The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 46 - August 18, 2010


Court's recall ruling pending

Harry Stoltzfus

ANNA MARIA — City residents, attorneys and politicians are anxiously awaiting a ruling by Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas in a case that will either stop the recall of Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus or allow it to take place on Sept. 7.

Judge Nicholas heard almost three hours of arguments from Stoltzfus' attorney, Richard Harrison, and from the Recall Stoltzfus Committee’s attorney Fred Moore on Thursday, August 12.

Nicholas said he didn’t want to rush a decision.

“I’ll rule as soon as I can,” he said. “I know this is an important decision with ramifications.”

Harrison’s arguments centered on his opinion that the language in the recall petitions is so vague and non-specific that his client could not mount an effective defensive statement.

Moore stated that he thinks the specifics are in the recall statement, and that the grounds for removal are stated clearly.

The judge didn’t ask any questions of the opposing attorneys.

About 55 residents, including several city commissioners were in attendance at the hearing.

Two swimmers die in Gulf

ANNA MARIA – Two siblings drowned in a rip current Thursday afternoon while swimming in the Gulf on the north end of the Island.

Gerardo Hernandez, whom law enforcement officials estimated was in his 60s, and his sister, Josefina Pardo, 71, were pronounced dead at Blake Medical Center, while two other family members were hospitalized, according to a Manatee Sheriff’s Office report.

According to the MSO, Pardo’s husband and son, whose names have not been released, attempted to rescue Hernandez after he began to fight a rip current. Pardo, who was floating on a raft, also attempted to help Hernandez, but was caught in the current.

A 911 call was made just before 3:30 p.m., according to the report.

The victims suffered cardiac arrest, and the survivors, who suffered from extreme fatigue, were hospitalized in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries, according to the MSO.

The family was visiting from the Tampa area, according to the report.

Two Manatee County lifeguards responded from the nearest guarded beach at Manatee Avenue and assisted in the rescue. The accident occurred on a portion of the public beach in the city of Anna Maria that is not protected by lifeguards, who are stationed on two of the Island’s seven miles of Gulf beach – at Coquina Beach in the city of Bradenton Beach and at Manatee Public Beach in the city of Holmes Beach.

The deaths follow the July 29 drowning of Terry Cox, 50, after he was reportedly caught in a rip current while fishing off the southern shoreline of the Intracoastal Waterway near the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Lifeguards recommend swimming on the Island’s guarded beaches, and checking beach warning flags at the two main lifeguard stations on each beach before entering the water anywhere on the Island. Red flags were flying on lifeguard stands during much of the week.

The flags are color coded as follows:

• Green – swimming allowed;
• Yellow – swim with caution due to mild currents, surf or wind;
• Red – swim with extreme caution due to rough currents, surf or wind;
• Double red flags – no swimming allowed;
• Double red flags with black squares in the middle - hurricane warning;
• Purple – presence of marine pests such as jellyfish, sharks, stingrays, red tide.

Beachgoers also can call 232-2437 for a beach report that details conditions including flag color, oil, wind speed and direction, dead fish, respiratory irritation, surf and red drift algae. Press ext. 2 for Manatee County beaches, then 1 for Manatee Beach or 2 for Coquina Beach.

Police pension blasted

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioner Al Robinson said the city must get out of its police pension plan.

“It is unfunded by $667,873 as of September of last year in the audit,” he told the board last week. “The audit also pointed out that over the last five years, that unfunded pension liability has gone up $100,000 a year, which isn’t chump change.”

Robinson said he sat in on a recent police pension board meeting, and members’ estimates for making money are very aggressive. He said they control whether to put the funds in high or low risk investments, but “it doesn’t make any difference what they do because they’re not successful and the city is responsible for that money.”

Resident Jeff Nickse agreed with Robinson and said, “The compensations is out of proportion to what their salaries are. Now would be a smart time to negotiate with the police department to switch over to a money purchase plan.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said the plan is very conservative and has three money managers, and the reason employees stay with and are so loyal to the city is because for the benefits.

“No matter what this board does, we’re responsible,” Robinson stressed. “They make the decisions, but we have to foot the bill. It’s a dinosaur; nobody does it but government.

“My position is that we need to get out of it. Unfunded pension liabilities are dragging everybody down. We are sending 32 cents for every dollar a policeman makes to the pension fund.”

Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said police employees contribute six percent of their own money. She suggested that Robinson continue to attend police pension board meetings with his questions.

“Our last policeman who retired two years ago worked a little less than 22 years,” Robinson concluded. “He retired at 49 and gets $39,700 a year. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Annual scallop search returns Saturday

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
Bay scallops, such as the one shown at left, are making a
comeback in local waters, according to marine scientists.

LONGBOAT KEY – Bay scallops virtually disappeared from local waters in the early 1970s, but according to annual scallop counts, like the one planned for this Saturday, they’re making a comeback.

“Results in recent years have been promising, with evidence mounting that bay scallops are making a significant recovery,” Florida Sea Grant extension agent John Stevely said.

Volunteers can be a part of this year’s tally in the Third Annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search on Saturday, Aug. 21, from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

The free Sarasota Bay Watch event begins at the docks at Mar Vista in Longboat Key with a captains’ meeting at 8:30 a.m. The search will conclude around noon, with lunch and commemorative T-shirts provided at Mar Vista.

Searchers should bring snorkel gear and a boat, dingy, kayak or canoe and crew. Sarasota Bay Watch will provide all other equipment and training, and will match those without boats with participating captains.

No scallops will be taken during the surveys, as bay scallop harvesting is not allowed in southwest Florida.

Registration is required and is limited to 150 participants. To register, visit For more information, e-mail, or call 941-953-4545.

The event is sponsored in part by the Chiles Group and the Anna Maria Island Sun.

Sarasota Bay Watch Inc. is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and restoring Sarasota Bay’s ecosystem through community education and citizen participation. To learn more, visit

O’Connor bowling tourney honors sponsors
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

From left, back row, Ed Chiles, Don Ide, John Horne;
middle row, George O’Connor, Sean Murphy, Stewart Moon,
Billy O’Connor; and front row, Sharon O’Connor,
Peggi Davenport with a photo of Pat Geyer,
Trudy Moon and Sue O’Connor.

Billy and George O’Connor last week honored sponsors of the O’Connor Bowling Challenge that have been with them for the entire 20 years.

Each sponsor received an engraved plaque “on behalf of the children of the community for making a difference with 20 years of extraordinary commitment in fundraising for the children of the Anna Maria Island Community Center.”

Twenty-year sponsors are John Horne, Ed Chiles, Peggi Davenport, the late Pat Geyer, Don Ide, Sean Murphy, Trudy and Stewart Moon and the O’Connor twins and their wives, Sharon and Sue.

The tournament, sponsored by The Sun, is set for Saturday, Aug. 28, with check in from 5 to 6 p.m. at AMF Bradenton Lanes, 4208 Cortez Road, Bradenton, and bowling to begin at 6 p.m. The donation is $30 and it includes shoes and three games.

Pre-registration is required and bowlers can register at Duffy’s Tavern, 5808 Marina Drive, Homes Beach, from now until the event is sold out. In order to reserve a lane, bowlers must prepay by Thursday, Aug. 26. Al bowlers will receive a commemorative coolie cup with art by Island artist Rob Reiber, and commemorative T-shirts with the same design will be for sale.

The after party will be held at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Oyster bar owner John Horne will provide beer and margarita stations, a full bar and bowlers’ specials.

Raffle tickets for a big screen television donated by The Sun and hundreds of outstanding prizes from local merchants and restaurants will be available at the bowling alley. Tickets are six for $5.

In addition to the raffle, trophies will be awarded at the after party. Trophies include high and low game male and female, high series male and female and the Chuck Stearns Memorial High Game Trophy, The trophy is in honor of Holmes Beach Police Officer Charles “Chuck” Stearns, who passed away in 2005.

All proceeds will be used for youth sports at the Island Community Center. For information, call Billy O’Connor at 650-5488.

Oil is over, tourism officials say
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Debbie Meihls is the new marketing
director for the Bradenton Area Convention
and Visitors Bureau.

HOLMES BEACH - With the Deepwater Horizon oil well capped, it’s time to “move on with life,” a local tourism official told tourism business owners last week.

The CVB is moving away from the mantra that the beaches are clean, CVB Interim Director Elliott Falcione said, because it may plant an idea in the minds of visitors that the oil may still reach local beaches.

