Vol 6 No. 49 - August 30, 2006


Ernesto churns north

Holmes Beach lowers millage

Red tide arrives on Island beaches

Volunteers to be security checked at school

Pier project ahead of schedule

Gulf slime mystery solved

Cortez museum gets historic marker

Board approves sign ordinance, then says ‘wait a minute...’




Ernesto churns north

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

As Tropical Storm Ernesto took aim at southern Florida Tuesday, Island residents appeared to be cautious but optimistic about what the future held.

The storm began in the Caribbean last week and turned into a small hurricane before hitting Hispanola and Cuba, where mountainous terrain turned it into a disorganized tropical storm that was expected to reorganize as it got into open water on its way to the Sunshine State.

The Manatee County Emergency Operations Center ordered cities and residents to prepare as new forecasts showed it would not likely take direct aim at the county. For Bradenton Beach city officials, it was a catalyst to get out the emergency plans and checklists.

"We did our pre-storm checks of equipment and started up our generator," said Police Chief Sam Speciale. "We haven’t called up extra people, though. We want to see what happens first."

The building department is prepared to enforce an ordinance passed last year that requires contractors to clean up construction sites of any objects that could become projectiles in tropical winds and pose a hazard. The department printed up a memo that is passes out on the sites.

"We have 40 copies in the office that we would send out to the job sites," said Building Official Ed McAdam. "Last year, we had 99-percent cooperation and the one contractor who didn’t comply apologized again and again. We also have plastic bags to put the notices into so they don’t get wet."

Other city employees were busy organizing their equipment and their desks.

"I went through my office and got things ready for evacuation," said Code Enforcement Technician Gail Garneau. "I made sure what I needed after the storm would be available.

"We also have to make our own houses are in order," she added. "We have two hours get make sure our homes are safe when an evacuation is ordered and then we have to be back at the job."

During the year, the department also distributed copies of a FEMA hurricane guide and a brochure for mobile home owners to residents of the Pines Trailer Park and the Sandpiper Mobile Resort.

At the Walgreen’s in Holmes Beach Tuesday morning, it was business as usual, according to manager Eileen Erwin. The racks of batteries were still full and there was an ample supply of canned goods and water.

"We haven’t seen a run on those items yet, but people to tend to wait until the last minute," she said. "Then again, they might have already stocked up last year."

The bottled water displays at the Publix store were well stocked Tuesday morning, and there didn’t appear to be a large crowd of shoppers during the morning. Joy Murphy, of Holmes Beach, who was there to get her breakfast, said she and her family are ready.

"We got our house ready last year when we had all those hurricanes," she said. "We stocked up on what we needed and we keep it stocked."

Despite reports of crowds of people topping off their tanks elsewhere, Island gas stations only saw a slight increase in business.

"We sold a ton of gas Sunday and more than usual on Monday," Jim Lachapelle, manager at Jessie’s Island Store, said. "We still have a lot and we also have water and other supplies."

Brett Vande Vrede, owner of the Pure station in Holmes Beach, said he had seen an increase in business, but not like previous storms.

"Monday was pretty busy," he said. "If the storm gets into the Gulf, I expect we’ll get a flood of people, but we have full tanks and I called the company to make sure we continue to have enough."


Holmes Beach lowers millage

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners last week lowered the 2006-07 millage rate from 1.9, which they set last month, to 1.8.

"I have looked at our revenue sources and needs and I feel that we can go to 1.8 mils," Chairman Rich Bohnenberger said. ‘I would like to go further than that, but I realize that we probably won’t have the property appreciation rate for next year that we have enjoyed for several years here."

Mayor Carol Whitmore said she wanted assurance that various projects, such as traffic calming, canal dredging and installing more trolley shelters, would not be affected by a millage change.

City Treasurer Rick Ashley said lowering the millage would require him to trim $156,000 from the proposed budget.

"I think I can probably come up with most of the difference," Ashley said. "I would not anticipate cutting projects to do that."

The consensus among commissioners was to lower the millage.

Bohnenberger asked commissioners if they want to put $7,500 in the budget for a consolidation study, as requested by Commissioner David Zaccagnino. He pointed out that Bradenton Beach commissioners did not allocate any money for a study and that Anna Maria commissioners allocated money only for a study of consolidation of services.

Commissioners agreed not to put money for a study in the budget at the present time, but agreed that the budget could be amended later to add that line item if needed.

Bohnenberger said commissioners also must decide whether to accept requests from outside agencies that were filed late. Those included the Anna Maria Elementary School PTO for $1,500, Mote Marine for $3,000 and the AMI Chamber of Commerce for $3,000.

Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens asked how Ashley notifies the agencies to send in their requests. Ashley said he sends letters the first week of May and the requests are due the third week of June.

Commissioners agreed not to fund the late requests.

Red tide arrives on Island beaches

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Red tide arrived at Anna Maria Island last week on a northward journey that began several weeks ago in southwest Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in St. Petersburg reported medium to high concentrations along shore from Anna Maria Island to Captiva Pass in Lee County last week.

Beachgoers were coughing at a skimboard contest in Bradenton Beach on Saturday, while a lifeguard at Coquina Beach wore a respirator to minimize exposure over the long workday.

Maggie Hemp, visiting from New York, said the skin on her legs skin felt like pins and needles after wading in the Gulf.

The Sarasota County Health Department blames skin irritation on an algae that red tide feeds on, not the red tide itself. Trichodesmium can cause rashes, according to the department, while Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for red tide, causes respiratory irritation.

Fish kills have been reported on both Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island, where cleanup has already begun. Fishermen in Cortez reported last week that fish have been schooling just ahead of the red tide bloom, which is moving steadily north.

Other animals are affected, too.

Ragged sea hares, or sea slugs, are washing up dead on the Island, as are sea birds.

Danielle Stanek, a veterinarian with FWRI reported that dead gulls, skimmers and terns found at the northern tip of Anna Maria are being tested for red tide effects. While the birds were found before the red tide reached Anna Maria Island, they could have consumed affected fish that migrated north from the bloom in southwest Florida, or they could have flown south to feed, she said.

"We’re doing full necropsies to rule out other causes of death," she said, adding that fungal and bacterial infections could also be culprits. Both are common in crowded nesting areas, where juvenile birds with immature immune systems are most affected.

As of Friday, no sea turtles had been reported killed by the red tide, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said.

In fact, hatchlings were released that night, she said, adding that they are expected to make it through the red tide to clean water before they begin eating. Turtles that eat fish affected by red tide are at risk for poisoning.

"They will be out of the red tide before we can say ‘lickety split,’ " she said.

Mote Marine Laboratory reported two dead turtles on Friday, but the cause of death had not yet been determined.

Just as the red tide reached its shores, Mote announced a new public/private partnership with the University of South Florida to examine coastal issues, primarily red tide.

The Mote/USF Center of Excellence in Marine Science will combine the resources of the USF College of Marine Science and Mote to enhance programs at both institutions, according to Dr. Ernie Estevez, Director of Mote’s Center for Coastal Ecology, and Mote’s liaison for the center.

The partners seek to raise $5 million each to endow the center, with the potential of another $10 million in matching grants.

Its first project, BioSense, will coordinate new and existing technologies to monitor ocean physics and chemistry and measure biological and ecological conditions.

Volunteers to be security checked at school

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – About a dozen moms, some with infants and children not old enough to attend school yet, showed up for the Anna Maria Elementary School PTO volunteers signup breakfast last Friday.

This year’s turnout was somewhat disappointing, but those who came were willing to sign up for the various projects that the PTO sponsors.

This year, there is a change that will mean more paperwork for the volunteers, but it will keep the school grounds more secure. The Manatee County School Board, following up an edict from the state, is installing a new procedure that will prevent those who don’t belong on campus from getting into the classroom area.

The volunteers will have to fill out a form with pertinent information and will undergo a police check and their names will be compared with the state’s sexual predator list, according to Principal Kathy Hayes. The volunteers will also have to give three references when they sign up and they will have to sign a volunteer agreement with the school.

"This doesn’t feel good to me," said counselor Cindi Harrison, "but it is for the protection of your children."

Despite the reality of the security situation, there was a lot of enthusiasm in the auditorium as Hayes, Harrison and PTO President Shannon Dell talked about the role of volunteers at the school.

"Each year, we log more than 3,000 volunteer hours, which is why we have won the county’s Golden School Award," Harrison said. "You need twice as many volunteer hours as students to win it and with just over 300 students enrolled, we would only need 600 hours so you can see we are way over the minimum."

Harrison said this year, parents are being asked to keep a log of the hours they volunteer. She said in the past, the staff has estimated the number of hours and she feels that if they try to keep a more accurate count, the number might be much higher than 3,000.

The PTO projects that need volunteer help included:

• Art to Remember, a fund-raiser that starts in September;
• The Book Fair in the spring, which was described as working in a book store for a week;
• Collecting Campbell’s Soup cans to redeem for money;
• The Fall Festival, which is held around Halloween;
• A 5-K run, which is a new venture this year;
• Sales of holiday gift wrap next month;
• Getting hand prints for the tiles in the hallways;
• The kindergarten welcome for new parents that is held the first week of school;
• Sales of memorial bricks for the walkway from the peace garden to the oak hammock;
• Parents on Patrol to assist resource officer Pete Lannon in getting kids to and from school safely;
• Monthly PTO dinners that are served before each class play;
• The school store, which sells supplies each Tuesday morning and might be expanded to operate Wednesdays, if enough volunteers sign up;
• The yearbook, which media specialist Lynn McDonough oversees;
• The Spring Fling, a dinner and auction that is the PTO’s largest fund raiser.

