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Palmetto proceeds with Estuary Park and Florida Power & Light partnership

A great blue heron sits along the bank of a historical manmade ditch, called the Carr Drain, where Palmetto officials hope to develop a kayak launch and paddling trail that will weave through the mangroves of the Palmetto Estuary Preserve and empty into the Manatee River. 
 GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
A great blue heron sits along the bank of a historical manmade ditch, called the Carr Drain, where Palmetto officials hope to develop a kayak launch and paddling trail that will weave through the mangroves of the Palmetto Estuary Preserve and empty into the Manatee River. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald gjefferies@bradenton.com

PALMETTO -- Palmetto City Commission voted unanimously Monday to conceptually approve building a solar energy power plant in the midst of the environmentally sensitive Estuary Park.

FP&L representatives, including area manager Rae Dowling, approached the city last week with a draft contract, calling for a 40-foot wide, 90-foot long overhead parking structure in the existing shell rock parking lot at the park's northernmost entrance. The structure will serve as an overhead parking facility, but in essence is a solar power plant.

"Everything about it is green and very sustainable," said Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Burton.

The energy collected at the site will be used to power lights for security as well as a new kayak storage facility similar to what Manatee County has at Robinson Preserve. The project is accelerating the city's long-term plans for Estuary Park to increase park usage, something city officials say has been lacking.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the park is under utilized because it's a "gem that no one has ever polished."

The city wants to put some shine on that gem with a proposal to add a kayak launching facility just west of the parking structure at the historic Carr Drain spill-out that would clean up the area, remove invasive species and eventually create an Old Florida kayaking experience through a mangrove canopy en route to the Manatee River.

Besides creating a solar energy grid in the area and providing free electricity to the park, the city also would receive a nominal $1,250 a year from FP&L.

FP&L will fund the structure, which Dowling said could be under construction by the first quarter of 2016 giving time for the CRA to begin pursuing grants for the kayak launching point. The city is working to get some funding from Southwest Florida Management District funding for stormwater improvements. Proposed red brick pavers help clean stormwater before it makes its way into the drainage systems but also keeps

with the city's overall aesthetic themes.

"We like everything we do to have a certain feel and look while getting the outcomes we want with being good stewards of the environment," said Burton. "Estuary Park has a lot of pluses, but it's not perfect. When you do a strategic plan, you envision what it will look like when it is perfect."

The strategic plan began to take shape when the city acquired the property in a land swap in the 1990s for the construction of Riviera Dunes. Burton said the partnership with FP&L is exciting because it accelerates that long-term plan and turns the vision of perfection into potential reality.

"Now all we have to do is get everyone on the same page," he said. "The goal of any park is to get people to use it. This park is beautiful, but it's under used and this gives an opportunity to do something great and environmentally friendly that will change that."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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