Thursday, January 23, 2020

Are you a registered Voter in Sarasota for 2020?

Getting ready to Vote in 2020

Sarasota County Elections Chief reminds everyone to check their voter status now or get registered to VOTE BY FEBRUARY 18 for the upcoming March 17 Florida Presidential Preference Primary vote.

The details:

Voter Registration Deadline Nearing for March 17 Presidential Primary

The last day for a person to register or to update his/her party affiliation to be eligible to vote in the March 17, 2020, presidential preference primary is Tuesday, February 18, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner has announced.

Turner recommends that voters confirm before the February 18 deadline that they are registered to vote and that their voter registration information is current. A voter may check his or her voter eligibility at Just click on “Voter Information” in the main menu and then on “Voter Lookup” and follow the easy instructions. New paper voter registration applications and party changes must be completed, signed and returned in person to an elections office or postmarked by the February 18 deadline. Applications submitted electronically before midnight on February 18 through RegistertoVoteFl will also be accepted.

Applications are available at all three elections offices in Sarasota, Venice and North Port; at public libraries, military recruitment offices, and public assistance offices, and may be downloaded at Voter registration applications may also be submitted through any driver's license or tax collector’s office that issues Florida driver licenses or Florida ID cards.

For more, see this Sarasota News Leader update.

- Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day -
IMPORTANT: You must vote in your precinct on election day.

Call or visit us at any of the three elections offices listed here:
(open 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily Monday-Friday)

Terrace Building
101 South Washington Blvd
Sarasota 34236
Tel: 941.861.8600

R.L. Anderson Administration Building
4000 Tamiami Trail South
Venice 34293
Tel: 941.861.3760

Biscayne Plaza
13640 Tamiami Trail
North Port 34287
Tel: 941.423.9540

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rally: Oppose the Fish Farm Tuesday at Mote

What: Community demonstration in opposition to Kampachi Fish Farms, LLC’s request to construct a fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico.

WhenTuesday, January. 28, 2020

Community demonstration:  4:30 p.m-5:30 pm.  
Park in Mote lot and walk to corner of Ken Thompson and John Ringling Pkwys or stay along sidewalk between the two.  
We will have signs but you can bring your own. Wear blue if you can.

Public hearing:  5:30-9:30 p.m.
We will have small signs for people to hold up during the hearing (so you don't have to make public comment to be "heard."

WhereWave Center at Mote Marine Laboratory
 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, Fla. 34236

Demonstration organizers include the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Healthy Gulf, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, Sierra Club, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Hands Along The Water and others.

NPR background piece about Fish Farming in the open ocean

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Becky Ayech: Citizen's Comp Plan Amendment Workshop Jan. 27

Area of East Sarasota where citizen amendment would reduce density

Rural heritage advocate Becky Ayech has launched a citizen's Comp Plan Amendment - the first such amendment to our basic planning policy to be advanced by citizens. Developers often seek amendments to increase density. This plan is unusual in that it aims to reduce density for an area in East County.  The website is

Here's an update from Ayech about the important public workshop coming on Jan. 27:
Becky Ayech
Many of you received the postcard Notice from Sarasota County for the meeting about CPA2019-C. This was the Amendment filed by the Miakka Community Club to have the 6,000 acres north of Fruitville Road and west of Verna Road to be changed to Rural Heritage/Estate allowing a maximum of 1 home per 5 acres instead of the Village/Open Space designation which would allow hamlets with 1 house per 1 acre. 
This meeting is a public workshop being held to discuss the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment. Staff is presenting the content of the proposed amendment and to seek comments and suggestions regarding the amendment.

Signs, postcards to the Board of County Commissioners, petitions for the Planning Commission and the info "baby" postcards are available. 
This is the first of a series of meetings. Next is the Planning Commission, the the board of County Commissioners. After they ADOPT the proposed amendment it will then be transmitted to Tallahassee for review and then come back for two additional Board of County Commission meetings. 
We won't have the Staff's review until about two weeks before it goes to the Planning Commission. Date yet to be determined. 
See you on Jan. 27th at 7pm at the Old Miakka Methodist Church, 1620 Myakka Rd, Sarasota, FL 34240.

How the developer-loving Planning Commission arrogantly recommended denial of Ayech's petition (Sarasota News Leader)

Images courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

Friday, January 17, 2020

Spare some time?

While Florida builds new highways, and Pat Neal, Hi Hat Ranch and Skye Ranch demand that we pay for new roads, and our Board blesses more pavement, more housing, more cars every chance it gets, a few birds might be threatened in Sarasota. 

With climate change, we're all in the mineshaft, and every bird is a canary.

