State Politics

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bennett calls for suspension of Wares Creek dredging project

BRADENTON -- Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett has called for suspending Bradenton’s Wares Creek flood control project on grounds that it contributes to the nation’s $14 trillion debt.

Officials in charge of the $45.5 million project, which has encountered dozens of agonizing bureaucratic hurdles over at least 25 years, plan to advertise for construction contracts in February, open bids in March, and award a contract in May, according to an e-mail from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the project.

“Officials at all levels of government need to be willing to take hits in their respective regions,” Bennett, R-Bradenton, wrote in an Opinion Page article published Tuesday in the Bradenton Herald.

“Personally close to home, that means funding for the dredging of Wares Creek in Bradenton should be suspended,” he wrote.

“These are the types of short-term decisions that have to be made, so we can continue to make improvements down the road,” Bennett wrote in the article about addressing the national debt.

Wednesday, he amplified his views, saying, “I’m simply saying this: Every federal project should be looked at, and cut, if it has not started. What I wanted to say is, even in my own district, we should look hard and fast at every project.”

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston wondered why Bennett, who is a state senator and has no power to address the federal budget, was commenting in the first place.

“What does the senator have to do with this, anyway?” Poston said when asked about Bennett’s comments. “I assume Mike’s headline grabbing; it’s not the first time it’s ever happened.”

Poston theorized it may have something to do with the possibility that the area might score a new congressional seat as a result of the 2010 census.

“He’s just setting it up, showing how aggressive he can be if he cuts a program close to home,” Poston said.

When a reporter Wednesday asked Bennett, who is facing term limits in the state senate, whether he had decided to run for a congressional seat, Bennett replied, “Operator, operator, I think I’ve lost my connection.”

“It’s basically a done deal,” said Bradenton City Councilman Patrick Roff, of the flood control project. “Over the past six or seven years, money has already been sent, it’s in Manatee County, and the Corps is waiting to access those funds to do this work.”

Roff said Bennett had even helped to steer state money toward the project at one point.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who represents Manatee and surrounding counties, has worked years to get the Wares Creek project accomplished.

Wednesday, Buchanan said, “The dredging of Wares Creek will save taxpayer dollars by preventing flooding and economic damage, which is why the project has broad community support.”

Plans for Phase I call for dredging between the mouth of the Manatee River and Ninth Avenue, with construction expected to start sometime next summer; completion is slated for 2013.

The project’s second and third phases would entail improvements along the creek that continue south beyond Cortez Avenue.

A half dozen different governmental entities have helped to finance the project, with the U.S. government kicking in about $18 million of the cost.

Other contributors included the City of Bradenton; Manatee County; Southwest Florida Water Management District; and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“The county has committed over $16 million to acquire the land and easements for construction as part of our local commitment to this federal project,” wrote Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach coordinator. “We have received approximately $9.2 million in grant reimbursements from the State of Florida for this outlay of local dollars.”

“The federal government, through the efforts of our congressional delegation, has placed in excess of $18 million in the Army Corps’ budget to construct this project,” Azzara wrote. “...It is our understanding that this budget commitment cannot be diverted to any other purpose.”

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