The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 16 - January 13, 2010


Saving the piers

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Several surfers catch a single wave
at Twin Piers in Bradenton Beach.


BRADENTON BEACH – A plan is in the works to save three crumbling erosion control groins, including two that form the popular “Twin Piers” surf spot, according to a Manatee County official.

The structures, which are subject to removal in the beach renourishment project planned for 2014, serve an important purpose in protecting Gulf Drive – a hurricane evacuation route – from erosion, according to Charlie Hunsicker, Director of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department.

They also provide recreational opportunities for surfers, anglers and divers, who are outspoken advocates to save the structures.

An erosion control project at the Islander Club condo on Longboat Key, due to be completed by spring, may hold the key to saving them, Hunsicker said.

The town is building two adjustable, permeable groins modified from the late engineer Sidney Makepeace Wood’s original design used in building the three structures in Bradenton Beach, said Rick Spadoni of Coastal Planning and Engineering, the beach engineering firm for both Manatee County and Longboat Key.

Making the groins adjustable allows engineers to monitor the accumulation and erosion of sand, and slide panels in and out to fine tune the performance of the structures, he said.

Making them permeable allows some sand to flow through, like mangrove roots, building the beach on the side facing prevailing currents while keeping it from being eroded from the other side, which occurs with solid groins.

Permeable structures appear to be exempt from a state law that allows DEP to require a landowner to alter or remove solid – or impermeable – coastal structures on state sovereign land below the mean high-water line if they serve no public purpose or endanger human life, health or welfare.

The Town of Longboat Key received permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build the two permeable groins on Longboat Key, Spadoni said.

If the county proposes to rebuild the three Bradenton Beach groins in a similar style, DEP could approve them as well, Hunsicker said.

The county will work on a redesign of the erosion control groins, he said, adding that applying for a permit to replace the structures with pedestrian accessible piers like the one planned at Manatee Public Beach would require more stringent building standards and would likely be unsuccessful.

“We’re hoping DEP will allow the county to refurbish them,” Spadoni said, adding that the agency will require an evaluation of whether the structures are derelict. “There is a purpose for those structures to be there. Gulf Drive is very vulnerable at those locations. That’s a hurricane evacuation route we can’t afford to lose.”

Cold hits Island marine life hard

AMISUN News Robbery BankerAMISUN News Robbery Banker
Thousands of fish have been killed on Anna Maria Island and throughout
the state by the prolonged cold weather. More deaths were expected this
week, as temperatures were forecast to remain in the low 30s at night.


A prolonged cold spell has not only kept people off the beach, but has endangered and killed a variety of marine life.

Warm-water species, including snook, are particularly vulnerable to being cold stunned, said John Stevely, Sea Grant Extension agent at the University of Florida’s Manatee County Extension Office.

“It’s been 10 years since we’ve had this many cold days in a row,” he said. “Small bays with little circulation get cold pockets” causing fish to become distressed.

“Snook are bunched up in canals,” said Cortez fisherman Tony Keehbauch, who also has seen jacks, permit, moonfish, angelfish and one jewfish struggling over the past few days. “If it’s 50 or 52 (degrees) four or five days in a row, snook will die.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Fish Kill Hotline has received several reports of cold-related fish kills.

Extended periods of unusually cold weather can kill fish directly by cold stress or indirectly by making them more susceptible to disease, according to the FWC. Cold stressed fish appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer.

Other species also are struggling.

A green sea turtle rescued from the Titusville area is being treated at Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital for cold stress.

The turtle, a juvenile to sub-adult, had symptoms of cold stunning, which causes sea turtles to float listlessly in the water or wash onto shore, and can shut down organs. Although these turtles may appear dead, they are often alive and should be reported as soon as possible.

Two other rescued green turtles with tumors on their eyes were euthanized.

"We're going into overdrive to care for these animals,” Mote veterinarian Dr. Andy Stamper said, adding that the species is endangered.

Prolonged exposure to water below 68 degrees also can lead to cold stress syndrome and death in manatees.

Increased law enforcement patrols will focus on areas with large congregations of manatees and in manatee regulatory zones during the cold weather, according to the FWC.

When water temperatures drop, manatees gather in warm-water habitats, such as discharge canals at power plants, canal systems or springs. Boaters should be extra vigilant in watching for manatees in shallow waters near the coast, both inland and coastal, and obey all posted manatee speed zone signs. All boaters, including kayakers and canoers, should avoid areas where large numbers of manatees are gathered because a disturbance could scare them away from the warm-water sites which they need to survive.

