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Date of Issue: March 25, 2009

County wants in on federal funds systems

With the federal government offering bailout and economic stimulus money like a Monopoly game, Manatee County commissioners want to make sure the county gets a fair share.

First up on the agenda is $16 million to design a new Anna Maria Island Bridge, said Commissioner Carol Whitmore at the March 18 meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials.

Whitmore said she and the other commissioners were in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago and met with 18 senators and representatives during a whirlwind two-day visit. The goal was to get federal appropriations for a variety of projects, including bridge design, she said.

“We met with elected officials on committees that appropriate federal money for projects such as beach renourishment and new bridges. We just wanted to get on their list of projects, to get into their system and get Manatee County known,” she said.

Whitmore said the commission asked for $16 million in design funds for a new bridge and $200,000 for beach renourishment, among other requests.

“We asked for design money now because it will take at least 10 years before any new bridge construction begins. Our requests were well received,” she said.

 “Some elected officials said we’d probably get $1 million to $3 million once the type of bridge is selected. Surprisingly, most of the senators and representatives we talked with have heard of Anna Maria Island.”

Whitmore said the lawmakers pledged to work with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Longboat Key) on the funding requests.

“At least we’re in their system and on their list,” Whitmore said.

In other business, the BIEO heard a report from Longboat Key town manager Bruce St. Denis on the status of a lawsuit the town filed against Port Dolphin LLC.

Port Dolphin wants to construct a natural gas pipeline from Port Manatee through the Tampa Channel to a permanent buoy about 28 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Tankers would anchor at the buoy to discharge natural gas into the pipeline for collection at Port Manatee.

However, Longboat Key is concerned that the location of the pipeline might interfere with some areas of the sea bottom that the town uses for beach nourishment sand.

Port Dolphin has refused to allow Longboat Key officials to view their engineering data on the quality of sand in the areas where the pipe would be placed. Longboat Key filed a legal action several months ago to force Port Dolphin officials to open its books, but little action has been taken in court.

Behind the scenes, both sides are working for a peaceful resolution, St. Denis said, and that’s a good sign.

“The door is still open for a settlement,” he said.

The BIEO also heard from Holmes Beach City Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens, who invited everyone to attend the Florida Department of Transportation’s March 26 public hearing on a proposed replacement for the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Haas-Martens favors a fixed-span, high-rise bridge as a replacement for the current bascule bridge.

Haas-Martens said opponents of a new bridge “will be out in force” and suggested those who favor a replacement bridge should do likewise.

“We need to have our voice heard,” she said.