County Commission to vote on local mangrove ordinance

| October 1, 2016

The shift in jurisdiction would take effect Nov. 1 if approved

By Roger Drouin

Sarasota County is continuing to pursue a change that would transfer jurisdiction from the state to the county in matters of mangrove trimming and monitoring throughout the unincorporated county, including Siesta Key. The county has been pursuing local jurisdiction since 2001, said Alyssa Vinson, environmental specialist with the county. But a recent local case has been a catalyst for advancing that effort to bring matters of mangrove-trimming enforcement into county oversight.

mangrove-infographicAfter a troubling case, in 2014, in which a property owner cleared mangroves without a permit on Manasota Key, a judge ruled that the county had to defer to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The Circuit Judge ruled that the state has complete authority over mangroves and that the county went too far in requiring the property owner to replant the trees cut down. That precedent worried local environmental advocates who were concerned that the state agency hobbled by budget cuts and lacking a local office would have limited enforcement ability.

On August 31, Sarasota County received “delegation approval” from the state DEP — dependent on approval of a local ordinance by the County Commission — to oversee monitoring and enforcement of mangrove trimming compliance. A half dozen cities and counties throughout the state have been approved for and enacted similar, local jurisdiction ordinances. Delegation of the mangrove program is authorized under Section 403.9324 of the Florida Statutes, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The following local governments have delegated local authority to implement the program: Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, the town of Jupiter Island, and the city of Sanibel.

The Sarasota County Commission is set to vote on its ordinance at the board’s Oct. 10 meeting, in the afternoon session. The meeting will be held at the RL Anderson Admin. Building, 4000 S Tamiami Trail, Venice. If approved by county commissioners, the mangrove ordinance would take effect Nov. 1, Vinson told Siesta Sand.

Local jurisdiction would mean the county issues permits, and handles any compliance issues that come up, Vinson said. Current staff, including Vinson, would fulfill the duties that come with local enforcement and monitoring. The county has already been working to document mangrove trees.

Starting in 2004, the county has been in the process of creating coastal maps showing elements such as hardened features and mangroves, Vinson said. Those maps will become an enforcement tool if the county assumes jurisdiction on mangrove issues, and also could help clear up questions on historical formations of mangroves.

“We went by boat and surveyed the shoreline of unincorporated Sarasota County,” Vinson said. “We’re in the process of analyzing [the most recent] data and we have a good base map of what’s out there.” The information — including mangrove locales — will eventually be viewable by the public at the county’s GIS map website.

If the local ordinance goes into effect, Vinson recommends that any residents in the county who have questions about mangrove trimming on their property or nearby properties should call the county’s call center at 861-5000. Often, local mangrove trimming falls under an exemption, but for property owners, “they can call the county and tell us what they want to do, or email us some pictures” to make sure the work is allowed, Vinson suggested. 

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