44th Avenue bridge faces eco-impact hurdle

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- A bridge across the Braden River at 44th Avenue East could potentially win a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard, but the project will first require an environmental assessment, a county official said Tuesday.

However, if there are "significant environmental impacts," the Coast Guard could require a more extensive environmental impact statement, said Sia Mollanazar, county deputy director of engineering services.

"Our game plan is to hire a consultant and do the EA (environmental assessment) submittal," said Mollanazar during a workshop meeting with property owners affected by the big road project designed to provide another east-west route across the county.

The bridge is the missing piece of the road project connecting Cortez Road on the west side of the Braden River with Lakewood Ranch on the east side.

The area the bridge would cross boasts a rich assortment of animal life such as manatees and many types of birds, neighbors who live along the river have said.

Property owners who live near 44th Avenue East on the west side of the river met with the Manatee County Commission during a workshop session Tuesday for an update of the project.

They were concerned about the timeline for construction, and feared dirt, disruption, noise and traffic jams, they said.

"Our first concern is the bridge because you've identified the bridge as the linchpin to the whole project," said Loretto Sadkin, a resident of Peridia Golf & Country Club.

Peter Schneider, who also lives at Peridia, said he would prefer to meet with road designers earlier rather than later because "once they put pencil to paper, it's difficult to change their minds."

Public works officials provided the following timeline during a presentation:

• Last month, work started on a $8.96 million section from U.S. 41 to 19th Street Court East, with construction slated to continue

through July 2015.

• Work is slated to begin on a $10.11 million section from 19th Street Court East to 30th Street East in the first quarter of 2015, continuing through the third quarter of 2016.

• Work on an $11.47 million section from 30th Street Court East to 45th Street East also will begin in the first quarter of 2015 and continue through the third quarter of 2016.

• By January, a segment along 45th Street East from 44th Avenue to State Road 70 will be 60 percent designed, but no construction date has been set.

Loretto said she understood the county will start the bridge-permitting process immediately.

Neighbors could discuss the design for the 45th Street East segment in October, she said.

In other action, the commission heard a report from a financial analyst, who said independent credit ratings rank Manatee County's financial standing among the top 5 percent of local governments out of nearly 500 cities and counties around Florida.

In a debt and credit update, Ed Bulleit, MBS capital markets analyst, said Manatee has borrowed wisely over the years and its prompt, regular payment on large public projects saved millions of taxpayer dollars over time.

Bulleit said only four Florida county governments out of 66 have a stronger rating than Manatee County.

"The Board of County Commission has consistently made good decisions, and county staff has managed local debt very well," Bulleit said. "One reason you have such strong debt is that you've had a dramatic decrease in upcoming outstanding debt. Your long-term borrowings have been much shorter than asset life."

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

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