The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 8 No. 38 - June 11, 2008


Island Bridge countdown begins

In 110 days the Anna Maria Island Bridge will close to traffic for up to 45 days for major repairs and the impact on Island life will be profound. Here’s how local agencies are beginning their preparations.

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD A barge carries workers close to the
Anna Maria Island Bridge pilings Monday afternoon.

HOLMES BEACH – When Quinn Construction closes the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Sept. 29, life on the Island will change as people cope with the loss of a link to the mainland for up to 45 days.

Agencies on and off the Island have been planning for that closure, as the contractor rehabilitates the bridge’s moveable bascule, and they told a crowd of about 40 people at a pre-closure meeting last Thursday at St. Bernard Catholic Church that they’re ready.

Officials expect traffic tie-ups at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, which will be the Island’s sole direct access to the mainland. The only other access would be to and from Longboat Key on the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said that they are telling people to leave early and plan on spending extra time on the road when they have to get to the mainland.

"We’re planning on having staggered hours for our staff so they aren’t all using the bridge at the same time," she said.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens said they are depending on their police to keep traffic moving on the Island. Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson had some advice for people.

"Be patient," he said. "We’re going to move you as best we can."

Some people at the meeting felt that the massive gridlock in Bradenton because of traffic being detoured off I-75 due to a truck accident and explosion that closed an overpass was an omen of things to come during the Island bridge closure. Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce recommended leaving our cars at home.

"The bus system has routes to and from the Island where people can connect with the free Island trolleys," he said. "If you have to drive, you should think about carpooling."

West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price said they would move more firefighting vehicles to the Island during the closure. He also spoke of his personnel.

"All of our employees live off the Island," he said. "We’re going to make our shift changes at earlier hours."

Mark Edenfield, of the Manatee County Department of Safety’s Emergency Medical Service, said they would make sure the Island was well staffed.

"We’re going to place a second response unit at the fire station," he said. "When one unit is busy, the second one will be ready and we’ll also ready a third unit to come out if that second one gets called."

Edenfield said they would make sure emergency cases get evacuated by air. He said they have as many as eight helicopters available in Manatee County.

One person said that she had friends who recommended renting motor scooters to get around the traffic jams. Lt. Stephenson had a warning, however.

"If you think you can go around cars or use the sidewalk with a motor scooter, you’re wrong," he said. "I wouldn’t recommend renting these scooters because you’ll still get stuck in the same jams as the cars."

Congress members oppose pipeline route

With the support of 14 members of Congress, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan has written the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to oppose Port Dolphin’s planned natural gas pipeline route off Anna Maria Island.

The agency is reviewing the proposed floating port, where tankers would convert liquefied natural gas to vapor 28 miles off the Island, then send it by pipeline to Port Manatee.

The June 4 letter urges the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Maritime Administration to reject Port Dolphin’s proposed pipeline location, which would cross the underwater sand source used for Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key’s beach renourishment program, making it - and four other potential sand mining areas - off limits.

"Beach related tourism is the mainstay of the region’s economy," Buchanan wrote. "Erosion of the white sand beaches because of inaccessibility of compatible sand deposits would compromise public safety and severely depress the economy, reducing employment and tax revenues."

Expressing support for Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Longboat Key and Manatee, Sarasota and Pinellas counties, Buchanan and the Congressional contingent recommended considering safe and viable alternative routes. The move comes especially in light of a $35 million investment already made in the sand source, and an estimated $55 million cost to find sand elsewhere.

The members of Congress who signed Buchanan’s letter are Gus Bilirakis, Ginny Brown-Waite, Kathy Castor, Ander Crenshaw, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Alcee Hastings, Connie Mack, Jeff Miller, Adam Putnam, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Cliff Sterns, Dave Weldon and Bill Young.

Buchanan also wrote Port Dolphin to encourage a dialogue about four alternate pipeline routes suggested by Manatee County’s engineering firm, Coastal Planning and Engineering.

Port Dolphin is "currently working to identify feasible technical solutions to meet Longboat Key and Manatee County concerns," according to a comment filed with the Coast Guard on June 2 by one of the company’s attorneys, J. Michel Marcoux. "To that end, Port Dolphin met with Longboat Key on May 27, 2008 and is working to schedule a meeting with Manatee County officials in the near future. These meetings are intended to facilitate open dialogue among the parties to better understand and address their concerns."

Other elected officials weigh in

State Rep. Bill Galvano sent a letter to Port Dolphin on June 6 in support of Buchanan’s letter.

