Keep Sarasota County Beautiful Advisory Board members detail success on Siesta; new Sheriff’s Office substation leader named; county’s emergency management chief proves as entertaining as ever at SKA meeting; and Florida Audubon steward has more good news
Members of the Keep Sarasota Beautiful (KSCB) Advisory Board recently put the spotlight on Siesta’s beaches, reporting to the County Commission about efforts to end littering, especially in regard to cigarette butts.
During the April 24 presentation of the board’s annual report to the County Commission, First Vice Chair Gena Allison talked about how a video taken by a resident in May 2017 led to a significant reduction in the amount of trash left on the public beach.
That video, Allison told the commissioners, showed the debris left by Memorial Day visitors. “[It] went viral and it was evident that we could be part of the solution,” Allison said.
KSCB partnered with several county departments — Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Communications, and Solid Waste, among them — “to launch Operation Yellow Bag for the July 4 holiday [that year],” she continued.
Thanks to an array of public service announcements, social media posts, radio/TV/newspaper interviews, signage at the beach accesses reminding visitors to “Put litter in its place” and the distribution of yellow bags, she said, the aftermath did prove to be a better situation than in the past. The team found 25% of the yellow bags in dumpsters at the accesses, she noted, and less litter remained on the beach.
“The program has continued over the past 15 months,” she told the commission, and it was expanded to include all major county beaches. “The amount of positive feedback has been overwhelming,” she added. “Staff continues to see a reduction in the amount of litter on the beaches during holidays and is finding a 50%-plus return on the number of yellow bags being filled and disposed of properly.”
Then Allison turned to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) for which the county received a $5,000 grant in 2017.
KSCB worked with the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff, Allison noted, “to identify high-traffic areas and transition points and installed more than 30 Sidewalk Butler units on Siesta Key as a pilot program. The units feature customized artwork specific to Sarasota County with a call-to-action message: ‘Thank you for keeping our beaches clean. Deposit your cigarette butts here’ printed on the [units].”
During the first scan of results in the spring of 2017, she said, “We collected close to 4,000 cigarette butts and cigar tips. Approximately 10 weeks after installation,” she added, “litter amounts decreased by approximately 30%.
“Fast forward one year to June 2018, and the scan showed a 78% decrease in cigarette litter, which signified that our education efforts were successful and the program was worth replicating at other venues,” Allison told the commission.
Near the Sept. 30, 2018 end of the past fiscal year, she said, “KSCB was able to obtain an additional 40-plus units from the Keep America Beautiful Stand for the Land program.” The PRNR staff selected the locations for the new receptacles, Allison reported, and the units were installed. “We continue to see an increase in their use, resulting in a decrease of butt litter.”
By the way, earlier in the report, the advisory board chair, Candice Messerschmidt, told the commissioners that during the 2018 fiscal year, more than 1,800 volunteers contributed more than 3,480 hours of service during the Great American Cleanup in the spring of 2018, the Liberty Litter cleanup on July 5, 2018 and the Adopt-A-Road Program. Altogether, she said, they collected more than 12.8 tons of trash and recyclable materials from the county’s beaches, parks and roadways.
Commissioner Alan Maio asked her to repeat that last part.
After Messerschmidt did so, Maio responded, “Unbelievable.”
The new substation leader
During the May 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Lt. Paul Cernansky, the past leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, introduced the new supervisor, Sgt. Arik Smith.
Regular readers will recall that Cernansky officially was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in April.
And just as one of his colleagues did for him when he was starting out as the new substation leader, Cernansky told the SKA audience on May 2, “I’ll still take the questions today, so [Smith] can see what that’s like,” eliciting laughter from some of the approximately 60 attendees.
“Coming off the heels of spring break,” Cernansky said, he was able to report, “Everything went very well.”
And while officers thought spring break season was over, he continued, “New York private schools fooled us” the previous week.
As for actual crimes on the Key: Cernansky noted that the number of Part 1 offenses — those considered more serious — was down 10% in April compared to the March figure.
Eight fewer vehicle burglaries occurred in April, he said, adding that those crimes “are entirely preventable.”
Cernansky reminded the audience members of the need to lock vehicles, to prevent items from being stolen.
The Sheriff’s Office did record two auto thefts on the Key in April, he continued, but a suspect already had been identified in one case.
Six grand theft cases involving bicycles were reported, Cernansky said. A suspect also has been identified in connection with those, he noted.
When an audience member asked whether he had details about the bicycle thefts, Cernansky responded, “Many of [the bikes] were taken at night,” with some located near the locations from which they had been reported missing.
“My guess is that they were unlocked,” Cernansky added.
Then another audience member asked whether Cernansky believes home security systems can be beneficial to law enforcement officers in solving crimes.
“Many times,” Cernansky replied, adding that such systems also help deter criminals.
Video taken by home security systems can be used to identify suspects, he pointed out.
Another audience member — a woman — asked if it is legal to solicit door-to-door on the island.
A person must obtain a county permit to do so, Cernansky explained, and the solicitation proposal must meet certain criteria for such a permit to be issued. Each application is evaluated on its own merits, he said.
