Manatee's 'outdated' wetlands rules debated

jdela@bradenton.comApril 24, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County Commission heard wetland rules updates suggested by the county attorney's office in the first of two public hearings Tuesday.

The hearing undserscored the divide between developers and environmentalists in Manatee County.

Assistant county attorney Bill Clague detailed updates his office advises be made to the Land Development Code involving wetlands. He said the changes are needed to match county comprehensive plan language.

Clague said sections of the code haven't been updated since 2002 although significant comprehensive plan changes have been made since then.

Wetlands are a sensitive issue, he said.

"It's not something you want to let get 11 years out of date," he told commissioners.

Most wetlands fall under the federal Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method created in 2004. UMAM assesses wetlands value and viability through a complicated scoring process that considers location, current conditions, use of fish and wildlife, uniqueness, time lag and mitigation risk, Clague said.

The county must follow the UMAM regulations except when the wetland is

less than a half-acre. Smaller wetlands, often classified as "non-viable," are more easily used by developers provided they create new wetland areas to replace them at a 2-1 ratio.

Many citizens who commented Tuesday were concerned the code rewrite was actually changing the rules on wetlands preservation. Most criticized the county comprehensive plan as environmentally insensitive.

"Too often, you've just relied on what the developer or contractor is stating what the condition of the wetland is," said Barbara Hines, vice chairman of ManaSota-88, a nonprofit environmental group.

Hines urged the county to inventory its wetlands to help protect sensitive areas.

Developer Pat Neal said county rules on nonviable wetlands already placer an unfair burden on new homeowners. He calculated the cost of replacing wetlands at $2 to $3 a square foot, "plus the value of the land, times the mitigation ratio, plus the consulting engineer's fees and bonds for mitigation," he told commissioners.

Neal estimated wetlands mitigation adds $3,000 to the cost of an average new home in Manatee County.

"Nobody impacts wetlands on purpose," Neal said. "There should be a balance," to the county's approach of regulation. "Take time to do this correctly."

Clague said the county attorney's office intent is to have the Land Development Code comply with the comprehensive plan.

"The only reason we wrote it the way we did is to make it comply with the comprehensive plan," he said. "We've been following the comp plan and ignoring the code."

Commissioners and county staff will meet to discuss the changes next at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Manatee Room on the fourth floor of the County Administrative center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.

Jim DeLa, East Manatee/Weekend editor, can be reached at 9412-748-0411, ext. 7011. Follow him on Twitter@JimDeLaBH.

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