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The Award Winning & Best News on Anna Maria Island, FL Since 1992

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Date of Issue: November 01, 2007

Sandscript

Some historical bridge thoughts, plus bear tales

Everything is different, and then it’s the same, it would seem.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge is back in the news after a hiatus for a few years. Florida Department of Transportation officials are saying the 50-year-old bridge needs about $9.1 million in renovation work, a task that will take about 400 days and prompt total closure of the span between Holmes Beach and Perico Island for 75 days - at least.

Islanders may remember when the Cortez Bridge closed for a similar rehab back in late 1995. Total closure of the bridge from Bradenton Beach to Cortez was estimated at 30 days; actual closed time was 63 days, with some Cortez Road businesses put out of business as a result.

Historically, it would seem, the Anna Maria Island Bridge rehabilitation does not bode well.

So this whole closure/rehab/fix-up matter has yet again prompted the long-standing bridge debate of repair or replace for the means of ingress and egress to our Island.

Based on letters to The Islander, there is much discussion favoring a new bridge. As a replacement to the Anna Maria Island Bridge? Hey, some letter writers have suggested, let’s put in a new bridge from the mainland to somewhere else on the barrier islands to relieve the congestion not only on the bridges but also the Island.

Back in March 1996, a local regional transportation planning group held a planning session on the feasibility of building a new bridge somewhere between the Cortez Bridge and the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota - basically, somewhere in south Bradenton Beach or on Longboat Key.

The soiree, which was called a charrette, ran about a day. Of course there were consultants, officials and a scattering of citizens, plus environmentalists and planners and bridge experts and ... well, you get the idea.

The kicker in the event came after hour six, when it came time to come up with some sort of consensus.

The seagrass expert/permitting guru at the time with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection offered his comments on the bridge proposed in two words:

“Not possible.”

Remember that there are a slew of regulatory agencies that have to have their fingers in any new structure that struts itself into the waters. There’s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard because the span will go across federally sanctioned waters. And there is the Southwest Florida Water Management District, either Manatee or Sarasota counties, plus municipal entities.

But when the DEP’s seagrass guy says, “not possible,” it sorta draws a shade over any enlightened discussion.

Never one to go gentle into the good night, former Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Jim Kissick pushed hard for a new bridge that would have run from the mainland as a spur from 53rd Avenue to in Bradenton to south Bradenton Beach. He advocated the span there as a minimal altercation of seagrass beds due to a natural rocky formation in Sarasota Bay called Longbar Point.

Look at any aerial photos and you can see what Kissick was talking about. It’s like a no-man’s land across the bay in that spot, but the powers to be back in 1996 dismissed the suggestion.

Kissick’s quote after the meeting was, to me, priceless: “Bradenton Beach interests would have been as readily served had their solitary representative spent his time working on his airplane,” he said.

Oh, and the price-tag for a bridge to Longboat Key - remember that this was 1996 dollars - was somewhere around $250 million. That plan was further quashed due to virulent opposition by Longboat Key residents.

Happy news to our south

As my buddy Bob Ardren puts it, “Years of hand-wringing and other delays have ended and work is finally under way to preserve the Bird Islands just south of the North Siesta Key Bridge.”

OK, so you don’t care all that much about our neighbors to the south, but you should care about our critters. As Bob puts it, these little islands are “one of the last remaining rookeries in south Sarasota Bay” - and are really spoil islands created during the building of the Intracoastal Waterway.

When the big ditch that is the Intracoastal was created in the 1950s-’60s, the muck had to go somewhere. Some of the stuff ended up on wetlands that were purchased by the agency that headed up the project, the West Coast Inland Navigation District. More spoil ended up on created islands in the bay.

For the Bird Islands, there has been a problem of the muck/silt/sand slowly eroding for years as a result of boat wakes from the nearby waterway.

“But now, $980,000 is being spent to spread rip-rap-style rock around the two islands to protect them from boat wakes,” he writes in his column in the Pelican Press newspaper.

Old canoes?

Sometimes it’s the oldest things that come up that are the most interesting.

Thanks to the on-going drought, archeologists have uncovered a log that has been described as Native American canoe that dates back more than 1,000 years in Lake Trafford, which is near Immokalee in south-central Florida.

It’s somewhat of a rare find, since canoes such as this aren’t found in that part of the state. It is suspected to be a part of a Calusa tribe, which dominated the southern portion of Florida back then.

Northwest Passage open?

This is an old story for Islanders: global warming, doom, oh, the horror.

Here’s a new note, though: the famed and infamous Northwest Passage between our northern boundary and Canada has apparently opened up.

According to Associated Press reports, the alleged waterway between Canada and the United States has melted to such a degree that there is indeed an ice-free waterway from northern Greenland to Alaska.

‘Tale’ tales

Theater reviews are no longer my forte, but after listening to a theatrical friend tell me about the backstage antics involved in the Asolo’s “Tale of Two Cities” performance, I figured it was worth a watch.

Wow.

Granted, most of my performing arts experience was with community theater productions, but to see a cast of 40 and a production that cost $12 million was a bit much for this old Islander.

“Tale” is a musical take-off of Charles Dickens book. The cast is mostly Asolo rep performers, plus some high-ranking Broadway performers who will, everyone hopes, bring the play to Broadway in the spring.

I would urge everyone to go to Sarasota to watch it if all the performances were not already sold out - and have been for weeks.

‘Tale’ tales, two

October and November are generally referred to as the “shoulder” months of the year for visitors. Few northerners are here, resorts are quiet, restaurants are still.

Why is it then that a brand-new production has packed a theater in Sarasota for upwards of a month for matinees, children’s performances and evening showings?

Could it be that we’re just plain starved for performance art in the “off” season?

Sandscript factoid

A group of hikers apparently drowned a 2-year-old brown bear outside of Warsaw, Poland. Investigators are looking into the incident.

The six young men said the bear tried to attack them. They at first tried to distract it by throwing bread at it and, when the animal continued to advance, decided they had no other alternative but to drown the critter.

Bread as a means of “distracting” a charging animal? Hello?

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