Vol. 8 No. 34 - May 14, 2008


Concerns escalate over pipline plan
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


Objections are beginning to surface to a proposed submersible floating natural gas port off Anna Maria Island that one elected official remarked has been running silent and under the radar.

Several federal and state permit applications already are in the pipeline for the Port Dolphin Energy Liquefied Natural Gas Deepwater Port, which would be built 28 miles west of Anna Maria Island in 100 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

The "port" would consist of two submersible mooring buoys about three miles apart, where tankers would convert their cargoes of liquid natural gas into vaporized natural gas. The system is designed to allow two vessels to be moored simultaneously with the objective of continuously offloading natural gas, according to project particulars published in the Federal Register.

Once vaporized, the gas would be pumped into a proposed 42-mile-long pipeline that would come ashore at Port Manatee, where it would continue over land for about 4 miles to the Gulfstream Natural Gas System and Tampa Electric Co., which would deliver it exclusively to Florida consumers.

Port Dolphin would not be visible from shore, according to Houston-based Port Dolphin Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Oslo, Norway-based Hoegh LNG.

But its impact could be felt for miles around and for years to come.

The Sun first reported on the proposed port on Aug. 1, 2007, but details of its potential effects on water and air quality, marine life, commercial and recreational fishing, navigation and other concerns were released just weeks ago in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Maritime Administration, the initial permitting authorities for the pipeline portion of the project (see related story).

Project threatens beach renourishment

"This could end the beach renourishment program," said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Department, which oversees the county’s beach renourishment program. "Port Dolphin affects it with irreparable harm. I don’t see how Manatee County can have a viable beach renourishment project into the future."

Hunsicker made the comments about the Port Dolphin plan at a public hearing May 6 on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement at the Manatee Convention Center – ironically, he said, in the Anna Maria room.

He spoke shortly after the engineering firm that coordinates the county’s beach renourishment program discovered that the planned pipeline plows through the sand excavation area used by the county and Longboat Key.

"Manatee County was aware of the project, but reviewers were focused on onshore activities," he said, adding that they had no reason to know that the underwater pipeline would be laid through the fine, white sand used to renourish the beaches until Coastal Planning and Engineering unearthed the plan.

Manatee County’s seven miles of beaches and Longboat Key’s 12 miles are considered critically eroded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Coastal Planning marine geologist Beau Suthard told the panel.

He added that their need for sand, along with Pinellas County’s beaches to the north, has resulted in increased competition for dwindling resources.

Since the U.S. Dept. of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service could require up to a 1,000 meter (approximately 3,000 feet) buffer on either side of the pipeline, the county could be prevented from mining there and lose 40 years worth of sand, he said.

Searching for equivalent sand in what would likely be deeper water would require switching from a shallow water cutterhead dredging technology to the more expensive hopper dredging technology, he said.

The cost increase is estimated between $38-53 million over the next 40 years, or around $1 million per year. The estimated total cost increase for Longboat Key is $4 million.

The county’s beach renourishment program is funded through the tourist tax, but that is barely enough to keep up with current needs, much less an increased cost, Hunsicker said.

As a result, finding a new sand source may require taxing Anna Maria Island residents, he said. Longboat Key residents already are taxed because their technology is more expensive since their source is farther away from their location.

Longboat Key town commissioners met on May 5 and sent Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa to the hearing to express their concern about the impact on sand resources.

"It’s not our intent to kill the project, but to find a route that would avoid impacting taxpayer dollars," he said.

"Our path crosses only one sand borrow area and takes up less than 1 percent of that area," responded German Castro, Project Development Manager for Port Dolphin in Tampa. "The impact is negligible."

Gulfstream objects

The proposed pipeline route is also problematic for the Gulfstream Natural Gas System, which operates an open access interstate transmission pipeline that extends underwater from Mobile Bay, Ala. to Port Manatee, then over land to Palm Beach County.

The company cannot prevent other companies like Port Dolphin from using its pipeline, Gulfstream spokesman Christopher Stockton said, comparing the pipeline to a railroad track used by various railroad lines.

Port Dolphin’s pipeline would be a non-open access"pipeline for its exclusive use.

While economic competition may be a factor, Gulfstream says it objects to both the proposed Port Dolphin pipeline route, which comes within 25 feet of Gulfstream’s onshore pipeline, and Port Dolphin’s proposal to connect with Gulfstream’s onshore pipeline for other reasons.

"They’re proposing to tap our line, but we would like them to tap it in a particular place offshore instead of on land because of safety and environmental issues," Stockton said.

During construction of the Port Dolphin pipeline, an accident 25 feet from the Gulfstream pipeline, which has natural gas flowing through it, could be disastrous, he said.

"As the source of 35 percent of the state’s natural gas pipeline capacity, Gulfstream is critically concerned with the safety to its system which could be compromised by the Port Dolphin proposal," Gulfstream’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration on April 21.

"Gulfstream opposes and protests the proposal to allow its narrow right-of-way in the Port Manatee area to be used for the unneeded construction and operation of the proposed Port Dolphin pipeline. And Gulfstream will not agree to the point of interconnection selected by Port Dolphin."

Port Dolphin responded in a May 6 letter to the Maritime Administration that its "proposed onshore route, which crosses and briefly parallels Gulfstream’s main line within Port Manatee property, is consistent with commission policy and precedent. The commission prefers routes in which two or more pipelines are co-located and often share rights-of-way, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement follows this well-settled policy. Gulfstream’s suggested interconnection with Port Dolphin under the Gulf of Mexico is not in the public interest.

“The offshore interconnection would eliminate all possible onshore interconnections, including the planned interconnection with TECO/Peoples Gas, the interconnection with Gulfstream, and a possible interconnection with Florida Gas Transmission Co. in Manatee County," Port Dolphin’s lawyers wrote.

Manatee County’s engineering firm has recommended that Port Dolphin build its pipeline within the existing Gulfstream pipeline corridor to avoid the route taking the pipeline through the county’s beach sand mining area, an option opposed by Gulfstream.

"A second alternative would consist of tapping into the Gulfstream pipeline well offshore, thus eliminating the need to traverse potential State of Florida sand resources with a new pipeline," Coastal Planning wrote, the plan which Gulfstream prefers.

Elected officials mobilizing

Elected officials began to mobilize after the May 6 public hearing, which none attended.

"They have been extremely low key with this, under the radar," said state Sen. Mike Bennett, adding that he would begin investigating alternate routes for the pipeline to keep the cost down for the beach renourishment program. "There’s always another alternative. It’s who’s going to pay the expense."

"The idea doesn’t seem conducive to our county. It’s so close to the tip of the Island," said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who added that she intends to contact the county’s state and federal legislative delegations.

"We definitely have some concerns," agreed Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who notified the county’s environmental department. "There are several issues we are going to raise."

Law adjusts ‘highest and best use’ rule

A new state law passed to help property owners who are taxed on the potential value of their property instead of on its actual use is getting mixed reviews.

The law, unanimously approved by the Legislature earlier this month, places restrictions on how property appraisers apply the "highest and best use" criterion in determining property values, one of eight criteria they must consider under Florida law.

Under the new rule, property appraisers will be required to take into account the legally permissible use of the property, including whether new zoning designations, building permits or infrastructure would be necessary before the property could be put to its highest and best use, said Rep. Bill Galvano, who had filed an earlier bill that did not pass.

Property appraisers will have to ask questions such as, "Will they have to put in traffic signals or widen the streets to build a condo?" he said.

Appraisers also will have to consider land use regulations, historic preservation ordinances, building moratoriums and judicial limitations on properties.

"I think it will have a very positive impact on how the properties on the Island will be appraised," Galvano said. "For many people, the current use is their dream. What’s killing them is they’re getting taxed on someone else’s dream."

"We’re very pleased with the new law," said Don Schroder, president of the Anna Maria Island-based Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART).

The group has charged that the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office has placed too much emphasis on the highest and best use criterion, artificially raising the value of properties to what they would be worth if they were redeveloped, rather than what they are. Members have lobbied for legislation to substitute the income criterion for the highest and best use criterion in placing values on non-homesteaded property.

The new law gives more weight to the income criterion, Schroder said, adding that it will particularly benefit properties on Anna Maria Island that are prohibited by city ordinance from being redeveloped as condominiums.

It also requires the Florida Department of Revenue to develop a manual of standard procedures for the value adjustment board and provides that two citizen members who own property in the county be appointed to the board, which he predicts will improve the appeals process.

