Vol 7 No. 8 - November 15, 2006


Bob Sweat: Recount won�t yield answer

Pollution disputed as red tide link

Boil the water - or don�t

Christmas Walk kicks off the holidays

Mold found in city hall

Red tide readings mild on Island

County says no to Kingfish annexation

Twenty years of Island patrols




Bob Sweat: Recount won�t yield answer

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – In light of a tense situation in Sarasota following this month’s elections, the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections is only too happy to have avoided the electronic voting machine.

Bob Sweat was the feature speaker at the weekly Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island meeting at Café on the Beach Saturday morning and he spoke about the controversy in Sarasota County that will result in a recount and investigation by state officials. The controversy centers on the race for U.S. Congressional Seat 13 between Vern Buchanan and Christine Jennings. Buchanan beat Jennings by 373 votes, but there were reports that more than 18,000 voters in Sarasota County did not vote for either candidate, casting doubt about the reliability of the electronic voting machines used there.

Manatee County uses the AccuVote 2000 system, where voters fill out a ballot by hand and feed it into a scanner. The ballots are saved for 22 months after an election, according to Sweat, in case there is cause for a recount.

"We’ve got a paper trail," he said. "That’s the bottom line."

As for Sarasota County, Sweat said without paper ballots, "They can’t prove right and they can’t prove wrong."

Sweat said once a voter in Sarasota casts a vote on an electronic machine, it is recorded and then the actual act of voting is erased. He said a recount would only identify votes that were recorded into the system, but if the system did not record some of the votes, they would not appear.

"I don’t know what happened in Sarasota County," he said, "but I know one thing, the news media can’t figure out what’s inside a voter’s head."

Sweat said he has been praised for choosing the AccuVote system, but he can’t take credit.
"When we pondered getting a new system, we formed a committee of 35 people that looked and looked," he said. "A lot of people said to go with an electronic system, but we took a survey of voters and they said they wanted three things – ease of use, security and a paper trial – so we went with the AccuVote."

Sweat said the congressional district involves four counties, including Manatee, and his office will have to deal with federal officials overseeing the recount. But he added that Manatee County has the actual ballots the voters filled out and Sarasota doesn’t.

Sweat said 105,560 people voted in the election this year, which amounts to 50.56 percent of all the registered voters. When asked about the expense of the AccuVote, he said that it costs about $4,800 per machine plus $100,000 for a software contract. He said the machines Sarasota County uses cost about $2,000 more per machine.

When asked about absentee ballots, Sweat said "just short of 17,000" Manatee County voters voted that way, but "a whole bunch more" did so in Sarasota County.

"They had a ballot issue in Sarasota County that asked if they wanted to go to a system that left a paper trail and voters approved it," he said. "More voters there used absentee ballots because that way, they left a paper trail."

Pollution disputed as red tide link

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

PALMETTO – A leading red tide researcher has thrown cold water on the hot question of whether red tide is caused by the nutrients in pollution runoff.

Plain – and anything but simple – the answer is "no," according to Dr. Cindy Heil, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

Heil addressed about 50 scientists on Thursday at the 2006 Florida West Coast Artificial Reef Workshop in Palmetto, sponsored by the Florida Sea Grant program.

Red tide is believed to form far offshore, out of the reach of pollution runoff from land, she said in her presentation on Tide Ecology and Coastal Nutrient Issues.

And particularly since red tide has been reported along the Gulf coast since the early 1500s, before humans created pollution runoff, it’s unlikely that there’s a connection, she added.

With fish kills documented from 1844, shellfish poisoning documented from 1880 and respiratory irritation documented since 1916, red tide in the Gulf is a natural phenomenon that is always present at some level, and is here to stay, she said.

The bigger question is whether nutrients in pollution runoff sustain red tide after it has bloomed, environmentalists say, citing the 13.5-month red tide in 2005-06 as evidence that red tide increases as the population, and pollution, increases.

"Nutrient pollution is not Miracle-Gro for red tide," Heil said, adding that the worst local red tide on record lasted more than 21 months in 1994-96.

Florida has a large amount of the nutrient phosphorus in its soil that naturally runs off into the Gulf, she said, adding that nutrients from decomposed plants, which turn river water brown, also are plentiful in runoff.

Additionally, while the dispersal of 534 million gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point phosphate plant in 2003 is linked to the increase of three harmful algae species, Florida’s red tide - Karenia brevis - was not one of them, she said.

Heil also disputed a new study in Gulf waters from Anna Maria Island to Sanibel Island showing that 15 times more red tide bloomed in the years 1994-2002 than in the years 1954-63. Researcher Dr. Larry Brand of the University of Miami also found the red tide was 14 times more concentrated, and pointed to increases in man-made nutrients such as lawn and farm fertilizer, although the study did not extend to nutrient experiments.

