The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 23 - February 25, 2009


County beach pier closed permanently
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


HOLMES BEACH – For the second time in five months, county officials closed the Manatee Beach pier, but this time they said it must be removed and replaced.

In meeting with county commissioners Thursday, Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Natural Resources Department, said, "Because of continued deterioration to the pier structure since the last inspection, this report recommends removal of the existing pier followed by new construction to replace the original footprint at a higher elevation, as required by current state permit requirements."

He presented four options:

• Option 1: Demolition and removal, $670,000;

• Option 2: Repair existing pier, $1,683,000;

• Option 3: Rebuild pier over top of existing pier, $1,490,000;

• Option 4: Demolish and replace with conventional pier, $1,495,000.

Consulting engineers, Bridge Design Associates, Inc., recommended Option 4. Hunsicker said in addition to the cost of demolition and replacement, permit and survey fees are estimated at $92,112.

"These cost represent an increase of almost $300,000 from the former total cost estimated due to the fact that additional structural deterioration since the past inspection in December 2008 has rendered the existing structure unsuitable for repair," Hunsicker explained.

In February 2008, county commissioners approved Option 3, but held off on approving funding to do the repairs. In September 2008, they approved proceeding with engineering to obtain permits to replace the pier and three days later, it was closed for a week due to high-energy waves from Hurricane Ike.

Hunsicker said in March commissioners plan to discuss whether to replace the pier immediately and how to fund it.

City may limit size of upper floors

ANNA MARIA — People building new homes or remodeling and enlarging existing ones may find that they can’t make their third floors as large as they used to be able to.

If the city commission goes along with a planning and zoning recommendation that grew out of Feb. 17 meeting, the large, rectangular, straight-walled homes now being built would no longer be allowed.

"Only 50 percent of the structure may exceed 27 feet in height based on the square footage of the main level not exceeding 27 feet in height," is the exact wording in the proposed ordinance that the P&Z board will recommend.

The main level refers to the main living level. In newer homes, since FEMA regulations dictate that the living space has to be elevated, if you had two stories over parking, the upper-most floor could be only 50 percent as large as the main living floor.

well with Mike Yetter, a member of the P&Z board.

"This is almost draconian in nature in my mind," he said. "The problem is that we have a great number of people who have invested in 50 by 100 foot lots, envisioning some structure and now they can’t do that. People will perceive that these lots have less value. This is a show stopper for me."

Yetter said he thinks that the measure would intrude on people’s property rights.

Resident Tom Turner spoke about his concerns that people who own small, older, ground level homes may not be left with many options. Turner is in his 80s.

"If I need to bring someone in to take care of me in my advanced age, the second floor or bedroom suite on a 50-foot lot on a pre-FIRM ground-level home wouldn’t be big enough to use," he said.

P&Z Chair Doug Copeland urged the board to uphold the 50 percent ruling they’d discussed at an earlier meeting.

Copeland recalled a time in 1971 when there was talk of putting a 200-unit motel on Bean Point.

"But people gave up their property rights, and we were left with a city as we know it today,’ Copeland said, referring to the city fathers and residents who put height limits and setback limits in place during the 1970s.

"If we want to continue enjoying our city, then I think this is a very important thing to do."

When all was said and done, the P&Z board voted 3-1 to recommend that the city commission approve the R-1 zoning rules. Yetter voted against the recommendation. Board members Margaret Jenkins, Sandy Mattick and Randall Stover were absent.

The city is under the gun to get its land development regulations into compliance with the comprehensive plan that was passed late last year. The entire body of the LDRs must be submitted to the Florida Department of Community Affairs by mid-April, something that City Planner Alan Garrett said he’s confident can be accomplished.

Tourist tax increase on table

BRADENTON – Visitors would pay an extra penny in tourist taxes if a unanimous recommendation by the Manatee County Tourist Development Council is approved.

A 4 percent tourism tax is levied on "transient" accommodations in the county - those occupied for six months or less - including hotels, motels, condominiums and other rentals. Two cents of the four are used to operate the CVB, one is used for beach renourishment and beach-related projects and the remaining cent funds marketing efforts.

