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Pat Neal Gets SWFMD Permit to Destroy Wetlands on Perico


BRADENTON — Biding his time patiently for years, Pat Neal has owned wetlands on Perico Island bordering Sarasota Bay, waiting for the right mix of political connections to get the approval to destroy the environmentally sensitive land for another development. In fact, the 40-acre parcel of land he owns through a trust is mostly wetlands. Most if not all have conservation protection by the City of Bradenton’s development rules, but don’t expect Mayor Poston to ensure those rules are followed. As for the South Florida Water Management District, Carlos Beruff serves on its board and Neal and Beruff have close business ties, so it may be no surprise that they would grant a permit to Neal, allowing him to destroy the wetlands.

The City of Bradenton has some pretty good rules in their land development code and their comprehensive plan for protection wetlands. However, when Neal requested his development, the city found a way to change the rules, or just ignore them. Nowhere on the Neal site plan approval will you find mention of destroying wetlands, something that Bradenton’s rules do not allow.


The city even administratively changed Neal’s land use from the city’s approved maps, avoiding a planned development hearing. Then there are the four lots he was able to get approved on less than four acres. The only problem is that the rules require at least four acres for approving four lots, which Neal does not have in his request. Altogether, this is represented by 19 pages of the city violating their own codes. When confronted, Mayor Poston never responded. Neither did his staff.

The city relies on SWFMD for wetland issues, delegating wetland review to the agency since they do not have the environmental expertise. However, that leads to a situation where SWFMD can issue a permit that is not consistent with the city’s own rules. So what assurances does the public have that the development rules of their community are ultimately followed? None, it would seem. SWFMD does not even seem to consider the city's rules, which are more restrictive than the water management district's.

SWFMD spends millions restoring wetlands, but it also permits their destruction, making something of a self-perpetuating business with our tax dollars. There is no lack of data. We have study after study that says avoiding wetland impacts is important for a number of reasons. While the environmental reasons alone should be enough, a wetland can also be worth millions of dollars in economic value to our fishing industry.


Wetlands also protect our homes from floods and storm events, and their absence can help compound the financial costs of natural disasters, from state and federal response costs to escalating insurance premiums. FEMA has rules that prevent destroying natural shorelines, however, developers like Neal still want to build houses by destroying wetlands. Is it any wonder that FEMA wants to raise our flood insurance rates through revised flood maps?

We all benefit by protecting wetlands and natural shorelines. Neal can build at least one home without destroying any wetlands, maybe two. The rules of avoiding wetlands have been around for quite a while. We do not need to change, or even worse, ignore the rules just so that a developer can make a few extra million dollars.

There is hope. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) has a role to protect wetlands using federal rules. If they apply the rules and the avoidance criteria required, then the wetlands Neal wants to destroy have a chance to be preserved.

You may remember a few months ago that Beruff wanted SWFMD to take over the permitting of wetlands from the ACOE. I guess now we can see why. Even though SWFMD must only permit projects in accordance with the federal rules used by the ACOE, it is evident that they cannot be trusted, otherwise the Neal permit would never have been approved.

If Neal gets away with destroying the wetlands on Perico, is Long Bar Pointe next, or maybe Terra Ceia? Did they not get the message last year by way of the historic local opposition to destroying our environment, that these actions are not acceptable to our community?


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