An increase in the amount of sand to be dredged from Big Pass for Lido Key renourishment cited in latest documents submitted to FDEP

Response to state’s last request for information also explains need to use part of Sperling Park for a staging area and provides details of seagrass mitigation plan in Manatee County

Big Pass is calm on an August morning. Rachel Hackney photo
Big Pass is calm on an August morning. Rachel Hackney photo

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has increased the amount of sand it and the City of Sarasota propose to dredge from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish south Lido Key, its consultant informed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) early this week.

After citing the figure of 775,000 cubic yards in its first response to FDEP’s Request for Additional Information (RAI) about the project — which FDEP issued in April 2015 — the USACE has resurrected the figure it originally used when it announced the project publicly in September 2013 — about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand.

In its permit application submitted to FDEP in March 2015, however, the project description called for about 950,000 cubic yards of sand.

The USACE further says that it may need to use the parking lot of Sarasota County’s Ted Sperling Park, on the southernmost part of Lido Key, as a staging area for the work on Lido because of the eroding shoreline in the approximately 1.6-mile stretch of the project.

City Manager Tom Barwin and city commissioners recently have discussed the fact that another 25 to 30 feet of the beach has been lost since Tropical Storm Colin swept by the area in early June.

Additionally, the federal agency has eliminated one of the sand borrow areas from its latest filing with FDEP, and it has confirmed plans to pursue seagrass mitigation by planting Halodule wrightii within Manatee County’s Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin. The latter decision was made after consultation with FDEP, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the USACE, according to the Aug. 1 response to FDEP from CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure of Boca Raton, a consulting firm working with the USACE.

A graphic shows the areas where seagrass is expected to suffer negative consequences as a result of the Lido project. Image courtesy FDEP
A graphic shows the areas where seagrass is expected to suffer negative consequences as a result of the Lido project. Image courtesy FDEP

The letter from CB&I went to Gregory W. Garis at FDEP, who is overseeing the application from the City of Sarasota and the USACE for a permit to undertake the $19-million renourishment of Lido Key Beach. The letter was sent in response to the FDEP’s second Request for Additional Information (RAI2) regarding the application. FDEP issued its RAI2 in October 2015.

Regarding the dredging: The RAI2 response from CB&I says, “The total estimated volume to be removed during the first event is 1,199,000 cubic yards (cy), with 900,000 cy from Borrow Area C and 299,000 cy from Borrow Area B.”

Borrow Area C is located “within the ephemeral channel of Big Sarasota Pass,” the Aug. 1 letter explains, while Borrow Area B “is a southern extension of the existing channel located offshore of Siesta Key.”

The letter excludes any mention of sand being removed from Borrow Area D, as earlier construction details showed. Borrow Area D is located to the north of C, according to previously submitted documents. “Borrow areas C and D intentionally overlap at the seaward end of … C,” the earlier project description notes. (See the related article in this issue.)

The letter points out that the USACE still plans on subsequent dredgings every five years, to continue to renourish Lido Key. The amount expected to be removed during each of those undertakings is 325,000 cubic yards, the CB&I letter adds. “The actual quantities are subject to change and will be determined by the physical monitoring data and analyses,” the letter explains.

The FDEP timeline

Photos taken on Lido Key in June 2015 by Atkins peer review project team show the eroded shoreline. Images courtesy Sarasota County
Photos taken on Lido Key in June 2015 by the Atkins peer review team hired by the county show the eroded shoreline. Images courtesy Sarasota County

In September 2015, FDEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller explained to The Sarasota News Leader the timeline for FDEP action on a pending application:

“[After the latest requested information is received], the department will have up to 30 days to determine if the application is now complete, or if additional information is needed [and] to issue another [Request for Additional Information] RAI. Once an application is deemed complete, the department has up to 90 days to take final agency action — to issue a Notice of Intent to Issue [a permit] or Notice of Intent to Deny. The challenge period of that action is within 14 days of the date of publication of the notice or written notice, whichever occurs first.”

No funding has been allocated for the project through the federal government, which is expected to cover approximately two-thirds of the expense, spokeswomen for the USACE at its Jacksonville District Office have told the News Leader. Spokeswoman Susan J. Jackson has said, however, that having the FDEP permit in hand would make it more likely for the USACE to obtain the federal money.

Alexandrea DavisShaw, city engineer for the City of Sarasota, has explained that a state grant and Tourist Development Tax revenue allocated to the city for beach renourishment will cover the rest of the expense of the project.

Sperling Park questions

A graphic shows the staging area proposed in Sperling Park. Image courtesy FDEP
A graphic shows the staging area proposed in Sperling Park. Image courtesy FDEP

Both the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), which are opposed to the dredging of Big Pass, raised questions this week about the plan for staging in Ted Sperling Park. Catherine Luckner, second vice president of the SKA, told the News Leader in an Aug. 2 telephone interview that the organization planned to request that the county decline to lease the area to the USACE and the city for the renourishment project. “They don’t have to let [the city and the USACE] use it,” she said of the county commissioners.

In an Aug. 4 email to county environmental staff, Peter van Roekens, chair of SOSS2, wrote about the plan for the staging area: “This clearly will have an impact on the user experience [at the park].”

The Aug. 1 letter from CB&I to Garis at FDEP says, “The south portion of the project area may not be accessible from the north staging area along the beach depending on the condition of the beach remaining at the time of nourishment or groin construction. The south staging area is located in the parking lot of [Sperling Park], which is directly nearby the proposed groin locations.”

