EAST MANATEE — A public workshop on a proposed bridge over the Upper Manatee River at Fort Hamer drew a crowd of 275 people Tuesday, and it seemed that everyone had an opinion.
Some came wearing round patches saying they supported the bridge. Others filled out pro or con comment cards.
About 25 trooped to the front of the auditorium at Haile Middle School to take advantage of three minutes of time seeking to impress the federal permit agent, Randall Overton of the U.S. Coast Guard with their verbal arguments.
Overton was in town for the “bridge alternatives scoping meeting,” a necessary step in completing an environmental impact statement.
By the most optimistic calculations, that statement won’t be completed until this time next year, but Overton has said previously it could take as long as two decades.
Manatee County wants to build a 2,200-foot-long, two-lane bridge connecting Upper Manatee River Road on the south and Fort Hamer Road on the north.
The bridge proposal, a part of the county’s comprehensive land-use plan for a quarter century, is needed to handle projected growth and meet future traffic demands, county officials say.
Based strictly on resident comments from those who spoke Tuesday, opponents opposed a bridge near Waterlefe by a 5-to-1 margin.
Move the bridge further away from Waterlefe, and the ratio dropped.
Marty Peate of URS, the company retained by the county to design the bridge, outlined the scope and schedule for the bridge, including having a final environmental impact statement by the summer of 2011.
Tom Byrne of Waterlefe was one of those opposed to a bridge, saying it was proposed at an “unspoiled, wild place.”
The bridge would change the ecology and the character of its East Manatee location and promote growth and sprawl, Byrne said.
Christine Walker of Parrish said she and her family moved to the area in 2004 and were counting on a bridge to be built at Fort Hamer for transit between Parrish and Lakewood Ranch for commuting to work and for a savings of gas and time.
She took exception to those who call it a “bridge to nowhere,” saying there are “thousands of us over there.”
Ron Myers, a Waterlefe resident, said the bridge would bring too many financial, environmental and human impacts and promote sprawl. He questioned arguments that the bridge would improve the level of transportation service.
Waterlefe residents also had attorneys present — one representing the master association and another representing the community development district — asking questions about the bridge and rationale for the project.
Dale Weidemiller of River Landings applauded the bridge plans and said that Waterlefe residents need to have looked no further than in the covenants for their community to see that a bridge has long been planned for the Fort Hamer area.
“Keep the project going, we need it,” Weidemiller said.
Comments are invited to www.forthamerbridge.com or www.regulations.gov. On the latter website, click on “submit a comment” box and insert USCG-2010-0455 in the keyword box. Comments must be submitted by Aug. 27.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.