Requirements for building near wetlands, watersheds could be loosened in Manatee County

As new homes go up in Manatee County, regulations impose up to a 50-foot buffer in certain areas near wetlands and watersheds. 

"All wetlands are connected either by surface or groundwater to downstream waters and there’s research to show that even the ones that appear to be geographically isolated out east, they are actually important connections between them and the bay," said Abbey Tyrna the executive director of Suncoast Waterkeepers. 

The group Suncoast Waterkeepers is concerned that the 50-foot buffer could be decreased, as leaders begin an overhaul of the county’s comprehensive plan. State regulations only call for a 15-foot minimum buffer.

"The comprehensive plan was written to protect our health and our water quality, so there are goals written to that effect, if you change the objectives underneath those goals you’re no longer meeting those goals," said Tyrna. 

While wetland protections have yet to come up in the county commission, Chairman Kevin Van Ostenbridge said the board will rely on science when making its decision. 

"We are trying to eliminate redundancy and government overreach in places where it doesn’t need to be where it just ends up costing people money. I understand where they are coming from In the next 10 years we are spending $1.3 billion in our utility in our utilities CIP program to ensure that our waste water plants, we increase the capacity and replace existing lines that are older lines. We have taken water quality where it is very seriously. We have put our money where our mouth is," he said. 

House Bill 1197 and Senate Bill 1240 filed this session could remove any control from cities and counties to regulate water quality and wetland protections. 

Regulation would be given solely to the state. 

Environmentalists said those with ties to the local waterways, know them best. 

"There’s a whole host of research out there that shows the bigger the buffer the greater the benefit. Shrinking those buffers means shrinking the benefits," said Tyrna. 

Suncoast Water Keeper has started a petition to call for Manatee County to keep current buffers in place. 

So far more than 400 individuals have signed.