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Fall 2023
10 Reasons Why the Manatee County Commission Should NOT Reduce Wetland Protection

Manatee County is proposing to eliminate several policies that provide wetland protections. Revisions to the countys Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code will defer to the state standards for wetland protection. The proposed revisions are scheduled for a final public hearing on October 5, 2023. (Plan Amendment PA-23-06 / Ordinance No. 23-66).

Here are 10 reasons (and yes there are many more than 10) why Manatee County should abandon their efforts to weaken wetland protections:

1. Wetlands are valuable. Wetlands clean the water, recharge water supplies, provide buffers to storm surge, and are important fish and wildlife habitats, wetlands provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education, and commercial fishery benefits.

2. Wetland and wetland buffers reduce flood risks. Wetlands are the low spot on a property, they are the first to fill up with water when there is a storm that causes flooding, the second area to become inundated is the area around the wetland. Wetlands act as buffers for wind and water, are valuable in reducing wave energy which can damage structures and cause deaths. Wetland buffers reduce flood impacts by absorbing flood waters caused by significant storm events. Wetlands provide a natural defense from flooding and storm surge.

As the likelihood and costs of hurricanes continue to increase, Manatee County needs to adopt strategies to reduce the risks from storm surge and flooding. Reducing wetland protections by reducing buffers around wetlands is a significant step backwards in protecting the lives and property of people living in Manatee County.

3. Wetland and wetland buffers have functions and values that are beneficial to all citizens. Wetland buffers are an essential part of protecting a wetland. Requiring wetland buffers is an appropriate way to protect the environmental integrity of a wetland, yet the County is changing the current wetland buffer requirements by deferring to the states minimum standards. Manatee County should not strive to become like the rest of Florida, we do not need to have the same water pollution problems as the rest of the state.

4. Expanding the role of government. Reducing wetland buffer areas will encourage development in flood prone areas. The role of government will not be reduced, the role of government will be expanded. Taxpayers will subsidize government services in areas that currently do not require such services. Flood prone developments will need taxpayer subsidies such as federal flood insurance and insurance policies through the state administered Citizens Insurance. Post disaster storm clean up assistance will become more expensive as more development occurs in flood prone areas.

5. Florida ranks first in hurricane occurrences. Floridais the most vulnerable state in the nation to the devastating effects resulting from coastal storms. Reducing wetland protections will likely have a negative impact on FEMA flood insurance risk rates and homeowner insurance policies. The reduction in wetland protections will do nothing to address the current property insurance crisis.

6. Wetlands are being destroyed by development and phosphate mining activities. Deferring to the state standards for wetland protection is not appropriate. Manatee County wetlands are under different development pressures then the rest of the state. Wetlands in Manatee are under the constant treat of destruction by increased coastal, commercial, and residential development as well as phosphate mining. Manatee Countys Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code have the somewhat unique task of having policies that must address both phosphate mining and coastal development impacts to wetlands.

7. Increased pollutants entering public waterways. The proposed revisions are significant for Manatee County waterways and for those countys located downstream of phosphate mining activities. Reducing wetland buffer requirements means less protection for wetlands during phosphate mining.

Charlotte County and Charlotte Harbor will likely be on the receiving end of the negative impacts of reducing Manatee County wetland protection policies.

8. Industry and developmental interests will further seek to exploit wetlands. The changes being proposed are not a taking as has been stated by some of the county commissioners, it is a giving of development rights. The countys land development code already allows for flexibility in determining the width of a wetland buffer. Wetland buffer requirements need to be strengthened, not reduced.

What is being taken from the citizens of Manatee include: the protection of wetlands, the protection against flooding and storm surge, the protection against pollutants entering the public waterways, the flexibility that current and all future county commissions have in deciding the width of a wetland buffer, it a taking that will impact the lives and property of every resident and the ability of people to enjoy the waters free from pollution.

9. The economic benefits dont add up. A proper economic assessment of the proposed changes has not been done. A proper economic assessment must include the costs of loss of habitat types, loss of natural wildlife and diversity, increased costs of property insurance, increased costs of capital improvement projects in flood prone areas, post disaster government assistance costs, increased costs of water pollution, and the costs of having to redo previously approved developments that include wetland buffers.

10. A historic mistake in the making. Wetland protection is one of the most significant actions the county commission can do for the protection of Manatee Countys water supply, water quality and the general well-being and health of the citizens they represent. Historic mistakes have been made in the past regarding Manatee County land use decisions. Piney Point phosphogypsum stacks is an example of such a mistake, and we are just starting to realize the true costs of those decisions. If Plan Amendment PA-23-06 / Ordinance No. 23-66 is adopted, we will probably not know the extent of wetland impacts until it is too late. We fear a very sad chapter in Manatee Countys environmental history is about to occur.