Final testing underway at new master pump station; Kompothecras arrested for DUI; Make Siesta Drive Safer wins SKA endorsement; Condo Council undertaking paid beach parking survey; Condo Council meeting set for Feb. 20; SKFRAC donates vehicle and equipment to Fire Department; Holderness takes responsibility for cigarette butt litter signs; county grant program continuing to reduce cigarette litter; and deaths of prominent island residents marked
The last major tie-in of sewer pipeline from the north end of the island to the new master pump station on Siesta Key has been completed, Sarasota County’s Water/Wastewater Division manager told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
“Everything associated with putting that pump station into operation is installed,” Dave Cash said during a Feb. 12 telephone interview.
Staff has been testing all the major components, he continued, with the full start-up testing anticipated to begin this week.
When the News Leader suggested he must feel almost as if he has given birth, given the years invested into the project, Cash laughed and replied, “I’m a proud papa of a new sewer pump station.”
On April 7, 2016, Cash stood at the front of a packed Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church as he discussed the county’s initiative to transform the former Siesta Key Utility Authority plant from a wastewater treatment facility into a master pump station. The directors of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) had invited him to make a presentation on the project.
Time has gone by fast, he told the News Leader on Feb. 12. “A lot’s happened since [April 2016].”
The trial runs that were planned to begin this week would proceed cautiously, Cash explained. The goal is “a nice steady transition” without too much change, as staff works to transfer wastewater from the Key to the mainland via a new sewer main that was installed under the Intracoastal Waterway.
“Once we stop the flow [of wastewater into the island facility],” he pointed out, “that’s it. “We can’t go back.”
Within a couple of weeks, he predicted, staff should know the date when the pump station will be fully operational. He would make certain the SKA receives that news, so it can announce the date to its members, Cash added.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for the plant to operate as a wastewater facility expires on June 19, he noted. The transition to the pump station should be completed well before that, he said.
Although Cash originally had hoped the project would be finished by the end of 2017, Hurricane Irma and one other major rain event thwarted that schedule. The biggest delay, he indicated, involved extra time for the curing of poured-in concrete for a wet well at the pump station site adjacent to Siesta Isles. “Weather was a big factor with that situation.”
Still, he pointed out, “We’re not too far behind. We’re pushing pretty fast now.”
After the pump station becomes fully operational, he explained, staff will undertake the formal decommissioning of the wastewater treatment components of the facility, as required by FDEP. State environmental staff has to review a plan for that work and approve it before the county can begin that final step, he said.
During the Feb. 1 SKA meeting, Robert Luckner, a member of the nonprofit’s Environmental Committee, reported on the progress that had been made at the plant at that point, as he has been doing for the past months, based on his communications with county Public Works Department/Capital Projects staff.
“It’s amazing how much backup [equipment] they have in there,” Luckner added of the new pump station: “Two big electric pumps,” two small ones, a diesel generator and two independent electrical lines are among the new infrastructure.
On Feb. 1, Luckner noted, testing of the four electric pumps began.
He elicited laughter among the audience members when he told them to think about the pump station when they went to the bathroom at halftime of the Super Bowl, which was coming up on Feb. 4.
County staff members had remarked to him, Luckner said, that “the biggest surge they see the entire year” comes during that part of the Super Bowl telecast.
DUI arrest for Dr. K
Last year, Dr. Gary Kompothecras appeared in a segment of the MTV reality show Siesta Key, which he created, lecturing his nephew, Pauly Apostolides, about Pauly’s frequent run-ins with the law over substance abuse.
In fact, that particular episode also featured dialogue between Kompothecras and his son, Alex, on the same issue. The stress was on the dangers of irresponsible behavior, according to a fan of the show, who shared that information with the News Leader and showed the News Leader a clip.
Yet, in the wee hours of Feb. 8, Gary Kompothecras himself was arrested and charged with DUI after allegedly passing a Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy on Interstate 75 at a speed of 100 mph, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reported.
He has pleaded “Not Guilty,” Manatee County Clerk of Court records show.
The deputy wrote that he was heading south on I-75 on the J.D. Young Bridge about 1:40 a.m. on Feb. 8 when he observed a silver Porsche pass him. “I was able to obtain a speed on my forward moving radar unit with a clear audible tone that confirmed the vehicle was in fact traveling at 100 mph,” the deputy added.
After the deputy stopped the Porsche, the report continued, he identified Kompothecras, 57, not only by Kompothecras’ Florida driver’s license but also by a “Sarasota Sheriff board of advisers ID card that he had behind his license.”
Then the deputy noted that he “could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle.”
Kompothecras told the deputy “he had wine at the Hard Rock [Café in Tampa] before he left after having some type of issue with his wife,” the report continued.
Kompothecras “requested that he participate in field sobriety exercises,” the report said, so the deputy agreed to that, though the report also noted that Kompothecras stated “numerous times that he had an issue with his feet that affected his balance.”
