Siesta Seen

Sewer pipeline work to continue through late fall in areas near the Village; legal fees in Big Pass case surpass $1.1 million; volunteers sought for Memorial Day weekend garbage control effort; Kompothecras’ DUI case moving along; the SKA has a new board member; new Audubon steward protecting beach-nesting birds; and Siesta Farmers Market Temporary Use Permit renewed once more

This mailer provides nearby residents information about the Canal Road project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Quite a bit of sanitary sewer system rehab work is coming up on the Key this summer, thanks to two sets of votes the County Commission took in April.

One project — along Canal Road — was expected to get underway this week, the county Public Utilities Department staff told The Sarasota News Leader.

Some residents who received the mailer sent out on April 21 apparently thought Canal Road would be closed as the work proceeded — and that work is expected to take 150 days, the mailer noted. The time frame means completion “by the end of September 2018,” as the mailer put it.

In response to News Leaderquestions, Utilities staff reported in a May 4 email, “We do not usually close roads, but sometimes thru traffic is accommodated with flaggers depending on the set up.”

The card sent to residents notes that “brief, intermittent lane closures with flaggers on duty” will occur while the work is in progress. As usual with this type of situation, the cards urge pedestrians and motorists “to use caution while traveling through the area.”

The notice to proceed for construction was issued for Monday, May 7, the mailer added.

Memos the Public Utilities Department staff provided to the County Commission in April specified areas where “the existing vitrified sanitary sewer system” would be rehabilitated under a contract with the firm Insituform Technologies LLC. That is the same company that has handled similar work on the island in past months.

In each case, the staff memos said the residents would be notified by postcard of the construction “at least two weeks prior to the start of work.”

A map shows the area of work for the 8-inch-diameter pipeline project along Avenida del Norte. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Upon completion of the projects, the staff memos explained, the longevity of the pipes is expected to have been extended by more than 50 years.

On April 10, the commissioners unanimously approved the following contracts as part of their votes on their Consent Agenda of routine business items:

  • Avenida del Norte Basin — trenchless reconstruction of about 10,100 feet of 8-inch-diameter vitrified clay pipe at a cost of $340,219.95. This part of the project is scheduled to be completed in early fall.
  • Oyster Cove Basin — reconstruction of approximately 4,400 linear feet of 8-inch-diameter pipe at a cost of $154,820.51. That work is to be finished in late summer, a staff memo reported.
  • Canal Road Basin — reconstruction of about 4,000 linear feet of 8-inch-diameter pipe at a cost of approximately $139,981.91.

On April 24, the commissioners approved two more projects, which are scheduled to start in the early fall and last through late fall, the memos note:

  • Oyster Cove Basin — reconstruction of about 7,200 linear feet of 10-inch-diameter vitrified clay pipe at a cost of $293,782.65.
  • Avenida del Norte — reconstruction of approximately 2,700 linear feet of pipe that has a 10-inch diameter at a cost of $114,096.15.

Big Pass challenge legal expenses exceed $1.1 million

City Attorney Robert Fournier. File photo

The City of Sarasota had paid a grand total of $685,953.16 as of May 1 in its fight to dredge Big Pass to renourish part of Lido Key Beach, the News Leaderhas learned.

As of early April, the Siesta Key Association(SKA) had spent about $223,000 in its efforts to preserve the pass in its virgin state, Treasurer Robert Miller reported to members at the April 5 meeting of the nonprofit.

Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2(SOSS2), told the News Leaderthat that organization’s expenses thus far added up to $209,185.21.

Combining the three figures, the total outlay for the legal expenses has been $1,118,138.37, by the News Leader’s calculations.

Since early April, SOSS2, the SKA, the city and the Lido Key Residents Association had been awaiting a ruling from the judge who presided over a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding held mostly in Sarasota in December 2017. The judge issued his order this week, recommending that the dredging go forward but also calling for a permit modification regarding the months the work can be done. (See the related story in this issue.)

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) also participated in the December 2017 hearing.

As requested by Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter, the parties in early April filed recommendations for his order in the case.

In response to a formal request from the News Leader, City Attorney Robert Fournier provided a detailed breakdown on May 2 regarding the payments the city has made. He was preparing a report for the City Commission, he said, so he shared the same information with the News Leader.

