Siesta Village maintenance manager endures weeks-long ordeal trying to get streetlights back on; county railing downed again in crash on Ocean Boulevard; SKA sends correspondence to county relative to its 12th Judicial Circuit Court case; a bit of brouhaha erupts during SKA’s latest Circuit Court hearing; and county’s Extension and Sustainability programs director offers more water quality information to SKA members
As manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., island resident Michael Shay keeps a sharp lookout for anything in the Village that is amiss. And since he usually adheres to an early morning schedule for his first reconnaissance mission of the day, he readily notices whether streetlights are functioning, or not.
Just after Christmas, on Dec. 28, 2018, Shay saw that four of the new LED streetlights were not working in the vicinity of the sharp curve on Ocean Boulevard just north of Gleason Avenue.
That curve is notorious as the scene of accidents. In fact, in the wee hours of Dec. 27 — with those lights not functioning — another crash occurred there. The incident at 4420 Ocean Blvd. was reported to the Sheriff’s Office at 1:56 a.m. on Dec. 27.
On Dec. 28, 2018, Shay decided to contact a Sarasota engineer for Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) who helped Shay resolve a long delay in getting Ocean Boulevard streetlights shining again after Hurricane Irma came through the area in September 2017.
In an email to the engineer, Shay wrote, “There are 4 of the new LED streetlights all in a row that are out and I was only able to get the pole #’s for 2 of them; the other 2 are too high up on the pole. We already had 1 accident at this curve early on 12/27: this is a dangerous curve and I am concerned it is worse in the dark!”
The procedure FPL has advised the public to follow when streetlights go out is to report the identification number on each of the affected poles, which is what Shay was referring to in his email.
Thus began a weeks-long process that began to seem futile, Shay told The Sarasota News Leader.
“It’s just odd,” Shay said during a Jan. 11 telephone interview with the News Leader. “You wouldn’t have four bulbs that go out at one time,” especially after FPL just replaced those bulbs in the summer of 2018.
Representatives of the company, in fact, said FPL planned to remove all of the incandescent lights in poles on the island and replace them with LED equipment. The only area that did not see a change was Siesta Village, which is handled by the Maintenance Corp. and Sarasota County.
No matter how many attempts Shay made to get the information about the four poles on Ocean to someone who could get the lights back on, the lights remained out.
On Jan. 14, in response to News Leader questions about the situation, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant wrote in an email, “County staff has coordinated with FPL to identify all four poles and locations along the curve that are within the Siesta Key Special Tax lighting district. FPL is working to resolve the issue. Last Thursday [Jan. 10], they had one lane [of] partial closure [so they could] trim the trees on the south side of the roadway area. Restoration of the lights should follow.”
The News Leader also talked on Jan. 14 with a spokesperson for FPL, to try to find out what was going on. Richard Beltran said that he was told that an FPL crew would be investigating the situation either that day or on Jan. 15, and he promised to report on the results of that investigation.
Finally, on Jan. 15, as Shay was walking to Siesta Key Chapel for a meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, he told the News Leader, he saw a bucket truck at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Gleason Avenue — where the entrance to Siesta Key Chapel is located. Shay said he asked the worker with the truck if the worker knew about the other three streetlights to the north, and the worker said he did not.
Yet another light was out, too, Shay noted: the one about 75 yards south of the speed radar sign on Ocean Boulevard, opposite the entrance to the property at 4660 Ocean Blvd.
The worker said he was unaware of that situation, as well, but he would check it out.
Shay told the News Leader that the worker was the only person with the truck.
Finally, Shay thought, he would see at least the four streetlights working again the next morning.
He did not.
Additionally, about mid-morning on Jan. 17, Shay said the power went out at his home, which is in the area close to that dangerous curve. He reported the outage to FPL immediately, he said, and he learned that a total of 53 customers were affected.
