Waterlefe residents ramp up opposition of Fort Hamer bridge

EAST MANATEE — Wood stakes topped with red flags are now in the ground marking where the Fort Hamer Bridge is proposed to rise to a height of 26 feet over the Manatee River in East Manatee.

The California-based engineering firm URS Southern Corp. had employees on site Tuesday working on the design of the bridge, which would connect Upper Manatee River Road south of the river to Fort Hamer Road on the north.

Construction on the roughly $20 million bridge could begin in 2011, county officials say.

But despite the activity, many of the residents of the 630 homes in nearby Waterlefe Golf & River Club continue to strongly oppose the bridge and support a resolution drafted by the Waterlefe Master Property Owners Association calling for it not to be built or for it to be moved to a different location, said Waterlefe resident Don McFadden.

The bridge would come within 30 feet of one golf hole at Waterlefe, would obscure views that homeowners paid handsomely for and could create noise, light and dust pollution, McFadden added.

Some Waterlefe residents will be in Manatee County commission chambers July 27 to make their feelings known to commissioners, McFadden added.

McFadden would not say whether Waterlefe residents would go to court to try to stop the bridge from being built.

The residents have several key grievances against the bridge, which county commissioners voted to go forward with in 2009 after it was shelved for several years.

“It presents a danger to the Waterlefe community due to compromising the egress and ingress of our residents,” said resident Tom Davidson.

Neither Waterlefe’s main gate nor back its gate are expected to have a traffic signal, making trips on Upper Manatee River Road a challenge in the face of additional cars, Davidson said.

Residents also say the bridge will come within 30 feet of the par-five No. 14 golf hole at Waterlefe’s Golf Digest-rated golf course, where men’s U.S. Open sectional qualifiers have been held along with a major women’s collegiate golf tournament every year.

The bridge will impact the overall experience of playing holes No. 13, 14 and 15 since it will loom off to the right, bridge opponents said.

“You can feel the tranquility here,” Davidson said as he stood on the 15th tee Tuesday surrounded by the river, standing oaks, palms and palmettos. “All of this will be spoiled.”

There is also a danger to motorists on the bridge from golf balls sliced onto the span, McFadden said.

“We are checking with our insurance people but we feel we might have to have increased liability insurance,” said McFadden, who said home values will suffer if the bridge is built.

The bridge also may impact manatees and dolphins that populate the river near the proposed bridge, McFadden said.

Besides the light, noise and dust pollution, Waterlefe residents also deplore that a large stand of oaks where the historic Fort Hamer was located will also be torn down to make way for the bridge, McFadden said.

County officials say the bridge is needed and that Upper Manatee River Road, and not nearby Rye Road, is the best place for it.

“It’s important to get the bridge built,” Ron Schulhofer, the county’s public works director, said recently. “We all got a wake-up call when the bridge on Interstate 75 burned (in June, 2008) and we had no alternative across the river except for U.S. 41 and the Green Bridge.”

The issue is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the Waterlefe Master Property Owners Association July 19 at the River Club at 7 p.m.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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