The Manatee County Commission, which also serves as the Manatee County Port Authority, wants to bring a $1 billion natural-gas pipeline project to Port Manatee.
The project is expected to inject $25 million into the local economy over the lifetime of the project and provide more than 80 jobs in a depressed economy.
But a dispute between the town of Longboat Key and pipeline officials over the best place to put that pipeline stands in the way.
Longboat Key has spent more than $250,000 in legal and design fees to fight Port Dolphin Energy’s revised placement of a 42-mile pipeline north of Anna Maria Island, because the town’s beach consultant says it still runs through swaths of beach-quality white sand.
And, in January, the Manatee County Commission unanimously approved a motion to support Longboat Key’s efforts.
Because the same sand Longboat Key is trying to protect for future sand resources can be permitted and used for future beach renourishment projects from Venice to Tampa.
Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s director of conservation lands management, told the Manatee County Commission at a work session Tuesday, June 2 that his staff recommends “an optimal pipeline route which avoids beach-compatible, white-sand deposits as much as possible.”
Hunsicker said the pipeline route has the potential to jeopardize anywhere from 711,000 to 2.9 million cubic yards of white sand.
Attempting to resolve the differences between Longboat Key and Port Dolphin officials, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash urged parties from both sides to get to the table by the end of the month with the Department of Environmental Protection to find an acceptable route.
Said McClash: “I have told Port Dolphin officials that if they don’t resolve this issue, there is no deal with Port Manatee.”
McClash is hoping the state can settle the 18-month dispute between Longboat Key and Port Dolphin once and for all.
That’s because Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told the Manatee County Commission that the town is getting ready to spend another $500,000 researching sand deposits near the proposed pipeline route that its beach engineer and state officials believe has beach-quality sand.
Meanwhile, an independent study, which Port Dolphin commissioned, states that no beach-quality sand exists in those same sites.
At the session, St. Denis expressed his willingness to resolve the issue. But he also urged the county to stop thinking that the issue only resides with Longboat.
“It’s your sand also, and you need to be sitting on the table as a participant,” St. Denis said. “You have as big a stake as we do in this.”
The county will try to broker a meeting with state officials before June 23 and try to resolve the issue before a federal public-hearing timetable begins, in which the pipeline route in question will be reviewed and considered for approval this fall.
If the pipeline-route issue cannot be resolved, the town will continue a process that worked well last June, when its Washington, D.C.,-based law firm entered pages of documents into the federal public record to fight the pipe’s placement.
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