Army Corps of Engineers announces allocation of funding for the long-term renourishment project planned on Lido Key

Siesta Key Association challenge filed last year in 12th Judicial Circuit Court could lead to further delay

Erosion has worsened on South Lido Key, residents say. Photo contributed by Bruce Armstrong

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on June 11 that it has allocated $13,462,000 to the long-term project designed to renourish a 1.56-mile stretch of South Lido Key Beach.

The funding is part of the federal agency’s Fiscal Year 2018 Work Plan, which the USACE delivered to Congress on June 7, a USACE news release explains.

“On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, Public Law 115-141, of which Division D is the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (the Act) for FY 2018,” the USACE news release says. “The Act provides $6.827 billion in FY 2018 appropriations for the Army Civil Works program, of which $6.402 billion is appropriated in five accounts: Investigations; Construction; Operation and Maintenance; Mississippi River and Tributaries; and Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP).”

The Lido project is one of five nationwide listed under “Construction new starts,” as noted in the press release.

“The Army’s Civil Works FY 2018 work plan provides funding to start, continue, and complete studies and construction projects that will get dirt moving to better the lives of Americans, their infrastructure, economy and environment,” said R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, the release.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, Susan J. Jackson, a spokeswoman for the USACE at its Jacksonville District Office, wrote in a June 12 email, “The project delivery team is currently developing a construction schedule for the [Lido] project.”

In December 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion for the long-term project, making it clear that that initiative could not be pursued during sea turtle nesting season, as that project includes construction of two groins on South Lido to try to keep sand in place between renourishment projects. The nesting season lasts through October.

South Lido structures are readily visible across Big Sarasota Pass from Siesta Key. Rachel Hackney photo

Work can take place during both daylight and nighttime hours from Nov. 11 through April 30, the opinion said. “If the [USACE or the City of Sarasota] chooses to begin construction early (November 1), construction will only be authorized during daylight hours up [to] and through November 11, to avoid encountering nesting females and emerging hatchling sea turtles,” the document added.

Nonetheless, at least one Siesta Key organization plans to pursue a legal challenge it filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in 2017, in an effort to prevent the USACE from dredging Big Sarasota Pass for the Lido project.

During the June 7 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Vice President Catherine Luckner pointed out that when Judge Lon Arend held a hearing in April 2017 on the verified complaint the nonprofit filed in January 2017, he made it plain that he readily would entertain a motion for an emergency injunction to stop the dredging until the case could be heard. However, the SKA cannot pursue a hearing until after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has issued a permit for the Lido project, Luckner explained.

The permit is expected to be issued shortly after a Final Order has been filed in a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case, held in December 2017, which also heard challenges to the dredging of Big Pass. That order is due by June 22, an FDEP spokeswoman told the News Leader last week.

Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and three individuals who live on Siesta Key joined the SKA as petitioners in the DOAH proceeding.

Representatives of both SOSS2 and the SKA have stressed that they are in complete support of a renourishment project on Lido Key. However, they oppose the use of sand from Big Pass because scientific research has demonstrated the potential for extensive storm damage to Siesta Key without the protection the ebb shoal of the pass provides to the island. Additionally, they point to the fact that the pass never has been dredged; therefore, the operation would destroy seagrass and disrupt wildlife habitat.

“We have been advocating for a best project [on Lido],” Luckner told SKA members on June 7.

When the News Leader reached SKA President Gene Kusekoski on June 12 about the USACE announcement, he responded, “SKA has no official comment at this time.”

A ‘very bad’ situation on Lido

Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota, told the News Leaderin a June 12 email, “The City administration received a phone call last week from Senator [Marco] Rubio’s office indicating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would make the funding announcement soon.”

A graphic submitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the FDEP documents seagrass in the project area. Image courtesy FDEP

She also released a statement from City Manager Tom Barwin: “This is really good news, especially considering the dire condition of portions of the Lido Beach shoreline right now. With federal funding in place, we’ll be able to proceed with the long-term shoreline protection project in the near future. Monitoring will be a significant aspect as well as having a thoughtful approach to maintain all of Sarasota County’s shorelines over the coming decades.”

Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), told the News Leaderin a June 12 telephone interview that he had had advance knowledge of the announcement. When he heard about the funding, he said, “It was a very big surprise. … It was a very happy surprise.”

The situation on Lido, he added, “is very bad,” and weather forecasters already are talking about the potential of another storm developing over the next week.

As he pointed out to the Sarasota City Commission on June 4, Shoffstall told the News Leader, “For so long, this [erosion] has been gong on. … We’re not crying wolf. We’re getting damage on buildings.”

In his statement, Barwin extended his appreciation to former Mayors Shelli Freeland Eddie and Willie Shaw — both of whom are still city commissioners — “for their effective advocacy in [Washington, D.C.] and Tallahassee and the entire Florida [congressional] delegation for their resolve to protect the shoreline and the City’s infrastructure.”

A permit sketch in the FDEP file shows facets of the Lido Renourishment Project on South Lido Key. Image courtesy FDEP

Finally, he applauded City Engineer Alexandra DavisShaw “for her professional guidance with this complex project over many years as she worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move the City away from crisis to crisis management to proactive planning with shoreline protection and renourishment.”

On May 30, Barwin issued a State of Emergency on Lido Key because of intensified erosion of the shoreline as a result of Subtropical Storm Alberto. During the June 4 City Commission discussion about the Lido Renourishment Project, Shoffstall, estimated that another 7 to 8 feet of the shoreline had been lost to Alberto. Barwin had worked with an FDEP representative to enable property owners to apply for permits for sandbags through an expedited process. In his June 8 newsletter, Barwin reported that FDEP had modified its rules to allow twice the standard amount of sand — 600 cubic yards, instead of 300 — to be placed on individual parcels. Additionally, FDEP has authorized the use of what Barwin described as “much longer and larger bags, known as trap bags,” at some sites on the beach. FDEP is processing requests for the trap bags on a case-by-case basis, he added.

On June 4, the City Commission affirmed its commitment to the Lido Renourishment Project, as required by FDEP — including its ability to provide its share of the funding. A chart provided to the board in advance of that meeting listed $13,020,000 as the federal cost-share for the initiative, with the city to pay $3,990,000 and the state to provide $3,990,000. The city’s funding would come out of an account holding Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenue allocated to the municipality for beach maintenance and renourishment efforts.

At the same time, city staff has been working with FDEP to obtain permission to dredge about 200,000 cubic yards of sand from New Pass for an emergency renourishment initiative on South Lido. City staff has estimated the expense of that project to be approximately $3 million.

Thornburg, the senior communications manager for the city, told the News Leader that the city is just awaiting the Notice to Proceed from FDEP. A state permit allows the city and the Town of Longboat Key to alternate removal of sand from New Pass.

In response to a News Leader question about how the USACE announcement would affect the short-term project plans, Thornburg wrote in her June 12 email, “We’re not clear at this time how the short-term and long-term projects would be coordinated or possibly merged. More research will have to be done. That being said, we expect new sand on Lido Beach by fall or possibly the end of the year — it’s imminent.”

Shoffstall told the News Leader that it is also his understanding from city staff that the plans call for the emergency project to be completed by the end of this year.