The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 25 - March 11, 2009


County beach pier to be replaced

BRADENTON – If all goes well, fishers and strollers will have a new pier at Manatee Beach in eight to 10 months.

Manatee County commissioners approved Option 2 of three options presented to them at a special meeting last week. Option 2 is to remove the existing pier and replace it with a conventional pier with a 15-foot elevation at a cost of $1.5 million.

Other options included removing the pier and replacing it with a lower elevation pier for $2 million, or repairing the existing pier at a cost of $1.7 million.

At the meeting, a representative of Bridge Design Associates presented photos of the existing structure showing pieces of concrete ready to fall off, gaping holes, large fissures, shattered concrete and freshly cracked concrete.

"Does the $1.5 million include engineering and permitting?" Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked.

Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker said the cost for permitting and design would be an additional $92,112, and it has been budgeted.

"This direction from you is not to build this pier," Hunsicker said. "It is direction to design and permit it, and when it comes time to make the decision to build it, that’s when we’ll need to work with you to identify the funding.

"We’re asking for authority to continue the permit and design process. The permit has been on the way since September of last year. We’re about 2 to 3 weeks away from submitting our permit applications with your decision on the option."

Commissioner Donna Hayes asked when they would be negotiating the contract. Hunsicker said it would be at least four months to complete the permitting, prepare the bid documents and advertise for bid.

"I want to make this clear, there’s sufficient funds in the tourist development funds for the construction of this pier," Hunsicker stressed.

"Why would I want to go through the process of permitting and designing this if I didn’t have a plan to build it?" Commissioner Larry Bustle asked. "Let’s build it. I would like to vote today."

He asked if there are other enhancements that should be added to the pier. Hunsicker said they could add another 100 feet for recreational value.

"A bait shop would be nice, but we’re forgetting why people come to the Island and I don’t think we want to lose that and get commercial," Commissioner Carol Whitmore pointed out.

Commissioner Joe McClash said he would like to have the option of adding another 120 feet when the bid goes out and the board could decide at that time whether to spend the extra money for it.

He made the motion to accept Option 2, expedite it as soon as possible and authorize staff to extend it up to 120 feet and bring that option back. The motion was approved unanimously.

Bridge project finishes right on time

Quinn Construction finished the $11.5 million Anna Maria Island Bridge Rehabilitation project Monday, the 400th day of the project that was contracted to take 400 days.

Earlier, the company had said it might try to finish earlier to qualify for a performance bonus, but it still had some final details to take care of Monday.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) took note of the project, following a successful full closure of the bridge for up to 45 days last year.

"As construction comes to an end, FDOT would like to thank Quinn Construction for their hard work and dedication throughout this project," FDOT District One Secretary Stan Cann said in a written statement. "I would also like to acknowledge the Island officials, fire rescue, police and Manatee County officials and staff and the public for their cooperation and support. The rehabilitation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge has been a success thanks to all involved."

The bridge was closed Sept. 29, 2008, to give the contractor time to replace the drive for the moveable bascule and other equipment in the roadway. The three Island cities, Manatee County, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies worked together to make sure the safety of the residents and visitors to the Island and businesses was not compromised.

The Anna Maria Island Sun worked with business owners in all three cities to put together Bridging the Gap, a series of weekend festivals and events to encourage people to come out to the Island during the weekends to help generate business. When the bridge was finally closed, traffic was light because the closure was performed during the slowest time of the year.

Quinn, which was under an incentive contract to finish early, earned a $625,000 bonus when they reopened the bridge a week earlier than required.

‘Irish’ elephant returns to parade

The 11th Annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick's Day Parade will be celebrated on Sunday, March 15, starting at 4 p.m. featuring the hit of last year’s parade, Judy the elephant, and her handler, Mr. Bones. Also returning are the city of Dunedin Pipe Band and the marching bands of Southeast High School, Braden River High School and the Manatee High School Drum Line.

The grand marshall for this year's parade is John Castelli, a World War II veteran who served with Patton in Europe and is one of the Beach Bistro's longest and favorite patrons, accompanied by his lovely wife, Ruby. Last year's grand marshall was Jim Gabaree, a veteran of the Normandy invasion.

The parade will commence at the Tidemark/Wachovia Bank parking lot at the corner of Gulf and Marina Drives, and then proceed northward along Marina and Palm Drives to end at 81st Street near the Holmes Beach City limit. This route will allow traffic to circumvent the parade by following Gulf Drive.

