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East County Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 6 days ago

Manatee County commissioner schedules White House meeting

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Water quality top of mind as Manatee County commissioners head to White House.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has been to the White House before, but when she goes this October, it will be after she had met with President Donald Trump.

She spent two-and-a-half hours with him in March at Lake Okeechobee, where he and other top-level officials discussed repairs needed on the earthen dam around the lake as well the impacts of its polluted waters.

When Baugh visits the White House again in October, she hopes to pick up their conversation. Red tide, an algal bloom caused by rapid growth of a microscopic algae called Karenia brevis, plagued the Sarasota and Manatee county coastlines in 2018 and early

President Donald Trump visited Lake Okeechobee in March to talk about repairs needed to its earthen dam and to improve water quality in the area. Courtesy photo.

2019, which killed sea life and caused health issues for some people exposed to it.

“For me, right now, water quality is at the top of my list,” Baugh said. “I’m hoping we can further our conversation about red tide and blue-green algae.”

Baugh and two other Manatee County commissioners, Misty Servia and Steve Jonsson, have been invited to a special meeting at the White House on Oct. 17 with its Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Baugh said the White House will set the agenda, which is expected to be finalized this week.

Jonsson said the meeting will be a consortium of elected officials from Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“It’s not an intimate meeting, but it’s an opportunity to meet with people from the administration,” Jonsson said. “They’re going to give us their policy positions on everything — clean water, infrastructure, things of that sort.”

He, Servia and Baugh all said they hoped to bring water quality issues to the forefront.

“My goal is to use the opportunity to shine a light on our need for help to protect our precious waterways,” Servia said.

Baugh said she also hopes to talk with the administration about changes needed to the federal gas tax, which is used to fund transportation needs. With more electric and alternative vehicles on the roads, she said she believes Congress should consider alternative revenue sources,such as a fee on license plate renewals, so all vehicles are contributing.

“I think it’s great to add money on a license plate,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s electric or gas. The regular gas tax is outdated.”

County commissioners are expected to set their legislative priorities by early October, and those likely will guide additional conversations with federal legislators and White House officials.

Baugh isn’t sure President Trump will attend any of the meetings, but she is hopeful he will.

Baugh, Servia and Jonsson also will be participating in the Florida Association of Counties’ Federal Fly-In event Oct. 15-17 in Washington, D.C., where they will meet with members of Congress about issues affecting Florida and Manatee County.

“This gives us more insight into federal regulations,” Baugh said.

Craigin Mosteller, spokesman for the Florida Association of Counties, said the fly in is open to any association members who wish to attend. So far, 54 members have registered. Commissioners and staff will be briefed on issues affecting their state, and the FAC helps coordinate meetings with the appropriate representatives.

She said the event is separate from the White House invitation.

Baugh had been invited to meet with Trump during his visit Aug. 7 to The Villages, where he had planned to discuss Medicare. However, the trip was canceled because of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

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