County now fining homeowner over mangrove removal

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MANASOTA KEY, Fla. -- After cutting down dozens of mangrove trees illegally and trying to fill in a mangrove swamp earlier this year, a Manasota Key property owner is facing some hefty fines.

County officials hope the penalty motivates the owner to get the work done fast. Something they say hasn't happened yet.

Friday morning a special magistrate decided that a fine of $250 a day will go against the property until the corrective actions are made. Paul Maurer cut the protected trees down quickly one Saturday morning in February while trying to fill in a mangrove swamp habitat. After the county saw and stopped the work, he has been slow to make amends.

"There are consequences to actions. Today was one of those." Sarasota County manager of environmental permitting Howard Berna says they've been waiting. It happened back in February. "Removal of the fill from the waterway, getting a permit for the fill on site, and restoring the mangrove planting."

Now they’re hoping the fines do some motivating. "We take it seriously. There is no question this is an issue of some seriousness that needs to be addressed."

The Maurer Family has now hired local attorney Morgan Bentley, who says some site work has been done and they're working on the rest. "We've had the folks on site. We've already prepared a plan. We've already done the mapping. Hopefully in the next two weeks will meet with county staff on site to go over where the physical plants are going to go on the property.”

Bentley says there has been some disagreement with how much planting needs to be done. "Mangroves were not removed from the site. I think that is one thing people have lost sight of. The mangroves have been re-growing ever since this started."

The trees cut were more than 25-feet tall. Berna says some seedlings of the trees, which act as breeding grounds for species and erosion control, just won’t cut it. "We need a diversity of plants and plant sizes. It will step it forward rather than just letting it grow back naturally."

Bentley says they'll do the work and then could appeal the fines. Saying the whole ordeal could cost his client up to $80,000 before all is said and done.

It should also be noted that the company which helped remove some of these trees was also given a one-time fine of $1,000.