Sarasota County has a number of advisory boards and councils

At the moment, 16 boards have 33 openings. Got some free time? Find one that suits your disposition, and try to help our elected officials see the light. 

Board of Zoning Appeals

Monday, January 13, 2020

Does Sarasota County need lobbyists on panels that adjudicate zoning appeals?

Below is a Jan. 13, 2020 citizen's letter sent to Sarasota County Commissioners in advance of Board reappointing a powerful building industry lobbyist to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Letter below sent 12:30 pm, Jan. 13.  An HT story "Construction advocate on Sarasota County regulatory board is criticized" ran Jan. 13 evening.


To: The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners
RE: Reappointment of Jon Mast to the BZA scheduled for Jan. 14, 2020.


Your agenda for Tuesday, January 14, 2020 calls for you to consider the reappointment of Jon Mast to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Mr. Mast nominated himself July 11, 2017, and was appointed by the Board without Commissioner input. This letter asks that you consider the potential appearance of conflict of interest presented by this BZA member.

Sarasota County Board of Zoning Appeals 11.18.19
The Board of Zoning Appeals is not a mere advisory board. It exercises quasi-judicial authority with power to approve, amend, or deny modifications to approved binding site plans. 

Because of this power to rule on the legitimacy of land uses, this Board’s appointments warrant an extra level of conscientious oversight. The appearance of conflict of interest could jeopardize credibility for a judicial Board. In a document entitled BZASection 23, the County states: 

no person shall be appointed with private or personal interests likely to conflict with the general public interest.” (2.3.2)

Another document entitled Board of Zoning Appeals Short Course for Board Members states that the Board of Zoning Appeals has “Three Legal Requirements in Exercising Powers”:

Most decisions of the Board of Zoning Appeals are regarded as quasi-judicial decisions.  When they are reviewed by a court, they will be assessed for three criteria (1) whether procedural due process was accorded, (2) whether the essential requirements of law were observed, and (3) whether the findings and decision are supported by competent substantial evidence.  Education Development Center, Inc. v. City of West Palm Beach Board of Zoning Appeals, 541 So. 2d 106 (Fla. 1989). 

On Nov. 18, 2019, I attended a BZA hearing at which a Board Member argued insistently to overturn a decision of Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. That BZA member is Jon Mast, CEO at the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, a powerful construction industry lobbying entity.

At the aforementioned hearing, Mr. Mast played a key role in the Board’s decision on the Appeal identified as 19-155651 ZZ. Before he spoke, the board was polled: four members appeared to support Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson’s decision. After Mr. Mast spoke at some length, the vote was called: The Board voted 4-3 to overturn the Zoning Administrator’s decision.

In his discussion, Mr. Mast appealed for interpretive judgment on technical and evaluative matters to a person in the audience. The person whose opinion he sought was neither an independent stormwater expert nor county Staff with the credentials to render an informed evaluation. Rather, Mr. Mast appealed to the appellant Gabbert’s own attorney, William W. Merrill III, asking him whether Mr. Gabbert’s new plan was better than his former plan. I refer you to the hearing video:

At the 1 hour 11-minute mark, Mr. Mast asks Mr. Merrill to interpret the relation of zoning rules to the proposed modification at issue:  (1:11 ff)

At 1:13:40, Mr. Mast asks for Mr. Merrill’s summary qualitative judgment on the matter: 
Mast: “All you want to do is make it better.”
Merrill: “Yes.”

Mr. Mast then personally attested that “over and over and over and over and over” similar stormwater changes have arisen, and that it is normal for them to be ruled as minor changes. He did not point to specific precedents or to staff research on the matter. He simply asserted that similar cases to Mr. Gabbert’s came up “over and over and over and over and over.”

Mr. Mast’s skilled solicitation of an evaluative judgment from Mr. Merrill as to the relative merit of Mr. Gabbert’s new stormwater plan seems to have influenced the final vote. But can Mr. Merrill, the attorney for appellant Gabbert, be considered either an expert on stormwater, or a disinterested observer in this matter? It is open to serious question whether “competent, substantial evidence” was the deciding factor in this instance.

An established protocol should be followed which doesn’t put thumbs on the scale for anyone. We have one: “no person shall be appointed with private or personal interests likely to conflict with the general public interest.” 


Tom Matrullo

For more on the BZA and this specific hearing, see The Sarasota News Leader, the Herald Tribune (Seidman editorial), and here and here.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Environment and Energy: Bloom, Sellers at CONA 1.10.20

Justin Bloom of Suncoast Waterkeeper spoke about the fish farming operation proposed for offshore of Sarasota - an EPA hearing is set for Jan. 28th at the Mote Wave Center, 5:30 pm. More on this here.

