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Greenwashing at Its Finest


On Wednesday, Congressman Vern Buchanan and Manatee County Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge got in front of news cameras to peddle the notion that planting clams and oysters is going to fight off red tide and cure our ailing local waterways. Coming less than one week after the BOCC’s ludicrous decision to move ahead in gutting county wetland protections, the irony was rich, to say the very least.

To be clear, I’m all for clams and oysters. Chased by an ice-cold Yuengling, they are two of the most delicious foods to ever land on a plate, in my opinion, never mind the fact that our waterways are certainly healthier when their counts are up. To that end, I wish Two Docks Shellfish—an oyster, clam, and shellfish hatchery in Palmetto—all the luck in the world. However, while bivalves do have the ability to remove some nitrogen, the notion that planting clams and oysters is going to have a measurable effect on reducing algal blooms is speculative at best. The idea that it will render the gutting of wetlands irrelevant is pure poppycock.

Restaurateur Ed Chiles spearheaded an effort to secure millions in funding for the Gulf Shellfish Institute through the “All Clams on Deck” initiative. Chiles, who is the son of former Florida governor Lawton Chiles and has been very active in local politics through the decades, managed to get millions of dollars in state and federal funding, as well as $500,000 from the county, which was on top of a Restore Act grant to the institute (on whose board Chiles sits) in the amount of $350,000.

Van Ostenbridge, who has a high school education and no background remotely related to the science of anything other than kissing the old musty buttocks of local developers, is now trying to push the imbecilic idea that the clams and oysters are going to do such a great job that cutting away vast swaths of wetlands—which are infinitely more essential to healthy waterways—is nothing to worry about.

In an email response to a concerned citizen this week, Van Ostenbirdge wrote the following:

I have read your email. Expanding the buffer from 25 to 50 feet does not create a measurable impact on water quality or wetland health. The idea that “more is better” when it comes to wetlands does not show a measurable improvement until the buffer size reaches hundreds of feet. With no measurable improvement I can not justify the taking of a citizens (sic) private property rights. Taking of a persons (sic) property rights must be necessary for the public good. If adopted Manatee County will have the same regulatory standard in place as the state, SWFMD and many counties and cities.

Citizens who came to speak to our board were passionate about our environment and I love that. However, their comments were emotional in nature and lacked provable data to support their position. As a law maker (sic) I have to make decisions based on facts and data. I think that the fact that the vote was 6-1 shows the data clearly did not support the added buffer that was implemented arbitrarily by a past board.

Our board cares deeply about our environment and we are taking steps to protect and preserve it. We have invested in bivalve restoration. Millions in federal and state money has been successfully lobbied for. The BOCC has invested 500k in these projects as well. Bivalves filter 10-15 gallons of water daily. This project will seed millions of clams and oysters in our waters. We are also committed to moving forward with acquiring thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive land in Manatee County. These are initiatives that have long lasting measurable outcomes for Manatee County.

I hope this email helps to clear up where I am coming from. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts in writing.


Now, anyone who has been following this issue knows that the commissioner’s response is riddled with the sort of blatant inaccuracies and outright falsehoods that tend to live in his head rent-free on a daily basis. As Dr. Abby Tyrna—an actual Ph.D. environmental scientist who specializes in wetlands—explained to Kevin and his developer-backed cronies during public comment at the meeting in question, there is considerable scientific evidence that 50-foot buffers are better than the 15-25 foot state minimums that the county is planning to defer to.

Anyone who watched the meeting also knows that the county’s consultant—an industry hack who was handpicked precisely because he was the first person willing to sign off on such a farce after experts among county staff and another outside environmental scientist demured—presented exactly zero science to support his recommendation—because none exists. As for the fact that the vote was 6-1, anyone even remotely familiar with the current configuration on the dais knows that a 6-1 vote signifies only that the development cartel has ordered it so. 

Congressmen Vern Buchanan (second from left) and Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge (far right) tour Two Docks Shellfish in Palmetto.
Congressmen Vern Buchanan (second from left) and Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge (far right) tour Two Docks Shellfish in Palmetto.

As I mentioned in a previous column regarding All Clams on Deck, the scientific studies suggest that no matter how much water they “filter,” oysters and clams have relatively little impact on the overall level of nitrogen in their waters, which is the driving force behind algal blooms. I also noted that Chiles himself called it a "science project" on multiple occasions during his pitch to the BOCC, and implied that the investment would provide an answer to whether it would create a significant impact rather than validating existing scientific data demonstrating it was likely. 

What's more, the negative impact that reducing wetland buffers is sure to have on water quality will reduce the likelihood of the success of planting clams and oysters, the populations of which were decimated by nutrient-rich waters in the first place. So, regardless of what one thinks about spending around $6 million in public money attempting to restore bivalve populations in local waters, selling the idea that it’s a valid solution to our water woes, or is in some way a scientifically supported endeavor while our wetland policies lack science is either 1. A bald-faced lie, or 2. A soft-headed individual’s inability to understand basic science.

