Vol. 8 No. 33 - May 7, 2008


FDOT survey: Most want tall bridge

HOLMES BEACH – If the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) were to choose a replacement bridge for the 17-foot-high Anna Maria Island drawbridge, there’s a good chance it would be a lot taller.

Chris Piazza, FDOT engineer in charge of the bridge replacement project, told the meeting of Save Anna Maria (SAM) last Saturday that the majority of the respondents to their recent bridge replacement survey expressed a desire for a tall, fixed-span structure.

As of April 23, 65 percent of the respondents wanted a high bridge, 12 percent wanted a mid-level drawbridge, 9 percent wanted a low-level draw and 3 percent wanted another solution. That prompted Bill Follmer, who had written a letter to the editor recently, to consider replacing the bridge with a tunnel. Piazza said that the tunnel suggestion is on the table for consideration.

Follmer asked FDOT to not limit the people receiving notices about the bridge to Island residents. He said that whatever they do to replace the bridge site would affect the entire county.

"We only need to notify people living within 300 feet of the project," Piazza said. "Sending notices to all of the Island residents was above and beyond what is required.”

Former Bradenton Beach Mayor and SAM co-founder Katie Pierola asked if FDOT would put lights on a replacement bridge like they did the Cortez Bridge when they refurbished it. Piazza said he was unsure and would get back to her on that.

When Former Holmes Beach City Councilwoman and SAM President Billie Martini asked about plans for the Cortez Bridge, Piazza said he had not heard of any plans to replace it, although the state is always evaluating bridges for safety and design.

SAM Secretary Nancy Deal said that people voting for a high fixed-span for the Anna Maria Bridge replacement might have been unaware of a rule regarding the width of the bridge.

"How many of those people voted that way because they thought the new bridge would be four lanes wide," she asked. "They might have voted differently if they knew it would remain two lanes with shoulders."

Deal also asked if the state was considering studies showing taller bridges were closed sooner when storms are approaching. He said they would address it in their next newsletter.

SAM Treasurer Carol Soustek asked if they would include more information about the alternatives and Piazza said they would put that into their next newsletter.

Piazza said that the study of ship heights to see what percentage would fit under a 65-foot high bridge would be extended to a week after the Memorial Day weekend. If that study shows a lot of ships would have problems getting under a fixed-span, they might have to consider a taller bridge.

The meeting ended with some people gaining more questions than answers. The next mail-out news letter will be out in a few weeks.

Proposed pipeline threatens renourishment

ng offshore pipeline designed to bring liquefied natural gas from a receiving station to Port Manatee poses a threat to beach renourishments on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, county officials say.

Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Director Charlie Hunsicker and Rick Spadoni, of Coastal Planning and Engineering, were scheduled to give testimony on Tuesday, May 6, regarding the pipeline, which is being built by Port Dolphin Energy, LLC.

Hunsicker said that the pipeline would be located perilously close to the borrow pit that the county has used for numerous renourishments. It passes directly through the borrow pit that the town of Longboat Key uses.

Hunsicker said that the project threatens the county’s best source for quality renourishment sand.

"We have used it since 2002," he said. "The Army Corps of Engineers used darker sand in the 1992 project and the people of the Island did not like it, but the sand from this source is high quality."

Hunsicker said that the company mentioned the borrow pits in its environmental impact statement, but they did nothing about it.

"They did not consult with Manatee County or the state Bureau of Beaches and Shores, who issued the permits for the borrow sites to Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key," he said.

If the pipeline goes through, it will affect the county’s ability to renourish the amount of beach that it was to.

"If Manatee County is required to find a sand source outside the current borrow, it will only result in substantial additional cost to the county," he said. "It will either defer the construction start date of our next beach renourishment or force the county to delete entire sections of beach from the project."

Hunsicker said he learned of the pipeline’s planned proximity to the borrow pits a week ago.

Redesign needed in drainage project

ANNA MARIA – Problems with the design of the next citywide drainage project likely will require a significant redesign in the plans, according to city officials.

The change is necessary because state regulators have refused to grant permits for the proposal, known as Phase One, said City Commissioner Dale Woodland.

"It’s very difficult to get permitting for a project that moves water from one drainage basin to another, and that’s what the design for the Phase One project entails," Woodland said. "I think we’ll end up with a much simpler design, relying on swales within each basin to clean and percolate the water, rather than carrying it into another basin and putting it through filter boxes and Vortex separators to clean it up."

