MANATEE -- Local officials Wednesday asked state legislators to support continued independence for Port Manatee, restore their ability to regulate vacation rentals and craft a regional solution to traffic woes along busy University Parkway.
"We understand there is some movement afoot to undermine the independence of Port Manatee," said Chairman Larry Bustle of the Manatee County Commission. "We are uninterested in losing autonomy and control over what will surely be an economic engine for our county" for generations to come, he told the legislative panel.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, immediately pledged to oppose any consolidation with the Port of Tampa.
A $151,488 "pre-feasibility" study of the three Tampa Bay ports, including Port Manatee, will be done by the end of the year, according to Robin Stublen, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, which commissioned it.
Port Authority of Manatee members said they never asked for the study, and were dismayed by recent visits from FDOT Assistant Secretary Richard Biter, who wanted to discuss port consolidation pros and cons despite local officials' stated opposition to any merger with the Port of Tampa.
Biter is not advocating port consolidation, said Stublen, only cooperation and coordination.
In other action, Anna Maria Island officials asked the five-member legislative delegation to restore their legal authority to regulate vacation rentals.
In cities all over Florida, homeowner rights are being destroyed, said Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen. A clause in a 2011 law removed local control of vacation rentals to the detriment of residents, she said.
"It cripples our ability to serve our cities or our tourists," she said.
In another issue, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, suggested a study might help solve serious traffic congestion in the area around University Parkway and Interstate 75.
The panel OK'd a motion to contact the Florida Department of Transportation about a study. The idea is to accelerate work on the area instead of waiting for the regional transportation planning agency to handle it, Galvano said.
"If we can take steps to more quickly better that interchange, then that's what we need to do," he said.
State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, joked he was late to the meeting because he was delayed along University Parkway.
The panel, which met at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, included Joyner, Galvano, Boyd, Steube and state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Lawmakers met to hear citizen views about local issues to be addressed during the Florida legislative session next spring.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter.