The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 11 - December 9, 2009


County makes oil priority one
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Sunsets on Anna Maria Island can
look like oil paintings; opponents of oil drilling, including
Manatee County, want to keep crude oil from blackening them.

The Manatee County Commission has ranked its opposition to oil and gas drilling in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico first among its three legislative priorities.

The other two are requiring that all remote vendors, including Internet retailers, collect and remit Florida’s state and local option sales taxes, and the creation of SunRail, the Central Florida Commuter Rail project.

Commissioners cast a unanimous vote ranking their priorities last week, suggesting that state lawmakers consider creating:

• An assessment panel to provide an impartial analysis of the risks to coastal communities from oil and gas drilling.
• A marine-based comprehensive management plan prepared prior to consideration of allowing oil drilling to identify environmental resources and how they might be impacted by drilling and pipelines, and
• An analysis of the security bonds or insurance policies that would be required from oil or gas drilling companies to pay for environmental damage from oil spills or other accidents.

County commissioners also joined in a letter to the county’s legislative delegation signed by the mayors and commissioners of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key, Bradenton and Palmetto requesting that lawmakers consider the following:

• The natural beauty of the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is a driving force behind a tourism industry that hosted more than 446,000 visitors in 2008, resulting in a total economic impact of more than $479 million to Manatee County’s economy.
• The islands would bear the burden of environmental cleanup from oil spills.
• Oil drilling could cause beachfront property values to plummet.
• Oil drilling is a threat to the state’s $562 billion-a-year economy including tourism, fishing and other water-dependent businesses.
• Oil production would take years to develop and the promise of local jobs is speculative.
• Drilling could impact underwater sand resources.
• Drilling poses a threat to indigenous birds, fish and wildlife.
• Free public beach access could be impaired by a spill.
• Drilling could impact U.S. military training and testing operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

The united front among local governments is good news, said Jessica Respondek, Surfrider Foundation Suncoast chapter chair and a former tourism industry worker.

“When you drill on the Gulf coast and there’s a spill, water and oil don’t mix,” she said. “Focusing on oil is a crutch. Being the Sunshine State, we should be focusing on alternative resources that are sustainable for the future.”

‘Twin piers’ has rocky future
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Surfers bypass warning signs at
twin piers in Bradenton Beach to jump off and avoid
having to paddle out through waves.

BRADENTON BEACH – Three erosion control structures, including two that form the popular “twin piers” surf spot, are likely to be demolished in 2014, according to Manatee County.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has notified the county that its permit for the beach renourishment scheduled in 2014 will require the demolition of the crumbling structures, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s Conservation Lands Management Department.

“That’ll ruin the surfing down there,” said Jim Brady, owner of the West Coast Surf Shop, who has surfed the spot since the 1960s. “That’s the second best surf spot on the Island besides White (Avenue). They ought to at least put one back in.”

The surf spot is an important recreational outlet for youth, said longtime Anna Maria Island surfer John Castro, 33, who asked The Sun about the future of twin piers after noticing during his Thanksgiving visit that the Manatee public beach pier had been demolished.

“Kids can go there and surf instead of getting in trouble,” he said. “If I didn’t have that, I would have gotten into bad things.”

The county will try to save the northernmost structure, not for surfers, but to provide some protection for Gulf Drive, Hunsicker said, adding that the odds are about 50/50 that the groin can be saved.

The county would have to prove to DEP that it helps hold the beach together, and would have to rebuild the deteriorating structure, he said.

“We believe that if tested during a real storm, the structure would go a long way to protecting Gulf Drive,” said Hunsicker, who plans to consult with the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) before the county applies for its beach renourishment permit in 2013.

DOT is willing to work with the county on the permit, spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons-Adente said.

“State Road 789 (Gulf Drive) is our facility,” she said. “To get the permit approved, it would be beneficial if they have our participation.”

Solid versus permeable – the groin debate

The erosion and accumulation of sand on Anna Maria Island’s shores has been a natural process of give and take longer than anyone can remember.

But after some homes were lost to erosion and the Gulf began encroaching on Gulf Drive, solid erosion control groins were installed along Cortez Beach, now within the city of Bradenton Beach, said Kent Chetlain, a former Manatee County commissioner and renowned local historian.

