The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 13 - December 29, 2010


Cold front chills out Island

Harry Stoltzfus
A group of visitors from New Jersey bundle up to fend off
temperatures in the 40s and winds gusting to 30 mph
as they walkthe beach in Anna Maria.

Wild winter weather pounded land and sea early this week, fouling a rescue attempt in the Gulf and keeping refugees from northern snowstorms bundled up in their winter clothes.

With nighttime temperatures dancing around the freezing mark, days in the 50s and 20 m.p.h. winds gusting into the 30s, beachgoers wore hoodies and boots instead of bikinis and flipflops.

Holiday meals were enjoyed mostly indoors at places like the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach, whose New Year's Eve fireworks display planned for Friday night is dependent on weather, according to manager Mike Shannon.

Over the weekend, the wind blew plastic lawn chairs, trash can lids and rain gutters around neighborhoods, and uprooted heavily anchored swim zone buoys, scattering them around the Gulf.

Double red flags at the beach drew surfers to rare overhead waves on Sunday, and West Coast Surf Shop in Holmes Beach had trouble keeping up with the demand for booties, hoods and gloves, Ronee Brady said.

A kiteboarder had equipment trouble on Monday and cut loose his kite, which flew down Bradenton Beach with brisk northwesterly winds, prompting a concerned beachgoer to call police.

Lifeguards found the kiteboarder safe on the beach, Manatee County Marine Rescue Division Chief Jay Moyles said, adding that the cold has kept most people out of the water.

He advises saving water-related Christmas presents for warmer weather, wearing flotation devices in the water if you can't wait, and paying attention to the weather.

High seas drama

On Sunday, wild weather thwarted a dramatic attempt to tow a stranded commercial fishing boat to Cortez.

Capt. James "Junior" Baker of the Miss Rebecca was heading home to Cortez due to the weather when he heard a call for help over the radio from the Angler out of Fishbusterz in Madeira Beach, fishing for grouper a few miles away.

Capt. Mark Lowe had run out of fuel.

"Instead of leaving him stuck out there for that big blow, I elected to tow him in," Baker said. But as the two boats approached Longboat Pass, 6-to 8-foot waves and high winds and currents kept them from entering.

"We had the engine as high as it would possibly go but we were going backwards a half mile an hour," Baker said.

Capt. Kathe Fannon of Cortez saw Baker come up on the channel marker.

"They were being pushed back," she said, adding that when a wave that could have swamped the boat approached it from the side, he turned the boat head on into the wave, creating a spray of water that flew up in the air about 40 feet.

She called Miss Rebecca's owner, Glenn Brooks, who had told Baker to come in before the storm hit. He ranked the storm as a seven on a scale of one to 10.

The Coast Guard would have responded if lives were in immediate danger or if Lowe and his crew were willing to abandon a boat full of fish, he said.

They weren't, and they couldn't safely board the Miss Rebecca, so Baker towed the Angler back out a few miles, where it could anchor – the sand near the pass is too soft, according to Fannon.

Baker then headed home again, arrived at the channel, and got another call. The Angler had broken loose, and needed help to reach another anchorage.

After about 12 hours – from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. - with no injuries or mishaps, Baker had secured the Angler and returned the Miss Rebecca to Cortez.

On Monday afternoon, Lowe was still floating on anchor in the Gulf, waiting for the weather to break. With a cell phone just close enough to land to work, he had arranged for someone to bring him fuel. With a propane heater, he was staying warm. And with nothing but time on his hands, he was kicking himself.

"I didn't check the tank," he said. "I cut myself short on fuel."

Scholarship winner wants to give back
Carol Whitmore

Privateer Tim "Hammer" Thompson with Brian Stephenson,
whom the group helped get through college with scholarships,
and chamber director Barbara Murphy.

HOLMES BEACH – Brian Stephenson attended the latest Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce meeting with a mission. He wanted to thank the Anna Maria Island Privateers for providing him with scholarships during the four years he attended college. He started out at Manatee Community College and finally earned his degree in marketing from the University of South Florida.

