The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 43 - July 15, 2009


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


ANNA MARIA — A full inspection of the Anna Maria city pier is finally on tap.

"I’ve heard from you all that you’re concerned, I’ve heard from citizens and the pier centennial committee that there are concerns," Mayor Fran Barford told city commissioners at their July 9 work session. "We are arranging for a full inspection."

The inspection will be done by M.T. Causley and the $5,200 cost will be paid by the city, according to Barford.

The city leases out the restaurant and the bait operation, and under the terms of the lease, the tenant is responsible for upkeep and repairs, but the city has been assuming that responsibility for some years now.

"That’s something that’s going to change with the next lease," Barford said. "The current lease expires in 2010, and we’re going to make sure the tenant responsibilities are clearly spelled out in the new lease."

There have been increasing concerns about the structural integrity of the pier that juts into Tampa Bay, especially with its centennial coming in 2011 and a host of related celebrations being planned.

Unfortunately, city officials don’t know and records don’t indicate when the above-water portion of the pier was last inspected, though its pilings are examined quarterly.

There have been numerous complaints about splintering, splitting boards, about the structure swaying from side to side and about the way the cross boards dip in the center the entire length of the pier.

"Do we even know if the pier is structurally sound?" questioned Commission Chair John Quam at a recent commission meeting. "I can just see everyone standing on the pier for the 100th anniversary. How do we know it won’t collapse into the bay when that many people are on it?"

And that’s the question Barford and her staff plan to have answered with the inspection, which should be done within the next few weeks.

"Then we’ll go from there to do whatever needs to be done," she said.

City officials are hoping to keep the pier open during any repairs that may be needed.

Cuts could force beach closures
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Budget cuts also mean some
lifeguard towers will be closed.

Beachgoers may find their favorite spots closed as lifeguards try to do their jobs under budget cuts reducing their force by 25 percent.

Four open positions will not be funded due to Manatee County budget cuts, said Jay Moyles, chief of the county’s Marine Rescue Division, saving $140,000 to $150,000 a year.

With fewer lifeguards watching the same amount of beach, "We’re going to be more proactive than ever," he said. "We are closing down sections of the beach to make sure the public stays safe."

Beach closure areas will vary based on wind and current conditions, Moyles said. "We’re in tough times," Moyles said, with the lifeguard staff reduced from 17 to 13 positions and the remaining team cutting back their hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It just makes my guys have to work harder," he said. "We’ve had budget cuts, but we haven’t cut our responsibilities."

Some lifeguard towers will be closed with the windows shuttered, but will still have flags posted informing beachgoers of surf conditions, he said.

Signs on the towers explain the codes:

• Green – swimming allowed
• Yellow – swim with caution due to mild currents, surf or wind
• Red – swim with extreme caution due to rough currents, surf or wind
• Double red – no swimming allowed
• Purple – marine pests such as jellyfish, sharks, stingrays, red tide

Lifeguards work with beachgoers to avoid asking them to pack up and move, sometimes on condition that children be allowed in the water only up to their ankles, for example, he said.

"We want a relationship with the public," Moyles said, adding that part of a lifeguard’s mission is to educate.

But if a beach is closed, you swim at your own risk.

Between budget cuts and bad weather, "We’re going to have a tough summer," Moyles said.

Unusual weather over the past three weeks has lifeguard logs brimming with rescues from strong rip currents and high waves caused by wind and storms. Jose H. Medina, a visitor from Deltona, died after his water scooter broke down near Longboat Pass on July 4 – a no swimming area because of the strong current.

Proposed pipeline concerns revisited

Commercial fishermen banned from 26 square miles of Gulf waters for nearly a year. Sea turtles suffocated in machinery, and manatees and dolphins killed in vessel strikes. Air, water, noise and visual pollution increased.

These are among the many concerns raised by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard in their final environmental assessment of the proposed Port Dolphin natural gas port and pipeline, released Friday.

The Houston-based company, a subsidiary of a Norwegian enterprise, is applying to build a submersible liquid natural gas port 28 miles off Anna Maria Island that would connect to Port Manatee with a 42-mile-long underwater pipeline.

