Siesta Seen

FDOT drops plans for roundabout at Midnight Pass Road/Beach Road intersection; new Sheriff’s Office lieutenant to supervise the Key; deputies keeping a check on valet parking at Ophelia’s; ‘chick checkers’ needed; SKA resignations announced; and FDOT signs off on Stickney Point Road drawbridge improvements

Pedestrians cross Beach Road at the Stickney Point Road intersection in this 2014 file photo.
Pedestrians cross Beach Road at the Stickney Point Road intersection in this 2014 file photo.

Sarasota County Commission Chair Al Maio made about 100 residents very happy during the June 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting when he announced that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has cancelled its plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road, just south of St. Boniface Episcopal Church.

Applause broke out during the meeting as soon as he made the statement, noting that he had learned the news during a recent discussion with FDOT District Engineer L.K. Nandam. “The vast majority [of island residents] didn’t want it,” Maio added of the roundabout. “I think [FDOT representatives] heard loud and clear what you all said.”

After the idea surfaced in late 2013, residents and county commissioners raised concerns that the structure would lead to even more traffic back-ups on a stretch of road that often becomes clogged during season.

FDOT does plan to improve the intersection to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, Maio noted on June 2. “It’ll be better than what we have now.”

Robin Stublen, an FDOT spokesman, reminded The Sarasota News Leader on June 7 that the department originally proposed three options for the intersection: the “Do nothing” approach; elimination of the continuous right-turn lane from Midnight Pass Road for traffic heading north at the intersection; and the roundabout. “We had to look at what we thought was the best fit for the intersection,” he explained. The plan is to go with elimination of that turn lane, he added.

The roundabout was proposed for the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road. Image from Google Maps
The roundabout was proposed for the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road. Image from Google Maps

A public hearing will be conducted on the proposal before FDOT undertakes any work, Stublen pointed out. However, he said that hearing has not been scheduled yet. FDOT will make certain adequate public notice is provided in advance of it, he added.

The last time FDOT representatives discussed the proposal before SKA members was in February 2015. As during previous such appearances at the organization’s meetings, audience members peppered the FDOT staff and consultants with questions and offered comments indicating an aversion to the roundabout. The goal with all such structures, Nandam told the audience, is to reduce the speed of the traffic, which results in fewer serious injuries when accidents do occur, especially those involving pedestrians and bicyclists. “The design will not allow for anyone to go over 20 to 25 mph,” he said at that 2015 meeting.

Yet, audience members refuted FDOT representatives’ assertions that the signalized intersection is problematic for people on foot or on bicycles.

A new Sheriff’s Office supervisor for the Key

During the June 2 SKA meeting, another announcement focused on a new Sheriff’s Office supervisor of personnel on the Key. Lt. Don Kennard, a 20-year veteran of the department, will be taking over that responsibility from Lt. Debra Kaspar, SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner said, adding that Kaspar had been promoted to the Investigations Division.

Kennard offered a “Hello” from the back of the St. Boniface Episcopal Church Parish Hall, where he stood with Sgt. Jason Mruczek, the chief of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, and Deputy Chris McGregor.

And speaking of the Sheriff’s Office …

Sgt. Jason Mruczek. File photo
Sgt. Jason Mruczek. File photo

Sgt. Mruczek reported during the June 2 SKA meeting that he had assigned deputies to keep an eye out for problems associated with the valet parking at Ophelia’s on the Bay, which were the focus of complaints during the May 5 SKA session.

Officers patrolling the area the previous four Sundays — when the restaurant serves brunch — “didn’t really see any problems with valet parking,” Mruczek said. They did write two tickets, though. One was for speeding and one was for improper passing, he noted.

Deputies will continue to keep an eye on the situation, he added.

As for Memorial Day weekend at the beach: Mruczek pointed out that Saturday and Sunday were the busiest days, though the holiday itself brought out plenty of people.

The primary problems officers handled, he continued, were related to parking, “which is the ongoing issue out here.” Some disputes erupted over people trying to save parking spaces, he said. “For the most part, we were able to settle them.”

