Siesta wastewater flowing to the mainland for treatment; SKA president learning a lot about crosswalks; drawbridges’ opening durations questioned; Village garbage volume underscores how busy season was; Village apparently is a sleepy place near dawn; a different type of ‘sex tape’ discussed; and the Siesta Chamber welcomes a new staffer
The target time for the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant to cease functioning in its original capacity and begin operating as a master pump station was early May, Sarasota County staff reported earlier in late winter.
Dave Cash, the Water/Wastewater Division manager, explained to The Sarasota News Leader that one could not simply turn a switch. Instead, the transition would be balancing act until all the effluent was flowing off the island to county treatment facilities on the mainland.
As it turned out, the Siesta plant marked its first day as a master pump station on April 10, Robert Luckner, a member of the Environmental Committee of the Siesta Key Association(SKA), reported to members this month.
Luckner has been the “point person” for the SKA for the years-long process designed to lead to the decommissioning of the wastewater plant adjacent to the Siesta Isles community.
“There are no more discharges to the canal,” Luckner said during the May 3 SKA meeting.
County staff hired a contractor to come to the facility and haul away the remaining water on site and then undertake a thorough cleaning, he continued. The next step in the process will be the demolition of the equipment no longer needed, he added. County staff has told him that work should go out for bid early in 2019, with the projected scheduled for the 2020 fiscal year. Each county fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Next year, Luckner noted, would be the right time for residents to start giving serious thought to potential uses of the property that will not be needed for the master pump station.
Some people already have been campaigning for a dog park to be created there. A kayak launch is another option, Luckner said.
“Or a high-rise hotel,” a man in the SKA audience called out, alluding to Siesta chiropractor Gary Kompothecras’ plans to build a boutique hotel on Old Stickney Point Road. That comment sparked laughter.
A fact about crosswalks
In working on a variety of crosswalk issues on the island, SKA President Gene Kusekoski has become much more educated about all sorts of facets of those safety measures, as he indicated during the May 3 SKA meeting.
Among his findings, he said, is that state law does not give the right of way to a pedestrian crossing a street unless the pedestrian is in a crosswalk. In fact, Kusekoski pointed out, “You could actually be cited” for impeding the progress of a vehicle.
He was referring to Florida Statute 316.130. Section 10 of that law says, “Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
Even Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents Siesta, did not know that fact until Kusekoski told him, Kusekoski added.
“So we’re going to use that to try to put some pressure” on local leaders, he said, so they will agree to help the Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS) Committee.
MSDS has been working for more than a year, meeting with local law enforcement officers, elected officials and representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to implement measures on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue to slow down traffic. One big hope MSDS members have is that, if the route becomes a county road under the terms of a proposed county road swap with FDOT, then the speed limit can be lowered from 40 mph on parts of the segments. At the behest of MSDS, FDOT already has erected signs on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue to make the speed limit 30 mph through the nearly 90-degree curve where the two roads intersect. The department also has modified electronic signs to warn drivers if they are exceeding 25 mph as they approach the curve, as that is the recommended speed for that intersection.
Getting at least a couple of crosswalks installed is another one of the MSDS goals.
Another issue that arose during the May 3 SKA meeting focused on the waiting time of drivers whenever the two drawbridges to the Key open for boats.
SKA Director Joe Volpe presented statistics for December 2017 and January and February of this year regarding the number of times each bridge went up.
For December, he said, the Stickney Point bridge had 190 openings, while the one on Siesta Drive opened 159 times.
In January, the figure for Stickney Point was 203; for Siesta Drive, 160. Finally, for February, the Stickney Point Road figure was 188; for Siesta Drive, 172.
The bridge tenders also reported, Volpe said, that 99% of the time, it took only 5 minutes from when the gates went down to when they went back up, allowing traffic flow to resume.
“Does anyone else believe that one?” he asked. “So we’re continuing working on this.”
Siesta architect Mark Smith, past chair of the Siesta Chamber of Commerce, has told the News Leaderhe has timed the gate-to-gate operation as he sat in lines of vehicles at the bridges, and he has found the gate-down-to-gate-up operation to take 5 minutes.
This reporter has sat in lines at the bridges, too, during season. Occasionally, when a sailboat has halted further out in the bay than usual to await the bridge opening, and then maneuvered at slow speed into the Intracoastal Waterway, the waiting time for motorists probably has been a bit more than 5 minutes. This reporter observed such a situation earlier this year.
Another sign of a busy season
During the May 16 quarterly meeting for Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members, Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported that the height of tourist season this year meant “a lot of garbage, literally and figuratively.”
“We had a busy spring break,” he added. “Based on the volume of garbage in the Village, this was probably one of the busiest five or six weeks before Easter that I can remember.”
He had been managing the Village upkeep on behalf of the Maintenance Corp. since 2009, he noted. The Maintenance Corp. represents all the property owners who pay a special district tax each year for that upkeep.
