The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 39 - June 30, 2010


Cortez captain returns from spill

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
Contract workers collect surface oil approximately four miles
offshore of Okaloosa Island, Fla., on June 25. Cortez boat
captain Charlotte Huntley assisted in the efforts earlier this month.

CORTEZ – The mother dolphin pushed her baby up through the oil to help it get a breath of air, but the baby was already dead.

The memory sticks with Cortez boat captain Charlotte Huntley like oil sticks to a mangrove.

One of about 20 Cortezians who answered the call to help Louisiana fishermen clean up the Gulf of Mexico after the still-gushing Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, Huntley spent five emotional weeks on the front lines.

“You go by the bird islands and you’re hearing those baby pelicans screaming for their mother, and she’s not coming back. It’s the most gut wrenching, heart wrenching thing...” she said, her voice trailing off. “I was on the phone crying to Johnny every night.”

Huntley and Johnny Banyas, of Cortez Bait and Seafood in Cortez, are rigging another boat to head to Louisiana; Huntley left the Booby Trap and the Miss Tampa in the care of her brother and another boat captain to continue oil recovery efforts there.

To workers in the oily Gulf, things look different than they do to those watching on TV, she said, citing problems with the way wildlife is handled, the methods used for oil spill containment and the questionable way the Vessel of Opportunity Program is being operated.

Opportunity sidestepped?

British Petroleum’s Vessel of Opportunity Program is heavily publicized among fishermen, whose nautical skills easily translate from fishing to laying plastic boom to contain liquid oil.

But it’s not easy getting into the program, Huntley said. Small boats without enough horsepower to pull booms are being hired. Boats from Michigan and Ohio are being hired before boats from Louisiana, where livelihoods have been disrupted. And several layers of bureaucracy have sprung up, with each one taking a cut of the paycheck, she said.

“I’m a fourth-tier contractor,” she said, with three other subcontractors above her as her bosses, having purchased and resold “tickets” from BP’s program.

By the time the advertised $1,200 per boat per day trickles down to the boat owner, she’s earning $400, she said, but most fishermen hired for the program aren’t complaining because they can’t fish with a third of the Gulf closed.

“We’re unaware of that,” BP spokesman John Curry said, adding that boats are paid between $1,200 and $3,000 based on their size, and crew members are paid $25 per hour.

“We created the program to help clean up the oil and provide some level of compensation for those who have been impacted. We would need to look into that.”

Huntley is having trouble getting a third, 44-foot-long boat from Cortez accepted to the program because all the tickets have been sold, she said.

“They’re not accepting the right boats for the job,” she said. “They get go-fast boats that couldn’t haul any boom.”

Other things bothered her, too. While she saw about 50 Louisiana shrimp boats in the program, others were from Michigan and Ohio, while Gulf coast boat captains remained jobless.

She questioned why the absorbent boom is being rented, not sold.

She tried to make a suggestion after watching workers use cane poles to string boom on, and seeing the boom wash ashore the next day, allowing the oil into the marshland.

“Why not use rebar instead of bamboo?” she asked them.

“They said it was an environmental issue,” Huntley laughed scornfully. “You’re a peon when you’re out there.”

“We’re trying to enlist people’s assistance,” Curry said. “There’s a whole program set up for it, including a call center. We’re open for suggestions.”

A Gulf apart

It’s a shock to see the scene at ground zero in Grand Isle, La., for the first time, Huntley said.

“It’s horrible,” she said, searching for words. “There’s so much oil in the water.”

The BP executives she ferried to the spill site were disgusted, she said. “They would say, ‘Oh my God, we’re not doing enough.’ ”

Wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, a life preserver and boots for 12 hours a day for hot days on end, Huntley deployed boom onto beaches for later installation in the water and ran a supply boat, taking crew, supplies, gas and BP executives to “dirty” boats that could not come into port because of oil residue.

When oil hit the Booby Trap, she had to go to a decontamination barge before returning to port, which powerwashed the boat and damaged the Fiberglas.

“My purple crab boat was slap covered in oil,” she said, so she switched to absorbent pads and a citrus-based cleanser. Oil got in the engines of some of the boats.

