The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 6 - October 29, 2008


City balks at bridge repair cost

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners are balking at shelling out $20,100 to repair the North Bay Boulevard humpback bridge until they hear more about what caused the soil to leach out from under the apron on the north approach.

At their Oct. 23 meeting, they declined to approve the money to hire an outside firm to fix the problems.

Several months ago, engineers spotted some depressions in the approach to the bridge. Testing revealed that soil lying under the apron on the north side of the bridge has somehow been leaking out — probably from wave and tidal action where the Lake LaVista Inlet washes against the bottom of the apron.

"I don’t like spending anything to fix a problem when we don’t know exactly what caused it," said Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick.

Commissioner Chris Tollette said she agrees with Mattick.

"My son-in-law is an engineer, and he told me bridges are very complicated," she reported. "Is Tom Wilcox (the city’s consulting engineer) an expert on bridges?"

The commission had discussed the repair of the bridge at their October work session at which Wilcox explained as much as he knew about the problem.

There are voids beneath the apron where soil and sand have leached out. Some are as deep as eight feet or more. The voids were discovered during a routine bridge inspection. Employees of Uretek , the Lakeland company the city is considering hiring to do the repairs measured the voids for the city.

"I question having the company that will be doing the repair doing the assessment of the problem," resident Gene Aubry told commissioners.

Mattick and Aubry both said they wished the engineer had been at the meeting to answer questions.

Mayor Fran Barford noted that Wilcox had been present at the October work session and had presented a comprehensive report on the problem, though he did say he was unable to pinpoint a cause for the leaching of soil and the creation of voids.

"This is my fault," Barford said. "I take responsibility. We discussed this thoroughly at the work session, and everyone seemed on board for going forward with Uretek. It never occurred to me that we needed Tom (Wilcox) to come tonight."

The city has to pay an hourly fee to HDR, Wilcox’s firm, and the city is working diligently to cut back on consulting fees, so the attorney, engineer and other experts are only on hand when it’s known in advance that they will be needed.

Barford said she’d get Wilcox to come and address everyone’s concerns at a special meeting.

"We need to get moving on this," she said. "It’s a great inconvenience to our residents."

Island captain survives close call
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Master Captain Tim Sullivan is back in Anna Maria after nearly
going down with his ship off the coast of Cuba.
He’ll be out of action for three to six months
while his broken leg and shattered knee heal. SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

ANNA MARIA – Many a sea captain has told a tall tale of the sea, but Captain Tim Sullivan’s most recent tale isn’t tall, it was all too unreal.

It happened last week, while Sullivan and three other crewmen were headed toward Haiti in a 50-foot tugboat in rough seas.

"We were about 45 miles off the coast of Cuba when the boat, called the Barbara H, started taking on water," he said. "It took 30 seconds to sink and we were in 2,900 feet of water."

Sullivan said he got tangled in the railing and went down with the boat some 25-30 feet before he got free. His leg was broken and his knee was crushed in the incident. He said there were two crewmen in the bunkhouse and he and the engineer were on watch at the time.

"He mentioned that the ship was listing and before we knew it, we were going down," he said. "He jumped in with one life jacket and after I got free, we floated for about an hour until we saw the lifeboat that had floated up from the boat."

All four men on the boat survived.

"We floated for another hour in the lifeboat before a passing ship picked us up," he added. "The Coast Guard was notified and they had trouble getting me off the ship because of the weather. I was flown to Marathon, where they said my leg was too badly broken so they took me by ambulance to Homestead."

Sullivan said the doctors there did not want to treat the leg because he would not be staying there for rehabilitation, so they sent him home where he hopes to have the leg set on Thursday.

"They say I’ll be laid up for three to six months," he said. "After that, it’s off to Jamaica for a few months."

Although he calls Anna Maria home and is well-known here, Sullivan has been traveling around the world for more than 25 years. He’s a Master Tugboat Captain and works for Sub Aquarius, a company that sends crews to locations worldwide.

Did this close call spook him away from his lifelong career?

"No, it’s what I love," he said. "We get training all the time and the last class I took in February saved my life because it showed us what to do when something like this happens."