The additional engineering work will cost the city more money, but Woodland said he does not yet know what that cost will be. The commissioner has been instrumental in getting matching grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for the city’s drainage projects.

Problems with the Phase One design and with a previous project already in the ground came to light following complaints from city residents Jim Conoly, Richard DeFrank and Tom Turner. The three criticized what they said was the complexity of the Phase One design and also discovered rusting hardware in the Phase A project already in the ground.

City officials confirmed that the wrong type of filter boxes were used in Phase A.

"The hardware of those boxes is bad," Woodland said. "Apparently, DeJonge (the contractor on Phase A) was responsible for ordering the boxes. He ordered directly from the company, and got boxes that are for use in a fresh water environment. If he had gone through the distributor for this area, he would have known that for this environment, we need filter boxes that are salt water tolerant."

City Treasurer Diane Percycoe said the city has 18 of the faulty filter boxes — 14 in the ground and four new ones on the shelf that were to be used for replacements. Each box cost $700, for a total of $12,600, of which Swfwmd’s matching grant provided $6,300, with the city paying the remaining balance.

Conoly said he’s feeling easier about the situation following a meeting with Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford. He said the mayor is taking over the projects and promised "to get to the bottom of what was the chain of command and who was responsible for project engineering and overall problems."

Woodland clarified that the problems that have cropped up in the Phase A project are not related to permitting problems the city is having with Swfwmd on Phase One.

Swfwmd officials were in the city last week to discuss the problems with Barford and Woodland. Barford, Woodland, Wilcox and Public Works Director George McKay will meet with representatives from every department this week at the water district’s Sarasota headquarters.

"I think it’ll be a good chance for everyone to get on the same page," Woodland said of the upcoming meeting. "We’ll have our engineer and George there along with people from more departments at Swfwmd."

Suspects in beating arrested
Anna Maria Island Sun News StoryAnna Maria Island Sun News Story

Gambuzza                   Dresher

Two suspects in the April 16 home invasion and beating of a former Anna Maria City Commissioner were arrested at a Days Inn motel in Bradenton by a violent crimes task force on Saturday night, May 3.

Michael Gambuzza, 38, and Christopher Dresher, 29, were taken into custody and charged with home invasion with a firearm or other deadly weapon and false imprisonment of an adult. Bond was set at $175,000 for both of them.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Kenney said that he got the call as he was at the Anna Maria Elementary School Spring Fling. Kenney, who heads the sheriff’s office contingency in the city of Anna Maria, said the suspects are not talking.

"When we started questioning them, the invoked their rights and asked for an attorney," he said. "We have enough to hold them as far as evidence and we recovered some of the items stolen from the house.

The two are suspected of calling Joe Pandolph, who owns the house in the 300 block of Crescent Drive in Anna Maria and luring him east of Bradenton on the pretext of a real estate investment. They then called former commissioner Linda Cramer, who lived with Pandolph, and asked for him. When she told them he was gone, they said they would call him on his cell phone. A few minutes later, the suspects allegedly showed up in a van and knocked on the door. When the said they had a cosmetics delivery, Cramer let them in. They charged her and demanded money, gold, drugs and guns. Cramer said when she told them there was nothing like that in the house, they beat her. They then searched the house and took some items.

Cramer said the news of their arrest is good.

"I am extremely happy and relieved," she said. "The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office should be commended for their hard work. John Kenney worked extra hours on this and so did the detectives in town."

Cramer said she hopes she can put the whole incident behind her some day.

"It’s been pretty devastating," she said. "It didn’t set in until a week later."

She said that they’re unsure if the suspects knew Pandolph.

"We still have some information we have to work out," she said. "They had his cell phone number and that’s very strange."

Kramer said that while the men were beating her, one of them said that prostitutes had told them that there was gold in the house.

Kenney said that Sergeant Rick Gerken, a supervisor with the Sheriff’s Office COPS program, was instrumental in putting everything together. He said he pushed hard to get this solved for the peace of mind of Island residents.

"People are concerned that this could happen to them, but this was an incident in which the victim was targeted," he said.

Cramer said that while they were targeted, there are a lot of desperate people on drugs living out east.