“If it’s on the surface, you can avoid it. But once it’s in your intake, the engine shuts down,” she said. “Shrimpers were crying.”

BP has promised to pay for the damage.

One of her worst frustrations was not being allowed to touch wildlife as a BP subcontractor, she said. Subs must call wildlife officials, who are overwhelmed with calls and can’t respond.

Wildlife death estimates are vastly underreported, she said, accounting only for animals that wash up on shore, not the ones in the Gulf that no one will ever see.

As of Friday, 1,074 dead birds, 417 dead sea turtles and 48 dead dolphins and manatees were reported, with more than 900 injured animals collected for treatment.

As in many disasters, the area is becoming somewhat lawless, she said. After hearing about violent crimes being committed, Huntley returned home to Cortez, with mixed feelings.

She was glad to be able to help the skimming boats keep going, she said, but she couldn’t help making comparisons and a grim prediction.

“I’m looking at Barataria Pass (La.) and I said, ‘This is going to come to Longboat Pass,’ ” she said. Hoping for the best “…is like sitting in the bathtub and saying the hot water isn’t going to come past your feet.”

Recall signers threatened

ANNA MARIA — Some people who signed the first petition to recall City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus are reporting threats, late-night phone calls and anonymous letters.

The names on the recall petition became public record when the first petitions were certified.

No one is willing to go on the record with their experiences, but as reports add up, the situation becomes difficult to ignore.

Last week, an Island business owner received an anonymous letter sent from St. Petersburg.

“I saw your name on the list of people to recall our city commissioner,” the letter said. “Couldn’t believe you would join the gang to ruin our city.

“I have used your company for years and recommend you to others but no more —.

“Stoltzfus is doing what we elected him to do – save our city from PAR.”

PAR is the acronym for Pine Avenue Restoration, LLC, a developer that’s putting up several mixed-use structures in the city’s residential/office/retail district.

There are reports that neighbors who’ve been friends for years are being threatened and shunned.

One city commissioner with a family member quite ill and in the hospital was getting late night phone calls. When the caller was asked not to call so late at night because the calls brought fears about that family member, the calls came later the next night.

Meanwhile, the committee to recall Stoltzfus continues to select signatures on its second petition.

Under the city charter and Florida statute, to effect a recall election, the committee must first collect the signatures of 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. That step has been accomplished, and now the committee is working on the second step in the recall process with the collection of the signatures of 15 percent of the registered voters.

The second round of petitions contains a statement from Stoltzfus in his own defense in which he asserts he has done nothing wrong.

Stoltzfus filed suit in circuit court asking for an expedited hearing to fight the petition. That was denied, and an appeal to district was also denied.

If the second round of petitions is certified by the supervisor of elections, the next step would be a recall election during which voters would be asked to retain Stoltzfus in office or remove him from office.

If the petitions are certified, the recall committee expects that there will be further legal challenges to its efforts.

Three times the fireworks!

The Chiles Group will have one fireworks show per restaurant this year over the Fourth of July weekend. Each show starts shortly after dark.

The first display will be held on Friday, July 2, at the Mar Vista restaurant on Longboat Key, sponsored in part by the Longboat Observer Group, Moore’s Stone Crab restaurant and Cannons Marina. The fireworks go off the next night at the BeachHouse, in Bradenton Beach, and the final show will be held on the Fourth of July at the Sandbar, in Anna Maria. For more details,. Call Mar Vista at 383-2391, the BeachHouse at 778-8718 or the Sandbar at 778-8709.

Moratorium unanimously OK'd

ANNA MARIA — A moratorium on all development in the city’s conservation land use category is now in effect.

City commissioners heard the second reading of an ordinance establishing the moratorium at their June 24 commission meeting. The vote to approve the ordinance imposing the moratorium was unanimous.

“This moratorium gives the city breathing room and time to revisit the comprehensive plan,” City Attorney Jim Dye said. “There are questions about whether the city’s decisions were incorporated into the final version of the plan.”

Minutes of the meetings finalizing the conservation land use category of the conservation zone indicate that the intention of the commission was not to prohibit all development there.

The conservation land use category basically extends from the southern city limits on the Gulf, around Bean Point to the city limits on the bay side at Galati Marine.

