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Vol. 17 No. 41 - July 26, 2017

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Bye bye, Baby Snoots

Carol Whitmore

Snooty posing on the side of his pool.

BRADENTON – Manatee County’s official mascot, Snooty the manatee, drowned on Sunday, July 23, a day after his 69th birthday party at the Parker Aquarium at the South Florida Museum.

The air-breathing marine mammal apparently swam through an open access panel that is normally bolted shut at all four corners and became trapped in a small area used to access the aquarium’s life support system equipment, according to museum officials.

The 30-inch by 30-inch panel is on an aquarium wall underneath a four-foot-deep ledge in the aquarium that was designed for Snooty’s comfort at the same depth as his original four-foot-deep pool, said Jeff Rodgers, museum provost and COO, at a press conference.

The panel is large enough for the museum’s three young rehabilitating manatees, which weigh around 500-600 pounds each, to get in and out, but at 1,300 pounds, Snooty “was not able to extract himself,” he said.

Snooty had an 89-inch girth, museum Communications Manager Jessica Schubick said, adding that manatees are generally unable to swim backwards.

Museum officials are still gathering and reviewing information as to how the panel opened, Rodgers said.

The panel was last opened five years ago, and was not opened more frequently because the system was working, museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio said, adding that the panel is visually inspected daily by divers in the tank.

Workers discovered that Snooty was missing at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Rodgers said. The aquarium is not monitored overnight.

“It took us some time to figure out exactly how we were going to deal with that situation, but when we finally did get to Snooty, he was no longer alive,” he said.

No foul play is suspected.

“Snooty’s death was a heartbreaking accident and the circumstances are being investigated so we can be sure we know the full details of what happened,” museum officials said in a press release. “We know that our community and Snooty fans around the world share our grief. We will keep you updated as memorial plans develop.”

Museum staff has experienced an outpouring of concern, love and memories of Snooty, Rodgers said. Grief counselors have been called in to work with staff.

Snooty was the oldest known living manatee, according to Guinness World Records.

Among his many life achievements are participating in research experiments on manatee hearing and communication, an appearance on Captain Kangaroo and making thousands of people happy.

He was born in captivity on July 21,1948, at the Miami Aquarium Tackle Company, located on the Prinz Valdemar, a former Danish warship that had capsized in Miami harbor in 1926 and became a floating restaurant and aquarium.

Baby Snoots, as he was known then, came to Bradenton in 1949 for the DeSoto Celebration and lived in a pool exhibit at the downtown pier, now home to the Pier 22 restaurant.

He moved in 1966 to the South Florida Museum and was relocated to the new museum in 1993.

Snooty hosted 33 rehabilitating manatees beginning in 1998, when the Parker Manatee Aquarium joined the Manatee Rehabilitation Network.

In 2013, more than 6,000 guests visited the museum for his 65th birthday, the largest crowd the museum had ever seen.

Marine Rescue chief hoping for more prevention
Carol Whitmore

TOM VAUGHT | SUN

A.J. Nelson and Karen Burkett keep watch at
Manatee County Beach.

 

BRADENTON BEACH – Lifeguards in the towers keep a close eye on what’s happening at Coquina Beach and Manatee County Beach in the water, in the sand and sometimes in the parking lot. They blow their whistles if swimmers go out too far or get too rowdy, and they are always aware of rip currents and incoming thunderstorms.

It used to be a laid back situation, especially after school starts, but as vacationers discovered our beautiful beaches, they filled out the down times, and now it’s full speed ahead on every good beach weather day.

This summer has seen at least two drownings and many rescues and Manatee County Marine Rescue Chief Joe Westerman hopes the Manatee County Commission will find a way to increase staff and increase the number of lifeguard towers.

“We currently have 14 positions for lifeguards plus a Marine rescue paramedic,” Westerman said. “That’s three less than in 2006, before the economic downturn.

“We are having a hard time filling all the positions,” he added, “Our ranks are so thin, we can’t man the lifeguard stands to 7 p.m. We’re at minimal staffing.”

Westerman said the pay scale is a problem.

“They pay better in Sarasota County and along the beaches on the east coast, and that’s always a problem for us,” he said. “You need to pay more to attract qualified applicants.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore took note of an Island Sun poll of readers indicating support for increasing the number of lifeguards and towers, but she said the county budget for next year is $1 million short at this time.

