Cortez festival location uncertain

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
The Savannah Belle, a commercial fishing boat based
in Cortez, returns to its home port through
Longboat Pass. Cortez has been the site of the annual
Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival for 28 years.

CORTEZ – The 29th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival may move next February from its traditional site at the west end of Cortez village to the east end.

A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish Co. property will no longer be available for use as the festival grounds, said Karen Bell, longtime treasurer for the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH), which produces the festival.

The decision stems from the May FISH board of directors election, which Bell and other board members challenged, charging that ballots were accepted the night of the election from new members whose dues Bell had not received and recorded, and that absentee ballots were mishandled.

Bell was re-elected to the board but replaced as treasurer by former Manatee County Commissioner Jane Von Hahmann.

At the first meeting of the new board on Tuesday, June 1, Bell announced that the family’s company would not participate in the 2011 festival.

Negotiations are underway to use Cortez Bait and Seafood, the Bayside Banquet Hall and Cortez Kitchen at the east end of the fishing village near the FISH Preserve and the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez, FISH President Kim McVey said.

Festival proceeds are used to enlarge and restore the 95-acre FISH Preserve.

Plan could drive oil slick onto beaches

If an oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon approaches Anna Maria Island, officials plan to divert it with booms away from mangroves and estuaries and onto the Gulf’s sandy beaches.

The plan is not likely to be used during the current disaster, since forecasters predict that if oil reaches the Island, it will be in the form of subsurface tar balls and patties that could not be diverted by booms floating on the surface.

Part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Area Contingency Plan calls for sensitive environmental areas around the north and south ends of the Island to be protected by a system of deflection booms that would redirect oil onto the beaches.

The strategies were developed in 1995 after oil spilled from one of three tankers that collided in Tampa Bay in 1993.

Oil is easier to clean off sandy beaches than from mangrove roots and seagrass beds, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Department of Natural Resources.

Ideally, booms would protect every inch of coastline, but “There’s not enough boom in the world to cover the coastline of four states,” Manatee County Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison said.

“There is a minor concern we would see oil, but the consensus is that the loop current is so far west past our sand shelf that the oil would go past us,” Hutchison said.

If an oil slick does approach, “We’ve worked out booming strategies for such an event, concentrating on natural gathering points,” he said.

Oil diversion plan

At the north end of the Island, the plan would divert oil entering the Passage Key Inlet south of the main channel to the beach on the Gulf side of the Island. Oil in the main channel would be diverted to two collection points on the bay side of the Island.

At the south end of the Island, the plan would divert oil entering Longboat Pass to two collection points on the Gulf beaches, one on Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island and one on Longboat Key. Oil in the main channel would be diverted to a collection point on Anna Maria Island west of the bridge. Other collection points include two sites south of Leffis Key on the bay side of Anna Maria Island and two sites on the bay side of Longboat Key, to protect Jewfish Key.

The plan is designed to save several at-risk resources, including mangroves, salt marshes, manatees and birds.

The south end of the Island near Longboat Pass is noted for wading birds, including the great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret and white ibis, and seabirds, including the doublecrested cormorant and the brown pelican, according to the plan.

The north end of Anna Maria near Bean Point is a nationally-known nesting ground for threatened and endangered birds, including snowy plovers, least terns and black skimmers.

Beach cleanup plan

The Coast Guard plan also addresses how to clean oily beaches.

“If a sandy shoreline has heavy and extensive fuel coverage, the use of heavy industrial equipment such as bulldozers or road graders could be utilized. This would be followed by the replacement of the sediment,” the plan states.

“In the case of minor ecological damage, a manual cleanup may be performed, if possible, which would eliminate the removal of sediment and the overall effect on the ecological balance of a particular beach. Cleanup efforts must include effective measures to protect nesting sea turtles and shore birds. Different types of cleanup methods may involve rock-washing, use of sorbent equipment, harbor boom for corralling a product against land and vacuum trucks to pick up the product.”

Pierce resigns as mayor

BRADENTON BEACH – Michael Pierce shocked those attending the regular monthly meeting of the city commission last night by resigning, turning over his office to Vice-Mayor Bob Bartelt and having the city commission appoint Janet Vosburgh, who recently served on the city’s Charter Review Commission, to replace Bartelt as fourth ward city commissioner.

Pierce had city clerk Nora Idso read his letter of resignation, dated June 3.

“While I had hoped to continue to serve out my term as Mayor, recent family needs have arisen that require my personal attention, time and focus,” the letter read. Pierce would not specify those family needs, but he said that it had nothing to do with his wife, Diane’s, health or his.

Bartelt, who was facing re-election this year, said he would now seek election in November to his first full term as mayor. He had said earlier that he would run for re-election to the city commission. He now says he will seek his first elected term as mayor.

Bartelt served on the city’s WAVES committee before running for city commission in 2008. He defeated Bill Shearon, who had run earlier against John Chappie as mayor. Chappie is now a Manatee County Commissioner.

Pierce defeated Shearon in 2009 for the seat he was appointed to in 2008 when Shearon quit to run against Chappie.

Vosburgh served at least twice on the city’s charter review board. She said Friday that she would take out papers to run for her first full term as city commissioner.

Candidates have from Monday, June 14, at noon, to Friday, June 18, at noon, to turn in their papers for candidacy.

One other commissioner faces re-election. Second ward commissioner Bob Connors is in his first full term as commissioner. He served one year before that as an appointee to replace Pierce who ran successfully for mayor.

Perico project continues

BRADENTON – Minto Communities is moving ahead on developing its Perico condominium units, said Mike Belmont, executive vice president for Minto, a subsidiary of the Canadian Minto Group, which purchased St. Joe’s suspended development last fall.

“We have commenced construction of the sanitary sewer force main, and will be mobilizing on site to finish the infrastructure started by St. Joe,” Belmont said last week.

St. Joe, which suspended sales in the high-rise condominium development named Seven Shores in 2007, was approved for 686 units in 13 buildings ranging in height from six to 12 stories.

Belmont said the number of units would remain the same as the number approved for St. Joe. He said 278 units are planned for the first three phases, and the first phase would begin in late 2010 or early 2011. He said the sale price is not determined, but the units would probably be priced in the mid-$300,000 range.

Minto also purchased the Perico Harbor Marina, which St. Joe purchased in 2004 and tore down in 2008. In 2005, the Bradenton City Council approved a plan, which included a wet slip marina, shops, restaurants and offices on the 16.52-acre site.

Walkable, livable community a possibility

ANNA MARIA — Someday in the future, residents and visitors may stroll down shady Pine Avenue, stop for an ice cream, pick up a baguette from an artisan bakery, or stop for lunch or dinner under the trees in an historic park area. They will encounter friends and neighbors. Perhaps they’ll sit on a bench and chat briefly.

All this could one day be a reality, according to Dan Burden, a man who got out of his own car and dedicated himself to helping communities become walkable and livable – places that are havens of bicycle and pedestrian safety.

“In the last 80 years, we gave up on walking,” Burden told city commissioners, members of the planning and zoning board and residents in the audience on June 4. “The last thing a person wants is to have to walk any distance to get to their destination.”

Burden works with about 200 cities a year to help them take back their streets for pedestrians and bicycles.

“You want a place where you can age in place,” he said. “We don’t design for aging in place, and people don’t do well in the last decade of their lives. We can’t stay in our homes and have to go off to a care facility.”

Burden admitted that a big barrier and a big bone of contention in communities is parking.

“You don’t design solely for parking,” he said. “You have to provide for it, but you can do that without creating a sea of asphalt and a situation where bicyclists and pedestrians are essentially ignored.”

Citing work that he’s done in Fort Pierce, Stuart and West Palm Beach, as well as many other cities in Florida, Burden gave a power point presentation of before and after shots of shopping and living areas in those towns, as well as many other cities that have committed to making their towns walkable and livable.

“In Fort Pierce, the streets were lined up with the water, but as they grew, no one paid attention to what was happening, and they became a sea of asphalt,” Burden said. “They just made the rules to deal with parking and forgot to plan for pedestrians and bicycles.”

On Friday, Burden, City Commission Chair John Quam and City Planner Alan Garrett walked Pine Avenue. There was a 104-degree heat index that day with very little breeze.

“It wasn’t bad in the shade,” Garrett said, but, of course, there isn’t a lot of shade on Pine Avenue, he added.

All three said a Burden-type plan could work there.

“You could have angled parking on one side of the street with parallel parking on the other,” Burden said. “And if you move the sidewalks closer to the buildings, widen the sidewalk, which you should do anyway to comply with the current laws, you’d have a safe situation for everyone.”

Burden also suggested changing the crosswalks so that little islands jut into the street affording pedestrians and motorists a better view. Those islands would be green spaces that would enhance the look of the street.

The reaction of the people at the meeting appeared to be favorable.

Kingfish Ramp now in Holmes Beach

HOLMES BEACH – It’s official – Kingfish Ramp is now in the city of Holmes Beach. The annexation was completed when Gov. Charlie Crist signed HB 147 last week.

“I appreciate the cooperation between the county and state to get this done,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino, a major proponent of the annexation. “It’s great that everybody agreed on everything and it worked out.”

A couple of years ago, the boat ramp, long thought to be in Holmes Beach, was found to be in Manatee County. The city’s police department, which is the closest law enforcement agency, had always patrolled the area, but could no longer do so because of lack of an interlocal agreement with the Sheriff’s Office.

Last year, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger contacted Manatee County Commissioners about annexing the boat ramp, but said the county could continue to maintain the ramp area.

County commissioners agreed, but asked that if the county makes improvements to the ramp area, it would apply to the city, but the city would review the application using the county’s ordinances.

Lt. Dale Stephenson said the city’s police department resumed patrolling the ramp area on June 1.

In November last year, the county improved the ramp area by installing a sidewalk along the roadway from the bridge to the traffic light at East Bay Drive, a small multi-use trail near the water, 130 concrete bumpers and drainage structures and re-shelling the parking lot.

The bill signed by Crist also resolved the north end boundary issue with the city of Anna Maria, which involved a small triangle of land along Marina Drive behind CrossPointe Fellowship that was in the legal description of both cities. The area is now within the city limits of Holmes Beach.

Recall Stoltzfus committee hits the streets

ANNA MARIA — Members of the committee to recall Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus took to the streets over the weekend to begin collecting the signatures of 15 percent, or 204, of the registered voters they need to force a recall election.

City Clerk Alice Baird delivered roughly 400 of the 47-page petitions into the hands of the committee late Friday. By Saturday last week, committee members were collecting signatures outside Bayview Plaza where city residents go to collect their mail.

“People are much more informed this time,” said Committee Chair Bob Carter. “They’ve read about why the recall is in process and they understand the issues.”

Carter added that during the first round of the recall process, there were about 20 people actively collecting signatures. This time, more than 40 people are actively involved.

“And people are much more willing this time to sign the petition,” he said. “We’ve had people come up to us, sign the petition and then go home to collect a spouse or friend to come and sign the petition.”

The recall began after a public records request revealed that Stoltzfus had offered to help fund a lawsuit against the city if his name could be kept out of it.

Another issue for people working to recall him is that he also transmitted comments to the state in a legal action against the city.

The city charter allows for recall elections and refers to the state statute on recalls for procedure. The recall committee first had to collect the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters, which had to be certified by the Supervisor of Elections, who certified 214 of the 247 signatures.

Stoltzfus mounted a legal challenge to the certification and asked for an expedited ruling, since he had only five days to submit his defensive statement. The courts ruled that the recall could go forward, and there would be plenty of time for a challenge between the time the second round of signatures is certified and the recall election itself.

Stoltzfus’ attorney has filed an appeal to that ruling.

In his defensive statement, Stoltzfus cited three quotations from Thomas Jefferson.

“As commissioner, I have attempted to uphold the regulations of our comprehensive plan and our land development regulations,” Stoltzfus wrote in his own defense. “The recall attempt is spearheaded by a politically motivated group of people, including some within this administration, who are either unwilling to accept that truth or unwilling to make the changes required to bring our city back into compliance.”

The committee has 60 days to collect the 204 certified signatures necessary for this step.

“We aren’t going to rush,” Carter said. “We’re going to work hard and collect at least 400 signatures before we turn them in, but we don’t expect to take the full 60 days.”

Anyone wanting to sign the petition can call 941-840-4623.

Trolleys sporting advertising
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Lizzie Thrasher answers questions from the audience about
her green village concept following her presentation at the
Island Community Center last week.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the blue and green trolleys that service the Island are now showing new colors along with messages for favorite Island restaurants, resorts and real estate offices.

The ads are a result of efforts by David Teitelbaum, owner of several resorts and developer of Old Bridge Village in Bradenton Beach, who wanted to ensure that trolley rides would continue to be free. Teitelbaum said all is going as planned.

“They were scheduled to get their ads the first week of June and here we are,” he said last Thursday. “MCAT (Manatee County Area Transit) has finished five of the six trolleys and the final one, which was in the shop this week and could not be painted, is being painted today.”

When MCAT announced that it would have to charge a fee to ride the trolleys because a grant that had paid for part of the system’s operation expired, Teitelbaum drew up plans to raise enough money to make up the shortfall. He promised to pay $84,000 to make up for the shortfall for the current fiscal year and the next one. The county commission, in turn, did not set a fare for this fiscal year. Revenue from the ads on the trolley accounts for a big portion of that money.

“I just sent the first check for almost $25,000 to the county,” Teitelbaum said. “I promised to make eight quarterly payments and this is the first of them.”

Teitelbaum said there are still some ad positions available including three half-sides on the road side of the trolley that go for $250 per month and three half-sides on the sidewalk side of the trolley that go for $500 per month plus ads on the inside that cost $50 per month and one ad on the back of a trolley.

Teitelbaum, who also raised some revenue from a series of festivals and programs that took place over one weekend from April 16 to 18, was hopeful that the advertisers would stay with the program. The Bradenton Beach business owner, who was named the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island’s Businessperson of the Year at this year’s Chamber of Commerce installation dinner, said keeping the trolleys free to tourists and residents is a worthy cause.

“It began as a dream, and it feels wonderful to make that dream come true,” he said.

Businesses concerned about oil spill impact

BRADENTON – As the first tar balls approached Florida last week, about a dozen Anna Maria Island business owners listened intently to local leaders discussing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact to local businesses and tourism.

People all over Europe and the U.S. are checking Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Report for oil updates on Florida beaches, said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick of Mote’s Environmental Health Program.

But so far, only a dozen hotel cancellations have been reported to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau due to the oil, said Elliott Falcione, who will take the reins of the bureau later this month from Larry White, who is retiring.

Falcione encourages hotel operators to continue reporting that the beaches are clean as long as they remain so.

“It will kill every business in this community if it’s perceived in the wrong manner,” he said, adding that tourism is still affected in Alaska 21 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

No local emergency has been declared to avoid alarming prospective visitors and will not be declared until oil or tar balls are expected within 72 hours, said Laurie Feagans of the Manatee County Emergency Management Department. The governor, however, declared a state of emergency for Manatee County on May 3.

The only oil to hit Florida so far has been tar balls on June 4 at Pensacola Beach. On June 5, an oil slick three miles wide and 100 yards long was confirmed a half mile from Pensacola Beach.

Reports on May 29 that tar balls had hit Fort Myers Beach turned out to be marine life that resembles tar balls, and on June 1, dark patches reported along Anna Maria Island beaches turned out to be algae, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Natural Resources Department, adding that the county’s coastline is more at risk from a shipping channel oil spill than from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Business should begin documenting their losses now, and be prepared to compare them to prior year’s earnings, according to Casey Colburn, an attorney with the Kirk Pinkerton law firm, which sponsored the seminar at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

The county’s first economic loss from the disaster appears to be the Old Salt Loop All Release Billfish Tournament and the Mike Alstott Family Foundation Inshore/Offshore Shootout, both canceled over Memorial Day weekend at Galati Marine in Anna Maria, Kirk Pinkerton attorney Bill Robertson said.

Business owners will have three years from the date of an economic loss to file claims through the court system, he said, adding that people also can choose to file claims with BP directly, without a lawyer.

BP has paid $4.9 million in Florida so far in lost earnings claims, according to the June 5 Deepwater Horizon Unified Command report.

But that’s not the full picture, Hunsicker said.

“How can you place a dollar value on the miracle of birth of a pelican or a baby sea turtle?”

Oil’s arrival alters state tourism message

D-Day was two days early this year for Florida tourism officials, who were forced to change their message after the first oil from the Deepwater Horizon struck Florida shores on June 4.

The statewide message, “The coast is clear,” was cancelled by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, which recommended that local tourism operators adopt the philosophy that “honesty is the best policy.”

“It is easy to say that we will be open, honest and transparent when there have been no environmental impacts to Florida’s coast. It is much harder to do so when oil from the spill hits close to home and impacts our local community and livelihood,” the agency wrote in its update to tourism operators after tar balls were discovered on Pensacola Beach.

If hoteliers tell it like it is, “Even if it costs some short-term business, the entire state will emerge from this crisis with even more loyalty from our most valued customers,” according to Visit Florida.

While the news from Pensacola Beach brought the ramifications of the oil spill even closer to home for local tourism operators, Anna Maria Island remained untouched by the oil as of press time.

“The beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, along with the destination’s restaurants and area attractions, are open and welcome domestic and international visitors to their shores,” according to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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