There are some questions about whether or not Tony Arrant, the planning consultant who helped the city write the updated comp plan, ever made the changes the city asked him to make to the final version of the plan.

The moratorium brings an unwanted hiatus to the development of some lots on the old Walker property that runs between Oak and Park avenues along the Gulf.

The Walker estate is attempting to subdivide the large piece of land into smaller parcels that would be sold individually, creating a deed-restricted community there.

Ricinda Perry, the attorney for the developers, argued that her client should be allowed to complete the platting of the individual lots on the property since the process of doing the platting has been ongoing for the better part of a year, and it’s only through delays on the part of the surveyor that the city uses that the platt map isn’t completed already.

However, in the end, the moratorium was adopted by a vote of 3-1 with Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick casting the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Chuck Webb was absent.

Historic Green Village good to go
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

The drawing shows Rosedale Cottage on the left with
the garden cafe to the right of the cottage, a new
building behind the garden and Beach Bums on the right.

ANNA MARIA — Within a month, work on the Anna Maria Historic Green Village will begin on a site that includes four platted lots from 503 to 507 Pine Avenue.

The project includes the historic Rosedale Cottage that was constructed in about 1913 and the Sears Cottage that was moved to the property earlier this month.

“I’m very excited to be involved in this project that takes water quality and green construction beyond what the codes require,” Lynn Townsend, the engineer in charge of the project said.

City commissioners heard from Townsend and their planner at the June 24 meeting that the project met or exceeded all city codes. There were no variances requested.

“We’ll start working on the permits right away,” Dan Gagne, who will be the builder for the property, said after the meeting. “It should take about a month to get everything drawn up and approved.

Gagne said the Sears Cottage and the Rosedale Cottage would be done first, with four other structures to follow. Two of those new structures will include second-story residential units.

Earlier this month, the planning and zoning board voted to recommend that the city commission approve the project.

The site plan designates that all parking will be on the property. No parking spaces are planned for Pine Avenue, where a corridor plan is under discussion by the city.

The Anna Maria Historic Green Village, which is owned by Mike and Lizzie Thrasher, does designate some on-site parking on Tarpon Street.

City codes don’t mandate a sidewalk there, but the Thrashers opted to install one.

The original plan showed the sidewalk between the parking spaces and the street. The P&Z board’s recommendation for approval included a stipulation that the sidewalk be installed between the parking and the buildings to insure the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus stated that city codes require a 20-foot driveway to access the on-site parking. He said he didn’t think the planned driveway was long enough to meet that code.

“The driveway is longer than the code requires,” Townsend said. “It’s 26 feet long.

Stoltzfus called Townsend to the dais to prove to him that the driveway met codes, which she did.

In the end, the vote was 3-1 to approve the site plan. Stoltzfus cast the dissenting vote. Commissioner Chuck Webb was absent.

Tourism board to request BP funds
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED Tracy Eckert, of Bradenton Beach, made
this photo to send to friends up North. In it he says,
“The water is blue and warm, our beaches are sugar
white sand and the only true oil you’ll find on our
beaches is suntan oil.

In an effort to boost tourism, Manatee County will request $600,000 from BP to market the area as oil-free.

“The only oil down here is suntan oil,” said Larry White, who is retiring from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau this week.

He announced the request last week after Pinellas County requested $2 million, or 25 percent of its marketing budget, from BP.

The money will be used to advertise summer travel to potential visitors in Orlando, Daytona Beach and Palm Beach, White said. Sales representatives are already en route to Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville to drum up summer business.

“Don’t crack open that million dollar disaster recovery fund yet because we have hurricane season to face,” White advised county commissioners, referring to an emergency fund created to pay for marketing campaigns that would repair the area’s image after a disaster.

County commissioners have agreed to sign the BP request, and also voted to ask the governor to convene a summit on coastal protection and restoration, promote alternative energy legislation and call a special legislative session to draft a constitutional amendment banning offshore oil drilling in state waters.

Panhandle counties are having trouble getting BP to pay up, so some tourism business owners are contacting Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama independently, said David Teitelbaum, vice chairman of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

“We have to take matters in our own hands,” he said. “We’re on our own.”

