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Commissioners Direct Staff to Seek New Policy Solutions for Dust from Development

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BRADENTON — During a regular meeting on Tuesday, Manatee County Commissioners voted unanimously to direct development services staff to research options regarding the negative effects of development site “clear-cutting.” 

The proposed action was brought forward by Commissioner George Kruse, though several of the commissioners agreed that action was needed given the immense amount of communication from the public about dust, smoke, and other negative impacts from large-scale development projects across the county.

“With clear-cutting, developers are just scraping land, sometimes tens, if not hundreds, of acres at a time,” Kruse explained as he opened the meeting item. “It’s a cheap and lazy way of developing.”

Kruse added that the practice was getting rid of all the existing trees and vegetation in advance of when the stormwater systems were being installed and sometimes by farmers in advance of selling the land to developers for planned developments.

Kruse described a recent uptick in communication from residents in proximity to such development sites who have experienced flooding, dust, and smoke impacts at their residences due to the clear-cutting. 

“It’s getting out of hand and we have no official policy,” said Kruse.

Reaching out to officials in other counties, Kruse said he learned that other counties are experiencing similar issues with mass clear-cutting at development sites. Kruse said that through those conversations, he learned about policies that other local governments are implementing to help better regulate the practice.

Some of the policies included raising fees on the removal of larger more substantial trees to discourage or reduce the number of trees being removed and enacting limitations on the percentage area of a project site that could be clear-cut at one time. 

Several commissioners readily supported the need to direct staff to look at policy and development procedure options that could be enforced to cut back on the dust being produced at development sites.

Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge, James Satcher and Mike Rahn each agreed the dust produced by the clear-cutting was an issue that needed to be addressed. Satcher, though in support, cautioned that staff should be mindful not to come up with any solutions that would be too restrictive or that could create “unintended consequences.”

Commissioner Jason Bearden suggested that one solution county staff might look into would be the use of something he referred to as a “sand fighter” for “plowing purposes.” Bearden said has seen such equipment used in Texas to help cut back on the amount of dust that can be kicked up by the wind.

Another solution proposed by several commissioners was the use of sprinklers or another water spraying measure to wet the earth at the sites.

Although Kruse’s item also touched on the overall practice of clear-cutting—in terms of removing large amounts of trees and vegetation—the board’s ultimate direction to staff did not include any instruction for staff to look at that specific aspect of the practice. Instead, the board's focus was narrowly set on mitigating the negative impacts of the dust produced after the clear-cutting had occurred.

Regardless of the narrow direction to staff on only the dust factor, Kruse said he was grateful to find support among his colleagues to seek possible policy solutions for future adoption.

“Hopefully we can come up with some reasonable solutions that aren’t overreaching. We need to come up with a ‘common good’ policy that’s not onerous but has some real teeth to it,” said Kruse.

The motion was passed 7-0 and staff should return feedback to commissioners on possible policy solutions gained through research in the near future. 

A recent Facebook reel posted by Suncoast Waterkeepers contains aerial drone footage captured of the Lake Flores development project. Lake Flores, which is located in West Bradenton, was one of the development sites referenced during Tuesday's BOCC meeting. Commissioners said they have heard from residents concerning the negative impacts of smoke and dust from the site. You can view the reel by visiting the Suncoast Waterkeeper Facebook page, or by clicking here