"I might go to Tallahassee to get them to allow using tourist taxes to pay for public safety," she said. Commisssioner Steve Jonsson indicated he would support more lifeguards too.

Westerman, who has worked the beaches of Manatee County for 29 years, says they need to expand their operations and range. The county is considering expanding the number of towers from eight to 11, with the additional three along Cortez Beach, but they could consider more.

“What if we could put one in at Bayfront Park and maybe some up and down the beaches with flags to warn swimmers of dangerous conditions,” he asked. “We could keep an eye on people from the resorts and it would cut down our response time.”

Westerman said the job of marine rescue is prevention.

“If we avert a bad situation before it happens, we’re doing our job,” he said. “It might not be something we can record, like saving somebody, but we’re doing our job when we don’t have to save anybody.”

Center presents budget to the public

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Kristin Swain | Sun

Executive Director Kristen Lessig presents a summary of
the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year budget to 26 members
of the public July 19 at The Center of Anna Maria Island.

ANNA MARIA — The 2017-18 fiscal year began for the Center of Anna Maria Island July 1 and a new budget is being released to the public.

During a July 19 public meeting, Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig, Board Chair David Zaccagnino and staff members presented a summarized version of the nonprofit’s proposed budget and business plan for the fiscal year to the community.

Zaccagnino opened the meeting by saying the budget for this fiscal year is based on “realistic expectations” with regards to revenue and expenditures.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “We’re trying to work to close the gap. I really think this year we’re going to under-promise and over-deliver.”

Zaccagnino estimated the Center loses about $400,000 per year that needs to be made up with donations and revenue. After cutting costs from the previous year by about $150,000, he said this year’s budget totals $1,102,774 with a plan in place to break even.

The 2016-17 fiscal year closed with a loss of $282,102 after $942,540 in revenue and $1,224,642.73 in total costs.

2017-18 by the numbers

In the new fiscal year, the Center board is relying on previous performance numbers and forecasts for future performance to determine what is realistic to expect in the new fiscal year.

Lessig presented a break-even budget with an estimated net income of $330.28 for the year. Total direct costs are estimated to equal $524,650 with $490,527 in indirect costs and $87,596 in administrative costs. Total income is estimated at $1,103,104.

The budget assumes cost reductions of $66,045 with an additional $160,564 in revenue.

Cost savings were found by eliminating professional development opportunities for staff, saving on staff health benefits, reducing labor and staffing, renegotiating third party contracts and reducing marketing, promotion and professional fees. The budget assumes a cost of living increase for membership and revenue fees along with membership participation increases. A new sliding fee structure also is being imposed for reduced and scholarship fees based on need.

Community questions

Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek said she was disappointed with the lack of information given in the budget presentation while Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she was impressed with the staff and presentation.

“It would be reassuring to see a plan for the future beyond the next 12 months,” Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen had a few questions for Zaccagnino during the public comment section of the program.

Peelen questioned whether or not it was appropriate for board members to do business with the Center. Her issue came from the existence of a $100,000 loan note on the exercise equipment donated to the Center by former board member Shawn Kaleta.

Zaccagnino said the note requires the Center to pay one percent of the loan back annually, an amount that Kaleta turns around and donates back to the nonprofit.

Sunshine law and transparency

One question from the community currently haunting the Center is whether or not the organization is subject to Sunshine laws, requiring the nonprofit to maintain the same or similar transparency and open records as the Island city governments.

Zaccagnino said he believes the Center is not subject to Sunshine laws due to the low amount of government funding the nonprofit receives.

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree,” he said to Peelen.

“Sunshine has always been a question,” Lessig said in a July 20 conversation with The Sun.

She said the nonprofit does not yet have a written opinion on the matter, something she’s encouraging the board to obtain in the face of public scrutiny and the possible threat of a lawsuit over the release of detailed financial records.

In the meantime, both Zaccagnino and Lessig said the Center is cooperating fully with an audit being conducted by John Chambers on ANNA MARIA — The 2017-18 fiscal year began for the Center of Anna Maria Island July 1 and a new budget is being released to the public.

During a July 19 public meeting, Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig, Board Chair David Zaccagnino and staff members presented a summarized version of the nonprofit’s proposed budget and business plan for the fiscal year to the community.

