BRADENTON – Six Australian pines will be removed from the Coquina Beach parking lot for now and a comprehensive project report will be presented to Manatee County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 18.
County Administrator Cheri Coryea provided this update at the beginning of the commission’s Thursday, June 6, land use meeting. Her update pertained to the 102 Australian pines recently slated for removal as part of the county’s two-phase Coquina Beach parking and stormwater drainage project.
“We have an urgent matter we need to address. As you know, we’re reviewing the project of the Coquina drainage. We have received a recent update on some additional trees we may need to remove, but we don’t have all of those details. I’m here this morning to ask the board if we can move forward with removing six trees,” Coryea said.
“In the original plan, there were 30 trees in that area to be removed. We’re just asking for six at this moment. The six trees in question are in the path of the next area of the stormwater drainage that must be put in,” Coryea said.
Five of the six pines being removed are located near the open space and playground at the south end of the beach park. The sixth tree is located further to the north.
Coryea said the Woodruff & Sons construction company is now mobilized and working, and the construction materials are also on-site.
“By doing this, we won’t have to demobilize or move materials. That would cost us a great deal and require us to move some things out in lieu of the June 18 meeting,” Coryea said.
Commissioner Priscilla Trace made the motion to authorize the removal of six trees.
Commissioner Misty Servia asked if those trees were all located in the parking area.
“Yes, and I did confirm they are six Australian pines,” Coryea said. “We’ve made a count, there are 991 Australian pines out at that location – a total of over 1,500 trees that we’ve mapped.”
Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked how much additional delays would cost the county and how it might impact sea turtle nesting season.
“That’s going to be part of your report. If we can allow them to proceed with just those six, we’ll be able to finish that small portion and it will not create a delay until after your June 18th meeting,” Coryea said.
Whitmore also mentioned an email Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie sent Coryea and the commissioners requesting the project be redesigned.
Coryea said a complete redesign is “highly unlikely.”
Commissioner Betsy Benac said she would support Trace’s motion but noted the commission needs a full picture of what’s proposed for the entire project.
“A lot of people are very concerned. People love that beach. The six trees is okay, but I’m not committing at all to what will happen. It needs a lot more input,” Benac said.
She also said she asked County Attorney Mickey Palmer to review the Woodruff & Sons contract.
Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said he talked to local businessman Ed Chiles about potential recycling opportunities and he asked if the county plans to reuse the wood from the removed trees.
“It may be an opportunity to take lemons and make lemonade,” Bellamy said.
“That’s a good idea,” Commission Chair Steve Jonsson said.
Jonsson opened the discussion to public comment but there was none – the impromptu tree discussion was not noticed in advance.
The commission voted 7-0 in support of removing the six trees.
Coryea said the June 18 report will include maps that detail the locations of trees to potentially be removed and the costs and impacts of incurring any additional delays. She said the project engineers will be on-hand for the meeting that will also provide citizens the opportunity to express their views.
County commission meetings start at 9 a.m. It is not yet known what time the tree removal discussion will occur. Meeting agendas are posted at the county website.
When contacted on Thursday, Chappie said, “Before the meeting on the 18th, Cheri will be meeting with me to go over what the report says.”
He also said, “I just got off the phone with Mike Norman and he’ll have 1,000 petition signatures that he’s getting to me.”
The petition signatures represent the public opposition to the tree removals. That opposition swelled after the city resident and owner of Mike Norman Realty complained to Chappie and Vice Mayor Jake Spooner after seeing Cindy Lane’s photograph and cutline in the May 22 issue of The Sun.
The concerns expressed by Norman and others prompted an emergency city commission meeting on May 24. Chappie then conveyed his commission’s concerns to county commissioners on May 28.
On Friday, Chappie hand-delivered 1010 petition signatures to Coryea and/or Jonsson.
“We the undersigned, love the Australian pines at Coquina Beach. We beseech you to come up with an alternate plan for the Coquina drainage project that does not include cutting down these majestic trees,” the petition language says.
During the week, Chappie and Jonsson exchanged several emails regarding the Coquina Beach project.
On Monday, June 3, Jonsson sent Chappie an email that said, “Do you think Bradenton Beach, perhaps the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency), would be interested in putting some money towards any redesign work if we go that way?”
After discussing that possibility with the CRA on June 5 and the City Commission on June 6, Chappie is authorized to pursue that possibility if it’s given county consideration.