And Sean Sellers of the Suncoast Climate Justice Coalition spoke about what can be done to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030, and who is getting behind this effort. Sarasota is one of 10 cities in Florida to have committed to government 100% renewable by 2030.

Click here or on the video below for the entire meeting:

This link will take you to Sean Sellers' full power point presentation on the perils facing a world that isn't quick enough on the uptake for renewable energy.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Magic and Mystery, Fishy Farms and thinking about the Quads

Magic, Mystery, Vitality, Complexity . . . These adjectives describe the idiosyncratic heritage of Sarasota, where wealth, intellect, and love of the arts and science went hand in hand with circus flair and echoes of the Italian Riviera, and they're found in the Jan. 2, 2020 New York Times story about the brand new Sarasota Art Museum. Michael Adno reminds us that there's more to Sarasota's storied past than just gated communities, golf, and beer on the beach. We also have seen a stark absence of long range vision from our current Board. How will the massive developments shaping our future alter the lively creative traditions of our past? 

Friday Jan. 10th at CONA: We'll hear updates about the controversial Fish Farming operation seeking a permit off of Sarasota, and on the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast's ideas for the Quad parcels - public lands adjacent to the Celery Fields. Sean Sellers of the Suncoast Climate Justice Coalition will also talk about Ready for 100% - the Sierra Club's move to catalyze our transition to renewable energy. Doors open at Waldemere at 6:30 pm.

Sarasota Audubon is in season high gear and their newsletter is rich with info and activities. As they are working on the Quad parcels with the Conservation Foundation, they offer their own update here.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Environmental Coalition issues joint comment on commercial fish operation proposed off of Sarasota

A company seeks to build and operate a fish farm in waters off of Sarasota County. A public hearing is set for Jan. 28 - more background here.

Below are excerpts from a Joint Comment issued by a coalition of environmental organizations to the EPA, expressing manifold concerns about the agency's assessment of a commercial fish farm seeking to operate off the coast of Sarasota County.


The permit would allow Kampachi Farms, LLC to operate the only industrial ocean fish farm in U.S. federal waters – in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 40 miles from the coast of Sarasota, FL – and discharge untreated, industrial wastewater from the facility directly into the surrounding ocean.  
Industrial ocean fish farming – also known as offshore or marine finfish aquaculture – is the mass cultivation of finned fish in the ocean, in net pens, pods, and cages.  
These are essentially floating feedlots in open water, which can have devastating environmental and socio-economic impacts. 

Kampachi Fish Pod
  • . . . escaped farmed fish will likely spread a multitude of parasites and diseases to wild stocks, which could prove fatal when transmitted.
  • It is no secret that confining large populations of animals will breed pests and disease. In response, the agriculture and aquaculture sectors administer a pharmacopeia of chemicals – and in the open ocean, residues of these drugs are discharged and absorbed into the marine ecosystem. 
  • the use of antibiotics in marine finfish aquaculture facilities is contributing to the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. For farmed fish, antibiotics not only leave residues in your seafood, but they also leach into the ocean, contaminating nearby water and marine life. 
  • Another vital concern is the direct discharge of untreated toxins, including excess food, feces, antibiotics, and antifoulants associated with industrial ocean fish farms. 
  • These underwater factory farms can also physically impact the seafloor by creating dead zones
  • EPA . . . must assess the myriad environmental, socioeconomic, and human health impacts from the full scope of the intended operations 
  • We also urge EPA to fully consider the range of available alternatives that can increase domestic seafood production while avoiding and/or reducing environmental, public health, and socio- economic impacts. 
  • In this instance, EPA has unlawfully failed to meet its ESA [Endangered Species Act] mandate.. . . EPA has not provided sufficient data to support its conclusions, and made no attempt to quantify or analyze the potential harm from several significant impacts to the Listed Species.
  • In conclusion, EPA must remedy the above violations of law prior to reaching a decision on the permit. We strongly oppose issuance of the permit for industrial wastewater discharge from a marine finfish aquaculture facility in the Gulf of Mexico, and we request that EPA hold a public hearing, with the opportunity for live public testimony, prior to reaching a decision on the permit.
For the foregoing reasons, the undersigned organizations strongly oppose EPA’s issuance of the permit.

Friends of the Earth, 
Center for Food Safety, 
Center for Biological Diversity, 
Food & Water Watch, 
Healthy Gulf, 
Institute for Fisheries Resources, 
National Family Farm Coalition, 
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, 
Ocean Conservation Research, 
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, 
Sanctuary Education Advisory Specialists LLC, 
Sierra Club Grassroots Network 

Joint Comment in full


 EPA public hearing details:
  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Time: 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM
  • Location: Wave Center
  • Mote Marine Laboratory
  • 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236

Justin Bloom from Suncoast Waterkeeper will offer an update on this issue at CONA Sarasota Jan. 10. Details here.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Time to take a new look at dredging, maintenance and water policies?