"Anna Maria Island is known for its pristine beaches which contribute to a vibrant community and tourist-driven economy," Galvano wrote. "That is why we are vigilant against potential projects that will ultimately put the Island in economic and environmental peril."

State Sen. Mike Bennett said he is discussing alternate pipeline routes with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which he calls "very cooperative."

"I don’t object to the pipeline, I object to the route of the pipeline," he said. "We want to shift it away from the sand."

DEP’s comments filed last week on the pipeline include a recommendation that alternate routes be "thoroughly evaluated" to protect beach quality sand reserves.

"Protection of beach sand sources is a high priority, especially in light of increased hurricane activity and potential sea level rise," the report states. It also recommends investigating the feasibility of an offshore interconnection with the existing Gulfstream Natural Gas System pipeline.

U.S. Rep. Bill Young of Pinellas County, who signed Buchanan’s letter, is concerned about the pipeline jeopardizing Manatee County’s sand because it will place the county in competition with Pinellas County for limited sand reserves farther north, a staffer said.

Pinellas County is currently conducting a $1 million search for sand reserves, according to Pinellas County interim county administrator Fred Marquis, who filed objections to the pipeline route with the Coast Guard last week.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez did not return telephone calls.

Congressional report filed

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who signed Buchanan’s letter, also filed separate comments with the Coast Guard, including a 67-page Congressional report on liquefied natural gas.

"A natural gas spill on water would result in a widening pool of liquefied gas spreading across the water," Castor wrote. "If ignited, the danger and environmental impacts would be catastrophic. Of particular concern is the volatile nature of natural gas, which could evaporate and cause flammable vapor clouds."

According to the report, "If liquefied natural gas spills near an ignition source, evaporating gas will burn above the gas pool. The pool fire would spread as the pool expanded away from its source and continued evaporating. A pool fire is intense, burning far more hotly and rapidly than oil or gasoline fires. It cannot be extinguished - all the liquefied natural gas must be consumed before it goes out… Many experts agree that a large pool fire, especially on water, is the most serious liquefied natural gas hazard."

The report also warns that a flammable vapor cloud can develop if liquefied natural gas spills but does not immediately ignite, and can explode if it drifts into an ignition source, burning its way back to the spill.

"Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is an odorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive liquid, and if spilled, LNG would not result in a slick. Absent an ignition source, LNG evaporates quickly and disperses, leaving no residue. There is no environmental cleanup needed for LNG spills on water," according to the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an industry trade group.

Library faces cuts in services

HOLMES BEACH – Get your nose out of that book and get down to the county’s public hearing on the budget to make your views known about library budget cuts.

That’s the word from Jolie Bell, president of the Friends of the Island Library.

"Quite a few cuts will affect the Island Branch Library and the services we can give to our patrons," Bell explained. "It will drastically affect what our patrons can do at the library."

Bell said some of the cuts would be implemented as early as July 1, while others will be implemented in October.

"In November, each branch lost two half days and now each will lose another day," Bell said. "The library will be closed on Monday. That’s one of our busiest days of the week. It’s a hard hit for the Island.

"System-wide the library is losing 13 positions. We were going to lose two people, which is 1/3 of our staff, but we got one back when the county shifted some positions."

Other library cuts include all of the adult programs and the talking books program. In addition, each branch’s budget will be reduced, limiting its staff’s ability to purchase books and supplies and provide educational materials and training.

Both Bell and Island Branch Library Supervisor Ava Ende urged library patrons to attend the Manatee County Commission’s public hearing on the budget on Wednesday, June 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. and voice their opinions. The hearing will be held in the commission chambers at the Manatee County Administrative Center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

City: Be prepared for water service interruptions
Officials are warning residents to stock up on bottled water while water pipes are replaced by the county.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Old water pipes in Anna Maria will be replaced by these
new ones that are stacked in the Crosspointe Fellowship parking lot on Gulf Drive.

ANNA MARIA — City officials passed out notices Monday warning residents and businesses to keep water on hand in case a water main replacement and repair project leads to unannounced interruptions in water service.

"The county is keeping crews nearby in case of shutoff," the city flyer said. "Bottled water should be kept on hand for backup use."

Public Works Director George McKay said that unannounced interruptions are not anticipated, but he wanted everyone to be aware that they could happen.

"It’s hard on the everyone, especially the restaurants, when you have interruptions," McKay said. "And whenever you have a project like this, you could get a shut off unexpectedly. We wanted everyone to be prepared just as a precaution."