Schroder would have liked to have seen a retroactive provision in the law, he added.

"If they don’t go back to the time when values were normal, it doesn’t help us that much," said Sabine Musil-Buehler, of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach, who has raised her rates as much as she thinks the market will bear. "They raised us 145 percent over three years. The taxes make it very difficult for us to stay in operation."

"Anything will help," said Ken Gerry, of White Sands Beach Resort and Tropical Breeze, both in Holmes Beach, where he has hiked room rates 20 percent over the last five years to match increasing tax bills.

The property value of White Sands, a 14-unit motel, increased 13 percent from 2006 to 2008, while the value of Tropical Breeze, a seven-unit motel, increased 21 percent from 2005 to 2007, said Gerry, who is appealing the property appraiser’s 2006 and 2007 valuations.

The law also requires property appraisers in Florida to consider these criteria when determining value:

• The present cash value of the property, which is the amount a willing purchaser would pay a willing seller
• The location of the property;
• The size of the property;
• The cost of said property and the present replacement value of any improvements;
• The condition of the property;
• The income from the property and
• The net proceeds of the sale of the property.

"I didn’t see anything in the bill that would significantly change the way we do things," said Bill Kersey, director of appraisal services for the Manatee County Property Appraiser. "We pretty much follow this criterion anyway."

The bill will become effective upon Gov. Charlie Crist’s approval.

Key OK for Pine Ave. site plan

ANNA MARIA – The site plans for the first two buildings in the Pine Avenue restoration project have been unanimously approved by the planning and zoning board.

"This shows how the citizens and elected officials can work together to arrive at an outcome that is beneficial to everyone," said Michael Coleman, who originally conceived of the project, which is envisioned to ultimately contain small offices or retail businesses on the ground floor with residences on the second.

Plans are for the Pine Avenue restoration project to ultimately tie the street together from the city pier on the bay all the way to the Gulf.

"We were able to work through every issue prior to the presentation to the P&Z board," Coleman said. "Everyone’s concerns were met."

The board met on May 6 and approved the site plans for 315 and 317 Pine Avenue.

Under the provisions of the city’s new site plan ordinance, the P&Z board makes the final decision on site plans where no variances are requested. That’s the case with this first Pine Avenue restoration project.

"We’re ready to move forward with permitting now," Coleman said.

He said plans for a ground breaking for the two structures should happen by the end of the summer.

Coleman said he and partners Ed Chiles and Ted LaRoche would build two structures on those two lots , rather than postpone plans and drawings while the city commission decides whether or not to allow a single structure to be built on a double lot.

Coleman stated that his dream for the project grew out of what elected officials, business owners and citizens told him they wanted for the street in the residential/office/retail district.

"Everyone envisions a street of small, mixed use structures, and that’s what we’re working on," Coleman said.

The project’s design consists of Gulf coast cracker style buildings with porches and rocking chairs outside the ground floor businesses and wide porches outside the second floor residential units.

"Everyone was watching to see what the Gagne building renovation would look like," Coleman said. "Once they saw that, everyone liked it." Gagne Construction now occupies a newly remodeled building at 214 Pine Ave. "We’re looking forward to getting our first two structures done so people can see that they’ll like what we’re proposing, too."

Coleman also said that he and his partners closed recently on another Pine Avenue property. The group now owns 401 Pine Ave., their first property on the north side of the street. He said they haven’t decided if they will sell or lease the spaces.

"We’ll let the market dictate that," he said.

Troubled drainage project to be simplified
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Filter boxes used in the North Shore/Gladiolus drainage project, which
were designed to filter pollutants out of the water, have rusted badly.

ANNA MARIA — An ambitious drainage project funded jointly by the city and Southwest Florida Water Management District will be drastically cut back and simplified.

Complaints arose about the planned $764,000 project, which was slated to begin several months ago.

Several citizens, Jim Conoly, Richard DeFrank and Tom Turner raised concerns about the project several weeks ago.

"This is too big for us," Turner said. "We just need swales. They will hold the water and then it will percolate down through the soil and get clean that way."

The original project, designed by Tom Wilcox, of HDR Engineering, had stormwater being moved from one drainage basin to another with the ultimate intent being to prevent polluted water from draining into the canals and the bay, as well as to control flooding.

