The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 14 - December 24, 2008


Beach search called off
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

A police dog sniffs a hole dug in the beach Tuesday morning in the
search for Sabine Musil-Buehler. SUN PHOTO/ MAGGIE FIELD

ANNA MARIA – A tip in the search for missing Holmes Beach hotelier Sabine Musil-Buehler turned into a dead end shortly after investigators began digging in the sand on Tuesday morning.

Police received a lead indicating some possible evidence on the beach near the Magnolia Avenue home that the 49-year-old woman shared with her boyfriend, William Cumber, 39, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sgt. John Kenney said.

Two cadaver-sniffing dogs from Polk County alerted investigators to a single area, which was roped off and dug up. Nothing was found, he said, adding that the dogs could have sensed blood from a minor cut or other human waste.

A witness told the Sun that he saw an elderly woman on the beach early Tuesday morning walking her dog, which had been sniffing the ground in the area where the search site was later roped off. Another witness said she saw the missing woman’s car illegally parked overnight near the site around the time of her disappearance on Nov. 4.

Cumber, who was sentenced to 42 months in prison and three years probation for setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house in 2005, was released from prison on Sept. 13 but was back in jail in Marion County on traffic and violation of probation charges on Tuesday, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow.

Cumber told the Sun earlier this month that he has no idea where his missing girlfriend is, had nothing to do with her disappearance and wishes he could relive the night she vanished after an argument over his smoking.

Two days later, police found Musil-Buehler’s car in Bradenton, driven by Robert Corona, who was arrested for theft. Blood found in the car was later determined to be hers.

On Nov. 16, fire destroyed a duplex at Haley’s Motel, 8104 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, co-owned by Musil-Buehler and her estranged husband and business partner, Tom Buehler.

Cumber, who was seen by neighbors in the area the night of the fire, was interviewed by investigators. He told the Sun that someone is trying to “frame” him for the Haley’s fire.

FDOT lays out bridge options
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY FDOT wants to know what kind of
replacement bridge residents favor for the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

HOLMES BEACH – With a 10-year deadline to figure out what to do with the Anna Maria Island Bridge and a shortage of funding, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is taking the time to weigh what the future of the 51-year-old structure will be.

The latest chapter was an update on the project development and environmental (PD&E) study at a workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at St. Bernard Catholic Church.

FDOT is in the process of weighing alternatives suggested by the public at hearings in April and May of this year. They included rebuilding the existing drawbridge, replacing the bridge with another low-level drawbridge, replacing the bridge with a medium-level (45 feet above mean water level) drawbridge, replacing the bridge with a high (65 feet above the water), fixed-span bridge and replacing it with a tunnel.

The 95 or so people who visited the workshop during the two hours it was open were given a survey to fill out and return by Dec. 31. The survey asked if the respondent’s opinion regarding the future of the bridge had changed since an earlier survey taken last summer, and if so, why. In that earlier survey, 82 percent of the respondents wanted to replace the bridge vs. 23 percent who wanted further rehabilitation. Of those favoring a new bridge, 66 percent preferred a high, fixed-span, 11 percent wanted a mid-level drawbridge, 9 percent wanted the low-level drawbridge and 3 percent favored another solution.

FDOT studied the tunnel alternative and ruled it out after determining it would cost between $370 and $535 million to build. The environmental impact of dredging the bay bed was also daunting, the update said.

FDOT also looked at three alignments across the bay. The first, called central alignment, was ruled out because it called for the old bridge to be taken down and the new one built in its track. That would have involved a yearlong detour, like the six-week bridge closure that occurred recently, or construction of a temporary bridge to run alongside the project at a considerable cost.

The north alignment would route the new bridge 10 feet north of the existing structure and the south alignment would route it 14 feet south. The southern alignment would cost more in right-of-way acquisition.

There are two roadway cross-sections being considered. Section A involves two 12-foot-wide lanes of traffic, two 10-foot-wide shoulders and one 12-foot-wide sidewalk. Section B features 10-foot-wide sidewalks along each side of the roadway.

One of those attending the workshop wanted to lower the speed limit of the bridge after crews finish the rehabilitation project that is expected to end in February or March.

"Ever since the last fatal accident off that bridge (on May 13, 2007), there have been calls for reducing the speed limit on the bridge to 45," Bob Willis, of Holmes Beach, told Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore at the workshop. "It’s 35 for the construction now, they have taken down the 50 mph signs that were up and I would like them to make it 45 mph when the project is done."

