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Date of Issue: March 23, 2006

Public hearing March 29 on bridge openings

The U.S. Coast Guard has scheduled a public hearing at the Holmes Beach City Hall for 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, on a requested change to the schedule of "timed" openings for the Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges.

Presently the Cortez and Anna Maria bridges open upon boaters' request on the hour and at 20-minute intervals from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bridge openings from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. are not limited.

The three Island cities and Longboat Key have petitioned the Coast Guard to change the on-demand openings for boats to twice hourly, on the hour and half-hour. The request also calls for "no-openings" during peak traffic hours of 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to expedite vehicular flow onto and off the Island.

Michael Howe, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, has said that the changes in the timed openings were tentatively approved by the Coast Guard but, during the "open comment" period when the alterations were published in the Federal Register, concerns were raised by residents about the matter, hence the hearing.

He also said that the curfew period surrounding the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. hours would likely not be approved by the Coast Guard.

More than 20 letters were sent to the Coast Guard. Many of the letters were from members of sailing and boating organizations in the area objecting to the reduction in bridge openings.

G. B. Thompson, commodore of the Manatee Sailing Association, said, "The greatest problem and danger that I see in having restricted opening times of the bridges will be the congestion of boat traffic at the bridges while waiting to pass through." He added that "the solution seems to be to replace both bridges with new high-level bridges," but urged that any timed-opening change be done on a trial basis "with a review after a period, such that any further adjustments may be made."

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, an avid sailor, supported the 30-minute opening schedule, but said he was "not in support of closing the bridges during rush hours. I also would request the rule reflect openings for emergencies or vessels with limited steering."

Bradenton Beach resident, former city commissioner and bridge "guru" Jim Kissick urged a staggered timed opening schedule for the two bridges. "You are urged to consider altering the subject proposal to one bridge on the hour and half-hour, the other on :15 and :45," he said.

"The Intracoastal Waterway is my highway to work," said Capt. Charlene Graeber of Bradenton. "The people on the barrier islands made a choice to live and enjoy the access to the beach, they seem to want to control the waterway as well. The people on the islands need to take into account the bridge might need to open and put that into their schedule."

"I feel that those who favor the changes are only concerned about convenience while driving their cars and have not given a thought to the rights or safety of boaters," said Richard Meier of Palmetto.

"Maritime navigation takes precedence over land transportation on the public waterways for good reasons," said Robert M. Lund of Bradenton. "Commercial vessels such as barges and tows face substantial risk if they must h old in restricted waters for a bridge opening."

"There is no need to change the schedule," said Capt. Ed Hartung of Spice Sailing Charters of Anna Maria.

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