The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 8 No. 40 - June 25, 2008

headlines


New pipeline route proposed
Environmental concerns remain but Port Dolphin offers to reroute its pipeline around offshore sand reserves.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

GRAPHIC/PORT DOLPHIN

PORT MANATEE – Manatee County commissioners are delighted with Port Dolphin’s unexpected offer to relocate its proposed natural gas pipeline to avoid an underwater beach renourishment sand reserve.

But the commissioners, who also serve as members of the Port Authority for Port Manatee, where the pipeline would come ashore, told the natural gas shipping company that they expect even more.

"We’ve heard the community loud and clear," Port Dolphin spokesman Harry Costello said, apologizing for what he called "miscommunication" over where the pipeline would be built.

"We want to be a good neighbor," he said. "We will do a better job in communicating."

More concerns

While acknowledging Port Dolphin’s concession, Commission Chairman Jane von Hahmann made it clear that the dialogue is just beginning between the low-profile company and the county.

"There are other items besides the sand source," she said, including environmental impacts.

Commissioner Gwen Brown echoed concerns about the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico where the floating regasification port is proposed for 28 miles off Anna Maria Island. She asked Port Dolphin to contact all the environmental groups in Manatee County to show its good faith.

While the commission and the port authority are comprised of the same officials, von Hahmann said the members are concerned about protecting the community, not just attracting business to the port.

Port Authority Chairman Joe McClash agreed.

"It pains me to hear we might want to disregard the environment – that’s not the case," he said.

Sharing pipe

Commissioner Amy Stein, who mailed out brochures last week to line up support against Port Dolphin’s pipeline route, raised a concern about the Houston-based company’s proposal to build its own proprietary pipeline when another natural gas pipeline is available nearby.

Gulfstream Natural Gas System has offered to allow Port Dolphin to tap into its pipeline offshore, but Port Dolphin officials have said technical issues would prevent the two systems from being compatible.

An offshore interconnect with Gulfstream is favored, Stein said, encouraging Port Dolphin to share technical specifications with Gulfstream before meeting again with the commission.

The company has no current plans to connect offshore with Gulfstream, Costello said.

Until Manatee County’s beach renourishment engineering firm, Coastal Planning and Engineering, discovered that Port Dolphin’s plans included installing its pipeline in an offshore sand reserve, government officials and citizens were largely in the dark about the project.

While county staff reviewed the onshore portion of the pipeline in March, they had not yet become aware of the offshore portion, said Manatee County’s Charlie Hunsicker. As director of the county’s Conservation Lands Management Department, it was Hunsicker who brought Coastal’s findings to light in May.

Coastal estimated a $53.2 million cost to the county over the next four beach renourishment projects, spaced 10 years apart, and another $4.75 million for Longboat Key to find and dredge equivalent quality sand.

"A very important precedent has been established to protect important beach compatible sand sources as we look to the future of the very real potential for additional oil and gas exploration," Hunsicker said. "Should those explorations prove fruitful, each of those companies will be looking to offshore undersea pipeline routes to bring their product to southwest Florida, and in that event, the importance that we have placed thus far on the sand resources will be a message loud and clear into the foreseeable future."

Other sand sources

The town of Longboat Key, part of which lies in Manatee County, is also looking to the future when current sand reserves will be depleted, and is exploring the Gulf for other sand sources near Port Dolphin’s pipeline route.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the relocation of the pipeline would also attempt to avoid other areas that we are currently studying offshore for sand," said Juan Florensa, town public works director. "We are willing to share technical information with Port Dolphin on where the other reserves are so they can avoid them."

The recent involvement of elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who gained the support of 14 members of Congress to oppose the pipeline route, and a law firm that Longboat Key hired to fight the pipeline, likely prompted Port Dolphin’s action, he said.

"I think they underestimated the opposition."

Food Network to film at Mermaid
The special is the result of Andrea Spring’s victories in the Crisco National Pie Championships.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Ed and Andrea Spring in front of their reaturant, Sign of the mermaid.
SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND

ANNA MARIA – The hottest ticket in town this week is a seat at the Sign of the Mermaid during the filming of a special for the Food Network Friday.

"I’m thrilled to death," chef/owner Andrea Spring said. "This was really a surprise."

"It’s incredible," her husband, chef/owner Ed Spring, added. "I’m very excited and overwhelmed."

The television special is the result of Andrea’s victories in the Crisco National Pie Championships over the past two years. In 2007, she won first place in the citrus division and best overall with her key lime pie and a first place in the "other" category with her Chocolate Expresso Explosion.