Looking ahead to July Fourth, he noted, he has been discussing plans with the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Operations Bureau to make certain sufficient personnel and resources are on hand to deal with the crowds.

Mruczek then noted that he had been asked to address the issue of fireworks, which long have proven to be a problem on the island during the July Fourth holiday period. “Anything that shoots up in the air, anything that explodes, is illegal,” he explained. Officers will confiscate fireworks, he added. His hope, he continued, is to have a sign set up at the beach to remind patrons of the state law forbidding personal use of fireworks.

Lt. Kennard also pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office will post updates about July Fourth traffic on the Key on social media and on its website, so people will know what to expect that day if they plan to come over for the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce’s annual fireworks show.

When Mruczek asked for questions from audience members, after he completed his report, one woman reported that her husband routinely walks the beach around 6:30 or 7 a.m. Recently, she noted, he has been seeing people sleeping on benches in the picnic area and empty beer cans littering the grounds.

Mruczek promised to talk with county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff about those situations and to ask the deputy who patrols that part of the Key early in the mornings to try to document them.

“Obviously, there is no overnight camping in county parks,”
he told the audience.

‘Chick checkers’

An adult snowy plover blends in with the beach. Photo by Fran Palmeri
An adult snowy plover blends in with the beach. Photo by Fran Palmeri

With nesting season underway for the birds on Siesta Public Beach, Sarasota Audubon is welcoming anyone who would like to volunteer to help educate the public about the winged creatures and their nesting habits, Bob Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee and a long-time Audubon volunteer himself, announced on June 2.

Most of the birds are least terns and the endangered snowy plovers, he pointed out. Eliciting laughter from the packed Parish Hall, he noted that “chick checking” in this case means watching out for the tiny hatchlings, not bikini watching.

Holly Short, the steward whose presence on Siesta is paid for by Florida Audubon, will lead walks on two upcoming Thursdays for people interested in learning more about the birds and for those who would like to be trained to assist her in her work, Luckner added. Anyone will be welcome to come to Beach Access 7 at 8:30 a.m. on June 16 and June 30, Luckner said, advising those who are planning to participate to wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen and to bring binoculars.

As of June 2, Luckner noted, two eggs had hatched in one nest, but only one baby bird survived. The other fell prey to a predator.

A 4-week-old snowy plover roams Siesta Public Beach. Contributed photo
A 4-week-old snowy plover is hard to spot on Siesta Public Beach. Contributed photo

Resignations from the SKA board

In other SKA news, during the June 2 meeting, First Vice President Bob Stein, who was presiding, announced, “This past month, two of our long-time directors of our board stepped down: Beverly Arias and Michael Shay.” He added, “I want to thank them both for all the work they have done on behalf of SKA and Siesta Key.”

Stein then recognized Shay, who was among audience members at the back of the Parish Hall. Shay won a big round of applause.

Michael Shay looks through a folder before the start of the June 2 SKA meeting. Rachel Hackney photo
Michael Shay looks through a folder before the start of the June 2 SKA meeting. Rachel Hackney photo

The SKA website says Arias has been a full-time resident of the Key since 2008, having grown up in New York City. She served as the organization’s secretary in 2012. She also had been assisting with sending e-blasts to members to publicize upcoming presentations at the meetings.

A Brooklyn native, Shay joined the SKA in 2010, the website notes. In March 2013, he was elected vice president, and then, in 2014, he was elected president.

The Stickney Point Road bridge project

Lauren Hatchell, a consultant to FDOT, told the News Leader this week that the department formally signed off in a May 19 letter on the completion of repairs to the Stickney Point Road bridge.

Delays for various and sundry reasons led to that project lasting quite a bit longer than FDOT originally planned. Coastal Marine Construction of Venice won the $5,396,928 contract for the project in early 2015 and began work in April 2015. The original timeline called for completion of the project early this year.

The work entailed concrete and seawall repairs, improvements to the tender/control house, painting, and repairs to the bridge’s mechanical and electrical components.

After FDOT awarded the contract, the news release it issued pointed out that the bridge was built in 1968 and that the improvements were designed to extend the service life of the structure “another 10 years until a long-term solution is determined.”