John R. Herin Jr. of Gray Robinson has represented the city in the case. Image from the Gray Robinson website

“As of May 1, 2018, the total expenses associated with these proceedings are [as follows],” Fournier wrote the commission:

  • $376,708.77 to Gray Robinson, the Fort Lauderdale-based legal counsel retained by the City of Sarasota.
  • $203,829.20 to Lewis, Longman & Walker of Bradenton, the legal counsel retained by the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA).

That added up to $580,537.97 in total attorney fees and costs, Fournier noted.

In addition, $29,316.64 was paid to Ocean Sciences Inc. (Dr. Mark Fonseca) for expert testimony, Fournier added.

A total of $609,854.61 has been paid from the City Attorney’s litigation budget, he wrote. “The majority of these expenses were incurred in [the] current [fiscal year] FY 2017-18.”

The amounts the city has paid since the hearing in December 2017 for review of the hearing transcripts and preparation of the “Respondents Proposed Recommended Order” are as follows, he continued:

  • $46,685.59 to Gray Robinson and $62,411.70 to Lewis, Longman & Walker.

“The City and the LKRA submitted a Joint Recommended Order, with LKRA counsel assuming a lead role in its preparation,” he noted, adding that the sums for that work “are included in the total amount(s) provided above and are not additional charges.”

In addition to the 609,854.61 from the City Attorney’s litigation budget, the sum of $76,098.55 has been paid out of the project account, he wrote, referring to the beach renourishment money the city receives out of Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax revenue for such projects. “This includes $65,298.55 to Thomas Campbell [a professional engineer] for consulting and $10,800.00 to Angel Eyes for preparation of aerial photographic exhibits,” Fournier added.

Volunteers sought to help with Memorial Day trash pickup

Joyce Kouba. File photo

During the May 3 SKA meeting, Secretary Joyce Kouba noted earlier remarks by Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Mruczek about the fact that Memorial Day weekend typically is one of the busiest periods for tourism on the island. As a result, she said, it also will be “one of the trashiest.”

In June 2017, County Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta as part of District 4 — talked during the SKA meeting about all the emails he and his colleagues had received about the volume of garbage left on the beach by visitors over the Memorial Day holiday. The SKA and several Siesta groups had worked hard to clean up the beach, he added.

On May 3, Kouba reported that SKA representatives would be talking with staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department about its plans to try to keep beach garbage to a minimum. (Over the July Fourth holiday in 2017, staff and volunteers handed out yellow bags at beach access points and encouraged visitors to deposit their garbage in the bags and then place the bags in receptacles at the accesses as they headed back to their vehicles.)

If any of the approximately 40 people in the audience wished to help over Memorial Day weekend, Kouba continued, the SKA would “love to have you.”

She asked people to speak with her after the meeting ended, so she could collect their phone numbers or email addresses. “Then we’ll be in contact with you. We’ll let you know what the plans are.”

Anyone who did not attend the meeting but who would like to volunteer may contact the SKA at info@siestakeyassociation.com.

Kompothecras DUI case moving along

Regular readers will recall that Dr. Gary Kompothecras — who most recently has been in the spotlight for his efforts to build a hotel on the Key — also garnered attention in early February when he was charged with DUI and speeding about 100 mph on Interstate 75 in Manatee County.

The News Leaderlate last week checked his case file with the Manatee Clerk of Court and found several notices regarding the taking of depositions.

Additionally, a pretrial conference was set for May 15.

Dr. Gary Kompothecras. Photo courtesy Manatee County Sheriff’s Office

One document the News Leaderreviewed — signed by Assistant State Attorney Lindsey Brigham, working for the 12thJudicial Circuit in Bradenton — was an April 12 notice saying that four people would be deposed on April 25. Among them were Kompothecras’ son, Alex.

Among other documents, an April 25 filing by Kompothecras’ attorney, Derek Byrd, sought copies of all the crime scene photos taken by an investigator. A note on that document says the photos were produced.

Byrd also has filed witness lists that include the name of a private investigator in Sarasota — Andre Levesque; an ophthalmologist at the Center for Sight in Sarasota; two podiatrists — one in Lakewood Ranch and one in Sarasota; a nurse at the Manatee County Jail; and Kompothecras’ wife.

