The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 47 - August 12, 2009


Beach pier fate remains uncertain
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN FILE PHOTO The Manatee Public Beach remains closed
and may not be rebuilt after it is demolished.

HOLMES BEACH – Due to budget constraints, Manatee County may not be able to replace the Manatee Beach pier once it is demolished.

"There’s been no decision on what type of pier that will replace it, if any at all, because the county is facing some very severe budget and funding issues," said Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s Natural Resources Department Director.

"There’s the will, but we need to find the way. We’re working with the finance department on constructing a financing plan. We have some important budget decisions to make."

The pier is slated for demolition the first or second week of November and work will continue until the end of January.

"The pier can’t stay in its current condition," Hunsicker said. "It’s easier to remove it now than if it dropped into the water. Many companies are interested in bidding on the demolition. I feel we’ll receive our fair share of bids."

In March, commissioners approved a plan to remove the pier and replace it with a conventional pier with a 15-foot elevation at a cost of $1.5 million. The construction was to be funded by tourist tax dollars. Commissioners also discussed the possibility of adding another100 feet to the pier.

Hunsicker said the pier must be raised and said a good example is the Venice pier, which is 700 feet long. The Manatee Beach pier at 312 feet long is the shortest pier in Florida.

"We have to be conservative in these times, to be prudent with the funds coming from the tourist tax" Hunsicker pointed out. "We have many competing needs. We have to weigh one against the other."

Cortez appeals for commercial fishing lifeline

CORTEZ – About 500 commercial fishing supporters have signed a petition in an effort to sway regulators who could permanently ban bottom longline fishing gear this week.

The petition, circulated at a Saturday petition drive in Cortez and by e-mail, asks U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke – in charge of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – to lift the ban, implemented in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico on May 18 and in deep water on June 27.

Regulators banned the gear, which is used to catch grouper, until October, saying it causes unintended threatened loggerhead sea turtle deaths in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition cites "the devastating consequences such restrictions are having on Gulf coast fishermen and their families, Florida fish houses and their employees, domestic seafood shops and markets, restaurant owners and their employees and Florida’s coastal tourism economy."

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is scheduled to take final action this week on the issue, which could mean partly or completely closing the bottom longline fishery, prohibiting the use of squid as bait or otherwise modifying fishing practices and gear.

By the numbers

Fishermen say they try to minimize their bycatch of sea turtles, and are being blamed for far more than their share of turtle deaths.

The Gulf Council heard testimony last month that bottom longline fishing had a negligible impact on loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Statistics collected by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (a division of NOAA) from 2006 to 2008 show that bottom longline fishermen snared about 350 loggerheads annually, and estimated that half, or 175, may have died, amounting to about 1 percent of all adult loggerhead sea turtle deaths, according to Trevor J. Kenchington of Gadus Associates.

While he did not recommend relaxing restrictions protecting nesting beaches, nests and hatchlings, "…neither would it be appropriate to impose crippling new restrictions on human activities in coastal Florida in an attempt to reverse a supposed ‘failure’ of existing efforts, when there are indications that those efforts are succeeding," he testified.

Fishermen also point out that sea turtles are killed by poachers who illegally sell turtle eggs and by illegal lights on coastal buildings that attract hatchlings to their deaths.

On Sarasota County beaches, 1,937 sea turtle hatchlings have been disoriented by lights since May 1. Of those, 1,230 made it to the Gulf, leaving 707 dead, unaccounted for or under treatment at Mote Marine Laboratory. In addition, four nests containing about 100 eggs each were poached between June 6-12. On Anna Maria Island beaches, lights have disoriented three nests of loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings since turtle season began on May 1, according to Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox.

Long lines of unemployment

For many in Cortez, the ban is a bad reminder of the 1995 state Constitutional amendment that banned gill nets used for mullet, which left Cortez fishermen with grouper as their staple.

"What they’ve done is shut our boats down," said Karen Bell, of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, one of the last working commercial fishing villages in Florida. Residents have celebrated their heritage for 27 years with a popular tourist event, the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Proceeds purchased the 95-acre waterfront FISH Preserve on the edge of the village for public recreation.

Since the longline ban, fishermen have been trying unsuccessfully to fish for grouper with vertical lines, she said. Unable to catch enough fish to pay for their fuel costs and other staples, they are further handicapped because there is no market to sell their banned longline gear to purchase different gear.

