State environmental staff calls for detailed seagrass mitigation plan and more specific data on water quality control for the Big Pass dredging project

A second request for information was issued this week to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relative to their plans to renourish Lido Key Beach

A map shows the project area. Image courtesy FDEP
A map shows the project area. Image courtesy FDEP

In its second request for information regarding the City of Sarasota and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit application to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) this week called for a seagrass mitigation plan and said the applicants thus far have not provided the necessary data for their water quality control plans as specified by state rules.

Instead of providing the requested seagrass mitigation plan, the RAI2 notes, the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) proposed a 100-foot buffer around seagrasses located within the sand borrow areas and said it would “exclude seagrass from the mixing zone.” RAI2 adds, “After careful consideration, the Department has determined that these measures will not be sufficient to protect seagrass resources within the project area.”

FDEP staff continued, “Seagrass surveys conducted in 2014 by [the Army COE’s consultant, CB&I, in Boca Raton] documented at least 1.7 acres of seagrass habitat within the proposed borrow areas.” While most of those resources are in Borrow Area D, the RAI2 says, some also are in Borrow Areas B and C. “All resources located within borrow areas are expected to be lost (directly impacted) due to dredging activities,” the RAI adds. “Because the distribution of seagrasses is not static,” the document says, the establishment of 100-foot buffers based on the 2014 data “does not provide reasonable assurance that impacts to seagrasses will be avoided.”

Therefore, the RAI2 continues, the FDEP requests a detailed description of all seagrass mitigation activities, including a timeline for the work. It notes, “Department staff in the Beaches, Inlets and Ports (BIP) program welcome discussion regarding potential mitigation activities. Your application will remain incomplete pending the receipt of this information.”

The Army Corps of Engineers earlier submitted to FDEP this photo, among many, showing seagrass in the Big Pass borrow area. Image courtesy FDEP

According to the standard timeline for the state environmental permit application process, the FDEP was expected to take its next action on the Big Pass project on Oct. 2, because CB&I responded to the department’s first RAI on Sept. 4. However, FDEP staff sought an extension to complete its new set of questions, Dee Ann Miller in the FDEP press office notified The Sarasota News Leader earlier this week.

Further details sought

RAI2 also points out that in the Army COE response to RAI1, which FDEP issued on April 15 of this year, the applicants sought permission to use a variability factor authorized for a past renourishment project involving Longboat Key and Lido Key Beach in describing the location and details of the measures that would be implemented to control erosion, sediment and turbidity during each phase of the renourishment project, along with “all other measures used to minimize adverse effects to water quality.”

RAI2 explains that, according to the Florida Administrative Code, “the natural background turbidity levels need to be measured throughout a normal tidal cycle for the specific sand dredging site. [The emphasis is in the document.] The information the applicants submitted in their response to RAI1 was based on samples collected at New Pass, RAI2 notes, “and the data is not applicable for Big Sarasota Pass by Rule.”

This graphic shows the borrow areas. Image courtesy FDEP
This graphic shows the borrow areas. Image courtesy FDEP

RAI2 then provides detailed information about determining the variability factor, including the directive to “Sample as frequently as possible for the best representation of natural conditions and note the time of day for each sample.” It says “averaging or pooling data from different locations/tidal cycles to obtain the ‘optimal’ variation’ is not allowed.”

Further, FDEP requests an aerial image of the location(s) where the sampling occurs.

Among other facets of RAI2, the department seeks figures showing the volume of material that will be removed from each borrow area during the first dredging and subsequent events.

The Army COE has proposed to alternate dredging of Big Pass with removal of sand from New Pass during the 50-year life of the approximately $19 million undertaking to maintain a stable beach on Lido Key. As explained by Milan A. Mora, the Army COE project manager, renourishment of Lido would occur every five years. The federal agency also proposes to build two groins on Lido Key to help hold the sand in place.

On another point, FDEP seeks clarification regarding the fact that the applicants have identified only one construction access and staging for the renourishment of the full 1.6-mile length of the project on Lido Beach. RAI2 notes, “If additional access points are desired or necessary, that information needs to be provided to the [FDEP] for review prior to the completeness of the application.”

Additionally, the RAI2 says that while the applicants identified most of the historical anomalies near or within the borrow areas, two of those anomalies were excluded from the permit drawings. Not only should they be included, RAI2 says, but the applicants also should indicate why they were excluded.

RAI2 does acknowledge “that an investigation is underway to further evaluate the anomalies and [the department] will review the information once it has been submitted.”

Further, RAI2 points out that it appears some of the riparian property owners within a 500-foot radius of the proposed sovereign submerged lands easement the applicants are seeking for the dredging of Big Pass did not receive notice regarding the easement. (Sovereign submerged lands are publicly owned property below the mean high water line of salt waters, extending seaward to the outer jurisdiction of the state, according to a legal definition provided by the University of Florida in FDEP materials.)

It also was brought to the attention of FDEP staff that a website link on the original notice of easement form was not working, RAI2 says. Therefore, department staff asks the applicants to “Please re-send the revised notice [which it attached to RAI2] to all property owners within 500 feet of the easements.”

RAI2 further notes that the legal description of the northernmost groin was not provided in the response to the first request for information. “Please submit an electronic version of the legal description and two (2) hardcopies for the northern groin that [are] signed, sealed and dated by a surveyor,” it adds.


Milan Mora is the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. File photo
Milan Mora is the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. File photo

The letter encompassing RAI2 went to Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw and Eric Summa, chief of the Environmental Branch of the Army COE in Jacksonville. It notes that the requested information should be submitted within 30 days of the Oct. 7 date of the letter. If the FDEP does not have a response within that time frame, the permit manager will contact DavisShaw and Summa, the letter adds.

The application will be denied without prejudice, the letter continues, if all of the information sought is not received within six months. In that case, a new application would be required. However, the letter says, if the applicants can demonstrate they “have been actively working on collecting or developing the requested information,” and they need more time, they may request up to six additional months to submit their responses.

Both DavisShaw and Laird Wreford, Sarasota County’s coastal resources manager, told the News Leader in early September that it is not uncommon for FDEP to issue multiple requests for information in a project of this size.


The dredging proposal has been the focus of Siesta Key organizations for more than two years, especially, since Army COE project manager Mora first presented the plans to members of the county’s Coastal Advisory Committee in September 2013.

In response to RAI2, Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), told the News Leader this week that it is imperative for county representatives to challenge the project. A draft peer review of the Army COE proposal, prepared at the request of the County Commission in August 2014, questions the plan for dredging sand from a borrow area downdrift of the beach where the material will be placed for renourishment, she pointed out, with the draft calling that plan contrary to scientific data showing how sediment naturally flows.

Longtime Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson of Siesta Key, who stepped down from the board last year, often explained to her constituents that sand on the Florida west coast flows from north to south.

Luckner also noted that RAI2 made no mention of a point the SKA made in public comments to FDEP: The Army COE apparently did not consider building permeable adjustable groins on Lido Key. One potential legal challenge, she added, is the “arbitrary elimination of alternatives which may have less impact on environmental aspects of the project.”

Maria Lane sits at the organ on the shoal as Rich Schineller, John Lichtenstein and Jimmy Scott work on a video calling for the preservation of Big Pass. File photo
Maria Lane Sulimirski of New York sits at an organ on the Big Pass shoal as Rich Schineller, John Lichtenstein and Jimmy Scott work on a March 2014 video calling for the preservation of Big Pass. File photo