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Manatee County commissioners cut wetland protections

Written by on Friday, October 6, 2023

One of them calls environmentalists ‘Soros-funded’, ‘Communist’.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Oct. 6, 2023

Host: A few months ago, a local builders’ group suggested Manatee County should end local wetland protections, arguing that state wetland buffer regulations are good enough. The Manatee County commission obliged and, in a matter of weeks, rushed the builders’ suggestion through the process. Two weeks ago, a local environmental organization reacted by calling on its supporters to flood Manatee County with scientific evidence at a land-use meeting on Oct. 5, when the commissioners were expected to cast their final vote on the measure. Suncoast Waterkeeper wanted it to be on the record that cutting wetland buffers in half was a bad idea. Our news team was at the meeting. Here’s what went down in downtown Bradenton yesterday.

Johannes Werner: To say it right away: To no one’s surprise, the commissioners voted 5-1 to strip Manatee County’s comprehensive plan of local wetland buffer regulations.

But it didn’t happen without another very public exchange of arguments and evidence, an unusual public appearance of the local developer lobby organization, and unprecedented political attacks against the audience, by a commissioner from the dais.

Dr. Abbey Tyrna

The Manatee County commission chambers were packed with about 100 people Thursday morning, after Suncoast Waterkeeper had called supporters to enter into the record scientific evidence that ending local wetland buffer protections won’t be good for regional water bodies. Many held red signs that said “Don’t do it!” and “Stop the madness!”.

From morning through late afternoon, speaker after speaker denounced the measure, pleading with commissioners to consider future costs.

Highlights included a 15-year old talking about his future, a retired hydrogeologist asking “Where the hell will the water go?”, and a local Sierra Club representative, pleading with commissioners not to politicize the environment. Dr. Abbey Tyrna, the executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, gave a 10-minute presentation, focusing on four what she called misconceptions that had been brought up in earlier meetings. She entered into the record yet more evidence about the benefits of wetland buffers, and problems with engineered water retention systems.

There was also public testimony by the CEO of the Sarasota-Manatee Builders Association, whose white paper reportedly triggered the Manatee County commission’s action in the first place. Jon Mast argued it was necessary to streamline regulations “that were not added due to science, but as a deterrent to development”. This is a question of property rights, Mast said, asking commissioners not to yield to hysteria by a few people.

Commissioner George Kruse, the sole ‘nay’ vote, argued it wasn’t a good idea to reduce the county’s negotiation power. In a previous meeting, Kruse had pointed out that none of the parties really interested in the rule change had spoken out.

Before voting to end the protections, Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge pointed out that 66,000 parcels in Manatee County were affected by wetland buffer restrictions, not just developers’ interests, and that this was about the ability to add a pool, backyard basketball court, or a shed. He repeated that no one had shown him scientific evidence of tangible benefits of local wetland buffers. And he said to him, the decision was mostly about property rights. He then attacked the audience from the dais.

Van Ostenbridge

Kevin Van Ostenbridge: At our last meeting, what started out as a passionate crowd evolved into an aggressive and hostile crowd when it became clear that the vote was not going to go their way. And in the days and weeks after the vote, I saw a well-funded, organized opposition form very quickly. And it caught my attention. Because this is the standard what we’re going to do. There’s nothing new. In fact, it’s the state standard. It’s the standard of every municipality in Manatee County. … I’ve seen no aggression or hostility aimed towards the cities in this county. [But] the mayor of Holmes Beach actually wrote an op-ed attacking us for wanting to adopt the same standard that her city adheres to. So I’m left wondering why is it that this board seems to be the target? And it’s pretty obvious. We’re all Republicans sitting up here. We’re unapologetic conservative Republicans. We love President Trump. We named a park after the greatest governor in America, Ron DeSantis, and so it’s become clear that we have radical climate activists who are pushing the Green New Deal and have brought a movement that is rooted in communism into Manatee County. It’s been exposed through the now completely discredited Suncoast Waterkeeper who are part of a George Soros-funded organization, because they’re adhering to the George Soros playbook. It even involves all the things from what we hear now, from everything, from Newspeak, shaming people, shouting people down, taking the position that it’s good versus evil. They’re taking the position that it’s selfish. But selfish is the taking of someone else’s private property without a public purpose. That’s selfish. These radicals are even using children as political pawns. They have brought their own Greta Thunberg into the movement. It’s cancel culture and they’re shouting us down right now. We saw this in the chamber during the transmittal, and we see it here again today. I make this statement because I wanted to make sure that the casual observer understands what’s happening here. It is a Soros-funded organization run by radical leftists that are attempting to derail common-sense property rights action in Manatee County.

This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.


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