From ManaSota-88, Inc.  a 501.c3 Public Health and Environmental Organization:


The majority of waterways originally dredged in the Sarasota & Manatee were dredged before permitting was required.  In most cases canals were dug as a source of fill for coastal wetlands to maximize the number of waterfront lots for the development. There was little or no thought given to the environmental consequences that occurred during the original dredging of these canals. As a result of inappropriate waterfront development, inadequate stormwater runoff control and habitat destruction, many of the original canals dredged have silted in and are restricting motorboat access for some waterfront property owners. 

Dredging at New Pass, Sarasota
Instead of wasting taxpayers money on environmentally damaging maintenance dredging projects, Sarasota & Manatee should instead embark on a program of habitat restoration, stormwater runoff control, and enforcement of existing best management practices to reduce the problems of erosion and siltation. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)  has adopted and frequently references a series of studies whose primary goal is to prioritize channel dredging based on the greatest need for increasing motorboat access to public waterways. This has had the effect of impairing and polluting the waters and natural resources of the State of Florida directly, secondarily, and cumulatively.

The adverse secondary impacts from boating activities (i.e. prop scars, hydrocarbon pollution, boat paints ect.), frequent maintenance dredging, and wildlife disturbance are having long-term water quality impacts.

Maintenance dredging can channelize flows and sediments can be resuspended more readily. Dredging can also destabilize adjacent areas which have developed over time through succession. Impacts to bottom sediments result in reducing the chances for successful seagrass colonization and growth within the footprint of the dredge and immediately adjacent to a new channel.

There is no reason to extend a historic dredging mistake. The need for maintenance dredging indicates that the original dredge was historically a bad idea.If siltation of the waterway is the problem, then there are soil conservation problems, inadequate stormwater runoff controls, improper agricultural practices, or inappropriate urban development within the basin. It would be better to spend money fixing the problem than temporarily trying to fix the ailment.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Update: Fish Farming company seeks permit to operate in Gulf off of Sarasota: Public Hearing Jan. 28, 2020

Update: Sign a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity opposing this effort to open our region to commercial fish farming. 


A company known as Kampachi Farms LLC is seeking to operate a commercial fish farm in federal waters approximately 40 miles off the coast of Sarasota County. An EPA public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2020 - details below.

Kampachi Farms Pod on surface

The EPA-Region 4 will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed issuance of an NPDES permit (FL0A00001) for the Kampachi Farms LLC-Velella Epsilon marine aquaculture facility. 

The draft NPDES permit authorizes the discharge of industrial wastewater from a marine net-pen aquaculture facility located in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico at approximately 45 miles southwest of Sarasota, Florida (near 27° 7’ 20.51”N, 83° 12’ 1.37”W).

The facility would include a supporting vessel and a single floating cage in a water depth of 130 feet. The project would begin culturing a single cohort of approximately 20,000 Almaco jack and produce a maximum harvest of 88,000 pounds. A video of Kampachi Farms Velella project can be seen here.

Mote Marine has been identified to be the monitor of the proposed site and will be raising the hatchlings. 

The Sarasota hearing details:
  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Time: 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM
  • Location: Wave Center
  • Mote Marine Laboratory
  • 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236
All persons interested in the draft NPDES permit are invited to attend the public hearing. If you are interested in attending the hearing, the EPA encourages you to pre-register at least 72 hours in advance. You may also register to speak when you arrive at the hearing.

At one time, fish farming was in operation in state waters off the coast of Washington state, but now has been banned there.

Norway has been besieged by problems threatening its salmon:
Against the Current states: "Fish farming in open net pens is considered the largest man-made threat to wild stocks."
The Independent reported in May, 2019: "Eight million salmon killed in a week by sudden surge of algae in Norway."
Norway has banned new fish farming licenses, but existing fish farms continue to operate there.

A variety of articles reported by US News & World Reports, including one by NPR, describe fish farming. The reported results do not bode well for our Florida coastline, including an increase in nitrogen levels in an area already afflicted with poor wastewater controls and red tide.

A guest column by Florida environmental attorney Marianne Cufone raising concerns about impacts of fish farming on red tide and more was published in the 11.29.19 Herald Tribune: Off Sarasota’s coast, a new industrial threat.

Sierra Club Florida News announcement of the public hearing.

Friends of the Earth has addressed the dangers of fish farming.

The draft NPDES permit, draft Environmental Assessment, and other supporting documents can be found here.

The public comment period will be open through February 4, 2020. Information on how to submit comments can be found at that same website.

Public comment from the Suncoast Waterkeeper to EPA Sept. 29, 2019.

Again, pre-register here.