Two permanently moored submersible buoys three miles apart would moor vessels that would connect onshore with Gulfstream Natural Gas System and Tampa Electric Co. pipelines.

Written by consultant Engineering-Environmental Management Inc., the document, a revision of a previous assessment, notes a growing need for natural gas to increase energy diversity, and acknowledges that Port Dolphin’s remote sources of natural gas would be important to Florida in the event that a hurricane damaged natural gas sources in the Gulf of Mexico.

However, it also raised dozens of environmental concerns, including the following:

Biological resources

Increased shipping traffic would cause an unquantifiable increase in collisions with dolphins and manatees, the report states, adding, "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has consistently upheld that the take of a single Florida manatee would jeopardize the continued existence of the species, and vessel collisions have been identified as a major source of mortality for this species."

Dolphins, manatees and sea turtles also would be impacted by construction noise, and coastal and marine bird nesting and foraging areas could be affected.

Marine organisms could be entrapped by the closed-loop vaporization system proposed by Port Dolphin, including up to .03 percent of commercially caught gag grouper.

About 3,000 acres of hard-bottom habitat could be disturbed by construction, with 234 acres of benthic plant and animal communities impacted, 66 acres permanently lost and 22 acres affected by operations near Port Manatee that would not recover.

Socioeconomic resources

While the port would have beneficial impacts, including increased employment and local economic stimulus, it also could have an adverse impact on low income populations, including those who fish to eat.

During operations, safety zones around the port and the pipeline would cause minor, long-term adverse impacts on commercial fishing, and "Commercial fishing would be temporarily excluded from the vicinity of construction activities (26 of approximately 400 square miles of Tampa Bay) for approximately 11 months during construction."

Still, the report states, "No major reduction in populations of the commercially and recreationally important species available to the fishing industries is anticipated. Therefore, measurable secondary economic impacts, such as reduced employment in fishing or fishing-related industries, also are not anticipated."

Geological resources

Port Dolphin’s proposed pipeline route is its third attempt to avoid environmental impacts; the first proposal impacted Terra Ceia Bay Aquatic Preserve and the second impacted sand resources in the Gulf used for beach renourishment.

The report states that an offshore interconnection with the existing Gulfstream pipeline would cause fewer environmental impacts than the company’s most recent preferred pipeline route, a suggestion long favored by Longboat Key officials.

While the third proposed route minimizes the impact on sand resources, the report indicates that direct impacts are expected in up to 1 percent of the potential available underwater sand and 50 acres of onshore land.

Water resources

Both offshore and coastal water quality would be impacted by Port Dolphin, including sedimentation that could last for hours or days. Near Port Manatee, where the pipeline would come ashore, construction could modify groundwater flow and cause hazardous substance spills affecting water quality.

Air quality

Construction equipment and port operations would cause air pollution within 93 miles of Everglades National Park and 186 miles of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

Recreation and aesthetics

A safety zone around the pipeline would cause minor, long-term adverse impacts on recreational fishing and boating. Offshore construction of the port would be visible to boaters, residents and tourists.


Pile driving could result in major impacts on marine resources and increased vessel traffic would generate noise that could be heard onshore.

Other impacts are listed for cultural resources, or currently unknown underwater property eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, greenhouse gas emissions totaling less than 1 percent of the existing emissions for Florida, and navigation and transportation, with 1,800 trips to and from shore anticipated during the 11-month construction period, and three to six trips a day during operations.

If Port Dolphin is approved, operations are scheduled to begin in 2011. The maritime administration or a governor of an adjacent state could disapprove the project, the report states, adding that subsequent port applications could have greater impacts in comparison to Port Dolphin.

Public comments are invited on the environmental analysis, and must be received by Aug. 24 at either (click on "Search Dockets;" enter 2007-28532; click on "send a comment"), or by regular mail to the Docket Management Facility, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001. Include your name, address and docket number USCG-2007-28532.