Tips for tourism businesses

The CVB has some tips for tourism businesses until the oil and the money arrive.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and others are using phone cameras to take videos of the beach to post fresh images on the county’s tourism Web site showing visitors the beaches and water are clean. The Web site,, also features links to live beach Web cams at the Beach House restaurant, Seaside Inn Beach Resort and Cedar Cove Resort and Cottages. Local videos also are being posted on social media.

Business owners also should add photos to their Web sites indicating that Manatee County beaches are still oil-free and link to the county’s Web site and the Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key chambers of commerce, which have videos, new CVB Director Elliott Falcione said.

Hoteliers should send out postcards to previous guests dated today, saying “Wish you were here,” or a similar message, with a photo of the clean beach, White said.

Hoteliers also should collect testimonials from happy customers for their own Web sites and to share with the bureau’s Web site, and consider relaxing their cancellation policies during the disaster to encourage business, Falcione said.

The bureau is documenting its expenses related to the oil spill, and advises tourism business to do the same, he said.

As of June 18, the CVB had been notified of 52 cancellations due to the oil spill, White said, but each one could represent several room nights.

Hoteliers should send cancellation information to, or call 800-642-4340, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A tourism industry oil spill strategy meeting is planned for Wednesday, July 7 at 3 p.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall.

Call for Bayfest art
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Members of the Bayfest organizing committee are
Chuck Webb, Cindy Thompson, Jim Gocher of Miller Electric,
Brian Manson, and Wende Webb.

HOLMES BEACH – The organizers of the annual Bayfest are looking for T-shirt designs and they want ideas from any budding artists in the area.

This is the tenth anniversary of what has turned into the biggest festival on Anna Maria Island and they want entries to include the anniversary in the theme of the artwork.

Art work must be submitted on 8 1/2-by-11 paper by August 31. Include the name of the artist, a telephone number and an e-mail address to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217. Artwork from all ages will be accepted.

The first organizational meeting for Bayfest 2010 was held last week. The festival will be held at the empty lot at Pine Avenue and Bay Drive, in Anna Maria, from 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 15 for music and food and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Expect more of the stuff that brings people out every year. Bill Mergen will be back with the car show that attracts not only the guys, but the gals who might be reminded the convertible one of those guys drove while courting them.

The food court will return with local favorites from food outlets on and around the Island. The Anna Maria Island Community Center will be selling water and soda and the Chamber will be back with beer, wine, margarita and rum-runners. Arts and crafts offer a look at the Island lifestyle and Kevin Bergquist returns with a huge kids court featuring a bounce house and other activities plus martial arts demonstrations and more. They might have a fishing contest for Saturday morning.

The city of Anna Maria has waived the permit fee saying that should not be a major source of income for the city. Sponsors include Miller Electric, LaPensee Plumbing, The Anna Maria Island Sun and, as organizer and Chamber Board Chair Cindy Thompson put it, they will be more aggressive this year in finding other sponsors.

If you want to be a part of the Island’s first and largest festival of the season, call Cindy Thompson at 761-4766 or 536-4257 or Mary Ann Brockman or Deb Wing at 778-1541.

County officials explain oil preparations
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO Manatee County Emergency Management Director
Laurie Feagans talked to the Anna Maria City Commission and
residents about how the oil disaster might affect the county as
Conservation Lands Management Director Charlie Hunsicker,
standing on left, looks on.

ANNA MARIA — Manatee County is unlikely to face disastrous impact from the Deepwater Horizon runaway oil disaster. That’s the word that county officials brought to the June 24 city commission meeting.

“We are on the phone daily with the Coast Guard, which is in charge of what happens in our county,” said Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker. “What that means is that we’re getting control of a bad situation and not relying on BP or the federal government.

“We didn’t go for an emergency declaration when the disaster happened because we didn’t want to affect the tourism and business,” he added. “And we aren’t in a state of emergency right now. If we need to we’ll declare it.”

Hunsicker said the state and the county are taking a proactive approach to the disaster.

“We’re establishing a fleet that will take the fight to the oil where it belongs rather than waiting until it gets to our shores and into our fragile ecosystem,” he said.

