At staff’s recommendation, County Commission agrees to seawall instead of rock revetment to protect mid-island section of Casey Key shoreline

Commissioners ask staff to investigate use of seawall instead of rock revetment on northern part of island, as well

A graphic shows the two project areas on Casey Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In December 2018, the Sarasota County Commission gave the county’s Public Works Department staff the go-ahead for the design and permitting of rock revetments to protect two different sections of the Casey Key shoreline.

The permitting process began in February 2020, Spencer Anderson, the director of that department, pointed out to the board members during a May 18 update.

However, he said, staff subsequently received a letter from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), stating that its could not provide a favorable recommendation for the rock revetment at the mid-Casey Key site because that is a known sea turtle-nesting area.

Staff has explained that it is difficult for sea turtles to climb over such structures to lay eggs.

As a result, Anderson was back before the commissioners on May 18, he said, to seek their approval for construction of a seawall instead.

During the same public hearing, a North Casey Key resident, Marie Dickson, told the board she was representing 11 other property owners on that part of the barrier island, plus herself, in asking that, instead of a rock revetment, a seawall be constructed in that location, as well.

Marie Dickson addresses the commissioners on May 18. News Leader image

Although sea turtles have not nested in the area in front of her home since Tropical Storm Debby pounded that part of the shoreline in June 2012, Dixon said, sea turtle nests used to be common in that area, too.

Moreover, Dickson told the board members, she had talked with three Realtors to ask how they believe home buyers perceive rock revetments in comparison to seawalls. “All three agreed: A seawall has a better property value than rocks.”

When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked Anderson whether it was too late to change the plans for the North Casey Key undertaking, he told her it was not. Staff already had advertised a public hearing for the formal Coastal Setback Variance the board members would have to approve for the rock revetment in that area, he pointed out, but staff could halt that process.

Anderson did caution the commissioners that switching to a seawall would delay the construction timeline. On the other hand, Anderson said, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) would be more likely to issue the necessary state permit for a seawall than for a rock revetment.

“The fact that we have to pull an advertisement, that’s not a big problem,” Detert added.

As a result of the discussion that day, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow staff to proceed with amending the plans for the mid-Casey Key project, substituting a seawall for the rock revetment.

And while the commissioners also seemed agreeable to the same change for the North Casey Key project, they acceded to Anderson’s proposal for greater staff outreach first to all of the property owners who would be affected.

Anderson said he would be back before them with an update as soon as the outreach was completed.

On a motion by Detert, seconded by Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, Anderson won full support to increase the expense of the design contract with Erickson Consulting Engineers of Sarasota for the switch to the mid-key seawall. The amount the county will pay the company will rise from $769,400 to $1,083,400, according to documents provided in the board packet for the May 18 meeting.

The completion of the redesign should take about 45 days, a county slide showed. Then the revised permit details would be submitted to FDEP and to those county staff members who would need to review them.

The goal, the slide said, is to begin construction of the seawall in January 2022.

A May 18 staff memo, provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting, also noted, “Construction activities within sandy beach areas will need to be substantially complete prior to the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on May 1, 2022.”

The background and current considerations

This graphic provides details about the two areas of concern on Casey Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At the outset of his May 18 presentation, Anderson reminded the board members that a step revetment was constructed around 1990 in the 700 block of North Casey Key Road. Approximately 1,600 feet in length, it is made of cement and shell plus sand, according to a slide he showed the board members.

At the mid-key site — in the area of the 2100 block of Casey Key Road — the natural bluff has eroded away, threatening not only the road but also a potable county water line beneath the road.

Temporary sandbags installed by staff as an interim protective measure must be removed later this year, the same slide said.

In June 2019, Anderson talked about the fact that FDEP authorized the use of oversize sandbags called TrapBags as an emergency measure in an area comprising several hundred feet.

During that discussion, he characterized the mid-key situation as, “for all intents and purposes, a hot spot on the shoreline,” with the beach eroded up to the road. “Sand fluctuates on a year-to-year basis up and down the shoreline here,” Anderson added on June 19, 2019.

Anderson told the commissioners on May 18 that Public Works staff had been collaborating with the county’s Public Utilities Department on the mid-key project plans. As a result, he said, the staff in the latter department had asked that the relocated potable water pipeline be extended approximately 300 linear feet.