The fifth penny is necessary in the current economy to build up a reserve fund, or else tourism expenses may have to be drawn from a disaster fund, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Larry White said.

"We’re in danger of entering the disaster recovery fund by the middle of 2010 if we do nothing," he said, adding that the disaster fund, designed to fund promotions to rebuild the county’s tourism image after a hurricane, contains more than $2 million.

While January hotel occupancy was up from last year, overall tourism tax collections are down for the first four months of the fiscal year, White said.

The Manatee County Commission will decide on levying the additional penny, but a vote has not yet been scheduled.

Several speakers requested that if the tax is increased, part of the money be dedicated to promote the arts and culture.

"We concur," said Carol Whitmore, the new chair of the council. "Once they go the beach, they’ve got to go somewhere."

The Village of the Arts in Bradenton may soon see an influx of visitors, she said, thanks to the March issue of Southern Living magazine, which features a four-page article on Anna Maria Island and a mention of the redeveloped Bradenton arts district.

The writer praises the Island for having no towering condos, few chain restaurants, several quirky shops including Ginny’s and Jane E’s at the Old IGA, Gulffront and bayside dining at the Sandbar and Waterfront restaurants and the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum.

One headline says Anna Maria Island’s motto is "Welcome to paradise without an attitude;" another says "Secret Gulf beach escape: Affordable without the crowds."

The article misprinted the county’s tourism Web site, so the CVB arranged for the Web site that was printed to redirect visitors to the correct Web site,, according to the CVB’s Jessica Grace.

The council also viewed a music video recently filmed in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Cortez, featuring the band Shinedown’s "Second Chance," a Billboard chart hit, and heard an update on the Anna Maria Island wedding festival in January.

"The wedding bells are ringing on Anna Maria Island and in Manatee County," organizer Caryn Hodge said, adding that the event attracted people from as far as Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. "It was extremely successful."

Hodge requested $17,000 from the CVB’s budget to market weddings on the Island, which the council promised to consider.

"They have proven in a huge way the efficacy of this," said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar restaurant, which hosted the event. One wedding generates many visitors, some of whom return for their own weddings or reunions, he said, recommending that the council and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce both contribute to festival promotion efforts.

"This magically started with the Island Sun newspaper in the fall, with a thing called ‘Bridging the Gap,’ White said. "We can come up with some promotions as effective as ‘Bridging the Gap.’ "
Occupancy up, rates down

On both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, January hotel occupancy was up from a year ago, but room rates were down, according to the latest statistics from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

January occupancy on Anna Maria Island was 44.2 percent, up from 41.5 percent in January 2008. On Longboat Key, January occupancy was 63.9 percent, up from 58.6 percent the previous January.

Room rates were down, with Anna Maria Island rates averaging $141.58 per night, down from $153.50 in January 2008. Rates on Longboat Key averaged $150.25 per night, down from $161.75 the previous January.

Downward rate adjustments are typical to boost occupancy, CVB Director Larry White said.

The bureau polls area accommodations on occupancy rates and room rates to compile a statistical basis for comparing tourism trends from year to year. The survey does not account for tourists who visit and stay with family members and friends or in privately-owned homes, which tourism officials say would be impossible to track, but is a measure of hotel and motel usage in the regions surveyed.

Plants protect and build beaches
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Sea grapes prevent erosion
and shield sea turtles from lights.

Beach plants

Several plants you see on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway on Anna Maria Island are protected by federal, state and local laws that provide penalties for damaging them. Here’s why.

Sea oats build sand dunes by trapping and holding windblown sand and stabilizing it to keep it from being blown away by the wind or washed away by the waves. Sand dunes are vital to prevent beach erosion and rebuild already eroded beaches. They also shield buildings from flooding, and provide wildlife habitat for protected gopher tortoises, birds and other wildlife. Birds also eat the fruit of sea oats.

Sea grapes also act to trap sand and build dunes. Their fruit grows in grape-like clusters, and is eaten by several species of birds and land animals. Their branches provide bird nesting habitat. They also shield beaches from light that attracts nesting and hatching sea turtles away from the water and into danger.

