The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 17 - January 14, 2009


Pipeline route draws protests

HOLMES BEACH – What exactly did Port Dolphin find while surveying 12,400 acres at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off Anna Maria Island last year?

The question was asked several times in several ways by officials of the town of Longboat Key at a Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting last Wednesday.

But they left frustrated and skeptical about Port Dolphin officials’ consistent answers – for commercial, competitive and legal reasons, it’s confidential.

"More sand is there that has not been identified yet. We asked for information, and you didn’t give it to us," Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said.

Some survey data is confidential, but the sand identified in the surveys ranges from light gray to dark brown, and is not suitable for beach renourishment, Port Dolphin’s German Castro said. He added that in-depth reviews to be conducted by multiple local, state and federal agencies during the permitting process should alleviate concerns.

But what’s under the dark sand could be fine, white beach sand, town officials say, adding that the town is willing to pay its own consultant to do studies of the sand deposits if Port Dolphin would share its data.

The Houston-based company attended the meeting to announce a proposed change in its original pipeline path, which was slated to plow through a high quality underwater sand reserve off the north end of Anna Maria Island.

In response to local official’s concerns, Port Dolphin surveyed the area and curved its new path away from the reserve used by Manatee County to renourish Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key beaches.

"We heard the community and we stepped up to get away from the sand resources," Port Dolphin spokesman Harry Costello said.

But Longboat Key officials said Wednesday that the new pipeline path could run through undiscovered reserves of fine, white sand, which is hard to come by and costly to find - the town spent has spent $1.5 million to find sand reserves since 2004.

Cities on Florida’s east coast are going as far as the Bahamas to get beach compatible sand, according to Longboat Key Mayor Hal Lenobel, who wrote the Manatee County Commission on Jan. 7 asking for support.

Thousand-foot buffer zones around the pipeline required by regulatory agencies also could reduce the feasibility of using some of the sand reserves, Lenobel said.

Castro replied that buffer zones are typically only 50 feet on either side of the pipeline.

Assistant Manatee County Attorney Sarah Schenk asked Port Dolphin to consider contracting with the county on the size of the buffer zone.

"It’s not reasonable to expect us to wait a year to find out what the buffer is," she said, referring to the length of the permitting process.

"The tradeoff seems to be it will cost us in sand or money, and they get their pipeline," St. Denis said, insisting that Port Dolphin reveal its findings.

"I suspect you’re balancing the economic reasons against our concerns," added Longboat Key Commissioner George Spoll.

Tense meeting

The tension began on Nov. 18, when Port Dolphin met with officials from Longboat Key, Manatee County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and their consultants to show them three potential pipeline routes that would minimize the impact on currently permitted sand reserves.

While the company allowed them to look at information on computer screens, no one was allowed to download information or take photographs, St. Denis said.

It’s not the first time the town and the company have clashed. Last year, the town hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to dig up legal inadequacies in the pipeline plan. Patton Boggs filed a 26-page document with the U.S. Coast Guard criticizing the agency’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which detailed every aspect of the plan from engineering to the environment. A final EIS will be drafted later this year based on the new pipeline route.

The proposed Port Dolphin Energy Liquefied Natural Gas Deepwater Port would consist of two submersible mooring buoys in the Gulf of Mexico about three miles apart, 28 miles west of Anna Maria Island in 100 feet of water. Tankers would convert their cargoes of liquid natural gas into vaporized natural gas at the floating port. The gas would then be pumped into the proposed 42-mile pipeline, which would come ashore at Port Manatee to supply electric companies.

Fund raiser planned for shooting victim
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Chris Sharts

There will be a fundraiser for shooting victim Chris Sharts on Sunday, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. at The Distillery Tavern, 108 44th Ave. E., Bradenton.

There will be a live local band and guest DJs Francisco V. and James West spinning Chris's music of choice. There will be food, drinks, raffle drawings with prizes and plenty of merchandise for sale. All proceeds go to the Chris Sharts Fund.

