Siesta Seen: North bridge appears to be on schedule

On June 21, new sections of decking already were visible on the north Siesta bridge. Photo by Rachel Hackney

Although she was responsible for plenty of damage in the county, at least Tropical Storm Debby appears not to have delayed the timeline for completing work on the north Siesta bridge.

That was the word today, July 20, from Jennifer Stafford, the Florida Department of Transportation consultant on the project.

“They’re moving along beautifully,” Stafford said of the contractor and his crew.

Although Stafford said she could not state with absolute certainty that no delay would result, “I honestly think it will not.”

FDOT did add three days to the contractor’s schedule as a result of the downpours during Debby, Stafford said, but she suspected the contractor still was shooting for some of the incentive funds FDOT put up for the project.

The contractor can earn $7,500 per day — up to a total of $150,000 — for completing the work earlier than the 120-day schedule established for the project. The original timeline called for the rehabilitation to be finished on Oct. 16.

The incentive does not apply if the contractor has to use any of those three extra days, Stafford said.

“I honestly think they’re going to find a way to be efficient” and beat the original schedule, she added.

‘A good meeting’

Given more pressing concerns at the Siesta Key Village Association meeting this month — Village maintenance, Crescent Beach spats over whose property is whose for sun worshipping — it was easy to see why President Russell Matthes didn’t say much on one topic.

In fact, it took a bit of prodding from SKVA member — and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce president — Mark Smith to get Matthes to report on a meeting a few of the SKVA members had had the previous month.

In response to concerns raised during the organization’s June meeting, Matthes reported on July 3, he, Smith, Cheryl Gaddie of CG Designs, Kevin Cooper — the SKCC’s executive director — and Glenn Cappetta, owner of Sun Ride Pedicabs, had met with representatives of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office — Capt. Paul Richard and Lt. Tom Stroud, who oversee operations on the Key.

Members in June had discussed the fact that deputies coming from other areas of the county to work in evenings and on weekends at times seemed too aggressive in their policing efforts.

The primary problem Matthes had noticed, which he mentioned in June, was that one deputy had been pulling over cab drivers to cite them for backing up traffic when they picked up passengers.

Regarding Richard and Stroud, Matthes said, “They were really responsive. It was a good meeting.”

Neither of the officers had heard any complaints about overly aggressive deputies, he said, but they were familiar with the cab situation.

As for the latter case: Matthes said Richard and Stroud told the SKVA group that one deputy had warned cab drivers on numerous occasions about tying up traffic.

Richard and Stroud said they would speak with that deputy and clear up the matter. They also promised to check into the complaints about the over-zealous actions, Matthes said.

“I decided not to make a huge deal about [the meeting],” he added, “because it’s always two sides to every story.”

Moreover, Matthes said, he had heard no complaints about deputies since the meeting was held.

Deputy Matt Binkley, who was attending the July 3 meeting, said he and the other regular deputies on Siesta had been briefed about the discussion.

Speaking of deputies …

That July SKVA meeting was the last one for Binkley. The Community Policing Station has a new deputy taking his place, Binkley told the SKVA members: Jason Mruczeck.

Fireworks explode over Siesta Key Public Beach on July Fourth, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Peter van Roekens

Just two days later, Deputy Chris McGregor introduced Mruczek to Siesta Key Association members during their regular monthly meeting.

Referring to the island’s Fourth of July festivities, McGregor said of Mruczek, “Last night was not an easy way to get broken into the unit.”

After eight years on Siesta Key, Binkley told me, he is going to be a school resource officer at Sarasota Middle School.

He joked that he will be moving from a job that necessitated his being outside all the time to one that will require his being inside most of the time.

Nonetheless, he said his goal was to spend more time with his family, which the new assignment will enable him to do.

Speaking of the Fourth …

Things did go well on Siesta with the holiday crowd at the beach, McGregor told the SKA members. He estimated deputies made only seven arrests, mostly for disorderly intoxication or fighting.

