The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 28 - April 1, 2009


Speakers support low bridge

HOLMES BEACH – It was the final chance for the public to learn about the options for the future of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and air their concerns, ask questions or voice their support for an option.

Eleven people spoke and nine of those said they preferred a low-level drawbridge, much like the one that is there now.

The Florida Department of Transportation held its final public hearing at St. Bernard Catholic Church on its Project Development and Environmental (D&E) study and it was an opportunity for the layman to learn the latest on the bridge options or the activist to show a preference. Members of Save Anna Maria (SAM) set up tables in front of the church entrance with notebooks full of paperwork collected by the group 17 years ago, when it successfully challenged a highway department attempt to replace the drawbridge with a 65-foot, fixed span. Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola had kept all that information for all these years.

In that first attempt, FDOT was stopped from replacing the drawbridge because it did not provide the required public notice. This latest attempt gave the public three hearings at different times of the year with several options including height, alignment, number of sidewalks and width of lanes.

Among the options also was a no-build rehab of the current bridge, which just underwent a $10.5 million rehab, and a tunnel instead of a bridge. FDOT ruled out the tunnel because of cost.

Last Thursday’s hearing attracted more than 100 people, according to FDOT officials who kept track via sign-in sheets. The comments heard at the meeting and the written comments that are due by April 9 will be put with the rest of the comments collected over the past nine months and FDOT will make its choice sometime in June, according to project engineer Chris Piazza. That decision will be sent to the U.S. Coast Guard for its approval.

During the public comment segment, at the end of the hearing, several speakers made eloquent arguments for their choices.

"Anna Maria Island has a quiet atmosphere with a small, but functional drawbridge," said Thomas Mitchell, who has owned a condominium unit on the Island for 23 years. "Now comes this potential destroyer of this way of life."

Mitchell insinuated that Longboat Key might be pressuring FDOT to build a tall bridge. He said an FDOT survey of people living on the Island and attending public hearings was full of holes while an Internet survey by the Anna Maria Island Sun was, in his opinion, more accurate.

In the latest FDOT survey, 69 percent wanted a tall bridge and 12 percent wanted a low-level drawbridge. The results were similar to an earlier FDOT survey in which 66 percent wanted a tall bridge and 9 percent favored a low drawbridge. In The Sun’s survey, 41 percent of those responding said they wanted to rebuild the existing bridge, while 44 percent said they wanted a tall, fixed-span bridge. Itchell said the choice of a tall bridge would have all the earmarks of a taxpayer revolt and lawsuit.

Bib Rosis, of Holmes Beach, said while opponents of the tall bridge argue that higher winds on a high bridge would force officials to close that type of bridge before a low-level drawbridge, he feels a tall bridge would avoid flooding.

"I personally have seen waves spill over the causeway blacktop at wind speeds well below hurricane strength,” Rosis said.

He also said that a 65-foot fixed-span would not be a mega bridge. A 130-foot-tall structure like the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a mega bridge.

William Wamester, of Anna Maria, said that during a hurricane, it would be better to have a low-level bridge because of wind speeds, but there is another reason, too – ambience.

"Our lifestyle cries for a low level bridge," he said. "Traffic backup is not a problem, it’s part of the charm of the Island."

SAM President Ursula Stemm said it is a known fact that the Manatee County commissioners are working together with FDOT to get a tall bridge and she asked if there has been an environmental impact statement filed on the replacement project yet.

SAM Secretary Nancy Deal said she drives off the Island to work and back every work day and she has been stopped by the drawbridge maybe three times since August. She talked about other tall structures.

"I agree that the new Ringling Bridge is a beautiful bridge, but it does not belong on Anna Maria Island," she said. "The Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building are beautiful structures, but they are not for Anna Maria Island."

The other tall bridge support came from John Cagnina, son of the late former mayor of Anna Maria, Ernie Cagnina. He said if you have to worry about the height of a bridge during evacuation, it’s too late.