Zaccagnino opened the meeting by saying the budget for this fiscal year is based on “realistic expectations” with regards to revenue and expenditures.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “We’re trying to work to close the gap. I really think this year we’re going to under-promise and over-deliver.”

Zaccagnino estimated the Center loses about $400,000 per year that needs to be made up with donations and revenue. After cutting costs from the previous year by about $150,000, he said this year’s budget totals $1,102,774 with a plan in place to break even.

The 2016-17 fiscal year closed with a loss of $282,102 after $942,540 in revenue and $1,224,642.73 in total costs.

2017-18 by the numbers

In the new fiscal year, the Center board is relying on previous performance numbers and forecasts for future performance to determine what is realistic to expect in the new fiscal year

Lessig presented a break-even budget with an estimated net income of $330.28 for the year. Total direct costs are estimated to equal $524,650 with $490,527 in indirect costs and $87,596 in administrative costs. Total income is estimated at $1,103,104.

The budget assumes cost reductions of $66,045 with an additional $160,564 in revenue.

Cost savings were found by eliminating professional development opportunities for staff, saving on staff health benefits, reducing labor and staffing, renegotiating third party contracts and reducing marketing, promotion and professional fees. The budget assumes a cost of living increase for membership and revenue fees along with membership participation increases. A new sliding fee structure also is being imposed for reduced and scholarship fees based on need.

Community questions

Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek said she was disappointed with the lack of information given in the budget presentation while Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she was impressed with the staff and presentation.

“It would be reassuring to see a plan for the future beyond the next 12 months,” Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen had a few questions for Zaccagnino during the public comment section of the program.

Peelen questioned whether or not it was appropriate for board members to do business with the Center. Her issue came from the existence of a $100,000 loan note on the exercise equipment donated to the Center by former board member Shawn Kaleta.

Zaccagnino said the note requires the Center to pay one percent of the loan back annually, an amount that Kaleta turns around and donates back to the nonprofit.

Sunshine law and transparency

One question from the community currently haunting the Center is whether or not the organization is subject to Sunshine laws, requiring the nonprofit to maintain the same or similar transparency and open records as the Island city governments.

Zaccagnino said he believes the Center is not subject to Sunshine laws due to the low amount of government funding the nonprofit receives.

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree,” he said to Peelen.

“Sunshine has always been a question,” Lessig said in a July 20 conversation with The Sun.

She said the nonprofit does not yet have a written opinion on the matter, something she’s encouraging the board to obtain in the face of public scrutiny and the possible threat of a lawsuit over the release of detailed financial records.

In the meantime, both Zaccagnino and Lessig said the Center is cooperating fully with an audit being conducted by John Chambers on

Investigation into dune destruction continues

Work at 102 77th St., Holmes Beach, remains at a standstill while seaward environmental destruction is investigated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Holmes Beach Building Official Jim McGuinness said the removal of sea grapes, sea oats, dunes and mangroves is still under investigation by supervisors at the DEP. Until the investigation is complete, a stop-work order put in place by McGuinness remains in effect.

The property is owned by Gulf Front Paradise, LLC.

McGuinness placed a stop-work order on the address July 7 after it was discovered the area cleared at the western end of the property exceeded the space allowed to be disturbed by a DEP permit.

During a July 13 meeting, Commissioner Carol Soustek commended McGuinness and his staff on their efforts to investigate the environmental destruction.

For his part, McGuinness said he’s staying in contact with DEP representatives throughout the investigation and will provide an update to commissioners when available.

Island mayors voice traffic study concerns

LONGBOAT KEY — The Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Island Traffic Study is underway, but the Island mayors aren’t happy with how things are being handled.

During the July 19 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting held at Longboat Key Town Hall, Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said he was unhappy with the direction of the study and lack of communication from the Florida Department of Transportation and Stantec, the contractor conducting the study.

“There’s really no roadmap forward on this study at all,” he said. “The real issue is there’s no communication of the process going on.”

“I have the same concerns,” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said. “Things started out real good, but there’s been nothing since this was awarded to the contractor.”

With the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization on a summer hiatus until September and a steering committee meeting not planned until late fall, the mayors said they’re concerned the process will be too far underway to accommodate any changes when the opportunity arises for them to express an opinion.