Island military family getting used to civilian life
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Sgt. Tami Kemper-Pena, who was
badly wounded in Iraq, is now home for good. She’s back
home surrounded by her family with daughters Genevieve, 8,
at her left, daughters Ali, 18, and Shannon, 14, on her
right. Kemper-Pena’s husband, Roland Pena, and Alex’s fiancé,
Jeffrey Roberts, stand in the back. Pena and Roberts are
also wounded vets from the Iraq war.

HOLMES BEACH — A lot has changed for Tami Kemper-Pena, a U. S. Army sergeant since she had a brief leave at Christmas.

For one thing, she’s now retired from the military. Her husband, Roland Pena is now also retired from the military. For another, she’s finally home full time and spending her days with her three daughters again.

Kemper-Pena sustained head, neck and back injuries in a mortar attack in Iraq. She had 14 surgeries with more to come, but she says she’s feeling a lot better.

"I know I’ve come a long way," she said last week at her home in Holmes Beach. ‘When I think back just to Christmas when the Privateers came, I know I’m improving. It takes a long time, but I keep improving."

Kemper-Pena said her memory is getting better and she has less trouble speaking. "Sometimes I can’t think of a word, but that’s less and less, and mostly I can talk pretty easily now," she said.

Getting out of the house is still difficult, though. Kemper-Pena, like many vets, wounded and otherwise, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. She has flashbacks and sometimes has nightmares.

"She really doesn’t even like to go to Wal-Mart," said Ali Kemper, Kemper-Pena’s 18-year old daughter as though announcing something impossible to believe. Fortunately, Ali’s the family’s Wal-Mart queen, so she’s happy to go and get whatever anyone needs.

"It all gets very confusing for me when I’m out, and the sounds are scary," Kemper-Pena said. "I know I have to start getting out more, but for now, I’m just really happiest in my house where I feel safe."

Ali, who now helps with shopping and other household necessities, has moved into her grandmother’s house. She’s engaged to Jeffrey Roberts, who celebrated his 24th birthday last week. Roberts, also a vet, has fully recovered from leg injuries he sustained overseas.

It was Ali who really covered for her mother. "She was only 17, but she moved in and helped take care of her sisters and the household," Kemper-Pena said. "I don’t know what I’d have done without her."

The closeness of the family is evident. All three daughters seem to stick as close to their mother as possible.

They recall visiting her when she was in the hospital in Texas just after she was shipped home from Iraq.

"She looked like she was sleeping," said Genevieve, 8. "I wasn’t scared at all."

Shannon, 14, agreed.

"She just looked peaceful," she said.

"I was the only one who was scared," Ali said. "I was worried about her."

But 14 surgeries later, Kemper-Pena got leave to come home to have Christmas with her family last December, and the Anna Maria Island Privateers were on hand to make sure that Christmas celebration was memorable for the Island family.

"We wanted to do something for a family for Christmas, and we wanted to do it for someone who had served our country," Privateers Secretary Bekka Stasny said.

And it certainly was a memorable Christmas.

"I was overwhelmed," Kemper-Pena said. "We never had such a Christmas."

"Want to see my bed," offered Shannon. She proudly displayed the bed the Privateers brought her for Christmas. "We never saw so much stuff!"

As various family members related their memories of Christmas with the Privateers, Genevieve held her mom’s arm and kept her head against her shoulder, smiling happily at the conversation.

"The Privateers were the first people who did anything to help us," Kemper-Pena said. "I was active in my church. I taught at St. Joseph’s School and we worked with the homeless. It surprised me that no one stepped forward and offered to help – especially since I always helped people."

But the actions of the Privateers changed all that.

"They were amazing," she said. "They even came and cooked Christmas dinner."

Pena, who was still in Iraq at the time, participated in the Christmas festivities via Web cam – until something happened and he was disconnected.

"I was so glad they were having a good Christmas," he said. "It’s hard to be away from your family."

Pena is now retired and nearly recovered from a leg wound he suffered in a mortar attack.

"My leg’s much better," he said. "I’m looking for a job. I hope I can find something locally so I can stay here." Both Tami and Roland said re-entry into civilian life could be difficult for a combat soldier.

