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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Bradenton Beach path ahead unclear

The planned Bradenton Beach multi-use path now faces a clouded future as county officials say the $192,000 grant for the project is not enough money for the 1.47 miles of path.

Manatee County Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Turner told the Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway Committee Corridor Management Entity Nov. 22 that the $192,000 grant for the project has been approved, but it's barely enough to cover one mile of path, let alone another half-mile. A one-mile path would leave the trail well short of the Longboat Pass Bridge. Taking out lights in the project and some other amenities still leaves funding about $60,000 short, she said.

"We need an additional $60,000 and we have not yet identified a funding source," she said.

County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann asked if the city would be willing to help, but Mayor John Chappie noted the path is on county property.

Turner also observed that the $250,000 for just one mile is only an estimate. Traditionally, when projects go out for bid, they come back higher than originally estimated because construction companies don't like to do small jobs, not with all the major construction in the area, she indicated.

Manatee County Grants Coordinator Maggie Marr agreed. "We're already $60,000 short and bids are always higher." She suggested the CME and county consider constructing the path in phases, as many parks in Manatee County are done.

City Commissioner Bill Shearon chastised the county for its planning, saying that the county knew "from day one" that it didn't have the money for the entire path.

The original multi-use path was to extend along both sides of State Road 789, from Fourth Street South in Bradenton Beach to the Longboat Pass Bridge, under the bridge, then back along the east side of the highway. That was changed because of funding to just the west side in the initial phase.

Not so, responded Marr. "We took the best estimate and got the best possible grant." Remember, she said, this was not a matching grant, but the maximum amount of funds available under this grant program. Other programs might cover the entire cost, but would require matching funds. Funding for the entire trail could come from the same grant source, she said, but it would have to be done in phases.

Chappie said the city budgeted $50,000 for the project several years ago, but the money was never used. He'll go back to the commission to see if members would budget the money again.

Shearon disagreed, saying in his opinion funding was always supposed to be the county's responsibility for this project.

But there's another problem, said Mike Sosadeeter of the parks and recreation department. He's identified about 300 feet of the proposed trail that's actually in the Florida Department of Transportation's right of way. Marr said that's going to be a problem because the grant won't allow a trail through a DOT right of way. It might if DOT grants an easement, she said.

The reality of the current situation, said Marr, is that the county may only be able to complete one-half mile of the trail in the first phase, based upon the current available dollars and the DOT problem.

Chappie added that the multi-use path is such a "great project" that it's better to build it in phases than to abandon it entirely. The CME has been planning the project for nearly two years and it would be a shame to give up now, members agreed.

Sosadeeter said he'll get a report from the DOT on the right of way for the January CME meeting.