Debate over replacing or repairing Cortez bridge

Posted at 4:47 AM, Aug 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-28 18:45:56-04
Replace or repair - it's the debate folks in Manatee County are having over a popular bridge that has met its life span. Florida Department of Transportation says it needs to go and has proposed some options for replacement, but some local residents say they want it repaired instead of replaced.
Linda Molto loves the Cortez bridge just the way it is.
"Commercial fishing is what made Cortez and it still does," she said, adding it's how many of the locals make their livelihood, "people fish off here, if you get a high bridge you can't fish off there."
Ursula Stemm say the grassy sea beds underneath are the spawning ground for baby fish.
"The eggs are laid there and then they grow up and become big fish which is later caught by our Cortez fishermen," said Stemm.
The Florida Department of Transportation says the bridge was built in the 1950's and is deteriorating. It can be repaired, extending it's life by just 10 years. 
"Then we ask for another repair for it, that will last another 15 years. Sounds fine to me," said Molto.
FDOT says a majority want it replaced - the two options officials are proposing, a 65 ft. fixed bridge that would cost more than $70 million. Or a 35 ft. drawbridge that may be smaller, but would cost more than $100M to build and operate. Neither of these options are concrete. 
FDOT says a larger bridge would open up the area underneath the mouth of the current bridge, creating a space for kids to play or even a park, but Molto believes it would still block out local businesses near the base of the bridge.
Stemm is worried about the environmental impact - FDOT says these two options would have zero impact on mangroves but would on .01 acres of sea grass, which they'd mitigate but Stemm doesn't think that's possible.
"Mitigation never works no matter what people say, they tried it, it always fails," she said. "We need to preserve what we have before we lose it."
FDOT is holding a public hearing August 31st to discuss ideas.
FDOT says although some people believe they no longer build draw bridges, several of them have been built in our area. In Manatee county - there have been 5 in 13 years and in Hillsborough and Pinellas county, another 5 draw bridges since 1999.