Friday, July 4, 2014

Charlotte County takes steps to reduce environmental protections

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, the Charlotte County Commissioners voted to approve changes to the environmental protections provided in the current county Comprehensive Plan.  According to the Lemon Bay Conservancy, "The proposal will remove protections and will allow changes to density restrictions that will potentially increase development in sensitive portions of the coastal high hazard area and intrude into wetlands."
These changes have been forwarded to the state and will return to the commissioners for a final vote.  The conservancy is asking all concerned stakeholders to email the BCC  at www.bcc@charlottefl.com to oppose the removal of these protections. A description of the changes are detailed below.

Wetlands Are at Risk in Charlotte County

June 20, 2014
By:  Percy Angelo
The Charlotte County Commissioners are considering a major rewrite of their Comprehensive Plan which would eliminate most County measures to protect wetlands.
The proposal eliminates County protections based on an argument that state and federal rules are sufficient.  In fact, however, state and federal rules allow the destruction of wetlands and their replacement in “mitigation banks.”  There are no mitigation banks in Charlotte County, the closest is on Little Pine Island in Lee County, so that wetlands destroyed in Charlotte are not replaced in Charlotte.
Many members are familiar with the efforts to permit the Lemon Bay Cove project along Beach Road on Sandpiper Key, on the way to Manasota Key.  That project would destroy the mangrove wetlands along Beach Road and replace them with wetlands on Little Pine Island.  The project has already been permitted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and is being reviewed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  LBC filed objections to permitting before both of those agencies.
The current County wetland Comprehensive Plan provisions would classify wetlands connected to especially valuable waters such as aquatic preserves or Outstanding Florida Waters and would require additional showings of need before allowing their destruction.  This is the regulatory protection which is proposed for deletion by the County and, if left in place, would otherwise provide an additional layer of protection for wetlands like those threatened by the Lemon Bay Cove project.
In addition, it appears that the County proposal might even prevent County staff from enforcing wetland protection requirements in SWFWMD and Army Corps permits.  This is worrisome when those agencies are suffering staff cutbacks.  The cutting of mangroves this spring on a Saturday, on the Sarasota portion of Manasota Key was only stopped when County staff intervened after a neighbor’s call to Sarasota Board Chair Christine Robinson.
The current County Comprehensive Plan, called Smart Charlotte 2050, was adopted after much public input in 2010.  The County now argues that the Plan is discouraging development and that relaxations are needed.  Other relaxations proposed include limitations on density increases in the Coastal High Hazard Area, removal of many standards for the program regarding transfer of density units and removal of provisions for protecting natural areas from incompatible uses.
The Charlotte Board of Commissioners will consider the Comprehensive Plan changes on June 24.  If adopted they will be sent to the state for review, then back to the Board for final adoption.  Members are encouraged to let the Commissioners know how they feel.  Commissioner email addresses are on the County website under “Elected officials” or comments can be sent to them at assistant@charlottefl.com.    The proposal can be found at the County website under “Hot Topics,” on the left side of the Home Page.

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