County Commission formally authorizes replacement of Fire Station 13; sergeant explains traffic laws in context of following the trolley; Little Sarasota Bay’s health discussed; and a clarification provided on Sgt. Cernansky’s prior work with the Sheriff’s Office
It took only a couple of minutes on April 10 for the Sarasota County Commission to cast a unanimous vote, setting in motion the construction of a new Fire Station No. 13 on Siesta Key.
No person showed up to speak during the public hearing that was part of the board’s regular meeting in Sarasota. However, in making the motion to proceed with the project, Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta as part of his District 4 territory — pointed out, “This is a very big deal.”
The new Station No. 13 will be the second of three modern facilities “that we’ll be building,” Maio added.
During his first term on the board, he noted, the commission approved four new fire stations. Maio won that first term in November 2014.
“The last thing we can have,” Chair Charles Hines pointed out on April 10, is county Emergency Services personnel in facilities that cannot withstand storms. The goal is for those employees to be able to “go to work” as soon as hurricanes have passed out of the area, Hines said, adding that public safety “is a No. 1 priority” of the commission.
The overall expense is expected to be about $6.9 million for the new Station No. 13, according to a document provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting. That document is part of the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) materials.
County fire assessments and impact fees will cover part of the expense, Maio said.
The document says $1.3 million in fire and rescue impact fees will be used, used along with $500,000 in Emergency Services impact fees. The rest of the project funds will be provided through a borrow in the 2020 fiscal year, an April 10 county staff memo points out. The borrow and fire assessments together are expected to cover $5,110,000 of the project’s overall cost.
Staff anticipates coming back to the commission this summer with a proposed lease agreement for a temporary fire station space in a commercial building, as well as the initial Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) for both the demolition of the existing facility and the new fire station, the memo says. Additionally, staff expects to have a construction contract ready for the County Commission to consider this fall, the memo points out.
Fire Station No. 13, the memo explains, is “located below [the] Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain …” It also is not hardened to withstand storms, it “does not offer gender privacy,” and it does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the memo says.
The 5,000-square-foot facility was constructed in 1974, according to the CIP document. The new two-story fire station is planned to be 10,500 square feet, the document notes, and it will be able to withstand winds of a Category 5 hurricane. “This facility will incorporate the latest energy efficient systems and green materials and [be] designed for 40 years of service,” the document points out.
The project entails replacement of the facility “with a hardened two-bay station above the FEMA floodplain with a similar [floor plan] as Fire Station No. 12 [located at Bee Ridge Road and Murdock Avenue] and Fire Station No. 14 (Vamo) design,” the memo adds.
The county will pay the Sarasota firm of Sweet Sparkman Architects $364,900 to design the new facility near the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road, the staff memo says. Essentially, the memo explains, Sweet Sparkman will update the engineering drawings and specifications for previously constructed fire stations and handle the necessary permitting for the project.
Additionally, the county will pay $34,000 to Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota to serve as construction manager at risk for the first phase of the project, the memo notes.
A construction manager at risk oversees all facets of a project, working to ensure it comes in on time and within the budget that has been set. The memo points out that Willis A. Smith’s work will include “design coordination and constructability reviews, value engineering, preparation of project estimates, schedule refinement, bidding phase services, and preparation of the GMP contract amendment proposal …”
The traffic laws and the Breeze
Since the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley began operating in March 2016, members of the public have complained about getting stuck behind it in traffic.
During the April 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Erin Kreis brought up the issue, but from a safety standpoint. Noting that she was asking the question for someone else, she told Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, “We’ve seen a lot of cars passing the trolley in the left-hand turn lane.”
Would the Sheriff’s Office be able to go after such offenders, she continued, if cameras mounted on the trolleys recorded the violations?
“We can’t do enforcement based on that,” Cernansky replied.
Officers have to witness a violation before they can write a traffic citation, he added.
Cernansky told Kreis that he was well aware of drivers’ frustrations. “Trust me, I feel like I’m always the one stuck behind the trolley.”
However, he stressed, “You can’t use a turn lane to pass.”
On the positive side of the equation, he continued, the Sheriff’s Office sees the trolley as taking one car off the road for each passenger. (Mark Smith, past chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, has used a more conservative count, saying he believes the ratio is one less vehicle for every two trolley passengers.)
In response to a Sarasota News Leader request, Lisa Potts, communications specialist with Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), provided the March ridership figure for the Breeze. It was 62,699. “We were busy!” she wrote in an April 9 email.
