Commissioner Smith voices worry this week about meeting deadline to ensure receipt of FEMA funding
Two weeks after expressing concerns about the potential for harm to pedestrians and bicyclists on Siesta Key’s Midnight Pass Road, with trucks hauling thousands of loads of sand to Turtle Beach Park for a beach repair project, Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith this week offered plaudits to county staff.
“I have numerous spies in the area that are watching everything,” he said during the commission’s regular meeting on May 9, “and they report back to me on that.”
The project, which entails repairs to areas of the shoreline damaged by Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, is “going smooth,” Smith continued. His “spies,” he said, are “very pleased with the progress.”
During his remarks at the April 25 County Commission meeting, Smith — who lives on Siesta — pointed out that Midnight Pass Road is narrow, and lawn maintenance equipment and construction vehicles often are left parked in a travel lane.
Yet, along with offering compliments on May 9, Smith told his colleagues, “I do have a bit of concern”: whether the contractor can complete the work by the June 30 deadline that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set for the undertaking. His understanding, Smith said, is that the contractor has only “a day or so leeway,” for weather or other issues, to ensure that the work is wrapped up by the end of June.
FEMA has stipulated that the county would lose the agency’s grant covering 87.5% of the expense of the initiative if that deadline cannot be met.
Curtis Smith, a member of the county’s Capital Projects Department staff who is managing the South Siesta Key Beach Repair Project, told Siesta Key Association members in December 2022 that he believes this initiative is the final one that FEMA authorized in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine. To his knowledge, he said, all of the others had been completed.
County staff tried numerous tactics to gain FEMA’s approval to delay the south Siesta Key work until November. However, with no response from the federal agency, staff has made it clear that it had no choice but to give the contractor — Ahtna Marine & Construction Co., which is based in Irvine, Calif. — the go-ahead to proceed.
The contract calls for the county to pay the company $8,284,283.10.
On the morning of May 9, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Lorenz interviewed Brad Robertson, design manager with the Capital Projects Department, at the site of the work in Turtle Beach.
As of that time, Robertson reported, 14,000 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand had been delivered to the shoreline from an inland mine. (The trucks hauling that sand come onto the Key via Stickney Point Road and then travel south on Midnight Pass Road to the park.)
Altogether, county staff has pointed out, approximately 92,500 cubic yards of sand will be placed on areas left significantly eroded by Hermine only about four months after a contractor completed the second renourishment of the south Siesta shoreline.
The sand pile, Robertson continued, had been reduced to just a few hundred cubic yards of sand as of that morning. “We’re progressing well,” Robertson told Lorenz.
A May 9 news media advisory pointed out, “Sand is being placed along the beach to the north of the stockpile. Some areas of the beach and beach access points near the northern part of Turtle Beach may be closed for safety. Sarasota County is home to more than 35 miles of beaches, each with their own unique characteristics and amenities. While the South Siesta Beach repair project is underway, residents and visitors are encouraged to visit one of Sarasota County’s other beach locations.”
Robertson also stressed during the interview, “Midnight Pass is wide open. There’s really no traffic at all. No problem getting to the beach.”
Siesta Key Association members and other residents of the southern portion of the barrier island balked when county staff initially proposed beginning the project in March, while tourist season was at its height. (See the article in this issue regarding the March Tourist Development Tax collections.) By the time staff awarded the contract to Ahtna Marine, the number of visitors on the Key — and countywide — was in the typical post-Easter decline.
Additionally, county staff has been emphasizing in alerts to the news media that Mote Marine Laboratory and Sarasota Audubon representatives have been on the beach each morning before the construction crew starts work, trying to ensure that no harm will come to sea turtles or birds that nest on county beaches during this part of the year.
To stay up-to-date on the project’s progress, visit scgov.net/beachrepair or call the county by dialing 311.