The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 2 - October 1, 2008


Bridge rush hour turns to hush hour
Light traffic made the commute a breeze during the first day of the AMI bridge closure.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Afternoon "rush hour" at Cortez Road and
Gulf Drive on Monday, the first day of the Manatee Avenue
bridge closure, was light, according to Bradenton Beach police
officer John Tsakiri, who kept a watchful eye on the intersection,
but did not direct traffic.

BRADENTON BEACH – The sun rose over the Anna Maria Island Bridge Monday, the first morning of the 45-day bridge closure, to reveal cloudy skies. To the south, traffic scurried across the Cortez Bridge, turning left and right onto Gulf Drive where Cortez Road ended. It was another day in paradise.

It wasn’t supposed to be. The loss of one of the Island’s two direct links to the mainland was supposed to have created a nightmare at the other.

Instead, it wasn’t nearly as busy as it normally is during season. Bradenton Beach Police officer John Tsakiri sat in his Ford Explorer cruiser, listening to the police radio. He was the first officer to be stationed there, available to help direct traffic during peak periods, but there was no opportunity during the morning rush hour. Traffic on Cortez Road from the village of Cortez to Gulf Drive was light at "rush hour" Monday morning, the first day of the bridge closure.

The police will monitor the situation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the first week and if their services are not needed, they will cut the coverage to rush hour only. Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said he was delighted at the first day’s results, but was reserving his optimism.

"I’m hoping that the amount of time the DOT (Florida Department of Transportation) first put out information on the closure and the amount of information they put out will help keep traffic down," he said.

Speciale, who lives in west Bradenton, said the right turn arrows at southbound 75th Street to Cortez Road westbound and from Cortez Road westbound and Gulf Drive northbound helped keep traffic flowing.

A ‘non-event’

Holmes Beach officer Vern McGowin was parked at eastbound Manatee Avenue where it intersects with East Bay Drive. He monitored traffic toward the closed bridge. The stoplight had been reconfigured to allow maximum time for southbound traffic to turn west on Manatee Avenue. Cars would still be allowed to travel east on Manatee as far as Kingfish boat ramp.

"It was a non-event, which we like," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine. "We will continue to station a man at that intersection for a week and then re-evaluate whether we need him."

Buses on time

Because the traffic was so light, the school buses were on time, according to Anna Maria Elementary School Principal Tom Levengood, who lives in northwest Bradenton and took Cortez Road to work for the first time.

"All the lights were synchronized except the one at 119th and Cortez, which turned red and no cars came out of the side street," he said. "There was little traffic and, in fact, I arrived a little early today."

Kelley Ice takes a school bus from Anna Maria to Southeast High School.

"It didn’t take any longer than it normally does," she said.

Her mom, Dianne Ice, left Anna Maria for her job in Sarasota at 7:07 a.m. and arrived at work at the usual time, she said.

The shuttle to and from the Island and the trolleys on the Island all reported to be running on time, according to Manatee County Area Transit Director Ralf Heseler.

"We have not experienced any difficulty," he said.

Heseler clarified the situation about the shuttle. He said it is only free if you are transferring from Route 3 or Route 6. If you pick up the shuttle along the route or at Blake Hospital without showing a transfer, you will have to pay the regular fare of $1.25.

While the first day of the bridge closure was a snap, Speciale doesn’t expect it to remain that way.

"I don’t want to give people a false sense of security," he said, "If people who came to work early or late hear that the traffic was light during rush hour, they might change their pattern and there would be more cars on the bridge during that time."

Bridging the Gap events kick off this week
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO/DRDAVEBAND.COM The Dr. Dave Band headlines the
Concert in the Park on Saturday in Holmes Beach.

After nearly four months of hectic, intense planning, the Island’s Bridging the Gap campaign gets under way this week with a host of fun events that should take some of the sting out of the closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Concert in the Park

Concert in the Park on Saturday, Oct. 4, will kick off the Bridging the Gap events on the Island from noon to 7 p.m. in the park north of Holmes Beach City Hall.

The musical lineup includes some of the top local bands this area has ever produced. Starting off will be the ever-popular Koko Ray from noon to 1 p.m., followed by the country star-in-the-making Eric von Hahmann from 1:20 to 2:30 p.m.. Another wildly popular local act, Yesterdayze, plays from 2:50 to 4 p.m., then the Billy Rice local act, Yesterdayze, plays from 2:50 to 4 p.m., then the Billy Rice Band takes over from 4:20 to 5:30 p.m. The fabulous Dr. Dave Band will top off the evening playing from 5:50 to 7 p.m. Comedian Brian Hamilton will emcee and entertain between acts.

