BRADENTON - Local leaders must act before Christmas if they want to stop oil and gas drilling near the shoreline, an island city official said Wednesday.
At the Council of Governments meeting at Pirate City, drilling was on every official's mind, and the consensus was that the governments in Manatee County must work with governments in other counties in the region to present a united front for a legislative platform.
But time is of the essence.
"If we wait to do a legislative listing and wait until March to go up and talk, this thing is over," said Longboat Key Vice-Mayor Robert Siekmann. "This thing is going to be over by Christmas. We need to jump on this thing with both feet right now. Any postponing of action, we're going to get run over."
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who chaired the meeting, advised the cities to get a resolution against drilling on their agendas and vote on them.
Very key people in Tallahassee have changed their positions on drilling, Siekmann said. Sarasota County's governments met in convocation, but the individual governments voted to oppose drilling and signed a letter opposing drilling. "Every single elected official in Sarasota County voluntarily signed this letter," he said. "Separately, each of the cities in Sarasota County drafted resolutions in opposition to drilling. So those are two things that came out of the Sarasota convocation of governments that was held in September."
In Longboat Key, they posted it on the Web site and included the key state government people, Siekmann said. He said people were asked to take whatever position they had and send letters to the officials. It's not just a Longboat Key effort.
"It's an effort of west coast Florida communities in opposition to drilling," he said. "I believe it is having an impact."
Another situation mentioned was that Manatee Technical Institute is facing the loss of $5 million in state funding. A requirement that pharmacy technicians get certified is running into the fact that no school in the county offers it, said Robert Gause of the Manatee County School Board.
This is another issue where the governments have to unite and present their views to higher elected officials, he said. Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey added that the state is zeroing out aid for libraries at a time when more people need them to use the computers to look for jobs.
Rob Brown of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department and Holly Greening the Tampa Bay Estuary Program presented "good news" about the issue of nitrogen. Brown noted that there are more seagrasses in Sarasota Bay than in 1950, and they're working to improve Tampa Bay.
Efforts to limit nitrogen discharges into Tampa Bay are moving forward, Greening said, and allocating the right to discharge is working.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie led a discussion on the mooring of abandoned vessels in waterways, which is a growing problem, and Jessica Grace of the Bradenton Convention & Visitors Bureau led a discussion on the new policy and procedures for filming in Manatee County.
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