"When you evacuate Anna Maria Island, there should not be any wind speed," he said. "The sun should be shining."

The next step is up to FDOT.

WMFD takes first; firefighter takes knee
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED BY LT. RYAN MOORE Marissa Crosby gets a proposal
on bended knee from Lt. Ryan Moore atop the Tampa Bank of America
building following his participation in a fund-raiser.

West Manatee firefighters took first place in team fund raising and second place in the competition at the 4th Annual Climb Tampa event, but also took part in a carefully planned wedding proposal.

Team member Lt. Ryan Moore proposed to his girlfriend, Marissa Crosby, while atop the Bank of America building in downtown Tampa.

"Two weeks before the event, we did a practice run and the security guard let us up on the roof," Moore explained. "I thought it would be a nice place to propose. I told him what I wanted and he was very accommodating."

Moore and his 12 teammates were among 670 climbers to race their way up 42 floors, or 914 stairs, on March 21 to raise funds for the American Lung Association. Their bunker gear added 65 pounds to their load, increasing the challenge.

"Marisa and my mom, Mary Pickup, were up on the roof," Moore said. "We acted like it was for them to get a better view. I ran up the 42 floors and went into the banquet room where everybody was gathered, then we went out on the roof of the building.

"The ring was in my bunker pants. I had told Capt. Rich Losek what I was going to do and that when I took her to the side, he should gather the guys in a horseshoe around us. I got down on my knee and proposed."

The good news is that she said, "Yes!" but they haven’t set a wedding date yet.

"She’s always been supportive of everything I’ve done and she helped me raise money for the event," Moore said.

The team raise $4,825, with Moore collecting $1,150 and firefighter Rodney Kwiatkowski collecting $1,647.

Affaire auction dazzles with prizes

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and you could be the lucky bidder for an AMI destination bracelet and matching pendant necklace at this year’s Affaire Under the Starfish Sky on Saturday, April 4, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

The jewelry from Bridge Street Jewelers in Bradenton Beach was designed for the Affaire and is valued at $7,400. Its total weight in diamonds is 1.5 carats. Visit for more info.

In addition to jewelry, trips are a favorite live auction item and one that will catch your eye is five nights for two at Eling Forest Winery and Vineyard, located one hour and 20 minutes south of Sydney, Australia, in the beautiful countryside of the Southern Highlands. The package includes one special catered dinner by Five-Star, award winning chefs Mark and Megan Stone at Stone’s restaurant. Also included is a private tour of the winery and vineyard. Visit for more details.

If a raffle is your game, get your tickets for the home theater system that includes a Samsung 50-inch widescreen plasma HDTV with 720p resolution, a Sony Blu-ray disc player with full HD 1080 p/24p video output and a Sony HT-SS2300 digital cinema 5.1 channel home theater system. Also included is free basic installation of these items by Intech.

This package is sponsored by Lutz, Bobo & Telfair P.A. Lawyers. Tickets are one for $5, three for $10 or seven for $20. Tickets are available at Duffy’s Tavern, Hurricane Hanks, AMI Oyster Bar on Cortez Road, Mr. Bones BBQ, Pine Avenue General Store, the Sandbar and AMI Video.

While perusing auction items, guests can enjoy six different gourmet food stations offered by AMI Oyster Bars, Ezra’s, Harry’s Continental Kitchen, the Chiles Group including the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista, The Sun House and Euphemia Haye.

The evening also includes dinner theatre style entertainment, three different bars, a light show, a shortened live auction, a fine art gallery, after gala dancing and 25th anniversary surprises.

Tickets to the Affaire are $100 per person or $800 for a table of 8. Call Sandee at 778-1908, ext. 9204, to reserve your tickets.

