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Proposed biomass plant challenged

MANATEE — A neighboring property owner is challenging a proposed land-use change that would allow an alternative-energy generation plant near Port Manatee.

U.S. Funding Group LLC contends the proposed amendment to Manatee County’s comprehensive plan violates state law, saying the county did not adequately research the plant’s potential impacts and vulnerability to storm surge.

“The property is not suitable for a biomass energy facility based on the consideration of the soils, topography, natural resources, compatibility and suitability,” the landowner said in its challenge, which was filed in October.

An April 14-16 hearing has been set on the challenge, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings said Monday.

Florida Biomass Energy LLC wants to build the energy plant on the west side of U.S. 41 at Armstrong Road. It would burn biomass or plant material, primarily wood chips and non-food crops, to generate up to 60 megawatts of electricity that would be sold to electric utilities and others.

It would be the first such facility in Manatee, but the site’s future land-use designation must be changed to allow it. The county agreed to change the designation through a comprehensive-plan amendment that was submitted to the state Department of Community Affairs in August for its review.

U.S. Funding filed its challenge after the state agency said it had no objections to the amendment.

In its challenge, U.S. Funding contends the amendment “is not based upon appropriate data and analysis” of the plant’s possible impact on nearby residential property that the company owns. U.S. Funding won county approval in 2005 for Bishop Harbor Estates, a 66-lot single-family subdivision planned at the southern end of Armstrong Road.

No homes have been built, and the company — at the county’s suggestion — recently asked that the subdivision site be rezoned to port-related industrial.

“It’s something that we obviously would support because it has a more-realistic development scenario,” said John Osborne, the county’s planning director.

Richard “Rick” Jensen, Florida Biomass’ president, said the rezone request makes U.S. Funding’s challenge “confusing.”

“We’re confused by their actions,” he said, saying the challenge has delayed the plant’s construction start by several months to mid-summer at the earliest. He declined further comment on the challenge.

Robert Lincoln, U.S. Funding’s attorney, was unavailable for comment Monday, his office said.

Duane Marsteller, transportation reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.