Mangroves, which have red, black and white varieties, are able to live directly on Florida’s coast because they can tolerate salt water. Some varieties block salt at their roots while others secrete salt through their leaves. They help build the coastline with their tangled network of roots, which grow both downward and upward into the water. The roots provide a safe haven for juvenile fish, crustaceans and shellfish, while the branches provide nesting areas for birds. They also filter impurities from coastal waters and reduce the effect of storm surges and high winds on property.

To protect our fragile beach plants and dune systems, please do not sit on or walk across sand dunes, keep children from digging in them and take home photographs instead of plant souvenirs. It’s the law.

Mote founder recalls ‘monsters’ of sea
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Dr. Eugenie Clark

CITY ISLAND – They sound like something out of a bad horror movie, but if Dr. Eugenie Clark says she’s seen them, it’s no fish story.

There’s the 80-foot-long gelatinous tube that glows in the dark, the giant pink hooded octopus that lives 6,000 feet under the sea, the scowling scorpion fish with its unlucky 13 poisonous spines.

But the most bizarre animal the pioneering ichthyologist may have studied is the "cookie cutter" shark.

With the largest teeth in proportion to its size, the cookie cutter grabs onto its victim with its lips, creating a vacuum, then clamps down, twisting itself into a circle and removing a perfectly round snack. The "cookies" range from normal chocolate chip size to eight inches in diameter, depending on the size of the shark, which can grow to more than 20 feet long.

The "Shark Lady," so named in the title of one of her books, talked recently about her lifetime of adventures with what she fondly calls sea monsters at Mote Marine Laboratory, which she founded in 1955 with her mentor, Dr. Charles Breder Jr., under the lab’s original name, Cape Haze Marine Laboratory.

Clark studied a larger relative of the cookie cutter shark in Japan, where she learned that instead of losing teeth one at a time, like most sharks, this one loses a whole row, like a denture, when a new row is ready to come in. The Japanese bite back, enjoying the shark’s meat and liver as raw sushi.

In Japan’s waters, Clark also studied a giant crab more than 10 feet across. The photo she has to prove it, taken by famous National Geographic photographer David Doubilet, was not an easy one, she recalled. She swam up behind the crab to pull its head up to face the camera, and one of its sets of back legs grabbed her thighs. It was worth it, she said, to have a photo of herself holding the flag of the Society of Women Geographers behind the crab.

Clark has another photo of herself riding on the dorsal fin of the biggest fish in the sea, the great whale shark, which can grow to 50 feet long.

"You’re not allowed to do that now," she’s quick to point out.

For years, scientists thought they laid eggs because a lone egg case was found with a baby whale shark inside, but it was later discovered that they give birth live, like about two-thirds of shark species, and the egg case had been a premature birth.

Clark speaks warmly about the great white shark, found primarily off Australia. One of the pioneers of cage diving, she recalls touching a great white’s nose that protruded into her cage, then backing away, only to be poked from behind by another shark nose.

As long as you’re not spearfishing, "You’re safer in the water with a shark than crossing a city street," she said.

These days, she’s focused on convict fish, which are seldom seen because they spend their entire adult lives in rock tunnels. As juveniles, the fish swarm above the rock tunnels in clouds that resemble schools of poisonous catfish, a trick of nature that protects them from predators, she said. At dusk, they swim down into the tunnels with their parents.

She studies them from a remote computer screen connected to a clever display at Mote Marine Laboratory, which uses a mirror to allow a peek at life inside the tunnels.

The fish serve as dental technicians to moray eels, and particularly seem to like cleaning wetsuits, she said.

A closeup photo of convict fish larvae looks monstrous, until you see it in perspective, she laughed, adding, "You can see where the sea monster stories originate."

Cortez history no mystery
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Woven into the historical
fabric of Cortez like cotton in a handmade
mullet net is the Cortez Village Historical
Society, which celebrated its 25th anniversary
during the 27th Annual Cortez Commercial
Fishing Festival.

CORTEZ – As Florida towns outgrow their roots, their history is often relegated to a county commission proclamation and a seldom-visited Web site.

Not so in Cortez.

The commercial fishing village is not a Disney version of an actual place. The docks and houses are not distressed wood made to look historic. They, and the people who work there, are honestly weatherworn, soaked in saltwater and dried in the sun to a leathery tan.

