Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fast-Track Permits Approved | Praise for Potential Jobs, but Concern over Environmental Hazards

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fast-Track Permits Approved | Praise for Potential Jobs, but Concern over Environmental Hazards

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY

MANATEE COUNTY -- To attract more manufacturing jobs, Manatee County will be the first jurisdiction in Florida to take advantage of a Legislature-approved program to grant those new or expanding employers swifter approvals.

The expedited permitting could lure companies that might otherwise locate elsewhere by saving them months of bureaucratic review.

But critics contend it could also allow polluters and other hazardous businesses easy access to the county.

County planners countered that the "fast track" process will not mean applicants will be exempted from environmental and other regulations. It will mean shaving months off that process so a business can be operational sooner.

Ordinarily, 12 to 18 months may pass for a manufacturer to clear all local and state regulatory hurdles before beginning construction, said John Barnott, Manatee's director of Building and Development Services.

In Manatee, that time frame will be cut by several months for manufacturers that locate in specified areas.

The environmental group ManaSota-88 said county and state regulators will have inadequate time to review applications from "polluting industries." County Commissioner Charles Smith argues that residents who could be affected by future expansion by Tropicana Products should have been offered an opportunity to give their input.

On Wednesday, Smith cast the dissenting vote in a 5-1 decision by the County Commission to incorporate the new permitting process in the county's land development code.

"I'm all for business and development ... I'm for jobs. I get that,"

Smith said.

But Smith expressed concern that one of the areas where the fast track permitting could be applied is Tropicana, which has no space left within the city of Bradenton and wants to expand on its land in the unincorporated county.

Smith said he and Bradenton City Council member Harold Byrd hear from constituents in a predominantly minority neighborhood near Tropicana that say drainage from the citrus juice company's facility already causes flooding of an east Bradenton creek.

Smith said residents near Tropicana received no notification about the proposed law or any information about how it could affect them. "No meetings whatsoever," Smith said. "... I think it's shameless. I really do."

A representative of ManaSota-88 did not attend the public hearing. Its chairman, Glenn Compton, expressed that organization's objections in a letter to the commission.

The new process is based on a state law that legislators from Manatee got passed.

In 2013, State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, successfully sponsored the Manufacturing Competitiveness Act. The legislation is intended to get Florida out of being among the bottom five states in terms of its percentage of gross state product being from manufacturing. …

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