President Joe Biden’s signature on a $1.7 trillion spending bill last week guaranteed a victory for Hillsborough County environmental preservationists.
Included in the omnibus bill was a measure from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, which will begin the process of potentially designating the Little Manatee River as a scenic waterway to safeguard it from future development.
“Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will ensure that it is kept in its current, pristine condition for future generations to enjoy. This bill brings us one step closer to making this historic designation a reality,” Buchanan said in a statement.
Buchanan filed the Little Manatee Wild and Scenic River Act in 2020. It sought to add a 51-mile segment of the Little Manatee River in southeastern Hillsborough to the National Park Service’s Wild and Scenic River System, which has the primary goal of conserving free-flowing rivers across the country.
However, the House Natural Resources Committee amended the bill last year to authorize a formal National Park Service study of the river before an official designation can occur. The measure passed the House on a voice vote in September and was included in the omnibus spending bill approved by the U.S. Senate and signed by the president in late December.
The federal designation would protect the river for public enjoyment without intrusive development, ensuring the Little Manatee River remains available for recreational activities including canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing.
The Loxahatchee River and the Wekiva River are the only rivers in Florida currently recognized under the federal program.
The Little Manatee River already is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water by the state. Landing the federal status “will further solidify this resource as a treasure for Hillsborough County so that people can continue to make memories on this waterway for years to come,” said former Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White.
The upcoming study could take as long as three years, White said previously.
“We’re very excited,” said White’s successor, Commissioner Michael Owen, “but I don’t want to take any credit for it. I had little or nothing to do with it. It was all Commissioner White.”