"The stress doesn’t just go away," Pena said. "Loud noises are bad. You’re so used to attacks, that you want to duck to protect yourself."

But for everyone in the family, the future seems to be looking better and better – especially since they’re all together again in their home in Holmes Beach.

"We’re starting to get involved in our community again," said Kemper-Pena. "Life’s good."

Sandbar employee retrieves wedding dress
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD Emergency crews responded when
lightning struck a power pole near St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.

ANNA MARIA – It was almost a disaster but the persistence of a wedding suite attendant and the father of the bride paid off following a ceremony at the Sandbar restaurant on Tuesday, June 30.

It all began when attendant and Sandbar employee Maggie Cucci, who was assigned to keep the dressing area clean for Sarah and Zach Richard’s wedding, inadvertently threw Sarah’s dress into the trash. According to Cucci, the bride had left it in a bag under other items that looked like trash and the dress was not a very thick one, more petite than most.

For Sarah’s father, Mike Huls, the whole incident was a rerun of one that almost got him in the doghouse two years ago while on vacation in Destin, Fla. At that time, Sarah’s mother placed six pairs of very expensive shoes in a canvas bag by the door of their hotel room and Huls, thinking it was trash, threw them away. Luckily, the shoes were recovered before the trash man came, but such was not the case at the Sandbar.

Like clockwork, the Waste Management crew took away the dress the next morning. When Huls returned to the restaurant to retrieve Sarah’s belongings, he realized the dress was not there. The bride and groom were already on their way to their honeymoon in Mexico. When Huls asked wedding coordinator Patti McKee about the dress, she called Cucci at home and she put two and two together.

She called Waste Management and they informed her the truck with the dress was on the mainland and headed toward the landfill. Cucci gathered her children, Mary Grace, 6, and Joey, 11, and headed toward the dump, followed by Huls in his car. McKee called the landfill to let them know that the "recovery team" was on its way.

Cucci said the people at the landfill directed her to the huge hill of trash where the truck had emptied its load.

Cucci and Huls started searching, ignoring the smell, the insects and the rain that began shortly after she started. Finally, they struck pay dirt, causing Cucci to let out a "whoop," as the bulldozer and truck drivers at the landfill applauded.

The plastic bag in which the dress was packed did its job in keeping out any dirt. Cucci and Huls got in their vehicles and headed down from the mountain of trash. Cucci had praise for everyone at the dump.

"They really went above and beyond to pinpoint exactly where the Sandbar trash was and in helping me look for the dress," she said.

After cleaning up, Cucci reflected on what she went through.

"It just goes to show that we will do whatever it takes to make the bride’s experience the best it can be," she said.

Sandbar owner Ed Chiles said he was glad Huls was able to return to his wife with the dress.

"In 30 years, you think you’ve seen it all, but this one beats the band," he said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one of our key employees would take it to this level."

Chiles said Cucci is the type of employee a business can’t do without.

Paving project to affect Island access

BRADENTON BEACH – City commissioners showed their support for the concept of the free, or fare-less trolley last Thursday by voting to contribute up to $8,000 to the People coming to and from Anna Maria Island via Manatee should consider Cortez Road during the overnight hours. On July 7 Superior Asphalt, Inc., began a $3 million resurfacing and roadway improvement project on State Road 64, also known as Manatee Avenue, from Palma Sola Boulevard to 39th Street West, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The project includes resurfacing from Palma Sola Boulevard to 43rd Street West and extending the left turn lanes on Manatee Avenue W. at 67th Street West The right turn lane from southbound 67th Street West to westbound Manatee Avenue West will be extended. New sidewalk ramps will be installed. In addition, signals will be replaced along Manatee Avenue West at the following intersections: 75th Street West, Village Green Parkway, 67th Street West, 59th Street West, 51st Street W. and 39th Street West.

Variable message signs will alert drivers that work is under way. Crews will install construction signs and silt fence for erosion control. During the day, crews will work on sidewalk ramps and replacing signals.

Paving operations will occur at night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. During this time, drivers should expect lane closures and flagging operations. Slow moving traffic and delays are likely, and people should plan additional travel time on Manatee Avenue.