"I think people should be more vigilant and be aware of what’s going on in their neighborhood," she said.

McClash wants to keep Island trolleys free
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Local officials are wondering whether they will be able to keep the
Island trolleys free despite budget cuts.

As governments tighten their belts, one question on the minds of many Island residents and business owners is: Will the trolley remain free to those who ride?

Many say the trolley is a huge benefit to the tourist industry. Others see it as a fun people-mover for those too old and too young to drive.

Bradenton Beach, where traffic congestion is monumental during season, wants to use it as a solution to the high number of cars on Gulf Drive, especially between Cortez Road and Longboat Pass.

At last week’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash suggested that the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce start the wheels rolling on a solution to keeping the trolley free to users.

Last year, Manatee County Area Transit suggested enacting a fee to ride the trolley, which businesses on the Island opposed. McClash asked Manatee County AreaTransit (MCAT) for a dollar figure to keep the trolleys free, and they came up with $50,000. The TDC agreed to pay $26,000 and each city on the Island paid $8,000.

One question is whether the cities or the TDC would be willing to do that again for the next fiscal year. McClash said he would rather the Island Chamber help them avoid that.

"Maybe they could voluntarily charge something like $1 per night per room surcharge that could go into a fund to pay for it," he said. "If you start charging a free for rides, it would slow things down as people reach into their pockets for money. I don’t think it is in the best interest of the Island to pay."

Island Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman said she would organize a meeting to work on solutions.

"I will probably invite the mayors from all three cities and Chamber board members," she said. "We’ll see what we might be able to do to keep the trolleys free.

McClash, who owns rental property on the Island, said he would be willing to collect an extra fee if it would prevent MCAT from charging.

"The bottom line is we should keep the trolley free for riders," he said. "We can’t wait until September because governments are starting to put together their budgets. They need to find a solution by June."

Arson awareness week focuses on novelty lighters
The second focus for the fire district is the Island’s unsolved arson cases.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

FEMA poster for arson awareness week compares a rubber duck and
a novelty lighter made to look like a rubber duck.

Dangerous lighters made to look like cute rubber ducks and cuddly green frogs are increasingly getting into the hands of children with disastrous consequences.

The theme of this week’s National Arson Awareness Week is "Toylike Lighters: Playing with Fire," and West Manatee Fire & Rescue District officials are working to make parents aware of this new danger.

"We want people to know that these novelty lighters are out there and to keep them out of the hands of their children," Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop said. "The lighters are becoming more commonly used by child fire-setters and you can understand why kids are attracted to them."

According to 2002 data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System, 13,900 child-playing structure fires were reported in the U.S. with 210 deaths, 1,250 injuries and $339 million in damage. Most were started with matches or lighters.

The median age of children who start reported fires by playing is 5, while the median age of victims is 4 and the median age for persons receiving non-fatal injuries is the late teens.

Lathrop said the lighters have no childproof mechanism and several states have already banned them including Maine and Tennessee. Other states considering bans are Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Vermont.

"It’s confusing to us because if we have standards in place that require things to be child resistant, why not these?" Lathrop asked. "I think it would be in the best interest of the fire service to seek a ban in the state of Florida."

Unsolved arson cases

The second focus of the fire district this week is the Island’s unsolved arson cases, Lathrop said. They include the fires that destroyed the Holmes Beach duplex apartment of Mark Pelham in May 2007 and the Waterfront restaurant in Anna Maria in March 2004.

Following the Waterfront fire, the building, which was built in 1930 as the Lorraine Cottage and known for its round fireplace, was condemned. Owners Jason and Leah Suzor rebuilt it the next year.

The duplex fire destroyed Pelham’s musical equipment, but was confined to one unit. Pelham, who was in the apartment when the fire started, got out safely with his two dogs.

The Island’s most dramatic arson fire leveled the popular Trader Jack’s restaurant and lounge in Bradenton Beach in 1987. The restaurant had closed in 1985 after owner Phil Fayette was charged with income tax evasion and Hurricane Elena damaged the building. The state of Vermont purchase the property in a foreclosure sale in 1986 and fire destroyed the building a year later.

"We refer to them as open, although we’ve exhausted all our leads," Lathrop explained. "Maybe somebody will remember something when they read this."

Lathrop said he received a tip about the Waterfront fire within the past year and an anonymous call about the Pelham fire within the past month.