"It’s always more difficult to get permits for a project that moves water from one drainage basin to another," Mayor Fran Barford said. "I think that project would have ultimately been permitted, but it would have been a long process."

Barford said she, Commissioner Dale Woodland, Finance Director Diane Percycoe, Public Works Director George McKay, Wilcox and a flood engineer from his firm all met with Southwest Florida Water Management District officials last week and decided a simpler plan would be the way for the city to go.

"We, as owners of the project sat around the table with others and looked at the options," Barford said. "What was on the table was a first class flood management project, but it required extensive modeling for both pre- and post-storm events. It would have been permitted eventually, but we think we can get a good project utilizing nature’s swales and alleys in the city with minimal infrastructure."

Barford said she held an internal meeting with Woodland, Percycoe, McKay and Wilcox, and they made the decision to go ahead with the simpler project.

"It will be less in terms of construction, and less in terms of design," she said.

Barford said that it was too early in the process to determine exactly what the simplified project would cost.

Several problems arose as a result of the permitting delays, among them the withdrawal of Adkins, the original contractor on the Phase I project. He submitted a request that the city reimburse him for all his preparation work.

According to the mayor, Adkins hasn’t yet submitted a bill showing specific costs.

"That’s not as problematic as it sounds," she said. "We own all the work he did so far, and we will be using that in the project."

Barford said Adkins had done work to locate the underground utilities, which have not been previously mapped. The county’s maps for water and sewer are outdated and inaccurate. Officials learned that on the earlier North Shore/Gladiolus drainage project.

Conoly, DeFrank and Turner also raised concerns about some of the hardware in that project, specifically, the filter boxes, which are designed to filter pollutants out of the water and have rusted badly. Woodland said the boxes were made for use in fresh water, not salt water, and that the contractor had ordered the wrong ones.

Fiske code hearing continued
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

questions Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon
at a code board hearing on the Fiske property last week.

ANNA MARIA — Whether or not there are code violations on the Fiske property at 840 South Bay Boulevard is a question that won’t be answered until next month.

The city says that Jack and Evelyn Fiske have expanded commercial operations on the property in recent years. Chuck Webb, the attorney for the Fiskes, counters that the property is "grandfathered" as a marina, which has operated on the property for decades — preceding by many years the zoning of that neighborhood as residential.

"There has been a marina operating on that property for many years," Webb told the board. "John Adams will testify that he built one of the docks with his father in 1946 before he went into the service."

The property was zoned commercial in the 1970s. When zoning is imposed on an area, any properties that are being used in ways that don’t conform to the new zoning become legal non-conformities, or grandfathered property.

The code enforcement board hearing got under way May 5 with more than an hour of arguments on whether or not the property owners had been properly served with notice. The city sent several regular and registered letters. The registered mail was not picked up.

The city finally posted a notice at what they said was the entrance to the Fiske property.

Webb disputed that the posting was ever there. He said he hadn’t seen it nor had his client.

He also stated that the photo the city provided showing the posting showed that the notice was not on his client’s property, but on the neighboring Galati property.

The board voted unanimously that they believed that proper notice had been served, and the case began.

The city claims there is a long history of expansion of the non-conformity. Under code, a property that is legally non-conforming cannot expand that use without losing the grandfathering.

Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon testified that she has received numerous complaints about expansion of businesses on the property. She showed classified advertising that offered sailing lessons and sailboat rentals and photos of racks of what she said were kayaks. She told the board that numerous cars are regularly parked on the property.

Webb questioned Rathvon closely on each item she had mentioned in her testimony.

After board member Shirley O’Day became ill and left at about 10:24 p.m., the board voted to continue the hearing until Wednesday, June 11 at 7 p.m. at Anna Maria City Hall.

Commission elections in all three Island cities

Come November, Island voters will decide whether to return some of their elected officials to office or to select new representatives.

In at least two instances, commissioners are leaving office.

Commissioner Duke Miller of Anna Maria announced earlier this year that he is not seeking reelection.

"After three terms, I’m ready to step down," Miller said.

He announced early to allow time for others to decide to run.

Mayor Fran Barford said she’s definitely going to run again.

