Siesta Seen

Fiber optic cable project to start Nov. 13; mosquito swarms necessitate county action; parking, traffic and trespassing questions aired during SKA meeting; and Siesta Village getting new amenities

‘Locate paint,’ in green, marks the location of utility lines in front of the Daiquiri Deck in Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

The manager of the MCI fiber optic cable project planned on the Key has coordinated with Sarasota County staff and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce to begin work on Monday, Nov. 13, Lisa Cece, the county’s special district coordinator, announced in a Nov. 6 email.

In the meantime, Cece added, the county’s tree contractor was asked to proceed on Nov. 9 with pruning the large palms in the Village that were distressed by Hurricane Irma, in advance of the fiber optic cable construction.

In a telephone interview on the morning of Nov. 6, Construction Manager Desiree Doiron-Wilde of Overland Contracting in Tampa told The Sarasota News Leader that the project team would be happy to adhere to whatever schedule the business owners desired for the actual work in the Village.

The News Leader had pointed out that the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival opens Nov. 10 and continues through Nov. 13. However, typically, the majority of visitors come to the event on the weekend days.

A county contractor prunes a palm tree on the south end of Siesta Village on Nov. 9. Photo courtesy of Lisa Cece

Initially, Doiron-Wilde told the News Leader, the project was set to begin on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at its north end, the intersection of Givens Street and Ocean Boulevard. However, she said late on the afternoon of Nov. 6 that because it appeared that work would take only a few hours or so, Overland had decided to hold off on any of the project until early on Nov. 13.

On Nov. 9, she added, she and an Overland project superintendent planned to do a preliminary walkthrough of the routes the fiber optic cable will take. They also wanted to make sure the remaining piles of debris from Hurricane Irma would not impede any part of their work, she noted.

Cece noted in her Nov. 6 email that after the work has been completed in Siesta Village, it will continue along Beach Road and then east to Midnight Pass Road in the coming weeks.

“The worst-case scenario,” Doiron-Wilde told the News Leader, would entail three days of construction work in Siesta Village. She hopes to complete it within two, she pointed out. “Just get in and out as fast as we can.”

“We’ve done a lot of work out there before,” she added of the island, noting that she handled construction projects for Verizon for 20 years before joining Overland.

A cross section shows details of the fiber optic cable project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We’re very familiar with the brick pavers and the tourists and the business owners,” she pointed out. If anything is damaged in the Village, she continued, insurance will cover the expense of repairs.

Her goal also is to make sure sufficient people are in place to handle maintenance of traffic, as well, she said.

Asked about the exact nature of the project, Doiron-Wilde explained that MCI is expanding its cell phone service, so it needs the fiber optic cable to connect cell towers, as part of its overall transmission infrastructure. She added that the work has nothing to do with Frontier, which bought Verizon’s landline, cable and broadband network in Florida about 18 months ago.

Although she will not be on site 24 hours a day as the work proceeds, Doiron-Wilde said, she would be on the Key a considerable portion of time, trying to ensure that all goes well. “We’re here to work with everybody.”

Most unwelcome visitors

A big influx in one type of “visitor” to the Key over the previous weekend was most unwelcome, the News Leader learned on Nov. 6.

Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported to Lisa Cece, the county’s special district coordinator who supervises the Village upkeep, that swarms of mosquitoes were so bad on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 that he could not even sit outside.

The salt marsh mosquito has been a big pest on Siesta Key in recent days. Photo by Tom Murray, courtesy of Texas A&M Extension

It was necessary to wear long clothes and insect repellant, he added, just to take his dogs out for walks. He pointed out in an email to the News Leader that the newer addition to his family — a female dog — has a coat with short white hair. After Shay and his wife were outside for only 2 minutes with both their canines one day, he continued, the couple counted more than a dozen mosquitoes on the new dog; at that point, they were ready to retreat to their home. The mosquitoes “were all over both of us!” Shay added of his wife and himself.

The couple has lived on the island for eight years, he continued, and never had seen such a problem in the past.

What was especially troubling, he pointed out, was the fact that the occurrence came right after the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County issued its Nov. 3 warning that several of its sentinel chicken flocks had tested positive for West Nile virus, meaning the risk of transmission to the public had increased. (See the related article in this issue.)

The Health Department was urging the public to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Shay’s report to Cece prompted Sarasota County Mosquito Control staff to send a technician over to the island at 7 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 6, the News Leader learned.

That same day, Cece wrote in an email shared with the News Leader, she had found several SeeClickFix tickets reporting similar complaints about mosquitoes; they were submitted to the county over the weekend through the mobile app program.

A Mosquito Control truck was scheduled to spray repellant around the island the evening of Nov. 6, she added.

In response to a question from the News Leader about the situation, county Mosquito Management Director Matt Smith wrote in a Nov. 6 email, “Salt Marsh mosquitoes have been problematic on [Siesta Key] all year. The grassy areas behind the dunes (between beach and buildings) have a tendency to hold water from heavy rains” and, in some cases, from higher than average tides, he continued. “We treat these areas regularly,” Smith wrote, “but we’re not sure exactly why there was such a huge [mosquito] population spike so suddenly. We’re currently looking into whether or not an area was missed or if we possibly had a treatment failure. But mostly, with mosquitoes, if the right conditions present themselves they are quick to exploit it. Especially species like these salt marsh mosquitoes that we’re experiencing.”