Whitmore, who got the county to unsuccessfully try to get the state to lower the limit, said she would see what she could do.

The next step is a review of the comments received from the workshop. FDOT will combine the input with engineering and environmental analyses and refine the viable build alternatives. FDOT will conduct a thorough analysis of environmental impacts and document the findings in a series of reports. The information will be presented at a formal public hearing where public comments will be solicited. The hearing is tentatively set for March 2009.

Following the hearing, a final determination will be made and submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for the study. If and when approved, the project would be advanced to the design, right-of-way acquisition and construction phases as they are programmed. That is if and when the money for the project becomes available.

City honors Sun newspaper

ANNA MARIA — The Sun newspaper has been named the city’s 2008 Organization of the Year.

Linda Scott, chairman of this year’s citizen recognition committee, made the announcement at the December 18 city commission meeting.

Each year, the city recognizes an individual, firm, corporation or organization of civic groups for service to the community.

"The Anna Maria Island Sun newspaper, and particularly Chantelle Lewin, have truly made a difference in the city of Anna Maria and the entire Island with their positive, proactive calendar of events during the Anna Maria Island Bridge repair closure," George Barford wrote in his letter nominating The Sun.

Barford went on to cite the fact that the Bridging the Gap series of events brought all three Island cities together in "a united front to focus on supporting Island businesses and planning events during the period of the actual bridge closure."

There were at least 44 events planned, Barford said, and "fun was had by all."

"This was a wonderful opportunity, made available by the Anna Maria Island Sun newspaper, which provided the resources and staff, to ensure the success of this event, to turn a potentially negative time into a fun experience for everyone," Barford wrote. "Island residents and visitors joined the festivities, supported local businesses and the negative economic impact to Island businesses was minimal."

Sun Publisher Mike Field thanked the city and the committee for recognizing The Sun and its staff.

"This was truly a team effort by a lot of different people and businesses on the Island," Field said. "For our part, everyone who works at The Sun contributed extra time and effort to Bridging the Gap, while still managing to do their jobs and put out a newspaper."

There were four other nominees for the award this year:

Sissy Quinn as a "dynamic, energetic and inspirational leader who has sparked renewed interest and brought both local and state recognition to the Museum/Belle Haven complex." City Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick and former Mayor SueLynn nominated Quinn. SueLynn had gathered 11 additional signatures on her nomination letter.

Charlie Daniel, who has also been nominated in past years, was nominated by Betsy Smith. "Charlie is well known throughout the community for his willingness to help people when they are in need … sickness, death in the family or under stress," Smith wrote in her nomination letter.

Karen LaPensee was nominated for the award by Earle Parcells, who cited LaPensee’s work with the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Center, AMI Little League baseball, the American Cancer Society’s relay for life, AMI Historical Society, AMI Butterfly Park and the Lawton Chiles Christmas Party.

Each member of the city commission, plus the mayor, names an Anna Maria resident to serve on the citizen recognition committee. That committee then selects a chair, solicits nominations and makes the final selection.

This year’s committee consisted of Linda Scott, chairman; Nancy Colcord, Jim Conoly, Margaret Jenkins, Tom Tollette and Betty Yanger.

The 2008 award will be formally presented to The Sun at the city commission meeting on Jan. 22.

New Year’s fireworks Dec. 31

BRADENTON BEACH – Once again, the Chiles Group will bring in the new year with a bang at the BeachHouse restaurant with a fireworks show.

The Dec. 31 display starts at midnight and is open to the public. The best view is from the beach but it can also be seen by diners on the deck of the restaurant.

As in years past, BeachHouse is offering a package featuring a buffet dinner, party favors, a champagne toast at midnight and more for $99 per person. The only extra charge would be for drinks. Money from this package helps pay for the fireworks.

The fireworks will be shot off from the beach, as compared to the Fourth of July show, which is held on July 3, is larger and is shot off from a barge in the Gulf.

The show attracts a good-sized crowd from the mainland and parking places become valuable.

Bell’s Fireworks Display Co., of Tampa, is putting on the show, as they have since Island pyrotechnical specialist Jim Taylor died Jan. 16, 2006, while in Orlando.

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Volunteers from All Island Denominations packed
holiday baskets to help Island families with their holiday dinner. From left to
right are Olga Ippedico, Cass Robertson, Mary Seine, Pastor Harry Parsell, of
Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, and Susanne Arbanas, the
Community Center’s new membership coordinator.

The Island community responded with open hearts to the appeal to help stock the Roser food pantry, which is giving as many as 50 sacks of groceries a month to families in need.

The pantry is housed in Roser Church under the auspices of the mission committee and is supported by all the churches on the Island through the donations of groceries and monetary aid. Island service clubs also assist.

Staff members at Roser said an article in last week’s issue of The Sun brought an increase in donations of non-perishable items as well as several cash donations, which will be used to help families who are in need.

Pastor Rosemary Backer said earlier that the need for assistance is growing as the economic downturn is affecting the Island economy, especially in the service and building industries.

"These are people who are ready, willing and able to work," Pastor Rosemary said. "There just aren’t jobs."

She added that sometimes when you’re living from paycheck to paycheck and you get temporarily laid off, the lack of pay for just a week or two could send a family over the edge.

The food pantry will provide a sack consisting of a protein, vegetables, fruit, a few paper goods, crackers and a bag of rice or potatoes to families who qualify. One sack is provided for each person in the household. People can apply to receive food in subsequent weeks as well.

Anyone in need of food should call Roser Church at 778-0414 to set up an appointment to meet with staff there.

All Island Denominations, a group with clergy and members from all the Island churches, assists in keeping the food pantry stocked, and it also can provide cash for help with rent, utilities, prescriptions or other needs. The cash assistance is available on a one-time-only basis.

AID members were hard at work over the weekend, packing holiday boxes at the Community Center to help families with their holiday meals.

To apply to AID for assistance, call its help line at 725-AIDE (2433). If you want to make a tax-deductible donation to AID, you can mail it to P.O. Box 305, Anna Maria, FL 34216.

Anyone wishing to donate non-perishable food items to the Roser food pantry can drop them by the church any weekday. The church is located at 512 Pine Avenue. The door to the office is about mid-way between the east and west sides of the building.

Donations are also accepted at most churches on the Island.

City continues to negotiate FEMA grant contract

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners authorized the mayor the accept the terms of a contract to purchase the home of Mike and Cindy Rushforth.

The home at 6807 Homes Blvd. is being purchased with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It will become a pocket park.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said in order to close the city needs a survey and a Phase I environmental audit. She said the public works department is in the process of getting bids for demolition.

"We’re trying to do this as fair as possible and protect the city," Petruff said.

"I think this is a gift to the city and we should do all we can to make it possible," Commissioner David Zaccagnino stressed. "The more houses that come off this list (severe repetitive loss properties), the better our flood insurance rating is and everybody in this city benefits from that."

Commissioner John Monetti concurred.

"I have no choice but to make it work," Mike Rushforth told the board. "Tonight if you don’t approve this, we lose our grant.

However he objected to the city’s law firm doing the title work and the city seeking a 5 percent contingency.

"Mr. Rushforth is trying to renegotiate what Mr. Deitrich (attorney David Deitrich) has spent $2,000 and hours and hours doing," Petruff responded. "We are not trying to take advantage of Mr. Rushforth.

"You told us to protect the city. We have what we think is a very fair term sheet on trying to protect the city and make sure no taxpayers dollars are spent so the Rushforths can get out from under a bad situation."

Rushforth said he had not seen the new term sheet Petruff was referring to and pointed out, "The old one I saw yesterday had the city holding the 5 percent and the money went back to the city if it was not spent."

Petruff asked that Rushforth and his attorney, Chuck Webb, be given time to review the term sheet and meet with Deitrich and that commissioners authorize the mayor to accept the terms agreed upon. She said commissioners could approve the contract at their Jan. 13 meeting.

FEMA’s new program devastates homeowners
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Mike and Cindy Rushforth cannot enjoy their holiday
season because they are packing up their house, which is set for demolition.

HOLMES BEACH – The letter came out of the blue and turned Mike and Cindy Rushforth’s lives upside down when they learned that they would have to demolish their home of eight years.

"It’s been devastating," Mike said. "We’re still in shock."

The letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in February and announced a new mitigation grant program for properties with extensive flood damage. The Rushforths home is located at 6807 Holmes Blvd. on Spring Lake.