Any person with a question about someone soliciting on the island can call the Sheriff’s Office, he told the woman.
When someone else in the audience asked whether the questioner had encountered a problem, she explained that two woman recently had come to her door, inquiring whether anyone in the household would be interested in participating in Bible study.
When Cernansky asked whether the women mentioned charging for the gatherings, the audience member told him she did not ask them, because she had no interest in participating.
Then another man asked whether a regular user of a recumbent bicycle on the Key should have a flag on the rear of the vehicle, to improve the rider’s visibility to drivers of motor vehicles.
“He’s not legally obligated [to do so],” Cernansky replied.
McCrane quips, anecdotes and other advice
In introducing the guest speaker for the May 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Catherine Luckner referred to the abundance of anecdotes Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane has accumulated through his long service not just in this county but also in other areas of Florida.
“He’s one of my favorite speakers,” she confessed to the approximately 60 people attending the meeting at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. (See the related article in this issue.)
It did not take long for McCrane to grab the audience’s attention.
For example, he pointed out that he took the Sarasota County job in 2005. On his first day, he said, “We were alerted for Hurricane Wilma. So what an introduction to the county.”
Then McCrane explained that he soon learned that the sixth floor of the county Administration Center in downtown Sarasota — located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. — was rated to withstand nothing higher than a Category 2 hurricane; yet, that was where the Emergency Management Team was supposed to operate in a disaster.
Having been through eight hurricanes in Florida prior to his employment with Sarasota County, McCrane said, “I didn’t want to be part of that mess” if a hurricane did strike this area. “What good is it if the Emergency Operations Center is dead? … We can’t help you.”
He soon worked out an arrangement with the Sarasota County School District, he continued, so his staff could use Wilkinson Elementary School in Sarasota if a hurricane were approaching. That was the go-to location for his team from 2006 to 2015, he added.
Then, in 2015, the county opened its new Emergency Operations Center on Cattlemen Road. “We’re 5 miles from the bay,” he pointed out of that facility. It can handle an EF4 tornado, he noted, and it is not expected to flood. “We’re self-sufficient [there].”
More specific to Siesta, McCrane told the SKA members he often is asked about what he means when he announces that bridges to the barrier islands have been “locked down” before a hurricane is expected to hit.
“They’re locked in the down position,” he explained, “and all the arms are taken off.”
Three days before a hurricane is anticipated to make landfall, McCrane continued, his staff issues a Notice to Mariners, advising all boat owners about the timeline for that bridge action. The notice gives them the opportunity to move their vessels, he pointed out.
Then, after the bridges have been locked down, he said, Emergency Management works with law enforcement agencies in an effort to station officers on the mainland side of each bridge, to keep people from heading onto the islands unless the people have a valid reason to do so — to reach a person who needs assistance in evacuating, for example.
Additionally, in talking about home preparations, McCrane noted that he was allowed three hours the day before Irma’s arrival to head to his own home so he could put up his storm shutters. When he reached his house, he said, he learned his neighbors across the street already had taken care of that work for him.
When he went over to thank the neighbors, he added, he offered to help them with their preparations, but they said they had no shutters. He asked where they planned to stay, and they told him they would stay at home.
McCrane said he then invited them to stay with his wife and dog.
By that night, he continued, he believed 10 adults, three children and five dogs were gathered in his house, waiting for Irma. “I think they’re buying hurricane shutters now,” he added of his neighbors.
During his presentation, McCrane also encouraged Siesta residents to sign up for CodeRed, a service provided by the county that will alert subscribers to tornadoes and other weather concerns, as well as approaching hurricanes.
Before the days of widespread cell phone usage, McCrane explained, county staff was able to call people in vulnerable areas via landlines, to warn them when they needed to evacuate. Because of the change in the use of technology, he pointed out, those landline calls no longer are possible. That is all the more reason, he said, that people should register for CodeRed. “We will contact you through that.”
During the question-and-answer session following McCrane’s remarks, one person asked whether it would be advisable to take full gas cans in their vehicles when they evacuate, with the expectation that it could take a long time for them to reach a destination out of the expected hurricane strike area.
McCrane was quick to advise against such action. “That’s called a bomb, in my opinion.”
However, McCrane said, if a person were able to strap cans to the exterior of the vehicle, that could work. He noted that military personnel often adopt that practice.
Miss Sanibel incubating her eggs
In her May 3 update about the nesting snowy plovers on Siesta, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Florida Audubon’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in the county, wrote that she had more good news, following up on excitement in her previous report.
“Our nesting Snowy Plover, Miss Sanibel, is now incubating her eggs,” Wilson pointed out. Additionally, the other pair of plovers “have been maintaining a scrape” close to property owned by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is buffered in an effort to prevent disturbances.
A “scrape” is an indentation in the beach sand or in a dune area in which a plover will lay its eggs.
“The total count of plovers on Siesta lately is 4,” she continued in her May 3 update. “These birds could really use your help,” she added, noting that she is looking for more volunteers to assist with stewardship on the Key. Her phone number is 941-266-5407.