The USACE also has proposed constructing two groins on Lido to help hold the sand in place between subsequent renourishments.

Van Roekens shared with the News Leader the response he received the same morning from Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department. Osterhoudt replied that the county had not yet received a request from the city or the USACE for such activity in the park.

Peter van Roekens. File photo
Peter van Roekens. File photo

Van Roekens responded to Osterhoudt, “If such a request is made, please let us know as any approval would be tantamount to the County supporting the City and Army Corps plan in the face of the Atkins report.”

(The Atkins report was a peer review of the USACE/City of Sarasota proposal for the Lido Renourishment Project. Commissioned by the county, it raised questions about some of the methodology the USACE and its consultants employed to assert that the dredging would not damage Big Pass or Siesta Key. The USACE and city staff have maintained that the methodology was appropriate. Furthermore, City Engineer DavisShaw has made the statement at multiple public meetings that monitoring of the renourishment project will be undertaken to ensure no negative consequences.)

“There’s no excuse for that,” Luckner said of the staging plan.

Luckner also pointed out this week that, last month, the SKA requested the County Commission to seek FDEP’s call for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Lido project. She added that that would ensure that Siesta Public Beach, Sperling Park, South Lido Beach and the city’s Lido Beach Park benefit from best practices in renourishment initiatives.

SOSS2 has been calling for an EIS since May 2014.

The CB&I letter also notes, “The access route from the staging area to the beach utilizes an existing pathway. In areas where the vegetation narrows the open pathway, vegetation on either side may be impacted.”

The USACE submitted a South Access Dune Restoration Planting Plan as part of its RAI2 response.

Seagrass mitigation

A graphic shows the area of the seagrass mitigation. Image courtesy FDEP
A graphic shows the area of the seagrass mitigation. Image courtesy FDEP

As the RAI2 response explains, dredging of the borrow areas “may result in unavoidable impacts to seagrass resources …” In 2014, the document says, seagrass communities observed in the borrow areas totaled 1.68 acres of Halodule wrightii, known as shoal grass. To mitigate the impact on that seagrass, the USACE has proposed the creation of 2.8 acres of seagrass habitat within Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin in Manatee County.

The document adds, “Planting units of the [shoal grass] will be harvested from the proposed seagrass donor area in Perico Bayou, located adjacent to the mitigation site. … Due to the suitable depth, the tidal connection to Perico Bayou, and the observations of early natural recruitment to the site, the mitigation site is anticipated to resemble the seagrass community located in the adjacent Perico Bayou (donor) site within five years following planting.”

The USACE plans to undertake that process prior to the dredging of Big Pass, the document notes.

In a July 20 email to county environmental staff, van Roekens of SOSS2 pointed out that “CB&I missed a very large seagrass area” when it undertook its survey in Big Pass. He added,

“I went out with two Mote scientists (Erinn Muller & Jim Culter) on 7/2/15 to survey for coral and seagrass in a very limited area of Big Pass. …The seagrass was very dense in [an area that CB&I did not document]. Obviously this raises the issue of what other seagrass areas are there that were not discovered by CB&I and which need to be included in the mitigation plan.”

Catherine Luckner. File photo
Catherine Luckner. File photo

In late June, Luckner, the SKA vice president, learned of the Perico Preserve plan from Garis at FDEP, she told the News Leader. The USACE, CB&I and FDEP staff corresponded on the mitigation plan before the submission of the RAI2 response, documents show and USACE spokeswoman Jackson reported to the News Leader.

The RAI2 response explains, “In 2013, as part of their Perico Preserve restoration, Manatee County began the excavation of a 16.4 acre basin with the intended goal of establishing a 12.25 acre tidal basin dominated by seagrass. This basin was excavated from fallow farm fields and a tidal connection to Perico Bayou was established in September 2015 through the excavation of two flushing channels.”

Luckner pointed out that Perico Preserve is adjacent to the Anna Maria inlet off Tampa Bay. “It’s odd [that it was chosen] as it appears this location already has plenty of money and rehabilitation in [its] history,” she wrote the News Leader in an email.

She added, “[I]t’s a salt marsh, shallow, not a gulf front sea grass area. No habitat or attraction for beach nesting birds or Gulf Coast [migrating birds] that use our beaches on Lido and Siesta Key for refueling.”

During the telephone interview this week with the News Leader, Luckner said she had learned through a conversation with a representative of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program that the primary reason Perico Preserve was chosen was because the USACE had no pushback on the plan at that site.

Further details

The project application shows the area of renourishment and the borrow areas in Big Pass. Image courtesy State of Florida
The project application shows the area of renourishment and the borrow areas in Big Pass. Image courtesy State of Florida

The CB&I letter to FDEP also responded to questions FDEP staff had raised about the impact of the proposed dredging on the coastal system. The FDEP called for surveys of submerged aquatic vegetation conducted in the field during the growing season to show the full extent of the existing conditions, along with an estimate of acreage of each section of aquatic vegetation that would be impacted by the project.

The response from CB&I indicates the USACE will conform to standard procedures to meet water quality standards. An attachment provided with the RAI2 response explains in detail how the USACE will monitor and report on turbidity in the water. As Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee has pointed out, excessive turbidity can prevent sufficient sunlight from penetrating the water to reach aquatic vegetation.

The USACE document adds that weekly summaries of all the monitoring data will be submitted to FDEP staff in the Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems and to the department’s Southwest District Office.