The steering committee, formed of interested parties including Johnson, was originally tasked with helping develop the scope of work for the study. Now, Johnson said he’s unsure of what the purpose of the committee is and hopes it can be redefined to accommodate the Island mayors wishes for the study.

“We need to make Stantec accountable to the steering committee,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said.

“The important thing is to make contact and re-establish the communication agenda,” Johnson said.

With the first phase of the study complete, the BIEO members agreed to contact David Hutchinson with the MPO and Tricia Labud with FDOT to try to reopen the lines of communication.

The first phase of the study, completed June 15, was to combine the results of 19 previously completed studies on the barrier islands to determine what items warranted more investigation by Stantec. The results were made available during the BIEO meeting.

Alleviating Traffic Congestion

To alleviate traffic congestion in Bradenton Beach, Stantec’s results memo for Phase 1 of the traffic study recommended looking into increasing the northbound roundabout capacity at Bridge Street and Gulf Drive. Another suggestion was to consider changing the structure of the Cortez Road and Gulf Drive intersection to change the flow of traffic.

The development of park and ride locations at 75th Street and Manatee Avenue along with one at Cortez Road and 75th Street is another suggestion to be investigated during the next phases of the traffic study.

A parking survey also is recommended for Anna Maria Island during peak season in January and February to determine actual parking utilization and needs.
The Island traffic study is planned to coordinate with ongoing alternate transportation studies, including one on the feasibility of introducing water taxi services, to present a cohesive plan when the studies are presented.

The Island traffic study officially kicks off in January, though preliminary data collection for the project is ongoing.

BIEO members discuss ongoing projects

LONGBOAT KEY — Just because the summer season is winding down, it doesn’t mean that projects are stopping in the Island municipalities.

Members of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials met July 19 at Longboat Key Town Hall to discuss ongoing projects and issues with the potential to affect other Island communities.

Vacation rental regulations

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told the other Island mayors his city’s commission is considering submitting a line of vacation rental regulation for consideration to be added to the current state legislation.

Murphy said the line would allow municipalities to treat vacation rental properties as commercial endeavors by local ordinance. Though the petition is in its early stages, he asked the other mayors to consider presenting it to their respective commissions for support.

According to Murphy, there currently is no state congressional sponsor for the legislation amendment.

Sidewalk alternatives

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon is considering using crates-like structures that fit together, called turf pavers, instead of asphalt or concrete which tends to crumble when used on sand. The pavers, which can be filled with sand or other turf materials, can hold up to 2,000 pounds each, according to Shearon. He said the city is considering using them to reinforce handicap parking spaces at beaches, provide a hard surface for people with impaired mobility on the beach side of access points and possibly replace some sidewalks near beaches.

“I’m excited about the possibilities,” Shearon said.

Bradenton Beach Vice-Mayor John Chappie said the installation of turf pavers doesn’t require a permit and may be an environmentally friendly solution for Holmes Beach commissioners to consider when discussing a removable structure to allow for disabled access across the sand to the Gulf of Mexico.

Distribution of TDC funds

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said he’s hard at work on an initiative to adjust the distribution of Tourist Development Council funds to give the Island cities more of their fair share.

If approved, the funds would potentially be utilized to help cover the added infrastructure costs of hosting large amounts of tourists on the barrier islands.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek suggested attempting to add the effort to the city’s lobbyist agenda for the coming legislative session.

“It’s like we’re being penalized for being too nice,” she said.

Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans said he’s not opposed to lobbying for reform in Tallahassee but also believes significant changes need to be made at the county level.

Chappie, who previously served as a Manatee County commissioner, said while the funds are distributed by the county, the allocation of those funds is made by state mandate.

“It would be nice to open that pocket of money up a little bit,” he said. “There’s lots of money in there.”

Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock said the first step would be to convince the state government and tourist industry to allow the funds to be used for “something other than promotion. Currently, infrastructure is not an allowable expenditure for TDC funds. The second step, he said, would be to get the county commission to amend its ordinances to allow the expenditure.

“It’s not an impossible task,” Bullock said.

Soustek said she’d like to pursue the project through the cities’ lobbyists.

“The cities are struggling to support infrastructure,” she said.

From two counties to one

A major project is just beginning to be considered for feasibility in Longboat Key.

