Coastal protection measures and water quality requirements documented in letters sent on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation and SOSS2; organizations continue to push for Environmental Impact Statement
The Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) produced last year in support of the proposed Lido Renourishment Project erroneously interpreted the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA) of 1982 and the Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) of 1990, an attorney representing the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) has notified the USACE, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
The USACE’s assertion that those acts do not prohibit it from using any new federal funding for the dredging of two borrow areas in Big Sarasota Pass and the installation of two groins on Lido Key “is contrary to the clear and unambiguous statutory language of [the CBRA],” Thomas W. Reese of St. Petersburg argues in a July 23 letter to Col. Alan M. Dodd, district commander of the USACE’s Jacksonville District.
No federal funding has been approved yet for the renourishment project, USACE spokeswomen have told the News Leader.
Reese wrote Dodd again on Aug. 1, on behalf of FWF and SOSS2, saying the USACE has not satisfied federal water quality requirements in pursuing a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to renourish Lido Key Beach.
The USACE’s draft Environmental Assessment, issued in March 2015, does say that the CBRA and CBIA “limit Federally subsidized development within the CBRA Units to limit the loss of human life by discouraging development in high risk areas, to reduce wasteful expenditures of Federal resources, and to protect the natural resources associated with coastal barriers. CBIA provides development goals for undeveloped coastal property held in public ownership, including wildlife
refuges, parks, and other lands set aside for conservation …”
In response this week to a News Leader inquiry about Reese’s assertions, Susan J. Jackson, a spokeswoman for the USACE in the Jacksonville office, wrote in an Aug. 4 email that the project team is looking into the matters. However, she pointed out, legal staff of the USACE might be tasked with responding to Reese.
At the same time FWF and SOSS2 are pursuing these new avenues in an effort to prevent the dredging of Big Pass — for fear of damage to the navigation channel as wall as to Siesta Key — the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and SOSS2 are continuing to call for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be undertaken on the Lido Renourishment Project.
SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner told the News Leader this week that Laird Wreford, the county’s coastal initiatives manager, had informed her that if an EIS were going to be pursued, that should have happened months ago. Peter van Roekens, chair of SOSS2, also indicated to the News Leader that county staff had conveyed a similar statement to him and other SOSS2 board members.
“Anyone that says doing an EIS will delay the project is absolutely correct. Given the findings of the Atkins report we believe that doing an EIS will stop the project if it is performed by an independent party,” van Roekens wrote Sarasota County environmental staff in an Aug. 3 email.
The Atkins firm undertook a peer review of the Lido Renourishment Project last year at the behest of the County Commission. The consulting firm questioned methodology the USACE and its consultants used in reaching their conclusions that the initiative would have no negative impact on Big Pass or Siesta Key. However, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw has said repeatedly during public meetings that the city plans close monitoring of the project to ensure the coastal environment is not damaged.
When the News Leader asked the county Communications Department for an update this week on the request for an EIS, spokesman Jason Bartolone responded in an Aug. 3 email: “County staff received the information that the SKA submitted to the county commission regarding the EIS, and staff continues to research the matter to help inform any future conversations.”
The SKA made its formal request last month.
The County Commission officially has been on its summer recess since July 18. Its next meeting will be a budget workshop on Aug. 22. Commissioner Christine Robinson told the News Leader on July 14 that it is possible the EIS request may be discussed during that session.
The City of Sarasota and the USACE filed their permit application with FDEP in March 2015 in an effort to renourish 8,280 feet of what they have described as “critically eroded” Lido Key Beach. The $19-million plan calls for a five-year renourishment cycle over the 50-year life of the initiative. The federal government is expected to cover 62.4 percent of the expense, with state grant funds and Tourist Development Tax money allocated to the city making up the difference. (See the related story in this issue.)
During the Aug. 2 meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), van Roekens reported that he and SKVA Vice President Mark Smith of Smith Architects on Siesta Key had met recently with County Administrator Tom Harmer and county environmental staff about SOSS2’s concerns regarding the proposed dredging of the pass. Van Roekens and Smith pointed out that the Atkins review made it clear that it is impossible to predict whether the project will harm Siesta Key, the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido or the pass itself. “We asked what their plan was [if damage resulted], and we didn’t really hear an answer to that,” van Roekens told SKVA members. “We talked to them about a ‘Plan B,’ because there is no Plan B right now,” van Roekens added, referring to a different source of sand.
