Siesta Key Round Up August 2017

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By Rachel Brown Hackney

More funds for the south Siesta Beach renourishment

          During the County Commission’s June 20 budget workshop, Rob Lewis, director of community and intergovernmental relations for the county, reported that the county was successful in obtaining about $5.9 million more from the state to pay for the South Siesta Beach Renourishment Project, which was completed in the spring of 2016.

          County leaders joined forces with the Florida Association of Counties to increase the amount of state funds set aside this year for beach renourishment initiatives, Lewis pointed out.

          Commissioner Nancy Detert was pleased to hear that news, she told Lewis. As a state representative and later a state senator, Detert often worked to help her constituents obtain money to bolster their beaches, she has noted. The South Siesta project cost approximately $21.5 million overall.

How many people???

          SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner recently shared a very big number with this reporter, that Visit Sarasota County had shared with her on June 17: Since Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University — Dr. Beach — announced just before the start of Memorial Day weekend that Siesta once again is the No. 1 beach in the U.S., the total number of “media impressions” had hit the 597,000,000 mark.

          “Media impression” refers to a person’s viewing information on television, for example, or reading about it in a publication.

          Full-time Siesta residents have been a bit conflicted over the beach’s honor. When Siesta won the distinction in 2011, tourists flocked to the Key more thickly than migratory birds in the wintertime. Memorial Day and July 4 weekends also saw a greater influx of visitors than anticipated. Another boom would be good news for businesses; bad news for residents would be all those extra people competing for spots on the beach and in island restaurants.

          Leave your car, use the trolley and the Free Rides to get around the island.

Too close a call

          Glen Medeiros, co-owner of the Lobster Pot in Siesta Village, truly was counting his blessings on July 5, a day after a truck plowed into the patio in front of the restaurant.

          His son and partner in the business, Tony, had given him the day off for the July Fourth holiday, Glen said. “Normally, I work on Tuesdays,” he continued, “and I sit at that table where that truck went through,” placing orders. “So I am blessed,” he said. “I am blessed.”

          The crash occurred around 9:45 a.m., based on reports. The driver apparently had a medical problem. The truck was headed north on Ocean Boulevard, reports said, when it veered into the Lobster Pot.

          Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, also told SNL that the driver “may have suffered a medical episode.” The Florida Highway Patrol handled the accident, Mruczek pointed out.

          “We are thankful that we were closed and nobody was killed here,” Medeiros added.

          Not only was he spared injury, he pointed out, but so were bystanders. Normally, Medeiros said, at that time of morning, 20 to 25 people are lined up in front of the restaurant as they wait in line to buy treats from the adjacent Meaney’s Mini Donuts. “Luckily, yesterday, they were on the opposite side,” in front of Morton’s Siesta Market, he noted.

          Even though he was supposed to be taking off July 4, Medeiros continued, he had decided to come in anyway and help out Tony. “It was a pretty scary situation,” he added of the truck’s crashing into the long-time Siesta Village dining establishment.

Sheriff happy to give up Midnight Pass space

          During Sheriff Tom Knight’s budget presentation to the County Commission on June 20, Commissioner Nancy Detert took the opportunity to ask about the training facility the office has on South Midnight Pass Road. In recent budget workshops, the commission has affirmed to county staff its intent to turn that space into a public parking lot and Siesta trolley stop.

          Although the Sheriff’s Office has been using one structure on the site, the county Utilities Department owns the property.

Knight explained to Detert on June 20 that the primary facility for his officers on the Key is in the Public Safety Building at Siesta Key Beach. When he was elected in 2008, he pointed out, the Sheriff’s Office rented space in Siesta Village for its substation. “Pretty high rent,” he added.

          During the recession, he continued, Col. Kurt Hoffman, his chief deputy, was able to negotiate a much lower rate. However, after the downturn ended, Knight said, “they jacked [the rent] back up. So we bailed out.”

          He did not know about the South Midnight Pass Road training facility for some time, Knight indicated. When he saw it for the first time, he continued, he thought, “‘This is nice, working on Siesta Key, right down from Captain Curt’s [Crab & Oyster Bar].’”

          Still, he told Detert, “We don’t belong there. … We’re out of there. … You can have it.”

          “They really want a parking lot [there].” Detert responded.

          Knight did suggest that razing the building would be a good idea, “because it leaks.”

Congratulations to the Best Western Plus!

          The Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway Hotel received the 2017 TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence for the fourth consecutive year, the hotel has announced.

          Now in its seventh year, the award “celebrates hospitality businesses that have earned great traveler reviews on TripAdvisor over the past year,” a news release points out. “Certificate of Excellence recipients include accommodations, restaurants and attractions located all over the world that have continually delivered a quality customer experience,” the release adds.

          “The Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway Hotel is honored to receive the 2017 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence,” said Maria Bankemper, co-owner and director of operations, in the release. “Delivering an exceptional guest experience is at the core of our day-to-day operations. Our staff is committed to going above and beyond, and this recognition is a reflection of their hard work and our dedication to superior customer service.”

Watch out for the turtles!

          With turtles appearing to be on track — no pun intended — for another record-breaking nesting season, Siesta residents recently raised concerns about holes beachgoers are leaving.

One person sent the paper a photo of a turtle trapped in a hole, pointing out that the creatures cannot just back up if they start into a trench someone has left on the shore.

          After checking with staff in response to a query, county spokesman Drew Winchester reported in a July 10 email that Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department employees are working with the SKA leaders and others to increase awareness of the situation and to educate visitors about the danger to turtles.

          On its website, Mote Marine’s turtle nesting tips includes this advisory: “[B]each furniture, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young.”

          Nesting season began on May 1 and will conclude on Oct. 31.

          Mote Marine Laboratory’s documentation of nests for the week of July 2-8 showed Siesta had a total of 488. In comparison, Siesta Key had 310 nests for the same period of the 2016 nesting season.

                    The week of July 24-30, 2016, Siesta Key broke its previous record of 408 total nests, set in 2015. Mote’s final count for 2016 nests put the Siesta total at 476. Altogether, the county had 4,578 last year.

Pilot whale stranding

          The pilot whale found stranded on the beach at Point of Rocks about 4 a.m. on June 23 was much older than Mote Marine Laboratory’s response team originally suspected, Shelby Isaacson, Mote’s public relations manager, stated in a telephone interview.

          After the team returned to Mote with the whale, she said, it discovered that the mammal was a mature male instead of a juvenile. During the necropsy staff performed, she continued, the whale was found to be 16.9 feet in length, and it weighed 3,675 pounds.

          At this point, she said, the Mote team has no “smoking gun” for the cause of death. However, it has sent off samples for further testing. Isaacson cautioned, however, that the results still may not provide a definitive answer.

          The necropsy did reveal what Isaacson called “very typical findings” of whales in strandings, including minor parasite “loads” and an empty stomach. The mammal also had scarring to indicate it had interaction with human long-line fishing, she pointed out, though that incident was not associated with the stranding.

          The American Cetacean Society says pilot whales feed primarily on squid, though they also are known to eat octopus, cuttlefish, herring and other small fish when they cannot find squid. When males reach sexual maturity, the Society’s material adds, they generally are about 15 to 16 feet in length. They continue to grow until they are approximately 20 feet long and weigh up to 3 tons, it says.

          The lifespan for a male, according to Wikipedia, is about 45 years.

          The mammals are found in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres and in tropical and temperate waters, the Cetacean Society notes. Additionally, the whales are considered to be very social and most often are found in groups of 20 to 90, the Society points out.

          The report about the whale went first to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Isaacson noted, and then the office contacted Mote. Rebeccah Hazelkorn, senior biologist with Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, talked with beachgoers at the scene before the whale was towed to Mote’s facilities on City Island.

Final property value for Public Improvement District

          The overall taxable value of property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District (PID) for this year is $67,704,401, the county Property Appraiser’s Office reported — along with the other final values, which were due to the state by July 1.

          The total for the PID is an increase from the 2016 value of $66,686,461.

          The Public Improvement District is the area where Sarasota County undertook the beautification initiative that was completed in early 2009. The property owners pay taxes each year that cover the cost of upkeep in the district.

Parks Department asking for more permanent help

          Although the County Commission’s decision on the request may not be made final for a while, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department is seeking six new full-time employees for the 2018 fiscal year.

          Five of the positions would replace contractual workers, enabling staff to keep beach facilities in tip-top shape, Carolyn Brown, the department’s director, explained to the board during its June 21 budget workshop. The sixth person would supervise the new “medallions” program for companies offering rentals of non-motorized watercraft at Turtle Beach Park, Brown added. That employee also would help out at the Turtle Beach Campground, she said.

          The goal with the five beach attendant positions, Brown explained, is “to be able to deal with the job at hand” — directing work as needed, including cleaning restrooms and picking up trash. “We feel it’s important … so that we can more easily direct them to do various tasks.”

          When Chair Paul Caragiulo pressed for more details, Brown told him that the department has been contracting with janitorial services to handle the work these full-time employees would be doing. “On multiple occasions,” she said, “the contract failed.”

          Given the popularity of the county’s beaches with tourists and residents, Brown continued, her department needs “to be able to have a reliable and dependable crew on site.”

          When Caragiulo asked for clarification that the shift to use of the full-time employees would save money, Brown replied, “That’s correct.”

          As he did at other points throughout the county’s late June budget workshop discussions, Caragiulo asked for more details about the breakdown of expenses regarding those new employees.

          “Let’s not kid ourselves: We’re being forced to make some pretty serious decisions.” The commission has been working with staff to try to balance the 2018 fiscal year budget without raising the millage rate.

At the end of the two days of workshops, it was Caragiulo who — after passing the gavel to Vice Chair Nancy Detert — made the motion calling for County Administrator Tom Harmer to work with each department whose budget showed an increase for the 2018 fiscal year to determine what would get cut if the department had to have that increase. The total PRNR budget for the next fiscal year was projected to be down by 3.7%, compared to the FY17 budget.

          The final budget workshop was set for Aug. 21.

FDOT renews funding commitment for trolley

          The Sarasota County commissioners recently heard more good news about the Siesta Breeze open-air trolley.

During board’s June 21 budget workshop, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) Director Rocky Burke reported that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff had agreed to provide matching funding to keep the Breeze operating for another two years.

MTV’s Siesta Key to debut this month

          On May 7, during the MTV Movie and TV Awards, MTV unveiled an ad for a new reality series set on Siesta Key. In early July, MTV used a Twitter account to announce that the series would debut on July 31.

          The show will air at 10 p.m., @siestakey says. The Twitter tagline is “Get ready for the summer of a lifetime in

#SiestaKey.” The Twitter account featured the same 15-second promo that aired in May, with emphasis on romance and elegant houses on the water.

Chamber made its fireworks financial goal

          With eight days to go before the big event, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce achieved what Executive Director Ann Frescura called its “pie-in-the-sky” goal of $50,000 to pay for the spectacular July Fourth fireworks show at the beach.

The last donations came in on June 26.

          When she left work on June 22, she said, the total was at $45,000, so she felt pretty good about hitting the goal. Then, over the weekend, she continued, a couple of contributors who had made verbal commitments came through with their money.

          To reach the mark well before the last minute, she acknowledged, was a cause for celebration. Frescura was quick to point to the determination of the fundraising committee members and Chamber directors who “worked behind the scenes.” 

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