Gans said up for consideration by the city is an initiative to consolidate the city of Longboat Key into one county. Currently, the Sarasota and Manatee County line runs across the island, splitting the northern third of the city into Manatee County with the southern portion in Sarasota County.

Bullock said there were a lot of variables to consider, not the least of which would be the potential cost to residents and property owners as the two counties do not share the same tax rates.

While this isn’t the first time the issue has been up for consideration, Bullock said it is being seriously looked at for viability. If it is a viable alternative for the split city, negotiations would have to be entered into with the county the city would be leaving before the matter was put on a ballot for voter consideration.

Bullock said the conversation was in very early stages.

After taking a break in August, the BIEO will reconvene Sept. 20 at Anna Maria City Hall.

'Merman' sighted in Bradenton Beach

joe hendricks | SUN

Mama Bee & Ms. Monkey | Submitted

Merman appears from time to time on the
beach near the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach.
Ms. Monkey and Mama Bee were among those who
encountered Merman last week.

 

BRADENTON BEACH – The mysterious and mythical “Merman” was spotted again last week near the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach.

Several beachgoers and passersby reported encounters with the part-man, part-mermaid who enjoys lounging in surf and frolicking in the sand and is known to be sociable and camera-friendly. Usually seen alone, it is not known whether Merman has a mermaid companion that accompanies him on his travels in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

BeachHouse Chef Donald White says Merman appears on the beach from time to time and that’s about all he knows about the colorful local character.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said he is aware of the Merman sightings but he knows little else about the mysterious man of the sea.

Erica Johnson is a professional photographer and she briefly encountered Merman during a photo shoot on the beach last week.

“I didn’t get to speak to him to directly, but he seemed real positive and happy, and he spoke with a European accent,”said Johnson, who also works at The Waterfront restaurant in Anna Maria.

A longtime Island resident who wished to remain anonymous said, “He’s the real deal and he might also fight crime, seek truth and do other super hero things in his spare time.”

The Sun’s efforts to make direct contact with Merman have thus far proved elusive and are ongoing.

WMFR readies non-transport ALS service

BRADENTON — West Manatee Fire Rescue’s non-transport advanced life support program is well on its way to becoming a reality.

During the July 20 board of commissioners meeting, Chief Tom Sousa presented commissioners with a business plan to get the program up and running. He estimates the entire program will take a total of four years to launch at the district’s three fire stations. The plan is to launch one non-transport ALS fire engine each fiscal year.

Once engines are equipped with trained personnel and ALS equipment, firefighters will be able to provide the same services to the public as paramedics without the capability to transport patients to the hospital. In order to provide the service, firefighters are required to cross-train as paramedics, completing 1,100 hours of schooling along with two months of on-the-job training with certified paramedics.

Sousa said the district currently has four trained firefighter-paramedics, one firefighter who needs two to three months of training to recertify as a paramedic, three firefighters in school with a planned October graduation and five more estimated to graduate in May 2018. For the program to launch, there must be at least one firefighter-paramedic on shift at each station at all times.

Commissioner Larry Jennis questioned how the district would be compensating firefighters who undertake paramedic training. Sousa recommended offering an additional $2 per hour in compensation, bringing the hourly salary for a firefighter first class up from $20.19 per hour to $22.19 per hour. He said the figure has not yet been presented to the firefighters’ union for approval.

Commissioner George Harris said he’d like to know whether firefighters feel the compensation is fair.

“No one is complaining,” Sousa said. “It’s new for us. I think it’s fair.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Sousa to sign a contract with Manatee County Medical Director Dr. David Nonell to lend his services to the district for $25,000 annually.

The function of the medical director will be to allow WMFR’s firefighter-paramedics to operate under his license, establish step-by-step protocols for the program and assume medical supervisory responsibilities. The district also will be able to purchase medications and other supplies for the program through use of the medical director’s license.

Sousa said the district’s current medical malpractice insurance will cover the medical director and the new program.

A resolution to formally adopt the non-transport ALS service by the district will be presented, along with the fiscal year 2017-18 budget at the August meeting. Once the resolution is formally approved and adopted by commissioners, Sousa said the process to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from Manatee County for the program will begin. The COPCN will give formal approval from the county for the creation of the program.



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