EAST MANATEE — Next week, the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct a public hearing on the proposed Fort Hamer bridge project.
But the comments have already started flying.
A federal government website set up for public comment on the environmental impact statement for the project had 20 comments posted as of Tuesday, many of them from Waterlefe residents opposed to a bridge landing near their neighborhood.
The Coast Guard’s “public scoping meeting” is from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Haile Middle School, 9501 S.R. 64 E.
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Randall Overton, of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Miami office, said he hopes for a large turnout so that any concerns about the bridge can be heard. The meeting will start with an informal open house, followed by an overview presentation and formal public comment period.
“It’s not really a debate session,” Overton said, but an opportunity to present what might have been overlooked in the past, and to study the project logically.
Overton said that depending on what is presented at the meeting, required interaction with other federal agencies, any impacts, and controversies that might arise, the environmental impact study could require anywhere from one to 20 years to complete.
An earlier environmental impact study on the bridge project will be useful in finalizing the new study, Overton said.
Because of the past study, the focus now can be more on actual alignment and how much damage will be done, mitigated, or minimized, Overton said.
Ron Schulhofer, Manatee County Public Works director, was cautious in discussing the environmental study because he didn’t want to say anything that might compromise its outcome.
The Coast Guard was selected as lead agency for the study because the portion of the Manatee River that the bridge would span, connecting Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road, is considered navigable waters.
Schulhofer encouraged residents to attend the public meeting and tell the Coast Guard their concerns.
Ben Jordan, president of the Parrish Civic Association, said that when he first moved to the area seven years ago, the bridge was a hot topic.
“There was lot of negative feelings in Parrish. I don’t hear that now,” Jordan said.
What Jordan does hear is some sentiment to make pay for the bridge with tolls, rather than impact fees.
Manatee County officials did consider having the bridge built by developers, who would be allowed to charge a toll, but ultimately decided to pay for it with impact fees.
The county awarded a contract to URS Corporation Southern to design the bridge for $2.9 million.
The URS design is scheduled to be completed and submitted to the county by March 22, 2011.
But a start date for construction is contingent on the environmental impact statement.
Envisioned is a 2,200-foot-long, two-lane bridge that would rise 27 feet above the mean high water mark. Eventually, another two lanes could be added, but county officials say that is probably decades in the future due to the tough economy and lack of new impact fees being collected.
A decade ago, the county was planning a six-lane high-rise bridge, to provide another north-south route through the county and alleviate traffic on Interstate 75.
Comments may be submitted online through Aug. 23 at http://www.regulations.gov. Click on the “submit a comment” box which will become highlighted in blue. In the “document type” drop-down menu, select “notices” and insert the docket number “USCG-2010-0455” in the keyword box. Click “search” and then click on the balloon shape in the actions column.
Comments also may be faxed to (202) 493-2251 or mailed to Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington DC 20590-0001.