"I have my suspicions, but you can’t arrest someone based on suspicion," Lathrop acknowledged. "The hard thing is that it’s easy to prove the crime of arson, but it’s difficult to prove who did it."

The other issue that could become a problem is the growing number of foreclosures, he said.

"Arson is a financially motivated crime," he explained. "People tend to turn to the crime of arson to take care of their problems. The shouldn’t resort to that because there is help."

Anyone who has information on one of the recent arson fires can call Lathrop at 741-3900.

Cortez Trailer Park sold
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Life at the Cortez Trailer Park is returning to its
peaceful pace since the owner agreed to sell the park to residents for $9.5 million.

CORTEZ – Longtime friends and neighbors got their first good night’s sleep in a long while after a contract was signed on Thursday allowing them to buy the Cortez Trailer Park from the owner.

Butch Howey agreed to sell the historic, 1930s-era park at the east end of the Cortez bridge for $9.5 million, according to Doug Morgan, co-chairman of the purchase committee for Cortez Park Homeowners Inc.

The owner is the son of Harry Howey and his wife Dottie, who ran the 79-lot park for 30 years and still live there.

"We’re preserving a way of life," the senior Howey said after learning that the park would not be sold to developers.

The price is less than the $10.8 million residents offered last year to match an offer from developer Carlos Beruff, who decided against the purchase after several weeks of protests by the close-knit community on Cortez Road.

At the height of the real estate market in 2005, the sales price was $14.75 million, out of reach of the senior citizens who live in the park.

Residents are in the process of forming a co-op, which will offer shares of the five-acre park for sale, Morgan said.

They came to boogie
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT It was a strange cast of characters Saturday
night who showed us how we looked back when Afros and disco were in style.

HOLMES BEACH – It was a smaller party, as fund-raisers go, but it was a better party, as parties go.

Between 200 and 250 people showed up last Saturday night for the Anna Maria Elementary School Spring Fling, also known as "That 70s Party."

As of press time, it was unknown how much the fundraiser netted. PTO President Joy Murphy said that it looked like they made their minimum, but they weren’t expecting as much as last year because of the economy.

During the event, Murphy tried to raise up to $10,000 in pledges, which an anonymous donor promised to match. She only raised $1,500, which the donor turned into $3,000.

On a happier note, the St. Bernard Activity Center was decked out like a disco palace and the two DJs, Dave Murphy and Chris Grumley, played a wide range of hits from that era including music with that heavy disco beat.

Murphy and co-chairs Kyra Valadie, Linda Berger and Holly Connelly put together a great program and many of those attending came dressed for the occasion.

The women wore everything from short skirts with disco boots and psychedelic colored dresses. Jodene Moneuse was the winning woman contestant in a wild pants suit outfit that somebody loaned her the morning of the party. Blair Schlossberg was the grooviest guy with a "Keep on Truckin’ T-shirt over gym shorts, a headband and wristbands. He had a moderate Afro, which many contestants wore to extremes. One fellow ended up with extraneous items stuck in his hair by people while he danced.

The evening started with the silent auction with appetizers from the Sun House, Moveable Feast, the Anna Maria City Pier, the Rod and Reel Pier, Ocean Star and the Sandbar. Side dishes were provided by Moveable Feast and St. Armands Bakery. Salads courtesy of the Sandbar were delivered to the tables by volunteers from area middle and high schools, who also handled the bussing and cleaning duties. The stone crab claws from Moore’s Stone Crab restaurant shared the spotlight with the baby back ribs from Mr. Bones Barbecue, Mahi Mahi Fairweather from the Sandbar, the tenderloin from the Waterfront restaurant, the lobster and cheese macaroni from Ezra and the grilled chicken with lemon caper butter from the Mangrove Grill.

There were lemon bars, cookies and dessert treats from Jane E’s I’ll Cook if I Want to, key lime pie from the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, brownies from Harry’s Continental Kitchens, fabulous cake from Matt and Doms, cupcakes from Tricia Hackworth and cake from Beautiful Cakes by Ron.

Of all the recent Spring Flings, the people attending this one appeared to have the most fun. From the period clothes to the unusual Afros, it was a party and when the DJ cued up "YMCA" and "I Will Survive," it was a blast from the past.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper