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Environment

Manatee County Voters Could See Ballot Measure To Boost Conservation

Trees, scrub, plants.
Manatee County Government
At over 21,000 acres, the Duette Preserve is the largest preserve in Manatee County and home to the burrowing owl, snowy egret, gopher tortoise, and at least three endangered/threatened species.

On Tuesday, Manatee County Commissioners will consider a resolution to place a referendum on November’s ballot. If approved, voters will decide whether they say yes to a property tax increase.

The additional revenue would create a conservation fund for Manatee County to purchase land.

Last year, commissioners reached out to the national environmental group, the Trust for Public Land to seek help in determining a feasible way to create a sustainable funding source for land conservation.

Suzanne Gregory of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, says the county's natural areas are shrinking.

"That’s land that you can't get back,” she said. “Once it’s built on, that land is lost and that land helps ensure that stormwater is clean before it flows into the water supply. So we need to be strategic about where we don't want it to happen," Gregory said.

It’s estimated the property tax increase would cost the average Manatee County homeowner an additional $29 a year. It's a small increase, but Gregory said environmentalists would still need to garner support from those opposed to any kind of tax increase.

"I would ask them is clean water important to them? Are public outdoor spaces, parks, preserves important to them? Because those are the kinds of projects that this will help fund,” she said.

A recent example is Long Bar Pointe, a 500-acre property in Cortez, part of the watershed for North Sarasota Bay.

“It was nicknamed ‘the kitchen’ by local fishermen because of its bounty of seafood,” said Gregory. “Now, it's been clear cut and stripped of habitat and there are going to be residences there,” she said. "That’s going to happen, but we need to be strategic about it.”

A white bird in flight over a body of water with bushes.
Credit Cathy Carter
Environmentalists point to Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton as an example of an important conservation area in Manatee County.

Manatee County has lost thousands of acres to development over the years due to its fast-growing population.

“When my wife and I moved here 40 years ago, 150,000 people were estimated to live in Manatee County,” said Dick Eckenrod of the Manatee Fish and Game Association.

“Now it’s around 400,000, so that’s an increase of 270% and the demand of those additional people have created an imbalance. It’s important to preserve the native ecosystems and I'm concerned that we may not have that much time remaining to protect those areas that are so important to maintaining the quality of life here in Manatee County.”

Pinellas and Sarasota, Manatee’s neighboring counties to the north and south already have implemented a tax targeted for conservation.