Halloween haunt attracts big crowds
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND The Halloween display at 518 75th St.
in Holmes Beach has gotten bigger and better each year
since it began 12 years ago.

HOLMES BEACH – Halloween has become a neighborhood project for folks on 75th Street.

"We started at least 12 years ago," Mary Jo Miller-Weber explained. "Our boys, Aaron and Brad, were 10 or 11 and big for their age. People said they were too big to go trick or treating, and they quit going because of the humiliation factor. So we brought Halloween to us instead."

The family headed for an appliance store and got some refrigerator boxes and built a castle. The next year, they added a dragon and it went from there.

"Then one year, it all got destroyed by a windstorm, so the next year, we did a graveyard," Miller-Weber said. "It’s all homemade, and we don’t put it up until Halloween because it would get ruined if it rains."

Miller Weber said every year she has to write different sayings on the gravestones at the request of her neighbors.

"Only two of us on the street decorate, but other neighbors put out card tables and give out candy. People come with their kids and dogs dressed up and we all walk around and visit.

"Some people just sit across the street and watch the kids. It’s a fun time. It’s like a big block party. Everybody loves it."

To add a different twist to the ghoulish delights, Miller-Weber said they are setting up a projector outside and will be showing the movie "Young Frankenstein."

The house is located at 518 75th St., but Miller-Weber asks people who want to view the display to park on Marina Drive and walk up the street.

"We have lots of kids and parents and we don’t want anyone getting hurt," she said.

Weber and Associates Insurance Agency sponsors the annual display.

Candidates debate city issues
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Workers repair the humpback bridge
on North Bay Boulevard Monday morning.

ANNA MARIA – The four candidates for two city commission seats made their cases before a crowd of more than 35 people at the Anna Maria Island Sun Election Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 22. It was a civil debate, although the opinions varied.

Incumbent Jo Ann Mattick is running for another term while political newcomer Mark Alonso faces former commissioners Chuck Webb and Bob Barlow. The top two vote-getters win the election.

There also is a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot that would require a supermajority vote of city commissioners to make changes to the future land use element of the city’s comprehensive plan. Webb was the only candidate in favor of it.

"My fear is that we won’t be able to react quickly enough," he said. "I have seen what happens in Florida when the sleeping majority gets caught by development."

Barlow and Mattick said they felt the supermajority requirement was not needed. Mattick said the notion that all it takes is three commissioners in the pocket of a development was insulting. Alonso agreed with her.

On the subject of outsourcing, Anna Maria is already using the services of MT Causley for its building official, Bob Welch. By paying Causley, the city doesn’t have to pay for Welch’s benefits or his vehicle. When asked if they thought it was the way to go, Barlow said he had given it little thought, and Mattick said the city should investigate because it is too small to pay for some services exclusively. Alonzo has a different idea on saving money.

"This city has to learn to get along with other cities on this Island," he said. "Our sister cities might have better equipment."

Webb said it is inevitable that the city would have to outsource, as it does now with the building official, engineer and city attorney.

Moderator Laurie Krosney talked about the Pine Avenue restoration project, where there are some issues with it and other projects such as the requirement for parking spaces. She asked if they would like to re-examine those requirements with an eye towards making them less stringent.

Mattick said the city could help the Pine Avenue project by turning a lot it owns on that street into a parking lot. Alonzo said he agreed.

Webb said that the code is not in good shape and it should be reviewed to see if parking requirements are up to date.

"I don’t want a bunch of parking garages on Pine Avenue," he said. "It’s a balancing act." Barlow agreed, saying the commission should look toward making the city more pedestrian friendly.

Krosney asked the candidates where they would cut expenses to make the city balance its budget.

"I live on Social Security and I live within my means," Alonzo said. "The city needs to learn how to live within its means."

Webb said the city could cut its capital improvement expenditures, but not if it means the city doesn’t maintain what it has.

Barlow said that Florida Power and Light recently made a presentation on how to save electricity and he would like to see the city adopt some of those measures.

Mattick praised the city for its new budget procedure, where each department head made a presentation to the commission. She also said raising building permit fees, as proposed by MT Causley, was a good idea.