It’s a long road to recovery for Sharts, 32, who was shot on Dec. 28 by Jeremiah Edland, of Holmes Beach, according to police accounts. Edlund then took his own life. Sharts’ jaw was shattered in the attack and he has other wounds to his face. The expenses are piling up rapidly and are expected to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to his sister, Kelly Sharts.

Chris Sharts was born and raised in Bradenton and graduated from Manatee High School in 1994. His passion in life is music and he is a disc jockey who enjoys progressive house music. His idol is the late Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker in the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," which also is Chris’ favorite movie. Kelly said he does a great Joker impression and he also loves the Tampa Bay Rays and Buccaneers.

Kelly said people who know Chris know that he has a presence as soon as he walks into a room and is a comical character who always seems to see the humorous side of everything.

"He has a heart of gold with a caring unlike any other," she said. "He would give the shirt off his back to help someone in need."

Chris’ lifelong dream is to pursue a degree in the recording arts at the Tampa International Academy of Art and Design. After his medical expenses are covered, his family would like to set up a tuition fund for him so he can look forward to a brighter future. But for now, he remains in critical condition, although he is getting better.

For more information on the benefit on Jan. 25, the day before Chris’ 33rd birthday, call The Distillery Tavern at 941-739-7845.

It’s go, no go for stop signs

ANNA MARIA — After numerous complaints, some acts of vandalism and study by the city, the stop signs on both sides of the Crescent Street Bridge are being replaced with 15 mph speed limit signs.

But signs on the North Bay Boulevard Bridge will stay.

The stop signs were installed as a means of protecting the bridges’ surfaces.

"We installed stop signs there and on the North Bay Boulevard Bridge after it was determined that the damage to the surface of the bridge was caused by trucks crossing at speeds that caused a scraping off of the surface of the bridge," Mayor Fran Barford told commissioners at their Jan. 8 meeting. "Both bridges are of the same vintage, and it’s our responsibility to prolong the life of those bridges."

The stop signs were stolen several times and thrown into the Lake LaVista canal.

In another act of vandalism, a gallon of turquoise paint was splashed onto the Crescent Street Bridge surface. It was latex paint, according to Public Works Director George McKay, so it’s gradually wearing off.

“It makes me sad to think that some of our residents would resort to vandalism," Barford said.

The removal of the stop signs was actually a felony, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Kenney said, because whenever you remove a traffic control device, you could cause accidents, injuries or even death.

There had been numerous complaints and several petitions submitted at city hall asking for the removal of the stop signs.

"We said we’d try it for a while and see how it worked," Barford said. "Now that we’ve taken a look at how the stop signs work, we think we can control the traffic over the Crescent Street Bridge with speed limit signs there."

Barford said the stop signs on both sides of the North Bay Boulevard Bridge, which carries a lot of truck traffic, would have to remain to protect the bridge surface.

The city commission passed an emergency ordinance, which paved the way for the removal of the stop signs and the installation of speed limit signs.

"We can control things that way with the Crescent Street Bridge," Kenney said. "People wanted to place weight limit signs there, but we really don’t have the equipment or the training to enforce weight limits. This will work for that bridge."

Opposition forms to proposal

ANNA MARIA — Proposed changes to the land use regulations governing Pine Avenue are prompting strong reactions on both sides of the development issue.

Residents in favor and those opposed to the plans filled city hall at two separate meetings last week and made their feelings known.

The primary point of contention is whether or not the residential floor of buildings in the city’s residential/office/retail (ROR) district can be rented out or if either the owner or an employee of a business on the ground floor must occupy them, as is the regulation in the current LDR.

During the discussion of the city’s recently approved comprehensive plan, an ad hoc group vetting the plan, the planning and zoning board (P & Z) and the city commission voted to allow the businesses and the residential floors be rented or sold separately.

Now, as part of the mandated process of governing a city, the city must bring its land development regulations (LDRs) into compliance with the comp plan.

With the Pine Avenue Restoration Project becoming a reality, some residents raised red flags over the issue.