Parents who still want to help can call Dell at 794-5050 or the school office at 708-5525.


Pier project ahead of schedule

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The Historic Bridge Street Pier project is ahead of schedule. The restaurant and bait shop structures have been taken down as has the decking and substructures that went under them. One incident last week may have helped hasten things.

According to pier team member and Police Chief Sam Speciale, when crews from Wood Dock and Marine of Cortez cut into a stringer with a gas-powered chainsaw, the whole substructure gave way. There were no injuries, but the brand new gas-powered chainsaw fell into the water.

A stringer is a board that spans the pilings together. It provides stability to the pier, but there are a number of them. The fact that one would carry that much support could be seen as an indicator that the pier was in bad shape and needed refurbishment, according to pier team members.

The rest of the pier, from the eating area out, is still intact. After they put in the new wood pilings, the crews will install a new substructure and decking in preparation for the construction of a new restaurant and a new boardwalk south of it to direct anglers and pier walkers around the outdoor eating area.

The pier restaurant was closed two years ago after the roof was damaged by hurricanes that passed through the area. The city first sought to repair or replace the restaurant, but an engineer inspected the structure and said it was unsafe. After that, the city closed the pier to everyone and started planning a complete refurbishment. In addition, the city added plans for a floating dock for an eventual water taxi from the mainland, a harbormaster’s office for a future mooring field south of the pier and a day dock for people to use when visiting the pier, the restaurant and Bridge Street.

Rotten Ralph’s, of Anna Maria, has been selected as the franchisee for the new restaurant. The whole project is expected to be finished by next summer.


Gulf slime mystery solved

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

It wasn’t "The Blob" or "The Monster From the Black Lagoon," but it was a mystery that had science fiction elements.

Manatee County shut down access to the water at the public beaches overnight Tuesday, but reopened access late Wednesday morning following a scare about what was in the Gulf waters.

The culprit was a cyanobacteria called trichodesmium, which provides red tide algae known as Karenia brevis, with much needed nitrogen. The whole event was an hors d’oeuvres for the red tide as it returned to our waters.

According to Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore, swimmers called police late Tuesday to complain that there was something in the Gulf waters that was slimy and making their skin burn. There were also reports that there was a purple discoloration in the water.

"I went to the beach as soon as I got the call from the police and met with Police Chief Jay Romine," she said.

"We called (Manatee County Administrator) Ernie Padgett and asked for (Environmental Lands Management Director) Charlie Hunsicker’s home phone number."

Hunsicker arrived and called the county environmental management department to have them take samples of the water to test.

"We were told it was some kind of a spill," she said. "They had the county Haz Mat (hazardous materials) squad out there and Waste Management sent trucks in case there was a need for cleanup."

The county decided to deny swimmers access to the Gulf until they could figure out what was causing the problem.

Mote Marine was called and Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, a red tide specialist, took samples at Coquina Beach the next morning. Sarasota Health Department and the Manatee County Environmental Department also took samples.

The cause was later diagnosed as a mixture of the trichodesmium, red tide and sea slugs known as ragged sea hares. The sea hares were washing up to shore as Dr. Kirkpatrick took samples Wednesday morning, and they appear to have been the cause of the purple discoloration in the sea, according to Mote scientist Dr. Richard Pierce.

"The sea slugs produce a purple dye when they are disturbed," he said.

As for the stinging sensation, Dr. Pierce does not know exactly what the cause was.

"Our samples had a large concentration of trichodesmium and red tide," he said. "Red tide has been known to cause some skin discomfort when people go into the water during heavy concentrations."

Jay Moyles, chief of Manatee County Marine Rescue , said he was bracing for a negative reaction for closing the waters to swimmers, but he feels it is better to safe than sorry.

"I would rather we err on the side of caution," he said. "Our duty is to keep the public safe, and I don’t want anybody hurt on my watch."


Cortez museum gets historic marker

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – History is in the making at the Florida Maritime Museum.

The official historic marker has arrived at the new museum complex, detailing the history of the 1912 Cortez Schoolhouse and the 1890 Bratton Store, also known as the Burton store and the 1890s waterfront store.

But while the sign says the store was moved to the museum complex in 2006, the newly-completed foundation for the store sits empty, and the store sits at the other end of the Cortez historic village tangled in red tape – or in this case, wires.