Mark Alonzo was the lone dissenter when it came to the drainage utility tax and subsequent improvement project, saying you have to live with the environment.

"When it rains, you can’t drain it," he said. "What we have created is a bunch of holes and we have to spend money to maintain those holes."

Mattick said they should call it a water quality improvement project instead of a drainage project because they are improving the ability to leach rainwater so it doesn’t drain into the surrounding Gulf or bay. She also said the stormwater utility fee might go down after they get all the improvements they need.

Asked if the candidates approved of efforts to expand the business district, Barlow said the city needs businesses to keep taxes down and provide services, Mattick said she likes the vitality of a healthy business district, Alonso said he supports the business district and Webb agreed.

"I’m on the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors," he said. "They’d shoot me if I said otherwise."

All four candidates were against expanding the district, which is basically along Pine Avenue.

Krosney asked if the candidates agreed with the county when the commissioners said they are not in favor of renourishing Anna Maria’s beaches with bed tax money because the city, with fewer resorts than the other two cities, does not contribute that much to the tax.

Webb said he disagreed.

"It’s state money that pays for renourishments with some county money," he said. "Anna Maria contributes more than its share of property tax."

Barlow was skeptical of the county commission’s reasoning.

"Last year it was not enough parking and now it’s the bed tax," he said. "Two new commissioners were elected this year and they are former mayors and Carol Whitmore is on the commission. I had one county commissioner say that Anna Maria is considered a donor city."

Mattick said the Tourist Development Board heard a survey that showed the majority of the people who come here do so to come to the beach. She said we need healthy beaches.

Alonso repeated his mantra.

"You have to learn to live with nature," he said. "The sand comes and goes."

Bartelt, Shearon face off in Ward Four

BRADENTON BEACH – Two candidates for the Bradenton Beach City Commission’s Ward Four seat met Thursday night for a forum sponsored by the Anna Maria Island Sun and hosted by staff writer Tom Vaught.

A handful of voters listened to a friendly discussion between Bob Bartelt, a member of the Scenic Highway Committee, later the Scenic/WAVES Partnership, and Bill Shearon, a former Bradenton Beach city commissioner and member of the City Pier Team, the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board.

The winner will replace former City Commissioner and Mayor John Chappie, who was elected to the Manatee County Commission.

Shearon emphasized his experience as a former Bradenton Beach city commissioner, while Bartelt, a city advisory committee member, graciously offered, "I’m not running against him, I’m just running for the same seat he is."

Bartelt said the city is doing a good job with its budget, as one of the few cities with a reserve fund, while Shearon said the city needs to work on its budget process all year, not just annually.

On the question of how to reduce future budgets, Shearon said that projects need reliable timelines so that funds are spent in an organized manner. Budget cuts should be considered in each standard annual review process, Bartelt said.

Bartelt said the city is maintaining an economical and desirable insurance policy for its employees, while Shearon said he was disappointed that no merit raises or cost of living increases were made this year and that the city had to dip into its reserves.

City staff cutbacks have hurt the city somewhat, Shearon said, adding that, "I don’t think we can cut very much more in employees." The city streets are clean, the trees are trimmed and the holiday decorations go up on time, Bartelt said, adding that he knows of no complaints that employees are overwhelmed or that morale is a problem.

On how to prevent projects from running over budget, such as the Bridge Street project, Shearon said that commissioners and the mayor must get more timely information than what is provided at the two monthly meetings.

Special commission meetings could have been called to discuss occasional cost overruns, Bartelt said.

A controversy over whether dogs should be allowed on the Coquina Beach multi-use path is a moot point, Bartelt said, since Manatee County has jurisdiction. Shearon said he has no problem with dogs on the trail if they are leashed and under control, and owners clean up after their dogs.

The parking shortage in the city is an age-old problem, Shearon said, adding that a $25,000 consultant’s plan had little value. He suggested encouraging workers at area businesses to park at the public beach and take the trolley to their workplaces.

"We’ve got a five-pound Island with a 10-pound parking problem," said Bartelt. The city has exhausted the possibility of expanding parking and businesses must now create a solution, he said, perhaps using a lot at the Coquina boat ramp and a large golf cart for transportation to the business district.

