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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 5 months ago

Sarasota County Commissioners back plan for summit on water quality

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No firm dates are set, but Commissioners considering April for event.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

County Commissioners directed staff members to begin planning a countywide water quality summit at a Feb. 13 Commission Meeting. While the commission did not vote on a schedule, all members discussed tentatively holding the summit in April.

At the request of the County Commission in January, several members of the Sarasota County government attended a Jan. 29 water quality summit held in neighboring Charlotte County.

Upon their return, they prepared a report and analysis for the commission detailing the summit’s panels, topics of concern and size. The information was brought back so that Sarasota County could consider a summit of its own.

Water quality, which was identified as one of the commission’s legislative priorities for the year, has also been top of mind since the outbreak of red tide last summer in Sarasota Bay and adjacent Gulf of Mexico waters. 

A red tide bloom struck last summer and persisted throughout autumn.

The summit, according to commissioners, would both inform residents on government strategies as well as allow for public input.

“The idea was to let folks know what Sarasota County has done and is doing in regards to water quality, and maybe provide a forum to bring in some new ideas from experts from across the area, and maybe the state or the country,” Commission Chair Charles Hines said. “My only concern is the timing of all this and, when we put it together, how big it would be. I’m not opposed to it, I just know it would take a lot of staff time and effort to put it together.”

On the topic of time, Commissioner Nancy Detert said she was worried the county was “running behind the curve” on finally addressing the issue.

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Regardless of that concern, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said that 90 days was a “realistic” window of time for the county to coordinate the event.

“It may take a couple months to get [the summit] up and running, and that’s fine,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler  said. “Water quality is on our list of top priorities for this year, right? We also have an issue where we could probably do a better job of outreach to the community. This is an opportunity to hit both of those — to share what we’ve done, what we’re doing, what we plan on doing. It’s all an opportunity for all of the organizations in the community to come together and share what they’re doing.”

Ziegler also stressed the importance of informing legislative officials in Tallahassee what Sarasota County has done, as well as getting them more involved in the community so that local residents may understand what is also being done on their end.

Hines agreed that legislators should be invited and “tout what they’ve done” in regard to water quality, adding that they should also reach out to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Charlotte Harbor and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to gauge their interest.

To be held at a large venue such at Robarts Arena or Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, commissioners said they would expect around 500 to 700 people to attend.

Ziegler repeatedly referred to the summit as an “expo,” at which attendees could set up tables and independent presentations. Detert said she’d rather the focus be on “hardcore information,” and that tables would be better left out in hallways.

Ultimately, all commission members agreed the focus of the summit should be on both informing as well as listening to the residents of Sarasota County.

“I think a public meeting on water quality would generate a lot of interest — sincere interest. People want information,” Detert said. “The more information the public has, the better off we all are.”

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