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Opportunity to Expand Emerson Point Must not be Missed


At Tuesday’s meeting, the Manatee County Commission will vote on acquiring a key piece of environmentally sensitive land that would expand the Emerson Point Preserve to nearly double its size. This vote should be a no-brainer. However, recent rhetoric on the matter suggests that someone thinks the property, which is zoned residential, should not be preserved despite the clearly expressed will of voters.

In 2020, Manatee County voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum to create a special tax to purchase environmental and conservation land within the county. The 97-acre property—which includes more than 40 acres of wetlands and waterways—has been on the Florida Forever project’s map of properties in crucial need of protection for more than three decades.

At the Feb. 27 BOCC meeting, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge "mischaracterized" the terms of acquisition for the property, suggesting that the board majority might have been floating the idea of subverting the deal.

Given that Van Ostenbridge seems to be the conduit between the developers who installed him on the board and the puppet administration that has been put in place since he was elected in 2020, it seems likely that there are developers who would like to see the property developed rather than preserved. Van Ostenbridge, whose district the land is located in and who is up for reelection in November, should note that more District 3 residents voted for the referendum than for him as commissioner.

While the purchase price is over the appraised value of the land, that is not atypical. Furthermore, the state would reimburse the county for the appraised value, meaning our environmental land tax funds would only be used for the difference (about $3 million of around $15.5 million total). To be sure, it would be difficult to imagine an opportunity for preservation in Manatee County that would be more aligned with the spirit of the referendum that 72% of voters approved than paying 20% of the purchase price in a deal that would keep that much environmentally sensitive land from development.

Yes, there is a 4-acre "carve out" to the current owner that would extend along an adjacent bayfront development (see concept map here). This is not unique, as preserve acquisitions in Manatee County at Triangle Ranch and Crooked River Ranch included similar entitlements. That factor does nothing to make this an unattractive acquisition, especially once one considers how much development could be done on the other 93 acres if they are not preserved.

In an official letter of support to Manatee County Environmental Lands Division Manager Debra Woithe, FDEP Director of State Lands Callie DeHaven wrote that the project is "significant for the protection it offers on some of the last natural lands left on the southeast shore of Tampa Bay. With approximately 2,000 feet of mangrove fringe along the Terra Ceia Bay Aquatic Preserve, acquisition of the subject property is important for estuarine water quality, coastal habitat resilience, and protection of the wildlife species known to live in the immediately surrounding area."

DeHaven closed by expressing that her department is "most appreciative of the county's effort and look(s) forward to working with the county upon its acquisition of the subject property." Any notion that the state's support is unclear and that taxpayers could be on the hook for the bulk of the cost is misguided at best, and deliberately misleading at worst.

This same board recently approved $4 million just for the initial work on a far more expensive “Veterans Monument Park” that is much smaller and does not have nearly as much environmental value. In that instance, the board had no such stated support from the state or any other idea as to how the remaining $30 million or so would be funded beyond assurances from the county administrator that he’d had some good conversations with state and federal legislators and an unnamed private donor. Obviously, the hand-wringing on this acquisition is not about fiscal prudence.

Given the recent evisceration of both our wetland protections and the future development area boundary, using this fund to acquire and preserve the most environmentally valuable undeveloped parcels of land that might otherwise be cleared for more development is even more critical than when the referendum was passed. Do not allow your elected officials to thwart the clearly expressed will of the voters. Email Manatee County Commissioners and tell them not to miss this crucial opportunity.

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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  • kmskepton

    This BOCC has a track record that should not make a single Manatee County resident expect the right decision to be made.

    Sunday, March 10 Report this

  • ruthlawler

    PLEASE advocate for this acquisition as the majority of voters expressed on the 2020 referendum for the County to buy and protect lands for preserves and environmental protection. Read more detail in the Suncoast Waterkeepers link https://www.suncoastwaterkeeper.org/emerson_point_expansion . PLEASE do not JUST call or email the Commissioners, also SHOW UP. They can ignore an email and a voice message. which they often do. It is much harder to ignore human beings staring at them live during a meeting. We must maintain decorum, even though the Commissioners typically do not do so during public meetings. If you only view the live stream or the YouTube after the meeting, what you do NOT see is a blatant disregard to the public comment speakers by most Commissioners on an ongoing basis. I witness chatting and laughing between Commissioners DURING public comments (which is a violation of Sunshine laws). I see Commissioners looking at their cell phones, their computers and getting up for snacks and eating them WHILE citizens are making their very limited 3 minute public comments. Or worse, just staring out into space, as Satcher often does. We can silently shake our heads no, do an affirmation nod or a silent clap. Body language is POWERFUL, if we use it! Come join me Tuesday and sit up front to look them in the eye! I've had them squirm on occasion, more of us could make a difference. Ruth Lawler

    Sunday, March 10 Report this

  • pdsinc

    I do not hold my breath that the developers will let this go forward. Emmerson Point has long been a popular place with Manatee County residents. At one time it was privately owned and developement was attempted. I believe that the economy put a hold on it. If you were to dig into the mound of dirt at the point, you would find concrete pilings that were covered up. We owe a big thank you to Toby Holland who had a large roll in Emerson Point becoming what it is today. The opportunity to expand should not be WASTED on more developement.

    Sunday, March 10 Report this

  • sandy

    Don't know if it is still there along a small portion of the shoreline, you could see chunks of the old pilings. Yes, the mound covers the pilings. It is not an Indian mound at the point. From what I was able to find out a permit had been issued (#1184 in 1981, 49 condos) but apparently cancelled for work suspended or abandoned, then restored per the Construction Code Board of Appeals, then shut down when they were not approved for a wastewater permit (septic) by the state. The developers sued the county but lost. Yes it was acquired by the state and Manatee County took over the management into a preserve through a management plan with the state. To expand it would be a boon for the county. The state has expressed that they are willing to buy it at an approved appraisal value after the county buys it, reimbursing the appraisal and the county would pay the difference. This will end up less that the county paid for Crooked River. And less than the $30 million for the finished veterans park. This is the kind of land the voters wanted when voting for a tax for environmentally sensitive land. So what the owner wants to keep 4 acres. It is immediately adjacent to the subdivision of Amberwynd and will not impact development of the addition to the preserve.

    Sunday, March 10 Report this