Environmental groups suggest BP oil money could preserve Skyway lands

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 24, 2013 

TERRA CEIA -- A project to develop property along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge's southern end remains under consideration, but huge monetary windfalls coming to Florida as a result of the BP oil spill may change the scenario.

Environmental groups are discussing the possibility of preserving ecologically sensitive land at the south end of the Skyway with some of the millions of dollars coming here from penalties imposed on those responsible for the 2010 oil disaster.

"There are no rules how this BP money will be spent," said Mark Rachal, sanctuary manager for Audubon Florida Coastal Island Sanctuaries. "We see this opportunity, we think this would be a great way to spend this money."

State officials are still reviewing a proposal to swap environmentally sensitive areas controlled by developers for state-owned land alongside the bridge, according to Mara Burger, an information specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"The 'Skyway Preserve' project at Rattlesnake Key is in the early stages, and has not been approved, nor has it been turned down," said Burger.

"The possible exchange would have to go to the Board of Trustees," she said, referring to a body made up of the Florida governor and Cabinet. She added that no date has been set because details are still being worked out.

Developers Bill Blanchard and Brightman Logan have suggested the land swap, originally proposing a public/private, mixed-use waterfront resort in the area.

In their original proposal, they hoped to swap nearly 1,000 acres of land surrounded by the pristine Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve in ex

change for 77 acres of state land at the existing Skyway Bridge interchange. They also wanted development rights to the state land.

Although their original plans have changed considerably during the last two years, development of 663-acre Rattlesnake Key as a marine wilderness park is still part of talks continuing with the state, said Honey Rand, a spokesman for the project.

"The owners are open to talk to people, willing to negotiate with the state, are still interested in a land swap, and still interested in creating a location destination that is both environmentally and economically sustainable," Rand told the Herald on Friday.

A local businessman, whose commercial nursery sits near the Skyway in Terra Ceia, says he looks forward to development in the area.

"In my opinion, Terra Ceia has been the same for too long," said Frans Brouwer, owner of Brouwer Flowers Inc.

"We need new people; it's time to share this island with other people."

Millions of dollars in fines assessed from companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be coming to the state via different sources, according to Kendra Parson, Gulf Coast public affairs manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The money will come from penalties levied under the auspices of the U.S. Clean Water Act, she said.

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, which began April 20, 2010, off the Louisiana coast, became the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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