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Manatee County approves hiring lobbying ‘muscle’

MANATEE -- Although the Wares Creek flood-control project has officially started, Manatee County officials still seem to want assurances that a portion of the $51.8 million earmarked for it doesn’t get snapped up for something else.

In approving a renewal of a $240,000 annual contract agreement with a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, the Manatee County Commission indicated last week it felt the expenditure might bear financial fruit by keeping budget-cutters at bay.

“The scope of work for this renewal agreement calls for the Twenty-First Century Group to continue working to protect Wares Creek from any funding rescissions, as may be recommend- ed by the Corps,” wrote Charlie Hunsicker, county natural resources director, advocating renewal of the contract beginning Jan. 1.

He referred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which launched the first $3.5 million phase of the long-delayed Bradenton flood-control project last month.

“Our engagement of their services has been and continues to be very beneficial for advancing the federal legislative and federal appropriations agendas of the board,” he wrote about the lobbying firm, Twenty-First Century Group.

The commission voted 6-1 in favor of renewal, with Commissioner Joe McClash dissenting, saying, “I really can’t support spending this level of money” for a lobbyist.

Commissioner Donna Hayes noted that “we finally are making progress” on Wares Creek, adding that federal transportation funding was important as well.

“We need to stay on top of things,” she said.

Also commenting in favor was Commissioner Larry Bustle, who noted, “When times are tough, you have to redouble your efforts when it comes to lobbying because you don’t want to lose your place in line.”

Goals in the contract agreement mentioned “obtaining and preserving federal funding for Wares Creek improvements,” but also included:

n Obtaining federal money for a Port Manatee connector road, linking the port to Interstate 75.

n Helping to corral more beach renourishment funds.

n Federal funding for the emergency management portion of the county’s Automated Traffic Management System.

n Identifying sources of federal money for the United Community Center, part of a community redevelopment area in Bradenton.

n Helping to get BP oil spill mitigation funding.

The contract would automatically renew for successive one-year terms, unless terminated by the parties, documents said.

In the new agreement, the fee dropped $34,992 a year from last year’s cost, documents said.

Lobbyists will spend roughly 40 percent of their time on transportation-related grants and requests; 40 percent for beach renourishment; and 20 percent for other priorities, documents said.

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

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