Wetland Protection to be Weakened in Manatee County
Manatee County is rewriting the wetlands protection policies of the Comprehensive Plan & Land Development Code. The proposed revisions will further weaken the already weak wetlands protection policies in Manatee County and are a significant step backward for wetlands protection.
The anticipated changes to the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan will encourage developers to design wetlands around projects instead of projects around wetlands. The proposed revisions do nothing to encourage a landowner to modify their land use plans around wetlands.
The protection of wetlands should be based upon two underlying principles:
Avoidance of the destruction of existing wetlands.
Enhancement of wetlands that have been previously altered.
Changes proposed to Manatee County's wetlands policies do not reflect the above principles; instead, they allow for the continued destruction of existing wetlands and weaken wetland protection substantially. Industry and developmental interests seeking to exploit wetland resources will find it easier to do so in Manatee County.
The elimination of Comprehensive Plan Policies 126.96.36.199. (2) & (3) means Manatee County will defer to the State's bare minimums for wetlands mitigation requirements. By adopting the State standards for mitigation, as outlined in Chapter 62-345, F.A.C.., Manatee County will encourage the degradation of existing wetlands by rewarding applicants that have lower quality wetlands with fewer mitigation requirements, this will be done by deferring to the weaker State standards for wetlands mitigation.
Manatee County currently lacks adequate data and analysis to justify the changes being proposed to the wetlands protection policies. Without a wetland inventory that determines the amount of wetland acreage the County has, it is impossible to determine the impact the proposed policy revisions will have on wetland protection in Manatee County.
Without a wetland inventory, the County is utilizing the "best guess“ method of determining wetland impacts. Baseline data needs to be established for a point of comparison of the wetlands 10 to 20 to 50 years from now.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimates that a herbaceous wetland will typically require 10 to 15 years to replace just the primary plant productivity of a destroyed wetland, and 50 to 100 years to replace the plant productivity of a hardwood wetland.
However, long-term successful duplication of water regimes, recharge, and discharge to underlying aquifers, soil profiles, food webs, and food chains of newly created wetlands have not been supported by current scientific research. The evolution of a complex food web, as well as the plant succession associated with such ecosystems, may take years to occur, or may never occur. The plant and animal diversity within a natural system may be impossible to replicate.
Eliminating the current wetland mitigation ratio requirements of Comprehensive Plan Policy 188.8.131.52. will be disadvantageous as it will encourage the initial destruction of wetlands, as well as allow for the loss of function and value of a destroyed wetland.
Changes being proposed to Comprehensive Plan Policies 184.108.40.206. & Policy 220.127.116.11 Wetland Buffers are especially troubling. Buffers provide significant protection for wetlands, both freshwater and marine. Deferring to the State's minimum requirements for wetlands buffers will be detrimental to wetlands.
Eliminating Policy 18.104.22.168, which establishes buffer zones from all state-designated Aquatic Preserves and Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW), is not only inconsistent with and contrary to Comprehensive Plan Goal - 4.1 Protection, Preservation, and Enhancement of the Natural Resources of the Coastal Planning Area, but is also contrary to the statutory duties of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Water Management Districts to prevent adverse cumulative impacts within wetland systems such as specific creek, riverine and marsh basins, or Outstanding Florida Waters.
An Outstanding Florida Waters designation requires that water quality must not be degraded below the level that existed at the time of the OFW designation.
Outstanding Florida Waters have been found to be of exceptional ecological and recreational significance by the State of Florida. The Sarasota Bay Estuarine System is an example of an OFW in Manatee County.
Section 706.6. of the Land Development Code for the Mitigation of Altered Wetlands again defers to the minimum State standards for the determination of the success of mitigation.
The proposed changes in the Land Development Code parallel the incorrect assumptions found in the Comprehensive Plan that the State of Florida adequately defines what successful mitigation is.
Wetland mitigation success remains unproven by the State and a net loss of habitat occurs. Moving wetlands to areas that do not already have naturally occurring wetlands will have reduced value since there was not a need for the newly created wetland to exist at that location. Duplication of the functions and values of the destroyed wetland will not occur because the mitigation area will not contain the same geological and hydrological features as the naturally occurring one.
A net loss in functional wetlands within the County can be expected if Manatee County adopts the State standards for wetland mitigation.
ManaSota-88 strongly encourages the Manatee County Commission not to adopt the proposed changes to the wetlands protection policies of the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code. Stronger wetland protection policies are needed, not weaker ones.
Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.