The fish house, established by her grandfather in 1940, is in danger of closing, said Bell, who plans to attend the Gulf Council meeting in Alabama this week with business partner Glen Brooks of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association, which sponsored the petition drive with the Southern Offshore Fishing Association.

The longline ban has created long lines of unemployed fishermen, according to Cortezians, and unemployment – like that caused by the 1995 net ban – is already leading some desperate fishermen to theft, drug use and homelessness, they say, pointing to the arrest last week of an unemployed fisherman for theft.

Fishermen’s plea

"We support sea turtle conservation but believe the federal government’s outright ban on commercial longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, designed to address less than 1 percent of all fishing-related turtle mortalities, is doing more harm than good to the coastal economy of Florida, and ask for its immediate repeal until a more scientifically-defensible, legitimate and equitable solution to sea turtle conservation is reached," the petition states.

"Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any indication when the fishery will be reopened and the federal government is not providing any additional scientific data to determine the impact of bottom longline gear on sea turtle mortality," the petition continues. "Current scientific data indicate that bottom longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is responsible for less than 1 percent of all fishing-related sea turtle mortalities. This is only a small percentage of turtle deaths each year, ranking below many other major threats, including:

  • Illegal harvesting of turtles by other countries
  • Marine debris and pollution causing disease outbreaks
  • High-speed boating collisions with sea turtles
  • Human and predator interactions on turtle nesting beaches
  • Beach development and repair."
Corona pleads no contest

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
Robert Corona

HOLMES BEACH – Robert Corona pled no contest on Monday to grand theft of a blood-stained Pontiac Sunfire convertible belonging to missing Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler.

Besides the third-degree felony charge, Corona, 38, also pled no contest to misdemeanor charges of resisting, obstructing or opposing an officer without violence and no valid driver license.

The maximum sentence for the offenses is six years and 60 days; a sentencing hearing had not yet been scheduled as of press time.

The Bradenton man was arrested Nov. 6, 2008, two days after Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend, William Cumber, reported last seeing her, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reports.

Investigators identified the blood in the car as Musil-Buehler’s.

Corona told Manatee Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith in Court on Monday that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

According to Assistant State Attorney Tony Casoria, Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies stopped Corona for driving the vehicle without headlights. Corona fled and was discovered hiding under a truck by K-9 officers. He later told authorities that he took the parked car after seeing that the window was open and the keys were inside.

Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend, Cumber, 39, was questioned about her Nov. 4, 2008, disappearance and the apparent arson 12 days later of a building at Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach. He told investigators that she left the home they shared at 208 B Magnolia Ave. after they argued over his smoking.

Cumber is serving a 13.5-year sentence for violation of probation on a 2006 arson conviction for setting fire to a Bradenton house. He was not charged in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, which remains unsolved.

Island property values drop

Taxable real estate values are down this year from 2008 in all three Anna Maria Island cities, prompting city governments to propose budget cuts and, in some cases, to spend reserves to keep tax rates low for property owners.

The 2009 figures for taxable real estate values are preliminary, and may change before TRIM (Truth in Millage) tax notices are sent to property owners on Aug. 20, according to Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office Finance Director Greg Pennington, who supplied the statistics.

Bradenton Beach property owners are taking the largest hit, with taxable values down by 16.63 percent from last year. Values in 2008 were $557,698,209, compared to the preliminary 2009 value, $464,980,383.

The proposed millage rate remains the same as last year, at 2.1539, according to City Clerk Nora Idso.

Anna Maria taxable values plummeted less, with a 9.07 percent decrease from last year. In 2008, values were $696,065,571, compared to the preliminary 2009 value, $632,897,807.

The proposed millage rate is 1.9450, up from 1.7882 last year, according to city Finance Manager Diane Percycoe.

While property in Holmes Beach kept its taxable value better than neighbors on either side, values still decreased 8.66 percent from last year. Values in 2008 were $1,476,282,522, compared to the preliminary 2009 value, $1,348,453,649.

The maximum proposed millage rate is 1.7549, according to City Treasurer Rick Ashley.

Manatee County

Countywide, property values decreased so much between May and July, when estimates were published by the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, they created a $3.3 million deficit in the county’s budget, according to Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker. The Manatee County Commission decided last month to use reserves to make up some of the shortfall caused by the lower values.

