‘Complete chaos’ among swimmers, boaters and fishermen described at Turtle Beach; complaints aired about valet parking service at Ophelia’s and garbage left out by renters; and Duink gets another term on county advisory council
For almost exactly three years, Andrew Terry has been trying to get Sarasota County staff to address what he calls “complete chaos” at Turtle Beach, where he has been swimming for exercise since he and his wife moved to the Key from Osprey. And for three years, he told about 40 members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) on May 5, county staff has declined to do more than post a few small signs to warn people to be on the alert for swimmers.
A former lifeguard himself, Terry is dismayed, he pointed out, that no lifeguards are on duty at Turtle Beach. Just recently, he continued, “Kayakers were going out with chum and fishing close to swimmers,” creating a dangerous situation.
His wife, Karen, added that children were in the water near the people trying to attract sharks.”
“You have jet skis, and you have boats coming in,” Andrew Terry pointed out. It is inevitable, he said, that a serious accident — or even a death — will occur.
Email he shared with The Sarasota News Leader shows Terry has corresponded with Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department; as well as George Tatge, manager of beaches and water access parks; and Scott Montgomery, manager of Sarasota County public safety/aquatics.
On May 18, 2013, Brown responded to a suggestion that buoys be placed in the water to designate a public swimming area that would remain free of boaters or fishermen casting lines. Brown indicated that the county did not have sufficient staff “to make timely replacements of a buoy if it is damaged or displaced,” adding that the presence of the buoys also would cause a risk management issue for county taxpayers.
Terry addressed the latter concern during the May 5 SKA meeting, noting that county staff is concerned about the potential for a lawsuit if someone swimming in an area designated by the buoys suffers an injury.
In late October 2013, Terry wrote Brown an email in which he described fishermen over the previous weekend who were “chumming with large bloody pieces of fish … in the swimming area.” He added that one of the men caught a large stingray, which he had to bring onshore so he could cut his line. “This caused havoc [along the water’s edge] as the fisherman ran along with the stingray yelling at people to get out of the way.”
As he mentioned at the SKA meeting last week, Terry told Brown he has been hit by a boat twice in years past — on both occasions, in calm water. “I hope this does not happen to a child or [beachgoer] here on Turtle Beach,” he added.
After Brown put Terry in touch with George Tatge, Tatge wrote Terry the following on Oct. 28, 2013:
“As discussed, Parks and Recreation staff will look into installing signs to help educate both swimmers and fisherman so that they may coexist in a safe and reasonable manner. Designing the signs and language, together with fabrication, coastal permits, etc., will take a few months.”
Tatge continued, “Another approach, prohibiting fishing and boating by designating a swimming zone, will be discussed with our Public Safety team that includes the County Lifeguards. The question as to whether a designated swim zone can be created without assigning lifeguards to the site will be investigated.
Tatge added, “I have copied our Sheriff’s office. Although fishing is an authorized activity at Turtle Beach, anyone behaving in a reckless or unsafe manner on County property can be asked to cease and or leave the park.”
On March 23, 2014, Terry sent a letter to Brown, reminding her that she had arranged for him to meet Tatge the previous fall. While he was “encouraged that changes would take place to increase safety at Turtle Beach” after talking with Tatge, Terry noted, “To date nothing has happened and the problem is getting worse.”
He attached photos he took two weeks earlier. One showed a boat coming “into very close proximity with a swimmer,” he pointed out. During that same period, he continued, another boat became tangled in a fishing line strung between a fisherman on the beach and a person in a kayak “far from shore.” After the boat struck the line, the kayak capsized, he wrote. The boater helped the kayaker, he continued, and then went on his way, but the vessel was still hooked to the fishing line. The person on the shore was able to cut the line “before any more damage was done,” he added.
The most recent correspondence Terry provided the News Leader is from Montgomery, who wrote on May 9, 2014 that staff had decided not to place buoys at Turtle Beach because “we cannot adequately monitor the buoys to ensure they are in place/are in need of replacement” and because “we cannot adequately enforce boating regulations.” Montgomery also pointed out that the only beaches with buoys designating swimming areas are those with lifeguards: Lido, Siesta, Nokomis, North Jetty, Venice and Manasota.
