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Siesta Key Island Chatter June 2019

Staff report

New master pump station gets ‘shout-out’

The decommissioning of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant was one of the highlights the chair of the county’s Water and Sewer Advisory Committee noted on April 24 during the presentation of his group’s 2018 fiscal year report to the County Commission.

The written version of the fiscal year recap noted that the plant — adjacent to the Siesta Isles community — was taken off-line in May 2018. “The 1.5 million gallons of daily flow is now diverted and pumped through a pipeline to the Central County or Bee Ridge Treatment Facilities — depending on available capacities,” the report added.

During his April 24 comments to the commission, Chris Sharek stressed, “That was really important.”

The plant had had a series of spills over the years related to heavy rainfall events, especially when hurricanes were passing through the area.

The Water and Sewer Advisory Committee members took a tour of the new facility, Sharek continued on April 24, adding that the plant was transformed into a master pump station. He noted that a number of redundancies were built into the project, to ensure the station would continue to operate in an emergency such as a power outage associated with a storm. “We were really impressed with [that].”

Further, he told the commissioners, one of the tanks used during the operation of the wastewater treatment facility was converted to be able to hold sewage if necessary to prevent a spill.

Siesta Key Association (SKA) Environmental Committee member Robert Luckner kept that nonprofit’s members updated on the process of the conversion of the facility as it took place. The SKA also hosted county staff for two presentations about the project.

On a side note: Sharek told the commissioners that his committee had lost members because of term limits and people moving out of the county. New people are coming on board, he added, but openings remain available.”

The committee is supposed to have nine at-large members and one representative of the Students Taking Active Roles (STAR) program, according to its county webpage. Membership is limited to four three-year terms, the document noted, except for the student, who can serve only one year.

The purpose of the committee, the webpage explains, is to “[a]ssist the County Commission in the promulgation of rules, regulations, and policies relating to water and sewer, and provide recommendations.” The group meets bimonthly.

For more information, people may call the county Contact Center at 861-5000.

Fandango still standing, but perhaps not for long

In early May, we learned about an extension of a Sarasota County permit that would allow Dr. Gary Kompothecras to demolish the former Fandango Café building standing at 1266 Old Stickney Point Road.

On May 13, the structure was still in place, although the permit appeared to be valid just through May 12, based on county online records.

On May 14, county staff was contacted for an update on the situation. Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded in an email that day that she had checked with the permitting staff, “and there is an active demolition permit that is valid until November 3. County staff is examining the structure in response to a complaint and has not made a determination on this structure at this time,” she added.

“The property owner’s representative reached out to staff yesterday,” she continued, “indicating they will be moving forward with a demolition within the next week.”

Kompothecras perhaps is best recognized because of the Siesta Key MTV series he created and for which he serves as executive producer. It stars his son, Alex, and some of Alex’s friends; Kompothecras also appears in episodes. Previously, Kompothecras was best known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service.

He told the County Commission last year that he would like to use the Fandango Café property as part of the site of a new boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.

No trolley tipping

After hearing recent reports that some drivers on the Siesta Key Breeze had put out tip jars, SNL contacted Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) to inquire about the practice. (The trolley rides are free, thanks to the County Commission’s financial support and grant funding.)

“There is a zero tolerance policy on soliciting or accepting tips,” Lisa Potts, SCAT communications specialist, responded in an email. “This issue was brought to our attention earlier [in April] and was immediately addressed and handled internally through our trolley vendor,” she added. “We should not have the issue going forward.”

The county contracts with a private company to operate the Breeze.

How about some shade for the beach trolley stop?

During the May 8 County Commission discussion about continuing extra Tourist Development Tax funding for beach maintenance, Commissioner Christian Ziegler brought up a concern that he said he hopes can be resolved soon.

The previous weekend, he explained, he took both his older daughters to Siesta Public Beach. Since he never had ridden the open-air Siesta Key Breeze trolley, Ziegler continued, he and the girls used that as their transportation from Turtle Beach to Siesta Beach.

“Trolley was packed,” he added. “Shoulder to shoulder.”

The only unsatisfactory part of his experience, he continued, was that when they decided to leave Siesta Beach, they learned they had just missed the Breeze. As a result, they had to stand in the sun for about 20 minutes.

Ziegler said he tried to get his girls into the little bit of shade produced by a light pole, describing the experience as “Brutal.”

“Other people were complaining about it,” he noted.

“I think that that was a little flaw,” he continued, in the design of the new amenities at Siesta Public Beach, which were completed in early 2016.

When Ziegler asked whether staff could use some of the TDT revenue the board was discussing to create shade structures for trolley passengers, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained that she and her staff would be working with Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) and Public Works Department staff members to determine funding sources for such a project.

