Siesta Key residents and other beach-goers remember well what Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department Supervisor Rob LaDue has referred to as “some really bad seaweed events” on Crescent Beach, starting in 2005 and continuing into early 2007.
Red drift algae, which looks like seaweed, piled up almost 5 feet high and 30 feet wide numerous times along almost 3 miles of the beach, extending south to Point of Rocks.
County workers had to drive big trucks through an access at Siesta Public Beach, head south 1.3 miles to the affected area, collect the matter, and bring it back to that Siesta beach access. Then, workers spread out the matter on the former ball field, so it could dry before they hauled it to the landfill.
The odor of that drying mass was a common topic of conversation among Siesta residents during those periods.
Since then, county staff had sought a more efficient way, with greater regard to public safety, to tackle mounds of seaweed on Crescent Beach. Thanks to a unanimous Sarasota County Commission vote April 11, a new system will be put into place to allow trucks to reach that beach through Access 12, which is about 300 feet south of the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road.
The trucks also no longer will take seaweed back to Siesta Public Beach to dry. Equipment will be added to the trucks to allow them to proceed directly to the landfill, LaDue told the commissioners April 11.
Design costs for the work were included in a parking-improvement project undertaken at Access 12 prior to Labor Day Weekend last year. They totaled $80,000, Project Manager Brad Robertson said. The cost of construction for the new project has been put at $65,000, he added.
County staff still was awaiting a state permit for the work as of April 11, according to Robertson. He expected the project to get under way no earlier than Nov. 1 and be completed in about 45 days, he told the County Commission.
The April 11 board vote did not come without a lot of questions. The approved resolution included an amendment by Commissioner Nora Patterson to require county staff to undertake additional mitigation on Siesta Public Beach. That will help make up for the anticipated disturbance of dunes and vegetation when Access 12 is used for emergency removal of seweed, she and Commissioner Jon Thaxton said.
LaDue pointed out to the County Commission, “We really cannot predict the years (a seaweed problem will occur) and how much we will receive.”
The existence of a sandbar off Crescent Beach “reduces wave energy that otherwise might move … algae back into the water column and force it offshore,” he explained.
Describing the plans, Howard Berna, environmental supervisor in the county’s Natural Resources Department, pointed out that a 15-foot-wide geotextile grid system would be placed 6 to 12 inches below the sand at Access 12, to reinforce the stability of the existing soil.
The grid would be filled with crushed limestone rock and shell, to create a base to support the truckloads, Berna added.
All the proposed construction, he explained, would extend no further than 219 feet seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line. Because the project includes area seaward of that line, the county’s Public Works Department had to ask the commission for a variance.
Berna added that the work would have an impact on 1,257 square feet of native dune vegetation. Staff planned to install 1,482 square feet of sea oats, railroad vine, bitter panicum and inkberry as mitigation for the work.
According to the staff report, inkberry is recognized as a threatened plant species in Florida.
Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner sent the commission a letter of support for the project, noting she had consulted with Dr. Allan Worms, a biologist specializing in plant species. He had told her inkberry was readily available for purchase and could be re-established easily.
Berna pointed out that during the seaweed-removal efforts, staff would put down a protective, temporary roadway called a Mobi-Mat. Any vegetation damaged by the hauling would be replaced, Berna said.
“An intense period of a couple of weeks of driving over (the vegetation), you would think, would do quite a lot of damage,” Patterson said.
The commission could request an additional mitigation area, Berna suggested at that point. Project Manager Brad Robertson added the extra mitigation could be done on Siesta Public Beach.
“What sticks in my craw,” Patterson said, “is … if you were a private developer in front of me, I would probably tell you to do that (extra mitigation).”
“We can go ahead and do both (mitigation) areas,” Robertson told her.
Prior to the commission vote, two residents spoke out against the project. Lourdes Ramirez, of Siesta Key Community, called it unnecessary, saying staff concerns about public safety issues were unwarranted.
“People don’t go to the beach,” Ramirez said, when it is inundated with “stinky seaweed.”
Richard Bailey, a resident of one of the two condominium complexes adjacent to Access 12, said use of the access would be disruptive to the access’ neighbors.
“There have been folks that have been concerned about this (project) for a while,” Patterson said.
When large seaweed events do occur, she said, “the (county) phones ring off the hook; (calls) come from condos close to this access and far away, and what (people) ask for is, ‘Clean this up right away, as quick as possible ….’”
Patterson added that she hoped the access would not have to be used often for the clean-up process. Nonetheless, she said, “Our tourist trade is definitely worth the investment. … People who book for a week to come to Siesta Key … and see that algae — they’re not coming back (the next year).”