In 2008,she returned to win first place in the nut category with her Key West crunch pie and an honorable mention for her apple oatmeal crunch pie.

"They used the pie contest as a Food Network Challenge," Andrea explained. "They followed four of us around and filmed us making pies for the contest, interviewed us and got us to give our opinions on what the other contestants were making.

"They called Tuesday and said they wanted to profile someone from the Challenge. They said they want to come to the restaurant on Friday and film us as we cook dinner. It was a complete surprise because originally they were just going to use photos."

According to the Food Network Web site, "From small town cook-offs to World Pastry Team Championships, Food Network Challenge takes you to the biggest and best food battles around the world. Bragging rights and major cash prizes are on the line for the tallest pastry, the sweetest pie the spiciest chili and the most savory BBQ ribs."

"This comes on the coattails of Andrea’s success with the pie competition," Ed said. "It opened the door for us and gave us the exposure. I’m so proud of everything she and the family have done."

Andrea said both the Food Network Challenge and the profile of the Mermaid would air in the fall. Stay tuned for the date and time.

Plan progresses on park and ride
Trams have been ruled out but the city is considering using electric carts as a shuttle service.

BRADENTON BEACH – Plans to shuttle customers and employees of the city’s commercial district to and from their vehicles a half-mile south continue to progress, according to Police Chief Sam Speciale.

He addressed the parking subcommittee of the Bradenton Beach Scenic Waves Partnership on talks he had with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials about what kind of shuttle they could use and where it would run.

Speciale also talked with the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department about using portions of the Cortez Beach parking lot, between Fifth Street South and the old bus turnaround on the north end of Coquina Beach for employee and customer parking.

"One problem we have is that Coquina Beach closes at sundown, while Cortez Beach closes at 10 p.m.," he said. "The signs for both parks, however, say sunset."

Speciale said he has been encouraging employees to park in the lot for some time, but if they are parked there after dark, it appears they are breaking the law, which they are not. He said they need new signage there.

On the subject of shuttling drivers between a proposed park and ride at Coquina Beach Bayside and Bridge Street, Speciale said FDOT would approve some sort of electric vehicle, but not a string of vehicles attached, like the shuttle at Disney World.

"The official said they would have a number of issues with a tram," he said.

Speciale said the plan calls for having the electric shuttles go south on the right of way west of Gulf Drive to Sixth Street South, where it would cross Gulf Drive and proceed to the parking space."

Subcommittee members were happy to hear that the shuttles would be off the road, since the traffic along that portion of Gulf Drive is backed up during season and on high beach use days.

Speciale also reported that a proposal to allow parking along First Street South and Third Street South would not be feasible because it would block the route of private and commercial vehicles that use those roads.

Driver charged with assault
A war of words and a rammed car lead to criminal charges against a Palmetto man.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Andrew B. Lavers

HOLMES BEACH – A 37-year-old male from Palmetto was arrested on Saturday, June 14, after he intentionally ran his Dodge pickup into the side of another car, according to police.

Andrew B. Lavers was charged with hit and run and aggravated assault for ramming into a 1996 Volvo driven by Jason C. Benn, of Anna Maria, police said. Also in the Volvo were Benn’s companion, Lorissa Hughes, and 18-month-old daughter, Lillian Benn, of Anna Maria. Nobody was injured.

According to a police report, the incident occurred shortly after 3 p.m. when Benn stopped for pedestrians to cross Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Benn said that as he accelerated, he noticed he was being passed by Lavers on the right, off the roadway, which is a violation of the law. Been said he noticed that Lavers was either going to strike some mailboxes or collide with him at his current rate of speed, so he accelerated to give Lavers room to get back on the road behind him.

Benn said that as he continued up the road, Lavers drove his truck recklessly, trying to strike his Volvo repeatedly. He said that when he got to the intersection with East Bay Drive, he quickly turned onto old Gulf Drive, just avoiding the pickup swerving at him. He said that Lavers also turned and followed him to Manatee Avenue. He tried to outrun the truck, but it hit his car at Sixth Avenue.

By that time, Lorissa Hughes had called police on her cell phone. Benn said he noticed the pickup’s left rear tire had been shredded and he did not expect any further threat. He said the driver started yelling and screaming at him and he yelled back that they had a baby in the car. He said that Lavers then got back into his truck and sped away until he turned into the Kingfish Boat Ramp parking area and became disabled. Benn waited for police at a distance from the truck and its driver.

