Vol. 8 No. 36 - May 28, 2008


Visitors flock to beaches
A third person drowns off Longboat Key; lifeguards on the Island rescue several swimmers caught in rip currents
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Thousands of people enjoyed Anna Maria Island’s white sands and
blue skies over the Memorial Day weekend. SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

Memorial Day weekend drew thousands of people to the beaches over the weekend and there were some problems with rip tides on Sunday, but it got quieter on Monday.

Lifeguards at Manatee County Beach and Coquina Beach reported a number of distress calls Sunday from swimmers who got caught in the swift offshore currents.

In Longboat Key, the currents took the life of a third person Sunday within a week of an incident that killed two people.

Gilbert Castelo, 62, of Longboat Key and Pine Brook, N.J., was spotted floating face down around 5 p.m. about 50 feet from shore, according to a Longboat Key Police report. The drowning happened in the 3400 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, the same address as the incident five days earlier in which John Larry, 48, of Grand Island, N.Y., and Christopher Gugliussa, 51, of Tonawanda, N.Y., drowned.

Lifeguards said Monday that the rip currents were gone and there were no calls for help from anybody caught in one.

A woman was injured Sunday in the Gulf off Gladiolus and North Shore when she wrecked her personal watercraft. According to EMT Pete McKelvey , the unidentified victim, who suffered head lacerations, could not talk, but gave a thumbs up when asked how she was doing. Later, she said she did not know what happened. She said she woke up on the beach. She was airlifted to Bayfront Hospital.

There was an incident Sunday that demonstrated how dry it is, despite recent rains.

Lifeguard Captain Joe Westermann said that the fire department was called to Coquina Beach to extinguish a fire in some sea oats located between guard tower two and three. He said the fire burned a patch approximately 30- by 15-yards.

According to witnesses, the fire started when a piece of burning newspaper that somebody was using to start a grill blew out of the grill and into the sea oats. The fire spread quickly. There were no injuries and despite producing a large cloud of smoke, the fire was extinguished quickly. Lifeguard Collin Schmidt said heavy traffic delayed fire trucks headed for the fire.

County to oppose pipeline plan

Manatee County commissioners plan to protest a natural gas pipeline slated to pass through the underwater area off Anna Maria where the county mines beach renourishment sand.

Houston-based Port Dolphin Energy LLC plans to build the floating Port Dolphin 28 miles offshore, where liquefied natural gas would be converted to gas in tankers and piped ashore to Port Manatee.

The county’s primary objection is the pipeline location, Commissioner Jane von Hahmann said, adding that the commission has decided to file a letter opposing the plan by the June 2 public comment deadline.

Regulators could require a buffer zone of up to 3,000 feet on either side of the submerged portion of the pipeline, which would prevent a dredge from reaching much of the sand.

Charlie Hunsicker, who oversees the county’s beach renourishment program, sounded the alarm earlier this month that the project could jeopardize beach renourishment and, ultimately, tourism on the Island, citing the anticipated cost of finding similar quality sand elsewhere at up to $50 million over the next four decades.

The county’s letter also will address commissioners’ support of an alternative proposed by Gulfstream Natural Gas System, von Hahmann said.

Gulfstream, which operates an open access pipeline extending underwater from Mobile Bay, Ala. to Port Manatee, prefers that Port Dolphin connect to its pipeline offshore rather than building a 42-mile long pipeline to Port Manatee and connecting onshore.

Bringing a second pipeline onshore at Port Manatee in Gulfstream’s 25-foot-wide easement, part of which is in a drainage ditch, poses safety concerns because construction and maintenance work in the ditch could create a spark and cause a gas fire, von Hahmann said.

Another concern is the environmental impact of the pipeline on the sea floor, she said.

While Gulfstream involved the county and the public early in its permitting process, Port Dolphin officials’ first contact with the county was last week, when they requested a meeting, she said.

Commissioners also decided to send letters to the Legislative delegation in Tallahassee and the Congressional delegation in Washington D.C. requesting support.

Upon learning of the project, state Sen. Mike Bennett and state Rep. Bill Galvano told The Sun that they would begin investigating; Bennett said he would look into alternate routes for the pipeline, and Galvano said he would consider organizing a town hall meeting about the project.

A staffer for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said he was reviewing the proposal.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, both of whom have opposed natural gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, did not return telephone calls.

More than a dozen federal, state and local regulatory agencies and the governor must approve the project before it materializes.

Public comments invited before June 2

Comments on the proposed Port Dolphin project should be sent to the Federal Docket Management Facility before June 2 by one of the following methods:
• Mail or delivery to the Federal Docket Management Facility, Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590
• Phone: 202-366-9329
• Fax: 202-493-2251
• E-mail from Web site: www.regulations.gov. Enter USCG–2007–28532 in the "search" field, then click on "send a comment or submission."

