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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

Wetlands Decision Will Determine Our Future



My name is Brice Claypoole. I’m fifteen years old and run the advocacy group Kids for Clean Water. The group was founded in 2020 by me and six other local kids. Our first campaign was an effort to help pass the Manatee County Land Acquisition Referendum. We made videos and wrote letters to the editor, trying to reach Manatee County voters. It was an encouraging experience as the measure passed with more than 70% support from Manatee constituents.


However, another result of the 2020 election was less encouraging. With major financial support from the development industry, particularly developer and political powerbroker Carlos Beruff, multiple new commissioners won seats on the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). Under the direction of Carlos Beruff, the new board majority immediately fired our highly qualified county administrator and began the unprecedented move of completely reshaping the top levels of county government. It quickly became apparent that this BCC’s main goals were to approve more development and eliminate all barriers to further building. By September 2021, their attention had turned to the Land Referendum. Instead of implementing the will of the voters, they partially defunded the referendum. I was treated to a harsh lesson: the fight to protect our community is never over.


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I hoped that the new BCC’s failure to implement the will of the voters would wake people up to the corruption within Manatee County politics. Sadly, after multiple years, things have only gotten worse. Developers heaped money into the 2022 election, gaining themselves influence over a supermajority of the BCC. Since then, the practice of government officials serving the public has been completely forgotten. No sooner had the new commissioners been sworn into office than they began the process of gutting the county’s wetland protections.


Wetlands are essential to our way of life in Manatee County. They provide a vast amount of wildlife habitat, prevent flooding, reduce damage from hurricanes, and keep our water (including our drinking water) clean and healthy. Unfortunately, they are also an inconvenience for developers who want to pave over as much land as possible. This is what drove Carlos Beruff to sue the county—twice—over its wetland buffer requirements. The courts ruled in favor of the county—twice—allowing its wetland protections to remain in force.


Once developers had bought a six to one majority on the BCC, they were able to attack the regulation from the inside. In January of this year, the president of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association met with county officials and instructed them to make “changes” to the county’s land use regulations. Shortly after, the county proposed to delete the very wetland policy they had just finished defending in court.


The BCC voted on the changes August 17th, hearing five hours of testimony from scientists about the importance of wetland buffers as well as passionate pleas from citizens that the board maintain current buffer requirements. Their comments fell on deaf ears, however, as the commission approved the changes 6-1 after almost zero discussion. “What do you do when you can’t beat them in court?” Suncoast Waterkeeper’s Samantha Wassmer asked the BCC rhetorically. “You try buying their government.”


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I was unable to attend the hearing and found myself watching online. I noticed that not one kid was present. This decision will have a huge impact on the future of our community, so it struck me that the voices of youth weren’t included in this discussion.


I’ve watched dead sea horses wash up on our beaches and seen dead sea turtles floating in the waves. I’ve seen mats of Lyngbya algae strangle seagrass beds that just a few years ago were lush sanctuaries for bountiful aquatic life. I understand that everything I love about our community is at risk of being lost. I fear that I will never show my kids a seahorse or a lush seagrass bed.


I knew other kids must feel the same way and, as expected, found multiple kids who wanted to get involved with this issue. Together we formed Kids for Clean Water’s latest campaign, which I dubbed Kids for Our Wetlands. For the past month, we have been doing everything we can to raise awareness about this issue. We have written emails and comments, spoken with the press about our efforts, made videos detailing our concerns, and created a letter to commissioners that has garnered over 90 signatures from local youth.


I will be representing Kids for Clean Water when these changes come to a final vote on Thursday, October 5th. In the end, I don’t believe a group of concerned kids can convince this BCC to protect our future. However, there is an election coming up and a large body of constituents showing up to speak out against their plan to remove wetland protections might just be enough to change their minds. That’s why I’m asking you, on behalf of all the kids who will inherit Manatee County, to show up at the hearing on Thursday and tell the commissioners to preserve our environment for the future.

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1 comentário


mcournyn
05 de out. de 2023

I used to love visiting Florida. Short term thinking and greed has REALLY changed the place. You Kids are a true inspiration. I often apologize to my own kids (now 30 and 32 y/o) for how we adults that should know better are leaving future generations such a mess. Truly a Profits over People mentality by its leaders.

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