Just seven days after withdrawing their state permit application for a mitigation bank along Sarasota Bay, Medallion Homes founder Carlos Beruff and president Pete Logan reapplied with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The new statewide environmental resource permit application cuts three acres off of its previous 263-acre mitigation bank, citing that Manatee Fruit Company owns that small set of acres that were not eligible to become part of the bank. Long Bar Pointe developers Beruff and Larry Lieberman want to develop the land southwest of Cortez Road and 75th Street West, calling the proposed 463-acre, 3,200-home development Aqua by the Bay, and connect it to a now 260.4-acre mitigation bank on the shoreline.
A mitigation bank is defined as a piece of disturbed land that is bought by a landowner to eventually be restored and preserved. The landowner sells “credits,” or units of functional land, for developers to buy when they permanently impact wetlands at other development sites. Each credit can be sold by whomever owns the land for anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000.
In the Sept. 9 letter to the FDEP, ECo Consultants Inc. senior scientist Alec D. Hoffner asks to keep the 18.6 credits, measured through a previous application’s survey, that the mitigation bank could be worth. At 110 percent of the cost, they estimated the price of creating this mitigation bank at around $626,835, which includes maintenance, monitoring and signs. This means this bank could be worth at least $1.86 million.
Hoffner also writes that the mitigation bank would enhance 17.5 acres of exotic wetland hardwoods, 6.4 acres of mixed hardwood uplands and 3.2 acres of Brazilian pepper uplands. They also plan to preserve 110.2 acres of seagrasses, oyster beds and sand; 4.3 acres of saltwater marsh; and 119.2 acres of mangroves.
Yet in this new application, developers still plan to cut 30 percent of those mangroves to a minimum height of 12 feet. No other mitigation bank has cut mangroves, which requires a special license, or has been adjacent to an active construction site.
The previous mitigation bank permit application was rejected most recently by the Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 14, as well as the DEP and EPA. The federal agencies cited that there was “no clear ecological purpose and is contradictory to the goals of a compensatory mitigation bank.”
An Aug. 30 letter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, after reviewing the project, said that “proposed mangrove trimming activities would reduce overall productivity of these wetlands.”
Long Bar Pointe first applied with the FDEP for this mitigation bank permit in June 2014. In April 2016, the FDEP planned on authorizing the permit, but groups of environmentalists and opponents of the mitigation bank filed a lawsuit and Long Bar Pointe withdrew the application earlier this month.
One of those opponents, former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, wrote in a lengthy letter to FDEP on Sept. 19 that he wanted the state to deny the application.
“It is obvious that the politics here have outweighed the science,” McClash wrote. “No credible expert thinks this permit is responsible.”