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Here's a Hernando Beach dredge meeting I want to see

There have been lots of meetings about the dredge of the Hernando Beach boat channel, a mind-boggling number as a matter of fact, stretching back for more than 15 years.

But there's one more gathering about the dredge, or at least about the property at the center of its main controversy, that I can't wait to attend.

That's when Cliff Manuel, whose family owns the 5-acre Eagle Point site on Hernando Beach, tries to convince folks who live nearby on Eagle Nest Drive of the merits of his proposed development.

He intends to do it, he said. He wants to show them plans, take their suggestions, work together to make Eagle Point "more green and more environmentally friendly'' than any surrounding development (not hard, probably, considering the dredge-and-fill origins of Hernando Beach).

And if he wants to avoid another battle, he'll have to show them he can responsibly build on property that, though not classified as wetlands, is definitely prone to getting wet.

First, let's backtrack, hopefully for the final time: these neighbors have fought for two years to stop the spoil from being stockpiled on Manuel's property. They filed a complaint with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

They argued that this was an environmentally sensitive property that would be hard to develop without the fill from the dredge. At one point a county consultant agreed with them, writing in an e-mail that the sand and the county's permitting of the land for a spoil disposal site represented "a huge freebie'' for the Manuels.

You might say the same about the agreement the County Commission voted to approve last week. The county will pump the spoil to a site east of Shoal Line Boulevard that turned out to be, despite assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton's and Manuel's long insistence to the contrary, $2.6 million cheaper to use than Eagle Point.

But to honor its contract with the Manuels, the county will give them 40,000 cubic yards of sand from the dredge free of charge; they'll also get $196,000 from the county, which Manuel said is to compensate his family's company, Manuel LLC, for trucking and packing the fill.

And the environmental complaints the Manuels and family friends filed against the competing Shoal Line site turned out to be effective bargaining chips. These were obstacles to finishing the dredge by July of next year, which the county must to do to receive a $6 million state grant. They left the commission with no choice but to agree to pay off the Manuels.

The neighbors say they have no objection to the Eagle Point development if Manuel LLC develops it legally. But some of their doubts are based on what they see from their own yards: large parts of the land flood regularly during high tides.

Flood-prone isn't necessarily the same as wetlands, said David Sauskojus, of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Those decisions are based mostly on soil type and vegetation, and he determined that 3.8 acres of the original 5-acre site qualified as uplands.

Manuel said this wetlands line will force him to trim some of the 11 lots tentatively approved by the county. But he says he can develop and market (good luck) the homesites without the fill. Even with it, he plans green features such as shell driveways and native plants that need no fertilizer.

He thinks the neighbors will be impressed. We'll see.

Here's a Hernando Beach dredge meeting I want to see 04/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 1:01pm]
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