As I’ve noted previously, it can often be quite difficult to determine when our county commission chair is erring due to incompetence and when he is erring due to corruption, but I think the latter is clearly spinning the hamster wheel on this matter. And the fact that the policy, which one of its architects (recently retired Manatee County Environmental Program Manager Rob Brown) explained at the same meeting had been far from arbitrary, was successfully defended in court on multiple occasions fully sinks Van Ostenbridge’s simple-minded thesis.

I reached out to Buchanan’s office to see whether—given the Congressman’s professed desire to protect our local waterways—he might comment on the county commission’s recent wetland policy decision, which I could only assume he and the commissioner had discussed during their publicity appearance at Two Docks Shellfish touting the oyster project. True, it’s a local decision, but as the ranking Republican officeholder for our community, surely a sitting Republican Congressman capable of bringing home the bacon from Washington would hold considerable sway over an all-Republican board, juice he'd surely be willing to spend if protecting our local waters was indeed a top-shelf priority. My request went unanswered.

The fact that multiple news outlets lazily gobbled up this little PR promo and put out fawning puff pieces without putting either of the elected officials on the hot seat regarding the bird-brained decision on wetlands they had just covered speaks volumes in terms of why so many residents don’t realize that their paradise is being turned into a toilet by the very people who are supposed to be stewards of the public trust. Spoiler alert: By the time most citizens get hip to the stick they’re holding the short end of, it will be far too late.

Meanwhile, those who sold the garden will have relocated to a different sandy beach, the waters of which have yet to be fouled by the spoils of greed and avarice. Fortunately, Van Ostenbridge is unlikely to be among them. So-called useful idiots are almost always discarded even before their puppet strings go threadbare. Most likely, he’ll be back to making tens of thousands of dollars selling real estate, although he’ll likely find even the status of bottom-rung realtor much more difficult to achieve once his sugar daddies are done eviscerating the once sub-tropical paradise he calls home.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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  • sandy

    KVO states in his email that he has to make decisions based on "facts and data". I did not hear any facts or data from the hired consultant, DeLisi. He just kept citing the state regulations. The state sets the minimum but encourages counties to set regulations based on their own unique environment. Abbey Tyrna wrote of many studies in her letter to the commissioners and she cited several during her comments to the board. She has the degrees to be an "expert" witness while DeLisi has a planning degree. DeLisi could not even answer how removing the buffers was a benefit to the non-development population of the county. Rob Brown, a retired long time employee who was working for the county in 1989 when the buffers were adopted stated that there was science at that time. And scarily the change will now apply to Mosaic Phosphate Mining. The first consultant from Kimley-Horn and several staff members recommended keeping the 50-foot buffer on non-isolated wetlands. The review and staff report was taken out of their hands.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • David Daniels

    From David Daniels:

    KVO is worried about the aesthetic damage of providing free housing for veterans - but the real damage is coming from the "blatant inaccuracies and outright falsehoods that tend to live in his head rent-free."

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • barbstubbers

    Perfect as usual, Mitch, thanks for putting out the truth.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • Carolannfelts

    I am all for any efforts to protect our environment. However, once again we are trying to empty a water trough with a tea cup while filling it with a fire hose. I am even more disturbed by the methodologies being used to suppress scientific fact, public input or opinion and the promotion of propaganda that is eerily similar to the tactics used by Communists in the takeover of Cuba by Castro. Perhaps our young Commissioner’s high school education did not include the required course on “Americanism vs Communism” as mine did, or perhaps it did and our water boy for team Beruff (ironically a Cuban American) have taken a page from that playbook or suffered some form of dyslexia when reading it.

    As I said, or tried to say, before my First Amendment rights were violated by those who shout “Liberty!” and defense of our Constitution the loudest, the wetlands decision alone and how it was handled is going to be a major issue in our 2024 elections. We cannot in good conscience as Americans vote for those whose actions more resemble Fidel’s than Freedom.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • Cwright

    And here was said concerned citizen’s reply:


    I have read your email and it’s absurd.

    First off, even though the citizens of this county are overwhelmingly in favor of clean water policies, “expanding” the buffer, as you put it, was not even an option. But you like those sneaky little word plays don’t you? “Expand” vs “Maintain” and “”homeless shelter” vs “veteran housing.” You were asked (and pleaded with) to keep the current local protections in place, but instead, you voted to gut them.