The damage on the southbound section of North Casey Key Road is evident on June 12, 2020. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Anderson also noted concerns about repeated storm damage to Casey Key Road. (For example, staff had to stabilize a segment of the northern section in June 2020, after Tropical Storm Cristobal shattered the pavement.)

The full replacement of the road in the mid-Key area needs to be designed, he added.

Anderson also showed the commissioners a slide depicting the locations of existing seawalls and those that have won commission approval but have not yet been built in the mid-key area, including a temporary structure they approved for the owner of the property at 2007 Casey Key Road.

Staff has proposed a public/private partnership with the owners of the 10 properties stretching south from 2120 Casey Key road to 2016 Casey Key Road, through which they could share in the expense of the county seawall. “We hope to get a lower price with a larger project,” Anderson told the commissioners.

Another slide depicted further advantages, as well. For example, the challenges in designing connections of the county seawall to others put up by homeowners would be eliminated; the same materials and workmanship would be used throughout the area; the undertaking should ensure a more stable environment for the road and the water line in the future; and the county would be able to oversee all aspects of the undertaking, from design through construction.

“We’ve done a considerable amount of outreach with the residents in this area,” Anderson added, referring again to the graphic. County staff conducted meetings in March and April with those property owners, he said.

Seven of the 10 property owners have provided written support of the initiative, Anderson continued, including a willingness to discuss cost-sharing options.

This slide shows facets about staff outreach in regard to the proposal for the mid-Casey Key area, along with an illustration of the existing and proposed seawalls. Image courtesy Sarasota County

However, those property owners did ask that the commission consider the following factors in regard to the cost-sharing proposal, he added:

  • The county would cover the expense of maintaining the seawall.
  • No new lateral public access to the beach would be provided across private property.
  • The improvements would not be factored into the value of the properties for tax purposes.
  • The seawall would be constructed as far seaward of the road as possible to preserve historic or existing Gulf-side private property and beach access.

In regard to the latter request, Anderson noted, “The properties there had a considerable amount of private [land] seaward of the road.” Erosion has diminished much of that area, he said. In some cases, the land has vanished west of the road, he pointed out.

In conclusion, Anderson asked that the commissioners allow staff to pivot to plans for a seawall for mid-key and let staff work on the potential of what is called a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU), through which property owners could share in the cost of the initiative.

Board member responses

A June 2019 graphic shows the properties included in the original MSBU on Casey Key and those whom staff proposed to be affected by its revival. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“I really like what you’ve done here,” Commissioner Detert told Anderson.

As she has in the past, Detert suggested that an MSBU be established for properties along the water on all the barrier islands in the unincorporated portions of the county, with funds put aside to deal with problems related to erosion on Casey Key, south Siesta Key and Manasota Key.

In response to a question, Anderson reminded her that an MSBU was established years ago for property owners on the northern end of Casey Key to help pay for improvements. However, a couple of years ago, when Anderson broached the idea of reviving that taxing district for the road and water line work, the majority of commissioners voiced opposition to it. At the time, board members — including former Commissioner Charles Hines — put the focus on county options to cover the expense.

“I’d certainly be willing to bring that [taxing district proposal] back for additional discussion,” Anderson told Detert on May 18.

“I would like to see that,” she replied. “Our utilities are there, and the road’s falling in … That road’s had problems for decades.”
Moreover, Detert continued, referencing the recent public hearing regarding the temporary seawall at 2007 Casey Key Road, “This saves us from getting homeowner after homeowner in here one at a time, trying to save their house …”

A graphic shows the house at 2007 Casey Key Road outlined in green. The yellow line represents Casey Key Road, while the red line represents the Gulf Beach Setback Line. On March 9, the County Commission approved the variance for the temporary seawall at 2007 Casey Key Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Chair Alan Maio also expressed support for the public/private cost-sharing facet of the undertaking.

He did allude to the fact that Casey Key property owners pay high ad valorem taxes. Nonetheless, Maio said, “This is a special circumstance.”

Maio also concurred with the proposal to construct the seawall as close to the Gulf of Mexico “as is practicable” as many of the homeowners have property on both sides of the road.