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Date of Issue: August 13, 2008

Buchanan says money available for Island

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Manatee, speaks to members of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials Aug. 6 at Anna Maria City Hall. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, attended an Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon prior to meeting with local elected officials on the Island. Here he speaks with Rae Dowling, left, area manager of external affairs for Florida Power and Light, and Don Sayre, seated, also of FPL. Islander Photo: Edna Tiemann

“I’m in love” with Anna Maria Island, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Bradenton, told the Aug. 6 meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials held at Anna Maria City Hall.

All well and good, but the officials at the meeting wanted to hear how that “love” translates into action, particularly when it concerns two of the BIEO’s major interests: beach renourishment and a new Anna Maria Island Bridge.

“What do you need?” Buchanan asked. “Just get me a list of things where I can be helpful.”

Money, replied Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford.

Her concern is that Anna Maria is being left out of the next beach renourishment project because Manatee County does not have enough money to pay for renourishment of the beaches in all three Island cities. Anna Maria gets the “short end of the stick” because, according to county officials, it does not generate enough revenue from the “bed tax,” which pays for beach renourishment.

“We don’t have as many accommodations as Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach,” Barford said. “We’re primarily a residential community.” Consequently, Anna Maria’s contribution to the beach renourishment pie does not meet that of the other two cities.

“Right now, the money is not there,” she said.

Buchanan, a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pledged to help find funds somewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget to aid the project.

“There is money available. We need to get our fair share,” he said.

He’ll also do what he can to speed up a replacement bridge for the north half of Anna Maria Island on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue.

The consensus related to Buchanan from BIEO members is that a new bridge should have two lanes of traffic with emergency lanes on each side.

Because of the Island’s size and current road structure, “We can’t handle a four-lane bridge,” said Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens.

But Buchanan is only one of 435 members of the House of Representatives and he’s learned that to get anything done in Washington takes compromise - and some arm-twisting.

“There are 34,000 registered lobbyists in Washington,” he observed.

With all of that political clout, at least 2 percent of the federal budget - $60 billion - is always earmarked for “special projects.”

That means projects that the lobbyists want for the “special interest group” they represent, he indicated.

And to get some of that money, you have to “be at the table.” Without representation, “You don’t get a share of the pie,” he added.

To get a “share of the pie” for his district, which includes Manatee and Sarasota counties, he often has to give a vote for other projects unrelated to this district or Florida.

He said there has never been a House Transportation Committee member from the Tampa Bay area, yet that committee is the largest in Congress.

Now that he’s “at the table,” he’s been able to obtain funding for the Ware’s Creek project in Manatee County, a project that took 34 years to get off the ground, and get $90 million for red tide research. He was also part of a bipartisan effort to move the location of a proposed natural gas pipeline off the north end of the Island to a more favorable location.

But more issues are coming to this district.

Baby boomers are starting to retire, Buchanan observed, and this area is a prime retirement location.

In fact, of all 435 districts in the House, his has more people over the age of 62 than any other district.

Health insurance, Medicare, Social Security, property taxes and infrastructure are major issues for the district, but maybe not for the entire Congress, he noted.

Buchanan said two of the biggest issues facing Congress are illegal immigration and energy.

“We got more than 50,000 e-mails in one week” on illegal immigration and energy he said. These are “gigantic issues” that Congress absolutely has to deal with when it meets again in January.

Buchanan now favors offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to help the energy crisis. “We need to be drilling, but not off our beaches.”