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What Wetland Protections?


Developer and political powerbroker Carlos Beruff recently applied for a permit on his controversial Aqua by the Bay project, which sheds additional light on the intentions behind the developer-driven plan to gut Manatee County's wetland protection policies.

Aqua by the Bay (formerly Long Bar Pointe) is a massive development on the last large undeveloped portion of Sarasota Bay in Manatee County. It is said to be Beruff's most favored development. While his audacious vision had to be curtailed after heated public opposition to the fact that it did not comply with several county regulations, it seems he viewed that as little more than a minor inconvenience.

In the 2020 and 2022 elections, Beruff shunned "developer-friendly" commissioners, who mostly voted for the many exceptions to the county's development rules he asks for, and instead backed candidates who seemed to understand much better what he expected in return for all that campaign and PAC cash.

The new board has kept itself hard at work ridding the county administration of its top leadership and installing a roster of people who seem likewise to understand what the man wielding the real power in Manatee County expects to be done. In other words, a single individual has essentially purchased himself a county government that can simply change any of the rules he does not wish to follow.

In October, those commissioners voted to remove the county's wetland protection policies and defer to whatever the state required. County officials claimed it was in response to commissioners asking that staff look for places where there may be duplication between state and local regulations. However, as TBT reported, it was actually driven by lobbyists for local developers.

In what can only be described as a farcical affair, the county outsourced the work to a consultant who did not seem to know much at all about wetland science. This was after county staff and an actual scientist refused to rubber stamp an idea that made about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.

The public outcry was loud, but commissioners took it on the chin and mumbled some things about property rights, sheds, and swimming pools while ignoring environmental experts who showed up for public comments to present the sort of real science that was missing from the bought-and-paid-for consultant's presentation.

All the while, commissioners assured the public that although the imperative 50-foot buffer requirement for our most important wetlands would be gone, a 25-foot average and 15-foot minimum would remain. However, Beruff's most recent application to the water management district states the following:

"As shown on the construction plans, the proposed gabion wall is being proposed in the uplands but is being proposed immediately landward of the wetland line in many cases. Therefore, the 25-foot average bugger is not being proposed."

A gabion wall is essentially a pile of rock contained by metal wires. According to the application, Beruff wants to take the wall all the way to the upland side of the wetlands. If SWFMD were to approve the application under the county wetland policy approved in October, the fact that the policy does not adopt state minimums so much as defer to what the state requires would seem to indicate that the zero-foot buffers would fly, replacing the sloping 50-foot buffers currently required of the project.

Given that we have now heard the term "alternative engineering solutions" several times regarding how developers would like to squeeze every parcel out of every project, it seems pretty clear that this was the intention from the start. The good news is that the comprehensive land use plan amendment that removes the county's wetland policies is currently under legal challenge and is, therefore, paused.

22-year Manatee County Commissioner and TBT publisher Joe McClash filed that challenge. At Tuesday's meeting, McClash made commissioners aware of the application and requested that they simply bring in experts from the three national estuary programs that Manatee County is part of and allow these apolitical, non-partisan experts to weigh in on the matter.

It is clear that even the paper-thin arguments and assurances given by commissioners during the process in which they passed the comprehensive plan amendment are falling apart and that the worst fears of a community that rallied mightily in opposition are coming to pass. If our elected officials and county administration have any interest at all in the health and well-being of our community's environmental resources, that should be a very easy ask.

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.


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  • almattern

    The stink on Beruff and his puppet county commissioners just keeps getting worse, but they don't notice the stench, as long as there is $ coming into their pockets. Shame.

    Sunday, January 14 Report this

  • WTF

    The continued destruction of Manatee County is unacceptable. The gang of 6 bought and by developers that continue to make disastrous decisions must stop. The Citizens must make it very clear that on this current path they will become un-electable no matter how much money the developers put into their election coffers.

    Awkward on the Bay was never a good idea, ill thought out with no vision other than their bank account balances. What a shitshow from it’s conception

    It’s time to start showing up in mass and hold them accountable and perhaps have enough public comment to last into late nights for all of them. Pain and pressure. Total disregard of public comments is unacceptable at every level

    Listen to Kevin-Kyle Kaczynski-Von Oswald for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about our local developers … https://youtu.be/0zu1VRQNCAw?si=JIM31QcaF70cLYm0

    Sunday, January 14 Report this

  • Charles

    Ahhh.... "alternative engineering solutions" — is that like "alternative facts"???

    Monday, January 15 Report this