In St. Petersburg, FWC biologists rescued a juvenile female manatee from 53-degree water in a canal last week and delivered her to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo hospital.

Report dead and dying fish to the Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511; report dead or distressed manatees and sea turtles to the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

2009 record year for manatee deaths
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

A record number of manatees were killed in 2009 in Florida.

A record 429 manatees died in Florida waters in 2009, 80 more than the five-year average of 349, and 12 more than the worst year in Florida history, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Ten of the deaths occurred in Manatee County, half from watercraft strikes.

Several other manatee mortality records were set in 2009. Deaths of the marine mammal were higher than the five-year average in all of the following categories:

• 114 newborn deaths, higher than the five-year average of 78;
• 97 watercraft related deaths, higher than the five-year average of 81;
• 90 undetermined causes, higher than the five-year average of 73;
• 56 cold stress deaths, higher than the five-year average of 30;
• 13 other undetermined causes, higher than the five-year average of 5;
• 7 other human-related deaths, higher than the five-year average of 6;
• 5 flood gate/lock deaths, higher than the five-year average of 3.

Previously, the worst year for manatees was 2006 with 417 deaths, followed by 415 deaths in 1996, both attributable in part to red tide outbreaks, according to the commission’s records. Red tide was not a significant factor in the 2009 deaths.

Last year’s record mortality also was significantly higher than manatee mortality over the past two years – 337 manatees deaths were documented in 2008 and 317 in 2007.

The economy may have changed boating patterns, keeping boaters closer to shore to save money on gas, according to Dr. Katie Tripp, director of Science and Conservation for the Save the Manatee Club. Increasing the number of boats in waters inhabited by manatees could help account for the rise in mortalities, she said.

Careful boating practices and compliance with speed zones can greatly reduce the number of manatee injuries and deaths from propeller blades and boat hulls, she said.

“We are calling for boaters to slow down in manatee habitat, obey the posted speed zones, and immediately report manatee injuries,” Tripp said.

A record 3,807 manatees were found during January 2009’s statewide survey, 507 more than the record high in 2001, but the high number of 2009 deaths cannot simply be attributed to a larger manatee population, according to the commission.

The numbers are used not only to monitor the species, but as a basis for law enforcement measures such as speed zones.

Free boating banners and aluminum dock signs are available from the Save the Manatee Club at

To report a dead or injured manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert hotline at (888) 404-FWCC (3922).

Is there really a safety issue?

ANNA MARIA — Architect Gene Aubrey, a member of the newly formed parking safety committee is working to come up with a drawing of some possible mitigations for what some call the public safety hazard of the parking situation in the city’s residential/office/retail district.

The committee met for the first time on Jan. 8 with six members appointed by the mayor and each of the five city commissioners.

Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus made it a campaign issue and has raised traffic safety in the ROR at every commission meeting since he was elected in November.

The main point of concern is that cars park head on into parking spaces. They have to cross the sidewalk, potentially endangering pedestrians and bicyclists, according to Stoltzfus. Then they have to back out of the parking places, creating the same hazard.

After about an hour of discussion, Aubrey offered to craft his drawing and bring it to the next committee meeting.

“I’ll draw a diagram to scale,” he said. “It would be nice to have a diagram, and the next time we get together, we can have a visual look at what we’re trying to create with words.”

Mayor Fran Barford asked Aubrey to work with city staff, including the planner, the building official and the city attorney before rendering his drawing.

“It’s exciting what you are talking about,” the mayor told the committee members.

Committee member Micheal Coleman, managing partner of the Pine Avenue Restoration Project, pressed the committee to acknowledge that there is no actual safety emergency at the present time.

“I want it on the record that there is no safety issue,” Coleman said several times. “The more important question is what can we do to make things better.”

Coleman said that Manatee County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Turner had said there wasn’t a safety problem, but Turner had a different take on what he said at an earlier meeting.

“What I said is that we have had very few wrecks there since 2005,” he said. “Looking at it from a safety issue, yes, we can make it safer. We can put stop signs all along, and we can install pedestrian walkways.”

Turner said that in the long run, as there is more development along the short street, the city could have a safety problem.

Coleman then said his project would only add 12 new spaces to Pine Avenue.

