Manatee County residents need to prepare for less protection from storm surges, increased insurance rates, insurance companies canceling additional homeowner policies, and more water pollution.
Despite overwhelming public opposition, the Manatee Board of County Commission voted to transmit to the Florida Department of Commerce a proposal to reduce wetland protection in Manatee County. It is expected the State will rubberstamp the request and send it back to the County for final approval within months.
Commission George Kruse was the only commissioner to express opposition and voted not to transmit the County’s request to reduce wetland protection.
Revisions to the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code will defer to the state standards for wetland protection. This is not appropriate. Manatee wetlands are under different development pressures than the rest of the state. Wetlands in Manatee are under the constant threat of destruction by increased coastal, commercial, and residential development as well as phosphate mining.
Wetlands have functions and values that are beneficial to all citizens. Wetland buffers are an essential part of protecting a wetland, requiring wetland buffers is an appropriate way to protect the environmental integrity of a wetland, yet the County is changing the current wetland buffer requirements by deferring to the state’s minimum standards which reduces and eliminates wetland buffer requirements.
Wetlands are considered valuable because they clean the water, recharge water supplies, provide buffers to storm surge, reduce flood risks, and are important fish and wildlife habitats. Wetlands provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education, and commercial fishery benefits.
Developers and miners have taken advantage of the “no regulatory” and the “we don’t care about the environment” mode the County Commission appears to be in. There can be no doubt that the majority of the current Manatee County Commission favors less environmental regulation and opposes regulations aimed at preserving the health and well-being of Manatee County’s citizens and natural resources.
At some point Manatee County will be impacted by a hurricane, it’s not a matter of if but of when, and questions will be asked as to what the current County Commission did to protect the lives and property of its existing residents. Reducing protection for coastal wetlands by eliminating buffers around them makes no sense at all.
Florida ranks first in hurricane occurrences and is the most vulnerable state in the nation to the devastating effects resulting from coastal storms.
Reducing wetland protections will likely have a negative impact on FEMA flood insurance risk rates and homeowner insurance rates. The reduction in wetland protections will do nothing to reduce insurance rates or attract insurance companies to Manatee County.
The proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code are a significant step backward for wetlands protection and the protection of the lives and property of existing Manatee County residents.
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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