    Secondly, let’s talk about the idea that “more is better” when it comes to greedy developers- or as you like to refer to them- “citizens with private property rights.” What kind of measurable improvement will there be for any of us (including the dupes who buy their homes?) when your actions end up ruining & polluting our coastal environment, adding to fish kills, stinky lyngbya algae blooms, increased flooding and erosion? If you actually cared one bit about “the public good” you wouldn’t have turned a deaf ear to the people and the scientists who spoke at last Thursday’s sham of a meeting and you wouldn’t have sold us & our environment out for your personal gain. The multitude of citizens who took time off of work & courageously spoke (or at least attempted to speak, that is when you weren’t rudely trying to shut them down out of fear of hearing the truth) were passionate because they care about the water they drink, swim, boat and fish in, the land they live on, the wildlife that surrounds us and the livelihoods that a clean environment afford them in the face of an unjust vote which threatens to take that all away from them and their children.

    Did you seriously not hear a word of Dr. Tyrna’s incredibly informational presentation which was chock full of “provable data” supporting the position of every single person there??? Or rather, every single person in there minus the 3 or 4 people (besides yourselves) who work for the developers.

    It’s really an insult to the public you falsely claim to serve to think we’re gullible enough to believe you’re up there making your decisions “based on facts and data.” Give me a break. The fact that the vote was 6-1 only shows that all 6 of you chose to turn a blind eye to the facts & data you were presented with by scientists and experts clearly supporting the current buffer protection regulations. And just because you arbitrarily assert that they were “implemented arbitrarily by a past board” doesn’t make that lie a truth. The no less than 30-foot buffer was not arbitrarily chosen, it was based on science showing that anything less would not provide a modest benefit at best. You would know this if you had actually bothered to read Dr. Tyrna’s public comment letter, co-signed, incidentally, by 2,743 citizens, or paid attention to her presentation.

    Clearly, the 6 of you care much more deeply about stoking culture wars, “sticking it to the libs” and most importantly pleasing your developer bosses than you care about our environment and it’s obvious to all of us that you are taking steps to keep those guys happy. While you put on your theatrical performances spewing lies & excuses for bulldozing over home rule, becoming the dictatorship-type of big government you claim to dislike as a “good conservative Republicans” and hand over local control & decisions to the state- we are watching. And we will not stop calling out your lies and cowardly acts for exactly what they are.

    So no Kevin, I’m afraid your email did not help to clear up where you are coming from. Because we’ve all been well aware of where your loyalties lie from the start.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts in writing.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • WTF

    Not all the 4 color postcards in the world will get these 6 reelected. They are branded TSPD, The Six Pack of Destruction. The voters will not forget come next election cycle. What does TSPD all have in common ..... all are bought off by developers, plain and simple. Mend your evil ways.

    Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.

    George Bernard Shaw

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • andreart

    The Wetland issue has touched a nerve with many. I have a local, well-respected physician in this town who has contacted me every day since the vote. He noted that 100% of his patients were upset with the vote. He sent me another message yesterday!

    Clams and oysters do a important job with filtration, and this does help. Everything helps! A combination of water treatment is needed. In 2016, Tampa Bay, Sarasota and Charlotte had the best quality of water, seagrasses since the 1950’s.

    Chair is not educated in any of this. The environmental dept quit in mass. They could not lie to make the Board look good. My issue is, actions have been taken. Now let's figure out a way to take action to get our waters health, asap. I am a person of science, I am there for anyone that wants to come up with solutions now that actions have been taken.

    Don't rely on current Board, they will be temporary.

    Let's get together and come up with a.solution.

    Woods Hole is a option for science to come up with solutions. Call me, I am easy to find…

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • andreart

    Andreart is Carol Whitmore

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Clams and oysters will not survive the algae blooms, fertilizer runoffs and phosphate residue. This “clam” project will cost millions not reducing the buffer zone is free. This whole line of reasoning is similar to using phosphate residue to resurface roads. As in “idiotic”!

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • misty

    That’s some fine use of metaphors, Mr Maley. This is my favorite:

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • misty

    That’s some fine writing and use of metaphors, Mr Maley, and this is my favorite: "Van Ostenbridge, who has a high school education and no background remotely related to the science of anything other than kissing the old musty buttocks of local developers, is now trying to push the imbecilic idea that the clams and oysters are going to do such a great job that cutting away vast swaths of wetlands—which are infinitely more essential to healthy waterways—is nothing to worry about." - Misty Servia

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • Mtmartin

    I ask you Commissioner Van Ostenbridge and anyone on the BOCC did you not have the intellectual curiosity to ask yourself why, according to the documents provided during the meeting, does Mr. DeLisi state that he is a Mandarin Chinese speaker on his resume. Well, just a casual google search of your "expert" and China" and the results are very interesting. We all know the meeting was a pretense but really this is the guy you trot out there. I think there are some background checks to be done. Willfully ignoring basic science that will certainly contribute to economic and ecological destruction along with the erosion of democracy does not serve any Manatee County, State of Florida or United States resident. This is all going in the wrong direction.

    Monday, August 28, 2023 Report this