However, Larry Albert pointed out that that number only took the PAR sites into consideration.

“There are a lot of other properties along that street that could be developed,” Albert said.

The committee is comprised of Larry Albert, who was selected as chair; Terry Schaefer, vice chair; Tom Aposporos; Aubrey; Coleman and Mike Pescitelli.

Stoltzfus was appointed as the commission liaison to the committee, but he was unable to attend the meeting because of a prior commitment.

The committee has scheduled its next meeting for Jan. 22 at 10 a.m. at city hall.

The issue also will be the sole topic on the agenda of a joint meeting of the city commission and the planning and zoning board Thursday, Jan. 14 at 6 p.m.

This chapel is one of a kind
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT This chapel on the water has
come to Manatee County and will soon sail the
Intracoastal Waterway with wedding parties on board.

CORTEZ – Some people saw an unusual sight early last week. It appeared to be a white chapel with a blue metal roof floating down the Intracoastal Waterway.

That’s exactly what it was, and it is now docked at the Seafood Shack while its new owners prepare to open a new addition to the area’s growing wedding industry – Weddings on the Water.

Jill Chandler Fisher and her husband, Captain Orca Fisher, bought the ornate vessel recently from Bill Henderson, who owned and operated it in the St. Pete/Clearwater area for a few years. Henderson reportedly saw one like it in Australia and decided to have one built in the US. He commissioned it in 2003 and it was finished in 2004, and, according to Jill, it’s the only floating chapel in America.

Outside, it has a high-pitched roof with many ornate touches and a picket fence around the deck. There is a captain’s station at the front and a deck aft where people can gather to enjoy the weather and the water.

It all began when the Fishers, who are both licensed captains for 100 ton vessels, sold their old boat, which they used for charters, and looked for another to replace it.

“I saw the chapel and said, ‘This would look good down here,’” Jill said.

The chapel was built to marine standards, which means it is more resistant to saltwater and other forces of nature than a land-based chapel.

Inside, rows of oak pews face the pulpit aft. Each row of seats has bridal flowers affixed to the end. There is a public restroom at the front of the enclosure and a small room with a second restroom on the other side of the aisle. The vessel is powered by two Cumming 125 diesels. The boat has a shallow draft, which is good for traveling around the bay area, and it has spuds, or legs, which can be lowered to keep it study.

“It could go anywhere from Galati’s Marine to restaurants on the water like Rotten Ralph's or Mar Vista,” Jill said.

The two know about the wedding industry, and they think their chapel will be a popular attraction.

“We will supply the chapel for weddings and ceremonies for married couples who want to recommit their marriages,” Jill said. We are simply the ceremony, and they would have to take care of other aspects of the wedding.”

Renting the chapel would include a wedding plus a cake and champagne celebration afterward and perhaps a cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway.

The chapel holds up to 100 people, and they would charge on the basis of how many people would be in attendance.

This is a good way to enjoy the amenities of the area without getting sandy or sunburned and the cute chapel gathers attention wherever it goes. They intend to keep the chapel docked at the Seafood Shack and they thanked the restaurant’s owner for allowing them to do so.

The Fishers plan to show off the chapel a lot to drum up business. They also plan on participating in the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Wedding Festival on Feb. 28.

To reach them, call 941-716-4496 or e-mail Take a video tour of the chapel at

Police: Help us protect you
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Holmes Beach Police released this photo they say is of a
suspect who took furnishings from a rental residence on
Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009. If you have any information on
this person’s identity, call Holmes Beach Police at 708-5804

HOLMES BEACH – Speaking to a full house, police officials discussed the city’s recent increase in burglaries, ways residents could help police and programs available to deter crime at Thursday’s crime prevention forum.

“We are by no means sheltered from the criminal element,” Chief Jay Romine stressed. “You live in a nice area with nice houses, cars, stuff. Criminals don’t want junk; they’re going to target people like you.

“We want you to do everything you can to protect yourself and your property and help us. We have 14 officers, counting the three of us, to protect 5,000 people. We need you to be nosy and call us when you see something out of the ordinary.”

Romine said the recent increase in car, residential and business burglaries is not unique to the city. It’s happening all over the country as a result of the economic situation, when people become desperate after losing their jobs, or is tied to illegal drug use.

