Wetlands act as buffers for wind and water and are valuable in reducing wave energy which can damage structures and cause deaths. Wetland buffers reduce flood damage by absorbing flood waters caused by significant storm events and rain. Wetlands provide a natural defense from flooding and storm surges.
The Manatee County Commission should abandon its efforts to weaken wetland protections in Manatee County. The County Commission recently voted to transmit changes to the Florida Department of Commerce that will gut many wetland protections and defer to weaker state wetland protection standards.
It is expected the Department of Commerce will rubberstamp the request and send it back to the County for final approval within months.
According to the EPA: Wetlands: Protecting Life and Property from Flooding
Wetlands in many locations play an important role in flood protection. Nowhere is this function more important than along coastal areas. Coastal areas are vulnerable to hurricanes and other powerful storms, and the flat coastal terrain means that land and property can be exposed to the full power of these storms. Preserving and reconstructing coastal marshes can help reduce storm damage. Coastal wetlands serve as storm surge protectors when hurricanes or tropical storms come ashore. in the Gulf Coast area, barrier islands, shoals, marshes, forested wetlands and other features of the coastal landscape can provide a significant and potentially sustainable buffer from wind wave action and storm surge generated by tropical storms and hurricanes.
The Manatee County Commission is stripping away many of the requirements for buffers around wetlands. During the County’s only public hearing to transmit the proposed changes to weaken wetland protection, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge incorrectly identified wetland buffers as a “taking” of private property rights.
Requiring wetland buffers around wetlands is not a "taking". Eliminating wetland buffers during development and phosphate mining proposals a “giving.”
It is giving developers and miners the right to develop up to the very edge of the wetland, even though landowners currently do not have that right. The County’s Land Development Code already allows for flexibility of the width of a wetland buffer on a case-by-case basis.
What is being taken away is:
Wetland protection is one of the most significant actions the County Commission can do for the protection of the water supply, water quality, and the general well-being and health of the citizens they represent.
Manatee County has allowed development in low and coastal areas which will result in catastrophic losses when a major storm occurs. In short, past Commissions and the current County Commission have taken far too little interest in preparing for and safeguarding against the next major storm event. There appears to be no consideration given to this problem when approving new development.
As the likelihood and costs of hurricanes continue to increase, Manatee County will need to adopt strategies to reduce the risks from storm surges and flooding. Eliminating wetland protections by reducing or eliminating buffers around wetlands is a significant step backward in protecting the lives and property of people living in Manatee County.
Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.
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