Answering another question during the SKA meeting, Cernansky said that drivers can pass the trolley only in situations when a broken yellow line divides the lanes of the road. Whenever solid double yellow lines separate the lanes, he emphasized, no passing is allowed.
Discussion also arose about the fact that the trolley cannot just stop anywhere to pick up passengers. “You can’t just be walking down Midnight Pass [Road] and wave,” as Cernansky put it.
The News Leader also took the opportunity this week to ask Potts of SCAT for clarification about the trolley’s pickup and drop-off policy. In an April 8 email, she wrote, “Waving the trolley between stops is not authorized between Stickney Point Road and Siesta Village. Passengers must use the SCAT stops and Morton’s Siesta Market. However, passengers CAN wave the trolley between Turtle Beach Park and Stickney Point Road.”
Potts also provided a link to the trolley’s map and schedule: https://www.scgov.net/home/showdocument?id=38249
The Breeze normally operates Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the schedule shows. Its hours on Friday and Saturday during high tourist season are extended until midnight, the schedule notes. The Breeze also runs on major holidays.
Cernansky suggested that SKA members with ideas about how to improve the traffic flow situation involving the trolley contact Siesta Chamber directors and staff. “They’re in the beset position to [respond to the issues].”
Then new SKA Director Tom Surprise announced that the trolley and the associated traffic complaints are an issue he has been working on since he was elected to the board in March.
He will be talking with Sarasota County staff about proposals, he added.
For example, Surprise said, signage pointing out that the center left-turn lanes are for left turns only would be helpful. Further, he noted, county staff needs to ensure that double yellow lines are painted clearly on the roadways to show where no passing is allowed.
Surprise indicated that he would have more information to convey to members during their May meeting.
Little Sarasota Bay in better health than it may appear
During the April 4 SKA meeting, guest speaker Mark Alderson, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, took a question about the health of Little Sarasota Bay. (See the related story in this issue.)
“It looks like [that body of water] is dead,” a man in the audience told Alderson.
Relatively low nitrogen concentrations are found in Sarasota Bay, Alderson said, “but they are slightly elevated in Little Sarasota Bay overall.”
(Nitrogen is the most significant fuel for red tide blooms, scientists have explained.)
Still, if one compared the nitrogen figures for Little Sarasota Bay to those of the Indian River Lagoon, Alderson pointed out, “We’re light years ahead of that. But we can do better, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Indian River Lagoon, he noted, was one of the primary water bodies affected by the “massive green slime” produced by the freshwater blue-green algae that again plagued East Coast waters last summer.
Alderson also told the audience member that even though Little Sarasota Bay “may look dead, we do have some of the highest juvenile fish counts in Little Sarasota Bay.” That body of water was somewhat protected from the red tide bloom, he added.
The northern part of Sarasota Bay, Alderson continued, “was totally decimated,” especially the areas around Longboat Key, Cortez, along with lower Tampa Bay.
Studies undertaken by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) suggest that it will take 12 to 18 months “for the fishery to recover” in the northern part of Sarasota Bay, Alderson said.
Last week, when the News Leader reported that Sgt. Paul Cernansky is being promoted to lieutenant, this reporter noted his experience with the Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol before he was named leader of the Siesta substation last fall. Cernansky did work part-time with the Mounted Patrol in the past, he told the News Leader. However, he was with the Sheriff’s Office Tactical Unit for five years prior to his appointment to the Siesta position, he explained.
In fact, he brought with him to the April 4 Siesta Key Association meeting a deputy who was one of his colleagues with the Tactical Unit during that five-year period — Zack Lewis.
Cernansky joked during the meeting that Lewis has complained that Cernansky never has anything good to say about him.
Lewis began working on the Key a couple of months ago, Cernansky continued. “Zack is one of the most talented, if not themost talented cop I’ve ever worked with,” Cernansky said. “You guys are all very fortunate to have him out here.”
The Sheriff’s Office website says, “[The] Tactical Unit functions as part of patrol and is tasked with the identification, disruption and displacement of prolific offenders throughout the county. The Unit works closely with the Special Investigations and Criminal Investigations Sections, the Intelligence Unit, Fugitive Apprehension Unit and other local, state and federal agencies. The Tactical Unit also augments patrol by focusing on especially problematic areas, conducting surveillance and apprehending offenders where necessary to reduce the incidence of crime.”