“About the only way that we’ll have a disastrous impact here is if a hurricane comes up the Atlantic and makes landfall around Jacksonville.”

If that were to happen, according to Hunsicker, the counter clockwise circulation of the storm would bring the oil in our direction.

“But hurricanes that come in at Jacksonville and move across the upper part of the state are very rare,” he said. “Unless and until we see something like that happen, we’re in good shape.”

Hunsicker handed out flyers and brochures to the commissioners and the residents in attendance.

The material explains what’s happening and how citizens can help now and in the future.

The handouts are available at city hall and at county facilities.

Commissioner Dale Woodland questioned the cost of the brochures, and Hunsicker assured him that BP is paying the costs.

Florida court case favors fishermen

A new Florida Supreme Court decision may make it easier for commercial fishermen to collect damages in court from BP and other companies associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The court ruled last week that commercial fishermen have a right to collect damages under both state law and common law from a phosphate company that spilled pollutants into Tampa Bay.

Hillsborough County-based Mosaic Fertilizer’s phosphogypsum storage area negligently leaked pollutants into the bay on Sept. 5, 2004, according to court documents.

About 150 fishermen from Sarasota to Pinellas counties claimed in a lawsuit that the pollutants killed marine life and that the company was liable for damages under both state statutes and common law, which is law established by court decisions.

The trial court and the Second District Court of Appeal dismissed the suit, but the state Supreme Court found that both state statutes and common law allow commercial fishermen to recover damages for their loss of income, despite the fact that the fishermen did not own any property damaged by the pollution.

The court found that commercial fishermen have a special interest not shared by the general community within a “zone of risk” that Mosaic was obligated to protect.

“It was foreseeable that, were these materials released into the public waters, they would cause damage to marine and plant life as well as to human activity,” the justices wrote. “Mosaic’s activities placed the fishermen’s peculiar interests directly within the zone of risk created by the presence of its facility. As a result, Mosaic was obligated to exercise prudent foresight and take sufficient precautions to protect that interest.”

The case is directly applicable to the BP oil spill, according to Clearwater attorney Andra Dreyfus, who represented the fishermen in the Mosaic case, and is representing others against BP.

“We’re hoping it will make it easier for them to recover,” she said. “We think it will have a strong positive influence on this case.”

Damages are mounting, she said, including a drop in seafood prices due to concerns about seafood safety, and the fact that about a third of Gulf federal waters are closed due to the oil spill, making fishing difficult.

Damages in the oil spill case will be worse than in the Mosaic case, Dreyfus said, adding that the BP claim is not ready to file yet because oil is still spilling from the well.

“This could take years,” she said.

Fishermen who are not filing claims in the court system can contact the BP claims line at 1-800-440-0858.

Coquina Beach contract approved by county

BRADENTON – Manatee County commissioners approved the contract with United Park Services for the Coquina Beach concession Tuesday as an item on the consent agenda with no discussion.

“We’re excited to get started on it,” Mark Enoch, CFO of UPS said. “We plan to meet with Bradenton Beach officials to see what we can do. The county will begin renovations on the concession building on Aug. 1, so we’ll bring in a portable concession trailer to work out of.”

The terms of the contract include:

• A guaranteed base annual payment of $30,000 to the county;

• Ten percent of gross sales over $250,000 and 11 percent of gross sales over $650,000 each year;

• Initial capital improvement investment exceeding $100,000.

• The county will receive 8 percent of all total gross sales from the start date of the agreement until a certificate of occupancy is issued for the newly renovated building.

The county plans the following capital improvements for Coquina Beach and bayside to begin in August:

•Major remodel/rebuild of existing concession stand, including replacing the attached and freestanding restrooms;

• Construct a marine rescue headquarters and dock bayside;

• Rebuild or remodel existing beach and bayside pavilions and construct two new pavilions at the south beach end;

• Replace and add benches, trash receptacles, picnic tables and water fountains, both beach and bayside, and sidewalks beach side.

• Remodel or rebuild the restrooms on south beach and bayside.

In May, the company received the contract for the Manatee Beach concession and Enoch said, “We’re working with Tommy (Vayias) and John (Menihtas) for a smooth transition. There will be no loss in service.”

The transition for both concessions is set for July 20.

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