Submissions should include name, address and docket number USCG–2007–28532.

Faxed or hand-delivered submissions must be unbound, no larger than 81⁄2 by 11 inches and suitable for copying and electronic scanning.

All submissions will be posted without changes at www.regulations.gov and will include all personal information provided.

Causeway project approved

BRADENTON – Manatee County commissioners last week agreed to a request to allow completion of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway landscape project before reassessing the controversial bollards.

The Palma Sola Scenic Highway Entity made the request after receiving criticism that the bollards used to define the parking areas create safety issues and limit water access.

Deputy Director of Transportation Harry Mendenhall reported that he assessed the situation with members of the Entity and the city of Bradenton, which holds the contract for the improvements.

"At this point we have consensus with our staff to proceed with the project as you see it," Mendenhall said. "The contractor is about 90-95 percent done. The city needs to spend the money by the end of June.

"Give it 90 days or six months to see how things work out. At that point, if there’s still some desire to make some adjustments, they can be done."

He said they noted areas for additional watercraft launching on the south side and areas where bollards could be moved.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore introduced photos that she took over the weekend showing vehicles and trailers parked parallel to the road due to the bollards.

"I’m worried about safety," she said. "No one has a problem with the landscaping; it’s just the bollards."

Commissioner Joe McClash also had issues with the bollards and pointed out, "I disagree with not removing some bollards especially on the southeast side because there’s no real way to park a trailer to unload a Jet Ski.

"I can’t support the plan in front of me. I’d hate to have someone get hurt before we start making adjustments. You’re eliminating public access to the water, which is totally contrary to what this project is about."

Commissioner Ron Getman said he would support the project "so we don’t lose the landscaping, but I do have concerns about the traffic situation. I believe it’s something we can address.

"Once we get it completed, we’ll know the full impact of what is creating the problem. I think it could be rectified fairly easily. What’s there is now not reasonable. It looks nice but it’s functionally inefficient."

Commissioners Donna Hayes said Amy Stein said the Causeway looks very attractive and they support the project.

Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, a member of the Entity, said the group was trying to find a balance between boaters and beachgoers, and it would work with McClash to find more watercraft launching areas.

DOT briefs officials on bridge issues

HOLMES BEACH – Audrey Clarke, of the Florida Department of Transportation, briefed elected officials on the Anna Maria Island Bridge rehabilitation project and invited them to attend a public meeting set for June 5.

"Everyone in this room will have a table and each agency will have a chance to explain to all of us their preliminary plans, concerns and efforts for the closure," Clarke explained.

"Emergency management will probably have more information than all of us. After each agency explains their preliminary plans, residents will have a chance to stand up and ask questions."

She said DOT has also invited local distributors, such Sysco and Gold Coast Eagle, that deliver to the islands and Waste Management. She asked officials to provide a brief summary of their efforts so the DOT can send a follow-up to those who can’t attend.

Other bridge issues

Officials told Clarke about several local projects that could be affected including the installation of a gas pipeline on Cortez Road, a water main replacement at Crosspointe Fellowship in Anna Maria, the installation of a new underwater power line between Key Royale and Anna Maria and a water main replacement between New Pass Bridge and Bay Isles on Longboat Key. She said she is keeping a list of projects.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce reported that the southbound turn lane at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road would be lengthened 800 feet. Greg Wilson, DOT project administrator, said work is planned for July and August.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner John Chappie said the city currently is getting easements for curbing and sidewalks for that project. He also reported that delineators would be installed along the northbound turn lane onto Cortez Road.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked about the unplanned bridge closures that have occurred recently. Wilson said they were caused by problems with the temporary hydraulics, a power outage and problems with the span locks.

"Quinn is good about responding," Wilson said. "We’re working through the bugs."

Summer tourism Florida friendly

With Memorial Day marking the unofficial start of summer, short-term visitors from Florida are replacing long-term visitors from the north on Anna Maria Island.

"We’re getting people coming in and calling for the weekends," said Mary Ann Brockman, of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

"Florida is our biggest market overall," with 40 percent of visitors arriving from within the state, said David Teitelbaum, a Manatee County Tourist Development Council member and operator of the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort, 1325 Gulf Drive N. and Tradewinds Resort, 1603 Gulf Drive N., both in Bradenton Beach.

Europeans also begin arriving in the summer, he said, ready to shop with currency that buys more than it does at home.

"They take longer vacations than we do, and find our accommodations are larger and they can stay and be comfortable for weeks at a time," he said.

Floridians will remain the most frequent visitors in the summer, especially now that gas prices are so high, Brockman predicted.