The now-defunct Island anti-erosion board, which had the power to levy taxes, built the solid rock and cement groins, called “rip rap” groins, from the beach out into the Gulf of Mexico at right angles to the beach.

The solid groins tended to build up sand on the side facing prevailing currents, but caused it to be lost from the other side, he said, forcing a row of the groins to be built all the way up and down the beach, like dominoes.

Around the 1960s, the county installed something new on Cortez Beach - permeable groins, he said.

Like mangroves, the state’s natural beach builder, permeable groins build up sand on the side of the groin facing the current but also allow sand to pass through, keeping erosion from occurring on the opposite side.

The three existing permeable groins - the two northernmost ones now known as “twin piers” - were patterned after the late engineer Sidney Makepeace Wood’s original design, said Chetlain, one of several longtime area residents who are quick to point out the successful track record of permeable groins.

Chetlain recalls Wood’s prediction that the then-existing solid groins – which were later removed in the early 1990s beach renourishment – would block the normal currents and cause his permeable groins to be less effective.

Still, they worked, he said.

“Those things did stop the erosion,” Brady agreed. “I don’t see why they’re taking them out.”

Others who support permeable groins include Dr. M. J. "Murf" Klauber, chairman of the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, who has testified to the Longboat Key Commission about the success of the groins on his property.

“Colony Beach was about to lose its swimming pool, so they went out and built their own groins and they eventually got buried in the sand they attracted, they worked so well,” Chetlain said, adding that the Colony has gone to court and successfully prevented the groins from being removed.

Wood turned his plans over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees beach renourishment, said Chetlain, who recalls Wood telling him that the Corps did not use his plans for the same reason that the Russians beat America in the space race.

“Bureaucracy,” he said.

“Those groins are the best thing ever. It’s a crime that people in the erosion business don’t embrace it,” Chetlain said. “This knowledge has been lost. You have erosion engineers today that have never been exposed to Wood. The people who learned the lessons die off and the next generation knows nothing about it.”

Two generations after they were installed, “Who would remember?” Hunsicker asked. “But we don’t have to remember. The structures are still protecting the shoreline.”

Another proponent of the groins is environmentalist Tom Mayers, who has witnessed drastic erosion all his life in his front yard at Land’s End on the shores of Longboat Pass, less than a mile from twin piers.

“DEP took out a lot of things on Longboat Key, and now they’re having problems. They took out a lot of the old jetties in hot spots,” he said.

Dozens of solid groins were removed in Longboat Key’s beach renourishment in the mid-1990s, said Juan Florensa, public works director for the Town of Longboat Key.

“In the 1950s and 60s, groins were used extensively, perhaps overused,” he said. “Coastal engineers found out it was not the silver bullet for every erosion issue. DEP is very careful about permitting these structures now.”

The town is currently building two permeable adjustable groins based on the Wood concept at the Islander condo on Longboat Key, he said.

Rocky future

Meanwhile, the three groins in Bradenton Beach are deteriorating and have been a hazard for some time.

When the county was sued for liability two decades ago by a woman who had fallen on one of the structures, the county blocked pedestrian access to them, but surfers continued to use them, Chetlain said.

“The surfers love them,” he said. “What the county ought to do is fix those things up and make them safe so that surfers and fishermen can use them.”

Twin piers needs to be protected for the future enjoyment of surfers, especially young people, said Castro, who thinks that beach renourishment already has claimed too many surf spots.

“When I was growing up they started beach renourishment,” he said, which ruined underwater features that cause waves to break. “They blasted sand over a couple natural reefs in Bradenton Beach, and a mile south of the (Manatee) pier they knocked down reefs. I’ve seen what renourishment really does. The reality is they’re tearing up natural reefs. They need to be protected.”

“Pump and dredge is not the answer,” Chetlain agreed. “The answer is to work with nature to allow sand to accumulate on both sides of a structure, like mangroves.”

“I want to do my part to try to save twin piers,” Castro said. “They’ve been there since the surfer generation before us, and it’s something worth fighting for.”

Cindy Lane can be reached at

Port Dolphin gets pipeline OK

Port Dolphin has acquired certification to build its 42-mile-long pipeline from Port Manatee to the future site of its liquefied natural gas port 28 miles off Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a certificate of public necessity and convenience to build and operate the pipeline, the Norwegian-based shipping company announced Monday.