This is 100 percent real Florida.

The boats and crab traps and nets in the yards are not flea market finds, but the tools of the few remaining commercial fishermen in Florida who go to the sea in boats for sunny days and stormy nights on end.

Sure, there’s a museum in Cortez, two in fact, if you count Alcee Taylor’s garage, which he’ll open for you if he’s not napping.

The other museum, the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez, is, fittingly, in a restored 1912 schoolhouse, carrying on the educational mission it was built for. Next to it is the 1890s-era Burton/Bratton store, relocated to the museum site and now under restoration as the future Cortez Family Life Museum. Behind the store is the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, or FISH, Preserve, where hikers and kayakers can follow a trail of mangroves along Sarasota Bay, known as the "kitchen" to residents whose parents and grandparents up to five generations back relied on it for food.

Woven into this historical fabric like cotton in a handmade mullet net is the Cortez Village Historical Society, which celebrated its 25th anniversary during the 27th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival last weekend.

Yes, they are sweet-tart little old ladies who bake strawberry shortcake for the festival each year, whose bake sale proceeds along with $2 admission fees over 27 years have managed to buy nearly 100 acres of prime Florida waterfront in the FISH Preserve.

They are also 300 college professors, artists, authors, fishermen, cooks, churchgoers and memory-like-an-elephant natives who have supported most of the village’s activities since the society was founded in 1984.

With little more than their convictions and a stubborn streak, they have chased off a Chris-Craft factory, a high-rise bridge from Cortez to Anna Maria Island, a developer who wanted to build a mid-rise recreational fishing "boatel" condominium on the working waterfront and a marina developer who would have made Cortez Trailer Park residents homeless.

They’ve staged 1960s-style, sign-carrying protests against boatbuilders. They’ve written letters to government officials protesting the constitutional amendment that banned gill nets, which gutted the commercial fishing community in 1994.

And they frequently add fuel to their sassy reputation. Once, society treasurer Mary Fulford Green wrote out the group’s objections to a proposal on a 12-foot-long piece of freezer paper, and unrolled it like a scroll as she read it to the county commission.

The group has surveyed every family in Cortez about their history, their memories, their joys, and their tragedies at sea, in wartime and at home. They researched and compiled all the documentation required to get the village designated as a historic neighborhood in the Manatee County Comprehensive Plan, then got it listed as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Along with the Organized Fishermen of Florida, they raised $12,500 to save the 1890s store from demolition when the U.S. Coast Guard bought the land for its Cortez station.

They help organize the annual Cortez Natives Picnic, which brings family members from all over the country back to Cortez for smoked mullet and grits with sweet tea.

They’ve also been writing.

Their grant applications for numerous projects have netted well over $100,000. One grant allowed society mainstays Mary Green and Linda Molto to write "Cortez - Then and Now," the Bible for Cortez historians. Other books include "Commercial Fishing Through the Centuries" and the newest ring bound version of "What’s Cooking in Cortez," a down-home southern cookbook with recipes for seafood, shortcake and homemade ice cream that’s on sale at this weekend’s festival (along with some of the food that made it famous, and an anniversary edition of the Cortez Village Historical Society T-shirt).

The Cortezian newsletter keeps folks up to date on everything from community events to who’s in the hospital or nursing home to births and deaths in the community.

There’s also a free walking tour map featuring photos and descriptions of 92 historic buildings in the village, and two videos on Cortez that the society helped produce.

The village has its annual proclamation from the county commission that one weekend a year is officially known as "Cortez Festival Days." And the Cortez Village Historical Society has its website,

But you can’t smell salt air and mullet smoking on the Internet. Experience living history daily, in Cortez.

Jackson Kibler is the state champion
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Jackson Kibler holds his state
championship plaque as his martial arts
teacher, Kevin Bergquist, smiles.

HOLMES BEACH – His confidence is soaring because he’s now a champion.

Seven-year-old Jackson Kibler came in first place in the Florida League of Martial Arts competition and received his award at a banquet Jan. 17.

