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Date of Issue: May 21, 2008

Palma Sola group seeks to complete project

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A sign designates an area for launching personal watercraft on the Palma Sola Scenic Highway. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The Palma Sola Scenic Highway group unanimously agreed last week to see its causeway improvements project to completion before considering additional modifications.

Members of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity met May 14 at the county administration building to discuss the causeway project, where hundreds of trees and dozens of bollards have been planted. A new boat ramp also has been built on the southwest end of the shore along the causeway to replace an unpermitted ramp under power lines at the northeast end of the waterfront.

In recent weeks, the project has generated criticism from people who dislike the number of posts planted along the southside of the causeway, primarily because they look unnatural and block vehicles from reaching the edge of Palma Sola Bay. Critics include Manatee County Commissioners Joe McClash and Carol Whitmore, who have urged the removal of at least some bollards.

At last week’s CME meeting, McClash made his case again. The commissioner said the bollards restrict people with personal watercraft from getting to the water. There is a designated personal watercraft parking and launching area on the causeway, but McClash said that was insufficient and asked for additional access points.

The committee discussed McClash’s concerns and its willingness to compromise, but members agreed that first the project should be completed and grant reimbursements collected.

The improvements - exceeding $250,000 - are funded largely by state and federal grant money, which has strings attached. Committee members said they didn’t want to jeopardize the grants by making major changes to the project.

Holmes Beach resident and CME member Kathy King offered a motion that, after some tweaking, read, “The committee made substantial changes and compromises and is open to continuing to do so. At this time, the committee recommends completion of the projects contractually specified and planned. Upon completion of the scope of services and grant reimbursements, the committee will reevaluate and discuss possible revisions.”

The committee unanimously approved the motion.

King said she wanted the county commission and concerned citizens to know that the CME is willing to revise the project, but not hastily.

The bollards do restrict vehicle traffic from reaching the water, but they also protect beachgoers, she said.

“A lot of families are enjoying the causeway more now,” King said.

The committee discussed other changes along the causeway and learned from vice chair Seth Kohn, an employee the city of Bradenton, that a planned bathroom on the southside of the causeway may not get built this year.

Kohn said delays with securing a design have left only a six-month window to get the project done by the grant’s December deadline.

County Commission Chair Jane von Hahmann, who has long been associated with the Palma Sola project, said she didn’t want to shelve the project and asked Kohn what he needed.

“I’d go to bat to cover the costs,” she said. “I think that the rest room is extremely important.”

Kohn said he would explore how to get the project completed, but emphasized that time was his big concern.

The county commission was scheduled to discuss the Palma Sola project during a meeting May 20, after The Islander went to press.

The next CME meeting will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, at the county administration center, 1112 Manatee Ave., Bradenton.