Manatee County is in the process of replacing some of the old pipes all over the Island. The Anna Maria portion of the project is designed to run from just north of Peppertree Avenue across from Fellowship Pointe Baptist Church to Willow. It will run along the east side of Gulf Drive.

The work was to have gotten under way late last fall and was supposed to be done by the end of last year. However, according to Project Manager Bruce Simington, the project was delayed at the request of the mayor.

"She said she wanted to delay the project until after tourist season, and there was also another project going in out there at the same time," Simington said.

"We’re replacing a main water line for Anna Maria," said John Zimmerman, the county’s utility operations manager. "It’ll be a new 12-inch pipe that will increase the water pressure in the area north of the new line, which will help with the fire flow and also with the flow to homes and businesses."

Zimmerman said there would be at least one planned interruption of service and possibly two when both ends of the new pipe are tied into the existing system.

"That is usually done during the night, but that will be up to the contractor," he said. "We’ll post signs so people will know when the water will be shut off," he said.

Once the lines are connected, there will have to be a brief boil water notice for at least 24 hours until a water sample comes back clean.

Reverse 911 calls and signage will advise residents and businesses when that boil water notice is lifted.

Two new fire hydrants will be installed as well, according to McKay. Completion is set for the end of August.

Local scientists critique Port Dolphin project

Two local scientists have written to the U.S. Coast Guard with concerns about Port Dolphin after reviewing its lead environmental study.

The study on the potential environmental impact of the proposed liquefied natural gas port and pipeline is "fundamentally flawed," according to Steve LeGore, an independent consultant with LeGore Environmental Associates Inc. in Holmes Beach.

Echoing concerns of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, LeGore filed comments with the Coast Guard about its Draft Environmental Impact Statement last week, saying that the study contains insufficient hard data on marine life to accurately determine the port’s potential impacts.

"Without quantitative data you can’t have a scale of impacts, and without a scale of impacts, how do policy makers make decisions?" LeGore said. "They need to have the right information to make the right decisions."

While LeGore said he is not opposed to a liquefied natural gas port, he called the study "inconsistent" and "repetitious," and wrote that it needs to include more details, including a survey of biological species, citations to scientific literature and a strong monitoring plan.

"We need these ports," he said. "But we need to go through the process properly and the best way we can for the environment."

LeGore also questioned an apparent inconsistency in the study, which states that "Siting a project in an identified sand resource would be difficult, and likely would not be approved by Minerals Management Service." The proposed pipeline route would traverse Manatee County’s beach renourishment sand reserves.

Mote Marine Laboratory

The Port Dolphin site lies within eight miles of several important "karsts," or underwater springs and sinkholes found about 30 miles offshore, where the port would be constructed, according to James Culter, a senior scientist with Mote Marine Laboratory’s Benthic Ecology Program.

The openings to the karsts are often small, making them hard to detect, but they open into cavernous holes teeming with marine life including amberjack, grouper and sea turtles, he wrote, adding that rare whale sharks also have been sighted near the karsts.

The karsts also may contain prehistoric human remains and artifacts like similar land-based sinkholes in Sarasota County, he suggested.

Only about 20 karst sites have been identified off Florida’s west coast, with the majority clustered around Tampa Bay, and other unknown sites are likely in the area, he wrote, suggesting that Port Dolphin use sonar and SCUBA divers to search for karsts in the vicinity of the proposed port site.

Town hires law firm to fight pipe route

Longboat Key has hired a Washington D.C. law firm to research legal inadequacies of the Port Dolphin liquefied natural gas pipeline plan.

Patton Boggs LLP filed a 26-page document with the U.S. Coast Guard last week criticizing the agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as "legally inadequate under the standards of the National Environmental Policy Act, the rules of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Transportation’s regulations on siting and environmental review of facilities for which a license is sought under the Deepwater Port Act."

The DEIS failed to adequately examine alternate methods for transporting natural gas from the proposed floating port to Port Manatee, overlooked the pipeline’s impact on underwater sand resources and demonstrated inadequate consultation with local governments, according to the document.

"The town of Longboat Key does not oppose the Port Dolphin project, but we believe that a license cannot properly be issued for the port unless the project adopts an alternative to the proposed pipeline or to the proposed route for the pipeline," Mayor Hal Lenobel wrote in an accompanying letter.

Voters give high bridge the nod

The Florida Department of Transportation has compiled votes from Island residents and interested parties regarding the future of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and if they follow the vote, there will be a new high, fixed-span structure within the next 25 years.

