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The Longboat Key breakwater issue: A request for public involvement


In my effort to request a public hearing, which is available to any person by following the procedures of the Army Corps of Engineers, there are now some who want to restrict this federal process.


Click here to see the original and revised letter sent to the Army Corps of Engineers.

As an individual county commissioner, I can and will act to represent the best interest of the people of Manatee County. There is no doubt some have made a political issue out of the routine matter of a county commissioner writing on county stationery. However, elected officials have a right to represent their point of view on official stationery of the office they hold. As you can see by the letter I wrote, it is clear I identified myself as an individual commissioner.

While some elected officials may not want to voice their opinions on such a critical issue, it is certainly expected that someone should. And I would do it again, as I have done in the past, to best represent this county by voicing my opinion on critical issues, i.e. orimulsion, TECO (clean air), clean recycling and objecting to developers' requests for excessive density. The real issue we should all be concerned about is the right to a public hearing and transparency in government.

Longboat Key has applied for a permit to construct four rock islands standing four feet high above the Gulf waters, 100 to 200 feet from shore, close to Longboat Pass/Beer Can Island, and they will be laid on a man-made material called "geotextile fabric."

This method has never been used before in our county and may create dangerous conditions for boaters and even users of the beach. Another issue is the dramatic change in our natural shoreline. Some will say it is an area under the jurisdiction of Longboat Key; however, it is actually under what is called sovereign submerged lands. The state and the federal governments have strict regulations as to how these lands around inlets and shores can be used (Section 161.142, F.S. and PART 923 -- COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM REGULATIONS).

The area in question also has had several historical actions by Longboat Key that have led up to this situation of needing these rock islands/breakwaters:

  • The approval years ago of buildings too close to a vulnerable shoreline.

  • The 1993 dredging that removed 2 million cubic yards of sand off Longboat Key Pass, at a shoal that protected this same area from waves. This increased the erosion of the beach they now want to build these rock island (breakwaters) on to now protect this same area from waves.

A county commissioner's duty in this issue should be to ensure the public safety of our citizens and protect our environment, and also to be able to utilize a process extended to any person under federal law. While I respect Longboat Key's ability to request a permit for protecting a beach, there are more issues to consider that affect the whole county, and that is what I represent on behalf of my Countywide elected position.

The deadline for requesting a public hearing under the federal process was Oct. 7. The permitting of these rock islands, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is under the State of Florida's jurisdiction. While the Town of Longboat Key may ask permission to alter this land, it is not an entitlement.

The irresponsible comments made by some, who have not reviewed the facts, have misled this community that this public hearing request will hold up renourishing the beaches of Longboat Key. Let me set the record straight, this should not hold up the sand re-nourishment permit the Town of Longboat Key has requested under another permit. There are two separate permits. One is for these four islands of rocks and the other is for the placement of sand.

There is no doubt that I have a passion for the environment and waterway safety issues. I campaigned on the promise to protect our environment and prevent our county from being another Miami. We are special! That is why our tourism remains high while other areas are decreasing. People like our natural look and to destroy that for the sake of an experiment is irresponsible. We have already had our share of irresponsible development. Should we ruin what is left?

So what action can people take who care to find out more information? Check out the two following links:

For the federal permit, see: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Divisions/Regulatory/pnwebshare/Florida_Public_Notices/20090916-SAJ-2009-02709.pdf

For the state permit, see:

You may also give comments after you see the information. Comment to the Army Corps of Engineers at Charles.A.Schnepel@usace.army.mil, and to the State Department of Environmental Protection at Sally.Mann@dep.state.fl.us.

In summary, the action was a process allowed to "any person" and does not need Board of County Commission action. Another concern I have is public notice is now given only by the Internet. This prevents stakeholders and concerned persons from knowing about these rock islands unless, like me, you just found it by accident on a Website of the Army Corps of Engineers.

More discussion should take place before this precedent is set for the rest of our natural shoreline. The waters affected belong to you, the people. You have a right to be informed about government actions, and that is what a public hearing process and transparency in government are all about.


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