“Ninety percent of the cars burglarized are unlocked,” he pointed out. “Kids start at one end of the street and work their way down the road and check which cars are unlocked. It’s amazing what people leave in their vehicles – GPS units, guns, laptops, radar detectors – and don’t lock them.”

Programs to prevent crime

Lt. Dale Stephenson detailed some of the programs available to residents and business owners to help prevent crime.

“We have a house check program,” he said. “If you go on vacation or go away during the summer, you can come to the police department and sign up, and periodically an officer will walk around your house and make sure all the windows are closed, your doors are locked and there’s no problems.”

Another is the business trespass program in which a business owner can sign up to have police cite trespassers after hours. A third is the night eyes program in which an officer checks businesses during the night and leaves a card to let the owner know it was checked and secure. This requires no response from the business owner.

Stephenson said police also will help residents set up telephone trees or Neighborhood Watch programs and added, “When somebody’s going to commit a crime, they’re going to do things the easiest way. Every roadblock that you can put up makes you safer – motion sensor lights, keeping bushes away from windows, locking your doors.

“When you’re not in the area, tell your neighbor and not just your neighbor on the left or right, but a neighbor across the canal. Some of these burglaries were sliding glass door, back door entries.”

Romine recommended installing an alarm system because “there’s no better means of self assurance. They’re not that expensive and they give you tremendous peace of mind. The department’s average response time to an alarm is two and a half minutes.”

He suggested that people sign up for a ride along with an officer at night to see what he does and said people also could sign up for a house security check.

Property recovered

Det. Mike Leonard said there have been 36 arrests since June, when the upswing in burglaries began, and police have recovered and returned television sets, laptops, iPods, guns, GPS units, and gaming systems. He said the department’s patrol officers have been particularly diligent in collecting evidence to help solve the crimes.

“We are working with the Sheriff’s Office and Bradenton Beach Police,” he told the group. “There was a search warrant issued for a home in Bradenton Beach, and we recovered a lot of property from our vehicle burglaries.

“We have conducted several sweeps and sting operations, and you would not have recognize us if you would have seen us. We’re not just riding around in marked police cars.”

Law enforcement uses a system called Finder, a program in which pawnshops must send their receipts to the local sheriff’s office. The receipts are entered into a computer and it goes into a database, which local police departments can access.

Leonard said the problem comes when people do not record their serial numbers to show the item belongs to them and pointed out, “If you can’t positively identify it, there’s no way we can prove it’s yours. Jewelry – engrave it; put something on it that shows its yours.”

He said police also work with the Manatee County Crime Lab and Florida Department of Law Enforcement for evidence purposes.

Romine then told audience members that he conducted an experiment while they were listening to the presentations. His officers checked the vehicles in the parking lot and found most of them were unlocked. In plain view, they found GPS units, cell phones, digital camera, radar detectors, and gear bags.

‘You were here for a crime prevention lesson,” he stressed. “Lesson number one – lock your car! It only takes a second for someone to check your car, snatch what’s there and be gone.

“Holmes Beach seems small, but it’s not that small when you’re trying to protect everybody. We can’t be everywhere all the time. Do what you can to protect yourself.”

If you have a problem or emergency, dispatch is available 24 hours a day by calling 708-5804.

City explores beachfront purchase

BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach wants to know how much a half-acre of what it considers unbuildable land west of Bermuda Beach condominiums is worth before it offers to purchase it.

That’s what the city commission decided after Florida League of Cities-appointed attorney Greg Hootman updated them on a lawsuit mediation meeting stemming from a dispute over whether developers can build condos on the beachfront land.

In 1998, the heads of Island, Inc. and Beach Development, Inc., told Building Official Bill Sanders that they felt that the city’s land use designation of the property as preservation, which does not allow development, was incorrect. Sanders reportedly agreed with them, but when they filed to change the land use to multi-family residential, the city said no and the developers appealed. When their appeal was dismissed, they sued in 2000 and the court ruled for the city. An appeal, though, was upheld and they filed for a small-scale development to change the land use designation. That’s when the state stepped in.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs ruled that the small-scale development did not apply because the project would have changed the density of that high-risk land.

Hootman said after that, it became a question of adding development on the beach and that the developers filed for the change as a large-scale development.

The state said no and the developers sued, saying the ruling was a taking. A couple of years ago, the developers agreed to hold off getting a judgment if the city would seek a grant to purchase the land. The city offered to put up $600,000 to match a $1.4 million grant to pay for the land.