Beach Bistro owner Sean Murphy says the parade was born in a bar, like many other great Irish ideas.

Anybody wanting to participate in this year's parade or requiring further information should contact the Beach Bistro at 778-6444 or

Landscape restrictions considered

ANNA MARIA — City officials are poised to pass an ordinance regulating what homeowners and business owners can plant on their property.

The ordinance, known as the city of Anna Maria Landscape and Tree Ordinance, mandates that at least 25 percent of the landscaping on residential properties where new construction or significant renovation is occurring shall be native species. For similar commercial properties, the percentage of native vegetation has to be 75 percent.

And to remove a tree that’s diseased or dead or in the way, a property owner has to get a permit from the public works department and agree to plant two native trees for each tree that’s removed from the property.

"I don’t think I should have to plant certain trees," said Margaret Jenkins, a member of the P&Z Board. “I have no objection to native trees, but I don’t think anybody should tell you what you should plant on your lot."

Many choices

City Planner Alan Garrett pointed out that there are many varieties of trees and shrubs on the approved list and only 25 percent of the plants on a lot have to be native species.

“I don’t agree with anybody telling me what I can plant on my property," Jenkins said. "If I wanted to live in a gated community, I’d have done it."

There was further discussion about some of the intricacies of the ordinance, which was put forward by the environmental committee at the request of the city commission. The ordinance is largely the work of former committee member Robin Wall.

It’s detailed and includes a list of prohibited plantings, which are all non-native and invasive.

"What appears at first to be an ordinance that is somewhat Draconian, is actually quite mild compared to landscaping ordinances that other cities have," Tim Eiseler told members of the P&Z Board at their March 3 meeting. "We deliberately made it so that it isn’t too expensive or too rigorous for property owners."

Eiseler, the former chairman of the city’s environmental committee has a master’s degree as a landscape architect. He’s a certified arborist who works in urban forestry.


Eiseler drew the board’s attention to the section of the ordinance outlining the purpose and intent of the document.

The purpose is to protect plant and wildlife habitats from adverse impacts while contributing to the process of air purification, recharging ground water and retarding erosion by stormwater. The ordinance is also designed to ensure there are vegetative buffers between land uses.

Garrett informed board members that Mike Coleman’s Pine Avenue Restoration Project had voluntarily agreed to the terms of the proposed ordinance.

Sally Eaton, who owns a property on Spring Avenue that backs up to one of Coleman’s Pine Avenue sites, urged the committee to make sure the landscape buffers contained plantings that actually would provide buffering.

"Please consider making sure that there are plants that fill in the entire buffer," she pleaded. "If you just have low shrubs and taller trees and nothing in the middle, there is no real buffering."

Existing residential and commercial uses are exempt from the requirements of the proposed ordinance.

The P&Z Board voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the ordinance to the city commission.

The first reading of the ordinance will be held at the March 12 city commission work session. The final reading will take place at the regular meeting on March 26.

Swfwmd places county under red alert

Manatee is one of seven counties now under an extreme water shortage alert due to the continuing drought.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District placed the counties under the Phase IV designation recently, which kicks in a new set of regulations designed to conserve water and educate the public. The regulations will be in place until June 30, when the Swfwmd Governing Board revisits them.

The requirement that local officials are currently dealing with is to increase enforcement efforts.

"We abide by the county restrictions," Anna Maria, Mayor Fran Barford explained. "When we receive a notice of violation from the county, we send a warning letter. If the violation continues, we’ll notify the county and they’ll act."

In Bradenton Beach, Building Official Steve Gilbert said they also leave enforcement up to the county.

In Holmes Beach, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger told commissioners at a recent meeting that the city’s policy is to send a letter to the owner of record when it receives a complaint of a violation. Commissioners agreed to continue that policy.

On Longboat Key, Public Works Director Juan Florensa said the town has issued warnings but not fined anyone, but now it has the ability to go straight to a fine for the first violation.

"We are starting a two-week educational campaign," he said. "We’ll put notices in the water bills and on our Web site. We have a lot of fountains, so we’ll contact all the condo managers about the four-hour limit, and we’ll contact the landscape companies because they are the ones that set the timers.

"The police officers will have some discretion because people forget and make mistakes. We want to be very gentle. We believe in education. It will take time."

