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Wetland Policy Banana Republic Style


As you peel away the layers of the developer-driven proposal to gut Manatee County’s wetland protection policies, the smell of this already rancid onion just keeps getting worse. Considering all that we’ve recently uncovered, the process now suggests a level of corruption that is blushworthy even by Manatee County standards.

On Thursday, the proposed policy went before the Manatee County Planning Commission where a mostly reasonable quorum of commissioners wisely voted not to recommend its approval. Even as Commission Chair William Conerly made every effort to sell it to his fellow commissioners, most of them weren’t buying, especially after getting a good dose of sensible and informed objections from the public.

Conerly’s performance, including his clumsy and embarrassing effort to discredit Dr. Abby Tyrna—a Ph.D. environmental scientist who specializes in wetlands—made me wonder if perhaps he might be eyeing a run for Manatee County Commission in 2024, especially since we recently learned that he will not be applying to remain on the planning commission when his term expires in October. If so, he surely made a good impression on the development cartel with his performance on Thursday.

We all know that the cartel is pushing this policy, one that seems to be seeking pretty much what developer Carlos Beruff was looking to get when he unsuccessfully sued Manatee County over its policies on wetland buffers back in 2015 and again in 2020. We now know that the county first spoke with a highly qualified consultant who sources contend was not amenable to the policy changes that were being sought from on high and looked to agree with the many concerns that were being expressed by county staff before the job was taken out of their hands.

Instead of heeding the message, those pulling the string simply shopped around for a less qualified consultant, one shameless enough to pitch the plan as benign and do it with a straight face. Who did they find? Daniel DeLisi, the very same consultant traipsed out as an “expert witness” by Beruff in that 2015 suit. During DeLisi’s deposition, the county quite effectively ridiculed the idea that he had any sort of expertise on wetlands as well as his contention that our wetland protection policies were “unique.”

Let that sink in for a moment, folks. Manatee County taxpayers footed the bill to successfully defend the county’s wetland buffer policy through multiple suits and appeals over several years only to later hire the same goldbricker that Beruff unsuccessfully used in his lawsuit to be the expert that explains to the developer’s since-installed puppet government why they should just legislate that very important and expensive victory away.

It’s curious that Mr. Conerly was not nearly as concerned about the qualifications of someone the county had previously argued should be dismissed as a wetland expert as he was over an environmental scientist whose impressive credentials far outweighed his own, despite his painfully awkward attempts to suggest otherwise.

As was made perfectly clear Thursday, there is no intellectual argument for adopting these policies and certainly no argument that they will in any way offer a public benefit to the citizens of this county. Quite the opposite, Manatee County has successfully argued in court on multiple occasions that there is a public benefit in maintaining its current policy, including clean drinking water.

Literally, all of the established science supports greater protections for wetland adjacent development. That is why zero scientific evidence has been offered in support of the proposed changes, only the limp assurances of some hired gun from the very industry that is seeking them. That is why none of the three national estuaries that Manatee County is part of have been asked for their input. No one wants to hear what the real experts think, because it is certain to run contrary to what developers want. So the only expertise that seeps into the meeting is during the time-restricted public comment period.

This is a simple story, my friends. Carlos lost the lawsuits, Carlos bought himself a few morally bankrupt bottom-feeders in desperate need of a paycheck and a platform in which people had to pretend they were something more than their paper-thin resumes suggested. Now he wants them to do what the courts would not. To aid in this endeavor, the county commission has been gutting the administration of anyone who is not willing to do as they are told even when they know it isn’t ethical, and elevating anyone who is.

This is what is known in political science as regulatory capture. Special interests take full control of a government body that regulates their industry and simply change the rules to suit them at the expense of the people that those officials are supposed to represent.

Make no mistake, this is not about tree-hugging contrarians or NIMBYism standing in the way of any kind of growth or change. This isn’t the difference between 25-30 feet—the never mentioned removal of 50-foot buffers for the most important wetlands is the most critical change. This is about a county that is already suffering the many negative consequences of decades of unsustainable growth patterns in which public officials refused to make deep-pocketed developers follow very sensible rules so long as they kept filling their campaign coffers.

This is about the idea that there are still tens of thousands of permitted homes in the pipeline, many of which have benefited from the same sort of commissioner rule-ignoring that has gotten us here, more homes in our watersheds, hell, homes on the edge of our reservoir. The development cartel wants to be able to squeeze every last home out of every last plot of greenspace no matter how it impacts the algal blooms that continue to foul our many waterways. And make no mistake, this is not just a Manatee County problem. If these changes are approved, the effects will ripple throughout surrounding counties, as waterways don’t tend to care much about boundary lines.

This community is going to face severe challenges in terms of water quality issues, adequate infrastructure, and perpetual gridlock regardless, but if this policy passes, it will be like throwing an accelerant onto an already raging inferno. Make some noise, Manatee County. Show up and shame these empty suits into doing the right thing for the community they claim to represent. The future of this community, even in the near term, depends on it.

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. He can be reached at editor@thebradentontimes.com.


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  • misty

    Manatee County spends a lot of money sending our elected officials and leadership staff to FAC (Florida Association of Counties) conferences where they learn how to put the the needs of the public above all else. Ethics is a part of their education, and the FAC Code of Ethics for County Commissioners has been created by and for elected county commissioners. These principles apply to the day to day conduct of both elected and appointed officials - and employees of county government.

    Here is a link to the FAC reference guide.


    Sunday, August 13, 2023 Report this

  • pdsinc

    There once was a sign at the south end of the OLD Green Bridge greeting visitors coming south. It stated Welcome to Bradenton, The Friendly City. A more appropriate sign today would be, Welcome to paradise lost, it was a great place to grow up and raise children, It is not that anymore.

    Sunday, August 13, 2023 Report this

  • N_Alice_Newlon

    It is vitally important that the Commissioners hear from ALL of us. Attend and speak at the 8/17 meeting if at all possible. ALSO submit public comment for the record and email the commissioners individually. This link has information on how you can be heard: https://lwvmanatee.org/wetlands-action/. Use it, share it, encourage your friends and neighbors, carpool there. If you comment at the 8/17 meeting, which I hope you do, the speaker sign up form will be active at 9AM on Wednesday, NOT BEFORE.

    Sunday, August 13, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    Today I told at least 20 people who were at the park that this was happening- none of them knew. Public comment must be submitted by August 15- 2:00pm for the August 17, 2023- Land Use Meeting. You can also write to your commissioner however they no longer respond nor are your comments always placed into public comment on items. For your comments to actually be “counted” you must post to the on-line county website or better yet show up in person if you are able to on August 17, this is a time certain item at 9am. Tell as many people as possible that this is happening.

    Sunday, August 13, 2023 Report this

  • sandy

    I have little faith the BOCC will do the right thing. After all the consultant they hired is the same consultant who represented Beruff when he sued the county over the wetland regulations and lost. At the very least they should table this until they get public and stakeholder input (other than at a board meeting), check other counties. Hey, Ostenbridge, lets have town hall meetings!! I can tell you Hillsborough has 30 feet buffers for conservation areas and 50 feet for preservation areas. Also they have 500 feet buffers from wetlands of three of their rivers: Hillsborough, Alafia and Little Manatee. The timing is also suspect. Why do this now as a stand alone amendment when the entire Comp Plan is being reviewed?

    Sunday, August 13, 2023 Report this

  • kmskepton

    Misty, they may be taught, but clearly they have not learned.

    Thursday, August 17, 2023 Report this