"Local Realtors are marketing the Pine Avenue properties as investment opportunities," Sally Eaton, who owns rental property on Spring Avenue, said at the P & Z meeting on Jan. 6. "They’re marketing them as places for wedding parties to stay. As it is now, rentals in this area are mostly seasonal or monthly. Those rentals don’t take away from the quiet, calm and quaintness of the community."

There are no restrictions on the length of time for rentals in the city. Properties can be rented for one night, a week, a month, seasonally or for a year.

"I have to confess that I never thought that changing the LDRs would result in the possibility of overnight rentals," City Commissioner Dale Woodland said at the Jan. 8 meeting. "I just assumed that they would be annual rentals. I had no problem with the tenant upstairs not being connected with a business downstairs, but I never envisioned this."

At both meetings, the idea of restricting one-night or weekend rentals was tossed around.

"I think I could live with a one-week rental," P&Z Board Member Randall Stover said.

Michael Coleman, the managing partner in the Pine Avenue Development Project, said he had no problem with limiting rentals to a one-week minimum stay.

The P & Z board is going to take a look at mandating a one-week rental not only in the ROR district but citywide at its next meeting Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

The city commission, which had scheduled a public hearing on the changes for its Jan. 8 meeting, took public comment, but was unwilling to act until it gets a recommendation from the P & Z board after its next meeting.

The commission’s hearing has been continued to Feb. 12.

In a related development, commissioners refused to hear a scheduled proposal from Coleman to place a 24-unit guesthouse on the six lots on the Northwest corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard across from the city pier.

"We are not allowed to hear this," City Commission Chair John Quam said. "You have to prepare a site plan for that property and we can hear it then as part of the formal process."

SAM seeks answers on bridge

HOLMES BEACH – When the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held its latest workshop on the future of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Dec. 16, several members of the citizen’s activist group Save Anna Maria (SAM) submitted questions to the state officials.

As yet, they have not received any answers, according to SAM President Billie Martini.

Others attending the SAM meeting on Saturday, Jan. 10, did the same, so Martini decided to draft some of those questions and resubmit them to the FDOT officials.

"I asked them if they’re so interested in replacing the Anna Maria Island Bridge, why not replace the Cortez Bridge too, since it was built at the same time," she said. "If they replace both bridges, I think it would be wise that they be the same height and if they make the Anna Maria Bridge 65 feet high, they would have a problem making the Cortez Bridge that high because there’s not enough room for the approaches."

SAM Vice President James Kissick said he sent letters to FDOT Project Engineer Chris Piazza, FDOT Regional Director Stan Cann, members of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and others explaining why you cannot have a high-rise bridge.

When SAM Secretary Nancy Deal said she sent a letter to FDOT and got no reply, Martini expressed her disappointment.

"It’s a shame, since they started out being nicer, even to the point of sending two men to my house to talk with me about my concerns," she said.

Deal said she wants to know who is on the bridge replacement committee that FDOT said it has formed.

"As far as I can see, the only reason for a tall bridge is so people don’t have to wait for the bridge to open," he said. "Yesterday, I saw a yacht waiting for the bridge and he could have fit under it except for his outrigger. You’re supposed to lower your outrigger, if you can, instead of making them open the drawbridge."

"I heard that the Coast Guard could fine boaters who make the drawbridges open unnecessarily," Martini said, "I wonder if the Coast Guard has actually fined any boaters."

"I’m concerned that there are aspects of a new bridge being constructed that FDOT is not telling us," Deal said. "Will they reconfigure Kingfish Boat Ramp? I’m concerned that traffic will be tied up when trucks hauling big boats leave the Kingfish parking lot and try to get up the steep incline to a 65-foot bridge."

Deal said she wants somebody to research how many times emergency vehicles have been tied up by the drawbridges to the Island, one of the state’s arguments for a taller bridge.

Deal said she would draft a letter with the concerns expressed during the meeting and send it to FDOT.

In other news, SAM members nominated new officers for 2009. Martini took herself out of the running for another term and Carol Soustek nominated Ursula Stemm, an audience member who attends most of the meetings. Deal nominated James Kissick for a second term as vice president. Martini nominated Deal for another term as secretary, and they all agreed to nominate Soustek for another year as treasurer. They will vote at their ext meeting on Feb. 7.