"Anytime you can get someplace on a tank of gas, it’s good," she said, adding that once visitors arrive, the free trolley saves them money.

Chris Small, from Kansas, sent a letter to the Chamber saying that she and her husband saved $500 to $600 during their weeklong honeymoon on the Island by using the trolley instead of renting a car, she said.

Rising gas prices caused sales and rentals of scooters to increase at Island Scooter Rentals, 1301 Gulf Drive N. in Bradenton Beach, according to Victoria Sweeney.

April business was a bit down from a year ago, possibly because visitors began leaving after an early Easter, she said, but "March was the best we’ve had in 10 years."

"It has not been a good season," said Amy Arnell at Paradise Café and Catering on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach, with business declining since Easter. "It’s not the numbers we’d like to see."

The early Easter had a minor effect on the season, said Barbara Rodocker, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and manager of BridgeWalk, 100 Bridge St. and Silver Surf Gulf Beach Resort, 1301 Gulf Drive N., both in Bradenton Beach, where business was "pretty close to what we expected," she said.

"February and March were good and April was not bad," she said, adding that the Sun House restaurant, entering its fifth year in business, also did well.

"Summer will be as good as last year," she predicted. "We still have to deal with the overall economy, but people are relaxing."

April was "spectacular," with the Tortuga Inn 90 percent full and the Tradewinds 75 percent full, Teitelbaum said.

April sales were 15 percent higher than this time last year at Irene’s Resort West, 5308 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach, owner Nanette Almeter said, adding that May business is running ahead of last year, too.

"Traffic is normal for this time of year. It’s started to dwindle down some," she said.

After a record month in February followed by a near-record March, "Our job isn’t through," Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Larry White told the Manatee County Commission last month.

According to CVB statistics, Anna Maria Island hotel occupancy reached 64 percent in April, up from 61.8 percent in April 2007 and a three-year high, but substantially lower than March’s 88.9 percent. In the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key, April occupancy was slightly higher at 66.7 percent, down from 69.1 percent last April and considerably down from March’s 89.4 percent.

Anna Maria Island room rates for March averaged $177.93 per night, down from $178.30 last April, and significantly down from $191.86 in March. Rates on Longboat Key averaged $202.42 per night, down from $209.19 last April and considerably down from $223.26 per night in March.

Memorial Day celebration draws crowd
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Stephen and Michael Kruse, of Chicago,
pet an alligator at the reptile display.

Bridge Street was packed last Sunday for the Memorial Day Festival. Tents lined the street and the smell of good food was in the air.

Members of the Bridge Street Merchants Association were elated at the turnout, estimated to be more than 2,000.

Proceeds were to go toward Island shooting victim Sue Normand’s recovery fund. There was no figure of how much was raised by press time.

Blues Pig provided the live music from the stage next to the Bridge Street Pier parking lot.

City Commissioner John Chappie taunted passersby from the seat of the dunk tank much of the morning trying to get people to take a chance.

It was a great start to what will likely be an annual event on Bridge Street.

Business owners shun parking meter idea
Community and business leaders try to solve their age-old problem of where to put all the cars.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT BeachHouse restaurant owner Ed Chiles leads
a discussion among business owners about the parking problem in
the business district and how to finance solutions. Most owners preferred
trying other solutions before installing parking meters.

BRADENTON BEACH – The answer to the city’s parking problems in its commercial district lies in finding places for employees to park out of the district, according to business owners who attended a meeting on Wednesday, May 14.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale led the meeting of business leaders to review suggestions to end the shortage of parking spaces on and around Bridge Street, which has been the subject of a series of meetings and seminars over the past few years.

Speciale said that he called the meeting to let the business owners give their opinion on what the best solution would be and give that information to the city. He said the time for talk is past and he wants to start putting an end to the problem.

He also pointed out that while the city currently allows parking in the rights of way on the sides of the streets in the business district, it will take away that privilege as soon as the state requires the city to build more swales to filter stormwater. Those swales would be built where that parking now occurs.

After Speciale laid out the history of the parking plight, BeachHouse owner Ed Chiles asked him to leave while he led the business people through their options and had them vote on their favorite.

"When we decided to invest $1.9 million in purchasing the BeachHouse (known as the Harbor House at that time), I went to then mayor Katie Pierola," he said.

"She told me that she knew there were barriers to running a business in Bradenton Beach, but she was going to knock those barriers down. It was that kind of attitude that made me decide to invest that kind of money here."

Weighing options

They felt that the first thing the city should try to do is utilize existing parking spaces at Cortez Beach, giving the employees permits to put in their cars and putting up signs banning anyone without a permit from parking there.

Chiles said one key to getting employees to use those lots would be how they would be shuttled to and from their cars.

