Split Manatee Commission OKs wetlands law

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 7, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve revised wetlands rules in updating its Land Development Code.

Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, and Commissioners Robin DiSabatino, John Chappie and Betsy Benac voted in favor. Commissioners Michael Gallen, Carol Whitmore and Vanessa Baugh voted against.

The ordinance redefines wetlands language and amends wetlands protection code, which determines how areas disturbed by development should be restored.

Enforcement was also updated by the new ordinance.

"From our point of view, all we're doing is clarifying what we've been doing already," said Deputy County Attorney Bill Clague. "It spells out more clearly what's

in the code."

The Land Development Code implements the county comprehensive plan.

The ordinance term "non-viable wetland" does not allow developers to avoid mitigating restoring wetlands damage, Clague said.

"The comp plan requires they mitigate all wetlands -- viable or not," he said.

The standard reflects the staff's best judgment based on its expertise and criteria, Clague said.

Environmentalists say categorizing wetlands less than one-half acres in size as "non-viable" would encourage their destruction.

"To vote on this today is just plain crazy," said Barbara Hines, vice chairwoman of the environmental group, ManaSota-88. "What you are doing is nothing but a giveaway to the development community..."

Gallen asked how the document objective of preserving viable wetland systems is served by still allowing payments from developers, in some cases, in exchange for dismembering fragile areas.

Wetlands are important, but the county could not tell every property owner to provide complete wetlands protection, said Benac.

She favored the ordinance's "very specific" reference to non-viable wetlands in the Land Development Code, adding she didn't like "a generic term."

The ordinance will "preserve and protect the wetland functions of water quality enhancement, climatic moderation and flood and erosion control" and protect renewable resources, it said.

The ordinance also will:

• Prohibit wetland impacts, except in cases where no other practical alternative exists or where there is an overriding public benefit.

• Require delineation of all wetlands on a proposed development.

• Require mitigation of wetlands impacts, and protection of wetlands from development through buffers and other measures.

• Ensure long-term wetland protection "by directing growth away from sensitive areas through land-use regulations."

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

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