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Petition Filed Challenging Reduction of Local Wetland Protections

Former County Commissioner and TBT publisher Joe McClash argues that changes to the local wetland protections are inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan and not in the best interest of the general public


MANATEE COUNTY — Former Manatee County Commissioner and TBT publisher Joseph McClash has filed a petition with the Division of Administrative Hearings challenging the county commission’s October vote to amend the county’s Comprehensive Plan reducing local wetland buffer protections to state minimums.

First reported by the Herald-Tribune, the request for a formal administrative hearing on the matter was submitted to DOAH on Nov. 6 by McClash.

Public records show that McClash is asserting that the changes to the local wetland protections are inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan, and not in the general public’s best interest.

During a BOCC meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14, Manatee County commissioners approved a request by the county attorney's office to retain Tampa-based GrayRobinson Law Firm as outside counsel in the matter. The agenda item was passed on the meeting’s consent agenda.

TBT staff only recently became aware of McClash’s petition with the DOAH when staff reviewed public records on the matter. Reached by phone, McClash confirmed having submitted the challenge.

“For the most part, I have always kept as much separation as possible between the publication and my civic involvement,” McClash told TBT about why he had not alerted our publication’s staff or initiated a press release on the action.

McClash said that the action was not something he necessarily “wanted” to have to do, but believes strongly it was the “right” thing to do.

“Personally, I would rather not have to challenge a government for which I served 22 years as a county commissioner," said McClash. "However, our environmental decisions are too important to have an elected body decide that our protections should be weakened or reduced."

The action taken by the commission amended the county’s comprehensive plan’s "Element 3 Conservation, Element 4 Coastal Management," amending the county’s current local requirements for wetlands mitigation and buffers.

Proponents argue that the changes will significantly loosen requirements for development adjacent to local wetlands. The text amendment effectively defers county-level wetland buffer requirements of 30 feet adjacent to viable wetlands and 50 feet near the county’s most sensitive wetlands adjacent to flowing watercourses, to the minimum required by the state25 feet average and 15-foot minimum and only near wetlands identified by the state. In addition, the county’s former regulations identified and protected some wetlands that are not even recognized by the state as needing any specific protection or added buffer requirements. 

McClash said he filed the request for the administrative hearing because the commission’s decision to lessen the environmental protections lacked scientific justification as well as benefit to the general public.

“There’s not a whole lot of people with experience in filing challenges to comp plan text amendments and environmental resource permitswhich I have done in the pastand in the evaluation of the county commission’s action with its recent adoption of changes to the comp plan, they failed to make those changes in the best interest of the public even as it lacked any credible explanation or scientific justification,” McClash explained.

“On the other hand, the public provided overwhelming testimony including studies to prove the actions cannot be supported, but still the board approved the measure,” he added.

“The process of administrative hearings is designed for these specific instances where the county might take action without the proper process or information to substantiate or support the action,” McClash summarized.

The week following the board's Oct. 5 vote to amend its comp plan and reduce its local wetland protections, McClash addressed commissioners during public comment requesting they rescind the action. 

According to the case docket available on the DOAH website, a hearing is likely to be held in Bradenton, but a date has not yet been set. 


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  • Lizarnold

    Thank you Mr. McClash!

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    Very much appreciating Mr McClash right now...

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • joni.corcoran

    I’m so glad a challenge of that terrible decision is being made!

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • writerlynn9717

    Thank you Joe! With as much scientific evidence you have on your side, it's the time. Can't believe the wetlands mowed down recently on Cortez and 75th, as well.

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • WTF

    Hours of public testimony, backed by scientific presentations, environmentalists and other concerned citizens all weighed in on this subject matter. Where the facts in the voices heard, apparently not. Our board of commissioners are bought and sold by the developers in this county, whenever they want they get despite the destruction of our environment. This board continues to make bad decisions "for the people" and instead are directed by the developer handlers on how to vote. So many voters like myself have voter’s remorse. We voted them in trusted them to do the right thing by the citizens of this county, they have failed miserably. When will it stop, it will be at the voting polls when vote them Out!


    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Thank you Joe you are a hero! James Tierney

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • Cwright

    Thank you Mr. McClash!!

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • ruthlawler

    Thank you Joe McClash. Isn't is ironic that an outside attorney representing the BOCC, that is being hired by the BOCC by a consent item (under the radar), will be paid for by the citizens' tax dollars. This BOCC has ignored enormous scientific and public input, and as Mr. McClash points out, has lied to the public! It will be interesting to see how this progresses. Ruth Lawler

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • spiceyar

    Thank you Joe. You speak for many of us that are not heard! Letters to Commissioners are not enough!!! Greed...

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • Carolannfelts

    It is a healthy sign of the true American way that we exercise our rights and responsibilities as such to question or create a dialogue in which we can always correct the error of our ways to build a better future for all.

    I know how difficult taking these actions can be, in time, money, and legal or political expertise.

    Thank you, Mr. McClash for what I know is a challenge before us all. To see what is good, to do what is good and to do the right thing in the true American spirit and resolve that is what formed and will sustain our nation, no matter what flaws of human nature or nature itself presents to divide or defy us.

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • nellmcphillips

    Thank you McClash for your experience and grasp of the science. This move by you is very appreciated by the voters. You are a man of integrity which apparently is lacking in county government at this time.

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • Debann


    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • Charlene

    So relieved that someone is doing something about this. If the public had a better idea of how to handle these kinds of challenges, we would definitely step up and do more of these. Thanks, Mr. McClash!

    Sunday, November 19, 2023 Report this

  • tjet62

    You rock! Thank you Mr. McClash.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2023 Report this