The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 32 - April 29, 2009


House OKs oil, gas drilling
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/PROVIDED Oil drilling rigs could be built in
the Gulf within sight of the beaches under the plan approved Monday.

TALLAHASSEE – A last-minute proposal to allow oil and gas exploration as close as three miles from Florida’s coast passed the state House of Representatives on Monday 70 to 43.

The Senate has until Friday, the last day of the session, to take up the proposal, which local Republican Sen. Mike Bennett doubts will happen.

"But I have seen the world change up here in six days," said Bennett, who opposed the bill, adding that due to its last-minute introduction, legislators had very little information.

The bill would enable the governor and Cabinet to grant oil and gas exploration and drilling leases three to 10 miles from shore, a sharp departure from earlier efforts to limit drilling up to hundreds of miles offshore.

A proposed amendment to allow voters in coastal counties to have final approval over drilling decisions failed.

Proponents of the bill cited advantages including generating revenue for state coffers and creating other economic advantages for Florida.

Oil exploration off the coast represents "a whole new industry for Florida" with new, high paying jobs and the prospect of lessening energy dependence on foreign oil, said bill co-sponsor Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Republican from Putnam County, who noted that everyone in the House chamber arrived in a car. "Before Christopher Columbus came here and discovered America, all the thinkers of his day said, ‘Don’t go near the perceived edge.’ "

An amendment to the bill promised $25 million from leasing revenues to several agencies, including the state university system for research into fossil fuel alternatives, the Internal Improvement Trust Fund for beach renourishment, environmental science programs in elementary middle and high schools, veterans programs and the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

‘Dagger in the heart’

Local Republican Rep. Bill Galvano voted against the bill, but favored having the discussion.

"I have always been very protective of the coastline and have never supported offshore drilling," he said.

An oil spill would "put a dagger in the heart of my economy and the economy of many coastal communities," said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Democrat representing parts of Manatee and Sarasota County.

"Siesta Beach is rated one the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world because it is fine crystalline sand, completely unpolluted. People come literally from all over the world to visit our beaches. It is a part of our economic base," he said. "Just the smallest of spills will send people elsewhere. These are not just beaches but pristine beaches."

A suggestion from another representative that oil rigs attract jellyfish elicited chuckles, but is no joke, he said.

"Every time we have a red tide bloom we lose reservations all across the region," he said, adding that stinging jellyfish would have the same effect, and could also affect commercial fishing.

Bennett said he might reconsider the bill if revenue from the rigs was channeled into renewable energy.

Local reaction negative

"I cannot believe that anyone would support the risk of the entire ecology and economy with an industry that could not pay off for decades," said Lisa Marie Phillips, director of project and program management for the city of Bradenton Beach, where she has launched several environmental programs.

Oil rigs so close to shore would be discouraging for her project teams, she said, adding, "Why should we worry about water quality? What’s the point?

"And how do you market a holiday destination where you can see oil derricks offshore? People are certainly not going to want tar balls on the beach," she said. "How do you package that as a wedding destination?"

"I think oil drilling is terrible for tourism," said David Teitelbaum, Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) member and Bradenton Beach hotelier. "It doesn’t belong close to the beaches. Tourism is the number one dollar income in Florida."

Even if the risk of an oil spill is negligible, as proponents have claimed, "I’m totally against it because there other places to go," he said. "A couple hundred miles away is more suitable."

"We do not want oil drilled off our shores," TDC member and Bradenton Beach hotelier Barbara Rodocker agreed. "Tourism is the biggest industry in Florida. Is there any guarantee that an oil spill will not damage our beaches and our tourism?"

If oil rigs are allowed within sight of the beach, "it would definitely affect tourism," said Ashok Sawe, owner of Palm Tree Villas in Holmes Beach. "Oil revenue does not even compare to tourism revenue. For a state that calls itself ‘The Sunshine State,’ I do not understand why there is not a solar panel on every roof."

