Anna Maria beach project causes temporary headaches for business

Rental property manager: Guests are leaving because of construction work

cschelle@bradenton.comJanuary 23, 2014 

HOLMES BEACH -- Replenishing the white sands of Anna Maria Island's beaches looks a lot like a road project with bulldozers, pipes and orange fencing.

And like most road projects, the intermittent inconvenience for long-term improvements affects some businesses more than others.

Alice Sutton of Bamboo Apartments, a beachfront vacation spot, said her rentals are being hit hard.

"Doing this in-season is crippling to our tiny family business," Sutton said. "Our reputation is really important to us and our guests are important to us."

During the day, getting to the water near the Manatee Public Beach parking lot can be a challenge, forcing beachgoers to walk less than a mile north or south to swim when the weather cooperates. At night, flood lights shine and the diesel engines interrupt guests' sleep, Sutton said.

The inconvenience caused one guest to cancel, one guest to leave about a week early and another is debating whether to stay or go, Sutton said. She offered a discount to another guest to stay.

Some elderly guests can't rough it down the beach to reach the water, she said.

In a few days to a week, Sutton's concerns might be gone as the project inches southward.

The $13 million central Anna Maria Island renourishment project and a $3 million project farther south at Coquina Beach are designed to repair erosion from storms. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corp. of Oakbrook, Ill., is completing the projects.

Great Lakes has halted dredging and pumping for now because the seas are too rough, said Sirisha Rayaprolu, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"What they are doing now is working on the beach to level out the berm and material that is placed," she said.

Sand ramps are usually placed over pipes for people to access the beach, Rayaprolu said.

Pipes and equipment are expected to move south between 34th and 39th streets if work begins in the next couple days. After another week, the project will move south near the BeachHouse Restaurant, she said.

The contractor has placed about 220,000 cubic feet of sand on the beach since late December, Rayaprolu said.

The projects are financed by federal, state and county dollars, however, bed taxes charged to visitors pay Manatee County's share.

If Sutton had her way, the renourishment project would have commenced around September when the tourism season is at its lowest, but that's also traditionally peak hurricane and tropical storm season. There's no perfect time for road work, and the same goes for beach work, officials say.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the county tried to avoid turtle-nesting season and schedule work during a "less-peak tourism time," Rayaprolu said. But Tropical Storm Debby did too much damage to wait any longer.

"There was a considerable amount of material lost due to Tropical Storm Debby, and we needed a contractor out there as soon as possible to restore the beach," Rayaprolu said.

Diane and Jim Anderson of Parrish were walking Manatee Beach Wednesday morning with friends, Carol and Jim Bergeron, from Boston. All were bundled up against the wind coming off the Gulf.

"We just arrived from Boston, so this is heaven, OK? This is heaven," Carol Bergeron said, laughing.

Diane Anderson brought the Bergerons to see what they think is one of the nicest beaches in Florida, but realizes the project could be ruining some vacation plans.

"This is going to be killing the snowbirds because this is one of the nicest beaches. Bradenton Beach is nice, but this one is so much nicer," Anderson said.

Carol Bergeron said she is determined to go swimming while on vacation, but will wait for a warmer day -- beach work isn't affecting their plans.

Inside the Anna Maria Island Gift Shop, Judy Servidio has heard concerns from several customers about the work blocking the parking lot, and wondering what's going on at the beach.

"We know it needs to be done, but when is it a good time? They can't do it during the summer because of the turtles and the hurricanes," Servidio said.

She's heard customers complain about paying for beachfront hotel rooms during a replenishment project, but she tries to encourage them to come back.

"When you come back next year, it's going to be beautiful," she said. "Everybody's a little disappointed with it, but it's going to be wonderful and hopefully no storms will happen during the summer that takes it away."

Sutton believes a website similar to what the Florida Department of Transportation does for major projects should be dedicated to this one. When visiting the Manatee Beach Park web page on Manatee County Government and other parts of mymanatee.com, nothing informs visitors the beach is under construction. She wasn't able to get information from the Army Corps of Engineers for an updated timeline and was referred to Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director.

Rayaprolu said the Army Corps of Engineers emails weekly project updates and she can be reached at 904-232-3455 to answer questions. For the local part of the project, which starts at Coquina Beach, residents can call Hunsicker at 941-742-5923.

Beach work doesn't affect other business owners much.

West Coast Surf Shop owner Jim Brady said his shop normally doesn't get busy until February. He can see how the piping could deter folks from going to the beach, but the cool air hasn't helped, either.

"I think the weather's a major factor, but we've been in business since 1964, or 50 years now, and it seems like it's the same as it should be," Brady said.

Across the street at Skinny's Place, business is good, said Mike Ritchie.

"It really doesn't start to get jammed here until mid-February, but people are here for sure," he said.

Sutton would like to be compensated for her losses, but realizes that probably won't happen.

"I don't think anything can be really done other than to watch us suffer," she said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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