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Side of Ranch

Manatee County does well on roads, flunks wetland protections

Our columnist responds to Manatee County's online survey.

Blue Oyster Cult's Eric Bloom sings at Premier Sports Campus in January, 2017. Lakewood Ranch still has no amphitheater or events center.
Blue Oyster Cult's Eric Bloom sings at Premier Sports Campus in January, 2017. Lakewood Ranch still has no amphitheater or events center.
  • East County
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Commissioner Mike Rahn said it took him about three minutes to fill out Manatee County's online survey to get residents' feedback on its performance.

Somebody hand me an egg timer.

Certainly, Rahn was exaggerating as he was trying to tell residents that it takes a minimum effort to go to the county's website at and fill out the survey, thereby providing some important feedback. But let's face it, if such surveys are to carry any value, a little more thought needs to be put into this process.

I can't blame anyone who says it's a waste of time and effort because these surveys aren't taken seriously, especially if the feedback goes against commissioners' wants and desires. But it's an election year, so perhaps some of the key players will be more likely to listen.

And so, Manatee County, since you asked, here goes.

Do you support the Manatee County Board of County Commission’s decision to make large scale investments to reduce traffic?

Duh. We have brought in so many new residents by promoting growth, that we must place an emphasis on improving our infrastructure. It's a no-brainer. Sure, the taxpayers have to pay the tab, but I don't think you are going to find many people who say, "don't spend any money because I don't mind sitting in snarled traffic.' If we are rating the commissioners on this one, I would say this is an area where they have done a solid job. They are searching for state and federal funds to help with the major projects, with much success, and there is a sense of urgency in terms of getting things done. Now did the county make a very bad decision to build a two-lane Fort Hamer Bridge, which opened in 2017 and already is far overmatched in handling traffic? Sure. But you don't get anywhere looking back.

How often do you and your family visit Manatee County parks?

Very few times. This is a sore subject if you live in the Lakewood Ranch area. Manatee County, indeed, has some nice parks, but not so much east of Interstate 75. Premier Park has been a major tease. It sits, and sits, and sits. Big open fields, and nothing there. The land was purchased in 2017 and 2018, and we still haven't seen any of the promised amenities. An aquatics and racket sports complex has been targeted for 2026, but why should we have faith in that? It was targeted for 2022, then 2024, then 2026. The Lakewood Ranch area has no decent softball complex, no event center, no amphitheater, no soft-surfaced tennis courts. Stop making excuses and get the darn things built. 

When was your most recent visit to a Manatee County library?

Last fall when I went to the Braden River Library. It's a very nice facility with many friendly and accommodating people running it. It's a bit of a haul from Lakewood Ranch, though. That's why the new Lakewood Ranch Library, which hosts its grand opening on Friday (Jan. 12), is a godsend for the area. Not only will this be great for all its resources, but it will provide much needed meeting space for local clubs and nonprofits. A big thank you to the county for getting this right, and especially to former Commissioner Vanessa Baugh who pushed, and pushed, for this library for years. It's easy, and deserved, to criticize the county in many areas, but this has been its brightest star.

How safe do you feel going about your daily activities in Manatee County?

Very safe. Sure, we have some minor crime like any community, but I never walk around looking back over my shoulder for potential problems. We have an A1 Sheriff's Office, and the only thing I would suggest to the county would be to provide more deputies so we could have better coverage on our roadways.

What is your opinion on the rate of growth in Manatee County?

I doubt very much most people will say 'I love it, let's keep it rolling!' I am somewhat in the middle on this. I am in Ray Turner's camp that growth in the area can be a good thing if done the right way with environmental concerns in mind. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. Development has been allowed to creep closer to our reservoirs and wetlands and we have plopped down businesses with no regard to existing communities. The commissioners tell us they are handicapped by state law when it comes to denying development, but I don't believe that to be the case in all the decisions. Some, yes. My biggest concern is that the county approves housing projects before the infrastructure is in place to support those new residents. A prime example is Upper Manatee River Road. The population has exploded around that road with no regard to the traffic nightmares it will produce. Sure, projects have been approved to add lanes to the road and construct a new bridge span, but these things should have been in place before thousands of residences for new residents were approved.

Please rate the job Manatee County Government is doing (to improve your quality of life) on a scale from 1-10.

I would have to give this one a 4. The key word is improve. The quality of life here now is pretty awesome. But I think we are struggling to maintain it, not improve it. 

Do you think Manatee County is taking adequate measures to protect environmentally sensitive lands?

Unless you live in a cave, you have heard of our commissioners' decision (note that George Kruse was the only dissenting vote and Turner was absent on the voting day) to reduce wetland protections in our county. This is absurd and a slap in the face to all our residents. It comes at a time when the population continues to grow steadily and our water resources will be stressed. We've got pollution issues that need to be addressed. What's worse is that the world backed keeping our wetland protections in place, and our commissioners ignored that desire. It's disheartening. The county is working to protect some environmentally significant lands, and that should be applauded, but the asinine wetlands vote kills any good that was accomplished this past year.

Do you feel Manatee County is an affordable place to live?

Yes. If I am on the Manatee-Sarasota border when I am looking for a restaurant or tavern, I turn toward Manatee. Houses are expensive, but for owners, that's money in the bank. 

Would you personally recommend living in Manatee County to friends and family?

Currently, yes, But I am walking a tightrope as we try to tackle growth.

Please rate your level of satisfaction of the overall services provided by Manatee County Government such as trash service, transit, utilities and water quality from a scale from 1 to 10.

A solid 8. I know all these cost more, but it does everywhere.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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