Chopper lands on beach
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Crew members chat with curious beachgoers who gathered to
watch the unusual site. SUN PHOTOS/PAT COPELAND

Beachgoers had an unexpected surprise when a Coast Guard helicopter landed on the beach near Bean Point in Anna Maria last Wednesday about 3 p.m.

"We made a precautionary emergency landing," Lt. Bill Friday, the aircraft commander, explained. "We had an intermediate transmission chip light, which means possible metal chips in the transmitter. Our procedure calls for a landing as soon as possible."

Friday and his three crew members talked with curious beachgoers and patiently posed for photos while waiting word from their base in Clearwater.

"At least the natives are friendly," joked one beachgoer.

According to Lt. Commander John Mixon, of the Coast Guard’s public affairs office in Clearwater, help arrived about 5 p.m. when another helicopter landed with extra parts and testing equipment and fixed the helicopter. One of those repairs was to drain the fluids from the crankcase of the rear rotor.

However, when it came time to replace the fluid, the crew didn’t have a funnel so they fashioned one from a beachgoer’s empty water bottle, which they cut in half and poured the fluid through into the crankcase.

Friday indicated that at no time was the helicopter in any real danger of crashing.

Changes in works for Tidemark

HOLMES BEACH – The saga of the Tidemark Lodge project has taken yet another turn.

The Tidemark sales trailer will be converted to a marina office to service the yacht basin, Lance McNeill, general partner of Lakeland-based Reliance Realty Partners, the project’s developer, announced last week.

"We got our operational permit for the marina from the DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)," McNeill explained. ‘We will hire an operator to come in and manage the marina.

"The marina is open for slip and boat rentals, we have six fishing guides operating out of there and a parasail business is interested in coming in. As activity picks up, we’ll see what needs to be there."

McNeill declined to comment on what prompted this latest move for the project, which was started about seven years ago by a different development company, but has languished and stalled as the economy has moved into recession. The original plans called for a lodge, marina, restaurant and meeting facilities, all on lushly landscaped grounds with an old Florida look.

For the past few years, however, the construction site has sat vacant. Hundreds of metal rebar rods protrude from the ground and weeds dot the property.

McNeill said this part of the project is going to change immediately, and for the better.

"People are sick and tired of looking at it and it’s a hazard for kids," he said of the construction site. "We plan to cut off the wrought iron, spread dirt over it to cover the foundations and plant grass.

"People using the marina can park there and it will look much better. We might add some benches and picnic tables. My main interest is the visual aspect."

According to the city’s Public Works Supervisor Joe Duennes, the original permits for the project are still valid and no new permits are needed for the cleanup work.

"They just have to keep the silt fence in place until the grass is established," Duennes said.

At the Beach Inn, 101 66th St., which is part of the Tidemark Beach and Marina Residence Club, the units were converted from sales to rentals for the season, McNeill said. The two completed buildings there include two- and three-bedroom units.

"Until we get a critical mass of sales, we converted to a short-term rental program. We’ve been 100 percent booked in all 12 units. There’s a huge volume of people ready and able to rent. We committed to four months and then we plan to convert back to sales."

April 1: Sea turtle, shore bird nesting begins
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Director Suzi Fox begins monitoring the beach for
signs of bird and sea turtle nesting beginning
April 1. The larger volunteer group of monitors
begin daily checks May 1.

When you see Suzi Fox driving the beach on the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch ATV every day, you know that spring has arrived, and summer’s just around the corner.

Although turtle nesting season doesn’t officially begin until May 1, the state requires the county to monitor nesting beaches beginning April 1 just in case there are any turtles who forgot to check their calendars and nest early.

"It’s part of the renourishment contract the county has with the state," Fox, AMITW director said. "The contract also says we monitor for signs of nesting birds, and since AMITW monitors the beach every day, we are also contracted to do the bird monitoring as well."

Shore bird nesting

The shore birds that call the Island home are already beginning to show the signs of spring.

"They’re doing their dance thing," Fox said. "They begin nesting earlier in the season than the turtles, so we have to really keep a close watch from now on."

