BRADENTON BEACH – Red tide, the delayed dock project, disruptions for Avenue C residents, city elections and a Sunshine Law lawsuit were among the top Bradenton Beach stories in 2018.
The first signs of red tide arrived in early August, when massive amounts of dead fish washed ashore near the Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar and the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. County staff spent much of the next two months removing dead fish from the beaches.
Concerned business owners gathered at the Swordfish Grill in Cortez and agreed to embark on promotional efforts to help combat red tide’s economic impacts. Those efforts included a long table dining event, organized gatherings at local restaurants and bars and the formation of the non-profit organization called SIRF (Service Industry Relief Festivities).
Meanwhile, the red tide bloom persisted throughout the Island, forcing some businesses to close and devastating the tourism industry before finally dissipating the last week of December.
The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) spent 2018 waiting for Technomarine to fulfill its 2017 contract to install a new floating dock alongside the Bridge Street Pier.
Manufactured in Spain, the aluminum-framed dock sections arrived at Port Everglades in August and were trucked to an undisclosed location in September. In October, the ongoing delays led CRA members and the city attorney to initiate preliminary breach of contract procedures. There was also discussion about requesting an Attorney General’s Office investigation of Technomarine’s business practices.
In November, Police Chief Sam Speciale and CRA Chair Ralph Cole used GPS data embedded in a digital photograph received from Technomarine to locate the dock sections at the Hecker Construction storage yard in Gibsonton.
In December, the CRA and Technomarine reached a settlement agreement that relieves Technomarine of its remaining contractual obligations once the floats and hardware are delivered to Hecker Construction, which will then install the long-delayed dock.
The CRA also agreed to spend approximately $568,000 to underground the utilities lines along Bridge Street and a portion of Gulf Drive in 2019, hired architectural designer Emily Anne Smith to create a CRA vision plan, purchased new holiday decorations for Bridge Street and committed funds to purchase live clams for a living shoreline project.
Due to unforeseen complications, Manatee County’s force main replacement project that began on Avenue C in late 2017 continued well into 2018. The street was torn up and unpaved for much of the year, and residents and rental property owners complained to city commissioners about the dust, dirt and disruption to their neighborhood. The street was repaved in early October.
In October, the commission approved a $302,626 contract with Westra Construction to expedite the city’s previously-planned drainage improvements and driveway restorations rather than waiting for Woodruff & Sons to do it mid-2019. That work is now underway.
In February, Avenue C residents rejected City Engineer Lynn Burnett’s suggestions to install a bike path along their street.
In November, incumbent City Commissioners Ralph Cole and Marilyn Maro retained their commission seats by defeating challengers Tjet Martin and John Metz. City voters also approved all seven charter amendments proposed by the city’s Charter Review Committee.
The voter-approved charter amendments restore commission wards, require additional proof of residency for commission candidates and clarify that charter amendment petition initiatives are to be conducted according to procedures set forth in the city charter.
In June, the commission majority decided four charter amendments proposed by John Metz, Reed Mapes and their Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods (KORN) political action committee would not appear on the November ballot. KORN then filed a lawsuit against the city. The court hearings concluded in September and the parties are still awaiting a judge’s ruling on whether the amendments must appear on a future ballot.
Former Planning and Zoning Board members Reed Mapes, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and former Scenic WAVES Committee member Tjet Martin were deposed under oath during the discovery process for Sunshine Law lawsuit filed in 2017 by the city and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke.
Former planning board member John Metz and Scenic WAVES member Rose Vincent have not yet been deposed. A mediation session is scheduled in February, and a trial before 12th Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas is scheduled in March.
The city’s legal fees currently exceed $116,000, and the city seeks to recoup a portion of those fees if the judge determines Sunshine violations occurred. During a May press conference, paralegal Michael Barfield accused the defendants of acting as a “shadow government.”
In 2018, the City Commission banned swimming pool slides, increased pool setbacks and decided that swimming pools would count as impervious (non-draining) surfaces when calculating lot coverage restrictions. In August, the commission adopted two ordinances that prohibit the construction of standalone or multi-level parking garages anywhere in the city.