Tankers will dock at the port, convert liquefied natural gas to vapor and feed it into the underwater pipeline, which will come ashore at Port Manatee for distribution to energy suppliers.

Concerns about the pipeline being constructed through submerged beach renourishment sand reserves generated an agreement allowing Manatee County and Longboat Key to remove the sand prior to the construction of the pipeline in June 2012, with Port Dolphin reimbursing Manatee County and Longboat Key up to $5.5 million each.

Local municipalities and environmental groups continue to have concerns about the project, including its potential impacts on wetlands, navigation, fisheries, marine mammals and sea turtles.

The public will have opportunities to express concerns throughout the state environmental permitting process, which will begin after the issuance of the port’s license, anticipated early next year.

The U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast Guard approved the project last month subject to “conditions designed to protect and advance the national interest, the demonstration of financial capability and conditions to preserve and enhance the environment.”

Pier project funding could double

ANNA MARIA — The long-planned boardwalk and landscaping project slated for the city pier may get a shot in the arm more than doubling the original $371,025 the city is to be awarded in a transportation enhancement grant.

City Commissioner JoAnn Mattick wrote the grant that secured the original funding. She’s been working with a committee for more than a year to design a project that includes a boardwalk along the base of the pier, reconfigures the parking there with the installation of driveways for entering and exiting the parking area, moving the trolley stop closer to a covered picnic area and landscaping the entire area with native plants.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on whether or not to approve the $588,599 in additional funding, bringing the total the city may receive for the project to $959,624.

Manon Lavoie, a community liaison officer with the Florida Department of Transportation, wrote to the MPO asking them to approve the change at their Dec. 14 meeting. The federal funds for transportation enhancement grants flow through FDOT with the approval of the MPO.

In addition to the extra funding, the change would allow construction on the project to begin this year rather than in 2011, which had been the original plan.

“This is great,” Mattick said. “If this passes at the MPO, we’ll be assured that the project will be completed in plenty of time for the centennial of the Anna Maria city pier in 2011.”

The city was working with the county to do the project under a Local Agency Program umbrella, but there have been some problems working out a contract for that.

With the additional funding, FDOT will administer the project.

Lavoie, who could not be reached for comment, has said in the past that Anna Maria is the first community she’s ever worked with that planned ahead for a project of this magnitude.

Mattick said she was thrilled with the possibility that the city may get more than double the amount of funding her committee originally planned for.

“The cost of everything was much higher than we thought it would be, and we were going to have to scale back the project with things like a shorter boardwalk,” she said. “We’re thrilled that we’re going to be able to move ahead with things this year.”

If the vote at the MPO is in favor of the city, the design and engineering phase can get underway immediately.

The money can only be used for the transportation project. Under the terms of the funding, the money cannot be used for existing infrastructure.

That means that the monies can’t be used to fix the structural problems with the city pier, which is something that commissioners and residents would have liked. But the funding requirements have never allowed that, even without the pending increase in the money allocated to the city.

City commission to form parking committee

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners met last week to take a look at how they can answer concerns about the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in the residential/office/retail district, particularly along Pine Avenue.

There have been no accidents yet, but residents and commissioners alike are concerned that cars parked at businesses along the thoroughfare must back across the sidewalk to enter the flow of traffic.

“That’s my concern,” said Commission Chair John Quam. “It’s just not a safe situation.”

Newly elected Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus has expressed grave concerns about the situation and he made pedestrian safety on Pine an issue in his campaign for the November election.

He said he thinks all the properties on that street should have driveways and perhaps the parking should be in the rear of the buildings.

The original preliminary site plan for the Pine Avenue Restoration project at 315/317 Pine Ave. had driveways planned that led to the back of the buildings with loading and parking taking place in the rear.

However, an outcry from neighboring property owners on Spring Avenue about the noise and activity that would happen in their back yards sent the PAR principals back to the drawing board.

A compromise was to have all parking and loading in the front of the buildings.

Placing all the parking spaces required by code on the front of the property resulted in traffic entering and leaving the property to cross the sidewalk.

Commissioner JoAnn Mattick had issues with Stoltzfus’ proposed requirements.

“We need to write the codes to the conditions that actually exist,” she said. “The bottom line is that you can’t require something that just can’t be done. Clearly, this is something that can’t be done.”