One arrest was for petty theft, he added. A person was caught stealing a bicycle, he said.

The suspect was from Port Charlotte, so maybe he was looking for a way to get back home, McGregor added, drawing laughter.

When SKA President Catherine Luckner asked about teenage drinking on the beach during the Fourth, McGregor replied, “I arrested, believe it or not, a 15-year-old.”

It was the teen’s first offense, McGregor added, so the case could be handled through Teen Court. If the young man completed all that was required of him, McGregor added, he would not have a record.

“So it is a problem, and I think it’s always been a problem,” McGregor said of underage consumption of alcohol.

“It’s a tough one,” Luckner agreed.

“I’m a father of a teenager,” McGregor said, adding that it sometimes was hard for young people to stand up to peers trying to bully them into activities such as underage drinking.

In response to a question from Luckner, McGregor said deputies confiscated a lot fewer illegal fireworks this Fourth than in previous years.

The Sheriff’s Office, county officials and Siesta organizations had worked hard before the holiday to publicize what the public legally can and cannot possess in the form of fireworks.

SKA Director Ron Flynn also commended the deputies for traffic control after the chamber’s big fireworks show on the beach. “I didn’t hear one horn blow,” Flynn said.

It always seems to take the traffic between two and two-and-a-half hours to get off the island after the celebration, McGregor said. Referring to the Sheriff’s Office personnel on duty that night, he added, “We were out of here a little after 1 [a.m.], most of us.”

The SKA board and members gave the deputies a round of applause.

Getting back to normal

SKA Environmental Committee member Dave Thomas reported during the July 5 meeting that all the rain and runoff from Tropical Storm Debby had turned the Grand Canal brown, a big contrast to its usual shade of green.

Living on the canal, Thomas has a front-door — or back-door, depending on your perspective — view of activities on the water.

However, things finally were starting to return to normal as of the first week of July, he said. “I did see a couple of manatees today. … That’s a good sign the water’s clearing up.”

As for holiday boaters on the canal, he said, “Most [of them] were really good about observing the speed regulations.”

One negative note, Thomas said, was that he had observed about half a dozen children driving boats “with their parents sitting in the back, having a beer.”

The best of those young drivers was a girl who looked to be about 6 years old, Thomas added.

Children are not prepared to respond quickly to dangerous situations, he pointed out. “The canal’s probably not the best place to teach a kid how to drive a boat,” he added, noting that it is very narrow. In fact, Thomas said, the canal is only 40 feet wide in some places.

Florida law requires that anyone younger than 22 must pass a boating safety course and obtain a Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card to operate a vessel with a horsepower of 10 or greater.

Less sandbar for boaters

SKA Vice President Peter van Roekens has been kind enough to send me before and after shots of the sandbar off Beach Access 4 on Siesta. Just as Tropical Storm Debby chopped off a lot of footage at Turtle Beach, she ate away some of the sandbar, he pointed out.

This photo shows boaters enjoying weekend festivities on the sandbar before Debby appeared.
Less sandbar is available for boaters post-Debby.

No sign of signs

When the Village Association members met on July 3, Russell Matthes pointed out that the sign that should be visible to southbound traffic on Higel Avenue, pointing to the turn on Ocean Boulevard to reach the Village and the beaches, “is completely blocked by trees.”

Even though county workers had been out picking up Tropical Storm Debby debris, he said, “they neglected to do the trimming around that sign.”

Van Roekens, who represents both the SKA and Terrace East at the SKVA meetings, said Catherine Luckner planned to call county officials about the situation.

SKVA member Anne Johnson pointed out that the FDOT sign that should be visible to northbound traffic on Midnight Pass Road at the Higel intersection, cautioning drivers coming to the stoplight, “Move on green only,” also was obscured.

I cannot speak to the current status of the one on Midnight Pass Road, but as of today, July 20, the beaches/Village sign still was blocked by tree limbs.

Of course, given the recent pattern of afternoon thundershowers, the foliage might be growing too fast for county staff to keep the sign in plain sight.