Over the course of the past several years, there have been several nesting sites on Anna Maria shores.

An area on the Island’s north end has attracted skimmers, least terns and snowy plovers for several years now, and a stretch of beach in north Bradenton Beach was the site of a large colony of least tern nesters last year.

As the least tern chicks fledged and left that area last summer, a flock of skimmers moved in to lay their eggs, incubate them and raise the chicks.

"We had a lot of storms and some beach wash over, but there were quite a few chicks from the colonies, especially the one in Bradenton Beach, that seemed to flourish."

Volunteer training

Turtle Watch volunteers are trained each year in what signs to watch for as the marine turtles nest. On our beaches, we mainly see loggerheads, which are a threatened species.

Fox holds the state permit for sea turtle nesting. Only Fox and the volunteers she trains each year are allowed to monitor. The volunteer training will take place April 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall.

Most volunteers walk one of nine sections of the beach one morning a week at dawn to check for signs that birds or turtles have nested during the night. The volunteers learn to recognize the tracks of all five species of sea turtles.

When there is evidence that nesting activity has occurred, section coordinators mark off the area to protect the eggs, which incubate for about 60 days.

The volunteers are also trained to watch for signs that a nest is ready to hatch. Monitoring is stepped up as the state permit for Anna Maria Island, which is held by Fox. These volunteers and Fox are the only people allowed to touch nesting areas, eggs or hatchlings. Anyone who isn’t listed on the permit who touches or otherwise interferes with sea turtle nesting could be subject to state and federal fines of as much as $10,000 per turtle.

Volunteers are citizen scientists

AMITW, and similar organizations all over the state collect data about nesting birds and turtles on beaches all over the state.

"Then they crunch the numbers from all over Florida," Fox said. "Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission has been collecting data for almost 25 years now."

The FWC records are part of a larger body of information as scientists all over the world study the five species of marine turtles — all of which are threatened or endangered species.

Groups such as AMITW exist not only in Florida, but also increasingly in all countries where sea turtle nesting occurs.

Mote Marine Laboratory Vet Dr. Charlie Manire has called the volunteers citizen scientists.

"We could never collect that data without volunteers in the field," Manire said last year. "They contribute enormously to the entire body of scientific knowledge that is emerging about sea turtles."

Manire said it’s that vital, evolving and emerging science that will hopefully point the way to preserving marine turtle species.

Gala to benefit chorus & orchestra

For 17 years, the Anna Maria Island Community Chorus and Orchestra AMICCO has been making music on the Island.

During that time, it has grown from a group of musicians gathered together by Holmes Beach resident William Bartelsman, who played for the love of the music, to a well-trained orchestra and chorus that offers quality performances to large crowds.

As the quality increased, the costs also increased, and the group is now looking for ways to bring in more money, according to media liaison Barry Gould.

"It used to be free, but market research showed people wanted more upscale performances," he said. "By increasing the quality and paying more for performers, we had to change. That’s why we now charge $20 for each ticket and we pretty much sell out each performance."

The group used to have a garden tour as a fundraiser, but Gould said they had to discontinue it.

"Insurance costs increased as we were required to insure each property in the tour," he said. "It became too expensive and we were unable to raise the money we needed."

Their latest endeavor is an evening of food, champagne and entertainment at the home of a benefactor.

The Second Annual Taste of Music Champagne Gala is scheduled for Saturday, April 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at 2418 90th St. N.W., in Bradenton. The home was originally built by Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star Bobby Bonilla in 1993. The current owners are William and Rosita Greer. Tickets are still available for a tax-deductible donation of $50 each.

Enjoy live music from AMICCO outdoors with the Sunshine Sky Bridge in the backdrop while you sip on champagne and fine wines and sample hors d'ouerves. There will be a silent auction of original art by local artists, a Mother’s Day basket and a Father’s Day basket filled with a variety of items and gift certificates.