That same morning, Shay continued, he saw another bucket truck at what he calls “dead man’s curve,” along with a worker who appeared to be trying to repair one of the four lights. Shay added that he spoke with a second person who was directing traffic, but that worker did not seem fluent in English, so Shay was unsure if the man understood what Shay was asking him about the other lights.
At least the good news, Shay noted, was that his power was off for only an hour.
On the morning of Jan. 18, Shay went out again to check on the lights in the curve. They were all on, he reported, adding a series of exclamation marks in an email to the News Leader to express his delight.
By the way, he pointed out, he had not mentioned earlier that two streetlights at the entrance to the Banyan Club, near the sharp curve, also had been dark. On the morning of Jan. 18, they were shining as well, he said.
As a result, Shay told the News Leader, “I do not believe that the issue was the bulbs or photo cells or any other parts to the lights.” He felt the source of the problem had to have been a piece of equipment to which all those lights were connected. He was curious, he added, about what had transpired the previous day to make the 53 customers lose their power for an hour.
On the afternoon of Jan. 18, the News Leader learned answers from the FPL spokesperson with whom the News Leaderhad spoken earlier in the week, Richard Beltran. The problem, Beltran explained, was “a bad connection” involving the four streetlights. Wiring had to be replaced, he added.
“Sorry it took some time,” Beltran said.
“I’m not surprised,” Shay replied when the News Leader relayed that information to him.
And after all that, though, Shay pointed out, the streetlight opposite 4660 Ocean Blvd. was still not working. “I’m going to give it some time,” he added, before submitting another report to FPL about that light.
About that Dec. 27, 2018 crash …
When the Dec. 27, 2018 accident occurred in the sharp curve on Ocean Boulevard north of Gleason Avenue, Michael Shay, the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. manager, told the News Leader, the county’s railing in the curve was knocked down once again.
It has been just a few months since county staff had to replace the railing because of a traffic accident. That previous incident was in early October.
The only positive news this time, Shay added, was that the wall erected by the owners of the home in that curve appeared to have been spared.
When the News Leader asked Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s Siesta substation, about the Dec. 27 incident, he responded that officers went to the scene, but the Florida Highway Patrol handled the investigation. As a result, both Cernansky and Kaitlyn Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, said that practically no information was available in the report the Sheriff’s Office generated from its response.
When the News Leader spoke with a person at the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) office in Venice, the News Leader was able to get an incident report number. However, when the News Leaderthen tried to get a copy of the report through an online service the FHP utilizes, the News Leaderlearned that the report was not yet available. The News Leaderread in the “fine print” that unless someone requesting a report was involved in the incident, the report is not available until 60 days after its filing.
An SKA request of the county
As the directors of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) awaited a Circuit Court judge’s ruling on their latest hearing in an effort to stop the proposed dredging of Big Sarasota Pass, they sent a letter to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, seeking help on related points. (See the related story in this issue.)
Dated Jan. 8, the letter said the SKA “requests notification and a copy of any request (past or future) by the City of Sarasota, its agents or joint permittee to Sarasota County or its agents for a permit, approval or exception/exemption to the need for a permit” to undertake activities involving the Lido Beach Renourishment Project.
On June 18, 2018, the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) received a Joint Coastal Permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to dredge up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach.
The SKA letter cited the number of the FDEP permit and notes that its “implementation can include but is not limited to” the removal of sand from the pass; the construction of two groins on Lido Key; mitigating the destruction of seagrass in Big Pass that is expected to result from the dredging operation; and utilizing the county’s Ted Sperling Park on the southern end of Lido as a means of temporary access to the renourishment area.
The letter proceeded to provide a summary of the SKA’s efforts in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, including the latest hearing on the nonprofit’s motion for a Writ of Mandamus to compel the city to request county permission for the dredging of the pass.
During the Dec. 20, 2018 hearing on the Writ, SKA attorney Kent Safriet of the Tallahassee firm Hopping Green & Sams argued to Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh that a specific section of the County Code of Ordinances makes it necessary for the city to seek county permission for work in Big Pass, which never has been dredged.