Shay reported to the News Leader on Nov. 7 that the situation had improved, as he noticed on his walk to the Village that morning to undertake his usual property inspection for the Maintenance Corp. However, closer to the Gulf of Mexico, he added, as soon as he walked through the grass, he saw mosquitoes take to the air after being disturbed.

The Siesta Key Community Facebook page speculated that the mosquitoes could be breeding more rapidly because of all the damp areas under piles of debris from Hurricane Irma that still were awaiting collection on the island.

Storm debris lines a Siesta Isles street in early October. Rachel Hackney photo

In response to a follow-up question from the News Leader on Nov. 7, Smith wrote, “We do not believe that storm debris is significantly affecting the mosquitoes. In particular, the salt marsh mosquitoes on Siesta are completely unrelated. The problem on Siesta seems to be that the beach environment has changed significantly. There are now more sandy, low areas covered with beach grass. These areas, when submerged, make ideal breeding sites for salt marsh mosquitoes. Especially the Aedes sollicitans we are currently seeing, as they love high salinity water with lots of emergent vegetation.”

Smith added, “The only possible impact to mosquitoes from storm debris is if the debris piles obstruct our ability to spray roadside ditches. However, we have not had reports of this being a real factor from our field staff, and our field staff are highly trained and very dedicated individuals. When encountering obstructions they take the time to get out of the vehicle and treat the water by hand if necessary although such extra work does slow down the overall treatment process. The debris itself could represent possible harborage for mosquitoes but they do not actually breed inside the debris unless it is household debris that can hold water. Since storm damage was limited to trees and fences mostly, we have observed very little in the way of debris that can act as a water container.”

Parking, traffic and trespassing complaints aired at SKA meeting

Deputy Chris McGregor listens to a question on Nov. 2. Rachel Hackney photo

Parking at Siesta Public Beach, traffic congestion and concerns about crime were the focus of questions directed at Deputy Chris McGregor of the Sheriff’s Office during the Nov. 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting.

SKA Director Gene Kusekoski kicked off the comments, noting that drivers often are reluctant to stop for pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road.

He recently tried to use the intersection himself, Kusekoski said, and three cars flew past him. He made eye contact with one driver, he added, and even that did not make any difference.

McGregor responded that he would put in a request for more Sheriff’s Office focus on that situation. Even though the road is managed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), McGregor pointed out, the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for enforcement of safety issues there.

Then a question arose about the right turn on red sign at the same intersection, for traffic headed onto the Key from Stickney Point Road. McGregor explained that if a driver stops where the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) signage indicates the driver should stop, the driver “can’t see oncoming traffic on Midnight Pass Road. It’s a state [problem],” he added, “and we’re trying to address it. It’s a tough intersection.”

McGregor also clarified that if the “No Turn on Red” sign is not lit up, drivers may turn on red.

Then a woman who lives near St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Midnight Pass Road reprised complaints that an SKA member living in Siesta Estates raised about Memorial Day. “July Fourth was a horrible time for us,” the woman said on Nov. 2.

“Me, too,” McGregor responded, eliciting a round of laughter from the approximately 60 audience members.

The woman proceeded to explain that about 70 cars were left parked on the county’s right of way along Midnight Pass Road, adjacent to her condo complex. “We hired a security guard for those holiday weekends,” she added. What could the Sheriff’s Office do to help, she asked.

“I bet you we wrote 80 or 90 tickets” on Labor Day, McGregor replied, because people were parked illegally on rights of way. “I don’t know what your answer is” to prevent people from doing that, he continued. “I’ve been out here for many years,” he told her, and he had not seen people leaving vehicles on that part of Midnight Pass Road right of way until recent months.

Audience members gather for the Nov. 2 SKA meeting at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. Rachel Hackney photo

McGregor then told the audience, “We started writing more expensive tickets,” as allowed by a state statute. In the past, he said, the Sheriff’s Office citations for illegal parking were $25. Drivers would laugh at him when he told them that was how much it would cost them, he said, and then they would proceed to park where he had told them they could not.

The new ticket is $74.50, he said. “It [has] a little more bite to it.”

The audience applauded him loudly.

In answer to a question about towing illegally parked cars, he continued, “It’s not that we don’t have the manpower [to deal with those situations].” However, the Sheriff’s Office has to weigh the demands on its personnel’s time, he explained. If a deputy calls for a tow truck, he pointed out, the deputy has to stay on the scene until the tow truck driver has removed a vehicle. Furthermore, McGregor said, if a tow truck is called on a holiday weekend, most likely the driver will take a long time to arrive, as the driver will have to contend with the extra traffic congestion on the island. “We try to avoid towing unless it’s an egregious situation.”

When SKA member Katherine Zimmerman asked about whether the Sheriff’s Office ever uses tire locks on vehicles parked illegally, McGregor replied, “I don’t think we can take your car away from you” for that type of offense.

