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Planning Commissioners Rebuke Wetland Proposal

Controversial proposal fails 4-2


BRADENTON — Manatee County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a controversial reduction of the county's wetland protection policies at next Thursday's land use meeting. They will do so without a positive recommendation from the Manatee County Planning Commission, however. At a well-attended meeting on Thursday, the board voted 4-2 not to recommend the policy.

The proposed policy would decrease wetland protections by reducing the required buffers on developments adjacent to viable wetlands to the minimum mandated by the state and water management board—a 25-foot average buffer with a 15-foot minimum requirement. The county currently requires 50-foot buffers for non-isolated wetlands and 30-foot for all others.

Following a presentation by Daniel DeLisi, a consultant retained by the county to present recommendations on the policy, members of the public showed up in sizable numbers to give public comment against the proposal.

TBT publisher Joe McClash, who served 22 years on the Manatee County Commission from 1990-2012, decried the lack of science offered in the presentations and entered more than 400 pages of studies suggesting the policy would run contrary to the scientific understanding of best practices regarding wetland preservation. McClash also gave a brief PowerPoint presentation (see video below) that included a striking visual of the entire four pages of existing policy that is redlined as part of the proposal, along with jarring pictures of dead sea life he's recorded as a frequent boater.

"This is what I see now on our waters," said McClash as an image of the bloated corpse of a Manatee floated on bay waters was screened. "I've never seen this growing up here. Something is changing and a lot of it is development related. I'm sorry, but you have to keep your standards."

Dr. Abby Tyrna of Suncoast WaterKeeper gave expert input as to why there would be no benefit and great potential harm in rolling back regulations. Planning Commission Chair William Conerly, an engineer by trade who clearly favored the proposal from the start, was mildly combative with Tyrna, seeming to suggest she lacked the experience and expertise to make such assertions.

Commissioner Paul Rutledge, who was struggling to find enough merit in the information given to consider such drastic changes, asked Tyrna if she could explain her credentials.

Dr. Tyrna explained that she had done her undergrad work at Florida State, where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with an honors thesis on the Everglades, before going on to Louisiana State, where she earned her master's with an emphasis in wetland science and management, before ultimately earning a Ph.D. in Geography from Penn State, where she studied "human impacts to wetland hydrology across the landscape scale."

Rutledge said that he would be most comfortable asking for a continuance. As a non-expert, he reasoned that he had heard competing narratives from people who had more expertise and would have liked an opportunity to be given more information before such a meaningful vote. However, as the planning commission is only an advisory board that makes recommendations to the county commission—which already has the matter on its calendar—it was determined that such a vote would not likely be effective.

Commissioner Cindy Kebba then expressed a similar perspective, summing up her misgivings by noting that of the communications the commissioners had received from the public, the most simple was a question that asked that the following sentence be completed: "This change is in the public interest because ..." Kebba said she still could not answer.

When Commissioner John DeLesline also expressed apprehension it became clear that while Conerly was eager to recommend approval and newly-appointed commissioner Richard Bedford was likely to give his support, a majority of the six commissioners in attendance were against recommending approval. Rutledge then changed his motion to one of denial. It was approved 4-2 with Conerly and Bedford in dissent. Commissioner David Roth provided the 4th vote. Commissioner Bill Smock was absent.


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  • misty

    I’m proud of the Planning Commission’s vote! I know the commissioners are under a lot of pressure to strip the wetland regulations or face the political hack’s postcard campaign. A lying postcard campaign isn’t so bad - in contrast, a legacy of environmental destruction is pretty tough on the family name. I hope they make their kids proud and do the right thing.

    Friday, August 11, 2023 Report this

  • barbaraelliott

    Thank you Joe McClash and all who had informed, professional comments.

    Saturday, August 12, 2023 Report this

  • sandy

    Keep fighting. Don't trust Van Ostenbridge as he closes comments and discussion with other commissioners so fast. Why make decision now when doing an overhaul of the entire Comp Plan?

    Saturday, August 12, 2023 Report this

  • ruthlawler

    There is NOT ONE reason scientifically or environmentally to reduce the wetland buffers in Manatee County! As Manatee County is a coastal county on the Gulf of Mexico, with many rivers, tributaries and bays, we should actually INCREASE our wetlands protections and buffers. This is evidenced through the tremendous degradation of our waters, the increased algae, the large number of dead fish and the greater frequency and intensity of red tide in our local waters. This has been occurring for years, yet now huge numbers of manatees are starving due to the sea grasses they need to eat are destroyed through pollution. With the large swarths of land being developed and paved over throughout Manatee County, the increased contaminated runoff into our local waters is toxic and abundant. Wetlands protected AND nature preserve areas assist in capturing and mediating this difficult situation of toxic runoff. I personally have lived in Manatee for 60 years, and remember the pristine shoreline at the Gulf beaches, with thousands of rainbow colored coquinas, hundreds of scurrying sand crabs and crystal clear water. Those days are gone, yet do NOT make it worse with reducing the buffers at wetlands. It is all connected. Certainly you agree that our overall economy depends on tourism and a healthy environment. PROTECT our wetlands!

    Saturday, August 12, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    When the engineer and the consultant (neither an expert) discount the smartest person in the room with multiple degrees in environmental science and try to convince the public that this change is in their best interest? Perplexing. To all those who attended to represent those of us who were not able to attend, thank you!

    Saturday, August 12, 2023 Report this