Accompanying the letter was a copy of Section 54, Article XX, of the County Code, upon which the SKA based its motion for the Writ. Parts of that section were highlighted, underscoring the SKA’s court arguments.
And speaking of the last SKA court hearing …
Near the end of the Dec. 20, 2018 hearing on the SKA’s complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, what might be called a tiny bit of brouhaha erupted, surprising SKA members who were present.
The SKA’s attorney, Kent Safriet of the Tallahassee firm Hopping Green & Sams, and John R. Herin of the GrayRobinson firm in Fort Lauderdale, attorney for the City of Sarasota, had been exchanging points in their arguments about the fact that the City of Sarasota is a co-permittee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the Lido Renourishment Project.
The city and the USACE jointly applied for, and received, a state permit for the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass.
Herin had been telling Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh that the USACE is the entity that will handle the actual sand removal and replenishment of the Lido Key Beach. The city applied jointly for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit, Herin added, in the event that no federal money would become available for the project, and the city had to go it alone.
Yet, Safriet pointed out, Herin said during an earlier hearing in the SKA’s case — in April 2017 — that the city might withdraw from the permit process, which was still underway at FDEP at that time.
“It’s like co-conspirators,” Safriet told McHugh. “Either one can pull the trigger.”
“I respect Mr. Safriet,” Herin said later. “But I do take issue” with Safriet’s use of the term “co-conspirators.” Herin added to McHugh, “We’re not conspiring with anyone. … I don’t make those kinds of references …”
McHugh then told Herin and Safriet, “I have found all of you to be very thoughtful and respectful.”
A third attorney had participated in the arguments that day: Kevin Hennessy of the St. Petersburg firm Lewis, Longman & Walker, which represents the Lido Key Residents Association in the case.
“You’re all very talented attorneys,” McHugh added, noting that she would not want to see the hearing devolve into a bad situation.
UF/IFAS director follows up on questions
In December 2018, Lee Hayes Byron, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension and Sustainability programs in Sarasota County, and two of her colleagues provided Siesta Key Association members with a plethora of information about water quality initiatives in the county.
As they were taking questions after their remarks, several matters came up for which they did not have immediate answers. Byron promised to undertake the necessary research and let the SKA directors know the answers. She did so in a timely fashion, in mid-December 2018. Let us just say that the holidays are the reason the News Leaderdid not provide the answers to readers in a more timely fashion.
The following is material Byron emailed to Catherine Luckner, the SKA vice president. The answers are in red:
- Question: When street sweeping was mentioned as one of the county’s strategies to keep nutrients out of the waterways, an audience member said she had not seen a street sweeper on Siesta in a long time.
Answer: Sarasota County connector roads are swept monthly between midnight and 7 a.m. Siesta Key’s connector roads are Beach Road from Columbus Boulevard to Midnight Pass Road, Ocean Boulevard from Beach Road to Higel Avenue, and Old Stickney Point Road from Midnight Pass Road to the end of the street. Sarasota County residential roads are swept quarterly from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Roads on Siesta Key were swept and inspected most recently between Nov. 28 and Nov. 30. The parking lots at Siesta and Turtle beaches are swept quarterly or as needed.
- Question: I mentioned regular monitoring of water quality across the county. There was a question about whether water quality is monitored out east, in rural areas and on ranches.
Answer: Yes, a snapshot of active monitoring stations accompanies these answers. Station density decreases eastward, but we are observing and recording water quality in reaches of the major waterways draining the rural and ranch areas to the East. You can learn more on the Water Atlas at this link.
- Question: There was a question about where you can find data on the number and causes of bird deaths.
Answer: We contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Its representatives indicated that they keep records of the number of birds killed by red tide, but those figures are not reported on their website. Data can be requested either through the website — myfwc.org — or by contacting Michelle Kerr, public information specialist, at 727-502-4787 or via email, Michelle.Kerr@MyFWC.com.