Avoid parking hassles by taking the free Island trolley or MCAT shuttle service from the mainland. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and get set to relax and enjoy the music, food and raffle prizes.

For information or to reserve a booth, call Mark Kimball at 518-6329 or Steve Bark at 720-3200.

Bridge Street Market returns

The popular Bridge Street Market in Bradenton Beach returns on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Vendors will offer fresh produce and flowers, flower arrangements and plants arts and crafts T-shirts and clothing, jewelry and more. For information, call Nancy Ambrose at 518-4431

Come compete at karaoke

The first event of the week actually will take place off the Island. If you think you can warble with the best of them, you’re invited to the Gap’s karaoke contest, which begins Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Elks Lodge, 2511 75th St. W., Bradenton at 7 p.m. There is no advance sign up or entry fee.

The contest will continue every Sunday in October from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Drift Inn, 120 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach; Tuesday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Anchor Inn, 3007 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; and every Wednesday in October from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at D Coy Ducks, 5410 Marina Drive, Homes Beach.

Two winners will be chosen at each contest and on Friday, Nov. 8, from 7 to 10 p.m., they will face off in the finals at the original Rotten Ralph’s, 902 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria. The winner will receive a cash prize.

For information, call Ed Lyon at 201-5436.

Skim comp set for Sunday

Spray will fly at the Beach House/West Coast Surf Shop Skim Comp on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Beach House in Bradenton Beach.

The competition, also being sponsored by The Sun newspaper, each year draws hundreds of curious spectators who delight in the aerial artistry of these skimboard riders. It’s always a great show and wonderful family entertainment.

Proceeds from the competition benefit red tide research at Mote Marine Laboratory.

To register for the Skim Comp, call the West Coast Surf Shop at 778-1001.

Fish Hole holds mini golf tourney

Great prizes are lined up for the Gap’s miniature golf tournament set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Fish Hole on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.

The first place finisher will receive $200 cash, Costa del Mar sunglasses, Sanuk sandals and a trophy. Second place finisher gets $100 cash and Sanuk sandals; Third place prize is a $50 gift certificate to Bridge Street Bazaar.Registration is $20 and includes two rounds and lunch.

You can either pre-register by calling The Fish Hole on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach at 778-3388, or register the day of the tournament.

Click to view Adobe PDF of Bridging the Gap Page Click to download the Adobe Free Reader

Click to view Adobe PDF of Calendar of Events Click to download the Adobe Free Reader

Escaped killer has ties to Island
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


Authorities request that Anna Maria Island residents be on the lookout for Sarah Jo Pender, 29, who escaped from Rockville Correctional Facility in Indiana on Aug. 4 and may attempt to reach relatives who are Anna Maria Island residents.

Pender was incarcerated for a double murder conviction.

According to the America’s Most Wanted Web site, Pender and her boyfriend, Richard Hull, killed their two roommates with a shotgun and dumped their bodies in an Indianapolis dumpster in 2000.

The two were apprehended in Noblesville, Ind., and were sentenced in 2002. Pender had been serving a maximum 110-year sentence while Hull is serving a 75-year sentence. Pender’s earliest projected release date is Oct. 28, 2052.

Authorities say Scott Spitler, a former corrections officer at Rockville Correctional Facility, had an illicit relationship with Pender and helped her escape by allegedly driving her out of the prison in the back of his Indiana Department of Corrections van.

When Spitler stopped the van, Pender then allegedly left the van and got into a vehicle driven by ex-inmate Jamie Long, a close friend, who allegedly had provided illegal items to Pender to sell inside the prison.

Spitler, a five-year veteran of the prison, has been arrested in connection with Pender's escape and faces charges of assisting a criminal, official misconduct, sexual misconduct and trafficking with an inmate.

Pender is Caucasian, 5'8" tall, weighs between 150 and 200 pounds, and has brown hair and blue eyes. She has two tattoos - a target on her right leg and a butterfly on her chest.

Anyone with information about Pender is asked to call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

Rough road prompts inspection

ANNA MARIA – A motorist’s complaints about the ongoing waterline project that’s made driving on Gulf Drive an off-road experience prompted an unannounced inspection by county officials Monday afternoon.

An Anna Maria resident who was fed up with bumping through the project called County Commissioner Carol Whitmore to make his complaints known.

Whitmore, in turn, registered her own complaints with Manatee County Public Works Director Dan Gray and with Ron Shulhoffer, the head of public works for the county.

"I went straight to the top," Whitmore said. "I’ve had concerns myself driving through there with my little car."

Whitmore said she sent Gray and Shulhoffer out to the Island Monday to look at the project themselves.

"There is a public safety factor," Whitmore said. "This is our project. It’s our responsibility and we promised to avoid anything that tied up traffic during the time the bridge is closed."