"I got an opportunity at a big firm in Orlando," he said. "Then I decided to get back to my roots on the Island."

Stephenson now works as a commercial lines account executive with Boyd Insurance and Investment Services, in Bradenton.

When he contacted Privateer Tim "Hammer" Thompson, he told him of his mission.

"He said, 'I'm back and I want to pay you back,'" Thompson said. "He asked what he could do to pay back the Privateers."

When he asked Thompson that question, Thompson suggested writing a testimonial and then perhaps join the Privateers, who have awarded many scholarships to local students and are celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2011. Brian said sure, and he also agreed to spread the word among youth groups about the colorful local pirates.

"I'm just lucky I have a father who introduced me to the Privateers," Stephenson said.

That father is Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson.

Toys for Tots sees big boost

When the Marines land, they always achieve their goal. Whether it's a beach landing or an invasion by land, they get the job done, and the same thing happened this year after the number of toys collected through the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve sponsored organization last year dropped to a total that was not enough to satisfy the needs of the children whose parents could not afford Christmas gifts.

This year, local organizers Ed Kirn of Island Vacation Properties and Mike McClian, regional coordinator, decided to do something about it. They added collection points and convinced organizers of holiday events to put in collection barrels and the results were astounding.

"Last year, we collected about 17,000 toys," Kirn said on Thursday mornng, Dec. 23. "Right now, we have already distributed 19,000 toys and we have counted a total of 22,000 toys so far. I expect it will total about 25,000 by the time we get them distributed."

Kirn said that they expect to have a surplus of toys and they are looking for other outlets, such as churches, that might need toys for needy kids. He said the increase in collections on the Island in spite of the economy is wonderful, but it is something Island residents and visitors have done in the past.

"It has been a massive group efforts," he said. "It doesn't matter how we collect these toys, they go to a good cause and it tears on your heartstrings to know last year some kids got nothing when they got up on Christmas morning."

Some of the toys came from corporate collections such as Publix and Regions Bank, who give the toys they collect directly to the organization, but the majority came from collection barrels that were place by Kirn and his crew in businesses that agreed to have them. One of those businesses was The Sun, where they took away a full barrel of toys a week before Christmas.

Kirn said the organizers of special events were a great help as well.

"They had barrels at the Christmas on Bridge Street celebration and the boaters in the Cortez Yacht Club's Lighted Boat Parade were asked to bring a toy, although many of them brought a lot more than one."

The Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island also collected toys during its Holiday Decorator Showhouse fundraiser Dec. 4 and 5.

"The Island has always been very generous," he said. "It was sad that some kids did not get toys last year, but I'm glad we fulfilled all the needs this year."

In addition to the toys, Kirn said people donated around $1,000 cash, which will also go toward toys.

"The visibility factor with the new collection spots helped," he said. "The big credit goes to the Marines. What a wonderful thing they started."

He said locally, the credit goes to the people behind the scenes who made it all work.

Fireworks to bring in new year

BRADENTON BEACH – Nobody knows what kind of year 2011 will turn out to be, but everyone knows that the Chiles Group will be ringing it in with fireworks at the BeachHouse restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

As in the past, fireworks will climax an evening of food, drink and dancing for those who attend a $99 per head New Year's Eve party that starts at 9 p.m. Reservations are required, and you should call 779-2222 to see if there are any openings. Be prepared to enjoy dinner from a special buffet, dance to the sounds of Chuck Caudill, buy your own drinks but there will be a champagne toast with the fireworks at midnight. Seating begins at 9 p.m.

For those who want to enjoy a beachfront dinner without being part of the party, the BeachHouse will serve from its regular menu. The bar will also be open.

Finally, those who just want to sit on the beach and watch the fireworks, feel free. Remember, however, that the police are more aggressive in dealing with those individuals who are not a part of the fireworks show, but shoot off their own fireworks on the beach, according to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.

