City Commission affirms its commitment to long-range Lido Renourishment Project, as required by FDEP

June 4 resolution also offers assurance that city can pay its share of the expense

Big Sarasota Pass separates Lido Key, to the north, from Siesta Key. Image from Google Earth in August 2017

Less than a week after the City of Sarasota declared a State of Emergency on Lido Key, in response to damage Subtropical Storm Alberto inflicted on the already seriously eroded shoreline, the City Commission has affirmed its commitment to pursue a long-range project to stabilize the southern portion of the beach.

As required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the city needed to submit an updated Long-Range Funding Request to the state for the 50-year project the city has proposed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). On a unanimous vote during their regular meeting on June 4, the city commissioners agreed to staff’s request for the affirmation.

Part of the annual documentation that has to go to FDEP offers assurances that the city will cover its share of the expense of the project, Chief City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw explained to the board.

The material provided to the commissioners in advance of the June 4 meeting continues to put the total cost of the project at $21 million, with the federal government picking up $13,020,000 of that. The remainder would be split evenly between FDEP and the city, with the city’s funds coming out of an account containing Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue set aside for each municipality for beach renourishment initiatives.

A chart shows budgets and timelines for facets of the long-range project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

No funding was designated for the project in the current federal budget, USACE spokeswoman Susan Jackson confirmed to The Sarasota News Leaderin late March. Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie told her colleagues earlier this year that when she and DavisShaw visited members of the Florida congressional delegation late last year, they learned that it would be more likely for Congress to appropriate money for the initiative if the city and the USACE had in hand the FDEP permit for it.

In the meantime, city staff is pursuing a short-term project to stabilize the beach. That is listed in the June 4 agenda material at an estimated expense of $3.5 million, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) picking up $800,000 of the total. The city and the state each would put in $1,350,000, the document notes.

The long-range project description that will accompany the City Commission’s June 4 resolution in the packet to FDEP notes that the project area is 1.88 miles; previous documentation — including the permit application the USACE and the city filed with FDEP in March 2015 — said the total area would stretch 1.6 miles.

On July 17, 2017, the City Commission also voted unanimously to reaffirm support for the USACE project. That was the first time public documents showed the estimated expense had risen above $19 million, which was the estimate touted as recently as the city’s adopted Capital Improvement Program for the 2017-2021 fiscal years.

Additionally this year, a chart provided to the commission in the backup agenda material for the June 4 meeting says the total amount for monitoring in the 2019-20 fiscal year would be $67,000, with that also split evenly between the city and FDEP. That monitoring would include any impacts the project might have on nesting sea turtles.

For the subsequent three fiscal years, $400,000 has been estimated for the monitoring expense, with the federal government picking up $124,000 and the city and FDEP each responsible for $138,000 for every one of those years.

The material prepared for the packet to FDEP includes this project description, dated May 11. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The chart also shows expenses projected at $500,000 for both the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years for the design of the next renourishment on Lido under the aegis of the permit FDEP must issue for the project. That permit would be good for 15 years. USACE and city representatives have said more sand would be placed on the beach approximately every five to seven years, with two groins proposed to try to hold sand in place between the undertakings.

The design expense also would be shared among the USACE, the city and FDEP, with the federal government picking up $310,000; $95,000 is estimated as the cost for both the city and FDEP, the chart says.

The permit application the city and the USACE submitted to FDEP in March 2015 includes this project description. Image courtesy State of Florida

The deteriorating situation on Lido

During the June 4 City Commission meeting, Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), thanked the board members for all they have been doing in an effort to address the worries of Lido property owners.

City Manager Tom Barwin also noted that he had directed Todd Kerkering, the city’s emergency manager, to be responsible for managing the Lido shoreline over the summer, especially “if we do get a big storm surge …”

The gulf of Mexico washes over stairs on Lido Key on May 30. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Shoffstall pointed out that pool decks at condominium complexes on the southern portion of Lido have been threatened by the Gulf of Mexico because of the latest loss of sand as a result of Alberto’s effects. He estimated that the storm carved away another 8 feet of the shoreline.

“We need to do something very seriously about getting [the USACE] project pushed through,” he told the commissioners. “This is not ‘crying wolf.’ It’s bad.”

He has talked with a few property managers on the island, he continued, who had told him that people who normally rent units during tourist season have cancelled their plans for 2019. Those renters, he added, are “worried there’s going to be nothing out there” on the beach after the current hurricane season.

A decline in the number of seasonal residents will translate into loss of sales tax and Tourist Development Tax revenue, he pointed out. “It’s gonna affect the entire city.”

Shoffstall did note that, thanks to city staff discussions with FDEP representatives — and the State of Emergency— Lido property owners have requesting permits so they can place emergency sandbags on the shoreline.

In mid-May, a number of sandbags already were visible on the Lido shoreline. Photo courtesy of Bruce Armstrong

Shoffstall added that, instead of the usual 300 cubic yards of sand allowed in such situations, the city’s efforts had persuaded FDEP to double the amount.

Moreover, City Manager Tom Barwin said, because of the length of some parcels, FDEP has agreed to be flexible about allowing individual property owners to request more than one permit.

Barwin also pointed out that city staff is encouraging all city residents, but especially those on Lido, to sign up through Sarasota County for CodeRED, which is a system that alerts the public to dangerous situations, including approaching hurricanes.

(All a person needs, if he or she wants to sign up, is a physical address in the city or the county. Details are available on the county website at http://www.scgov.net/codered, or people may call the county Contact Center at 861-5000.)

Finally, Barwin reminded everyone that the administrative law judge who conducted a hearing in Sarasota in December 2017 on challenges to the USACE project sided with the city. (Judge Bram D.E. Canter has recommended, however, that only 1.3 cubic yards of sand — not 1.7 million cubic yards, as the permit would allow — be the maximum amount removed from Big Sarasota Pass for the first renourishment project. He also has recommended that FDEP’s permit not allow dredging of two sand borrow areas between April and September, because of the spawning of the spotted sea trout during in those areas that period.)

Barwin noted that the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), have filed exceptions to the judge’s May 8 recommended order. Still, he said, the timeline for that appeal process “is very short.” (See the related article in this issue.)

“I would make one public plea” to the Siesta plaintiffs who have fought the use of Big Pass as the sand source for the Lido project, he continued: “Please, respectfully, consider ending the litigation.”

He asked that the organizations agree to join the city in working “to be sure we do no harm, ever,” to help with the monitoring of the USACE project, “and to really start to take a long-range look at what we’re going to have to deal with over the next few decades.”

The SKA and SOSS2 have fought the USACE project on the basis of research and scientific expertise predicting damage to both the pass and Siesta Key if sand is removed from the waterway and its ebb shoal.

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