Born with low muscle tone and motor skill delays, he didn’t walk until he was three and he lacked confidence and drive until his mother and father, Debbie and David, brought him to Kevin Bergquist, known as the Island Dojo. Bergquist, who works with children with challenges, felt he could provide Jackson with goals that would give him the drive he would need to overcome those challenges.

"It’s a big part of what we do," Bergquist said. "Jackson has taken first place in every event he has entered."

The Sun published a story last June about Jackson training for the competition and those attending the awards banquet also learned about the young man with the contagious smile.

"Everyone there had tears in their eyes as they stood and gave him an ovation," Debbie Kibler said. "He was proud. He took the plaque with him everywhere he went."

Bergquist recently moved from a studio he had rented to Island Fitness, and he is reaching out to the youngsters on the Island.

"Our new outreach program begins in March," he said. "You can sign up at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, where no child will be turned away for inability to pay."

Bergquist said that he builds confidence in children, the type that can change lives. He tutored teens who were considered aggressive and dangerous to others and they learned to control their newfound skills and, in turn, their aggression.

Bergquist was recently promoted to International Master Shihan by the World Organization of Martial Arts and will be inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame on June 25, in Orlando.

"This couldn’t have happened to Jackson if it wasn’t for someone like Kevin, who Jackson admired and strives to please," Debbie said. Now he’s training for the world."

For more information on the Island Dojo, call 807-1734 or log onto

Rootball comes to the Island
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY LBK firefighter/paramedic
Jay Gosnell throws the "root" on Bradenton Beach.

BRADENTON BEACH — Rootball. It’s the name of a game that’s catching on across the country, and it came to Bradenton Beach recently in the form of Max Chain, the game’s inventor.

It’s something that had been played for a year or so at the 25th Street beach access. Chain, also known as the commissioner of Rootball came to check out the action on the Island late last month.

‘This is a game for everyone," he said. "There are no barriers – not age, not gender, not physical condition. And you can play it anywhere, on any surface be it beach or lawn or shell driveway."

Chain said it’s a game that horseshoe players generally take to immediately.

That proved to be the case when three of the people, who regularly play horseshoes at the pits by Anna Maria city hall, came to the beach to play.

"It’s an intriguing game," said Al Norman. "When I first heard about it, I decided I needed to give it a try. The beauty of this thing is that you can just take it with you wherever you go. You don’t need all that space and heavy equipment to set up a game."

The Rootball equipment is comprised of a stake or two, the "root," which is an aerodynamically designed open plastic disc in an oval shape, and the ball.

It can be played one-on-one or as a team sport.

"This is a good game," said Jean Shank, another horseshoe player who was giving Rootball a try. "It’s challenging with all the different elements. I like it."

Adin Shank also liked what he saw giving the game a try.

"This is great, it really is," he said. "It’s something even us old guys can learn and enjoy."

The rules of the game are not complex.

"You throw the root toward the opponent’s stake," Bradenton Beach resident and Longboat Key firefighter/paramedic Jay Gosnell said. "You get one point if the root touches the stake, two points if the root comes to rest on the stake, which is a leaner, and three points for a ringer."

The next step is to throw the ball. You get one point of the ball hits the root, one point if the ball hits the stake two points for a leaner on either the root or the stake.

Now, you may be wondering why the weighted plastic disc is called a root instead of a weighted plastic disc.

"I was taking out a big bush for a lady," Chain said of the day the idea for the game came to him. "It was huge, and I needed to dig a huge hole to get it out."

After the bush came out, Chain was supposed to set up the stakes and hoops for a game of croquet.

"But it wasn’t a complete set," he said. "The only pieces there were the stakes and a ball, so I had to come up with a game using just those pieces."

Chain said he took the roots of the bush and intertwined them into a sort of wreath shape.

‘It was sort of oval in shape, and that was the first root, which gave the game it’s name," he said.

Rootball is played almost every weekend at the 25th Street beach access. There are often three games going at once.

"Kids play, women play, guys play," said Bradenton Beach resident Craig Luloff. "We just play pickup games."

Gosnell said anyone’s welcome to come out on the beach and give the game a try.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Rootball and how it’s played, you can log onto

Or you can come out to the beach just about any weekend afternoon to see it played.

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