Whitmore said the citizen complaint prompted her to take action. Whitmore's action resulted in the county taking action.

"The metal plates came out today, and they'll patch some tomorrow," she said. "The actual paving will begin Wednesday, Oct. 8. It will take four days."

That can't come soon enough for Anna Maria resident Gene Aubrey who said said that the project was under way when he left for Michigan in June and he found the fact that it’s still ongoing today infuriating.

"It’s awful to drive through there," he said. "One day I was following a front-end loader with a back hoe on the back. It was going about 30 miles an hour while carrying huge pipes sideways that were wider than the lanes on Gulf Drive. He was hitting all of those bumps. It’s a wonder somebody didn’t get impaled."

Aubrey also said he complained earlier to Anna Maria Public Works Director George McKay, but he was informed that this was the county’s project.

Sept. 15 deadline passes

The county has been working to install a new waterline along Gulf Drive from Crosspointe Fellowship at White Avenue to Willow Avenue. The $325,985 project was scheduled to be completed no later than Sept. 15. After that, the county could invoke a penalty phase of the contract — something that Manatee County Project Manager Walter Sowa didn’t think was likely.

"Please keep in mind that the contractor postponed the start of this project at the request of the city of Anna Maria for eight months so as not to affect the tourist industry," Sowa said. "They also postponed it at no cost to the county, and you know how costs of materials and fuel have gone up in the last year."

McKay said the county’s contractor has been operating on it’s own funds since the Sept. 15 deadline. Anna Maria drainage work on Gulf Drive has been done for about a week now.

Sowa said there was a leak somewhere in the line that took about two weeks to find. It was eventually pinpointed to a gasket near a fire hydrant.

He said that the company has since had pressure testing come back fine and bacteriological testing was successful.

Estimates as of Monday were that the project would be finished sometime this week and paving of both sides of the road is scheduled to take place next week.

Financial meltdown hits city budget

ANNA MARIA — The city was to begin the final paperwork in a $1 million line of credit with the Florida Local Government Finance division on October 1, with the funds anticipated to arrive in city coffers by Oct. 9.

"That’s not going to happen," Finance Director Diane Percycoe told city commissioners at their final budget hearing last week and again at the Sept. 24 city commission meeting.

"Right now, they’re just hoping things get better, but we won’t be getting our money Oct. 1," Percycoe said.

She advised commissioners that even officers of the FLGF have advised her and other municipalities that until the financial markets stabilize, there will be no credit issued.

"And when things do stabilize, we’re probably going to be looking at an interest rate of 8 or 9 percent," she said.

Currently, the city is paying about three percent on a loan from Wachovia Bank.

We’ve looked at taking a line of credit from Wachovia or another private institution, and the city would be eligible for a loan with an interest rate of between 3 and 4 percent.

"If you need the money, I’d advise you strongly to take it from the private sector," resident Michael Coleman, the driving force behind the Pine Avenue Restoration Project said. "That would be quite a large savings in interest."

The city is planning to use the money to pay for two drainage project expected to have a combined price tag of $1,469,400, half of which will be picked up by the Southwest Florida Water Management District leaving the city to pay $734,800. The Phase I project is already half completed with much of the work visible on Gulf Drive between White and Willow Avenues. That part of the drainage system was installed while the county has been working on installing a new, larger potable water line.

City commissioners indicated they are comfortable with a wait-and-see course of action. Meanwhile, as invoices come due, they can be paid from the city’s contingency fund, which will be repaid when there is a decision about the best source for the loan.

More problems plague humpback bridge
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MIKE FIELD The bridge of the Lake LaVista inlet in Anna Maria
will remain closed for another 25 to 30 days, according to city officials.

ANNA MARIA — More problems have developed with the North Bay Boulevard Bridge over the Lake LaVista Inlet. Soil is eroding from the concrete barriers that are supposed to stop that soil from eroding on the two sides of the Inlet.

"We don’t know if this is a safety issue, or not, but we’re trying to find out what’s happening," Public Works Director George McKay at the city commission’s final budget hearing on Sept. 25. "There are some kind of holes behind the concrete apron. We haven’t actually seen them and we don’t know how big the problem is."

McKay said the problem is with the north side of the approach to the bridge.

"We noticed that there is some settling there, and we got concerned about that," he said.

There are no estimates of what the cost of repairing the bridge will be, but McKay wanted the commission to set aside $25,000 in the 2008-09 budget to take care of it.

Commissioners declined, indicating that they wanted more information before they set aside money.

"We haven’t isolated the problem yet, and we don’t know what’s causing it, so we don’t even know what the numbers will be," said Commissioner Dale Woodland.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said the situation worried her.

