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PORT CHARLOTTE — Environmental regulators won't say if its a good idea to spend $3-7 million to dredge a new canal from the man-made Manchester Waterway to Florida's open waters.At least they haven't said yet.But a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission was willing to share some facts about the abundance of wildlife next to Charlotte County's 1970s-era waterfront community, compared to the open waters.One fact is that wildlife is abundant in the outer bay called Tippecanoe, said FWC's Corey Anderson. Tippecanoe Bay opens up into the Myakka River as it joins Charlotte Harbor. Next stop, the Gulf of Mexico."It's a very good fishing location," Anderson told The Daily Sun.Snook will come into the bay and spend the winter in the deep areas. Red fish babies live in the shallow. Manatees like the sea grass in Muddy Bay — a part of Tippecanoe, he said.The area is considered a critical habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish, which live in the mangrove shallows until they reach 7 feet.In contrast, there is not much wildlife living in the Manchester Waterway, Anderson said, because fish, plants and manatees don't like sea walls or dredged waterways with no sea grass."We don't see a lot of wildlife in the Manchester. It's nowhere near as abundant (as Tippecanoe)," he said. "There really just isn't a lot of stuff for them to eat in there."But state regulators will not be ruling on whether it's a good idea to connect the high quality Tippecanoe to the lower quality Manchester waterway, until they get an actual proposal, Anderson said."I have not formed an opinion. That would become official when they submit an application for a permit," he said.Such a project would have to show environmental benefit, however, county staff have advised commissioners in March.Anderson had been invited to speak at the county's Beaches and Shores Citizen Advisory Committee April 1, but Manchester Waterway residents — some of whom are on the advisory committee — objected to his being asked to present.Many members of the waterway community are actively campaigning for the dredging of the shortcut to the open waters, which they say will reduce boating travel from an average of 5 miles to 2 miles. It is also expected to encourage the development of a remaining 700 empty lots in the area.The committee's former chairman, William "Coty" Keller, had invited Anderson to speak. Keller, who lives near the waterway, has been ambivalent about the project, but had agreed several years ago to recommend it under certain restrictions.But as the project began to become reality, Keller decided to introduce old studies from the 1990s. Those studies implied the Manchester was deliberately plugged up after General Development Corp., to keep it from polluting the open waters.At least one fellow board member plus Manchester residents objected to the last-minute presentation that would presumably case a negative light on the project. They pushed Anderson's presentation off a month.A few days later, Keller was removed from the board for repeated violations of the state's open meeting laws. He was contacting his fellow committee members on official matters outside of the official meeting time.So when Anderson's presentation showed up on the agenda for May 4, he had not been invited back. There was no presentation.The Daily Sun contacted Anderson and asked what he was going to present and he shared the information that state researchers have collected over the years about Tippecanoe Bay, the waterway, and also, Alligator Bay on the other side of the waterway.Alligator Bay receives direct hits of storm water runoff from other 1970s waterfront developments next to the Manchester. As a consequence, Alligator Bay waters also are low in wildlife, Anderson said. It opens up into Charlotte Harbor, like the Myakka River."They just don't get the same number or sizes of sport fish, probably due to stormwater runoff," he said.The Manchester Waterway Civic Association and its members have asserted that dredging the new canal will be an environmental improvement by allowing the confined waterway water to flush out into open waters. Also, boats will not use as much gasoline. The civic association has not addressed the potential for more boats if new lots are developed.Two endangered animals live in Tippecanoe: the smalltooth sawfish, which grows to great lengths, and the manatee. One of the primary causes of manatee deaths is injury due to being hit by motor boats. Neither animals are seen much in the Manchester Waterway presently, Anderson said.The waterway association has also said that 1970s and 1990s rulings by state environmental regulators keeping the Manchester blocked off, are outdated in terms of environmental science.The Daily Sun left a message with a number the civic association listed on its webpage, but did not hear back.County commissioners have expressed interest in carrying the project proposal to state regulators. Citizens have asked them to do this, as only a governmental body can move forward at this point. Some commissioners said they worried about spending a lot of money only to find out that regulators will not allow the plan.
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