And just defining the problem appeared to be a bit problematic.

“We need to start by defining the problem,” commented Commissioner Dale Woodland. “We haven’t even agreed on what the problem is.”

Woodland said the second thing is to try to identify whether or not there’s a processing problem with the site plan procedure.

“I don’t have an answer,” he said.

City Attorney Jim Dye agreed with Woodland.

“ … A discussion regarding the city’s parking and traffic regulations is a proper discussion for the commission to have if it believes the current regulations can be improved,” he said in his memo to commissioners. “The comprehensive plan requires the city’s regulations to implement the goals articulated in the plan and it is therefore appropriate to determine if those goals are being met or whether they can be met better than what is currently on the books.”

Commissioner Chuck Webb said he had no problem with taking a look at the existing regulations with an eye to improving them, but he cautioned against making new laws that would render the properties unusable.

“That, in my view, would result in a takings,” he said.

“The city might very well have to purchase those properties if they are rendered unusable.”

There was also discussion of the possibility that tightening the parking regulations on Pine Avenue too much might cause a ripple effect by forcing parking onto neighboring streets like Spring and Magnolia Avenues.

Several members of the audience spoke in favor of forming a committee to take a look at the situation, identify any problem areas with the parking regulations or the site plan process and come up with some suggestions for improvement.

Residents Gene Aubry and Tom Aposporos both expressed willingness to serve, and both were appointed to an ad hoc committee.

Each of the five commissioners will propose a name of someone to serve on the committee, and the commission will vote whether or not to approve the suggestions at their Dec. 17 meeting.

The parking discussion was a far cry from an earlier attempt to form a committee and hammer out a resolution to the safety issue. Commissioners and residents alike spoke calmly and politely and appeared to respect differing opinions.

Stoltzfus had appointed a committee that met earlier in the month. At that meeting, several city commissioners as well as property owners on Pine Avenue and other residents objected to the way Stoltzfus formed his committee, which has since been disbanded.

The usual procedure in Anna Maria is for each commissioner to suggest a name to the mayor for membership on a committee with the full commission having final say about the makeup of the committee.

The commission will now follow that procedure, and the committee will be formalized next week.

Investigators turn to radar in search for Sabine
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Manatee County Sheriff's Office
crime scene investigators Harley Smith, Adrianne Walls
and Amanda Pettit dig for clues.

ANNA MARIA – With the Gulf on one side and the chalet-style homes along Gulf Boulevard on the other, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators teamed with two Sarasota County counterparts to use ground-penetrating technology in search of the body of Sabine Musil-Buehler, who has been missing for more than a year.

The search for the missing motel owner was unsuccessful Tuesday morning, Dec. 1, but investigators for the sheriff’s office special homicide team, led by Sgt. Pete Ramone, are undaunted.

One of those investigators is Det. John Kenney who retired earlier this year as a sergeant and head of the sheriff’s office team that patrols the city of Anna Maria. He was asked to join the homicide team when the sheriff’s office expanded its staff to investigate the rising number of murders in the county over the past year.

“The sheriff’s office is doing all it can to find Sabine,” he said. “It’s been more than a year and we haven’t given up.”

The search, using the MALA X3M integrated radar control unit mounted to a four-wheel frame that resembles a large lawnmower, was complicated because of the water table, which is about 3 ½ feet below the surface of the sand. Water tends to reflect the radar and it is impossible to search below that point, according to Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Skip Wood. Sarasota crime scene technician Maxine Miller operated the radar unit, walking slowly up and down the beach, as if she was mowing a lawn. Whenever the radar detected a mass, one of the Manatee County investigators would put a red flag mounted on a plastic mast into the sand there.

When more than one flag was planted in an area, Manatee crime scene technicians Amanda Pettit, Harley Smith and Adrianne Walls would start digging, removing the top layer gingerly. As they went deeper, they would analyze the sand, looking for any disturbance that might indicate somebody had been digging, even as long ago as a year.

Kenney said that when they found out the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office had the ground-penetrating radar technology, they asked if they could use it to find out if Musil-Buehler was buried on the beach, which they had suspected all along.