The first exercise did not go so well, the report pointed out, with “the defendant [showing] lack of smooth pursuit in both eyes …” The second exercise, the deputy explained, “was the walk and turn,” the report continued. “The defendant could not keep balance while listening to instructions, stepped off the line, used his arms for balance, missed touching heel to toe, and took an incorrect number of steps … The defendant then told me he would not do the one leg stand as it required him to balance,” the report said.
When the deputy next explained how an alphabet exercise would work, the report continued, “the defendant stated that he had a PhD and knew the alphabet. The defendant opened his eyes during the exercise, and could not complete reciting the alphabet despite numerous attempts.”
The deputy then placed Kompothecras under arrest, the report said, but Kompothecras “refused to provide a breath sample.”
The deputy transported Kompothecras to the Manatee County Jail.
Bond was set at $500, the report said, with a March 12 court date set.
A News Leader check of 12th Judicial Circuit Court records this week found four cases, dating back to 2004, when Kompothecras had been charged with speeding, though most of those incidents appeared to involve residential streets.
Make Siesta Drive Safer receives SKA endorsement
The Siesta Key Association (SKA) Board of Directors has voted unanimously to support and endorse the work of the Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS) Committee of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association, SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner announced on Feb. 1.
She reminded audience members at the February SKA meeting that Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association, made a presentation about the group’s work in January. “It is an incredible effort on their part,” Luckner said. “We’re going to do everything that we can to help them get [their proposals] accomplished.”
When the News Leader asked for a comment about the endorsement, Dee Reams, Make Siesta Drive Safer chair, wrote in a Feb. 12 email, “Speaking for the Make Siesta Drive Safer committee, we are very appreciative of SKA’s endorsement of our efforts … The Siesta Key Association has, over many years, consistently raised the bar for all associations in representing the interest of property owners on Siesta Key. We are humbled, grateful and encouraged by their enthusiastic support of MSDS and look forward to a collaborative relationship as we move forward.”
Reams pointed out that since MSDS was organized in April 2017, its members have held regular meetings in an effort to achieve the following:
- “Get input from Bay Island residents regarding their personal experiences with traffic crashes over the years.
- “Meet with community leaders such as [former long-time County Commissioner] Nora Patterson, [Sarasota City Commissioner] Hagan Brody, [County Commissioner] Al Maio, Bruce King [of the Sarasota Police Department], [Sarasota City Commissioner] Liz Alpert [and] Sheriff Tom Knight.
- “Gather documented information in the form of traffic crash reports from City/County [law enforcement offices] to back up personal experience stories.
- “Develop a working relationship with [Florida Department of Transportation] FDOT officials, specific to our area.
- “Put together ‘Ask List’ for FDOT, based on collected crash data, biggest perceived problem areas, and research into other municipalities with similar issues.
- “Maintain close and regular communication with FDOT, City/County [law enforcement offices], local government, state [Legislature] and surrounding communities.”
In general, she explained, the Make Siesta Drive Safer requests to FDOT have focused on the following:
- Decreasing the speed limit on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue to 30 mph from South Osprey Drive to Midnight Pass Road.
- Addressing “the dangerous situation at the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection/curve.”
- Adding crosswalks at North Shell Road and Hamilton Avenue “and trying to find a crosswalk/sidewalk solution for neighbors/pedestrians who live and/or walk on the south and east sides of the Siesta/Higel curve.”
Reams added in her email that in addition to its discussions with the directors of the Siesta Key Association, “our committee has begun the process of reaching out to other surrounding neighborhood associations such as [those for] San Remo, Granada, Coconut Bayou and others, to communicate our MSDS mission and ensure that as many residents as possible are aware of our goals to make our state roadway safer, and bring them up to speed as to what we are requesting of FDOT to do that. So far,” she continued, “as we have presented our plan at the associations’ board meetings, it has been met with very positive feedback and commitment of support.”
Another survey about paid parking at the beach
On Feb. 8, the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) launched the survey it had promised members it would undertake in regard to County Commission discussions about charging for parking at Siesta Public Beach.
Condo Council members have been requested to complete the survey by Feb. 16.
The commissioners have asked the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff to continue to explore facets of a paid-parking program and report back as information becomes available.
The email blast from the Condo Council says, “To pay or not to pay for parking on Siesta Beach has been debated many times over many years. It is now being considered at the County Commission level. We want to know what you, our SKCC members, think about this issue so that we can present an SKCC position on this issue.”
The survey form points out, “Traffic congestion and parking frustration on Siesta Key have caused many visitors, residents and business owners to plead for a better way to preserve our quality of life and share our treasured Siesta Key with others.” It adds that the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which the county began operating in March 2017, runs from Siesta Key Village to Turtle Beach Park on the south end of the island. Funding for that service has been assured for another three years, the survey notes.
“The SKA, the SKCC and [the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce] are working together to find more ways to preserve the island we love as we share our bit of paradise with others,” the survey continues. “We would need your input and participation.”