At the mediation meeting, the developers offered to sell the land to the city for $600,000.

Hootman said that the developers won $1.8 million in a malpractice suit against the attorneys who first recommended they file for the change as a small-scale development. However, he said since then, the Department of Community Affairs had said that it did not matter whether they sought the change of land use as a small-scale or a large-scale development.

Commissioners asked what would happen if the city did nothing, and Hootman said they developers could declare an impasse and proceed with their regulatory taking case. He added that they would probably file for permits to begin construction.

Commissioner Gay Brueler said that the city should weigh the legal expenses it has already incurred and the amount it is likely to spend against the cost of the land.

City Clerk and Financial Officer Nora Idso was asked if the city could afford the $600,000, and she said not without raising property taxes.

“We could go to the voters and get their input,” Commissioner Janie Robertson said.

The commission decided to hold a town hall meeting to explain the situation to the residents. They also voted to reject the offer from the developers and ask for additional time to see what the land is worth before making a counter offer.

‘Our Living Shoreline’ to be examined

CITY ISLAND - "Our Living Shoreline" is the topic of the inaugural Sarasota Bay Watch stakeholders' meeting, set for Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mote Marine Laboratory.

The free event will feature Anna Maria Island Sun fishing columnist Rusty Chinnis, who will describe Sarasota Bay Watch projects designed to improve the bay’s health; the Sun’s 2009 Person of the Year, Charlie Hunsicker of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department, who will present an overview of local government projects with the same aim; and a Sarasota Bay Estuary Program report on the state of the bay’s ecosystem.

Shoreline residents who would like to grow scallops or install artificial reef balls under their docks also will learn details about a Sarasota County scallop program and the Reef Ball Foundation’s artificial reef program, while ORCA (Ocean Restoration Corporation and Associates) will discuss dock and seawall habitats that attract marine life to help clean water.

“We’re testing the waters to see how interested the public is in these ideas,” said Sandy Gilbert, of Sarasota Bay Watch, adding that a question and answer session will follow the presentations.

The meeting will be in Mote’s Keating Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway in Sarasota. Reservations are required; for more information or to make reservations, call 953-5333 or visit

Communities for a Lifetime to hold kickoff event
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

From left, Ken Venters, the Center's volunteer coordinator,
and Suzanne Arbanas show a poster for Carfit, one activity
offered at the Communities for a Lifetime kickoff
on Saturday, Jan. 23.

HOLMES BEACH – The Island Communities for a Lifetime committee will hold a kickoff event with activities for all ages from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Last year, the three Island cities and the Community Center joined the CFL, a statewide initiative to make communities livable for everyone. The initiative, begun in 1999, assists cities and towns in planning and implementing improvements in areas such as transportations and housing.

“There are two obligations,” Ken Venters, volunteer coordinator for the Community Center, explained. “One is to have a kickoff event to bring more awareness to the program and the other is to survey the community to determine the needs of the residents.”

Activities planned

Kickoff activities include the CarFit program for senior citizens that helps them adapt to changes in their bodies to give them more control of their vehicles, jewelry making for all ages and face painting for youths.

“I’m excited about CarFit.” Venters said. “It’s a national program for mature drivers, and it only takes about 20 minutes. It helps people make changes to their vehicles to make them fit the person better.

“There will be an occupational therapist on hand to make suggestions for improvements. All the participants will get a goodie bag.”

Informational booths include the Roskamp Institute, which researches, diagnoses and treats diseases of the mind; AMI Taxi; Manasota Lighthouse; the Talking Books program; magnifying aids; Florida Division of Blind Services; Southeast Guide Dogs; TIFF (To Inform Families First) and environmental organizations.

“I hope people come to the Center and walk around and see what’s available,” Venters said. “They’re going to have a good time.”

Survey in progress

The CFL committee began its community survey last week. Forms are available at the three Island city halls, The Community Center and the Island Branch and Tingley Memorial libraries.

Forms must be competed by Feb. 6 and can be dropped off at any of the locations where the surveys are available or mailed to the Community Center, Attention: Communities for a Lifetime, P.O. Box 253, Anna Maria, FL 34216.

“After we analyze the data, we can present it in public meetings,” Venters said. “It will help us determine the strengths and weaknesses of the community and what is needed. Then we can get technical support from federal and state agencies to develop programs and get grants to subsidize them.”

Click for survey form.

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