The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 3 - November 13, 2013


Net ban on, off, on again

CORTEZ – During a fast-paced legal ping pong match that lifted and reinstated the gill net ban four times in three weeks, Cortez fishermen had brief windows of time to go gill netting for the first time in 18 years.

Most took the news of the gill net ban being lifted with a boatload of salt and stayed home.

A few braved the waters, with even fewer admitting to it, fearing retribution from marine officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which twice appealed a Tallahassee judge’s October ruling lifting the 1995 ban on gill nets. Each appeal stayed – or temporarily invalidated – her ruling, reinstating the net ban.

Conflicting answers from officers with the FWC and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and rumors of an arrest in Pinellas County contributed to fishermen laying low.

“I been in this business so long, I know what would happen. I’d be taken downtown and have to raise bail and waste a day in court that I could be on the water,” said one fisherman, who did not want to be identified.

Another fisherman accused the FWC of profiling commercial fishermen, targeting them for violations while looking the other way when sports fishermen break marine laws.

Cortez fisherman Soupy Davis said the mistrust goes back nearly 20 years, when proponents of the state constitutional net ban amendment “told a bunch of stories about miles and miles and miles of entangling nets” catching dolphins and turtles, he said. “That’s not true.”

Judge goes fishing

Judge Jackie Fulford of the Leon County Second Circuit Court went fishing with the plaintiffs and agreed. She ruled on Oct. 22 that the FWC could no longer enforce the amendment banning gill nets.

The net ban and the FWC’s rules create what she called the “legal absurdity” of prohibiting larger mesh gill nets that let juvenile fish go, while allowing smaller mesh cast nets that catch juvenile fish, which she said defeats the purpose of the ban, to preserve fish populations.

An FWC appeal stayed her order, but she lifted the ban again on Oct. 30. A second FWC appeal stayed her second order, and the case is now pending in the First District Court of Appeal, although the fishermen who brought the case have requested that the Florida Supreme Court hear it as a matter of great public importance.

“The mesh size restrictions are still in place. They can only use two inch or less stretch mesh,” according to Tracy Douglas, of the Tallahassee law firm representing Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association Inc., Ronald Fred Crum, Jonas Porter and Keith Ward. “Unless the First DCA rules in our favor, which will take months if it happens at all, the status quo is going to remain the same.”

A warning

After its second appeal, the FWC posted on its website this warning: “FWC will enforce the net limitation rules and regulations as defined in the Florida Constitution, administrative code and statute.”

The constitutional amendment was passed by Florida voters in 1994 to ban gill nets in state waters as a way of preserving fish populations and preventing the accidental entrapment of sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and manatees. It went into effect in 1995, putting much of the commercial fishing village of Cortez out of work.

“The net ban amendment was a mandate resulting from concerned and informed citizens who wanted to protect the public’s vital sport fishing fisheries from unsustainable fishing practices,” said sport fishing Capt. Wayne Genthner, of Longboat Key-based Wolfmouth Charters.

“To allow a select few people the advantage of subverting the public will in this matter is indefensible,” he said.

The net ban has enabled the fishery for snook, pompano, spotted sea trout, red drum, black drum, mangrove snapper and blue fish to thrive, supporting recreational fishing, a “first magnitude economic driver” in Florida, Genthner said.

“Recreational fishing in Florida is too important to endanger by resuming a style of thinking which is best characterized by an attitude of ‘It’s all about me first.’ It’s not a friendly way to interact with the facts on hand and it serves no constructive purpose other than to muddy the waters until the last bucket of fish has been tangled through its gills,” he said.


Slowest month gains steam

Tourism has been steadily increasing for the past five years in steamy September, historically the slowest month of the year, judging by resort taxes collected by the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office.

Each year since 2008, countywide resort tax collections have increased in September, statistics show. This year, they reached a record $457,918; in comparison, 20 years ago, September 1993 collections were $93,641.

“September is still the slowest month, but it has come up tremendously,” resort tax official Sue Sinquefield said.

September also marks the end of the county’s fiscal year. Manatee County collected $8,993,230 in resort taxes in fiscal year 2012-13, about 11 percent more than the previous fiscal year, and just short of the $9 million mark the tax collector hoped to hit, she said.

Tourists pay Manatee County’s 5 percent resort tax, or tourist tax, when they rent accommodations for six months or less. The tax funds Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) tourism marketing efforts, beach renourishment and, as of last month, pier repairs.

Together with visitation figures from the CVB, which have not yet been released for September, they provide a snapshot of tourism, however, increased resort taxes also reflect improved tax collection efforts, according to Sinquefield.