The survey indicates that the SKCC is seeking free parking at the beach for all county property owners. That could be accomplished through the mailing of two parking decals per household with the annual property tax notice mailed out by the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office, the document points out.
The survey indicates that people who do not own property in the county and those who rent homes could purchase a yearly parking pass or decal.
“Visitors to Siesta Beach would pay an hourly and/or day parking rate in line with [action pursued in] other similar beach communities,” the survey notes.
And speaking of the Condo Council …
The next meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council — on Feb. 20 — will feature a presentation by County Commissioner Alan Maio and a report on the 2017 statistics for Fire Station 13, the organization has announced.
Among other items on the agenda are a report on the results of the Condo Council’s beach parking survey and an update on Benderson Development Co.’s proposed Siesta Promenade project, the notice adds.
The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. at Siesta Key Chapel, located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on the north end of the island.
Beach rescue vehicle donated to Fire Department
The Siesta Key Fire Rescue Advisory Council (SKFRAC) has donated a Polaris Beach Rescue vehicle and a Stryker Power Loading system to the Sarasota County Fire Department in recognition of a “job well done” by the crew of Fire Station No. 13 on Siesta Key, Sarasota County announced.
A late resident of Siesta Key had left part of her estate to the nonprofit organization so it could buy items to donate to Station No. 13, which stands next to Siesta Public Beach, a county news release explained. “The units there frequently ran medical calls to assist on the resident in her late age and she wanted to thank them after her passing,” the release added.
Representatives of SKFRAC handed over the keys for the new Polaris ATV to Fire Chief Michael Regnier on the morning of Feb. 8 at Fire Station No. 13.
Regnier explained that the vehicle will enable rescue personnel to reach a person faster in an emergency situation on the beach. The Stryker system, he added, enables EMTs to load someone into a rescue unit without the potential of injuring their backs.
Regnier thanked the SKFRAC representatives for their generosity. “Obviously, this is something great for Siesta Key and for the Fire Department overall and for the community,” he said.
Cigarette littering signs update
The News Leader has learned that the person behind the signs in Siesta Village warning people not to drop cigarette butts on the ground is Michael Holderness, a property owner and chief executive officer of SaraBay Real Estate.
“I did this,” he wrote in the subject line of a recent email to the News Leader. The reason? “Village floods at high tide,” he pointed out, and the butts float. “[T]wo days later they are in our wrack line on the beach. Guests just need a reminder, as they left their worries at home.”
The “wrack line” is the line of material left by high tide; it generally has plenty of seaweed and microscopic critters, along with an assortment of debris such as shells and feathers.
The signs mention a $250 fine, but Sarasota staff has made it clear that, under the provisions of a state law, the county cannot fine people for littering cigarette butts.
County staff originally planned to remove the signs. However, subsequent to Holderness’ public assertion that he had installed them, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester provided a detailed response in a Feb. 7 email after the News Leader asked what would happen to the signs. Winchester referenced the county Code of Ordinances: “7.4.10.a.13. Exempt Signs. The following signs are exempted from the permit requirements of this section:
“i. Wall mounted, window or ground menu signs that do not exceed a maximum area of three square feet. Ground menu signs shall not be located within the right-of-way. Sandwich or A-frame style signs shall not be permitted.
“ii. Murals on a building or structure, provided that the mural does not advertise or promote any product or business. The intent of this section is to exempt murals that provide a depiction or rendering of the scenery, habitat, setting, resort environment, recreational or leisure activities or qualities of life.”
Then, Winchester cited “7.4.2. Prohibited Signs.
“c. Obscenities. Signs which are obscene are prohibited.”
He added, “The code does not address verbiage other than the above.”
Latest on the cigarette litter grant program
In conjunction with its inquiry about Holderness’ signs, the News Leader took the opportunity to inquire about the latest statistics regarding the program county staff initiated last year to try to curb butt litter.
In a Feb. 5 email, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote, “As part of the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) grant, we installed (36) ash receptacles at Siesta Beach, Siesta [Beach] Accesses, Turtle Beach, and Nora Patterson & Christopher Wheeler Parks. The ash receptacles are emptied weekly and are generally anywhere from a quarter to half full. As we are heading into peak season (mid-Feb. to mid-April) we expect to see even more use. Since being installed last May, we’ve seen a 35-40% reduction in cigarette/cigar butt litter.”
During the Jan. 23 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting, President Frank Jurenka took a few minutes to mark the deaths of former Directors Kathryn Cunningham and Helen Clifford.
(Clifford also served on the SKA board for a number of years.)
The News Leader learned last week that two more well-known Siesta residents had died: Thomas Hamilton, 83, whose family owned the Bay Island Hotel for many years; and George Heiland, 77, who was the founder of the Blue Line, a copy shop offering art, office and drafting supplies that stood for decades at the intersection of Fourth Street and Fruitville Road in Sarasota.
The Bay Island Hotel, which was on the northern end of the island, closed in the early 1950s, according to the Sarasota History Center.