrell Weaver for the Super Bowl ticket package; Herman Fernandez, of Tampa for the PT Cruiser golf cart; Bright House President Rose Carlson for the diamond necklace; and Shannon Dell, who won the pick of the live auction and took the trip to Hawaii.

Paul Kelly was the high bidder for the tropical vest. He paid $1,200 for the opportunity to wear the vest for the year and will return it to the Center next year to be auctioned again.


Legislature to form insurance task force

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

As this year’s Florida legislative session draws to a close on May 5 and the beginning of hurricane season follows on June 1, there is some insurance relief coming from Tallahassee.

It just won’t be of any immediate help to residents and business owners of the state’s barrier islands.

"I was hoping that we’d see a temporary extension of the wind coverage from Citizens for all the barrier Islands and for all property within 1,000 feet of the coast," said Rep. Bill Galvano, a Republican. "That didn’t happen."

What did happen was that the other of Galvano’s two proposals was enacted.

"I created a task force to scientifically study eligibility for wind coverage," he said. "That work will start almost immediately."

Galvano said he was disappointed by the failure of the legislature to give temporary relief to the barrier islands while the wind coverage pool is studied scientifically.

"The way it is now just doesn’t make sense,” Galvano pointed out. “In Sarasota County, a business owner east of I-75 is in the pool and a business owner on Anna Maria Island can’t get wind insurance at any price."

Citizens Insurance, a state-subsidized insurance company, was created as an insurance of last resort after many of the private insurers began declining to issue wind coverage along the coast.

It was not designed to offer cheap insurance and is mandated by law to keep its price of wind coverage above that offered by private insurers.

On Anna Maria Island, only Citizens can cover those properties within 1000 feet of the Gulf. Properties outside that zone are left to scramble to find wind coverage from private sources — an increasingly expensive proposition.

Because of the rapidly rising cost of private wind coverage, Citizens is now assessing its third rate hike in a year.

A big problem is in the business community where some businesses outside the wind pool are having increasing problems finding private insurers.

A lack of the availability of wind coverage drastically affected the sale of the business condominiums in Bayfront Plaza. The condo conversion was all set to move last September. It still hasn’t occurred.

"My wind insurance for that building was cancelled, and I couldn’t find any other coverage," said Bayfront Plaza owner Jim Toomey. "The tenants who wanted to purchase their units couldn’t get coverage, and without insurance, you can’t get a mortgage."

Lois Finley, who owns MaMa Lo’s by the Sea, was all set to purchase her space, but when she was unable to get wind coverage, the mortgage she’d arranged went on hold.

Meanwhile, the cost of insurance went way up and the cost of borrowing money went up, so Finley opted to sell her business rather than pay the freight on insurance that expensive, once it became available, and a loan on which the interest had risen above what she felt she could handle.

"It was just too expensive," she said. "That’s a lot of ice cream to scoop."

Other business owners have chosen to just "go bare" or "roll the dice" and go without wind coverage and hope that no major storm sweeps across our shores.

Several homeowners have also decided to take their chances.

One property owner on Bean Point, who asked to be anonymous, chose to drop his wind coverage after he got a bill for $11,000 for wind insurance alone.

"That only covers $250,000 of loss," he said. "Taking a chance on the $250,000 loss makes better sense to me than the $11,000 a year premium."

Other homeowners around the Island are also choosing to do without wind coverage — some because they can’t afford the pricey insurance and some because they can’t find it at any price.


National skating champs live quiet Island life

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — I recently had an interesting surprise, when Mama Lo (Lois Finley-Shook) brought me an article that I wrote 25 years ago.

It was about a lovely couple that I had interviewed for a weekly column I wrote for the Island Herald, a publication of the Bradenton Herald. I phoned them to see if we could reconnect.

Lou and Ellen Johnson live in an unassuming house on Periwinkle Plaza, but once you’re inside, their past becomes apparent. The living room is filled with trophies, paintings, photographs and most importantly, two pairs of skates, one black, one white.

As a couple, the Johnsons earned seven consecutive national titles in dance skating, and as Lou recalled, "It was a lot of hard work, but we had a lot of fun and met so many interesting people."

