Florida’s Manatee County Votes for Conservation

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Florida’s Manatee County Votes for Conservation

After talking to “everyone who will stand still long enough to listen,” conservationists persuaded voters in Manatee County to fund a dedicated source of money for the acquisition and management of environmental lands by a 71% majority. The county can now raise up to $5 million a year at a cost of less than $3 a month for the average homeowner. Here’s the background:

Manatee County voters will have a voice on how best to preserve and manage environmental lands. Scroll down the ballot to find this citizen-led initiative which would raise up to $5 million per year to purchase and manage environmental lands – at a cost of less than $3 a month for the average household.

“Even in the midst of Covid-19, our polls in May show that 67% of voters are very likely or likely to support the measure,” said Dick Eckenrod, president of the Manatee Fish and Game Association. “Residents are very much in favor of the tax once they understand the need for it.”

Across the board, water quality is a top priority, particularly since Manatee is one of the few counties in Florida to get its water from a river rather than the aquifer, he adds. “The future of the county depends upon water quality, both drinking water and overall water issues since red tide is still at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Conserving environmental lands is a cost-effective way to maintain water quality, adds Mike Burton, an environmental consultant with Stantec and long-time member of the county’s Environmental Lands Management and Acquisitions Advisory Committee. “There are still some tracts remaining near developed areas that have significant value as natural resources for water quality, habitat and wildlife corridors.”

Further east, dedicated county funds could be used to purchase conservation easements on larger tracts of land that would offer the best value in terms of pricing.

“Manatee County is developing rapidly and is about to lose its last remaining open space if we can’t protect it now,” said Will Appberger, conservation finance director for the Trust for Public Land, an organization that works with governments to preserve land across the country.

Ballot language, which was unanimously approved by county commissioners, calls for a totally transparent purchasing process with the county negotiating a fair price with a willing seller that would be publicly identified, notes Damon Moore, environmental program manager for the county. The Board of County Commissioners would make the final decision based on the recommendations of an appropriate committee to be established. Annual audits will ensure that funds are spent specifically for environmental lands acquisition and management.

Citizens will have four distinct opportunities to be involved in how funds are spent, says Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast which has been involved in multiple Manatee conservation tracts including the Robinson Preserve expansion, Murphy Marsh, Johnson Preserve and Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve.

Protecting and restoring habitat for wildlife provides birds and fish a safe space at Perico Preserve.

Manatee is the only county in southwest Florida without a dedicated funding source for environmental land purchases, she adds.

“We’ve been working really hard to get the vote out, particularly since it’s at the bottom of a very long ballot,” Johnson said. “We’ll talk to anyone who stays still long enough to listen, and most agree that it’s really a very small price to pay to protect our water and wildlife.”

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