Allowing oil drilling in the Gulf is inconsistent with existing environmental regulations, said Suzi Fox, of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

"We’re so cautious about not allowing anyone to pluck a mangrove on the shoreline," she said, "or putting two feet of wood in front of their property on (sea turtle) nesting beaches."

Karen Bell, of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, wondered why lawmakers would consider allowing oil rigs within three miles of shore when commercial fishermen have to go nine miles out in the Gulf to fish.

"Maybe they think it’s more important to provide oil than food," she said.

Contact your lawmakers:

• Gov. Charlie Crist - 850-488-5394; e-mail
• State Sen. Mike Bennett - 727-6349; e-mail
• State Rep. Bill Galvano - 708-4968; e-mail from Web site:

Heads up! Nesting season begins May 1
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NOAA Leatherback turtles such as this one
soon will be crawling up onto Island beaches to lay their eggs.

It’s time to turn off the lights, bring in the beach furniture and start watching for those telltale turtle tracks in the sand each morning.

Beginning Friday, May 1, sea turtles are expected to begin nesting on Anna Maria Island, and they may start even earlier, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said.

"They’ve already started just to the south on Casey Key and Manasota Key," said Fox, who is planning to assign turtle patrols to their stretches of beach before Friday.

There are so many volunteers for the 64 positions that some sections will be walked each morning by two turtle watchers.

"I was thrilled at the number of people who showed up for training," she said, adding that some had to be turned away.

Volunteers will wake before dawn to walk the beach before tides and beachgoers erase the tracks of sea turtles, which typically nest at night. They will look for the marks that a turtle’s shell and flippers make as she crawls up the beach to dig her nest, and watch for false crawls – those that return to the sea before nesting. Occasionally, they’ll dig up a nest and move it out of the way of flooding.

The turtle patrol is also trained to distinguish the tracks of all five sea turtle species that nest in Florida, the second most populated nesting ground in the world for both loggerhead and green sea turtles. Three other turtle species are less common – leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill.

Mixed year for nesting

Florida’s most significant turtle species, the threatened loggerhead, laid more nests in 2008 than in 2007, but nesting is down for greens and leatherbacks, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Loggerheads laid 61,459 nests statewide last year, up from about 40,000 in 2007, researcher Anne Meylan said, adding that over the past decade, loggerhead nests have decreased by 41 percent. Florida is second to Oman in loggerhead nesting worldwide.

The news was the opposite for the other two significant sea turtle species that nest on Florida beaches, green and leatherback, both endangered. Fewer nests for both were recorded in 2008 than in 2007, but long-term trends are increasing.

Green turtles laid 9,228 nests in Florida last year, fewer than the record set in 2007. The largest green turtle nesting area in the world is in Costa Rica, followed by Florida.

Leatherback turtles laid 727 nests in Florida last year, also down from a record 2007. Florida’s leatherback population is mildly significant, with most leatherbacks nesting in Central and South America.

Kemp’s ridley turtles laid 13 nests in the state last year, while four hawksbill turtles laid nests.

Rules of the beach

Federal and state turtle laws protect sea turtles during their nesting season, May 1 to Oct. 31.

Lights are prohibited from directly or indirectly illuminating the beach because they can prevent turtles from coming ashore to nest, and can lure hatchlings away from the water. Since sea grape trees act as a natural barrier to block light from nesting beaches, the state also heavily regulates trimming. Violations can result in fines or imprisonment.

Beach furniture must be removed from the beach nightly because it can block nesting turtles from reaching the upper beach. Do not place furniture on dunes or sea oats, also protected by law.

Never touch or impede nesting or hatchling sea turtles. If you see a sea turtle, call AMI Turtle Watch at 778-5638 or the FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC.

Hotel, motel issue ‘dead’

ANNA MARIA — Any discussion of allowing new motels or hotels in the city has been shelved by city officials.

An item opening such a dialogue was pulled last week from the April 23 city commission agenda, apparently putting an end to the matter, at least for now.

At the last minute, the principals in the Pine Avenue Restoration project asked that a discussion about allowing new hotels or motels in the city be withdrawn from the agenda.