Australian pines are exotic and as many as possible should be removed to return the Island to its pristine state, Bartelt said. The pines should be removed and replaced with native plants in the same ratio, Shearon said.

A sidewalk project along Gulf Drive ended with sidewalks on the east side of the road partly because the project took five years and $75,000, Shearon said, although the original plan was to have sidewalks on both sides of the road. "I like the shabby chic look of the Island as it is now," with a sidewalk on one side of the road, Bartelt said, adding that he would have to research whether there was a need for another sidewalk.

A public/private partnership should be developed to discuss parking on the beach across from City Hall, Bartelt said. Shearon said he is opposed to a parking lot on the beach.

On the city’s efforts to go "green," Shearon said, "the city has an obligation to be as environmentally friendly as we can," with more than a third of the city as public beach, "but we do have budget restraints." Bartelt said that he is interested in looking into using a mixture of permeable sand and shell for parking lots and walking paths.

On whether the city’s guidelines for development are desirable, Shearon said that the public should attend comprehensive plan meetings and express their opinions, or apply for openings on the planning and zoning board. Bartelt said he would have to research with the planning and zoning department whether there are violations of the plan in the city.

Bartelt said he looks forward to becoming more involved with the city’s employees. "It’s a joy to me that there’s such a team spirit and a team effort," he said.

He brings a different set of skills to the city than Shearon, Bartelt said, including the teamwork and cooperation he learned as a firefighter in Milwaukee. He said the city needs to provide an atmosphere in which businesses can thrive.

Shearon said he would like to carry out projects he worked on in his prior commission term, including working on the budget and establishing timelines for projects.

The government moves at a glacial speed, Shearon said, adding, "That isn’t acceptable any more."

City tries for parking lot money
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT This vacant lot south of the BeacHhouse
may become a parking lot to be used for the restaurant and the city of Bradenton Beach.

BRADENTON BEACH – BeacHhouse restaurant owner Ed Chiles has been trying to get permission from the city to use a strip of beachfront land south of his restaurant as a parking lot. It was used for overflow parking until the city said he could no longer allow customers to park there and approved it for valet parking only.

If the city has its way, however, he’ll get his parking lot as long as he works with the city to help it get its own lot.

Bradenton Beach Projects and Programs Director Lisa Marie Phillips has applied for a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) called the Coastal Partnerships Initiative that would primarily help pay for a dunes restoration project. As part of that project, the city would install a parking lot on a strip of city-owned land south of the BeacHhouse restaurant and invite Chiles to build a connecting parking lot on his property.

The city held a public meeting Monday to give the public a chance to speak on the project.

The grant, which would award up to $50,000 for any project on a one-to-one match, is meant to "inspire community action and promote the protection and effective management of Florida’s coastal resources in four specific categories," according to an information sheet published by DEP. One of those categories is increasing access to coastal resources while protecting fragile and overused environments. To that end, Phillips wants two of the parking spaces in the lot to be handicapped only parking.

So far, DEP Field Inspector Steve West has given his blessing, although he said the city and Chiles would have to submit a full application for the project, and Manatee County Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker approved the plan last week.

As for matching the grant, DEP allows in-kind matches, which would include labor and materials donated. When Phillips presented her plan to the city commission on Oct. 9, she noted that the city had sand available from a West Coast Inland Navigation District dredging project to help build the dunes. She suggested having public works employees truck the sand to the site as part of the match. She also suggested asking professionals to donate their efforts to the project and invited three of them to a public meeting.

Architect Carlos Ugarte, of Ugarte and Associates; coastal landscape expert Mike Miller; Turner Tree representative Jay Andrews, who lives in Bradenton Beach; and Chiles all appeared to be interested and Phillips said Monday that she had indications that they would donate their efforts.

At that meeting, Phillips asked the participants to bear with her.

"If we get the grant, I don’t expect we’ll get any funds until Aug. 1, 2009, and then we’ll have some money to pay you," she said. "This is not a rush project, so I won’t cram a lot of meetings down your throat, maybe once a month."

The next meeting will be Nov. 14.