Reese pointed out in the July 23 letter that in 1990, “Congress designated 472 acres at the south end of Lido Key as part of John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resource System with a CBRS designation.” That acreage is encompassed by Ted Sperling Park, Reese noted. The park abuts four bodies of water, he added: the Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay and Brushy Bayou. The latter three are designated Outstanding Florida Waters, he pointed out. That distinction “is intended to protect existing good water quality,” according to FDEP.
In an Aug. 4 email to county environmental staff, Jono Miller, a member of the board of SOSS2, wrote of the Coastal Barriers Resource Act, “It was an appropriate response to the realization that while it may have been difficult to limit development on developed barrier islands, there was still time to limit development on undeveloped barrier islands by prohibiting federal expenditures.
“People on this coast of Florida were clearing lots and even placing tar paper on the ground in the shape of roofs in an effort to create the perception that development was already in place prior to the aerial flights used to determine limits.”
Using the official designation of the Sperling property — FL-72P — Miller continued, “[T]he area extends into the gulf seaward of Ted Sperling Park. This may contribute to the fact that we’re not hearing so much about ‘borrow’ area D3, which ran parallel to the South Lido beach. You’ll also note that ‘borrow’ area C appears to have a boundary that coincides with FL-72P — suggesting that the Corps has some [his emphasis] awareness of and respect for the act, even as they propose to violate it.”
Miller is the retired director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida.
In its latest response to FDEP’s second request for additional information on the Lido Renourishment Project, the USACE has eliminated borrow area D3 from its proposal. However, it is proposing to use the Sperling Park parking lot as a staging area for the sand placement on Lido Key.
Also regarding the Sperling Park property, Reese wrote in his letter that the county purchased it with funds made possible as a result of a countywide environmental lands referendum, adding that the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department manages it “for passive recreation uses such as kayaking, observation of West Indian manatees, and hiking unpaved trails. It is subject to conservation restrictions.”
Furthermore, Reese pointed out, Borrow Area C “is directly adjacent” to the submerged bottom lands of Sperling Park. If dredging occurs in that area, it “will degrade and damage the fish, wildlife and other natural resources … by sand slumpage [into the borrow area].”
The originally proposed Borrow Area D3 is directly within the park property, he added.
Water quality concerns
Regarding the water quality issue: In his Aug. 1 letter to Dodd of the USACE, Reese referenced Section 401 of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Under the guidelines of that law, the FDEP is the agency that must certify that the Lido Renourishment Project will not damage the water quality in Big Sarasota Pass. That is a separate issue from the issuance of the permit for which the USACE and the city have applied, Reese wrote: “[A]s a matter of Florida law, FDEP issuance of [a Joint Coastal Permit] is not grounds upon which FDEP can base [a water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act].”
The draft Environmental Assessment the USACE issued in March 2015 said the city and the federal agency “will apply jointly for water quality certification (WQC) under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act in the form of a Joint Coastal Permit (JCP) from the FDEP to cover the proposed action.”
Reese argued that FDEP cannot issue a water quality certification for the project until after the USACE and the City of Sarasota have established a baseline for the water as it is in Big Pass. Furthermore, after that baseline has been provided, Reese contended, the USACE “must also provide reasonable assurance … that [the project] will not degrade or lower such baseline existing ambient water quality of [the pass].”
Among other factors he indicated for consideration, Reese pointed to the fact that the dredging in Borrow Area C would attract larger motor boats into the channel of the pass, resulting in increased turbidity, decreased water clarity, hydrocarbon pollution and harm to manatees.
The 2015 draft Environmental Assessment says that if turbidity exceeds state standards during the dredging, as determined by monitoring, “the contractors will be required to cease work until conditions return to normal. … No long-term decline in water quality would occur.”
Editor’s note: The section about SOSS2’s reference to “Plan B” was updated early on the morning of Aug. 5 to reflect a correction.