Those who are living or staying on the Island might want to take the free trolley to get a good look at the fireworks. Manatee County Area Transit Director Ralf Heseler said that the trolleys will stay in operation after midnight until those standing at the trolley stops have gotten rides.

Real estate recovery still strong on Island

The number of sales on the Island continues to be strong with sales up 42 percent for November 2010, according to a monthly newsletter published by Island Real Estate agent Alan Galletto.

Galletto, who compiles his figures from the Multiple Listing Service through the Manatee Association of Realtors, reports units sold in November were at 27, including 16 single-family homes, seven condominiums, two duplexes and two lots. That compares favorable to sales in November 2009, which totaled 19, with nine of those single-family homes, eight condos, one duplex and one lot.

Year-to-date sales through Nov. 30, 2010, continues to stay well ahead of last year, according to Galletto. They were up 36 percent at 281, including 165 single-family homes, 80 condos, 22 duplex units and 14 lots. Year-to-date sales through Nov. 30, 2009, stood at 206 total – 106 single-family homes, 80 condos, eight duplexes and 12 lots.

Properties under contract continue to be strong at 57, equaling last month's number, which continues to bode well for sales in the next couple months.

The normal distribution of sales in the past has been 75 percent under $800,000 and 25 percent over $800,000. Over the last two years the distribution has been more skewed to the low end with 94 percent of sales under $800K and six percent over $800K.

"This distribution tends to understate the average and median home sales when comparing to previous years," Galletto wrote.

Inventory continues to slowly move down to the normal range of between 450 and 500 units with the currently number at 516 compared to 521 last month. Distressed properties (short sales and bank owned) continue to decline and are currently at 30, down from 37 in September and 43 in August.

"Distressed properties on the island are currently running at about 5 percent of the inventory, which is extremely low compared to other markets," Galletto wrote. "As this number moves to zero we will be positioned to see an uptick in average and median sale prices."

Since last month, interest rates have been slowly creeping up, according to the newsletter. Currently conforming (up to $417,000) 30-year fixed loans are at about 5 percent, with conforming 15-year fixed at 4.6 percent. Six weeks ago, 30-year conforming loans were under 4 percent. Even though we're seeing rates creep up they are still at all time lows and no one's predicting that they will be going up significantly any time soon, Galletto said.

"To summarize, since the prices have adjusted down to the current market from the peak at the end of 2005, all the indicators show a very healthy Island market," he wrote. "The inventory is just about down to normal levels; the number of distressed properties is at an all time low; and sales on the island are the highest since the peak year of 2005. Although there aren't many steals left on the Island, there are many very good values at market price with great rental capability."

Cortez has a new idol
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Right From left to right: Ryan DeGillio came in third place,
Stacey Jo Kimbrough came in second and L-Levine came in first.

CORTEZ – They came from all around the area, trying to sing their way toward money and recognition, but only one person took home the loot. Cortez, you've got a new idol and his name is L-Levine.

Twelve contestants took to the microphone at Pelican Pete on Saturday, Dec. 11, for the finals of the Third Annual Karaoke Contest. Levine sang two love songs, including his own composition, "Show Me the Way," to win the $1,000 top prize, courtesy of Pelican Pete's and Autoway Ford.

Stacy Jo Kimbrough sang a favorite love song originally recorded by Etta James, "At Last," and then belted out a Janice Joplin-style version of "Bobby McGee" to capture second place; winning a three-day, two-night stay at a beachfront home, courtesy of Anna Maria Vacation Rentals.

Ryan Degillio sang "I'm Yours" and "End of the Road/I'm Already There?" to win third place and a style from A Hair Day Salon.

Degillio donated his prize to the youngest contestant who won everyone's heart, 14-year-old Miranda Fernandez, an Anna Maria Elementary School alumnus who sang "Before He Cheats," an imposing country composition about revenge, and "I Believe I Can Fly," an inspiring song written by RB singer R. Kelly.