"I’m a little concerned about it now when you’re talking about a big void and potential liability what with trucks coming across that bridge," she said.

McKay said the city closed the bridge as soon as the problem was discovered and the bridge will remain closed until the cause and extent of the problem can be determined.

He estimated that could be another 30 days but couldn’t be sure.

Late last month, the bridge was closed while repairs were made to the pavement on the surface of the bridge. That $12,000 fix was made necessary when the pavement separated from the bridge itself. McKay reported that problem occurred because the wrong bonding agent was used when the pavement was laid.

The city was responsible for picking up the tab for the repair, as the one-year warranty with the contractor had expired.

Tom Wilcox of HDR was the engineer on the initial bridge refurbishment project as well as the pavement repair, and he remains the engineer the city has charged with identifying the problem with the voids or holes that are developing behind the concrete apron and designing a fix.

McKay said the specific problem hasn’t been identified yet.

"We plan to inject some kind of a dye and see where it comes out at the bottom," McKay said. "We think that’s where the settling is happening.

He said his goal is to have the problem identified and a repair plan in place prior to the Oct. 9 city commission meeting.

"I hope to get the funding in place then," he said.

McKay said there are no plans to inspect the south approach to the bridge or to check the Crescent Street Bridge for similar problems.

"We don’t see anything happening there, so any inspection would have a low priority," he said.

Get ready to rock and roll at Bayfest
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO/KOKORAY.COM Koko Ray and the Soul Providers are from left,
Ray on saxophone, flute, guitars and percussion; Michael Finley
on drums; Greg Slusher on bass and John Finley on guitar.

ANNA MARIA – Get out your blue suede shoes and get ready to rock at Bayfest, Saturday, Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

The musical lineup on the main stage at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard includes Jimi Gee, Hwy, 41, Koko Ray and the Soul Providers, the Alternators Blues Band, Kettle of Fish and the Dr. Dave Band.

Gee will take the stage from 9 to 11 a.m., first with his jazz trio – Don Dean on bass, Rich McDonald on drums, Jimi on guitar and guest vocalist Gwen Fogts. Following the trio will be Jimi with the Sarasota Gold Big Band playing all your big band favorites.

Second on stage from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is Hwy 41, with band members Dave Glaser on guitar and vocals, Jeff Kemper on bass and vocals, Mike Rettig on lead guitar and vocals, Dave Russell on drums and vocals and new member Jage Nichols on vocals, playing rock from the 60s to current times.

Third in the lineup from 1 to 3 p.m. is Koko Ray and the Soul Providers – bassist Greg Slusher, drummer Michael Finley and guitarist John Purcell. Ray rounds it out on saxophone, flute, guitars and percussion. The band plays everything from rock to funk to blues to fusion.

The Alternators Blues Band will take the stage from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. playing Chicago style blues. The band includes guitarist/vocalist Gary Ryley, keyboardist Jacques Eugene, percussionist Tom O’Neill and guitarist/vocalist Pete "Lobo" Nemec.

Kettle of Fish is up next from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dana Lawrence on vocals, guitar and harmonica; Sanderson Poe on standup and electric bass; Thorson Moore on vocals and guitar; and Garrett Dawson and Cort Farris on drums and percussion play roots-based blues.

Closing the festival from 8 to 10 the Dr. Dave Band playing, as he describes it, CountryGrassRock. The band includes Dr, Dave on guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica and vocals; Todd Cook on bass and vocals; Pete Gregov on drums and vocals; and Tracy Austin on guitar and vocals.

Area restaurants will be participating in a Taste of the Island, the AMI Chamber of Commerce will be selling beverages and vendors will offer a variety of items. There will be a classic car show and a motorcycle show, both with trophy presentations, as well as children’s games and activities.

Anyone interested in participating in Bayfest can call Thompson at 761-4766 or e-mail

Bridge closure changes drawbridge openings

Boaters as well as motorists are affected by the Manatee Avenue bridge closure.

The drawbridge schedules for the Anna Maira Island Bridge and the Cortez Bridge have changed for the duration of the project, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Through Nov. 13, the Anna Maria Island Bridge (Mile 89.2) will be closed to navigation from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. At all other times, a single leaf of the bridge will open once an hour at the top of the hour, at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

A double leaf will open if a one-hour notice is provided to the bridge tender.

From 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., the bridge will be open to navigation.

The Cortez Bridge (Mile 87.4) will be closed to navigation from 5:35 a.m. to 9:25 a.m., 1:35 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 4:25 a.m. At all other times, the bridge will open once an hour at the bottom of the hour, at 5:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.

Both bridges will be tended 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper