MANATEE -- More activity will soon be on the horizon for 140-acres located across from Fort Hamer Park -- and it is not the Fort Hamer Bridge construction.
Two separate projects will soon begin at Hidden Harbor Park, 1625 Fort Hamer Road, which was acquired by the county in 2004. One of the projects is turning about half of the park into recreation facilities with picnic tables, trails and a kayak launch while the other project is the Hidden Harbor Habitat Restoration Project.
On Tuesday, the county commission could authorize the county to enter into a cooperative funding agreement for $609,500 with Southwest Florida Water Management District for Hidden Harbor Habitat Restoration Project. The project will be paid on a reimbursement basis entirely by SWFWMD.
"This has been on the books for awhile," said Jennifer Brunty, project manager with SWFWMD.
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SWFWMD and the county have worked on a conceptual mitigation design, meeting mitigation requirements and complementing park features, according to agenda materials.
"Performing this mitigation project at Hidden Harbor will meet the Florida Communities Trust requirements for restoration performed on the property in which partial funding for purchase of the property was contingent on approximately 110 acres habitat restoration being completed by
the county," according to the agenda. "This project consists of design, permitting, construction and construction engineering services for habitat enhancement of approximately 110-150 acres at Hidden Harbor."
Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county parks and natural resources department, said the restoration will "return former farm fields to some solid habitats that support birds, mammals, reptiles. All those parts that come together in a very exciting opportunity for rebuilding habitats that were there before we took to farming the land."
While SWFWMD would provide funding assistance for the environmental restoration component of the project, the funding for the park's recreation activities will be paid through impact fees from new development, Hunsicker said.
Hunsicker said he expects the project to begin later this year after the budget is approved and will take about three years to complete.
With the Fort Hamer Bridge to connect north of the Manatee River to the south, there are some "long term exciting ideas" for recreation, Hunsicker said.
"Its location almost defines those opportunities and opens the doors to going beyond the next three years into the years to follow with more improvements that will be worked through our upcoming Parks Master Plan," Hunsicker said.
For the first time in about 15 years, the county will conduct a Parks Master Plan in 2016, which is intended to look at opportunities countywide, Hunsicker said.
"New recreation facilities can be built to keep ahead of the growth we are seeing in our community whether that be north county or southwestern parts of the county or east," he said. "Long term view of where the improvements need to go, when and where -- it's time for that planning process to lead our construction, not the other way around."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.