City commissioners received a barrage of letters, memos, e-mails, phone calls and comments on the issue, with the majority of them opposed to more motels. Most also said they didn’t want them even if they were called by different names, such as hotels, tourist accommodations, transient accommodations, guest houses or bed and breakfast establishments.

PAR Managing Partner Micheal Coleman and his partners had an option to purchase the six lots across from the city pier that they planned to exercise if the city would allow a 25-room guesthouse to be constructed there. The guesthouse was to be part of an overall plan to make Pine Avenue a promenade from the pier, where visitors to the Island used to arrive by ferry, all the way to the Gulf.

New hotels and motels are prohibited in the commercial, residential and mixed-use zones of the city. The plan had been to create a special district allowing hotel/motel accommodations on the six lots – a move that would have required the votes of three commissioners.

PAR already owns the old Angler’s Lodge, which is just across the Lake LaVista Inlet from the six lots in question. There was an offer on the table to deed the structure, which was built in 1915, to the city.

"We expressed our desire publicly and with city officials to make a $1.5 million gift of this property to the city, and by doing so have the property become eligible for up to $1 million in historic renovation grants," Coleman wrote in his April 23 memo to the city. "The restored property could then be used for the city’s benefit as well as the Anna Maria Inn’s and the restoration of the historic front door of Anna Maria would be complete. It was a gift, just needed unwrapping."

Coleman said he and his partners now realize that their idea to recreate the Anna Maria Inn at its original site is dead.

He thanked the people and commissioners who supported the idea and said he looks forward to continuing dialog with his neighbors about what they’d like to see with the rest of the project.

"We are particularly interested in hearing from the community as to the best use ideas for businesses and shops that would fulfill the uniquely Anna Maria village center vision we are pursuing," Coleman said.

Café expansion approved
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

ILLUSTRATION/PROVIDED The Gulf Drive Café will begin construction
this summer on a gift shop, tiki bar and chickee hut south of the
restaurant, as depicted in this rendering.

BRADENTON BEACH – After more than 10 years, the way has finally been paved to expand the facilities at the Gulf Drive Café, located on the beach at 900 Gulf Drive North.

The project will add a gift shop just south of the popular beachfront eatery that will be connected to it by a doorway. South of the gift shop will be a tiki hut that promises to change the face of the Island’s entertainment scene. South of that will come a chickee hut, a Seminole designed building that will provide a site for special occasions such as private parties and wedding receptions.

Two men are spearheading the design and intended use of the new structures, which are designed to add to the Island’s nightlife and offer another setting for the area’s burgeoning wedding industry. Jeff Higgins and Michael Nation talked about the project shortly after finding out that the state had approved the final permit.

"We’re going to build pretty much everything at once," Nation said. "We’ll build it through the summer and into early fall, while business is slower."

"The restaurant will be open during the construction," Higgins added, They intend on extending the deck at the rear of the restaurant south along the gift shop and the tiki hut. The tiki hut features a large U-shaped bar with a big-screen television behind it and huge windows along the walls offering a view of the beach. Motorists along Gulf Drive will still be able to see the Gulf through the hut, they said. The tiki hut will also have a dance floor and an elevated stage and they expect to have live music for the patrons.

"It will be the only tiki hut with bar of its kind in the area," Nation said. "People will be able to come in from the beach and relax."

Higgins said that construction is set to begin in June or July.

"This will help the hotels and resorts in the area because people like tiki huts," Higgins said. "We want it to be a fun place to go."

Seating for the restaurant and tiki hut should be around 200, according to Higgins. The second parking lot across Gulf Drive will be refurbished like the one north of it. Plans also call for some parking along Gulf Drive for handicapped and an unloading ramp so that customers can disembark before the driver parks the vehicle.

If everything goes well, there will be a new place to eat, drink and enjoy entertainment possibly by Thanksgiving. The two managers said they expect it to be finished and open by November. They also said it will likely have a new name, although the restaurant will still be the Gulf Drive Café.