“We don’t know how much is increased tourism and how much is increased enforcement,” she said, adding that tax officials respond to tips on tax evaders, research websites advertising vacation rentals and audit resort taxpayers for failing to collect tax on items like cleaning fees and pet fees.

Higher room rates, a trend on Anna Maria Island, also account for a portion of the increased resort tax collections.

Most tourists are staying at individually owned condos or homes, which offer more privacy and the option to cook and eat in, Sinquefield said.

“That’s where our dollars are coming in from. Hotel rooms are not the big draw,” she said.

While there’s no question it’s hot, September is only the third hottest month of the year, with an average temperature of 89 degrees, following July and August, according to The Weather Channel.

But the heat is not deterring visitation, which was up in September 2012 from the previous year, with 31,000 visitors compared to 28,000 in 2011, according to the CVB, which is scheduled to release this year’s September statistics next month.

Flood insurance meeting leaves mayors worried

Two Island mayors left a roundtable meeting on soaring flood insurance rates on Friday with a clearer picture of just how devastating the Biggert-Waters Act could be for Anna Maria Island.

Anecdotes included how people are being forced to sell their homes at low prices because they can’t afford flood insurance premiums and how sales are falling through because buyers don’t qualify for mortgages once high flood premiums are added in, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said.

“I did not leave there feeling hopeful,” she said. “What hit me hardest was the economic impact it will have on the whole nation and especially on Florida.”

The meeting was hosted by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who voted for the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, but said he thought FEMA would do an affordability study before raising flood insurance premiums.

That study was mandated by the act, and is a central part of proposed legislation to fix the act.

A bipartisan Congressional group is set to meet on Thursday, Nov. 21 to work on the proposed Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which would postpone flood insurance rate increases required by Biggert-Waters for four years while FEMA develops a more affordable plan.

Biggert-Waters phased out subsidized flood insurance rates to make the National Flood Insurance Program more financially sound, placing more of the burden on high-risk property owners, like those on Anna Maria Island.

Since it took effect, property owners have been receiving premium renewal notices with up to 1,000 percent increases, they said at the meeting.

“Nobody has a firm solution because it’s so convoluted in terms of affecting so many things,” Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti said, adding, “Nobody seems to know all the facts.”

Monti said the city’s building inspector came up with a solution – jack up existing buildings above the base flood elevation and set them on stilts, which he said could be problematic for concrete structures.

It would also be expensive in the short term, but flood premiums will be expensive in the long term, Monti said.

“It will be hard to maintain the character of the Island if everyone elevates,” SueLynn said. “It’s going to absolutely destroy the Island.”

Another option is for property owners to get elevation certificates for their property to determine whether they can avoid large rate increases, according to FEMA and insurance companies.

The flood insurance problem was like a volcano bubbling under the surface of the federal government shutdown, which diverted people’s attention, SueLynn said. Now that it’s erupted, “People are going to have to sell their homes, and people with cash are going to swoop in and buy” and rent to tourists, she said, predicting that they will pass along the high cost of flood insurance to renters, making the Island an exclusive resort.

“Only extremely wealthy people will be able to stay here,” she said.


Recount verifies election night results

HOLMES BEACH – When the votes were counted, and recounted, city voters ultimately favored known commodities over worthy, but unproven political newcomers.

Incumbent Commissioners Pat Morton, David Zaccagnino and Jean Peelen retained their commission seats by margins so slim a mandated automatic recount took place Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office in Bradenton.

The original election night results showed Pat Morton as the leading vote getter, with 753 votes, followed by Zaccagnino (650), Peelen (648), Carol Soustek (638) and C. Melissa Williams (417).

The 10-vote difference between Peelen and Soustek that would determine who won the third seat fell within the one-half of one percent margin, triggering a mandatory recount.

Thursday afternoon, City Clerk Stacey Johnston, City Treasurer Lori Hill and resident Jayne Christenson served as the city’s canvassing board, bearing witness to the recount conducted by Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, Assistant Supervisor Scott Farrington and staff members Sharon Steif and Michelle Ripp.

Accompanied by her husband, Frank, Melissa Williams was the only candidate to attend to the recount.

Farrington and Bennett provided a detailed explanation of the recount process and tested the AccuScan optical scanners before the recount began.

Bennett then began feeding the 325 absentee ballots into one machine, while Steif began feeding the 866 ballots cast at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on election day into the other machine.

Fifty minutes later, the results were in. Zaccagnino picked up one vote and Soustek lost three votes. The change was the result of absentee ballots not being accepted by the recount scanner.

