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Manatee County Commissioners discuss canal dredging and who should pay for it


Should homeowners with canals in their backyards pay for dredging to keep their waterways clear? Should Manatee County pay? These were questions county comissioners grappled with during their work session on March 23.

Today, if a group of homeowners along a canal want their canal dredged, they pay $10 per piece of property involved as an initial fee, and are later assessed some portion of the cost of the dredging, with the county paying for the rest. According to a slide presentation given by public works director Ron Schulhofer and his staff members, the county has paid 65 per cent of the cost of the last seven local dredging projects, while homeowners who benefited only paid 35 per cent.

The staff proposal, as outlined in the slide presentation, would raise the application fee per dredging project to $50,000 -- the average cost of a pre-dredging engineering study -- and would require 2/3 of affected property owners to sign not one but two petitions requesting the project, and would also make them pay the entire dredging cost instead of only a portion of it unless some or all of the dredging was made necessary by silt or sand flowing into the canal from a county-owned storm sewer or was otherwise made necessary due to county actions.

Commissioner McClash mentioned one example of this kind of situation: a 2005 canal dredging project in the Coral Shores neighborhood that was paid for primarily by residents, but needed to be dredged again shortly afterwards because the county had been working on sewers in the area and had the streets torn up during a torrential rain that washed so much mud into the dredged area that at least one outflow pipe was surrounded by its own sandbar at high tide.

In that case, McClash said, the county was obligated to do the dredging without charging canalside property owners anything. The other commissioners agreed.

McClash also suggested a dredging option that would allow people in the neighborhood to get together and "chip in the money" they would need for their own dredging project rather than involving the county at all in project financing. He also suggested getting bids before approval of any dredging projects (which is the opposite of how it's done now), so that property owners would know exactly how much they were obligating themselves to pay. And, as an additional carrot, McClash pointed out that private property owners doing their own shopping for dredging service might be able to find someone to do it for less money than the county's usual contractors.

Since this was a work session rather than a full-fledged meeting of the County Commission, no final decision was made. There will be more discussion of this topic at other commission meetings, not only about how dredging applications and permits should be handled but about the possibility of setting up a dredging advisory board composed of interested citizens.

Despite being a work session, this meeting was recorded
Before the meeting even began, Commissioner McClash asked for it to be videotaped. Commissioners' work sessions are typically held "around a table" in a conference room on the county building's fifth floor that is not equipped for video recording. This one was held in the commission chamber, which has not only video recording facilities but can also send signals directly to the county's own MGA-TV for live cable broadcasting.

Commission charperson Donna Hayes agreed that it was a good idea to tape this work session and all possible commission meetings, formal or not, and adjourned the meeting for the few moments it took a county technician to set up the video recording system. This meeting was not broadcast live, but the recording of it should be available before long through the county's streaming video archive



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