DEP issues findings, fines for mangrove trimming

A large swathe of mangroves was illegally trimmed on the bayfront at 28th Street in Holmes Beach without a permit, violating the state statute that protects the shore-hugging trees.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued its findings in two letters, one April 4 to Roderick L. Parsons of Ripley, W.Va., proposing a settlement of $2,000 plus $250 in costs and, a second similar letter April 5 to Sunset Tree Service of Bradenton, proposing a payment of $1,000 plus $250 costs to settle the violations.

“Although there are no actions to correct the violation, you remain subject to civil penalties as a result of the violation,” as well as the costs incurred in the DEP investigation, according to letters signed by Gary S. Colecchio, DEP southwest district director.

Approximately 6,600 square feet of mangroves were altered “within the landward extent of Grassy Point Bayou,” according to the DEP correspondence. The figure was reduced from its original 9,500-square-foot estimate after DEP officials checked the measurements with a global positioning system, according to DEP spokesperson Ana Gibbs.

An inspection report dated Feb. 15 states that Parsons hired the Bradenton contractor to cut mangroves across the street from his 28th Street property on land owned by Cedar Hames of Tierra Verde.

Letters dated Feb. 29 warning of the possible violations were sent to Parsons and Hames. A similar letter was sent March 21 to Miguel Guevara of Sunset Tree Service, according to Gibbs.

She said the investigation concluded, “based on our conversation with Mr. Hames, it appears he was unaware of the trimming of mangroves.”

She said the DEP would not pursue Hames for the mangrove trimming.

The recent letters to Guevara and Parsons refer to the proposed settlement as a “short-form consent order” and, if signed, would “acknowledge and waive” rights to an administrative hearing otherwise available to appeal the DEP findings.

Parsons was given until May 18 to pay $2,250 to the DEP.

Guevara and Sunset Tree Service were given until May 9 to pay the first $250 installment of five consecutive monthly payments.

State law prohibits a person from altering or trimming any mangroves “within the landward extent of wetlands and other surface waters” except by permit.

No such permit had been obtained for the mangrove work performed on 28th Street.

After DEP’s inspection of the unauthorized mangrove trimming, it reported the “impacted fringe was approximately 16-20 plus feet in pre-trimmed height. At the completion of the alteration, it appears the trees were reduced to a final height of approximately 5 feet.”

The Feb. 15 report also described the fringe as comprised of mostly black mangroves and white mangroves with an average diameter of 5 inches, an average depth of 75 linear feet and length of 126 linear feet.

The mangrove alteration was first noticed by Janet Fitzgerald, who regularly walks her dog on 28th Street. She noted a marked difference in the mangroves, and told Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen in January about her discovery.

Fitzgerald has lived on the Island since the 1970s, and said she values the mangroves “for the shade, wildlife nesting and spawning areas, and the coastal protection they provide.”

On learning of the DEP findings, Fitzgerald said April 10 that while she didn’t wish the neighbor any ill will, she was glad to see DEP’s enforcement can “really work.”

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