The recount results from ballots cast at Gloria Dei matched exactly the totals provided on election night.

Afterwards, Johnston said, “I feel very confident with the results of the recount. The entire process was explained in detail to the canvassing board as it occurred. We verified every step taken and watched every ballot being fed into the machines. The voters should know how organized and well run the elections office is, and have total confidence in the county's voting equipment. Having not ever taken part in a recount, I found this to be a great learning experience.”

Johnston also said, “I want to express my sincere thanks to Lori Hill and Jayne Christenson for serving on the canvassing board this year.”

Election night feedback

Standing outside the church on election night, when the initial results were first made public, Morton said of his victory, “It’s another chance to serve our citizens. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I’ll do it for two more. It’s about the citizens, not about me. They understand what I’m after and what I bring to the commission.”

Zaccagnino was also at Gloria Dei when the results came in from the elections office. Before heading over to Hurricane Hank’s, where Williams was gathered with her supporters, he said, “I just want to thank the voters for turning out and I promise to continue doing a great job for the people of Holmes Beach. It was a heated election, but I’m happy.”

Gathered with supporters at Havana Cabana, and joined by Soustek, Morton and their supporters, Peelen said of her apparent reelection, “I’m really happy to be able to serve another term for Holmes Beach. I love what I’m doing and I wanted to continue, so I’m very happy about it.”

When asked if the commission could work together and set aside the election-related tensions, Peelen said. “It’s not going to be easy, because there were some hard feelings, but these are all intelligent adults and the issues are more important than the personalities.”

Responding to the same question a few days later, Zaccagnino said, “I hope so, for the sake of the city. I will try my best.”

Peelen’s joy was tempered by disappointment that Soustek did not also win a seat.

“Carol ran a hell of a race and worked very hard,” Peelen said.

Exhibiting grace despite her apparent defeat, Soustek said, “I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done. It was a beautiful ride.”

Earlier in the day, while waving signs outside Gloria Dei, Williams said, “I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and response that I’ve received. I’ve really enjoyed this and it’s been an eye-opening experience.

A total of 1,191 ballots were cast in this race, including absentee ballots, resulting in a 36.2 percent overall voter turnout.

Gale Carter, county appointed clerk for precinct 92, said there was a steady flow of voters all day long and she reported no problems with the voting machines.

“I think this election generated a lot of interest and voters seemed very eager to cast their votes,” she said.

County consultant counting Island’s parking spaces


Beach accesses like this one at Katie Pierola Sunset Park
in Bradenton Beach are being counted, along with parking
spaces, for beach renourishment funding purposes.


BRADENTON BEACH – A county consultant is counting the number of public parking spaces on Anna Maria Island, street by street.

Erica Carr-Betts, of Coastal Planning and Engineering, Manatee County’s beach renourishment consultant, is surveying the Island to pinpoint the number of beach accesses and public parking spaces, both of which affect federal funding for beach renourishment.

She met with Bradenton Beach officials last week to discuss her progress. While the upcoming beach renourishment project is already funded, more federal funds could be available for future projects if more parking and public access can be documented, she said.

In contrast, a lack of parking and beach accesses can result in a loss of funding, as it did this summer on Captiva Island, which lost $8 million due to a lack of public access.

Island cities will get funding credit for parking spaces within a quarter mile of the Gulf of Mexico, she said.

The city’s police chief, building official and public works director, along with three commissioners, shared information with Carr-Betts, resulting in the elimination of some spaces on her list and the addition of others.

Several parking spaces are in question, Police Chief Sam Speciale said, including those at the 27th Street North beach access and those at the south end of the BeachHouse sand parking lot, which is in litigation.

The 22 parking spaces at the Bridge Street Pier are public parking, but could be used exclusively by the new restaurant tenants, Commissioner Gay Breuler said.

A contradiction in the city’s land development code makes it unclear whether parking is or is not allowed in city rights of way, Building Official Steve Gilbert said.

The questionable spaces will not be counted as public parking, Carr-Betts said.

Bradenton Beach has plenty of parking at Coquina Beach to qualify for beach funding, she said, but county officials have cautioned that Anna Maria and Holmes Beach should be careful about eliminating too many parking spaces.

Proposed ordinances to implement paid parking must charge the same amount for everyone to park, she said, otherwise, “you may lose beach funding.”

Renourishment project starts in four weeks

Preparations are underway for beach renourishment beginning next month.

The starting date is Dec. 15 and the project is expected to go until April 1, according to Manatee County Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker, who will be appearing at city halls on the Island, starting with Anna Maria on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m., to explain the plans and answer questions.