A witness arrived at the scene and corroborated Benn’s story. He said he returned because he believed the actions he observed were intentional and he wanted to help.

Police arrested Lavers and in their arrest report, asked that they be notified when Lavers was released as they considered him a threat to Benn and his family.

Thieves targeting boats on Island canals
Police say everything from fishing gear to GPS equipment has been stolen recently.

HOLMES BEACH – If you are among those fortunate enough to live on a canal and own a boat, don’t set yourself up to become a victim.

That’s the word from Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson, who said there has been a rash of thefts from boats docked in canals within his city. He has some tips for boat owners.

"Don’t leave fishing gear, GPS and other electronic devices, keys, swivel chairs, registrations or anything valuable in your boat overnight," he said. "Thieves come down the canals and take things in the dark."

Stephenson boaters should resist the urge to pack their boats the night before they go out.

"People like to put things out early so they can get going in the morning," he said. "Also, people who live along those canals should call us if they see or hear anything suspicious during the night. We’ll come and check things out."

Stephenson said thieves are also targeting propellers, which you should secure. Take it off and bring it inside if you have to. He also had tips for homeowners.

"Make sure you don’t leave unsecured bicycles out, your car doors unlocked and your house unlocked," he said. "If you have safety lights, use them."

Stephenson said he feels economic hard times are contributing to the thefts.

"Don’t set yourself up to be a victim," he said. "You can avoid a lot of heartache if you take the time to make sure everything is secure."

Drop in revenue could hit 10 percent

ANNA MARIA — City departments are sharpening their pencils and tightening their belts as they begin preparations for the 2008-09 budget.

"Each department is coming up with numbers for the leanest budget they can work with," said Finance Director Diane Percycoe. "We don’t have a lot of waste in this year’s budget, so it’s difficult to trim for next year."

Percycoe said it’s too early to calculate exactly how much revenue will be down in these troubling economic times, but she’s projecting it will probably be around 10 percent.

"We won’t know what the ad valorem will be for a couple of weeks when the county releases those figures, but I’m projecting that it’ll be down 10 percent," she said.

The current year’s budget is $2,793,056. Percycoe’s projection is that revenues will fall by $27,930. So according to Percycoe’s calculations, the city should take in roughly $2,765,126. Municipalities must have a budget that balances expenditures with revenues.

"The largest portion of our revenue comes from ad valorem taxes," Percycoe said. "We expect that will fall a little."

The city also takes in revenue from three other sources: sales taxes, use and fuel taxes, and telecommunications sales tax and intergovermnetal revenue.

The sales, use and fuel taxes are local option taxes. An example is the gas tax. The proposed surcharge the city may place on each property to offset the cost of building and maintaining stormwater and runoff systems is an example of a local government infrastructure surtax.

"The telecommunications service tax is a new tax that will be collected and distributed by the state," Percycoe said. "It replaces the franchise tax and utility tax that were charged for telephone and cable television services."

The intergovernmental revenues are collected by one government and then shared with other governments. For example, the state collects the sales tax, but the county and the cities get their portion of that. Other intergovernmental revenue sources are revenue sharing, grants and other state taxes and licensing fees, according to Percycoe.

The largest single expense for the city each year is the cost of law enforcement. Anna Maria contracts with the Manatee County Sheriff for those services.

"They’re only asking for a $6,000 increase this year," Percycoe said. "We will get the same amount of service. The 2007-08 contract with the sheriff was for $645,898 with a proposal of $651,523 for 2008-2009.

Percycoe said no decision has been made yet about whether or not to give city employees a cost of living increase in their salaries.

"That will be up to the mayor to decide and the commission to confirm or deny," she said.

The city has already instituted some cost-cutting measures.

"We’re not hiring a full time public works person for our vacant position," she said. "Instead, we’re going with two part-time people."

Percycoe said that move would save the city about $10,000 a year in health and other benefits. She added that if some other positions become vacant during the course of they year, they may also be filled with part-time employees.

City employees will also go to a 10-hour, four-day work week early next month, staggering their hours so city hall will remain open as usual from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"We’ll be evaluating that to see if it results in any savings," Percycoe said. "But we know it will help employees with fuel costs."

"The public works people are using the electric car and the gator," she said. "That really saves on fuel costs."

Percycoe said the department heads are working on their budgets at this time. They will turn them into her in the next several weeks, she will crunch the numbers and pass it up to the mayor who will set the budget and present it to city commissioners who have the final say.

