|By Sara Kennedy, The Bradenton Herald,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 19, 2012--TERRA CEIA -- Developers are discussing a 998.6-acre land swap with the state to build a resort hotel, commercial/office space and residential homes at the south end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, surrounded by the pristine Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve.
Under terms of the swap, which has not been approved by the state, developers want to donate environmentally-sensitive land they own; in exchange, they want 77 acres of state-owned property at the existing Skyway Bridge interchange, and rights to develop there, according to a document describing the project.
In the plan offered by Cayo Cascabel, LLC, and Slip Knott, LLC, Rattlesnake Key would be developed and operated as a marine wilderness park. A public/private mixed-use waterfront resort would go up nearby. They even suggest "Tahiti-style overwater bungalows" could be built on privately-owned submerged lands.
The park would be what the document described as "world-class," to be named the National Marine Mammal Life Center, along with what they say would be the world's first marine mammal teaching hospital.
The 663-acre Rattlesnake Key and submerged lands known as the Knott-Cowen Tract, along with other lands, would be donated to the state.
Rattlesnake Key would be developed and used as a state park, to be operated as an ecological and archeological preserve with wilderness-style camping, hiking, fishing/canoeing/kayaking and bird watching, said the 28-page document dated October 2011.
A local firm has been working on the venture. "A detailed proposal and budget to develop, operate and manage the park has been received from a local, Terra Ceia-based ecotourism venture," it said.
The $505,000 in federal grant monies earmarked for acquisition of Rattlesnake Key, which the state and county have hoped to purchase, would be used instead for development and operation of the park, it said.
The possibility of extensive construction in a place like Terra Ceia dismayed local environmental leaders.
"It just looks like a disaster in the making, from many perspectives," said Sandra Ripberger, conservation chair for the local arm of The Sierra Club, the nation's largest and oldest environmental organization.
"It looks like they will destroy numerous acres of seagrass," she added. "...It is inadvisable to put fill in that area; I question that they would be able to legally fill in the area where they do own the land. It just looks like it's going back to the 1960s, if that's allowed."
Ripberger also termed the idea of a marine mammal teaching hospital, "very dubious," and added, "I don't think there is a need for a marine mammal hospital -- Mote Marine (Laboratory) does such a good job."
Glenn Compton, director of the local environmental group ManaSota-88, said, "This is an extremely significant development, because it would set a precedent for how state lands could be traded off and managed in the future."
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