Manatee County legislative delegation to meet, hear Cortez controversy solution

The Manatee County Legislative Delegation will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, to hear from constituents about legislative priorities in 2021.

The meeting will be at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, with Rep. Tommy Gregory of District 73 chairing.

Manatee County’s legislative delegation includes Gregory, Reps. William “Will” Robinson Jr. in District 71 and Michele K. Rayner in District 70, and Sen. Jim Boyd in District 21.

Some Cortezians see the meeting as an opportunity to keep up the fight to save Raymond Guthrie Jr.’s stilt-house, situated near Cortez's commercial docks.

But a court-ordered deadline to demolish the residence is coming due Jan. 24.

Proponents for protecting the structure — built on pilings over Sarasota Bay's waters — were set to go before the Manatee delegation to ask the lawmakers to pressure the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to grant a 120-day extension, according to a Facebook post from the Star Fish Co. Market and Restaurant.

The fish market and restaurant are owned by Karen Bell, who made an earlier effort to side with Guthrie in court.

The Facebook post states the extension “would allow time to create a law that would protect the camp during the next legislative session.”

The structure — complete with utility services — was built in 2017 over waters in Sarasota Bay owned by the state and safeguarded by the DEP.

Guthrie has been locked in a legal battle with the DEP over the structure's fate for three years but received a final order to remove the building in October 2020.

“Similar laws are in place in Lee, Indian River, Monroe and Pinellas counties,” the post reads. “We need to let our representatives know that we want these last two net camps to remain in Cortez!”

A second building in the bay, visible from the commercial docks and a community-maintained dock adjacent to Star  Fish in Cortez, has been renovated with donations from the community and maintained for its historical value as a net camp. It has no utilities and is not used as a residence.

Meanwhile, state legislative committee meetings will begin in January and February.

The 2021 session will convene Tuesday, March 2, and is scheduled to conclude Friday, April 30.

For more information about the delegation meeting, call Gregory’s office at 941-708-5660.

— Ryan Paice