“We’re trying new ideas because we want to find out where her body is located,” Kenney said. “We will not give up until we find out what happened.” Musil-Buehler disappeared Nov. 4, 2008, a couple of days after she and her estranged husband, Tom Buehler, hosted a Halloween party at Haley’s Motel, which they owned.

At the time, she was living with her boyfriend, William Cumber, who told police they had gotten into an argument and she had left the apartment. She was never seen again, according to investigators.

Her car was seen at the Gator Lounge in Bradenton that night and police stopped Robert Corona while he was driving the car and arrested him for grand theft auto. He initially told police that he had partied with her the night before, but finally admitted he stole the Pontiac Sunbird convertible when he saw it parked with the keys in the ignition. He was convicted of the theft and is serving a four-year sentence.

Cumber is serving a 13-year sentence for violating his probation. He has not spoken about her disappearance with authorities since going to prison.

City pier reopens to anglers

BRADENTON BEACH – Two days after shutting down the Bridge Street Pier due to damage from high waves, the city reopened the historic structure to the public, but the floating day dock is still closed to boaters.

The city reopened the pier Friday afternoon after an engineer called to inspect the structure approved the temporary fix that public works made, according to police chief Sam Speciale.

The bridge was closed just east of Rotten Ralph’s restaurant, after waves from an approaching storm system caused the ramp leading to the floating day dock to twist around on two concrete pilings, forcing the city to close the structure.

When notified of the damage, Speciale and building official Stephen Gilbert inspected it and called the engineer for the pier’s rehabilitation, Steve Sago. He agreed with their decision to close the pier.

“We did it because it didn’t look safe enough for people to be on the pier,” Speciale said.

He said they also called Wood Dock, the contractor who replaced some of the concrete piles under the pier with wood ones during the rehabilitation project. He recommended replacing the concrete pilings with 16-inch wood ones. He said the cost of the temporary fix would be $1,000.

Gilbert, meanwhile, applied for an emergency construction permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Friday, the DEP representative approved the permanent fix and the city sent the $100 permit fee to Tallahassee. The DEP was expected to send the permit when it gets the $100.

This isn’t the first time that damage from an approaching storm shut down the pier.

The pier was closed in September 2004 after Hurricane Frances passed nearby and its high winds damaged the roof of the restaurant and bait shop. The city asked for an engineer to look at the structural integrity of the pier underneath the café after finding concrete pilings with rebar rusted and corroded.

That led to the city looking to replace the restaurant structure and they hired architect Tom O’Brien to design substructures with an eye on the future. His design included a larger bait shop and facilities for boats docked in what will eventually be a mooring field south of the pier. There was also a plan for a dock master’s office.

The city formed the pier team to meet with the contractor on a weekly basis. Speciale was chosen as the head of the pier team and the process went well until a communications gaffe paved the way for a more expensive kitchen area for the restaurant. That caused a cost overrun and the city had to forego a couple of projects that were planned along Gulf Drive and take out a loan to pay for the completion of the pier.

Since it reopened in 2007, the pier has been a showpiece for the city’s commercial district and draws an increasing number of sailors who tie to the day dock and have a meal or shop along Bridge Street.

FISH acquires church property
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE The former Church of God has been
purchased by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage
(FISH) and will be restored to its original 1920s condition.

CORTEZ – A historic church and parsonage dating from the 1920s will be preserved by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) in Cortez.

The group has purchased the Church of God property on 124th Street West for $295,000, and will renovate the two buildings, along with a Sunday school probably built in the 1960s, said Roger Allen, site manager of the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez.

The church, with a new working name of Preservation Hall, will be used for community functions that are now held at the community center across the street and at the museum on 119th Street West, and will be rented for birthdays, weddings and other parties, he said.

It will also be available for church congregations to rent, he added.

The acquisition will allow the museum to stage a permanent exhibit in its main room, now used for meetings, and free space in the community center used for the museum’s boatbuilding program.

The former parsonage will be restored and rented as a residence, he said. Both buildings are contributing structures to the Cortez historic district and feature yellow pine and cedar construction.

The Sunday school building, which is not considered historic, will be repaired and used for meetings, storage, and possibly classrooms for the boatbuilding program.

The four-lot property’s grass parking lot is a much-needed asset for the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, whose proceeds fund FISH purchases. The not-for-profit preservation group’s largest acquisition is the 95-acre waterfront FISH Preserve east of the historic fishing village.

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