"We currently have our employees use the Cortez Beach lot and my employees give each other rides to and from the lot," he said. "However, I like the idea that came up a few months ago to use an electric cart that would run alongside the road.

“It would work for employees and shoppers and it would keep them off the road and out of the traffic jams we have during season."

Chiles suggested using the Community Redevelopment Agency funds that are set aside under law to purchase the carts, since they pertain to the betterment of the commercial district.

They also discussed having the city look for places to build parking lots and to utilize land near the northernmost boat launch ramp at Coquina Beach Bayside for an employee parking lot with shuttles to get them there and back.

The option they least liked was parking meters, which would force people to move their cars after a couple of hours and prevent beachgoers and employees from parking in those spots all day.

Jake Spooner, who operates Bridge Street Bazaar and the Fish Hole Mini Golf Course, said he did not think parking meters would keep people from parking on the street all day, as long as they could feed money into the meters during the day.

"Do we want to try the other fixes and revisit the parking meters later?" Chiles asked.

He asked for a show of hands and the audience preferred the other suggestions over the meters.

Speciale said he would inform the city commissioners of the recommendations at a future meeting.

FWC weighs in on pipeline proposal
State agency says pipeline company should consider alternatives that would be less damaging to sea life.

Port Dolphin’s plan to build a floating natural gas port and pipeline 28 miles off Anna Maria Island poses several environmental problems, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The port would host tankers that convert liquefied natural gas to vaporized gas and transport it through a 42-mile-long pipeline to a Gulfstream Natural Gas System pipeline onshore at Port Manatee.

In a May 22 letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the FWC warns that the proposed pipeline and two seawater cooling and warming systems could interfere with horseshoe crab spawning and harm fish, corals and seagrass.

"We are concerned that measures to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife resources have not yet been fully explored," wrote the FWC’s Mary Ann Poole in the letter, which will be included with DEP’s formal comments to the U.S. Coast Guard, one of several agencies with regulatory authority over the project.

"The (statement) does not provide mitigation or monitoring plans for impacts to biological resources," the letter charges.

Problems for horseshoe crabs

To mitigate its effect on the environment, Port Dolphin should consider connecting its pipeline to the Gulfstream pipeline offshore, not onshore as proposed, according to the FWC, which requests that Port Dolphin resolve interconnection issues with Gulfstream and report the resolution to the Coast Guard.

The underwater pipeline could impact horseshoe crab spawning because it will not be possible to bury it in the hard bottom along some stretches of the 42-mile route, and it could block crabs from reaching shallow water and sandy beaches to mate, Poole wrote. Horseshoe crab numbers have been declining for several years, according to the FWC, which tracks spawning habits of the species.

In addition, unburied pipeline is typically covered with concrete "mattresses," which can move during storms and destroy animal and plants species that live on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, the letter states, adding, "We recommend that the applicant investigate alternate routes around significant hardbottom communities."

Discharge could affect fish larvae

Another potential problem is that Port Dolphin’s seawater intake and discharge systems would change Gulf water temperature around the port, which could affect the fishery, according to Lisa Gregg, the FWC’s project leader reviewing the Port Dolphin proposal.

One system would cool the engines with Gulf water and discharge it as hot water. The other would use Gulf water to warm the liquefied natural gas from its temperature of minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to regasify it, producing a cold water discharge.

Concerned about a round-the-clock impact of hot and cold water discharge into Gulf waters surrounding Port Dolphin, the FWC requested details on the amount of seawater intake and discharge in the systems. It also asked that Port Dolphin only use tankers using a closed loop system for regasification, and address its reasons for not using tankers with a closed loop system for engine cooling.

While the water intake velocity of the systems is not strong enough to suck in sea turtle hatchlings or fish, it would suck in and destroy fish and crab larvae, Gregg said.

In a memo from the FWC to the Coast Guard, she wrote that the data used in the Coast Guard’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate to assess the impact of the seawater systems on larvae and plankton.

"We don’t know if the area is a larval transport area," she said, because animal samples were not taken at all, and fish samples were not taken from enough different water depths in areas close enough to the proposed port to be relevant. Samples also were not taken during enough months of the year to provide a complete picture of the larvae population in the area, she said.

Other concerns

The FWC letter also lists other concerns, including a potential loss of fishing grounds due to safety zones required around the port and the destruction of corals, seagrasses and bottom-dwelling organisms resulting from digging up the sea floor to bury the pipeline and anchor the port’s dual buoy system.

A preliminary letter from the DEP to the Coast Guard dated May 20 echoes the FWC’s concerns and requests more information on Port Dolphin’s plan to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Public comments on the Coast Guard’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be accepted until June 2.

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