Regular readers also may recall that after a Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy pulled Kompothecras over about 1:40 a.m. on Feb. 8, Kompothecras “requested that he participate in field sobriety exercises,” as the deputy’s report said. 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.”

A new SKA board member

Erin Kreis, a property manager on the Key — and a devoted volunteer, as she pointed out — is the newest member of the Siesta Key Association Board of Directors.

SKA President Gene Kusekoski introduced Kreis to the approximately 40 people attending the May 3 SKA meeting, and he then asked Kreis to offer some remarks.

“I’m really happy to be here with you on the board,” Kreis said.

She and her husband moved to Siesta three years ago from Michigan, she said.

Erin Kreis. Rachel Hackney photo

Kreis was a manager at GM who specialized in public policy, corporate relations, philanthropy, disaster relief, sustainability and employee volunteerism, she explained. “I have pretty broad credentials on the corporate side.”

Additionally, she told the audience, from 1994 to 2015, she chaired the planning commission in the community where she lived, and she also served as chair of that community’s zoning board of appeals from 2010 to 2015.

After attending several SKA meetings and hearing discussions about zoning and planning issues involving the island, Kreis added, she became interested in getting involved with the nonprofit.

“I believe firmly in volunteerism,” she said. “Volunteering is very important and very, very close to my heart.”

New Audubon steward at work on the beaches

Another announcement during the May 3 SKA meeting focused on a new Florida Audubon employee who is working to safeguard the nesting birds on the county’s barrier islands.

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner said Kylie Wilson is a Sarasota native who is “very lively and friendly,” and Wilson is looking for volunteer “chick checkers.”

The birds — including the endangered snowy plovers — typically build their nests between April and August, Luckner noted. People may see string and poles marking off areas on the beaches where nests have been located.

Snowy plovers nest on area beaches this time of year. Photo from the Sarasota-Manatee Bird Stewards Facebook page

Wilson reminded the News Leaderin an email that a big part of her job is education: trying to teach people not to disturb the birds.

In years past, when Luckner and her husband, Robert, were very active as chick checkers, they reminded the public that the snowy plovers that nest in the area hatch chicks that are so tiny, the birds can be likened to a Q-tip with a ball of cotton on top.

During her April 23 email update, Wilson reported that one plover nest that had been found the previous week on Siesta already was a lost cause. “Many crows have been seen in the area,” she added, but she had not been able to confirm whether the crows ate the eggs. “I am working on a predator surveillance project that will hopefully be able to tell us the whens, whats and hows,” she wrote. “With this data we will be able to get [the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] involved and predator deterrence projects can be planned. I am hoping to do this ASAP so that we can make some headway and have a productive season.”

For the week of April 30, Wilson wrote, “Siesta continues to tease us.” A volunteer who walks the beach regularly found a snowy plover nest the previous Saturday evening, Wilson continued. “It had one egg,” she added. “Unfortunately the next morning the egg was gone. There is still a pair [of plovers] reliably in that area, so we will keep looking.”

Farmers’ Market permit renewed

As has proven the custom over past years, the County Commission this spring approved the renewal of the Temporary Use Permit under which the Siesta Farmers’ Market operates in Davidson Plaza.

The vote came without comments during the board’s regular meeting on April 11.

A graphic presented to the County Commission in April shows the area of Davidson Plaza where the Siesta Farmers’ Market operates on Sundays. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Bryan Eible established the Sunday event in 2009, after the commission unanimously adopted an ordinance in 2008 to allow for farmers’ markets through approval of a Temporary Use Permit (TUP). Each TUP is good for a year.

An April 11 memo to the commission from county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson pointed out, “There have been no complaints against the farmers’ market since its inception, and the community has continued to generally support the farmers’ market.

Along with his application for renewal of the TUP this year, Eible emailed Thompson a list of the vendors as of Feb. 8. Among them were people selling fruits and vegetables, Italian breads, orchids, wooden sculptures, organic coffee, hand-painted tiles, organic bath products, organic teas, handmade beach blankets, artwork created with shells, glass holders, flowers and other plants.

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