The garbage is picked up five days a week, Shay continued, all year long. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the off days.
During the five-week period before Easter, Shay said, the four-way stop area that encompasses the gazebo, the Beach Club, the Lobster Pot and the Hub Baja Grill proved to be the busiest in terms of refuse. “Those pails were full every single day. If they weren’t emptied, they were overflowing.”
After the first week of encountering that situation, he added, he had to make other arrangements to keep the garbage cans emptied daily.
Yet another issue Shay has dealt with, he noted, has involved signage that conflicts with the regulations in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning code. For example, he said, he had removed signs for massages that representatives of a business had put up on the county right of way.
People from another business had “affixed stickers to our hardscapes,” such as the newspaper “condo” in front of SunTrust on Ocean Boulevard, he continued. (The “condo” is the structure that holds a variety of newspapers and other printed materials.)
“It turned into a game,” Shay said. “I’d take them off; [representatives of the business would] put them back; I’d take them off.”
An unusual sight
On another topic during the May 16 Siesta Chamber quarterly meeting, Michael Shay noted the county’s relocation of the motorcycle parking spaces in Siesta Village several months ago. One night the previous week, he said, “Somebody literally pulled one of [the motorcycle parking signs] out of the ground. Just pulled it out; left it on the sidewalk.”
No one had reported the incident to the Sheriff’s Office, he added.
The next morning, Shay said, he picked up the sign.
And Shay carried it through Siesta Village, Mark Smith, past chair of the Chamber, noted laughingly.
“I did it at 5 o’clock in the morning, when I do my walk,” Shay replied. “So I was curious to see if anybody phoned anything in [to the Sheriff’s Office] … that some bozo was carrying a pole with a sign on it [through Siesta Village in the wee hours of the morning].”
No one had, he added.
He stored the sign in the dumpster enclosure in the Municipal Parking Lot, he reported.
Another bit of levity
Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2(SOSS2), presented a report during the May 16 Siesta Chamber meeting regarding the Florida administrative law judge’s decision recommending that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issue a modified permit to allow the dredging of 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass. The material would be used to renourish a 1.6-mile stretch of South Lido Key Beach.
SOSS2 and the SKA both presented expert witnesses during the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding in December 2017 as they continued their fight to keep Big Pass one of the few waterways in the state that never has been dredged. Their concern is that the dredging would damage the waterway and its wildlife and that it would increase the likelihood of serious damage to Siesta Key during a major storm.
The only one of their witnesses whose testimony swayed Judge Bram D.E. Canter, van Roekens noted, was R. Grant Gilmore Jr., president of the Vero Beach consulting firm Coastal and Ocean Science Inc. Gilmore explained that he had discovered spotted sea trout were spawning in the pass and that such spawning sites are not common, they are used repeatedly and “are important to the conservation of the species.”
The trout spawn from April through September, Canter noted in his recommended order for FDEP. Therefore, unless FDEP were willing to modify the permit for the Lido Renourishment Project to prevent the removal of sand from specific areas of the pass during the spawning season, Canter wrote, the permit should not be issued.
The period Gilmore cited overlaps much of the sea turtle nesting season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already had issued a Biological Order regarding the Lido permit application, limiting the project period to months outside the turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 through Oct. 31.
Van Roekens described going out in the pass one night last summer with Gilmore. He said they were on the water about 10 p.m., “which is scary enough in itself,” but he had to stop the engine, so they were drifting. Gilmore put a hydrophone into the water to capture the sounds of the fish spawning, van Roekens added, imitating the noise.
During the DOAH hearing, Martha Collins of the Collins Law Group in Tampa — who is the SOSS2’s attorney — told Canter she would be happy to play the recording for the court. Canter politely declined the offer. However, the recording was made part of the official record, as the docket notes.
Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., jokingly suggested to van Roekens, “Why don’t you get a 1-800 number and make money off of this?” People could call in and listen to the fish spawning, Shay added, after Mark Smith, past chair of the Chamber characterized the recording as a “sex tape.”
“That’d be great for a money-raiser,” Shay said.
Needless to say, Shay’s comments drew a round of laughter.
Siesta Chamber welcomes a new staff member
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce has announced that Ellen Lawlor has joined the staff as the new director of membership.
Lawlor moved to Sarasota from Dayton, Ohio, in 1981 and lived and worked on Siesta Key for 10 years as general manager of Midnight Cove II, a news release says.
“She has had a successful career in television, digital advertising and marketing,” the release adds, “helping countless businesses in Sarasota County market their brand and grow their business.”
Lawlor also served as a senior account executive with Comcast for 18 years and as local sales manager with Viamedia, representing Verizon Fios, for six years, the release notes.
She has lived in Southbay since 1998, the release says. Her son is in his second year at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
“She’s doing a great job,” Chamber Executive Director Ann Frescura said of Lawlor during the May 16 quarterly Chamber meeting. “She’s hit the ground running.”