Relay for Life kicks off Monday
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

From left to right, 2009 Relay for Life committee members Jennifer Mongeau,
Nancy Ambrose and American Cancer Society staff partner Kimberly Borsheim.

The public is invited to a kickoff celebration for the 2009 Relay for Life of Anna Maria Island on Monday, Jan. 19 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Star Fish Company, 4600 124th St. W. in Cortez.

The 2009 Relay for Life of Anna Maria Island is a team event scheduled for May 16 and 17 to celebrate cancer survivorship and raise money for research and programs of the American Cancer Society. Teams gather at Coquina Beach for fun and inspirational activities and an overnight campout.

Relay for Life offers many opportunities to get involved, including joining the committee or starting a relay team. Those who start a team and pay the $100 team registration fee at the kickoff event will receive a special gift.

Please RSVP by Jan. 15 by calling 745-1214 ext. 5806.

Citizens may raise rates

Citizens Property Insurance policyholders could be charged higher rates and be forced to move to smaller insurance companies beginning next year.

The Citizens Property Insurance Mission Review Task Force announced its support last week for Citizens raising rates when its rate freeze expires at the end of 2009.

However, rate increases should be incremental to soften the blow to policyholders, the task force determined, with no annual increase higher than 20 percent.

The task force, assigned to return the state’s largest home insurance company to its intended role as the insurer of last resort, is scheduled to meet once more on Jan. 22 before submitting its recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the month.

The recommendations address concerns that Citizens' rates aren't adequate to cover claims if a major hurricane strikes, which would likely cause the underfunded state-run company to turn to the state’s taxpayers to make up the deficit.

Rate hikes could encourage policyholders to seek insurance elsewhere, lessening Citizens’ risk. Another recommendation could require Citizens policyholders to switch to smaller insurance companies offering at least the same coverage for the same or lower rates.

Currently, policyholders are allowed to reject offers from private insurance companies if they provide notice that they don’t want their policy to be switched.

Neighbors protest proposed alley vacation
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND On the Gulf Side of the Baritzal house,
the wooden deck between the screened porch and the sea oats
is built over the 10-foot platted but unimproved alley.

HOLMES BEACH – Neighbors surrounding a property owned by Fred and Susan Bartizal are protesting a request by the couple to vacate a 10-foot alley on its Gulf side.

The property at 2812 Avenue E contains a one-story duplex and appears to be on the beach. However, according to maps, there is a 10-foot platted unimproved alley and another lot owned by the Bartizals on the Gulf side of the duplex.

"It sets a precedent for other property owners along the beach," Steve LeGore pointed out. ‘The platted alley on the beach belongs to everyone. It’s valuable land. Why should the city give them that for free?"

According to the application, "The vacation of this alleyway would not deprive any landowners of access to their property, not would it deprive public access to the beach.

"As a practical matter, the Bartizals would like to construct a pool over that portion of the unimproved and unconstructed alleyway that separates their two otherwise adjacent properties. If the alleyway is not vacated, they will be forced to construct a pool extremely close to their existing home."

LeGore also objected to the pool construction because "it adds to the impervious surface."

"And they’d have to fence it," Sue Johnson added.

Jim Guerino said he is concerned about nesting sea turtle habitat.

"Whenever you put a barrier on the beach, it impedes the sea turtles," Guerino said.

"The turtle nests were so far up on the beach this year, that they were in the alleyway." Roxie Asbury explained. "They wouldn’t have that area to nest in. There’s so little habitat left and with the storms, the nests that are high up on the beach are often the only ones that survive."

Asbury said she is also concerned about storm damage.

"When there’s a storm, there’s more likely to be damage because they’re closer to the water. and when people have more claims, I can affect our insurance rates."

In conclusion, LeGore pointed out that having the alley would give the Bartizals 10 more feet toward the beach if they ever decide to rebuild.

“We’re giving away Florida bit by bit,” LeGore said.

At press time, the city commission was considering the request.

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