The well may be capped, but oil is still in the water, said Caryn Hodge, of the Chiles Group of restaurants.

Some out of town visitors still think that oil is affecting the whole Florida coast, local sports commissioner Joe Pickett said.

To combat lingering misperceptions that oil affected all of Florida’s beaches, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will continue to post fresh videos of Anna Maria Island’s clean beaches on its Web site, Falcione said.

In other business, the group learned that beginning on Sept. 1, local tourism businesses can log onto the CVB Web site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for free to update their listings and offer new promotions, according to the CVB’s new marketing director, Debbie Meihls.

The destination is “a diamond in the rough,” said Meihls, formerly with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater CVB, adding that she plans to add sparkle to it by keeping it in the limelight.

One opportunity is an upcoming ABC News Nightline program featuring top chefs, including Raymond Arpke at Euphemia Haye in Longboat Key, Meihls said.

Tourism business owners are invited to the next tourism industry meeting on Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. at a location to be decided later, featuring a representative from Travelocity, who will offer tips on increasing bookings.

Tourism down third consecutive month

Hotel occupancy on Anna Maria Island continues to fall below last year’s numbers for the third month in a row, according to July statistics from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

In July, Anna Maria Island occupancy was 69.3 percent, down from 71.1 percent in July 2009, while hoteliers in the Manatee County section of Longboat Key reported occupancy at 60.6 percent, down a fraction from 60.8 percent last July.

While occupancy is lower than in 2009, it has steadily increased from May through July this year.

July hotel rates were up, with Anna Maria Island rates averaging $149.21 a night, up from $144.06 last July. Rates on Longboat Key averaged $163.16 a night, down from $168 last July.

On Anna Maria Island, 26 percent of hotel and motel rooms and condominiums that rent for six months or less are included in the survey, with 27 percent on Longboat Key included.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster began in April, tourism officials have relayed the message that Gulf beaches south of the Florida panhandle remain free of the oil’s effects.

Local hoteliers have not reported any lost business due to visitors’ concerns about the oil disaster since June 29, when the totals were 422 lost room nights and $78,549 in lost revenue, according to the CVB.

Affected businesses should report cancellation information to, or call 800-642-4340, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Accommodations identities will remain confidential.

Board excited about well discovery
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

When members of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society
couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of an artesian well
they knew was near the Old City Jail, they enlisted the
help of Ed Straight, of Bradenton Beach, a dowser.
Shown here, the dowsing rod points directly to the old well.
The well pipe is blocked about 3 1/2 feet down.

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners’ eyes lit up, they sat up straighter in their chairs and they started smiling as they heard from Anna Maria Island Historical Society President Melissa Williams that an old artesian well had been rediscovered.

“We’re very excited that we found the well,” Williams told commissioners at their Aug. 12 meeting. “We knew it was there. Pat Copeland remembered it, but we couldn’t find it at first. Then someone mentioned that Ed Straight was interested in dowsing, the old-fashioned way of finding water.”

AMIHS board members called on Straight, who lives in Bradenton Beach and with his wife, Gail, runs Wildlife Rescue, Inc.Straight brought his dowsing rod and found the well.

The well pipe taps into a natural spring. It was installed in about 1911 by the Anna Maria Beach Company, the principals of the old Anna Maria Beach subdivision.

At the time, Anna Maria had four deep-flowing wells. The well found in the Historical Park is near the Old City Jail.

Williams told commissioners that longtime resident Jack Fiske was a former employee of the Island Water Company.

“He says that the well on museum grounds used to supply all the water to homes and businesses on Pine Avenue and Snapper, which is now Gulf Drive,” Williams said. “He said it was an integral part of the Island Water Company and was most likely capped in the early ‘40’s.”

No one’s sure just what was used to cap the well, but according to Fiske, concrete was not widely used in those days, as it had to be mixed by hand.

“Fiske seems to think the well was merely plugged up with debris to stop its flow,” Williams said.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District controls wells in Florida, and Williams said since the city owns the property where the well is located, it would have to make the application to reopen the well.

Williams asked if commissioners would allow AMIHS to have a well drilling company jet the pipe to determine how the spring was capped.

“If the blockage is near the top of the pipe and jetting provides us with a viable way to jar most of the debris free, this would be the most desirable outcome, as it involves no money and at this key, initial stage,” Williams said.

