This gesture marks the first step in what the county sees as a thawing of a tense relationship with Longboat Key, County spokesman says.
Manatee County has started removing litter from Greer Island, a step toward establishing a new relationship between the county and Longboat Key.
Town Commissioners, in a February meeting with County Commissioners, said Manatee County’s level of service to the town’s north-end residents didn’t match the taxes paid, including not cleaning or maintaining its property at Greer Island.
“It’s a source of a significant part of our beach budget to deal with the problems on Greer Island,” District 5 Town Commissioner Ed Zunz said at the meeting with the county. “We’ve asked time and again for assistance with the costs of Manatee County to no response.”
The county gives the Key no more services than Sarasota County does yet asks for more money from its residents, according to town staff. Sarasota County invested $10 million into the Key recently with the renovation of Bayfront Park.
“We heard the town’s concerns [in our meeting], and we’re trying to be a good neighbor,” said Nicholas Azzara, spokesman for Manatee County.
Clean-up crews are scheduled to walk the island and collect litter Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Azzara said. It takes about one hour for three people to walk the island and collect its litter, Azzara said.
The county decided this option was better than placing garbage cans on the island because, as Azzara said, “garbage cans tend to attract more garbage.”
Property management and parks maintenance crews often use vehicles when picking up trash on other Manatee County beaches, a form of transportation that cannot make it through the mangrove forest at the southern entry to Greer Island.
Most recreational visitors to the sandspit, colloquially known as Beer Can Island, come by boat, Azzara said. The beach clean-up crews do not have a boat and, for that reason, have not removed debris from Greer Island until now.
“This is actually technically a county-owned piece of sand that has moved over time,” Azzara said. “[This is a] goodwill gesture to the municipality.”
The portion of Longboat Key that’s in Manatee County pays $22.8 million in annual tax revenue to the county, according to a town analysis. If those properties were in Sarasota County, town staff estimate the tax assessment at $20.3 million.
“We aren’t asking for a lot. We’re asking to be treated fairly,” said Longboat At-Large Commissioner Jim Brown in a February meeting with Manatee County commissioners. “I’ve always felt bad leaving [meetings with] Manatee County because I’ve felt they’re just tolerating me.”
Greer Island and the issues the town has had with it was the crux of the February meeting between the Key and Manatee County — a conflict rooted in clean-up and care for the sandspit that shifts with the tides and currents.
Island staff and consultants suggested putting three rock groins on the north end of the island, with enough sand to fill the space between them in effort to stabilize the sandspit and protect properties from potential storm surges, further erosion and impacts from sea-level rise.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said in an email to the Town Commission that he has scheduled talks with county administrators about financial support for the more than $9 million project to put sand and groins on Greer Island.
“We’re a cash cow, we know it, that’s a reality,” Mayor Terry Gans, who represents District 3, said at the February meeting. “To keep a cash cow productive and happy — it may be a dumb animal — but it needs to have the impression that its valued.”