Extreme water shortage restrictions

Watering schedule

• Addresses with house numbers ending in 0 or 1: Monday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 2 or 3: Tuesday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 4 or 5: Wednesday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 6 or 7: Thursday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 8 or 9: Friday.

New lawns

• New and replacement turfgrass (sod, plugs, seed, etc.) has a 30-day establishment period. On days 1 through 15, the new or replacement turfgrass may be watered any day of the week. On days 16 through 30, the turfgrass may be watered approximately every other day. Even-numbered addresses may only water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Odd-numbered addresses may only water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

New plants

• New plants (other than lawns) have a 60-day establishment period. On days 1 through 30, new plants may be watered any day of the week. During days 31 through 60, new plants may be watered approximately every other day. Even-numbered addresses may water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Odd-numbered addresses may be watered on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Hand-watering and micro-irrigation

• Although handwatering and microirrigation of plants (other than lawns) can still be done on any day, it is now limited to the hours of before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.


• Aesthetic fountains and other water features may only operate four hours per day. The regular hours of operation can be selected by the owner, but must be posted.


• Water utilities and other local enforcement officials must increase their enforcement efforts, including responding to citizen complaints, monitoring water use through patrols or customer records, and issuing citations without having first issued a warning.

Other Water Utility Responsibilities

• Utilities must contact and strive to significantly reduce water use among their high-use single-family customers (those using 15,000 gallons per month or more).
• Utilities must consider implementing a drought surcharge to address their high-use single-family customers
• Utilities must consider implementing a reclaimed water availability fee (to encourage customers with access to reclaimed water to use it for irrigation, instead of using drinking-quality water).
• Utilities must continue implementing Phase II water conservation efforts, including customer education about the current water shortage and ways to conserve water.
• Tampa Bay Water and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority must each hold a drought summit, in conjunction with the utilities they serve, to explore additional conservation options.


• Requiring restaurants to only serve water upon request.

Take a pass on passing on right

It happens every year right about now, the height of the tourist season on Anna Maria Island.

People get impatient waiting for a car to turn left from Gulf Drive into a shopping center or side street or parking lot, and they decide to pass – on the right.

Island resident Nancy Ambrose was nearly struck by a car that was passing on the right as she walked across Gulf Drive at a Holmes Beach crosswalk, she said. Traffic from both directions was stopped for her, she recalled, but an impatient driver pulled around to the right, narrowly missed her and was pulled over by police.

"I don’t know whether they got ticketed," she said, "but it was scary."

Tickets for the offense are $141, Holmes Beach Police Officer Rob Velardi said, plus three points on a driver license.

It’s illegal to pass on the right, except for the very few places where there is pavement to the right of the roadway that is not designated as a bike lane, he said. Unlike United Kingdom terminology, a sidewalk is not considered pavement.

"If you have to drive onto the dirt or grass, that’s against the law," Velardui explained.

Bicyclists, pedestrians, people walking dogs and pushing baby strollers and pulling kayaks on wheels and riding skateboards use the bike lanes, and a car passing on the right can cut them off or collide with them.

"We’re definitely seeing it more and more," Velardi said.

Lynn Budzinski, a 19-year Island resident, said that visitors aren’t the only ones passing on the right; residents do it too, to get around visitors who are sightseeing.

She suggests that visitors travel close to the speed limit on Gulf Drive, the only thoroughfare on the Island, mindful that people live and work here and are trying to get to jobs and appointments.

"It’s frustrating this time of year," Velardi said. "When we stop people, I tell them I know how frustrating it can be. But you can’t break the law just because you’re frustrated."

Boater safety tips aid survival

Knowledge of a few safety tips might have saved three football players who were lost during a fishing trip on Feb. 28 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, former South Florida player William Bleakley and Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper were lost after they became separated from Cooper’s 21-foot boat off Clearwater. Another passenger and former South Florida player, Nick Schuyler, survived and was rescued. A search was called off on March 3.

Boaters can slash their risks with information and the proper equipment, U.S. Coast Guard District Seven Auxiliary Capt. Raymond Paysour said.

"In the first place, if you’re going out any distance in the Gulf, you need to have a boat that’s large enough to handle the situation if a storm should come up," he said. "Six- to 14-foot waves are nothing unusual, and a 20-foot boat is not made to handle that." A boat should be at least 26 feet, preferably 30 feet, he said, adding that the average fisherman’s boat, like Cooper’s, is smaller.