"We called the city to ask what it meant," Mike said, "Joe (Public Works Supervisor Joe Duennes) said he would look into it. We’ve never had a flood, so it had to be based on claims made before we owned it."

Another letter followed in March announcing that the program was called the Severe Repetitive Loss Pilot Program, which provides grants for one of four options: acquisition and demolition, elevation of the structure/second story conversion, mitigation or flood proofing.

The next step was a meeting with Duennes and Alvin Shipmon, of the Florida Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the program for FEMA.

"Mr. Shipmom said it’s all based on a model to determine which properties are likely to have more losses," Cindy explained. "He said they would only give us $150,000 toward the cost of elevation and that mitigation or flood proofing were not feasible.

"He said our only choice was acquisition and demolition. If you don’t participate in the program, your flood insurance rates would be based on your being flooded again. He said it would be extremely costly."

"We got the house just the way we wanted it and thought we’d be here until we died," Mike added. "We’re basically being forced into this and the stress and pressure have been unbelievable."

According to documents provided by the Rushforths, there is one other property in the city that is designated as severe repetitive loss, two in Anna Maria and one in Bradenton Beach. The locations are confidential.

Woes with city

The city is in the process of acquiring the Rushforth’s property, which will be deed restricted in perpetuity and can never be built on. Benefits to the city include possible reduced flood insurance rates for other homeowners and use as a stormwater retention area. However, the Rushforths feel the city is treating them unfairly.

"FEMA approved the grant on Sept. 29," Cindy said. "We got the hard copy on Nov. 5 and have 60 days to notify FEMA we’ll accept the grant and work out a contract with the city to buy the property."

The grant amount is $846,486, which is 90 percent of $940,486, which is FEMA’s estimate of the true cost of appraisal value, total demolition cost, title search and city administrative fees. The property’s appraised value is $910,00 and 90 percent of that is $819,00, which is the purchase price.

The Rushforths said they have to find another 10 percent grant or provide it themselves. They said Manatee County did not have any grants available, however, some other counties do.

This gives the city $27,486 for demolition, permits, administrative fees, etc. The Rushforth’s expenses including title policy, doc stamps, closing costs, survey, taxes, etc. bring their net down to $803,271.

"Now the city wants to set aside an additional $42,000 for a contingency," Cindy said. "Every time they change something, it’s deducted from our purchase price and runs up our attorney fees, while the city’s costs come out of the grant.

"At that first meeting with Joe and Alvin, we were told there would be no cost to us, and we signed an agreement that showed the cost borne by the property owner as zero. We’re willing to contribute toward the cost, but we feel they’re being unrealistic."

They said another sticking point is the choice of an attorney to do the closing. The Rushforths want it to be a neutral third party, while the city feels it should be the city attorney’s firm.

"We feel like we’ve given enough," Cindy pointed out. "We don’t expect the city to lose money, but they’re getting a great benefit at no cost to them."

"This experience has been the second most traumatic thing in our lives next to the death of our daughter," Mike added. "We came here to start over. It changed our life overnight.

"FEMA’s not stopping. This is a new fast-track program and we’re only in the first group of people to get the letter. I pray for others who get it. You can’t start to heal until it’s through."

City responds to request for pier rent reduction

ANNA MARIA — Mayor Fran Barford has responded to The City Pier Restaurant’s request for a 38 percent reduction in its monthly rent with an invitation to sit down and talk things over.

‘We would like to meet with you sometime in January 2009 when you are in the area, to discuss this matter,’ Barford said in a letter to Mario Shoenfelder, who holds the lease to operate the restaurant on the city-owned pier.

Shoenfelder is under a lease agreement to pay the city $8,115.12 per month. He has asked for an adjustment of $3,115.12 a month, meaning he’d pay $5,000 a month to rent the space for his restaurant, bar and bait shop.

Shoenfelder cited the downturn in the economic picture as the reason for his request. He cited articles in several newspapers, including one in USA Today to back up his request.

"To be quite honest, we are not aware of an economic downturn for the restaurants as destination points on the Island,” Barford said. “We have been unofficially tracking tourism on the Island, considering the current economic conditions and the recent Manatee Bridge closure in October/November for 45 days."

The mayor also stated that the city is operating on a bare bones budget due to the mandates of the State of Florida to reduce all municipal budgets by 12 percent and to reduce millage rates.

And she indicated that Shoenfelder currently owes the city $5,510 in past due cost of living adjustments for the pier rental.

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