Manatee County boaters concerned over access to waterways may soon see new boat ramps along the Bradenton Riverwalk and in Ellenton to meet growing demand.
Residents have been outspoken about the limited availability of boat ramp parking in recent months, primarily due to an effort by Palmetto to sell land that has been used as makeshift parking for the city’s Riverside Boat Ramp.
Manatee County commissioners last week directed county staff to secure the necessary permits and interlocal agreements with Bradenton to build a boat launch on the Manatee River.
If seen to fruition, the effort could become the largest boat ramp available to residents of northern Manatee County, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said.
The effort comes after commissioners directed Van Ostenbridge to spearhead the county’s effort to boost boat ramp access in response to a potential land sale by Palmetto.
Palmetto’s Riverside ramp is the closest launch point for residents who live north of the Manatee River. Local boaters also would lose about 150 makeshift parking spots that have been available since 2012, leaving just the 18 official spots at the ramp.
“We’ve got over 21,000 registered boaters in the county,” Palmetto Point resident Elaine Johnson said.
Earlier this year, Johnson learned about the Palmetto land sale and started a Facebook group to organize residents who oppose the effort.
“Boating is a way of life here,” she said. “That is what they do. They want to get out on the water. That’s why we live here. People are very passionate. They are very upset about it.”
The county’s effort to partner with Bradenton to build a boat ramp on the newest section of the Riverwalk,which is currently under construction, would address many of the ongoing concerns.
“How could you be against it?” County Chair Vanessa Baugh said.
Many local residents support the effort. But there are some who are concerned about the potential environmental impact of building a boat ramp on the Manatee River.
The local environmental group ManaSota-88 issued a statement opposing the project, saying that efforts should instead be made to restore the Manatee River in ways that improve water quality and marine life.
Environmentalists fear boat-related contaminants will add noxious amounts of undissolved oils and greases to the river.
“Statewide, there has been an increase in manatees killed by boats,” the organization stated. “ManaSota-88 strongly supports a moratorium on permitting new or expanded watercraft access facilities until manatees are adequately protected. Limiting the construction of boat ramps will help accomplish an acceptable level of manatee protection.”
Van Ostenbridge said fill from local dredging projects could be used to build the ramp and potentially create a living shoreline.
“The river bottom there is deemed to be a dead bottom, so there is no seagrass there whatsoever,” Van Ostenbridge said. “The concept would be to bring in fill, then create land there that would be used for public access … This would create a marine environment where one currently does not exist.”
More access in Ellenton and Fort Hamer
In addition to the Manatee River boat ramp, Van Ostenbridge updated commissioners last week on a handful of other efforts to increase boat ramp access countywide.
Commissioners have previously discussed options to build a boat ramp under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
County staff also is working to reinforce the road that goes underneath the Fort Hamer Bridge, and Van Ostenbridge said the project could incorporate an additional 20 to 30 parking spaces at the Fort Hamer boat ramp, which currently offers 18 spaces.
Progress is being made to build another 88 parking spots within the Peninsula Bay development near the Village of Cortez, he said.
The Florida Department of Transportation also is studying whether it’s possible to incorporate a small boat ramp with about 20 parking spaces at a new interchange planned for U.S. 301 and Interstate-75 in Ellenton, underneath elevated on-ramps along the thoroughfare.
As for Johnson, she holds out hope that the commissioners put shovels to the ground and finally deliver on more boat ramp parking.
“Over 30 years of promises have not come to fruition,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to have any merit until you see the plans on the table and the groundbreaking starting.”
Read More:Manatee County eyes new boat ramp for Bradenton Riverwalk