During the 1950s, huge quantities of copper sulfate were tested in the Gulf, killing red tide blooms, which accounts for much lower levels of red tide during those years, throwing off the study results, Heil said. Copper sulfate proved environmentally unsound.

"It’s been studied for 50 years," Heil said. "If there was an easy answer, it would have been found by now."

But while red tide kills fish, dolphins, manatees and seabirds and makes people sick from shellfish poisoning and inhaling the toxin, the good news is that it has never killed a human being, like one species of harmful algae in the Northeast, she said.

Boil the water - or don�t

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — When the boil water precaution was in effect last week, some Island residents mistakenly got the word that they could again use water directly from the tap.

"There was a glitch in our reverse 911 notification system," said John Zimmerman, water division manager for Manatee County. "There were two projects going on — one on the Island and one at Traveler’s Oasis out on State Road 64 by the Interstate. It was that second project that got the all clear, but the notification system called people on the Island."

Zimmerman said there was never any danger to anyone. The boil water order was just a precaution and there was no contamination.

"There are new regulations, and whenever you take a system down, you issue a boil water advisory in case anything gets into the system while it’s down," he said. "You run a test in 24 hours to check for contamination."

Zimmerman said the tests came back clean.

"But obviously there are some problems in the notification system," he said. "Some people weren’t notified that the system would be shut down and then that there would be a boil water notice, and some people got repetitive calls. Some people got the all-clear phone call that shouldn’t have. As soon as we discovered what was going on, we started addressing the problem."

The actual boil water advisory was lifted 24 hours after the erroneous calls.

Anna Maria resident Joan Burke was one of the people who got an early call. In fact she got four of them.

"I had four calls from them saying it was OK to use the water again," Burke said. "I called my daughter in Holmes Beach, and she called the police department, because she hadn’t gotten the all clear call. She discovered it was a mistake that I got the call.

"It was disturbing when I went to Publix the next day and saw the signs about boiling the water still up," Burke said.

"Hopefully, we’ll be able to find out what went wrong with the notification system and fix it," Zimmerman remarked.

He said the system was shut down so that valves could be installed which will enable the Manatee County Water Department to isolate and close down smaller parts of the system when problems arise.

"Instead of shutting off the water in most of the Island, we can now just shut down small neighborhoods and fix whatever’s wrong," he said.

Christmas Walk kicks off the holidays

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – With the taste of turkey still on your mind, get into the holiday season with the Second Annual Anna Maria Christmas Walk on Friday, Nov. 24, from 5-8 p.m. in the city of Anna Maria.

Anna Maria takes on the persona of Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra 1946 movie "It’s a Wonderful Life," minus the snow, as you walk from shop to shop and take in the sights and sounds.

Christmas, Anna Maria style, includes a Christmas tree lighting at the Anna Maria Island Historical Society along with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who will be checking that list twice.

The talented Suki Janisch will play her flute at the old I.G.A. A Pine Avenue Salon will feature live music and most of the stores in Anna Maria will be open for shopping and some holiday cheer.

Some of the participating businesses are Dips Ice Cream, Beach Bum Billy’s, Ginny & Jane E’s at the Old IGA, Silvia’s Flower Corner, Sandy Rich’s Real Coffee and Realty, The White Egret, Pine Street Grocery, The Anna Maria Island Sun and Duncan Real Estate. Also open that evening will be An Island Place Realty, Betsy Hills Realty, Chapae’s, Medical Equipment ACT and Sato Realty.

Anna Maria is the first of the three cities to celebrate the Christmas holidays. Enjoy the charm and character of the Island’s northernmost city by joining in the Christmas Walk with friends and neighbors and get an early start to your holiday shopping.

Who knows, you might run into George and Mary Bailey enjoying the Island’s version of "a wonderful life."



Mold found in city hall

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - Indoor air quality testing has revealed that city hall has mold contamination as a result of two serious leaks that occurred while the city hall was getting a new roof in August.

"Significant mold contamination was found in the two-by-four trusses above the ceiling tile in the commission chamber, in the room air of the work area and in the west wall of the locker room and phone closet," a report from Environmental Safety Consultants, Inc. said.

That company performed the testing on Oct. 20.

Mold growths were noted in the trusses, joists and plywood roof in the attic above the commission chambers and in four ceiling tiles there.

It was also present in the south plaster wall of the workroom area in the clerk’s office. The carpet in the administrative assistant’s office showed problems, as did the bathroom and locker room in the sheriff’s suite.

One ceiling tile in the break room appeared to be contaminated.

Two attic areas showed problems – one at the west end of the north side and the other in the north east corner of the building.

In the letter to the city, Scott A. Russell, president of Environmental Safety Consultants said his company found larger populations of mold inside the building than there were outside.

Molds found were mostly penicillium/aspergillus.