The pair met at the North Avenue Roller Rink in Chicago, where Ellen worked the concession counter.

Both were taking skating lessons and had different partners, but when their teacher paired them, sparks flew, and they became a couple both on and off the rink.

The couple worked through proficiency tests, earning medals and bars, each requiring them to master more difficult dances. In 1959, they began competing in contests, starting with the junior division. Then they were promoted to the senior division where they swept state and national titles every year until 1971.

"You had to skate a set pattern by the book," Ellen explained. "There were competitions all over the Northeast and Midwest — New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana.

‘Our biggest problem was that our rink in Chicago was very large and many of the others where we competed were very small. We had to cut down our dances to fit the smaller rinks."

Lou said one rink was so small that he ran into the wall while skating. He also recalled the time his age was called into question.

"At one competition in Indiana, another skater challenged me," Lou remembered. "He didn’t think I was old enough to skate in the senior division. I had to show my driver’s license to prove my age."

In addition to working full time, practicing daily and skating competitions, Ellen designed and made all their costumes decorated with hand-sewn sequins.

A tragic fall ended their dance skating career. Lou, who repaired Westinghouse Elevators, fell in an elevator pit and broke his ankle and heel. The breaks took nearly a year to heal.

Shortly after, the couple moved to their Island home.


Turtle nesting season opener

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

Sea turtle nesting season is officially under way. All up and down the length of the Gulf Coast of Florida, season officially opened May 1.

For Anna Maria residents, that means that we will see the official Turtle Watch volunteers walking the all the Island beaches at dawn seeking signs that female turtles have crawled ashore to lay their eggs.

"Our volunteers are really excited and anxious to get going," said AMI Turtle Watch Chief Suzi Fox. "We have a really enthusiastic and committed group this year, and we’re all looking forward to the season."

Fox said she’s hoping for a better season this year.

"Last year, we didn’t have very many nests," she said. "Nesting was down all over the west coast. I hope it’s just a cycle or something and not an indication that there aren’t enough turtles."

Fox noted that because of the renourishment project, nests in the area where the pipes were across the beach, nests were relocated to the north or south end of the Island.

"We lost almost every nest we relocated," she said. "Some were lost to washouts, and at Coquina, we lost every nest to raccoons. They really like the eggs."

This year, the renourishment project continues after a hiatus over the winter. The Florida Wildlife Commission has set a deadline of June 1 for the pipes and all the related equipment to be off the beach.

Fox hopes to see the first nest soon.

"The girls are out there," she said. "The boat captains have reported that there’s a good number of them swimming around offshore doing their thing. There are also lots of fish out there — more than usual and earlier than usual, the captains told me."

It’s mainly loggerhead turtles that lay their eggs on Anna Maria shores. Loggerheads are a threatened species. They are so-named because their heads are quite large in proportion to their bodies.

Residents and visitors will see the volunteers walking the beaches early in the morning. You can approach and ask them questions about nesting habitat.

With the season underway, people need to remember to shield or turn off any lights that shine on the beaches.

"You can go down to the waterline, squat down and look back at the Island," Fox said. "If you see any lights, the mother turtle can see them, too. That can cause her to become disoriented and she may not lay her eggs, or she may get lost in the dunes."

People also need to remember to take their beach chairs, umbrellas, volleyball setups and other equipment off the beach during the hours of darkness. They can become obstacles to the turtles.

Each city has ordinances protecting the nesting activities of sea turtles as do the state and federal governments.

A sick loggerhead was rescued off shore from Coconuts Beach Resort on May 26.

"They called us from the resort, and we had to swim out and bring it in," Fox said. "It has an lump on the side of its head that turns out to be an abscess."

Mote Marine Laboratory Veterinarian Dr. Charlie Manire said the turtle is responding to treatment and is doing well in one of the rehabilitation tanks.

Beginning next week, The Sun will again be running Turtle Tom’s Timely Tips. Each week, we’ll offer a simple thing that Island residents can do to make it easier for our guest nesters.

If you have any questions about local ordinances, you can call your city’s code enforcement officer, or you can call Turtle Watch at 232-1405 with turtle questions. You can find the Turtle Watch website at islandturtles.com.


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