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Oil drilling protest hits a snag

MANATEE — It’s not clear whether anyone will turn up at Manatee Public Beach as part of a statewide protest against offshore oil drilling slated for Saturday.

A local environmental group has withdrawn its sponsorship, complaining the county wanted fees of at least $125, plus a damage deposit, in order to issue a permit for the event.

The protest, called “Hands Across the Sand,” calls for those opposed to oil drilling as close as 3 to 10 miles off the coast to gather at 1 p.m. at various beaches, dressed in black — the color of oil.

At 1:30 p.m., they’re to hold hands for 10 minutes to demonstrate their opposition, according to a Web site about the event, www.handsacross thesand.org.

Organizer Dave Rauschkolb, a Panhandle businessman and surfer, said Thursday he expected people to congregate at about 80 sites along both coasts, but noted that permit complaints seemed confined to Manatee County.

Manatee Public Beach, at State Road 64 and Gulf Drive, was listed on the Web site as a venue, but Bradenton environmental leader Sandra Ripberger said her group had dropped its sponsorship after county officials told her she would need a permit and would have to pay fees she thought were prohibitively expensive.

“We’ll still sponsor the event in Sarasota, but not the one here, because we were informed just less than a week ago we needed a permit for using the beach if we planned to have 10 or more people there,” said Ripberger, who chairs the Manatee County Conservation Committee for the Manatee County Sierra Group.

She said she was told the fee would be between $50 and $1,000, depending on how many people attended, plus a $100 refundable damage deposit; county officials confirmed that a permit was needed because the event was planned for a county park, but said fees probably would be toward the lower numbers.

They estimated fees at about $125 for up to 50 people, plus the $100 refundable damage deposit, said Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.

“We made a pro-active step to assist these folks,” said Azzara. “I don’t think the fees were excessive. It was late in the game, and we really tried to work with them. It’s too bad it kind of fizzled out.”

County Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Turner, whose department oversees the beach park, was unavailable for comment.

Still, due to the event’s esoteric nature, nobody really knows whether a protest will occur or not, or what it might entail if there is one.

“I hope all of Bradenton shows up at Manatee Beach,” said Rauschkolb.

The event at Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach, which required no permit and no fees, is definitely on, accord- ing to organizer Renee Moss.

“We put fliers up and got word out through Facebook, networking sites and Craig’s list. We’ve gotten phone calls and e-mails, but there’s no way to know how many will show up,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how many show up.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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