Hunsicker said the project starts at 78th Street and goes south. He said Anna Maria was not involved because it was determined there had been little erosion. He said the sand for that project is located where a submersible natural gas docking station and underwater pipeline, called Port Dolphin, is planned. He said that project is now on hold.

The project will begin at 78th Street and go south to Longboat Pass, renourishing shorelines along Cortez and Coquina beaches, and there will be an added enhancement.

“By this time next year, we’ll have replaced the three erosion groins along Cortez Beach,” he said. “We’re going to get rid of those structures that are there now and replace all three of them.”

Those piers have been an attraction for surfers who have to be careful around the piers due to their dilapidated state. They are closed to the public at this time.

Hunsicker said he would talk about parking spaces required by federal law for beachgoers to have access to the renourished beaches. He said some of the actions taken by Anna Maria to deal with the influx of tourists could have an effect on the city’s eligibility for renourishment funding.

“As long as those parking spots are open to the public, they will be eligible,” Hunsicker said. “When a government starts restricting their use to residency, those parking spots won’t count.”

Hunsicker said his department is preparing a report on how many parking spots would be required for each Island city.

TIFF campaign seeks to expand

An Island woman’s campaign to register people’s driver’s licenses so their loved ones can be notified when they have been in a serious or fatal accident needs women of action to form teams to spread the word.

Christine Olson formed “To Inform Families First” (TIFF) after her daughter, Tiffany, was killed in a car accident on Dec. 7, 2005. She was not informed for six hours after the accident because contact information was not readily available to the officers at the scene. Olson decided to change the way the system worked,

She started TIFF and it has been accepted in Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Illinois. Locally, Representative Bill Galvano, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles have endorsed it.

Although not mandatory, information on how to register is offered when people get their driver’s license. Emergency vehicles are equipped with special scanners that allow the officer or emergency responder to scan the person’s driver’s license. The information is stored on a secure site only accessible by law enforcement personnel.

More than 8 million people have registered to date.

“Although it is tremendous that this many people have registered it is a small cry from the over 16 million people with a Florida driver’s license or I.D,” Olson said.

Since she lost her daughter, Olson has armed herself with purple bracelets imprinted with the website, So far, that has been her main tactic she has used to get people to register.

Help needed

Now she is looking for people to help spread the word nationwide.

The women of Team TIFF would work in two-person teams, meeting once a month to discuss strategies on how to spread the word such as reaching out to media, promoting registration through social media or speaking to local civic and community groups, such as the Kiwanis or Rotary organizations. The mission for each team is to get people to register their information so, in case of an accident, their loved ones would be reached instantly.

“I am looking for women who will share my passion and mission to help me reach those not registered yet, to make sure what happened to me that night doesn't happen to them,” Olson said.

If you would like to join TEAM TIFF and be a part of this very important mission please contact Christine Olson at 941-795-1869 or

She encourages everyone reading this to immediately register at

“Spending two minutes now can save you and your loved ones countless hours of worry,” she said. “Please register today.”

New funding prompts new look at pier repairs


Half of the historic Bridge Street Pier is closed due to
damage from two storms.


BRADENTON BEACH – City officials were a little like kids making out their Christmas lists at last week’s pier team meeting.

With $1 million in matching funds pledged by Manatee County from resort tax coffers, the Bradenton Beach Pier Team is revising its wish list for the historic Bridge Street Pier, adding back items they had been forced to trim from the bare bones budget.

Team leader and Police Chief Sam Speciale thanked outgoing Mayor John Shaughnessy for initiating the agreement with the county commission, which has yet to vote on the issue, but is expected to approve up to $1 million in a dollar-for-dollar match with city expenditures on the pier.

The new funds could make the pier last for another 20 years, Shaughnessy hopes.

“We've got the money to do it. There’s no sense in going back in three years to do it again,” he said.

The team agreed to expand the replacement of wooden planks with longer lasting composite material beyond the restaurant patio to the clock tower walkway and possibly the rest of the pier. They also discussed replacing the current lighting with solar, and replacing all three cupolas.

Outgoing Commissioner Gay Breuler, Mayor-elect Bill Shearon and Commissioner-elect Jack Clarke said they agreed with the team.

After long delays, pier repairs and the new pier restaurant are gaining momentum.

The repair funds could be available as early as December, and new restaurant tenants, Cast and Cage LLC, are aiming at a mid-January opening.

The repair job is ready to go out to bid, with a request for proposals in the works, city Building Official Steve Gilbert said.

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