Siesta Seen

Siesta Drive traffic accident creates traffic pile-ups; red tide returns; rope-and-post system installed on county right of way next to Beach Access 2; Calle Minorga private parking lot underway; drowning reported near Access 2; work begins on Oceane; house fire linked to lamp; and snowy plovers continue to struggle with crows

An aerial view shows Norsota Way and Siesta Drive. Image from Google Maps

Siesta residents, workers and visitors who needed to use the north bridge to get on and off the island on June 14 probably felt as though they were seeing seasonal traffic woes multiplied many times over.

The Sarasota Police Department sent out an alert via Twitter that Siesta Drive was closed in the 800 block because of a single-vehicle crash with serious injuries. Vehicles were being re-routed onto Norsota Way. “We’re asking you please avoid the area & find an alternate route,” the Twitter alert added.

Genevieve Judge, the public information officer for the Sarasota Police Department (SPD), told The Sarasota News Leader via email that only one person — the male driver — was in the vehicle, which hit a Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) pole just before 6 a.m. on June 14. She did not have his age when she responded to the News Leader’s request for information.

“Officers didn’t clear the road until after 10am and then FPL worked to replace the pole,” she added.

A second Twitter alert on June 14, which reported that Siesta Drive had reopened to traffic, also noted that an FPL crew would be working throughout the day to install a new pole.

One driver caught up in the crush of diverted vehicles told the News Leader that Norsota Way proved a problematic detour because of landscaping companies’ equipment and trucks blocking sections of it. Drivers had to play a form of motorized hopscotch to get around them.

Judge said she would provide the News Leader with the official traffic incident report after it had been completed. In a follow-up email on June 19, she wrote in an email, I just spoke with our Traffic Unit and the Officer leading the investigation is waiting for additional information before he can finish writing [the report] …” Among that information, she noted was data from the download of the car’s computers.

Residents and visitors wrestling with red tide

A graphic shows the status of red tide in Southwest Florida in early June. Image from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service

Once again, red tide has been plaguing beachgoers on Sarasota County’s shoreline, including Siesta Public Beach, Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have reported.

In its June 15 update, the FWC noted that the Florida red tide organism, Karenia brevis, continued to persist in Southwest Florida. However, as of that day, the report said, concentrations in 30 samples collected in Sarasota County showed very low to medium levels of the organism.

“Over the past week,” the report continued, “fish kills were reported in Southwest Florida in Sarasota County (Crescent Beach, Lido Key, Manasota Beach, New Pass, Nokomis Beach, Siesta Key, Venice Beach),” as well as Charlotte County and Lee County. Respiratory irritation was documented on Siesta from June 8 through June 15, the report added.

On June 20, the FWC noted, “A patchy bloom of the Florida red tide organism … persists in Southwest Florida.” It added that the 24 samples collected in Sarasota County showed low to high concentrations.

More fish kills had been reported on Crescent Beach, Siesta Public Beach and Casey Key, among other county beaches, it noted.

The FWC explains, “Red tide is a naturally-occurring microscopic alga that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840’s and occurs nearly every year. Blooms, or higher-than-normal concentrations, of the Florida red tide alga, Karenia brevis, frequently occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Red tide begins in the Gulf of Mexico 10 to 40 miles offshore and can be transported inshore by winds and currents.”

Mote’s June 15 Beach Conditionsreport at 10:40 a.m. noted wind out of the northeast at 3.5 mph, with calm surf. Respiratory irritation was moderate, the report added, and some dead fish were located on the Siesta Public Beach.

Mote’s Beach Conditions reports may be found at https://visitbeaches.org.

Two days earlier — in the afternoon of June 13 — the respiratory irritation level on Siesta was noted to be “Slight.”

Yet, just after 9:30 a.m. the previous day — June 12 — the Mote report for Siesta noted an “Intense” respiratory irritation level and a “Heavy” amount of dead fish. The wind recorded on the beach was 3.72 mph out of the west at that time.