The first budget work session is scheduled for July 22 for the fiscal year 2008-09 fiscal plan. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Fireworks, parade mark another Fourth celebration

The Fourth of July holiday usually means fireworks on the beach, but this year authorities want you to leave your private pyrotechnics at home. Following several meetings between police and representatives of the cities and county, the plan is to confiscate illegal fireworks.

Because of the crackdown on illegal fireworks, there will only be one professional display on Thursday, July 3, at the BeachHouse restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, starting at 7 p.m. The usual second night of fireworks at the Sandbar restaurant on the Fourth of July has been cancelled this year.

Those who purchase admission to the party at the BeachHouse will enjoy live music, dancing, food and a front row seat to the fireworks display. Those who don’t will still have an opportunity to watch from the beach. Because of the large number of people who come to watch the fireworks, officials recommend taking the trolley to avoid having to find a parking spot.

If you want to take a water taxi, Captain Mark offers a cruise from the Cortez Kitchen to the Historic Bridge Street Pier to watch the fireworks. After the cruise, you will be returned to your vehicle in Cortez for the drive home ahead of the crowds. Call 941-228-3504.

Meanwhile, the big celebration on Friday, July 4, will be the Privateers’ parade that starts at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach at 10 a.m. and winds up the Island to Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. If the fireworks weren’t loud enough, you’ll probably be regaled by the Privateers’ cannon on their parade ship. Everyone is welcome to join in, as long as they have a ride. Groups are welcome and they can put a banner on their wheels to designate who they represent, as long as it isn’t a political message.

Following the parade, the Privateers will gather at the Café on the Beach to announce the winners of their annual scholarships, which will total $27,000, the highest amount in the history of the scholarships. The following students were chosen for a scholarship for the upcoming academic school year: Austin Easton, Kimberly Kuizon, Elise Mundy, Claire Ingram, Ashley Bishop, Chris Chawi, Nicholas Gotts, Angela Jackson, Dion Shorey, Eric Whitley, Ashley Stinton, Elizabeth Aguilar, Josie Cockerham, Charlie Green, Lupita Perales, Ashley Petersen, Kelsey Taylor, April Whit and Sean Price.

In conjunction with the awards celebration, the Café on the Beach is offering a special on pulled pork sandwiches with salad and corn on the cob and Natural Vibes will provide the live music.

If you would like to participate or have questions about the parade, call 941-780-1668 or go to www.amiprivateers.org.

Commission balks at CAC

BRADENTON BEACH – The future of the incremental tax funds from the city’s commercial district will remain in the hands of the City Commission, even through the business leaders who paid those taxes wanted a stronger voice.

The commission agreed not to set up a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) as proposed by the business leaders who served on other advisory boards regarding the parking problem in the city.

The tug of war between the commission, which also serves as the CRA, and the business leaders, began when some of the leaders called for the city to spend some of the CRA incremental tax money on land for a parking lot and other solutions to the parking shortage. Many claimed that the success of the CRA, which used grant money to vastly improve Bridge Street and surrounding areas for business, created the parking shortage that increases during season to the point where tourists park in private driveways and in no parking areas.

The leaders said that a CAC of private citizens and business people would give them more of a voice in how those funds are spent.

Bradenton Beach Projects and Programs Manager Lisa Marie Phillips drew up a draft set of guidelines for the proposed CAC. It called for five members, two citizens and three business owners.

Commissioner Janie Robertson said she felt a CAC would be redundant, and that the Planning and Zoning Board could do the same job.

"I’m a little leery of a mostly commercial entity that wants to spend CRA dollars," she said. "I’m not ready to vote for this now."

She suggested forming a subcommittee of the Scenic Highway and WAVES committees to direct the allocation of those funds.

Commissioner John Chappie, who spearheaded spending a lot of CRA money on improvements to the area when he was mayor, agreed.

Commission John Shaughnessy said he disagreed with a requirement that CAC members not belong to other boards in the city.

"We have problems now finding people to serve on boards," he said.

Phillips agreed with Robertson about making the CAC a subcommittee of Scenic Highway, but Chappie suggested making the incremental funds a permanent item on the Scenic Highway agenda.

"There is already a certain level of transparency with how those funds are spent," said Mayor Michael Pierce. "It’s not a secret and I think it should stay that way."

Chappie suggested that the mayor director Scenic Highway to put it on the agenda and if it doesn’t work out, they could address the issue again in the future.


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