By this time in the presentation, commissioners were actively showing interest and enthusiasm.

“We could bottle the water,” Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said. “People would love it. We could cut taxes. This is exciting!”

Commissioners told Williams to determine how the well is capped and what can be done with it. Williams said she would notify commisioners when the jetting would take place so they could attend.

Tom Turner said he didn’t think the water would be very marketable, since it most likely would have a strong sulphur smell and taste.

Support group seeking Island troops
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Volunteers pack boxes with snacks, toiletries and requested
items to be shipped to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Manatee Operation Troop Support is seeking the names of Island troops deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait in order to add them to the list of troops receiving packages from home.

MOTS is a non-profit organization begun by King Middle School teacher Jim Comkowycz in 2007 after his son, Jeff, was wounded and returned home to Walter Reed hospital. Currently MOTS serves 61 troops from Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“The first month, we send them snacks and toiletries,” explained Rose QuinBare, a Waste Management representative who volunteers with MOTS. “In the package is a request form that they can fill out to ask for specific items that they want.”

The second package will contain snacks and toiletries as well as the requested items. Each soldier receives a package every month. It costs the organization $15 to mail each package.

One soldier recently wrote, “Thank you so much for the wonderful care packages. I have been sharing everything with the other guys in my unit.

“We can never say thank you enough for all the hard work you do at home to let us have a little bit of comfort over here.”

In addition to names of troops, the organization is seeking donations of items to put in the packages and money to mail the packages.

Shopping lists

The following is a shopping list of individual-sized food items for packages: beef jerky, Slim Jims, lemonade and iced tea powder mixes, roasted nuts, trail and nut mixes, power bars, Propel and Gatorade powder packs, candy bars, animal crackers, cookies and crackers, tuna in foil pouches, oysters and sardines, spices including salt and pepper, ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, canned pasta, soups and stews with pop tops, fruit snacks and condiment packets.

Other items needed include vitamins, icy/hot patches, scissors, freezer-grade zip lock bags, disposable cameras, duct tape, cushioned insoles, shower shoes/flip flops, Chap Stick, gum, battery powered fans, flashlights/ headlamps, AA and D batteries, CDRs, flash drives, phone cards, board games, hand-held electronic games and sporting goods, stress balls, sunglasses, fly paper, insect repellant, dental floss and triple-edge razors.

Donated items can be dropped off at the MOTS office in the Lakewood Business Park at 430132nd St. W., Suite C-20, Bradenton, or call the MOTS office at 782-0748 for a pickup.

Scientists struggle to grasp oil’s effects

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon has been burned, sunken, dissolved, weathered, skimmed, evaporated and eaten by bacteria, but no one knows just how much remains in the Gulf of Mexico, or what effects it will have, according to Mote Marine Laboratory scientists.

While the well has been closed for a month, the oil’s effects on the environment are just beginning, Mote President Kumar Mahadevan said at a forum at Mote last week, noting that it took four years for the effects from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 to show up in the Alaskan herring fishery.

About 200 million gallons of oil gushed in the Gulf of Mexico from the April 20 explosion to the July 15 sealing of the well, making the spill the worst man-made disaster in the Gulf’s history, according to Dr. Richard Pierce, director of Mote’s Center for Ecotoxicology, comparing it to the Valdez spill of 10.8 million gallons.

In addition, nearly 2 million gallons of dispersant was dumped in the Gulf to keeps slicks from forming on the surface, which made the oil more readily available for marine life to ingest, he said, adding that dispersants make oil dissolve, not disappear.

With oil and dispersants still in the Gulf, 400 species of marine life from bacteria to whales could have problems reproducing or experience genetic damage, Pierce said, adding that blue crabs that have ingested oil already have been found.

Tallies are being made of dolphins, manatees and sea turtles that are killed or injured by the oil, but many affected animals go undiscovered, and long term effects of oil on survivors are unknown, the panel said.

The oil also may be pushing large animals such as whale sharks and tiger sharks closer to shore with unknown consequences, said Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, as reported in The Sun’s June 23 edition.

As questions mount, the search for oil continues with Mote’s robotic submarines, said Dr. Gary Kirkpatrick, director of Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program.

While few things are certain, Pierce said one thing is likely: “There will probably be tar balls for years because of this spill.”

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