Sorry, but that is county property

A rope-and-post system stands around the lawn of the condominium building at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Beach Road. Rachel Hackney photo

A regular beachgoer reported to the News Leader the first week of June that a rope-and-post system had been installed on what appeared to be county right of way at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Beach Road, at Beach Access 2.

The News Leader sent a photo of the situation to Sarasota County staff, asking for a determination of whether the project indeed was encroaching on public right of way.

In a June 12 email, Ashley Lusby, the Emergency Service Department’s media relations officer, provided a response: “The rope-and-post system is in the right of way. Staff will be contacting the owner to get it removed.”

Lusby, by the way, has been assisting with media requests since county Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone began working in a similar capacity with the City of Sarasota on April 25.

Three buildings with condominium units are immediately north of the intersection. Half of the units appear to be owned by Robasota Real Estate Ltd. of Sarasota, as noted on the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website when the News Leader checked the records. The registered agent of that firm is Jeffrey Roberti, who has an office at 5379 Ocean Blvd.

When the News Leader called Roberti Enterprises last week, the woman who answered the phone said she was unaware of the rope-and-post system, but she promised to try to find someone who could speak to the News Leader about its construction. The News Leader heard no more from Roberti Enterprises.

The News Leader did observe that the grass around the structure at the corner of Avenida Messina and Beach Road appeared to be flourishing.

Earlier this year, Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, fielded complaints at Siesta Key Association meetings about large numbers of partying young people at Beach Access 2 at night.

Calle Minorga parking lot under construction

A graphic shows where the parking lot will be constructed at 5160 Calle Minorga. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the spring of 2017, Sarasota County staff received an application for a private parking lot at 5160 Calle Minorga in Siesta Village. At last, that project is underway, the News Leader has learned.

A county permit was issued on March 20 for the construction of the asphalt lot, county records show.

Materials submitted to county permitting staff, which provided copies to the News Leader at its request, show the design calls for 20 spaces. The property owner still is 5160 Calle Minorga LLC.

According to the state’s Division of Corporations, the registered agent for 5160 Calle Minorga LLC is Sentinel Management LLC of 1221 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. The registered agent for the latter company is Jeffrey R. McCurdy, who lists the same address as Sentinel Management. Two members of the firm listed in the records are Barry Silverstein and Dennis J. McGillicuddy.

The General Notes on the parking lot plans point out that the site has been vacant. The total acreage of the parcel is 10,503 square feet, the document says, which is approximately 0.24 acres. A sidewalk is included in the project, the document adds, and landscaping buffers have been incorporated into the design.

Since early 2017, property owners have been contracting with FL Parking Co. to manage parking lots on the Key. Davidson Plaza was the first to have a pay station installed. More recently, Chris Brown, who bought the Lofino Building on Ocean Boulevard — next to the Old Salty Dog — in December 2017, has marked the parking area on that site for paid use.

Dr. Gary Kompothecras also installed a FL Parking Co. pay station on the former Fandango Café property on Old Stickney Point Road, which is just east of Clayton’s Siesta Grille and the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar.

Drowning reported

Beach Access 2 is popular with visitors and residents alike. Rachel Hackney photo

A 57-year-old man apparently drowned on May 18 offshore of Beach Access 2, just a day before he was due to return home to St. Louis, the News Leader has learned.

The victim was Robert C. Kannady, a Sheriff’s Office report said. He and several members of his family — also from Missouri — had been on vacation on the Key that week, the report noted.

An emergency medical technician pronounced the death at 2:09 p.m., the Sheriff’s Office report said.

When a deputy arrived at 20 Whispering Sands Drive on May 18, the rescue unit from Fire Station No. 13 was on the scene, along with lifeguards from Siesta Public Beach, the report noted. CPR was being performed, the deputy wrote.

The victim’s 21-year-old daughter told the deputy that she and her father had been swimming offshore of Beach Access 2, in water she estimated to be 5 feet to 6 feet deep. After about 10 minutes, she continued, her father began getting tired and said he did not feel he could make it back to shore. She was not able to help him, she added, so she began waving for help.

The daughter said her father seemed unresponsive in the water for about five minutes before two bystanders swam out to help her bring him to shore.