Whatever can be done to improve the situation, Ziegler responded, “would significantly improve the trolley experience …”

Commissioner Alan Maio then explained that when the improvements were planned at Siesta Public Beach, the trolley was not in existence. (The Breeze was launched in March 2017. Ziegler was just elected to the commission in November 2018.)

When the commissioners hold their final budget workshops for the 2020 fiscal year, Maio added that he was willing to bet that the majority of them would work to ensure money is set aside for the type of shade project Ziegler wanted to see completed.

During that May 8 discussion, Maio also noted the fact that ridership numbers keep climbing for the Breeze.

In light of that comment, an inquiry to Lisa Potts communications specialist for SCAT, if she had the April figure.

The number was 48,067, she responded in a May 13 email.

Condo Council seeking new board members

In an email blast, the leadership of the Siesta Key Condominium Council reported that the organization is seeking new board members.

“We advocate for issues of a general nature that impact our 90 or so Condo [association] members and provide [three to four] information Membership meetings per year,” the email blast said.

Among the issues with which the Condo Council was involved last year, the email blast continued, were Benderson Development’s plans for the Siesta Promenade mixed-use project at the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, red tide, the efforts of Save our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass, and Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ proposal for a boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.

The council’s four informational meetings this year focused on red tide; insurance and legal issues for condominium associations; and updates on a number of Sarasota County projects, including The Legacy Trail North Extension.

“In the prior year we covered Hurricane Preparedness,” the email blast noted.

“We also sponsor the Annual Condo Christmas Lighting Contest and perform Membership Surveys for issues of concern,” the email blast added.

“Our requirements are that you are a current Condo owner on Siesta Key and that you are a Condo Board Member or have served on a Condominium Board in the past and that you are willing to spend some time [on issues of import to condominium residents on the island].”

In addition to the membership meetings, the email blast pointed out, the council holds a board meeting each month from October through April.

“Send an email to the skcondocouncil@hotmail.com if you are interested and a Board member will be in contact with you,” the email blast concluded.

Attorney in Siesta Promenade case meets SKA members

Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, who is handling the lawsuit in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that seeks to halt the construction of Siesta Promenade, met Siesta Key Association members at their meeting on May 2. (See the related article in this issue.)

President Catherine Luckner introduced him and asked him to offer some remarks.

With decades of experience serving as the attorney for local governments, Brookes explained that his practice focuses on citizens groups. “I do not represent developers.”

He added that he also tries “to tailor the services to make it affordable and give you a way to get into the courthouse.”

Brookes noted some of the concerns of Siesta residents if Siesta Promenade is constructed, especially pointing to exacerbated traffic congestion. He pointed out that Benderson Development Co., the developer of Siesta Promenade, plans a new traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.

The portion of Stickney Point Road between U.S. 41 and the island is a relatively short one, Brookes said, to have another traffic light with which drivers would have to contend — along with the openings of the drawbridge. Left-turn lanes would be necessary in conjunction with the redesign of the Stickney Point Road/Avenue B and C intersection, he continued, which would create even longer delays for vehicles waiting at the light.

Yet another new attorney for Cosentino

On May 8, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino lost another attorney in his efforts to overturn the County Commission’s May 2016 vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road and ensure implementation of related county Charter amendments that voters passed in November 2018. 

Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key began serving as Cosentino’s attorney in the original case after Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral withdrew. The presiding judge at the time — Circuit Judge Frederick P. Mercurio — signed an order on March 29, 2018, making that substitution official.

In his Motion to Withdraw as Counsel of Record filed this month, Rohe wrote, “Due to irreconcilable differences” between himself and Cosentino, they had “terminated their agreement.”

Neither Cosentino nor the nonprofit organization Cosentino founded in June 2016 — Reopen Beach Road — “will be prejudiced by the undersigned’s withdrawal,” Rohe continued, “as they are also represented by a second attorney, co-counsel Fred Moore of Blalock Walters [of Bradenton and Sarasota].”

The Blalock Walters website says Moore’s practice “focuses on commercial disputes, with particular emphasis on representing businesses and individuals in contract disputes, land use and real estate litigation, construction disputes, and trust litigation.”

Ups and downs for the snowy plovers

After weeks of watching over snowy plovers on Siesta Key, Kylie Wilson, the Florida Audubon coordinator of the Bird Monitoring & Stewardship program in the county, shared a lot of excitement in her April 25 update.

“WE HAVE A NEST!!!” she wrote. “The banded plover Green/White, or as we have been calling her lately, Miss Sanibel, has laid an egg. This is our first Snowy Plover nest of the season in Sarasota!”

