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East County Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022 4 months ago

Manatee County approves funding toward design of trail system

Commissioners earmark $1.5 million for the design of trail system that would link Sarasota and Hillsborough counties. The money is part of the $78.3 million the county is receiving from the ARPA.
by: Scott Lockwood Staff Writer

The full development of a greenways/trails master plan has been at the top of Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse’s agenda since he took office in November 2020.

His vision is for a trail system that is likely to be built in eastern Manatee County and would connect to the Legacy Trail in Sarasota County, which is in the midst of expansions, and the Hillsborough Trail system to the north. That moved one step closer to reality after his fellow commissioners unanimously voted to allocate $1.5 million toward developing that plan from the $78.3 million that Manatee County is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act in a special meeting Jan. 4.

Tuesday’s meeting marked the first time that commissioners were able to discuss possible plans for the funds, which go toward reimbursing the county for pandemic-related expenses. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said that more than 200 possible projects were presented by county staff and members of the community. Any funds from the American Rescue Plan could not be used toward any projects that are currently budgeted for by the county.

Commissioners zeroed in on the greenway trail system and a plan to convert the former Manatee County Jail in downtown Bradenton into transitional housing for homeless veterans. Hopes initially earmarked $250,000 for the development of a trail system but proposed moving $1.5 million that was set aside for a generator at R. Dan Nolan Middle School, which serves as a special needs shelter during hurricane season, into the greenway plan.

“I'm not sure why we're doing that,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said about putting a generator at the school. “I get it and I know what it's for, … but at the same time, it's a permanent fixture in a school. That's not our responsibility.”

Kruse continued to push for more trail development. He said the county already has rights to land and wants to see the first couple of miles built as an example. Kruse noted that the first couple of miles of the Legacy Trail that were built in the Palmer Ranch area in central Sarasota County sparked enough interest to get the trail to stretch through the entire county — something he thinks could be replicated in Manatee County.

“I’ve said I hate cars, and I hate roads that put cars on them,” Kruse said. “I think the best way of getting cars off the roads is to have trails for people. This is the one project I have really pushed for, and I’m really happy we voted on it.”

Commissioners also approved $15 million in funding to design and convert the former county jail. Kruse said that wouldn’t nearly be enough money, while Hopes said he was confident that the county could receive money from outside sources to supplement the project. 

“I think this could possibly result in a fairly sizable federal match,” Hopes said. “This is the biggest project of its kind that’s going on in the U.S. right now.”

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