Public hearings on millage rates for all taxable authorities, including the county, cities, school board and special districts, will be scheduled for September. Depending on final millage rates, property taxes could increase from last year, even though values decreased.

A new, 21-minute video on understanding your TRIM tax notice is online at Check local listings for broadcast times on Manatee County’s government channel, Bright House channel 622 and Verizon channel 30.

FDOT sends bridge preference to Coast Guard

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has submitted documentation to the U.S. Coast Guard supporting its choice of a replacement for the Anna Maria Island Bridge, according to a news release.

The submittal follows more than a year of gathering public input during its Project Development and Environmental (PDE) Study. FDOT recommends replacing the drawbridge with a two-lane, high-level, fixed span with a minimum vertical navigational clearance of 65 feet above the Intracoastal Waterway. The new bridge would be built south of the existing bridge, which would be demolished after the new bridge is finished, The new structure would include two 12-foot lanes with 10-foot paved shoulders to accommodate bicyclists and disabled vehicles. Ten-foot sidewalks would be included on both sides of the bridges, and they would be separated from the shoulders by concrete barrier walls.

FDOT began its PDE after it announced a $10 million rehabilitation project of the 52-year-old bridge in 2007. Many residents and elected officials asked FDOT to instead scrap the rehab project and apply those funds toward a replacement bridge.

A replacement project was scrapped almost 15 years ago due to negative public reaction to the announcement that the new bridge would be the same as one now recommended by FDOT. Many residents and elected officials at that time felt that FDOT should have spent more time and effort polling citizens as to their preference, and many at that time wanted to rebuild the old bridge.

FDOT announced last week that design, right-of-way acquisition and construction phases for replacing the drawbridge are currently not in its five-year work program. Elected officials have asked members of our congressional delegation to procure funds for the replacement project.

Get ready for O’Connor Bowling Challenge
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Privateer John Hallahan’s bowling
shoes looked out of place with
his pirate outfit.

Rent a copy of "The Big Lebowski," grab a cold beer and get ready for the 19th annual O’Connor Bowling Challenge, sponsored by The Sun, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29, at AMF Bowling Lanes, 4208 Cortez Road, Bradenton.

Pre-registration is highly recommended for this sell-out event. Bowlers must sign up by Thursday, Aug. 27, at Duffy’s Tavern, 5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, to be guaranteed a lane with their friends.

The donation is $25 per person, which includes shoes and three games. If there are any lanes left, you can sign up at the bowling alley from 5 to 6 p.m. Bowling starts promptly at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.

This year’s after party will once again be held at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Oyster bar owner John Horne has promised beer and margarita stations, a full bar and bowlers’ specials.

Raffle tickets for a big screen television donated by The Sun and hundreds of outstanding prizes from local merchants and restaurants will be available at the bowling alley. Tickets are six for $5.

In addition to the raffle, trophies will be awarded at the after party. Trophies include high and low game, male and female; high series, male and female; and the Chuck Stearns Memorial High Game Trophy, The trophy is in honor of Holmes Beach Police Officer Charles "Chuck" Stearns, who passed away in 2005.

All proceeds from the event are donated to the Island Community Center to purchase sports equipment.

For information, call Billy O’Connor at 650-5488.

Suspicious activity leads to arrest
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


HOLMES BEACH – A man who allegedly drove past a house on Key Royale several times, looking at children playing in a yard, was stopped and arrested after police found a loaded, semi-automatic pistol in his SUV.

Larry Paul Graham, 59, was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, failure to report a change of address on his driver’s license within 20 days of moving and possession of two driver’s licenses. He is being held in the Manatee County Jail on $5,240 bond.

When the Holmes Beach officer responded to the suspicious vehicle complaint, he spotted Graham make a U-turn in his red Isuzu Trooper without using his turn signal and pulled him over, according to the police report.

When the officer told Graham about the complaint that he had driven past the kids playing in their yard, he said he was waiting for a friend and decided to take a drive. The officer took his license, registration and proof of insurance back to his cruiser and told dispatch to have the complainant drive by and try to identify him. The complainant did, and told dispatch that Graham was the one.

A computer check showed that Graham had Florida inmate release status for false report of a bomb plus convictions for burglary, weapons possession and felony drug possession. In all, he had 22 arrests since 1967. While he was on the traffic stop, a man and a woman drove by on a golf cart and told the officer that Graham had followed their daughter around while she was riding her bicycle.