The project is anticipated to be complete in early 2010.

Boat launch gets funding approval
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT This area of shoreline next
to Herb Dolan Park will be stabilized and made into
a non-motorized boat launch.

BRADENTON BEACH – If all goes well, the shoreline behind Herb Dolan Park at 25th Street will be alive with kayaks and canoes launching into the bay waters.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program announced last week that a grant for $6,000 to build a non-motorized boat launch at the park had been approved. Bradenton Beach Programs/Projects Manager Lisa Marie Phillips said the approval was a combination of good luck and having a solid plan.

"There was money available from the various agencies this year, and representatives from two of those agencies – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Fish and Wildlife Agency – visited the site ad said they loved it," she said. "It combines so many things that are favorable, such as access to the water, shoreline restoration, eco-tourism and wildlife education."

Most of the money will go toward removing rocks and concrete that had been dumped there by private and public contractors and agencies over the years. An attempt three years ago to remove the debris using volunteers was a start, but it showed how much there was there.

"We removed 6,000 tons during that attempt, and there must be 18,000 more there," Phillips said.

The launch is part of the city’s overall water management program, which is being developed with the help of a Waterfronts Florida grant used to hire a consulting agency, Sheda Ecological Associates of Sarasota, to help bring it all together. Phillips and Sheda Senior Scientist Dianne Rosensweig held public meetings at the park to gather input from boaters and residents who live there. They expressed concern that vehicles used by weekend boaters would overwhelm the area’s parking spaces and force residents to block off their driveways. That caused the city to draw up plans for parking along the road adjacent to the park.

Phillips said that Scheda applied for the permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and when they find out when the grant money becomes available, they will be able to find a contractor to take out the concrete.

The project calls for using netting below the ground level along the shore to keep native plants and grasses in place to control erosion. In addition, there will be informative signs placed at the launch.

Pipeline opponent gets support

LONGBOAT KEY – Longboat Key is garnering support from surrounding municipal governments in its ongoing opposition to Port Dolphin’s proposed floating natural gas port.

Town commissioners are set to decide in September whether to spend $245,000 to continue to oppose Port Dolphin’s proposed pipeline off Anna Maria Island.

The town already has spent about $300,000 in an effort to protect its current and future beach renourishment sand sources that lie in the path of Port Dolphin’s preferred pipeline route off Bean Point.

Longboat Key officials, who have criticized Port Dolphin for being unresponsive to requests for information on the whereabouts and quality of sand deposits in its pipeline path, have enlisted the support of surrounding municipal governments in its battle.

Officials from Pinellas County and the cities of Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and Sarasota have sent letters to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is reviewing Port Dolphin’s application.

Pinellas County, Sarasota and Holmes Beach officials wrote that they oppose Port Dolphin’s pipeline path through beach sand resources and recommend Longboat Key’s proposed path to the north, near an existing natural gas pipeline.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger cited a concern that the required buffer zone around the pipeline could impact the city’s boating community. Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford raised concerns about both the alternative pipeline route and potential environmental impacts of the project.

Pinellas County Commission Chairman Calvin D. Harris warned that the pipeline’s approval could start sand wars among Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria, Longboat Key and Sarasota Manatee and Pinellas counties.

"This will intensify and accelerate competition… for this critical resource," he wrote.

Longboat Key officials expressed surprise in June that they were left out of discussions between Manatee County and Port Dolphin officials, who are negotiating an agreement to remove sand from the company’s preferred pipeline path before it is built. The sand would be used in an early beach renourishment for Longboat Key, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach in 2011.

The agreement, scheduled to be presented to Manatee County Commissioners on July 28, would require Longboat Key to contribute funding for the renourishment project.

The Manatee County Commission had requested that Port Dolphin, Longboat Key and Manatee County staff meet with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), one of several agencies that must grant a permit before Port Dolphin can build its project. That meeting never happened, Longboat officials say.

Meanwhile, DEP has given conceptual approval to the proposal, and Port Dolphin has informally agreed to share costs, according to Manatee County officials.

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