City manager offers no comments in response to public criticism over the issue during Feb. 18 commission meeting
On Feb. 14, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) cleared up any doubts about whether a contractor for its Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project could use part of Sarasota County’s Ted Sperling Park as a staging area.
In an addendum published at 2:34 a.m. that day, the USACE eliminated all language pertaining to that planned south staging area, which was included in the solicitation for the Lido initiative that the federal agency released on Dec. 17, 2019.
The addendum also incorporated a new statement pointing potential bidders to the necessity of “constructing a temporary sand ramp over the existing rock groin near [Monument] R-38.4, and associated beach scraping and refilling.” (Monument designations are used to denote points on a shoreline, not to any actual structures.)
The statement advised bidders to review the relevant solicitation package section regarding the planned construction of two groins on South Lido.
As The Sarasota News Leader reported early this month, representatives of the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County executed an agreement on Jan. 31 that would allow a contractor for the USACE to use Ted Sperling Park to store equipment and materials for the Lido Beach renourishment initiative, and then to access the beach from the park.
Last year, Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch implored the county commissioners to approve such an agreement with the city, saying the USACE anticipated that access could save $1 million in the overall expense of the project.
The county commissioners finally voted on Dec. 10, 2019 to approve the park staging area. However, instead of adopting a resolution drafted by City Attorney Robert Fournier, they agreed to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis’ request to allow Lewis and County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht to draw up and execute an agreement.
The document on which Lewis and Elbrecht won the signatures of Ahearn-Koch and Fournier called for the USACE contractor for the Lido project to maintain a general liability insurance policy while construction was underway. Additionally, the county required that the policy name the county “as an additional insured and [that the policy] be provided by an insurance carrier licensed to conduct business in the State of Florida that possesses a current A.M. Best’s Financial Strength Rating of A-Class VII or better.”
Subsequently — on Feb. 7 — the USACE issued an addendum to the solicitation that delayed the due date for bids from Feb. 13 to Feb. 27. The News Leader later learned from sources that the insurance requirement in the agreement was the reason for that delay. Yet, the USACE waited the extra week to publish the new addendum, as well as revised, relevant engineering drawings.
Last week, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota, told the News Leader that staff had advised her that the Lido contractor would be able to use just the north access for the staging of the work on Lido. The USACE solicitation package describes the north access as the Lido Beach Pavilion “paved parking lot and walkway.”
The News Leader was unable to get a comment from the USACE about changes regarding the staging areas before the News Leader published its Feb. 14 issue. Subsequently, late on the afternoon of Feb. 14, David J. Ruderman, a spokesman in the agency’s Jacksonville District office, provided the following statement to the News Leader via email: “At this time the Corps has no comment, considering it a matter between the city and the county.”
County staff had deferred comment on the staging area issue to the USACE, as county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told the News Leader in a Feb. 12 email.
During the Feb. 18 regular meeting of the Sarasota City Commission, Martin Hyde of Sarasota — a regular critic of commission and city staff actions — took the opportunity of the public comment period during the afternoon session to pin most of the blame for the revised USACE Lido staging plans on City Manager Tom Barwin.
Hyde pointed out that the original version of the board agenda for that meeting included an updated agreement between the city and the USACE. That called for the city to “voluntarily contribute additional funding” for the Lido initiative, “if needed to meet the lowest responsive [bid].” The amount staff proposed was $1.3 million.
However, a Change to the Order of the Day removed that item from the agenda, Hyde continued. (City Communications Specialist Jason Bartolone told the News Leader it would be placed on the commission’s March 2 agenda, after the USACE’s Feb. 27 bid deadline had passed.)
On Feb. 18, Hyde alluded to the problem with the county/city agreement executed on Jan. 31, noting the potential “seven-figure sum” to cover the added expense of a contractor’s having no southern staging area.
During his 3-minute statement, Hyde also referenced the ongoing litigation between the city and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) over the USACE’s plans to renourish Lido Beach with sand from Big Sarasota Pass, which lies between Lido and Siesta keys. “So it’s vital to get things settled with the county,” Hyde said.
On Feb. 6, the SKA filed its initial brief in an appeal to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, seeking a ruling that would overturn a Circuit Court decision in favor of the city. The SKA filed its original verified complaint against the city in March 2017, arguing that the city has failed to seek the necessary county permit before allowing the USACE to dredge up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass.
The city and the USACE were co-applicants for the state permit for the Lido initiative.
Barwin offered no response to Hyde’s remarks, which is standard procedure for city staff and commissioners during the public comment periods. He also made no remarks on the issue that evening, during the time set aside for commissioners’ and staff’s comments.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 in Sarasota. County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester confirmed for the News Leader late in the day on Feb. 20 that the agenda does not include any discussion about the Jan. 31 Sperling Park staging agreement and the resulting USACE addendum. (The agendas usually are published after the News Leader “goes to press” on Thursdays.)
Nonetheless, the issue could come up during the Reports section of the meeting, when administrative staff and the commissioners occasionally offer remarks on topics not listed on the agenda.
The ‘beach scraping’ direction
As the News Leader reported on Feb. 14, the original solicitation the USACE published for the Lido Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project — in May 2019 — included details about the necessity of constructing a temporary sand ramp over the rock groin on South Lido Key Beach, if the contractor were using only the north staging area at the Pavilion. (That solicitation ultimately was cancelled in early August 2019 after the USACE said the two bids it received were “unreasonably high.”)
The Feb. 14 addendum to the current Lido solicitation package explains that the “scraping” of sand from the area in front of the Lido Pavilion and Pool to cover the groin would have to be uniform throughout that area, “to avoid holes, ruts, etc. …” Additionally, sand could not be removed below the Mean High Water Line, the addendum points out.
Further, the scraping could not occur more than 10 days before the start of the placement of new sand on the Lido shoreline, “unless approved by the [USACE’s] Contracting officer.”
The addendum adds that the scraped area would have to be “filled back to its approximate pre-scraped condition within two calendar days of the commencement of fill operations,” referring again to the placement of the new sand on the beach.
However, the addendum continues, if the contractor is able to begin adding the new sand to the beach “without initially traversing the rock groin near R38.4,” the company could use some of the new sand for the temporary ramp over the groin.
Finally, that section points out, “The Contractor can investigate and obtain any additional access areas which may be necessary for his/her construction operations at the Contractor’s expense.” Yet, that section also refers a potential bidder to the previous section ruling out use of Ted Sperling Park.
Moreover, that earlier section — titled Temporary Construction Facilities — says, “The Contractor is not prohibited from identifying and securing additional lands at its discretion; however, the Contractor will not be reimbursed for any cost associated with the acquisition of those lands. The additional areas will be subject to the approval of the Contracting Officer.”