While checking Graham’s identity, the officer noticed that he had different addresses for his license and his registration. He told the officer he was basically homeless and no longer lived at either address. He said he had a second license that has the same address as the registration. The officer arrested Graham for those two violations and placed him in handcuffs. He then conducted an inventory of Graham’s vehicle and found a cut-off jeans pant leg wrapped around a .380 semi-automatic handgun. It was loaded with one round in the chamber and three in the magazine. Possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon was added to Graham’s list of charges.

City reunites dog on the lam with owners
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Bowden "Scooby" Lyons, a
Jack Russell terrier who was visiting the Island from
Orlando, poses with his family and the staff from
Anna Maria city hall. Scooby was rescued from the
Gulf waters, taken to city hall and ultimately
reunited with his family.

ANNA MARIA — If you’re a dog on the lam, the best place to be roaming is in Anna Maria.

That’s what happened to Bowden "Scooby" Lyons, who escaped from his owners who were vacationing in Holmes Beach at 57th Street and Carissa last Thursday.

Before Scooby was reunited with his family, he had quite a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, then he had the run of city hall and shared the mayor’s lunch, which was homemade vegetable soup. Not a bad day for the 14-year old Jack Russell terrier.

Back to the beginning of the adventure:

"Someone must have left the door open," said Luke Lyons. "He gets out sometimes at home, but he always comes back."

Luke, 10, is the oldest child of Glenn and Michelle Lyons, of Orlando. They were staying in a house with Mark and Suzette Bouchard and their two children. That’s six children in all, ranging in age from 11 months to 10 years. No wonder the door got left open.

The next documented appearance by Scooby was on the beach in the 700 block of North Shore Drive in Anna Maria.

"He was swimming about a hundred feet offshore," said Gary Thorpe, a public works employee. "We were fixing the walkover there, and we saw this guy coming ashore with a dog. When he put the dog down, it tried to swim out in the Gulf again."

Thorpe went onto the beach to see what was up.

"You aren’t supposed to have a dog on the beach, and I saw this dog surrounded by people," he said. "The guy came out of the water with the dog, and the dog was still trying to swim."

Thorpe found out that Ben Brown, of Jacksonville, was enjoying a day at the beach when he noticed the little dog way out in the water. He said he was afraid the dog would drown, so he swam out to get it, according to Thorpe.

"I told him that I’d take the dog to city hall where there was a building full of dog lovers," Thorpe said.

The dog was drenched, shivering and a little on the smelly side, but no one at city headquarters minded that.

"I had a blanket in the car, so I wrapped him in that and tied it around him so he wouldn’t be cold," said AnnMarie Thorpe, administrative assistant in the clerk’s office. From there, Scooby had the run of the office.

"I was in my office having a rather formal meeting, and the dog just walked in, sniffed everyone and walked out," Mayor Fran Barford told commissioners at their budget work session that evening. "I just told them that this is Anna Maria, and we do things a little differently around here. Having a dog or two roaming around is nothing unusual."

Barford said the people she was meeting with looked a bit shocked, but she just continued on with the discussion.

"At lunch, the mayor shared some of her homemade soup with the dog," Thorpe said. "We found other things to feed him. We all shared."

Finding the dog’s owner took some online detective work on the part of the staff.

"The dog had a phone number on his collar, but no one answered the phone when we called, " said Finance Director Diane Percycoe. "It was an Orlando number. We looked up the number in the reverse directory. We found a man’s name. Then we googled the name and found the guy’s company and then called that number."

Percycoe said the company supplied a cell phone number. It turned out the dog’s family was vacationing in Holmes Beach.

The family came to reclaim Scooby, whose real name is Bowden (for FSU’s Bobby Bowden.)

Lyons said there was never a doubt in his mind that they’d locate Scooby who had been missing about three hours.

"We’re a religious family, and we had a family prayer," he said.

The next day, Scooby and his people returned to city hall for a reunion with the city staff and a photo shoot for The Sun.

He had been given a bath, and his white fur and brown markings shone as he made his way from person to person in greeting.

The six children were treated to a look at a bulletin board with pictures of every staff dog. There are 12 in all.

"Isn’t that a good story?" asked Thorpe.

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