Bootleg finishes festival with a roar
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Bootleg wowed the crowd at
Friday’s Music Festival, which attracted a record number of people.

ANNA MARIA – As promised, it was the biggest and best Friday Music Festival yet last Friday. Thousands came to shop, mingle, eat and listen in the field at the end of Pine Avenue.

Organizer Cindy Thompson outdid herself in bringing varied food outlets, eclectic arts and crafts vendors and music for all generations to the festival. She estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 attended the event, many of them for the finale featuring Bootleg, the hot new local band.

"The interesting thing was we had many people come out early, eat, drink, relax under a tree, listen to music and leave," she said. "Then, as the night wore on and it got closer to Bootleg’s set, a ton more people came and stayed until the end. It was evident when Bootleg finished that we still had hundreds of people on the field."

There were eight food outlets and Thompson said that most of them sold out. She said the arts and crafts vendors she spoke to said they had a blast and sold a lot also. One of them told her, "Couldn’t tell there is a problem with the economy at this event."

Thompson said the non-profit Relay for Life raised a lot of money as well.

"This Friday Fest definitely outdid our expectations," she said.

Four bands entertained during the evening and into the night. FireDoor started things off followed by The Human Condition, KoKo Ray and the Soul Providers and Bootleg. Feet were tapping, hips were swinging and some of the grownups joined the kids playing in front of the stage to dance. Island D J Chris Grumley provided information and music between acts.

It was a fun event and a great way to settle into the weekend and the Friday Music Festivals, brought to you by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and the Anna Maria Island Sun will be back to welcome in many more weekends.

Landscape and tree ordinance passes

ANNA MARIA — A landscape ordinance, which was the culmination of months of work and compromise, has now been adopted into law.

Under the new ordinance, which applies to all districts in the city, the city sets forth a plan that is designed to preserve and protect plant and wildlife species.

"This ordinance makes things as simple as possible," said Tim Eiseler, an urban forester and former chairman of the city’s environmental committee. "It’s designed to encourage the use of native plantings.

Only new construction or substantial remodeling projects on existing projects will be affected by the new ordinance. All other properties are grandfathered and can exist as they are.

There was some opposition to the passage of the ordinance.

"The people most in favor of using native species are against this ordinance," said Micheal Coleman, Pine Avenue Restoration Project managing partner. Coleman and restaurant owner Ed Chiles, another PAR partner, and their landscaper, Mike Miller, wanted to see an ordinance encouraging but not mandating the use of native species.

Jeannie Murray was strongly opposed.

"We are not Longboat or Sanibel or Boca Grande," she said with some vehemence. "What’s going to be next?"

The ordinance requires that a minimum of three trees and nine native shrubs be planted on residential properties. More are required on commercial properties where there also has to be a five-foot buffer zone between residential and commercial uses. That five-foot buffer is measured from the bed of the plants.

On a residential lot, 25 percent of the plants must be native species. On commercial lots, the percentage of natives is 75 percent.

As public comment was closed and the final vote taken, the ordinance passed 3-1 with Commissioner Chris Tollette casting the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Chuck Webb was absent.

Spring Fling preparations in full gear

The Anna Maria Elementary School PTO Spring Fling organizers are working hard to make this year’s event, called Mardi Gras Mambo, a successful fund-raiser. The action begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, at St. Bernard Catholic Church. Tickets are $45 and include the buffet dinner, dance music and a chance to bid on many auction items. Tickets are available at the school.

Each classroom has made up an artsy auction item and a themed basket; there are lots of contributions from the business community and other sources, and there will be plenty of food.

The restaurants and food servers that will be serving the dinner include Moore's Stone Crab restaurant, Mr. Bones, Sandbar restaurant, Ezra, The Waterfront Restaurant, Ocean Star, Rod and Reel Pier, The City Pier Restaurant, Sun House estaurant, St. Armand's Bakery, Jane E's I'll Cook If I Want To, Harry's Continental Kitchen, Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar and Beautiful Cakes by Ron. Parent Becky Bouchard is making a large tiered Mardi Gras themed cake.