Pine Avenue restoration project takes shape
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Pine Avenue Restoration LLC has
opened a construction and real estate office on the
southeast corner of Crescent Street and Pine Avenue.

ANNA MARIA — Construction is well under way on the first two buildings in the Pine Avenue restoration project at the southwest corner of Pine and Crescent Street.

The buildings are being constructed of a hollow Styrofoam-like building material that’s locked together like Lego blocks. When the walls are up completely, concrete will be poured into the cavities of the blocks, making the walls strong enough to withstand 200 m.p.h. winds. They’re part of the green building concept that Michael Coleman, Pine Avenue Restoration’s managing partner, has committed to.

"We just got done ordering the windows," Coleman said. "We had to order windows that will retain the heat or the air conditioning. Once you commit to the green construction idea, you have to go all the way and change a lot of the things you’d do in traditional construction."

Coleman said the project’s commitment to an environmentally friendly presence in the city doesn’t stop with the buildings.

"We’re looking at maybe establishing some remote parking and electric cars for people to use while they’re here," he said. "That idea’s still in the early stages, but we’re thinking of non-traditional ways for people to get around."

Coleman said he’s also thinking about a bicycle renting system that would work like the luggage carrier dispensing system in airports.

"You’d put in a dollar, take out your bicycle, use it for a day, and return it," he said.

And across Crescent Street to the east, the project has opened a construction and real estate office with rocking chairs on the porch out front, much like the rocking chairs Coleman promises in front of most of the structures he plans for Pine Avenue.

The project will run along the south side of Pine Avenue and will include structures that will house residences, offices and retail stores, which is in keeping with the mixed-use development that has been planned for that street but never really realized until Coleman came along with his project.

The site plan for the second set of buildings in the project is on the drawing board. This one will be built around Rosedale Cottage, a structure that was built in 1913. That property is just across Pine Avenue from Roser Memorial Community Church at 503 Pine Ave.

The plans for that site hit a snag earlier this month when the city’s planning and zoning board asked Coleman to work on maintaining the proper setbacks and redesigning the parking at that site.

The redesigned site plan should come before the P&Z board early in November with a presentation before the city commission later in the month.

Candidates preside as ghouls parade
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Click on the picture above for a closer look.
Click to download the Adobe Free Reader

HOLMES BEACH – With election day only days away, John McCain and Barack Obama came to Anna Maria Island to stump for those undecided votes. Of course, they had to march in the Anna Maria Elementary School parade and attend the Fall Festival on the school grounds and then, if they got their homework and chores done, they went outside to do their thing. It was probably to play, not politic.

It was, in reality, the AME annual costume contest, parade and the two candidates were much shorter than they appeared on television. Joey Thiel played Barack Obama and Leo Telelli played John McCain, and thanks to some realistic rubber masks, they made great parade marshals as they rode in the electric cart that bore a sign in back reading, "And we approve this message."

Credit Joey’s mom, Kelly Thiel, for the candidates in the car. She and dozens of other parents pulled off what many would consider a miracle for the way the economy is. According to PTO President Caroline Pardue, the Fall Fest made around $13,000, up from last year’s total of $12,793. The money goes for the PTO program to support the students and staff.

"I get goose bumps thinking we brought in that much because we thought we would only make around $10,000," Pardue said. "We would have been happy making $8,000."

Pardue said they had a lot of people to thank, including the businesses and individuals who donated prizes.

"We didn’t have that many prizes a couple of weeks ago," she said, "but we ended up with 250."

She also praised Glen Grizzaffe, a friend of parent Joe Pandolpho, for giving the school around 150 large pumpkins, which the PTO sold for $10 each. He said as of Monday, there were only two left.

Before the parade, judges determined which boy and girl had the best costume in each class. It was a difficult decision for most, as the kids and their parents showed a lot of imagination in their costumes.

After they arrived at the school, the kids enjoyed the cooler temperatures as they played games and climbed the rock wall, jumped in the bounce house and enjoyed other concessions. Inside, there were tables with baked goods and Joe Rogers and crew from the Sandbar restaurant served lunch to the people in line.

Pardue also praised the parents who built the haunted house in the auditorium.

"That took a lot of work and it was really fun to go through," she said.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper