Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash was removed as the county’s representative for the West Coast Inland Navigation District by his peers last week, after he disputed Longboat Key’s application for breakwaters on the north end of the island.
At the Manatee County Commission’s Tuesday, Oct. 6 regular meeting, the commission lashed out at McClash, who was absent from that portion of the meeting, for using County Commission letterhead to write a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In the letter dated Oct. 1, McClash expressed “serious concerns in using manmade geotubes” for the breakwater project that the town hopes the state will approve to stave off massive erosion that led to the closing of the North Shore Road beach access in March.
The town, which is hoping to renourish the hot-spot area soon with 600 cubic yards of sand, has submitted a long-term plan to hold the sand in that area.
The $1.5 million plan is to build four, 130-foot-long breakwaters 220 feet from the shoreline. The breakwaters are offshore structures that protect an area from wave energy and deflect strong currents.
But Town Manager Bruce St. Denis alerted the Manatee County Commission last week that McClash’s claims are unfounded.
“The project does not include any sand-filled geotubes,” said St. Denis, who said the structures would sit only on top of a geotextile filter cloth.
McClash, an avid boater who has been on the WCIND board for more than 10 years, said the town’s plans will create a hazard for boaters.
The rest of the County Commission took issue with the fact that McClash’s letter could have been interpreted as the official position of the county. Especially because McClash signed his letter as a “county-wide commissioner.”
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore called McClash’s letter “irresponsible behavior,” and Commissioner Larry Bustle said the letter “disrupted the town’s plans.”
Said Whitmore: “He basically stopped a project from a town we have no jurisdiction over.”
On Monday, Oct. 5, McClash sent a corrected letter to the Corps of Engineers, explaining that he still has issues with using breakwaters and a layer of geotextile fabric, which he called “a safety and navigation hazard.”
The commission voted at its Tuesday meeting to replace McClash as its WCIND representative with Commissioner John Chappie by a 5-1 vote.
Meanwhile, McClash’s letter, which was entered into the public record, could jeopardize the breakwater project or delay it.
Public Works Director Juan Florensa called McClash’s letters “hurdles that we don’t need.”
“What the letters do, at the very least, makes the Corps of Engineers and Department of Environmental Protection address the questions and slow down the process,” said Florensa, who explained the town’s beach engineer’s modeling efforts will accurately address any questions raised about the project.
Florensa said a best-case scenario for the project is having the state approve the plan this winter, with construction of the breakwaters beginning no later than November 2010.
The rest of the County Commission, meanwhile, tried to make amends for McClash’s letter.
County Commission Chairwoman Gwen Brown wrote a letter to the Corps of Engineers at the end of week, advising that McClash did not speak for the entire commission.
Wrote Brown: “We therefore ask that you do not consider Commissioner McClash’s letter to constitute a reflection of the views or position of the board or the county, and that you do not use the letter as a basis to take any action, or suspend any action, in regard to the (Longboat Key) application.”