Gould said that they hope this will become an annual asset for AMICCO, as they need to bring in more than the ticket prices for each concert.

"Ticket sales don’t even come close to recovering our costs," Gould said. "We hope to do better with the Gala this year."

Gould said that while they look toward more ways to bring in money, they still have a good base of donors.

"Fortunately, we live in an area with a lot of lovers of the arts," he said. "We have some benefactors who contribute every year, but we would like get support from a wider base of people, which is what the Gala is doing."

Gould said that AMICCO is still a viable group and will be back again next season, but he’ll feel better when it can earn more money to keep up the quality of its performances and stay in the black.

For ticket information, call Donna Misner at 941-778-8585.

Commissioners ask mayor to investigate electronic read file

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners voted last week to accept an electronic mail policy dealing with e-mail. Included in the approved motion was a request that the mayor investigate the on-line open records policy of the Manatee Clerk of Courts and to explore the possibility of maintaining an electronic read file.

The city had a tradition of maintaining a paper read file that was available to the public. Over the course of several administrations and as there was increasing use of electronic mail to conduct city business, the contents of the read file slowed to a trickle.

The significance for an updated e-mail policy arose out of a recent court case in Venice.

"The city of Venice is going to have to pay $1 million in legal fees right now," Mayor Fran Barford told commissioners as she asked them to accept the policy.

"Some of the elected officials had to pay a huge fine and have a forensic performed on their computers," Deputy Clerk and Finance Director Diane Percycoe added.

Some elected officials in Venice were using their personal e-mail accounts to communicate about city business that was subject to the state’s Sunshine Laws. A private citizen blew the whistle and asked for copies of the e-mails. The commissioners refused to turn over the records. The citizen sued and the city of Venice lost the case when the courts found that the e-mails were, in fact, public records.

Preventing a similar situation in Anna Maria was the driving force behind the updated electronic mail policy.

New policy

Under the new provisions, which the commission voted unanimously to pass at its March 28 meeting, each elected official, member of boards and committees who have access to e-mail and all staff members will have city e-mail accounts, which they will use to conduct all city business. An outside firm will manage the e-mail.

The cost will be $2,473.55 for the remaining five months of this fiscal year. It will be $4,420.80 for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Everything will be archived and retained by the outside firm according to state laws.

Public access

"This is a very appropriate time to look at this," Commissioner Dale Woodlandsaid. "We could make everything available on our Web site. We want to do it on the front end of this."

Woodland said that his investigations tell him that programming the system to maintain public access will be far easier and less expensive to do during the design phase.

"If we try to do it when everything is up and running, it’ll be much more complicated and expensive," he said.

Commissioner Chuck Webb was concerned that things not subject to the Sunshine Laws could find their way onto the system.

"There are 1,034 exceptions to the public records law," he said. "I’m afraid of the fallout if we let something get out that shouldn’t."

Webb then suggested that the mayor contact Chips Shore, clerk of courts, because he is already working with a system that filters out things like social security numbers and other information that shouldn’t be in the public domain.

"It can be done," he said.

Read file maintenance concerns

"As the city’s administrator, I do not have to maintain a read file," Mayor Barford said.

The read file, as the city attorney pointed out, is merely a convenience for the citizens and not a mandatory device under the law.

Nonetheless, four of the five commissioners have expressed a desire to see the read file maintained in some form – electronic or otherwise.

Commissioner Chris Tollette has not weighed in on the matter as yet.

Both Barford and Percycoe expressed concern about the amount of staff time necessary to maintain a read file. They were also worried about the expense of providing a computer terminal and printer for the public.

"It’s only the press and a few citizens who ever use the read file," Barford said.

The mayor said she’d monitor the use of the read file for a while and get back to the commission.

The number of documents in that file has increased over the past few weeks, and the day after the meeting, the file was moved into the administrative offices so that it’s use could be more carefully measured.

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