BRADENTON – At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, commissioners will vote on a Land Development Code amendment designed to fast-track Manatee County's Wetland Ordinance. Proponents say the changes will only reflect current practices. Opponents say that those practices are killing our wetlands and are in violation of our current laws.
The Manatee County Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulations are getting a major makeover. Ordinance No. 13-04 is in the process of being amended in an effort to restructure the definition of wetland. What will change: the criteria by which they are approved, impacted, altered and mitigated. The objective: to provide update that reflect current practices.
Historically, wetlands used to be protected in a manner that reflected their significance to a sustainable environment. If these ordinance changes are approved, more attention will be placed on "mitigation" and an "overriding public benefit," than protecting the wetland, thus the environment.
At the April 9, 2013 Planning Commission Meeting, Barbara Angelucci walked to the podium and said, "You can't have wetlands without water..."
"She (Angelucci) is absolutely right," says Dr. Sydney Bacchus PhD, a Hydroecologist with Applied Environmental Services, LLC. Dr. Bacchus added, "… and the most significant water source needed to maintain a healthy wetland is groundwater. Without sufficient water, they die."
The packet Angelucci passed to each of the commissioners, detailed the dangers low-level ground water presents to wetlands. In it were nearly a dozen non-compliance complaints, from Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) accusing Mosaic mining with failing to comply with previous warnings for unacceptable practices. They clearly spelled out how Mosaic has failed to maintain their required water levels even after repeated warnings.
The complaints dated back to 2004 and up to January of 2013. The 1/2013 complaint had to do with one of the Mosaic mines in Manatee County, asserting failure to maintain water levels constitutes a violation of Ch. 373.219(1) F.S., Rule Chapter 40D-2.301 (1)(b) F.A.C., and Special Condition 16 of the Permit – and failure to comply with request to correct the problem.
Angelucci claims she has received more of the SWFWMD complaints directed to Mosaic, and added, "These complaints reflect the phosphate culture, and that is: they answer to no one."
County Attorney Bill Clague corroborated her statement by saying, "This action does not apply to phosphate mining; they operate under a different agreement."
I asked Angelucci what she thought of Clague's statement. "He made my point," said Angelucci, adding, "They not only get preferential treatment with the county, but with SWFWMD as well."
Clague tried his best to keep the word phosphate out of the discussion, but it is not a secret to anyone that thousands of acres of wetland, miles of creeks and rivers, and an untold amount of central Florida's aquifer water has disappeared under Mosaic's operations.
Wetlands contribute to the recharging of the aquifer, and their function can't be easily duplicated. Efforts to do so through mitigation and reconstruction seldom work, and ones that do, take decades to actually mimic what previously existed (replacing the actual function and caliber).
According to Evaluation and Assessment Reports (EARs), which are based on the Manatee's Comp Plan disclosures, the county's water supply is already low and nearing dangerous. If any further loss of wetlands should occur, from mining or to future development, water supplies will be insufficient for the projected 2030 population.
"Buildout" is the population needed to fill all of the housing already approved for construction, but not yet built. According to the EARs report, Manatee County has a Buildout of 180 percent more then the number of current residents.
That means that if all of those houses and developments are built, the population in unincorporated Manatee will be 703,876; up from the current 251,773, (2012 pop.).
Could it be, that if less focus was put on fast-tracking the wetland rules, and more attention to the rubber-stamping of urban sprawl and phosphate mining, the skyrocket projections of future water cost may be avoided?
The same Ordinance No. 13-04 Land Development Code request, that breezed through with a recommendation to approve, at the 4/9/2013 Manatee County Planning Commission meeting, will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners, on Tuesday 4/23/2013, seeking final approval.
Commissioners invite the public to attend.
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