Refreshments will be available and Chris Grumley will deejay the music.

There will be prizes for the best dressed man and woman and remember, this is a New Orleans themed event.

In the past, these Spring Flings have been very successful in helping the PTO finance its mission to aid the education of the children of the school. This year, the PTO wants to spend proceeds for technology, hands-on science, a technology position for all classes, smart boards, computer software updates and other projects.

For information or to volunteer or contribute, call Spring Fling chairperson Kyra Valadie at 941-518-9653 or e-mail her at

Tourist tax increases June 1

The Manatee County tourist tax will increase from four to five percent on June 1 to pay for increased marketing efforts, and opinions among Island hoteliers range from doubt to confidence.

"I’m in big disagreement. I think they should have lowered it," said Ken Gerry, whose family has operated the White Sands Beach Resort in Holmes Beach since 1974.

A 2 percent tax would be sufficient to pay for beach renourishment and marketing, Gerry said, adding that Island accommodations that pay the tax get little, if any, business from the Manatee Convention Center, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Crosley Estate, all subsidized by the tourist tax.

"It’s taxation without representation," said Ashok Sawe, a founding member of the Anna Maria Island-based Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART) and owner of Palm Tree Villas in Holmes Beach. He added that he suspects the tax increase will support the ailing convention center and Crosley Estate instead of marketing efforts.

"For me to say the economy is bad so I need to increase my marketing budget so I will just raise my rates, that will be shooting myself in the foot," he said. "During this economic crisis we have actually lowered our rates for some times of the year."

Tourist tax allocations

Owners of hotels, motels, condominiums and other rentals occupied for six months or less pay the tourist tax, passing it on to their customers in room rates.

Two cents of each dollar are used to operate the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), one cent is used for beach renourishment and beach-related projects and one cent funds tourism marketing efforts.

The penny increase, expected to raise an additional $1.1 million annually, also will be allocated towards marketing efforts to promote and advertise the county as a tourist destination, a necessary move to continue to attract visitors to the county, according to CVB Director Larry White.

White has warned that one bad storm could cripple tourism, and with decreasing marketing funds, the CVB could do little to regain visitor confidence.

This year’s decrease in the marketing budget was about $40,000, leaving $2.35 million to promote the county. Marketing accounts for the largest portion (43.2 percent) of expenditures of the county’s $5.4 million in tourist development tax revenues. The beach renourishment fund is the second-largest user of the tax (18.6 percent) at $1 million, followed by the Manatee Convention Center (17.3 percent) at $937,847.

A boon to small business

The tax will help small accommodations that have scant marketing budgets, said Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) member Barbara Rodocker, of BridgeWalk and Silver Surf resorts and the Sun House restaurant in Bradenton Beach. The TDC and the Manatee County Commission both unanimously voted for the tax.

"Nobody wants to pay any more taxes, but if the money is utilized in an efficient way, this has got to help those without a marketing budget," she said.

Many small hoteliers have not kept up with the times in marketing, said TDC member David Teitelbaum of Tradewinds, Tortuga Inn and Seaside resorts, and a director of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, which took no stand on the tax.

"They don’t market with the Chamber, they don’t advertise, they don’t have a brochure," he said, "and most of our business now comes through the Internet."

While the hotel business in January and February was up on both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key from the same months in 2008, it took a downturn during March, historically the busiest month of the year on both islands, according to CVB statistics.

Whether the tax will directly increase or decrease that business is anyone’s guess.

"It’s hard to quantify how it’s going to affect business," Sawe said. "A customer from Tampa was unhappy when I told him about the tax, but it didn’t stop him from making reservations."

"I don’t believe that the extra penny is going to dissuade anybody from coming," Teitelbaum said.

Gerry disagreed.

"If people are willing to drive to save a couple cents on gas, they’re willing to drive to save a couple dollars on a motel."

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