Project will restore wetland area

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Causing concern for Commissioner Smith, approval of major work permit also opens door to swimming pool at Sea Plume Way home

By Chris Ann Allen

It’s a 50/50 deal.
In a 4-1 vote, Sarasota County commissioners on Sept. 27 approved a major work permit that allows a homeowner to fill-in a portion of mangrove swamp with a lawn and swimming pool, and also enhance an equivalent section of a deteriorated wetland area with 20 new mangroves and a hydration pipe.
The work will be done at the connected properties near the Intracoastal Waterway owned by Geoffrey and Jill Raker. They are located at 1245 Sea Plume Way and 6841 Peacock Rd.
The area in question is adjacent to the property owners’ house and is split in half by a boardwalk.
Additionally, the application calls for about 307 linear feet of vinyl seawall.

The area at 1245 Sea Plume Way that will see the planting of 20 mangroves and the installation of a hydration pipe. (image courtesy of Sarasota County)

District 2 Commissioner Mark Smith, also a Siesta Key architect, voted in opposition. He cited an inconsistency with the county’s comprehensive plan, which states “mangrove swamps shall be preserved or enhanced,” and “dredging and filling of mangrove swamps shall be strictly prohibited.”
The county staff report on the matter noted the board might take issue with the measure as it would reduce the current mangrove swamp habitat on the subject properties by more than 50%.
However, the report also noted the area was “impacted and degraded” by actions of the previous owners, including a shell berm between the back yard and the bay, which prohibited the tidal flow and growth of the wetland area, resulting in dying mangroves with stagnant water and algae.
John McKenna, an environmental consultant with Florida Permitting of Palmetto, contracted for the project, said the area to be cleared has not shown any significant growth since he has been monitoring the site, as the system is isolated from the bay.
He said, as a marine biologist, he typically avoids projects that harm mangroves, but with the planting of new mangroves and increased water flow the project would “enhance the function of this area.”
During discussion, District 5 Commissioner Ron Cutsinger asked McKenna if a swale might be more effective than a pipe for hydrating the remaining wetland area. McKenna said the option was considered, but a pipe would allow minimal impact to the existing mangrove forest. He said an open swale would create erosion.
Smith said he was not in favor of the motion because he is concerned about “rewarding bad behavior.” He pointed out the former owners put in the shell dam, but this action dried up the wetland, which allowed the current owners to move forward with the fill.
“It sets a dangerous precedent for folks that perhaps want to extend their backyard for a pool,” Smith said.
District 1 Commissioner Mike Moran said he understood Smith’s concerns, but he sees the approval as “just common sense,” adding it has been a stagnant area that will benefit from the enhancements.
“It will probably be beautiful when it is done,” Moran said. “You’re still doing a sufficient job, in my opinion, of mitigating it and it will still be beautiful and surrounded by mangroves.”
Cutsinger agreed. “Unfortunately, it was bad behavior but we are not going to punish this owner for someone’s long-ago bad behavior,” he said.
“And I don’t think we’re giving up anything. That area is obviously very poor, and perhaps we’ll get better results when that area is replanted with 20 new mangroves and hopefully the hydration will work.”

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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