MANATEE — Between 2002 and 2008, Manatee County collected a tax to buy environmentally sensitive lands — special places such as Robinson Preserve, Perico Preserve, Jiggs Landing and Tom Bennett Park.
Tough economic times, coupled with the lapsing of the tax, have made it difficult since then for the county to afford to buy other environmentally unique lands.
Wednesday, the Ring Power Corp. delivered a $116,900 check to Manatee County Department of Natural Resources that county officials hope to use toward the purchase of four acres in the Marineland subdivision. The property includes four-tenths of a mile along a loop in the Braden River, midway between Tara and University Park in East Manatee.
Clifford and Lesa Hirsch have been working with the county to sell the property for $200,000, well below its assessed value, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee Natural Resources. The Hirsch family agreed to give the county a year to come up with the purchase price.
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To date, the county only has the Ring Power check to show for its efforts, with about five months remaining on the one-year purchase period, Hunsicker said.
“These are the very properties that form the backbone of public trust lands that have long-term benefits to Manatee County for drinking water supply protection, habitat value and the very essence of our local culture,” Hunsicker said.
Denise Kleiner, founder of Old Braden River Historical Society and a resident of the Marineland neighborhood, applauded the effort to acquire the property referred to as the Walker-Crews Preserve, named after some of the historic families who owned it in the past.
“It’s a nice stopover from a canoe trip from Jiggs Landing. The place is incredible. Charlie is thinking of the future and realizes the value of keeping some of property from being developed,” Kleiner said.
Hunsicker said the county has been working for two years to acquire the property and applied for funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Walker-Crews Preserve was ranked No. 3 on the state’s land-buy list, but the Legislature only funded the first two properties, Hunsicker said.
The county also has sought funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Hunsicker said.
“They have been willing to be patient, to work with us,” Hunsicker said of Hirsch family.
The undeveloped property is located about a 15-minute paddle from a new county park nearing completion at Jiggs Landing. It is at the southern terminus of Lincoln Road on the eastern bank of the Braden River in the watershed for Evers Reservoir, Hunsicker said. A hiking trail and small comfort pavilion have been proposed for the site.
“The County entered into a six-month option agreement on Dec. 15, 2009, to purchase the property from the family (with provisions for a six-month, no cost time extension, which was exercised by the county), and continues to work to raise the remaining funds to close on the purchase option by the 12-month deadline of the amended agreement,” Hunsicker said in an e-mail late Wednesday.
The check presented to the county was part of an agreement worked out several years ago that allowed Ring Power to disturb some wetlands near its location on U.S. 301 in southern Manatee County. Ring Power was required to mitigate and replace the wetlands in addition to making the payment to the county.
Ring Power Corp. and Michael Burton, an environmental management consultant for WilsonMiller, worked with Manatee County to reach the agreement, which strikes a balance between the need to encourage a viable business environment while maintaining a healthy natural environment, Ring Power said in a press release.
“I am proud to work for a company that is willing to reciprocate to maintain this balance,” said Bert Hammett, Ring Power regional manager. “This agreement will allow Ring Power to proceed with future plans for expansion, in a way that we all can feel good about.”
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.