Siesta Seen

Tobacco use and litter on county beaches the focus of new initiatives; ‘Dr. Beach’ regales SKA audience with anecdotes about the value of sand; and a Key deputy reports mostly positive news

Kelli Pond. Rachel Hackney photo
Kelli Pond. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Dec. 1 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), it was only fitting that an issue near and dear to the heart of special guest Stephen Leatherman — aka Dr. Beach —also was on the agenda that evening.

Kelli Pond, who works with the Tobacco Free Partnership of Sarasota County, addressed the audience briefly regarding that group’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related diseases and deaths in the community. The organization’s recent initiatives, she explained, have been focused on cutting down on the amount of tobacco litter, especially on Siesta Key Beach. The target is a 50% decrease in that type of trash, she noted.

The partnership has been working with Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department and the county’s Keep Sarasota County Beautiful program, she said, as well as other groups in the county.

Pond invited interested members of the audience to attend the partnership’s next meeting, which will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the William L. Little Health and Human Services Center, located at 2200 Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota. The county Health Department’s website says the session will end at 5 p.m.

“It’s going to be a very in-depth meeting,” she added.

SKA Environmental Committee member Bob Luckner pointed out that Siesta Key Beach used to be designated as a no-smoking site. “What happened?”
“Pre-emption happened,” she replied.

A Dec. 10, 2012 ruling by Judge Maryann Boehm of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota found that “prohibiting the use of tobacco products in non-designated areas of city parks … is unenforceable and in conflict with the state statute known as the ‘Clean Indoor Air Act.’”

The purpose of that law, which was passed in 1985 but did not go into effect until 2003, according to the Florida Department of Health, “is to protect people from the health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke ….”

'Smoke-Free Zone' signs used to be posted at county beaches. File photo
‘Smoke-Free Zone’ signs used to be posted at county beaches. File photo

A July 21, 2011 opinion issued by the Florida Attorney General’s Office in a case involving the St. Johns River Water Management District — provided to The Sarasota News Leader in 2013 by the County Attorney’s Office — is one example of the opinions Boehm referenced. It says, “In sum: The Regulation of smoking is preempted to the state pursuant to [the Clean Indoor Air Act], and the … District may not adopt a policy prohibiting smoking or tobacco use that is broader than the terms of [that statute].”

“What about ‘home rule’?” Siesta resident Mike Cosentino asked Pond during the SKA meeting, referring to the fact that Sarasota County has its own charter.

She replied that state law prevails over local ordinances.

“Wow,” Cosentino said.

When a woman in the audience asked about citing people for littering the beach with cigarette butts, Pond told her, “That might be a strategy that we can consider,” adding that the partnership members are in the “very early” stages of work on potential action.

During an Aug. 23 update to the County Commission regarding issues the board wishes to pursue in the 2017 session of the Legislature, Rob Lewis, the county’s director of community and intergovernmental relations, discussed the issue of smoking on beaches: “We are beginning to test the legislative leadership again.”

It is a priority for both the County Commission and the Florida Association of Counties, he said, to make it possible for home rule to prevail regarding efforts to prevent tobacco use on beaches. Lewis is scheduled to provide an update to the board during its set of meetings next week.

After Leatherman concluded his formal remarks related to the Lido Renourishment Project (see the related story in this issue), SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner asked him on Dec. 1 to talk about his criteria for his Top 10 beaches list.

Image courtesy Health Department
Image courtesy Health Department

“After 25 years, I’ve decided to start over again, using the same 50 criteria” for the list, Leatherman explained. However, he has added extra credit, he continued, for three initiatives: prohibition of smoking on a beach, a good safety record and an emphasis on non-motorized access — support for more use of bicycles and other ways to reach a beach “without having more blacktop.”

He told the audience, “To me, one of the most disgusting things to do” is to sit down on a beach and put his hands down into the sand, only to touch a cigarette butt. Worse, he said, is watching a small child whose parents’ attention has been diverted pick up butts and eat them, as children “eat everything.”

On Miami Beach, he continued, he has at times counted 10 butts per meter. Many foreigners come to that beach, he pointed out, and they “think [of it] as an ashtray, frankly. … These filters last for a long time … and they’re very hard to pick up [during routine cleaning efforts]. … So I’m very much into giving credit to no-smoking beaches …”
Leatherman added that in regard to the third criterion for extra credit for Siesta Public Beach: “You need to work on that. This is a small community, a very beautiful place. The more you can do towards [non-motorized access], the better your ratings will go.”

Leatherman ranked Siesta No. 2 on his 2016 list. It was his No. 1 beach in 2011, as noted in signs still standing along roadways leading to the Key.

At the outset of his remarks during the meeting, Leatherman made his affection for Siesta Beach clear. “It’s part of the community,” he said. “Without that beach, I don’t know what the community would be like. It certainly wouldn’t be what it is today.”

For more information about the Tobacco Prevention Program of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, call 861-2969.

Dr. Beach’s anecdotes and a history lesson

SKA members gather on Dec. 1 in the Community Room at St. Boniface. Rachel Hackney photo
SKA members gather on Dec. 1 in the Community Room at St. Boniface. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Dec. 1 SKA meeting, Leatherman regaled the audience with tales of his travels around the world to handle issues related to beaches and sand.

For one example, Leatherman talked of a trip he took to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) earlier this year at the request of the owner of the Briars Creek Resort. It is a “quite expensive” place to stay, Leatherman noted, adding that it has three different beaches. To underscore the exclusivity of this particular part of the BVIs, Leatherman pointed out that while he was there, he saw the yacht owned by Sir Richard Branson, who owns the nearby Necker Island.

Regarding the beach considered best for swimming, he continued, the owner reported, “‘I’ve got a big hole … What happened?’”

A neighbor was building a heliport nearby in the water, Leatherman said, so the resort owner suspected that project might have something to do with the hole.

Upon his investigation of the site, Leatherman continued, he could find nothing about the heliport that would explain the significant loss of sand on the resort’s beach. When the owner then asked whether extraordinarily big waves could have carved out the hole, Leatherman discounted that theory as well.

Finally, Leatherman said he told the man, “[Someone] came in here and stole the sand [with a small dredge].”

The resort had been closed for a while, Leatherman pointed out, so the theft probably occurred when the owner was away from the property.

A red marker shows the location of Briars Creek Resort in the British Virgin Islands. Image from Google Maps
A red marker shows the location of Briars Creek Resort in the British Virgin Islands. Image from Google Maps

After Leatherman persuaded the man to check with his neighbors, Leatherman said the owner heard reports of a small dredge having shown up. “Sure enough,” Leatherman told the SKA audience, “the sand was stolen.”

Leatherman also noted that he had just returned to the United States after attending a conference in Morocco that focused on coastal management for the Arab States; the government of Dubai paid his way.

Because of the vast amount of construction taking place in Dubai, Leatherman explained, sand is in great demand for making concrete. “The country of Dubai has put out a general notice that they are looking to buy sand,” he added, then asked the SKA audience members to think about that for a moment.

The Sahara Desert is right there, he continued, so it seems incongruous that Dubai would need to buy sand. Yet, he continued, the sand in the Sahara has been moved around for thousands of years, leaving its grains so round that the sand “doesn’t stick to the mortar correctly.”

Murmurs of “Oh, my,” circulated in the audience.

Therefore, Leatherman said, Dubai has no choice but to try to purchase sand.

At one point during the program, an audience member pointed out that Lido Key was manmade. SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner noted that even a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) letter sent to the County Commission last week acknowledged that fact. However, the USACE made a big mistake in the following sentence, Luckner added: “Lido Key and [Big Sarasota Pass] were created during extensive dredging in the early 1900s, and the [Big Pass] ebb shoal is accumulating sediments from the placement of sand on beaches to the north of Lido Key.”

Photos show Lido Key in the 1920s and this decade. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photos show Lido Key in the 1920s and this decade. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Luckner said she called the USACE’s Jacksonville District Office to complain that the part about the pass was incorrect. Anyone who had looked at historical maps of the area, she added, would have known that the pass has been there for quite a long time.

The audience member — who left before the News Leader could ask his name — said Lido “was mostly marsh and mangroves” until Harry Higel built it up after he created Bird Key.

The man continued, “It was a disaster from the beginning when Higel went down there and took [spoil material left over as a result of construction on Siesta]” and used it to build up Lido. “Look what happened to him!”

When murmurs among the audience members alluded to Higel’s death, the speaker pointed out. “He didn’t just die! … Don’t mess with Siesta!”

Laughter erupted at that point.

According to the Sarasota Times, Higel was found lying unconscious near Siesta Village early on the morning of Jan. 6, 1921. The paper reported that he was “struck down in an insane frenzy or a deliberately planned and cruel murder, left bleeding and dying alone …” He died as the two men who found him tried to transport him to the Tampa Hospital, the paper said.

“Interesting history,” Leatherman replied to the man in the audience. “I didn’t know about all this.”

Pub-crawl plaudits

Deputy Chris McGregor. File photo
Deputy Chris McGregor. File photo

When Deputy Chris McGregor of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office presented his report at the Dec. 1 SKA meeting, he noted that in his business, “No news is good news.”

Referring to the “Turkey Trot” hosted by Siesta Village restaurants on Nov. 23, McGregor added, “We did have the pub crawl with minimal issues. Actually, it was a really good pub crawl.” He did not recall any arrests having taken place.

The next pub crawl will be the “Santa Stumble” on Dec. 26, McGregor said.

The Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival also took place in November, he continued, “pretty much without a hitch.”

Deputies did deal with some illegal parking situations, however, he pointed out. For example, citations were written to drivers who left vehicles on sidewalks.