On April 23, Wilson noted, “I observed the pair copulating and then they began taking turns vigorously working on a scrape. Then today it had an egg! It only has one egg now but it will hopefully have three by the weekend. Once Miss Sanibel has laid a ‘full clutch’ she will begin incubating!”

A week earlier, Wilson’s update had a decidedly different tone.

“I have only been seeing 2 pairs of plovers lately,” she wrote on April 19. “This is disheartening but there has been a lot of recent scraping and so these two pairs are still active.” Scrapes are shallow depressions in which the birds lay their eggs in the dunes or on the beach.

Then on May 8, Wilson provided a sad update. “Unfortunately I have a some bad news to start — Miss Sanibel lost her nest this week. The culprit was most likely a ghost crab.”

“Miss Sanibel” is the name Wilson and volunteers have given one of the female plovers because its banding indicates its earlier residency on Sanibel Island.

“It is still early in the season,” Wilson continued, “and this pair could attempt to re-nest.”

She and volunteers had seen a couple of snowy plovers around two beach accesses, she added, so she was hopeful she would have better news in the future.

McCrane quips, anecdotes and other advice

In introducing the guest speaker for the May Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Catherine Luckner referred to the abundance of anecdotes Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane has accumulated through his long service not just in this county but also in other areas of Florida.

“He’s one of my favorite speakers,” she confessed to the approximately 60 people attending the meeting at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. (See the related article in this issue.)

It did not take long for McCrane to grab the audience’s attention.

For example, he pointed out that he took the Sarasota County job in 2005. On his first day, he said, “We were alerted for Hurricane Wilma. So what an introduction to the county.”

Then McCrane explained that he soon learned that the sixth floor of the county Administration Center in downtown Sarasota — located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. — was rated to withstand nothing higher than a Category 2 hurricane; yet, that was where the Emergency Management Team was supposed to operate in a disaster.

Having been through eight hurricanes in Florida prior to his employment with Sarasota County, McCrane said, “I didn’t want to be part of that mess” if a hurricane did strike this area. “What good is it if the Emergency Operations Center is dead? … We can’t help you.”

He soon worked out an arrangement with the Sarasota County School District, he continued, so his staff could use Wilkinson Elementary School in Sarasota if a hurricane were approaching. That was the go-to location for his team from 2006 to 2015, he added.

Then, in 2015, the county opened its new Emergency Operations Center on Cattlemen Road. “We’re 5 miles from the bay,” he pointed out of that facility. It can handle an EF4 tornado, he noted, and it is not expected to flood. “We’re self-sufficient [there].”

More specific to Siesta, McCrane told the SKA members he often is asked about what he means when he announces that bridges to the barrier islands have been “locked down” before a hurricane is expected to hit.

“They’re locked in the down position,” he explained, “and all the arms are taken off.”

Three days before a hurricane is anticipated to make landfall, McCrane continued, his staff issues a Notice to Mariners, advising all boat owners about the timeline for that bridge action. The notice gives them the opportunity to move their vessels, he pointed out.

Then, after the bridges have been locked down, he said, Emergency Management works with law enforcement agencies in an effort to station officers on the mainland side of each bridge, to keep people from heading onto the islands unless the people have a valid reason to do so — to reach a person who needs assistance in evacuating, for example.

Additionally, in talking about home preparations, McCrane noted that he was allowed three hours the day before Irma’s arrival to head to his own home so he could put up his storm shutters. When he reached his house, he said, he learned his neighbors across the street already had taken care of that work for him.

When he went over to thank the neighbors, he added, he offered to help them with their preparations, but they said they had no shutters. He asked where they planned to stay, and they told him they would stay at home.

McCrane said he then invited them to stay with his wife and dog.

By that night, he continued, he believed 10 adults, three children and five dogs were gathered in his house, waiting for Irma. “I think they’re buying hurricane shutters now,” he added of his neighbors.

During his presentation, McCrane also encouraged Siesta residents to sign up for CodeRed, a service provided by the county that will alert subscribers to tornadoes and other weather concerns, as well as approaching hurricanes.

Before the days of widespread cell phone usage, McCrane explained, county staff was able to call people in vulnerable areas via landlines, to warn them when they needed to evacuate. Because of the change in the use of technology, he pointed out, those landline calls no longer are possible. That is all the more reason, he said, that people should register for CodeRed. “We will contact you through that.”

During the question-and-answer session following McCrane’s remarks, one person asked whether it would be advisable to take full gas cans in their vehicles when they evacuate, with the expectation that it could take a long time for them to reach a destination out of the expected hurricane strike area.

McCrane was quick to advise against such action. “That’s called a bomb, in my opinion.”

However, McCrane said, if a person were able to strap cans to the exterior of the vehicle, that could work. He noted that military personnel often adopt that practice.