According to the FDOT, 82 percent of the voters favor replacement of the bridge and 14 percent did not. Twenty three percent favored a total rehabilitation while 55 percent did not. The drawbridge is currently undergoing a $9.14 million rehabilitation that is expected to add at least 10 more years to its life while FDOT prepares plans and gets funding for either a total replacement or extensive rehabilitation.

Of those in favor of a bridge replacement, 66 percent prefer a high-level, fixed-span bridge; 11 percent favor a middle-level drawbridge around 45 feet high, nine percent want a lower-level drawbridge about the same height as the current structure and three percent favor another solution such as a tunnel.

The three concerns about the bridge listed the most often were hurricane or emergency evacuation, roadway traffic and access to and from the mainland.

The surveys were sent to residents on the Island and made available to other interested parties. Of the responses, 41 percent came from Holmes Beach, 19 percent came from Anna Maria, 19 percent from Bradenton, six percent from Bradenton Beach, five percent from Longboat Key and 10 percent came from elsewhere in Florida and out of state.

Of the respondents, 59 percent said they used the current bridge daily, 25 percent weekly, 14 percent use it other times and none said they never use it.

Thirty three percent said they were boaters who use the Intracoastal Waterway under the bridge and 65 percent said they were not. Thirty three percent said they never go under the bridge, one percent said they go under it daily, 15 percent weekly an 27 percent used it and unspecified number of times.

FDOT is conducting a planning, development and engineering (PD&E) study of the bridge, which will evaluate replacement options including low- and mid-level drawbridge alternatives and a high-level fixed bridge. The no-build option of continued maintenance and rehabilitation of the existing bridge is also being included as a viable alternative.

The bridge replacement options and no-build option will be presented at a public workshop scheduled tentatively for later this year. A formal public hearing will be held in 2009 to present the viable alternatives including the no-build alternative. About 180 people attended an initial public information workshop on April 3.

Pipeline proposal ignites commissioners

BRADENTON BEACH – A last-minute proposal to speed forward with a natural gas pipeline on Anna Maria Island has again surprised a city’s elected officials, who wonder why they didn’t hear about it earlier.

Two representatives of Teco People’s Gas of Tampa came to the meeting to explain the plan, but it appeared they may have to wait for the city to approve it and it may be too late for them to meet some deadlines.

The proposal is to bring natural gas to Holmes Beach through a pipeline that would cross the Intracoastal Waterway at the Anna Maria Island Bridge. The pipeline would be buried in utility easements at the side of the road and Teco expects most of their customers at first would be commercial entities such as restaurants.

The deadlines in question stem from the Anna Maria Island Bridge rehabilitation and the closure of the bridge. Teco wants to get the pipeline to the Island as soon as possible, and the company wants to bury it along the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez before a rushed project to extend the southbound left turn lane is approved. That project, which also includes some sidewalks along Gulf Drive, is being pushed through before the Sept. 29 bridge closure to handle the increased traffic using the Cortez Bridge. Company representatives said they wanted to get started by June 20, and they wanted to start at the Gulf Drive intersection with Cortez Road.

Tom Lucas, from Teco’s Sarasota office, said they were working on a franchise agreement that they hoped to have by the next city commission meeting on June 19.

"The main question I have is why?" Commissioner John Shaughnessy said.

"There are a number of customers along that route that might be served and many have indicated they are interested," Lucas said.

"What kind of construction equipment will be there, especially while the bridge is closed, and will you have the pipe delivered either to the job site or stored?" Mayor Michael Pierce asked. He was told that they were working with Manatee County on an agreement to store the pipes at Coquina Park Bayside. Vice Mayor John Chappie said they would also have to get the city’s approval.

"I don’t think you’ll make the two-week deadline," Chappie said. "I’m just surprised that we’re hearing about this now."

"Our deadline is Sept. 29," Lucas said. "When that bridge is closed, we have to stop working and we’d rather be finished."

Chappie continued to chastise the company representatives.

"You’re going to have construction all summer long in Bradenton Beach and you haven’t said boo to us before," he said. "I understand you have to make a profit, but not at our expense.

"With what little I know of the project, I would say no," Chappie added. "You need to get more information and come back next summer. It’s like you’re cramming this down our throats. You’re ready, but we’re not."

Lucas said they expect to be finished within two and a half months. He also told the commissioners there would be a franchise fee that would benefit the city.

The company officials said they would return to a future meeting. Pierce told them to bring a video showing the equipment they would use. He was concerned that heavy equipment along the side of the road would distract drivers, especially during the bridge closure.

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