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Judge rejects environmentalist complaints about Aqua by the Bay

MANATEE COUNTY — A state administrative law judge this week rejected environmentalists’ arguments that developers of the controversial Aqua by the Bay project on Sarasota Bay be denied a special wetlands permit.

The recommendation by Judge D. R. Alexander of the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings provides legal clearance for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to issue that permit, which the agency previously declared its intention to do.

Alexander determined that “the burden of ultimate persuasion” fell on several petitioners challenging the permit application to “prove their case ... by a preponderance of the competent and substantial evidence.”

After presiding over a December hearing in Sarasota in which several witnesses testified, and reviewing that transcript and other records, Alexander determined that the challengers failed to make their case.

The petitioners — Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and former Manatee County commissioner Joe McClash — can challenge Alexander’s decision in the state District Court of Appeal in either Lakeland or Tallahassee.