It’s going to cost thousands more than expected to move utility lines along the route mapped out for the store’s relocation, museum coordinator Roger Allen told the board of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) last week.

But he’s working on the problem, he said, and remains confident that the long-awaited move will happen before the sign becomes, well, history.

The sign tells the story of the two historic buildings.

The 1890 Bratton Store
In the 1890s, William C. Bratton built the first commercial building at Hunter’s Point, the original name of the area eventually to be called Cortez. The building served as post office, general store and steamboat wharf, and connected the village’s fishing families with the outside world. In 1900, rooms were added, creating an inn which became known as the Albion Inn. Expanded over time, the inn, along with the Cortez Schoolhouse, served as refuge for the displaced residents of the small village during the destructive 1921 hurricane. In 1974, the inn closed and the property was sold to the U.S. Coast Guard. Community effort spearheaded by the Cortez Village Historical Society and the Organized Fishermen of Florida saved the store from demolition in 1991. It was moved in 2006.

The 1912 schoolhouse
The Cortez Rural Graded Schoolhouse was constructed in 1912 as one of six schools built in Manatee County that year. It replaced an older, one-room wooden structure that still stands in the village. Originally three classrooms, in 1933, under a Federal Works Progress Administration program, the middle classroom was extended into an auditorium with stage, forming a T-shaped floor plan. It was used as a school until 1961, when it was leased to an art school. It was ultimately sold to Robert Sailors, a master weaver, who made the building his home and studio. In 1999, Manatee County purchased the property and carefully restored the building. In 2006, it was reopened as a museum and community center. The Cortez Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Cortez Historic District.


Board approves sign ordinance, then says ‘wait a minute...’

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA —If you think pass/fail is reserved for school grades, think again.

Commissioners approved on second reading an ordinance amending the city’s sign regulations, then later changed their minds and rescinded the approval.

After the approval, Don Schroder, of ReMax Gulfstream, said, "I’m asking you to be thoughtful and reconsider your positions on some of these things."

In the initial discussion, Commissioner Linda Cramer said she thought commissioners wanted to allow attachments, such as riders or tubes, if the total size of the sign did not exceed 4 square feet. City Planner Alan Garrett said the consensus was only to allow a single surface.

Cramer also asked if pole signs could be treated as a temporary signs.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said he is in favor of allowing pole signs and of allowing riders or tubes attached to signs if they are within the 4 square feet.

"We’re reopening discussion on what we already decided," Vice Mayor John Quam said.

"These houses are selling for over a million dollars apiece. If anybody is looking for a house for sale, they’re going to see whatever size the sign is, and they’re going to call and ask," Commissioner Duke Miller emphasized.

The ordinance also limits for sale and for rent signs to one per residential property.

"What if a house is for sale and is rented by a different company?" Schroder asked. "You need two signs. You’re limiting them in their ability to get income from their properties and also to sell the property.

"We’ve had inventory for two years and you’re making it more difficult for these people to sell their houses," he pointed out. "You’re being overly restrictive in a very, very tight market."

The ordinance changes the number of days election signs would be allowed in residential yards from 45 to 30, but there is no limit on the number of signs allowed during that 30-day period.

Mayor SueLynn said the change would create a code enforcement nightmare for the city to take down all the election signs that are currently on display.

Commissioner Duke Miller suggested leaving the number at 45 for the current election then changing it to 30 for next year’s election.

Quam said commissioners could accomplish that by changing the effective date of the ordinance to Dec. 1 and the others agreed.

Garrett pointed out one problem is that during that 30-day period, a resident could install 10 for sale signs in his/her yard.

"You have a countless number of elections going on at one time," Mike Connolly, the city’s special legal counsel for the sign code issue, explained. "If you say we’re only going to allow one or two political signs, then you are at risk of someone feeling that his or her ability to express his/her first amendment right is being infringed upon."

The ordinance was approved with Cramer and Woodland dissenting.

Following a break about 9:30 p.m., Commissioner Chris Tollette said that she wanted to reconsider her vote. She said she had concerns about the limitation of one for sale or for rent sign per residential property and the ban on attachments to real estate signs.

Tollette made the motion to reconsider the ordinance, and commissioners approved the motion with Miller and Quam dissenting.

"This is where Roberts Rules of Order and the Sunshine law collide," City Attorney Jim Dye remarked.

Dye said because people left the public hearing without knowing that the commission would revisit the issue, they must be given a chance to comment. He said the ordinance must be given another public hearing and it must be advertised.

Commissioner set Oct. 19 for the public hearing.


"Write a letter to the editor about a story."


<< Go back to Index August 30


AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper