Wastewater Treatment Plant update
The target time for the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant to cease functioning in its original capacity and begin operating as a master pump station was early May, Sarasota County staff reported earlier in late winter.
Dave Cash, the Water/Wastewater Division manager, explained that one could not simply turn a switch. Instead, the transition would be balancing act until all the effluent was flowing off the island to county treatment facilities on the mainland.
As it turned out, the Siesta plant marked its first day as a master pump station on April 10, Robert Luckner, a member of the Environmental Committee of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), reported to members.
Luckner has been the “point person” for the SKA for the years-long process designed to lead to the decommissioning of the wastewater plant adjacent to the Siesta Isles community.
“There are no more discharges to the canal,” Luckner said during the May SKA meeting.
County staff hired a contractor to come to the facility and haul away the remaining water on site and then undertake a thorough cleaning, he continued. The next step in the process will be the demolition of the equipment no longer needed, he added. County staff has told him that work should go out for bid early in 2019, with the project scheduled for the 2020 fiscal year. Each county fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Next year, Luckner noted, would be the right time for residents to start giving serious thought to potential uses of the property that will not be needed for the master pump station.
Some people already have been campaigning for a dog park to be created there. A kayak launch is another option, Luckner said.
“Or a high-rise hotel,” a man in the SKA audience called out, alluding to Siesta chiropractor Gary Kompothecras’ plans to build a boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road. That comment sparked laughter.
Lotus Boutique a Women’s contemporary fashion boutique located at 5118 Ocean Blvd in the Village is closing its doors at the end of May. The following comment is mentioned on their Facebook page from May 8, “After five years we are closing our Siesta location. We are so grateful for the loyal following that has supported us. We are continuing to grow our locations downtown.”
Farmers’ Market permit renewed
As has proven the custom over past years, the County Commission this spring approved the renewal of the Temporary Use Permit under which the Siesta Farmers’ Market operates in Davidson Plaza.
The vote came without comments during the board’s regular meeting on April 11.
Bryan Eible established the Sunday event in 2009, after the commission unanimously adopted an ordinance in 2008 to allow for farmers’ markets through approval of a Temporary Use Permit (TUP). Each TUP is good for a year.
An April 11 memo to the commission from county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson pointed out, “There have been no complaints against the farmers’ market since its inception, and the community has continued to generally support the farmers’ market.”
Along with his application for renewal of the TUP this year, Eible emailed Thompson a list of the vendors as of Feb. 8. Among them were people selling fruits and vegetables, Italian breads, orchids, wooden sculptures, organic coffee, hand-painted tiles, organic bath products, organic teas, handmade beach blankets, artwork created with shells, glass holders, flowers and other plants.
Live Mariachi band
Come to Plaza Mexico Restaurant Bar & Grill and enjoy listening to a live Mariachi band on June 3 and Father’s Day June 17. The will perform both days from 6-9 pm. Also on Father’s Day, June 17, the restaurant will offer 2 for 1 drinks, full bar for dads. The restaurant is located in the Southbridge Plaza 1894 Stickney Point Rd. (former Stonewood Grille) 941-702-5963.
Looking for jewelry? Take advantage of a special offer in this month’s Siesta Sand. Mount –N-Repair Sterling Silver Jewelry store has a 15% off coupon on page 11. Stop in and shop their large selection. The store is located at 5105 Ocean Blvd in the Siesta Key Village. Hours are Mon-Sat 10-6 and Sun 10-5. mountnrepairsiestakey.com, 941-346-7218.
When Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane appeared at the May SKA meeting to offer an update on new hurricane procedures, he took questions, as usual, after he concluded his presentation.
Erin Kreis, a new SKA board member, asked whether the drawbridges were opened after the evacuation of the Key was ordered ahead of Irma’s arrival in September 2017. She stayed with friends in Georgia, she pointed out, but people told her that such action was taken with the bridges.
McCrane assured her that the bridges are locked in the down position. Notices to Mariners are sent in advance to owners of vessels tall enough not to be able to proceed under the bridges, he added.
Kreis said she also heard that county staff turned off the water to the island after the Irma evacuation was ordered.
The staff of the Public Utilities Department does depressurize the water and sewer systems after people have had time to evacuate, McCrane explained. “We do it to protect the equipment,” he added. It is not a measure designed to make people more likely to evacuate, he said.
In response to a question from Margaret Jean Cannon about returning to the island after a storm, McCrane explained that county staff will employ a color code system. Red will mean conditions remain unsafe; Yellow will mean access will be restricted to property owners. Green will be the sign that anyone can go onto the island.
Residents will need photo identification, he pointed out, if they want to go onto the Key during a Yellow Code, McCrane added. If someone has an out-of-state driver’s license, he explained, the person can use a Sarasota County utility bill, for example, to prove that the person is a property owner on Siesta.
Additionally, he said, if a property owner has hired someone to assist with clearing debris after a storm, for example, that contractor will need a letter from the property owner making it clear that the contractor has permission to go to that specific address.
Responding to a related question, McCrane acknowledged, “We kept the bridge blocked for a little bit” after Irma so the Public Utilities staff could get the water pressure back up on Siesta.
A longer delay was imposed on access to Lido and Longboat keys, he pointed out. Lido had 12 Australian pines that blew down, blocking the roadway, while Longboat had power lines down.
Great rapport with the audience
In years past, when the SKA hosted its annual hurricane outlook program, county Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane came alone. Last year and again this year, McCrane was joined by Rich Collins, his boss, who is the county’s emergency services director.
Collins seems as at ease with the public as McCrane and is ready to flash his sense of humor.
On May 3, before McCrane began his in-depth report on changes in county procedures for hurricane season, Collins stepped to the podium. How many of the approximately 40 people present, he asked, watched “all the spaghetti models” the National Hurricane Center provided last September as weather prognosticators tried to figure out where Irma was going to go?
A lot of hands flew into the air.
“I quit eating spaghetti after Hurricane Irma,” Collins said.
His daughter, he continued, has teased him that if she has a daughter one day, she plans to name the child Irma.
Collins also described the county’s Emergency Services staff watching Irma’s path shift as she approached the Florida peninsula. On the afternoon or night of Sept. 9 — before she finally struck the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, he pointed out — the National Weather Service team in Ruskin underscored the potential danger for the west coast of the state. “Their almost exact words were, ‘This is the storm we never hoped would happen.’”
Then, after Irma “took a jog to the east,” Collins continued, instead of 10 feet of storm surge the westerly track could have brought to the county’s shoreline, Irma ended up pushing all the water out of Sarasota Bay, leaving manatees aground. “To me,” he said, “it speaks to the force and power of a hurricane.”
Collins wrapped up his remarks with the comment, “I like to say the next storm’s going to be 14 years from now, after I retire.”
A new SKA board member
Erin Kreis, a property manager on the Key — and a devoted volunteer, as she pointed out — is the newest member of the Siesta Key Association Board of Directors.
SKA President Gene Kusekoski introduced Kreis to the approximately 40 people attending the May SKA meeting, and he then asked Kreis to offer some remarks.
“I’m really happy to be here with you on the board,” Kreis said.
She and her husband moved to Siesta three years ago from Michigan, she said.
Kreis was a manager at GM who specialized in public policy, corporate relations, philanthropy, disaster relief, sustainability and employee volunteerism, she explained. “I have pretty broad credentials on the corporate side.”
Additionally, she told the audience, from 1994 to 2015, she chaired the planning commission in the community where she lived, and she also served as chair of that community’s zoning board of appeals from 2010 to 2015.
After attending several SKA meetings and hearing discussions about zoning and planning issues involving the island, Kreis added, she became interested in getting involved with the nonprofit.
“I believe firmly in volunteerism,” she said. “Volunteering is very important and very, very close to my heart.”
Another sign of a busy season
During the May quarterly meeting for Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members, Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported that the height of tourist season this year meant “a lot of garbage, literally and figuratively.”
“We had a busy spring break,” he added. “Based on the volume of garbage in the Village, this was probably one of the busiest five or six weeks before Easter that I can remember.”
He had been managing the Village upkeep on behalf of the Maintenance Corp. since 2009, he noted. The Maintenance Corp. represents all the property owners who pay a special district tax each year for that upkeep.
The garbage is picked up five days a week, Shay continued, all year long. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the off days.
During the five-week period before Easter, Shay said, the four-way stop area that encompasses the gazebo, the Beach Club, the Lobster Pot and the Hub Baja Grill proved to be the busiest in terms of refuse. “Those pails were full every single day. If they weren’t emptied, they were overflowing.”
After the first week of encountering that situation, he added, he had to make other arrangements to keep the garbage cans emptied daily.
Yet another issue Shay has dealt with, he noted, has involved signage that conflicts with the regulations in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning code. For example, he said, he had removed signs for massages that representatives of a business had put up on the county right of way.
People from another business had “affixed stickers to our hardscapes,” such as the newspaper “condo” in front of SunTrust on Ocean Boulevard, he continued. (The “condo” is the structure that holds a variety of newspapers and other printed materials.)
“It turned into a game,” Shay said. “I’d take them off; [representatives of the business would] put them back; I’d take them off.”
An unusual sight
On another topic during the May Siesta Chamber meeting, Michael Shay noted the county’s relocation of the motorcycle parking spaces in Siesta Village several months ago. One night the previous week, he said, “Somebody literally pulled one of [the motorcycle parking signs] out of the ground. Just pulled it out; left it on the sidewalk.”
No one had reported the incident to the Sheriff’s Office, he added.
The next morning, Shay said, he picked up the sign.
And Shay carried it through Siesta Village, Mark Smith, past chair of the Chamber, noted laughingly.
“I did it at 5 o’clock in the morning, when I do my walk,” Shay replied. “So I was curious to see if anybody phoned anything in [to the Sheriff’s Office] … that some bozo was carrying a pole with a sign on it [through Siesta Village in the wee hours of the morning].”
No one had, he added.
He stored the sign in the dumpster enclosure in the Municipal Parking Lot, he reported.
A sex tape?
Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), presented a report during the May Siesta Chamber meeting regarding the Florida administrative law judge’s decision recommending that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issue a modified permit to allow the dredging of 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass. The material would be used to renourish a 1.6-mile stretch of South Lido Key Beach.
SOSS2 and the SKA both presented expert witnesses during the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding in December 2017 as they continued their fight to keep Big Pass one of the few waterways in the state that never has been dredged. Their concern is that the dredging would damage the waterway and its wildlife and that it would increase the likelihood of serious damage to Siesta Key during a major storm.
The only one of their witnesses whose testimony swayed Judge Bram D.E. Canter, van Roekens noted, was R. Grant Gilmore Jr., president of the Vero Beach consulting firm Coastal and Ocean Science Inc. Gilmore explained that he had discovered spotted sea trout were spawning in the pass and that such spawning sites are not common, they are used repeatedly and “are important to the conservation of the species.”
The trout spawn from April through September, Canter noted in his recommended order for FDEP. Therefore, unless FDEP were willing to modify the permit for the Lido Renourishment Project to prevent the removal of sand from specific areas of the pass during the spawning season, Canter wrote, the permit should not be issued.
The period Gilmore cited overlaps much of the sea turtle nesting season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already had issued a Biological Order regarding the Lido permit application, limiting the project period to months outside the turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 through Oct. 31.
Van Roekens described going out in the pass one night last summer with Gilmore. He said they were on the water about 10 p.m., “which is scary enough in itself,” but he had to stop the engine, so they were drifting. Gilmore put a hydrophone into the water to capture the sounds of the fish spawning, van Roekens added, imitating the noise.
During the DOAH hearing, Martha Collins of the Collins Law Group in Tampa — who is the SOSS2’s attorney — told Canter she would be happy to play the recording for the court. Canter politely declined the offer. However, the recording was made part of the official record, as the docket notes.
Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., jokingly suggested to van Roekens, “Why don’t you get a 1-800 number and make money off of this?” People could call in and listen to the fish spawning, Shay added, after Mark Smith, past chair of the Chamber characterized the recording as a “sex tape.”
“That’d be great for a money-raiser,” Shay said.
Needless to say, Shay’s comments drew a round of laughter.
Waterside Realty moves out of the Village
Tom Ward and partner Brian Livesey, owners of Waterside Realty moved their office from Siesta Key Village, south to Crescent Plaza.
Waterside Realty resided in the Village at 5221 Ocean Blvd since 2002. Their new location is 6629 Midnight Pass Road next to Miguel’s Restaurant in Crescent Plaza. www.WaterSideRealty.net, Office 941-346-7454.
New Audubon steward at work on the beaches
Another announcement during the May 3 SKA meeting focused on a new Florida Audubon employee who is working to safeguard the nesting birds on the county’s barrier islands.
SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner said Kylie Wilson is a Sarasota native who is “very lively and friendly,” and Wilson is looking for volunteer “chick checkers.”
The birds — including the endangered snowy plovers — typically build their nests between April and August, Luckner noted. People may see string and poles marking off areas on the beaches where nests have been located. A big part of Wilson’s job is education: trying to teach people not to disturb the birds.
In years past, when Luckner and her husband, Robert, were very active as chick checkers, they reminded the public that the snowy plovers that nest in the area hatch chicks that are so tiny, the birds can be likened to a Q-tip with a ball of cotton on top.
During her April 23 email update, Wilson reported that one plover nest that had been found the previous week on Siesta already was a lost cause. “Many crows have been seen in the area,” she added, but she had not been able to confirm whether the crows ate the eggs. “I am working on a predator surveillance project that will hopefully be able to tell us the whens, whats and hows,” she wrote. “With this data we will be able to get [the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] involved and predator deterrence projects can be planned. I am hoping to do this ASAP so that we can make some headway and have a productive season.”
For the week of April 30, Wilson wrote, “Siesta continues to tease us.” A volunteer who walks the beach regularly found a snowy plover nest the previous Saturday evening, Wilson continued. “It had one egg,” she added. “Unfortunately the next morning the egg was gone. There is still a pair [of plovers] reliably in that area, so we will keep looking.”