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Date of Issue: September 17, 2008

Federal grant awarded for county's Neal Preserve

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded a grant to Manatee County to help restore Neal Preserve, the conservation land on the southeast side of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Perico Island.

The county acquired the preserve in 2005 and earlier this year received money from the state of Florida as reimbursement for the property purchase from developer Pat Neal.

More recently, the county learned of a grant from the federal FWS to assist in restoration plans for the Neal Preserve and another FWS grant to assist in the restoration of Bennett Park, a 175-acre site along the Manatee River.

The county plans to restore at least 132 acres at Neal Preserve, according to financial management director Jim Seuffert.

A major part of the restoration involves the removal of non-native, invasive plants in the uplands. A county description of the preserve states, “A large portion of the upland and spoil areas are infested with non-indigenous invasive plants, primarily Australian pines.”

The removal of exotics and planting of native species will “provide significant benefits to habitat” and “improve the water quality of the site.”

Toward those goals, FWS offered the county $30,000 to assist with studies needed to acquire permits for the restoration at Neal.

The total cost to restore Neal Preserve is estimated at $450,000, with about $328,000 in funding already awarded from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The budget for Neal Preserve consists of $16,500 from the county for planning and permitting, $25,000 from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program for planning and permitting, $328,000 from Swiftmud for site improvements and, now, $30,000 from FWS, according to Seuffert.

His memo to the county board indicates FWS might also provide funding for restoration work in the future.