Board also authorizes research into adding 30 feet of beach width even further north, at potential cost of $10 million
On July 9, they asked staff for help. On Sept. 10, they heard the options. Afterward, the Sarasota County commissioners decided to authorize research into exactly how they can help even more property owners north of their planned Manasota Key Beach Renourishment Project.
With a vote on one motion this week, the commissioners approved the extension of the renourishment initiative to encompass the shoreline in front of six additional homes north of Blind Pass Beach Park, as well as the rest of the park’s beach.
Michael Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants of Naples — the consultant who has worked on the joint project Sarasota County is undertaking with Charlotte County — said the goal is to begin the joint project in early 2020 and complete it in May of next year, providing the bids come in at a reasonable level.
That project already entailed plans to widen the beach to 50 feet from 680 feet south of the northern boundary of Blind Pass Beach Park to the Sarasota County/Charlotte County line. The distance is 1.63 miles.
Sarasota and Charlotte counties already have the necessary Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for that work, Poff pointed out.
The first motion Commissioner Alan Maio made on Sept. 10 authorized the spending of $1,594,550 to modify the scope of the joint Sarasota County/Charlotte County project on Manasota Key Beach to add the area of shoreline in front of six homes north of the park.
As a result, Poff said, one of the next steps will be to work with FDEP on a major modification to the permit. County staff also will work on a modification of the interlocal agreement the Sarasota County and Charlotte County commissions approved for the project earlier this year.
The new area of beach to be covered extends from R-175 — the northern boundary of Blind Pass Beach Park — to R-173. (The “R” refers to a reference monument system FDEP uses to denote shoreline locations.) R-173 is approximately parallel to the property at 6840 Manasota Key Road, according to a graphic Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, showed the commissioners.
The total project distance, therefore, will be about 2 miles.
FDEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which also must provide a permit for the work, “are supportive of [that extension of the project],” Poff told the commissioners.
The cost of the original project with Charlotte County has been estimated at $8,625,176, Herman noted in July. That figure included a contingency reflecting 5% of the total expense.
Staff is developing a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU), Herman reminded the commissioners on Sept. 10, which would allow the county to require the property owners affected by the project to help pay for it.
Going even further
On July 9, commissioners discussed how foolish they would look — with national news media attention likely — if they included only the six extra homes in their beach renourishment project area, and severe erosion north of those homes led to loss of houses into the Gulf of Mexico.
Poff has explained to the commissioners in the past that if a project will lead to sand covering hardbottom, then the entity conducting the project has to undertake mitigation to create new hardbottom. That was why he had cautioned them about going too far north with renourishment of Manasota Key Beach.
A 2016 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) document explains that hardbottom provides “habitat critical for the recruitment/settlement, growth, and reproduction of numerous organisms. In this capacity, hardbottom habitat serves as a nursery, spawning, and foraging area for ecologically and economically valuable species.”
“It’s too great of a resource,” Poff said of hardbottom when he addressed the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissioners on Feb. 28. State and federal environmental agencies will not allow it to be covered with sand, he added that day; he reiterated the point on Sept. 10.
More monitoring of the potential effects on the hardbottom near Manasota Key Beach will be necessary in conjunction with the project going north to R-173, he said this week. However, Poff continued, representatives of FDEP and the USACE said they would “move very quickly for us,” with the goal that the initiative would not cover hardbottom.
Based on further discussion, Maio made a second motion, which also won unanimous board support, clearing the way for CEC to investigate “all the parameters,” as Maio put it, of hauling in sand by truck for a 30-foot-wide beach up to R-169 on the shoreline. R-169 is parallel to 7340 Manasota Key Road.
Poff predicted that it would take “plus or minus 24 months for design and permitting” for that initiative.
As for cost: Herman said she believed that an earlier estimate Poff gave the board was $11.1 million, including the mitigation of hardbottom that the sand would cover. However, she added, the expense would be reduced because of the option the commissioners authorized in Maio’s first motion.
Poff suggested that the actual expense might be closer to $9.5 million or $10 million. Moreover, he said, he has been told that project would be eligible for state beach renourishment funding the Legislature approves every year. “It’s deemed critically eroding,” he noted of that part of the Manasota Key shoreline.
Staff was not certain how many more homes the additional project would protect from the rapid erosion residents have described on the beach in recent years. Based on the maps and graphics she was showing the board on Sept. 10, Herman estimated another 30 homes might be involved.
Debating the options
Before the votes, Maio engaged in an exchange with Poff about whether a 20-foot-wide beach would be sufficient to protect the other homes, if the commission pursued extending the renourishment area to R-169. Maio acknowledged that that width — the most conservative beach fill design of the three Poff originally gave the board — is “not exactly palatable to these [Manasota Key] folks, I bet, and not exactly what any of us want.”
Maio asked Poff whether adding enough sand to widen the beach to 20 feet would result in a stable shoreline “and keep allthose houses … out of the surf?”
“The word ‘stable’ I would not use,” Poff replied. Sand would be in front of every house when the project was completed, Poff added. However, he told Maio, “I wouldn’t go much less than 30 [feet].”
Poff’s original proposal offered an estimate for a 50-foot-wide beach, as well. The expense of that option was about $16 million, Poff added on Sept. 10.
Poff and Herman also reminded the board members that when CEC originally came up with options for renourishment on the Sarasota County side of Manasota Key Beach, CEC determined that creating a 50-foot-wide beach further north would entail covering 20 acres of hardbottom near the shore.
“Twenty acres is the largest number of acres that our project team … has ever seen with one short segment of beach fill,” Poff pointed out on Sept. 10. He added that the project team includes people who previously worked for FDEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The likelihood of winning the necessary permits to cover that hardbottom, Poff said, “is slim to none.” Moreover, he added, the mitigation expense could be $30 million. “It’s not a practical alternative.”