New mangrove trimming and preservation ordinance to be focus of Oct. 10 County Commission hearing

Draft ordinance completed after public outreach and consultation with state environmental personnel

County staff dealt with unauthorized destruction of mangroves in South County in February 2014. Photo courtesy Sarasota County
County staff dealt with unauthorized destruction of mangroves in South County in February 2014. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

On Oct. 10, the Sarasota County Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that will govern mangrove trimming and preservation in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The board’s consideration of the regulations will come almost exactly 13 months after it authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer in September 2015 “to prepare an application for local delegation of the Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP),” a July 12 memo explains. “The most significant element of this process,” the memo points out, is the development of a local code, or ordinance.

To be considered for delegation of the state authority, the July 12 memo notes, the county also had to demonstrate its “ability to effectively administer the program in a manner comparable to the state,” for example, that it would have sufficient staffing and budget to handle the work.

Through an online survey, during public presentations and via phone calls and email, residents have indicated “their desire to preserve and protect mangrove shorelines [and] to ensure that the code would not allow trimming to a greater extent than what is allowed” by state regulations, the memo explains. “Many of the deviations from [the state Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act] found in the draft code were made at the suggestion of FDEP in an effort to clarify and streamline implementation or to ensure a comparable policy framework,” the memo says.

During outreach efforts, it continues, “Residents also expressed interest in additional education and outreach concerning the ecological benefit of mangroves and the rules about trimming.”

The draft ordinance says, “Mangroves play an important ecological role as habitat and food-web support for various species of marine and estuarine vertebrates, invertebrates, and other wildlife, including mammals, birds, and reptiles; as shore stabilization and storm protection; and for water quality protection.”

County staff also worked with professional horticulturalists in the community in creating the requirements for Professional Mangrove Trimmer certification, as outlined in the draft ordinance, the July 12 memo says.

Red mangroves stand at the water's edge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission
Red mangroves stand at the water’s edge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Staff held two public workshops in late January so the public could review the draft ordinance and offer comments, the memo notes. Additionally, staff contacted 26 neighborhood associations — all in areas with mangrove shorelines, the memo points out — that resulted in presentations on the proposed code. The Siesta Key Association (SKA) was among those groups that requested written materials, including a list of frequently asked questions, in lieu of a presentation, the memo adds.

SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner was delighted to learn of the upcoming public hearing, she told The Sarasota News Leader this week. “This is long awaited and another indication that the County is considered a worthy partner for environmental protections,” she wrote in a Sept. 24 email. “Having the [state] delegate authority for this ordinance to the County will give everyone clear direction for permitting and for legal interventions.”

The SKA planned to send a letter of support for the ordinance in advance of the public hearing, she added.

County staff notified her that the agenda item would be scheduled for the morning of Oct. 10 at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, she told the News Leader. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m.

County and state provisions

As outlined in state law, the July 12 memo explains, the county ordinance will provide for two types of permits to be issued: one for mangrove trimming; the other, for mangrove alteration. “The [county] code specifies permit conditions for [owners of property on the water], trimming within existing navigational channels, and multi-family residential units,” the memo says. The code also provides the option for permit holders to request a one-year extension and the transfer of a permit if a change in ownership occurs.

Respondents to an online county survey about mangroves answered this question. Image courtesy Sarasota County
The majority of respondents to an online county survey about mangroves did not answer this question. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, the memo continues, “Permit conditions provide clarity regarding herbicide use. Permit conditions also address justification for nuisance/invasive species removal as mitigation for impacts associated with trimming or alteration.”

The Exemptions section of the proposed ordinance says that trimming without a permit will be allowed on private property in situations where the owner will conduct or supervise the work on land or on sovereign submerged lands immediately waterward and perpendicular to the land; the mangroves are no taller than 10 feet; the work will not reduce their overall height to less than 6 feet; the trimming will be on property with a shoreline of 150 feet or less. In cases where the shoreline is longer than 150 feet, less than 65% of mangroves will be trimmed.

The draft ordinance includes provisions for mitigation “to offset adverse ecological and environmental impacts” of mangrove trimming and alteration. Among the measures is the option for payment in lieu of mitigation if the county determines mitigation is not practicable. The payment would be equal to the cost of creating twice as much mangrove swamp as the size of the affected area, based on the amount of canopy lost.

Any replanting would have to result in at least 80% canopy within five years, and the new mangroves would have to achieve an 85% survival rate one year following their planting.

A majority of respondents to the online county survey supported county administration of the program. Image courtesy Sarasota County
The majority of respondents to this online county survey question supported county administration of the program. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A section of the draft code was created to allow for appeals to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court regarding county decisions on variances that are sought.

On March 16, the memo points out, county staff began conducting a mangrove shoreline study in the unincorporated areas. That will provide information not only about the presence of mangroves, the memo notes, but also about their condition and the existence of hardened structures, such as bulkheads. “This study provides staff with a baseline status for administration of a local mangrove ordinance,” the memo explains.

Fees generated from compliance and enforcement efforts will be placed in a “Reforestation Fund,” which will be used for educational, restoration and planting projects, the memo adds.