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East County Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 6 years ago

Our View: Sensible wetlands changes


Manatee County is taking steps in the right direction in tweaking its wetlands protection ordinances, following the reasonable goal of creating certainty for property owners and potential property owners.

Unfortunately, some in the environmental community are responding with the hyperbole we have come to expect — a response not in scale with changes that are not significant in effect and probably helpful overall to wetlands in the county.

Joel Christian, environmental program manager for the county, explained the goal this way: “We attempted to provide some predictable standards, so when somebody is looking at purchasing a piece of property, he knows what the rules are.”

That alone is a huge step. The direction coincides with the County Commission’s stated goal of making decisions that will boost the economy and foster job creation. Further, the proposed changes appear to strengthen many wetland elements.

Glenn Compton, chairman of the ManaSota-88 environmental group, wrote a letter charging the proposed changes were a “significant step backward for wetland protection” and that they would allow for the “continued destruction of existing wetlands.”

The key word is “existing,” because the changes allow for tiny wetlands to be developed. However, those wetlands — often less than a half acre — would have to be mitigated, meaning that they would have to be recreated elsewhere as wetlands. That meets state law, but then further, the developer would have to pay into a fund that would be dedicated to enhancing wetlands in Manatee County.

So opponents decry the “destruction” of existing wetlands, even though those wetlands are so small as not to be viable and may not be functioning as wetlands. They decry the loss, even if it would be mitigated by a viable wetland elsewhere and cash garnered for more wetlands protection.

Remember, the county is being stricter than the state with some of its changes.

The changes also allow for wetlands to be developed when “no other practical alternative exists.” But even in this case, the proposed ordinance calls for mitigation and payment into the wetlands fund.

This is more than reasonable accommodation to environmental concerns for someone who has a right to develop his property.

“The result, we feel, is that we will have more wetlands in Manatee County, with better function,” Christian said.

+ Avoid Bert Harris
The Manatee County Commission has rejected a developer’s request for payment in lieu of letting it develop its land the way it sees fit for the market.

The unanimous decision to reject the request by Lake Lincoln LLC, developer of Tara, follows last year’s decision to reject a rezoning request. So the developers are left without the ability to develop the land consistent with where they see the market.

They threaten to sue the county under the state’s Bert Harris Act, which requires property owners to be compensated if they can prove that government action “inordinately burdens” their property.

Neither side needs to be spending money on lawyers for this. The county and developers should find some way to settle.

+ Well done, LWR Rotarians
The Lakewood Ranch Rotarians dug into their emergency funds to give $3,000 to the Food Bank of Manatee County.

The act was in response to the empty shelves at the food bank and the continuing difficult times for many families in Manatee. It was the kind of big-hearted action for which Rotarians are noted.

But they did more than write a check. They rolled up their sleeves.

The Rotarians took the money and bought the food from a Save-A-Lot in west Bradenton. About 2,985 pounds of food staples were delivered to the food bank, re-stocking shelves and helping those most in need.

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