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Longboat Key considers local enforcement of mangrove rules

Investigating potential mangrove trimming violations requires time and dedicated staff, says Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection handles enforcement of the Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act of 1996.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection handles enforcement of the Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act of 1996.
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The question of how to best enforce mangrove trimming violations on Longboat Key is still somewhat up in the air, but for now, remains with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

On May 20, Environmental Administrator Southwest District Hannah Westervelt came to talk to Longboat Key town commissioners about the Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act of 1996. Westervelt also outlined the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s enforcement process for violations of the act. 

The commission invited Westervelt to present at a workshop to gain insight into how the department enforces mangrove trimming violations after conversations sparked about whether or not the town could take over enforcement. 

In April, barrier island elected officials heard from Abbey Tyrna, the executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, about mangrove trimming enforcement. She stressed that local governments have the potential to take over the enforcement. 

“Now, more than ever, we need strong, local policies that protect our mangrove systems,” Tyrna said at the April 17 meeting. “And what the good news is, is that local governments can actually take delegation of enforcement of the 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act.”

The 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act exists to protect mangroves from unregulated removal of three main species: red, black and white mangroves. 

This act protects both living and dead mangroves, according to Westervelt, since dead mangroves still provide structure and habitat. 

While the FDEP typically handles enforcement of violations of this act, local municipalities can adopt delegation. The city of Sanibel, the town of Jupiter Island and Sarasota County are three examples of municipalities that took control of enforcement. 

When a local municipality takes control of enforcement, it can’t expand the exemptions of the act, Westervelt said. That means the local government can’t be less restrictive than what’s outlined in the act. 

Mayor Ken Schneier asked Westervelt for a ballpark estimate of what it would take for Longboat Key to take over enforcement. 

“There are occasional problems, some of them are pretty serious, about removal of mangroves, which is inappropriate,” Schneier said. “It has been suggested to us that we might want to be the enforcement agency.”

Westervelt said that every complaint takes a considerable amount of time and a dedicated staff. She said her team is made up of about 14 people, all with four years of experience or a bachelor’s degree in a related field. 

But, Westervelt said the FDEP is willing to help municipalities transition to local enforcement. 

“It’s really up to that municipality if they believe that they have the resources and the budget, then we are happy to assist in that application process,” Westervelt said. 

Current operations

According to Planning, Zoning & Building Director Allen Parsons, the town received about six to eight complaints in the last five years. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was a violation, though. 

Westervelt said that she is also appreciative of Suncoast Waterkeeper, which acts as the eyes on the local waterways. She also said the town staff have been able to assist and respond to complaints as the FDEP receives them. 

“That additional coordination is very helpful I think for both parties,” Westervelt said.

If there are complaints, Parsons said his staff is quick to inspect them. 

“We will send somebody out to go ensure that someone has a permit. If they don’t have a permit, we'll stop them from doing the work they’re doing and get that permit or provide proof of exemption,” he said. “We as a town do respond to mangrove trimming activities and get someone out there immediately.”

In terms of proactivity, Parsons said that if a new construction has mangroves along a planned seawall or dock, then the Planning, Zoning and Building Department makes sure the developer is aware at the earliest stage of permitting review. 

According to Westervelt, when the department receives a complaint, it will be assigned to a staff member within a couple of days and that staff member will reach out to the complainant. Then, the FDEP will try to get boots on the ground within 10 days and have an inspection report submitted within 30 days. 

If a violation has occurred, a possible repercussion for the offender is restoration or mitigation. Plantings are a common way to go about this, and the FDEP monitors the project for success, according to Westervelt. 

“These projects can take a very long time and a lot of monitoring and time, but we ensure they are successful before ever closing out a site or a permit,” Westervelt said. 

At the April 17 meeting among mayors of Longboat Key, city of Anna Maria, city of Bradenton Beach and the city of Holmes Beach, the idea of taking over enforcement as a joint effort was discussed. That could be made possible through an interlocal agreement, but the decision to move forward on that is still to be determined. 



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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