Staff planned to ask the Sheriff’s Office to increase its marine patrols at Turtle Beach, Montgomery added, and he asked Terry to call 911 if he observed “any unsafe practice” at the beach.
Former County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who was present at the SKA session, told Terry that keeping lifeguards on a beach is “a fairly costly thing.”
SKA President Michael Shay asked Terry to speak with him after the meeting to discuss the matter further.
Complaints about valet parking at Ophelia’s
After hearing complaints about the valet parking service at Ophelia’s on the Bay, Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on May 5 that he would speak with the restaurant’s management.
During the organization’s monthly meeting, Karen Terry was the first to bring up the issue, saying the situation has been especially bad on Sundays, when the restaurant serves brunch.
Another resident on the southern part of the Key complained, too, about how the valets pull out into traffic and speed to Turtle Beach Park.
Mruczek replied that the Sheriff’s Office did receive a complaint a couple of months ago about Ophelia’s valet service using Turtle Beach, and he knew Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer who works on the Key, was looking into that.
SKA President Michael Shay said he thought Ophelia’s has an agreement with the county to use the Turtle Beach Park lot after hours.
However, in response to a Sarasota News Leader question about that, county spokesman Jason Bartolone told the News Leader on May 9 that he had checked with Nicole Rissler, deputy director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, who gave him the following information:
“Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources does not currently have a parking agreement with Ophelia’s Restaurant for additional parking at Turtle Beach. An agreement was in place with the previous owners, but the new owners were not interested in continuing that agreement. Parks, Recreation and Natural Resource staff has been monitoring the parking lot at Turtle Beach to ensure that the valet at the restaurant is not utilizing the facility for parking. Staff has confirmed that no use has been identified.”
County property records show that the property on which Ophelia’s sits was sold in April 2015 for $1,450,000. The new owner is J.P. Nater LLC, whose registered agent is Daniel P. Olson of Sarasota. According to the Savor Sarasota website, Olson was the executive chef at Ophelia’s for 15 years before he bought the restaurant.
During the SKA discussion, Andrew Terry said he had talked with the chief valet one evening about his concerns about the valets’ reckless behavior. “It got downright nasty,” Terry added.
He left a message for the manager of Ophelia’s to call him, Terry continued, but he never heard anything.
On May 9, Mruczek told the News Leader in a telephone interview that deputies would monitor the situation at Ophelia’s on Sundays for the next few weeks.
Garbage complaints, too
Another issue that arose during the May 5 SKA meeting was the fact that renters of houses on the island who leave on the weekends and put their garbage and recyclables at the curb before they go, in spite of the fact that Waste Management does its rounds just on Tuesdays.
Jean Cannon said she especially had noted problems with renters at two four-story houses in the 500 block of Beach Road. Both structures have signs advertising that they can accommodate 18 people, she added.
SKA President Michael Shay explained that a county regulation stipulates that garbage and recycling material not be put at the curb until the day before the material will be picked up. “It can’t be out for three or four days.”
Nonetheless, he said he has observed the same situation at a rental house near his home.
Cannon complained that, especially during bad weather, the garbage ends up in the street.
That is a county Code Enforcement matter, Shay told Cannon, asking her to speak with him after the meeting so he could get more information from her. Shay said he wanted to check on the zoning for the Beach Road properties, too, because the County Code generally makes it illegal to rent a residence more than once every 30 days.
Duink reappointed to Waterways Advisory Council
Scott Duink of Siesta Key has been reappointed to the Sarasota County Waterways Advisory Council for a three-year term, through January 2019.
The action came as part of the County Commission’s approval of its April 26 Consent Agenda.
A professional engineer, Duink identified himself on his application for the position as a canal-side homeowner.
Material provided to the County Commission for the April 26 meeting shows Duink to have a perfect attendance record for the council’s sessions over the past two years. The group meets four times a year, those records show.
As noted on the county’s website, the council provides a conduit for the public to offer comments and advice, as well as recommendations, to the county’s Waterways Program manager and the County Commission. One requirement for the council’s members is that each must own property or reside on a navigable waterway in the community.