Then the woman who kicked off the discussion suggested that someone use electronic signboards on U.S. 41 when no spaces are available at Siesta Key Public Beach: “Parking lot full. Turn around,” she said, leading to another round of laughter.

“Something has to be done before they even approach the bridges,” she added.

“I go out to the public beach and I put four signs out that say the lot is full,” McGregor responded. “People still pull in and [try to] park.” Many people do not believe the signs apply to them, he added.

He has noticed that some island residents put large rocks on their rights of way, he continued, to prevent people from parking in those places. Even if more residents tried that tactic, he said, “I guarantee you, [people will] move ’em or drive around them.”

One audience member — a retired Auburn University faculty member — cautioned audience members that, in Alabama, if a drunk driver were injured by driving into rocks on rights of ways, the driver could hire an attorney and bring suit against the adjacent property owner, seeking damages for contributory negligence. Lawyers suing on behalf of clients, he said, “will go after the deepest pockets, and it can be very hurtful.”

The man added that he was not certain whether Florida law would allow for such lawsuits.

McGregor explained that he had not intended to imply that the use of such rocks is sanctioned by the Sheriff’s Office. That is action on which the department cannot take a stance, he said.

The woman next asked McGregor what the policy is for the Sheriff’s Office if people trespass on the grounds of a condominium complex. For example, she said, if someone who does not own property in the complex is “having sex by the pool or drunken parties. … It is private property.”

By all means, McGregor told her, residents should call the Sheriff’s Office. If they feel threatened enough, they can call 911, he added. “We can have [such people] trespassed as long as somebody from the condo [complex] is there to sign [a citation],” he pointed out. Then, if the person returns after receiving that warning, he added, a deputy can arrest the person.

If the trespassed person leaves the property before a deputy arrives, McGregor continued, the deputy still can arrest the offender as long as someone is willing to sign an affidavit, attesting to the fact that the offender had returned to the complex.

“Please, please, please do call, because we don’t have eyes everywhere,” he urged the audience.

People enter one of the new crosswalks at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road. FDOT improved the intersection last year in an effort to enhance pedestrian safety. Rachel Brown Hackney

“And don’t approach them yourself,” Zimmerman added. Once at 3 a.m., she said, she asked loud revelers across the canal from her home to keep down the noise, and they “threatened to come over on paddleboards and beat me up.”

Lourdes Ramirez then noted that Avenida Madera residents recently had reported strange people walking across residents’ lawns.

“This is the Key,” McGregor replied laughingly. “There are strange people walking across people’s lawns all the time.”

Ramirez told him she had heard about a home burglary involving the theft of television sets.

That incident occurred at the Tropical Breeze Resort on Columbus Boulevard, he told her, adding that he had handled the report. “That might have been an inside job.”

An Avenida Madera resident in the audience then explained that he was aware of a neighbor’s home having been broken into recently.

McGregor responded that he had not heard about that incident.

Another person asked what to do when he sees drivers running red lights or committing other offenses. McGregor and SKA Director Joe Volpe responded that anyone may call 365-TAGS and report such an incident. The offender will receive a courtesy letter describing what the witness observed. For most people, McGregor said, knowledge that they had been seen disobeying a traffic law will be enough to make them more likely to abide by the law in the future.

In response to a question about whether the drivers of the free ride services on the Key have chauffeur’s licenses, McGregor said the state does not require that.

Replying to another question, McGregor told the audience that it is illegal in Florida to use any type of frame around a license plate that obscures part of the plate.

Danny Limongelli. Image courtesy Sheriff’s Office

On one other note, McGregor did tell the audience that no major crime trends had been recorded on the Key in recent weeks. He did report on the arrest of a suspect — Danny Limongelli — charged with stealing $150 in dollar bills that people had signed at the Siesta Key Oyster Bar. (The restaurant has a tradition of adorning its walls and ceiling with the bills.)

The break-in was reported one morning, McGregor added, and the suspect was in jail by that afternoon.

“Did he just take the big [bills]?” an audience member asked.

“They’re all dollars,” McGregor replied.

Another audience member said she was at SKOB a few nights prior to the SKA meeting and the dollars were so plentiful, it was difficult to believe any had been removed.

McGregor did point out that a clerk at a Bank of America branch, where the suspect took a group of the bills, apparently did not find the bills to be suspicious. A Publix clerk who was curious about why the suspect had them enabled the Sheriff’s Office to make the arrest, he said.

Finally, after about 18 minutes, SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner wrapped up the question-and-answer session with McGregor so the board could move on to other agenda topics.

New amenities for the Village

On Nov 13, a new decorative bench and trash receptacle should be arriving in Siesta Village, Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for Sarasota County, reported this week.

The bench will be installed in front of Siesta Kids, she wrote in an email, and the trash receptacle replacement will be at intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Calle Miramar. “Recently, a new decorative bench was installed in front of the Village Café,” she noted, “and a new decorative trash receptacle [was placed] in front of Daiquiri Deck, along with [a] brand new blue glass and bottle recycling container.”

“More will be planned this year to keep the Village in a resort like setting,” she added.