EAST COUNTY — Manatee County officials learned from the U.S. Coast Guard that a potential bridge across the Braden River — a path into Lakewood Ranch that would serve as the final piece of the long-planned 44th Avenue East extension — will at least require an environmental assessment.
At a pre-application meeting July 16 in Miami, the Coast Guard told a county contingent that it could award a permit to build the bridge, but the project will first require an environmental assessment, a document less intensive than an environmental-impact statement.
The bridge would complete the 44th Avenue East extension — a $112 million project still eight to 12 years away from completion that will connect Cortez Road and its nearby beaches in the west to Lakewood Ranch farther east.
Improvements to 44th Avenue East, funded with no money from the federal government, have been a part of the county’s comprehensive plan since 1989.
“We told them that this is a project that’s within the realm of possibility of being a permitable project,” said Randy Overton, a Coast Guard project manager who attended the meeting. “It may or may not require an environmental-impact statement. If it’s a large enough area, or if the project requires relocating residents, we may ask for one. But we don’t know any of that information yet. We hope to get more detailed information from the county about the general area in the next month or so.”
An environmental-impact statement, as Overton hinted, would be required if there are significant environmental impacts and/or strong opposition to the bridge.
There is a precedent nearby.
The county hired a contractor to complete an environmental-impact statement for the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge, a two-lane bridge which would connect Fort Hamer Park to Upper Manatee River Road, after residents from Waterlefe rallied against the project.
The Coast Guard has not yet approved that bridge.
Ron Schulhofer, Manatee County public works director, does not expect there will be strong enough opposition to the bridge to force the county’s hand, like what happened with Fort Hamer.
“This was a very positive, very cooperative meeting we had with the Coast Guard,”
Schulhofer said. “We still hear some of the same things from people we heard before, people calling it ‘a bridge to nowhere.’ I don’t think Lakewood Ranch is nowhere. It’s a place worth going. We don’t expect this to be as difficult (as Fort Hamer).”
The county will hire a contractor to complete the assessment.
In the assessment, which could take a year to prepare, the contractor will evaluate the impact a bridge would have on wetlands, natural resources and wildlife.
It will also look at social and economic factors.
Permitting for a bridge could take two to three years to obtain.
The bridge status was the biggest information to come out of an Aug. 20 Board of County Commissioners workshop.
Commissioners had received the most detailed update yet on the 44th Avenue East extension from the county public works department May 21.
Since then, the county awarded Woodruff & Sons Inc. an
$8 million contract for construction on First Street to 19th Street Court East.
Construction began July 17 and will finish in July 2015.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
• Last month, work started on an $8.96 million section from U.S. 41 to 19th Street Court East, with construction scheduled to continue through July 2015.
• Construction will begin on a $10.11 million section from 19th Street Court East to 30th Street East in the first quarter of 2015, continuing through the third quarter of 2016.
• Construction on an $11.47 million section from 30th Street Court East to 45th Street East also will begin in the first quarter of 2015 and continue through the third quarter of 2016.
• By January, a segment along 45th Street East from 44th Avenue to State Road 70 will be 60% designed, but no construction date has been set.