Public input on Long Bar mitigation plan ends April 3

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A map submitted with the second prospectus for a mitigation bank on Sarasota Bay west of El Conquistador Parkway in unincorporated Manatee County shows where buoys would warn boaters of seagrass beds. Islander Graphic: Courtesy USACE

A plan to turn a natural area into a mitigation bank about 5 miles east of Cortez on Sarasota Bay depends on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

April 3 is the last day the Corps will take public comment on Long Bar Pointe LLLP’s mitigation plan.

The plan is the second such proposal submitted by developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman.

The Corps rejected their first plan in September 2016, saying the bank would allow the developers to sell credits for mangrove trimming and seagrass restoration where none was needed alongside Aqua By The Bay — the Beruff/Lieberman development now in the Manatee County pipeline.

Under federal regulations, mitigation banks are to provide an ecological lift where the natural environment is being threatened.

The Corps initial rejection invited the developers to resubmit the prospectus to explain how federal rules are met and why there is a 100-foot gap between two parcels of their submerged lands.

The second prospectus was filed with the federal wetlands regulator Jan. 31.

Former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage have been fighting the bank, calling it a developer ploy to build a high-density marina complex and dredge channels along a pristine shoreline.

Environmentalists say the seagrasses and mangroves already are protected by law.

McClash reiterated the concerns to the Corps March 13.

Cortez-based FISH voted its support the fight in January against the state wetlands regulator, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which gave a go-ahead to a second mitigation bank proposal in December 2016.

Both state and federal regulatory agencies are required to sign off on mitigation banks.

FISH is expected to restate its opposition to the Corps, according to vice president and former Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann.

On behalf of the developers, Alex D. Hoffner, of Eco Consultants Inc., wrote to the Corps in January that without the proposed mitigation bank and conservation easement, the mangrove fringe and submerged lands will be threatened by 56 docks, boardwalks and fishing piers, structures totaling 112,000 square feet and 7,504 pilings, which are allowable under state law.

As an alternative to the mitigation bank plan to trim 30 percent of the mangroves to a 12-foot height, Hoffner said the developer could receive permits to trim up to 65 percent of the mangrove swamps to a six-foot height.

“The ability of the applicant to obtain this authorization should be considered a threat to the resource, and further justification for the creation of the Long Bar Pointe Mitigation Bank,” Hoffner told the Corps.

The developers seek the Corps’ approval to sell 18.62 credits for a 263-acre bank. If approved, the mitigation bank will be open to developers from Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties required to mitigate wetland destruction. Credits are expected to run $100,000-$200,000 for each acre of restoration.

The corps notice is found at www.saj.usace.army.mil/missions/regulatory/public-notices/article/1100828/saj-2016-01900-adt/.

Comments on the proposed mitigation bank should be submitted in writing to: District Engineer, Department of the Army, Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers, P.O. Box 4970, Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019, or via email: Amy.D.Thompson@usace.army.mil or fax to 904-232-1904.

For more information, call Amy Thompson at 904-232-3974 or email Amy.D.Thompson@usace.army.mil.

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