Second, "Lifejackets are made to wear," he said. "At all times."

Attaching a Personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (PEPIRB) allows searchers to find anyone wearing the lifejacket, even if they’re unconscious. The device costs between $800 and $900.

"It’s worth it for a fisherman going out on a regular basis," Paysour said. "You can’t have too much safety equipment."

Boats also should be equipped with a GPS system, he said, and a $300 investment in a VHF FM radio Digital Selective System can increase the odds of being rescued.

If something happens to the boat, stay with it if possible, Paysour said, adding, "It’s easier to spot a boat than the head of a person."

Schuyler was wearing a life vest and was on the capsized boat when he was rescued.

Flares are only good if somebody’s there to see them, but it’s recommended to have them on board, Paysour said.

It’s safer to anchor in rough seas, he said, and don’t skimp on the anchor line – 7 feet of rope is needed for every foot of depth. For example, in 50 feet of water, you need 350 feet of anchor line to allow for riding big wave surges.

And just like mom taught you, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, so searchers will know where and when to begin looking.

Fifth graders in trouble over drugs
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Principal Tom Levengood speaks as
Counselor Cindi Harrison, Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson
and Officer Brian Copeman, the school’s resource officer, watch.

HOLMES BEACH – Five fifth-grade students at Anna Maria Elementary School are in trouble with school officials and possibly the law following an investigation of drug buying, selling and usage by students.

Principal Tom Levengood made the investigation public during a meeting with around 45 parents last Wednesday, March 4, at the school auditorium. The school resource officer, Holmes Beach Police Officer Brian Copeman; Holmes Beach Police Lieutenant Dale Stephenson; and school Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison accompanied him in front of the parents.

Levengood said he wanted to dispel rumors that had been running rampant since the investigation came to a head on Thursday, Feb. 26.

"Some of the stories I heard don’t contain any truth at all," he told the crowd.

Levengood said that the names of the students involved would not be made public because they are minors.

"The rumor for the past month is that students have had possession of marijuana since our January family fun night," Levengood said. "No one saw anything, there is no proof of anything, but all during the month there have been rumors that so and so had marijuana and so and so smoked marijuana and cigarettes."

Levengood said they learned a lot when they began investigating.

"The students at the after-school program at the Island Community Center said that certain students possess marijuana," Levengood said. "We investigated and found there was some substance to it. I think what scared us the most after we did all the interviews is that all of the fifth-graders knew about it and nobody said anything except for a few students."

Levengood said that there were two transactions where two fifth-graders bought what they thought was marijuana.

"One student got scared and flushed it down the toilet," he said. "Another student’s parents found it and took it to police, where it tested positive for tobacco. Nobody was arrested because no marijuana was found."

Levengood said that further investigation revealed that some students were involved in negotiating purchases. He then spoke about rumors that students were questioned in front of classmates and taken out of classrooms in handcuffs.

"Officer Copeman, Mrs. Harrison and I questioned the students at a second location so it was not done in front of other students," he said. "We found out many things. A lot more than we ever dreamed."

Levengood said that the students used foul language out of earshot of adults, and then he had a question for the parents.

"How many of you read your children’s text messages?"

When several hands went up, he congratulated them and said that when they looked at the text messages of the students in question, they found out a lot about the language they use and their involvement in drugs at the school, the skate park and at the beach. He said that the Dumpster at the skate park has a padlock to prevent kids from getting inside and smoking marijuana. He said there was evidence that some kids were consuming alcohol at the skate park.

Levengood said that when they narrowed the investigation down to five students, they knew they had no proof that the students bought marijuana. But looking at the Manatee County Code of Conduct, they knew that the students were guilty of attempting to purchase or sell drugs, which could result in expulsion. He said those students would have expulsion hearings and if they are expelled, their parents would have to make arrangements to have them attend another school in the district or be schooled at home.

"I’m in my 33rd year," he said. "This is the first time I have had to go to a pre-expulsion hearing."

Levengood said another thing they found was that there was some evidence that boys and girls were kissing.

One of the parents asked why the fifth-graders had not been given the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program this year. Levengood explained that officer Copeman would administer it after the FCAT tests end this month. Some parents suggested they teach the course earlier in the school year. Levengood said that they would certainly consider that.

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