Russell recommended that the mold be cleaned out by a contractor experienced at that kind of work and a repeat test be performed to confirm that no significant mold remains.

At the October city commission meeting, commissioners refused to sign off on a settlement with the roofing company’s insurance company to cover damages.

Mayor SueLynn recommended that the city accept a $10,486 check as a settlement from Roof USA, the company that did the roof work at city hall.

Commissioners informed the mayor that they were concerned about mold contamination at some future date. The testing for mold was already scheduled for the day after that commission meeting and it was the report of that testing that revealed the presence of mold.

There was serious flooding on August 6 and again on August 8.

Red tide readings mild on Island

Red tide was detected again last week at the north end of Anna Maria Island at a concentration of 3 on a scale of 7, with 7 being the highest. Slightly higher concentrations were found at the Palma Sola Causeway, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

Water samples collected last week detected red tide alongshore between southern Pinellas and southern Collier counties. Fish kills and respiratory irritation remain possible.

Medium concentrations were found at New Pass in Sarasota County, in Boca Ciega Bay in Pinellas County and in Gasparilla Pass in Charlotte County.


County says no to Kingfish annexation

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

BRADENTON — Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann told members of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway group last week that her board turned down an offer by Holmes Beach officials to voluntarily annex Kingfish ramp.

"We got a letter (about the annexation offer) from your incoming mayor," von Hahmann said. "On Tuesday, the board said they would be more than happy to work with Holmes Beach on any issues, but we will not entertain voluntarily annexing that."

The ramp area has been under scrutiny since the county announced plans early in the year to cut down Brazilian peppers, increase parking and add a permanent restroom facility. When Holmes Beach officials and Westbay Cove residents opposed the plans, the county and the city had the area surveyed and both found that it was under the county’s jurisdiction.

Westbay Cove residents met with Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino, County Commission Chairman Joe McClash and other county officials to work on a compromise. McClash said the county would not make any parking improvements west of the Island Rotary Club welcome sign. County officials were also amenable to a suggestion from Westbay Cove residents to install a sidewalk and native plants between the Rotary sign and the condos and leave the picnic area intact.

Other plans that were discussed include removing the Brazilian peppers to the west, moving the permanent restroom location closer to the ramp, relocating landscaped islands, defining the ingress and egress, eliminating parking on the south side right of way by using bollards and ropes to block it off and installing signs to direct overflow boat traffic to the Coquina Beach ramps.

Holmes Beach Mayor-elect Rich Bohnenberger said Monday that the city had not received any formal word that the county had rejected the city’s offer to annex the land. He said he would not comment until he received official notice.



Twenty years of Island patrols

ByTom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – He got his start in law enforcement with the Bradenton Beach Police Department and rose to the top. As he looks back on 20 years, Police Chief Sam Speciale remembers some wild times.

"I remember when we had the Beach Lounge (now an empty lot) and the Purple Porpoise (now the Sports Lounge) on Bridge Street and the days and weekends were busy," he said, referring to when the commercial fishing boats were in port. "You had some of the guys from the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ – Murph, Bugsy and Billie Tyne – and the Renegades (a motorcycle gang) at the bars and I was a skinny little cop who weighed about 125 pounds."

Speciale said the fishermen would drink and get into fights, sometimes wrecking the bar, and when the police arrived, the bar owner said he wouldn’t press charges if they paid for the damage. He said they would pull out large wads of cash and pay for the damage and then pile out onto the street where the police would round them up and drive them back to their boats.

"It was never really as crazy as everyone thought, but it was fun," he said. "The fisherman respected us and we respected them."

There was a time of turmoil in the department early in his career. He said at one time, Mayor Dick Connick reluctantly made a city garbage truck driver the police chief.

"He told me that cops are a dime a dozen, but a good garbage truck driver is hard to find," he said.

"One year, I made officer of the year because I was the only one on the force who had been there a full year," he said. "I’m the only officer here whose oath of office was signed by Connick."

That was then, and Speciale said things are different now.

"I think the biggest change I have seen is the increase in the value of property," he said. "I remember when a condo near the beach sold for $55,000 and now it’s worth $1.5 million.

“Bradenton Beach is no longer a sleepy little tourist town, it’s a major tourist stop."

Things are different in the department as well, and he said that training is essential to make sure his officers stay on top.

Sam moved to Florida from Chicago with his parents, who bought into a pizza restaurant on the Island. He said he had always wanted to be a policeman and he got his break when there was an incident at the restaurant.

"The cops were investigating and I told them about my dream to be a policeman," he said. "One of them told me, ‘Why don’t you start with us?’"

He joined as a volunteer, went to the police academy and landed a full-time job. It has been a great career for him.

"Not many people can say they have a blast at work," he said. "I have a great group of men working on the force and I look forward to coming to work every day."


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