Kannady had no known medical conditions, the report noted, and he was not taking any regular medication.

Work begun on Oceane

A construction crane stands on the Oceane property on Ocean Boulevard. Rachel Hackney photo

On June 14, almost exactly a year after construction was expected to begin, work began on the four-story Oceane luxury condominium project just north of Siesta Village. The site comprises the parcels at 4720, 4732 and 4740 Ocean Blvd. It is right on Big Pass.

In mid-November 2017, the County Commission unanimously granted permission to the property owner to add an extra 2 feet in height to the seawall. In regard to that petition, Icard Merrill attorney William Merrill III acted as the representative of Randy Moore, managing partner of Crossgate Partners in Suwanee, Ga., who is the developer of Oceane. Merrill explained to the commission that just that much more seawall would enable buyers of the units to cut their flood insurance bills by 50% or more.

Peter G. Laughlin, a broker associate with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, pooh-poohed the prospect — which the News Leaderraised in mid-March 2017 — that worries about the potential dredging of Big Pass to renourish part of Lido Key Beach would diminish interest in the condos.

However, the project website says only two of the six units have been sold. The website also notes that the units cost between $3,990,000 and $4.5 million. Each has been designed to have 4,500 square feet of space, with “72 feet of windows overlooking the Gulf of Mexico,” the website adds. The condos are expected to be completed in the spring of 2019, the website points out.

During the June 7 SKA meeting, Vice President Catherine Luckner told members, “In my 28 years of living here, I’ve never seen so many ‘For Sale’ signs, as I come onto the Key. That is a very scary thing,” she added, that people are so fearful that the dredging of the pass might take place.

No one hurt in house fire

After seeing a video on Twitter referencing a June 14 house fire on Avenida Messina, the News Leader inquired about that incident. Ashley Lusby, the media relations officer for the Emergency Services Department, responded that the fire was reported about 9 p.m. that day.

“A small lamp was found to be on fire in the residence,” she wrote in an email. “No one was home and there were no injuries. A neighbor called in to report the fire. Scene was cleared by approximately 10:20 p.m.”

Poor plovers

A pair of snowy plovers rests on the beach after battling over territory and food. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Excitement about a snowy plover nest on the southern end of the public beach did not last long, sadly.

Kylie Wilson, Sarasota coordinator for Florida Audubon’s Shorebird Monitoring & Stewardship Program, reported in her June 14 update: “So some more bad news: we lost yet another Snowy Plover nest on Siesta. Crows were seen taking eggs from the … nest on Monday morning (June 11). As many of you know,” she continued, “crows have likely been the cause of all our nest failures this season.”

During the June 7 SKA meeting, Wilson discussed the travails of crows disrupting snowy plover nests this year.

She pointed out in her June 14 update, “Crows are highly intelligent — Crows have been the subject of many intelligence studies and researchers consider them to be as smart as primates. Results from these intelligence tests rank crows to be as intelligent as a 7 year old human! John Marzluff, a professor for the University of Washington’s Aviation Conservation Lab, has shown crows can recognize individual human faces and remember them for years!” she added, “[H]ere is an online article that references his research: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-research-looks-into-crow-brains-intelligence/.

Wilson further pointed out, “Naturally, crows are nest predators but research has shown positive correlations between their success and human development — think increased human activity and tourism on Siesta Key.

So, knowing crows have been an issue in the past, people have been asking me: What has changed? Well the urbanization of Siesta for one thing. More people means more crows. … The crow issue is hard since there are multiple factors that are at play, and some are beyond our control. There are conversations happening about potential predator management options to put into effect for next season.

“I know it feels hopeless at times but having volunteers to educate our ever-growing number of tourists does help. Informing people about the birds does make a difference [her emphasis in the email]. Wilson added, “I know it has been a hard season for us at Siesta and we have only had a handful of nests but we still need our volunteers [her emphasis again].”

On the positive side, Wilson did report that she had received a count of eight snowy plovers on the northern end of the public beach, “and I saw several scrapes [meaning nests may be coming soon]!”

If anyone would like to volunteer, Wilson’s email address is kwilson@audubon.org.

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