Other competitors included Darrin Gilley, an up and coming country singer, Lisa Miller, who belted out a couple of solid country hits; Luciano Rigattieri, who sang two Italian love songs; Tim Scanlon, who sang a Glen Campbell favorite, "Wichita Lineman," and a Bobby Goldsboro hit, "Little Things;" Maria Alban, who did an excellent rendition of the Dolly Parton song, "I Will Always Love You," and a song made popular by diva Sarah Brightman and opera star Andre Bocelli called "Time to Say Goodbye." Sheryl Gibson sang country favorites "Johnnie and June" and "You Don't Lie Here Anymore/Born to Fly;" Rick Longbrake sang the soul hit, "My Girl" and "Tell Me You Get Lonely;" and Antoinette Smith performed "Rock With You" and "Tonight I Want to Cry."

Judy Chiaramonte emceed the program and her husband, Fred, ran the music. The judges were Dustin White, of the local group Muphin Chuckrs; Bradenton attorney John F. Lakin; and Tom Vaught, of the Anna Maria Island Sun.

For now, L-Levine is the champ and the others will have a while to get ready for next year's competition.

Birds may lose threatened status
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

The brown pelican, above, and snowy egret and white ibis,
all common on Anna Maria Island, may lose
their threatened status.

Some birds commonly seen on Anna Maria Island are among the species that could be downlisted from the state threatened species list to a species of special concern list, or removed from the lists entirely.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists have released preliminary findings on 61 species listed as threatened in Florida.

Of 21 birds on the list, four no longer meet listing criteria: the limpkin, brown pelican, snowy egret and white ibis. Of 10 mammals on the list, five no longer meet listing criteria: the Florida black bear, chipmunk, Florida mouse, Homosassa shrew and Sherman's fox squirrel.

Other birds that nest on the Island still meet at least one of the listing criteria, ensuring their continued protection, including the least tern, black skimmer, snowy plover and American oystercatcher, according to the report.

The FWC's Patricia Behnke says the report is good news, showing that protection measures have worked the way they're supposed to, leading to the increase in population of the nine species. Before any species is removed from the threatened list, the FWC will create a management plan to ensure the species never reaches a high risk of extinction again, she said.

Not all agree that downlisting or delisting is good news, especially in the wake of the latest Deepwater Horizon tally - 8,183 birds reported dead or injured by the oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico coastline, including Tampa Bay. In addition, Audubon of Florida notes that the reproduction rate of brown pelicans in Tampa Bay has not been good over the past decade.

The FWC recently adopted a new system that allows the state agency to propose downlisting or delisting, but shifts the responsibility for making the final determination to the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the new system, any species listed as federally endangered remains endangered on Florida's list, such as the manatee.

Endangered is the most serious status, followed by threatened and species of special concern.

Seashells by the Cortez seashore
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Seashells are among the undersea treasures donated
by Betty Banks to the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez.

CORTEZ – There's a world of wonder from under the sea on display at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez.

The Blake and Betty Banks Marine Collection is a brand new addition to the museum's ever-growing assortment of artifacts from the sea.

Betty Banks, whose husband, Blake, was a local commercial fisherman, has donated boxes of seashells, corals, sponges and preserved marine animals to the museum.

She also included labeled photograph albums, a windfall for the museum, which is building a database of photographs of Cortezians.

She also donated documents including engine maintenance logs, fishing notebooks dating back to the 1970s, hand-drawn charts of fishing locations and gear sets, weather observations dating from the 1980s, yearly records of income and expenses, fishing permits and licenses, trip tickets and information from federal and state fisheries organizations.

Other exhibits at the museum include hand-built model ships and life-sized boats, military uniforms worn by Cortezians in the World Wars and maritime art by Bradenton artist Lucia van den Berg, whose acrylic paintings will be on display all month.

The museum, at 4415 119th St. W. in Cortez, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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