The Fifth District Court of Appeal issued a per curiam affirmed decision last week in a case regarding developer Pat Neal’s request to fill in about one acre of wetlands at his Harbor Sound project, meaning the judges agreed with the lower court’s decision.
Former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash was the sole appellant in the case against the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Originally, environmental groups ManaSota-88, Sierra Club, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Suncoast Waterkeeper were listed on the petition but were taken off to achieve more standing in the case.
In 2014, the water district approved a permit for Neal, head of Neal Communities, to impact 1.05 acres of the 1.9 acres of wetlands near his four-home compound project on Perico Island built for members of his family. The decision for the permit was put up against an administrative hearing and Judge Bram Canter advised the permit be revoked.
Critics of the permit said it would set a standard for more mangrove forests and wetlands to be destroyed.
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But the decision was ultimately up to the district’s governing board, which at the time included friend and fellow Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff of Medallion Home. In a vote of 10-1, the permit was Neal’s and Beruff resigned from the board the following day.
It then headed all the way up to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, where appellate court judges Wendy Berger, Kerry Evander and Bruce Jacobus heard oral arguments for and against earlier this month. The judges could either issue an opinion on the case or let the lower court’s ruling stand.
Both parties had confidence in their oral arguments, but it was Neal who would be in the right in the court’s eye.
“It was clear that they made the right decision,” Neal said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The Army Corps of Engineers still has not given Neal a permit, as he was required to reduce his planned wetland impact, but he said construction on the upland portion of the project was completed.