Bradenton bayou boat ramp improvement project holds many positives

While Manatee County's intentions for renovations of the Warner's Bayou boat ramp look advantageous for the entire community, neighborhood residents object. The county's initial lack of communication put the two at loggerheads.

The county wisely delayed the scheduled March start of the renovations after nearby residents reviewed the scope of the upgrades and disapproved of several components. To bridge the communications gap, county officials rushed to meet with project protesters and allay concerns last month.

The county is expanding that outreach and will collect additional input on the project during a public workshop Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Palma Sola Elementary School. Besides Northwest Bradenton residents, the meeting should attract boaters and outdoor enthusiasts from around the county since this is a community asset for all to enjoy.

While on the whole the project will provide worthwhile benefits to the community, several key questions remain: Will this overwhelm the site -- and the surrounding neighborhood? Should the county scale back plans?

The Warner's Bayou project is the latest of the county's seven public boat launches set for improvements to enhance public safety and access. But greater access could mean greater traffic, as neighbors fear.

The aging boat ramp, floating dock and fixed dock are scheduled to be replaced and upgraded with the northern dock extended to create additional mooring space. A fish-cleaning station with running water will be installed, too. There appears to be no opposition to these upgrades.

Restrooms will replace portable potties, a desirable improvement. Neighborhood protests of 24-hour access are unfounded. The county says doors will lock automatically at preset times to be determined the Parks and Recreation Department. Residents should have input into those hours of operation.

Neighbors also expressed concern about vendors operating at the park, offering food, bait and watercraft rentals. Here again, the county says otherwise, that no such plans exist.

The remaining contentious issues will be far more difficult to resolve. Located at 5900 Riverview Boulevard on the Manatee River, the boat ramp features a shell and sand parking lot. The county proposes paving the lots on both sides of the boulevard with concrete and capture stormwater runoff in new treatment areas to prevent grease, oil and fuel from fouling the bayou. The hard surface would also reduce the county's maintenance costs.

The county plan also calls for two pavilions on the east and west ends of the main parking lot.

Neighbors enjoy the sandy lots and "relaxed beach environment," inarguably a hallmark of an Old Florida ambiance. Project opponents only embrace replacing the boat ramps and docks.

Money for the $728,600 project is not coming out of Manatee County property taxes. The West Coast Inland Navigation District and the Florida Boating Improvement Fund are splitting the cost with grants earmarked for this specific project. The county cannot simply divert this money to other projects, as has been suggested.

County officials face a difficult decision unless some sort of compromise can be found that satisfies the desires of both neighborhood residents and boating and fishing interests. Barring that development, the current complete proposal would be an asset to the community at large.