"I feel that I want to do at least one more term," she said. "There’s a lot I can still contribute and accomplish, and I want to see the projects through that are in the works."

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said she hasn’t made up her mind yet if she’s going to run.

In Bradenton Beach, Commissioner John Chappie, whose term is up this year, is making a run to represent the Island on the county commission. That leaves the Ward IV seat open. Chappie is seeking the seat of incumbent of Jane von Hahmann.

"I have all my signatures on my petition, and the papers are all ready," Chappie said. "I’m looking forward to a positive and interesting campaign."

Von Hahmann, who is the current commission chair, could not be reached for comment.

The Ward II seat of Commissioner Bob Connors is also up for election this year. Connors also couldn’t be reached for comment.

In Holmes Beach, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger says he’s running for a second term.

Incumbent Commissioner and Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens will seek reelection, and Commissioner John Monetti said he has not discussed it with his wife, but he’s inclined to run again.

Two West Manatee Fire Commission seats will be open in the fall election, those of Jack Emery and Jesse Davis. According to Fire Chief Andy Price, Emery will not run again, but Davis will run. Randy Cooper, a civic engineer and former volunteer firefighter, has announced his will run for a seat on the commission.

Candidates wishing to run for election can pick up packets in their respective cities or at the office of the supervisor of elections. Packets for county commission are available online.

The papers must be turned in between noon Monday, June 16, and noon Monday, June 20. The papers must be turned in before candidates open their bank accounts.

Three awarded Historical Society scholarships
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND From left, Bradley Stemm, Kaci Kennedy
and Billy Krokroskia received $1,000 scholarships.

Members of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society awarded $1,000 college scholarships to three Island students Friday.

Students are Bradley Stemm, the son of Bill and Ursula Stemm; Kaci Kennedy, the daughter of Joe and Charlene Kennedy; and Billy Krokroskia, the son of Bill and Julie Krokroskia. All are from Holmes Beach.

Bradley is a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program at Southeast High School. He is a member of the science club and has been awarded numerous academic awards

He plans to major in physics at the University of Central Florida and then further his studies in astrophysics.

Kaci is a senior at Manatee High School, where she is in the Advanced Placement Program. She has been very active local and state Key Club activities.

She plans to major in international business at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg,Va.

Billy Krokroskia attends Edison Academic Center, where he is a founder if the school’s Key Club and a member of the jazz band.

He plans to major in philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Palma Sola Bay property preserved

Manatee County commissioners unanimously jumped at the chance on Tuesday to buy 35 acres of undeveloped land on Palma Sola Bay for preservation for $150,000.

Property owner Dorothy Ungarelli, of Sarasota, worked with her financial advisor, Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino, on the plan to sell the land as a memorial to her late husband, Joseph Ungarelli.

The purchase price for the environmentally sensitive property near the 4100 block of Palma Sola Boulevard is roughly half of the property’s appraised value for taxes, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office.

With nearby development plans on Palma Sola Boulevard for 140 condominiums and more than 1,100 homes proposed on Manatee Fruit Company property on Palma Sola Bay in Cortez, "It would be a shame to not have this 25 acres of natural filtration set aside," said Zaccagnino, referring to the wetlands portion of the property. "As a public servant you rarely get a chance like this."

The purchase money is available from a fund to restore the Neal Preserve, which was enhanced by a $600,000 grant for environmental restoration from the Southwest Florida Water Management District earlier this year, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Department.

The commission also agreed to the Ungarelli family’s request to build a bench, signs, a small shell parking lot and shell trails subject to grant and permitting requirements, estimated to cost another $20,000. The county also plans to seek grants to restore the property with native vegetation.

"Conservation of this property will protect the developed areas nearby during a hurricane," said Mary Sheppard, a conservation chairperson with the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club. "The location of mangroves near homes means there will be lots of opportunities for the public to enjoy the habitat there."

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Executive Director Mark Alderson encouraged commissioners to make the purchase for environmental and economic reasons, saying, "The bay and the beaches are part of our economic engine in the region."

The acquisition is a bright spot during a gloomy time when budget cuts have forced commissioners to reduce or refuse funding for many desirable purchases and services.

"People say you shouldn’t be spending money at this time," Commissioner Joe McClash said, calling the purchase an investment in the future.

"It is a good value for this community," he said.

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