Two members of the public question aspects of that project and a planned emergency initiative using sand from New Pass
Responding to concerns raised by two members of the public, as well as city commissioner questions, the City of Sarasota’s engineer, Alexandrea DavisShaw, on Aug. 20 defended the proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach.
The comments and questions arose during the board’s regular meeting as the commissioners considered whether to approve what City Attorney Robert Fournier said was the final step necessary to undertake the long-term project to stabilize the Lido shoreline. That step was to approve a partnership agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which was the co-applicant with the city for a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for the project.
The commissioners voted unanimously on Aug. 20 to approve that agreement. It calls for “construction and periodic nourishment of an approximately 80-foot-wide beach berm” at an elevation of 5 feet above the ground level over 1.56 miles of shoreline, “with a groin field at the southern limits of the project,” as the agreement explains. The life of the initiative is 50 years, as USACE project managers have pointed out.
The document also notes that “total construction costs are projected to be $231,333,979, with the Government’s share of such costs projected to be $118,848,224 and the [City of Sarasota’s] share of such costs projected to be $112,485,755.”
A memo from DavisShaw to the the City Commission in advance of this week’s meeting pointed out that the agreement calls for an estimated construction cost of $19,205,073 for the initial renourishment. The federal government’s share of that amount would be $12,275,626, the memo added, with the city contributing $4,981,0004, “(which includes creditable interests, relocations, improvements and in-kind contributions totaling $1,948,443.00).”
The city’s funds will come in the form of an FDEP grant and Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue set allocated by a formula to the city for beach renourishment and maintenance efforts.
The memo also noted, “The periodic renourishment projects following the initial construction will be funded 50% by the [USACE] and 50% by the City.”
Among other details, the agreement says, “At least annually and after storm events,” the City of Sarasota, “at no cost to the Government, shall perform surveillance of the Project to determine losses of material and provide results of such surveillance to the Government.” Further, the document calls for the city “[n]ot less than once each year [to] inform affected interests of the extent of risk reduction afforded by the Project.”
The memo from DavisShaw to the city commissioners said the USACE “will be finalizing the construction drawings this fall and they expect to start the bidding process in the Spring of 2019 with construction in the Summer of 2019.”
However, a spokeswoman for the USACE — at its district office in Jacksonville — confirmed for The Sarasota News Leader earlier this summer that the agency would have to comply with a stipulation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the groins on Lido Key to help hold sand in place between renourishments every five years cannot be constructed during sea turtle nesting season. That season runs from May 1 through Oct. 31.
In the meantime, DavisShaw told the city commissioners on Aug. 20, an emergency renourishment project on South Lido is “out to bid …” FDEP will issue a Notice to Proceed for that initiative, she added, after the city has provided additional information the department has requested. That information, she continued, will come from the contractor with which the city will contract for the work. The Notice to Proceed, she explained, typically is issued “at the very end [of the process], after the construction plans are done.”
Pleas from the public
As the city commissioners addressed the issues during their evening session on Aug. 20, they heard from two members of the public: James C. Cirillo, national director of the Community Associations division of CBIZ of Sarasota, who explained that he handles insurance policies for a number of Lido Key residents; and Siesta businessman and property owner Michael Holderness, who was a co-petitioner with the Siesta Key Association (SKA) in an effort to halt the removal of sand from Big Pass for the long-term Lido project. The SKA and Holderness filed a challenge early last year with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). FDEP ultimately ruled against them and issued the permit for the long-range project.
On Aug. 20, Cirillo and Holderness both noted the city’s plans for the dredging of New Pass for the emergency stabilization initiative on Lido Key in the same general area where the long-term project is slated to take place. The emergency project is tentatively scheduled to begin in November, based on documents the city has filed with FDEP.
Residents on the north shore of Lido Key suffered property damage, Cirillo said, as a result of past dredging of the ebb shoal in New Pass. He urged the commissioners to ensure that sand is removed only from the channel of that waterway.
Additionally, Cirillo pointed out that an inlet management plan was required of the city in 2015, following its last dredging of New Pass, but that plan was not completed in 2016, as FDEP had stipulated.
Furthermore, Cirillo cautioned the commissioners against pursuing the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass, saying that would lead to problems on north Siesta Key similar in nature to the damage north Lido residents had experienced.
Prior to beginning his remarks, Holderness submitted two documents to the commissioners. One, he said, was from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, who had written of the vital role Big Pass plays in Sarasota Bay, which is part of the National Estuary Program.
Dated April 5, 2017, the Buchanan press release says, “Sarasota Bay is one of only 28 ecosystems in the entire country that have been formally designated by Congress as an ‘estuary of national significance.’” It adds, “The federal National Estuary Program provides critical resources to protect and restore the county’s vital estuaries and vulnerable wildlife.”
Given the tons upon tons of fish killed in recent weeks by red tide, Holderness added, Big Pass has become even more vital to the preservation of fisheries in the area’s waters.
The second document was a copy of the Aug. 24, 2016 letter the Sarasota County Commission sent to the USACE, asking that it conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the long-range Lido project. An EIS is a more in-depth analysis than an Environmental Assessment (EA), according to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The USACE refused to undertake an EIS.
Holderness also protested the city/USACE plan to mitigate seagrass destruction in Big Pass by planting seagrass in Perico Preserve in Manatee County. Holderness insisted that that violated guidelines calling for mitigation to take place in the same area where seagrass destruction will occur.
City staff explanations
In response to Cirillo’s and Holderness’ remarks, Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked City Engineer DavisShaw about the lack of an inlet management plan for New Pass.
Staff talked with representatives of FDEP about a year ago, DavisShaw said, asking whether the city should complete that plan before undertaking another dredging of New Pass. FDEP staff members wanted more information first, she added.
When Freeland Eddie asked whether the state had waived the requirement for the plan prior to the proposed dredging of New Pass this fall, DavisShaw told her that the plan was not a requirement for the permit for that project, but city staff is working on the plan.
Then, when Freeland Eddie pressed for details about the extra information FDEP was seeking, DavisShaw explained that the state wanted more data related to monitoring of the Lido shoreline, the shoal in New Pass and the behavior of the that waterway. “They wanted … more rounds of that data.”
FDEP staff has proposed a conference call with city staff, DavisShaw added, though no date has been set for it.
Additionally, Freeland Eddie asked about Holderness’ assertion regarding the necessity of a seagrass mitigation project in Sarasota County, instead of Manatee County, for the Big Pass dredging initiative.
Perico Preserve was developed to be a seagrass nursery, DavisShaw explained, “for lack of a better description.” A search was undertaken for a potential mitigation area closer to Big Pass, she added, but, “because Sarasota Bay has done a great job with seagrasses there, there wasn’t a need in that immediate area.” Thus, DavisShaw continued, FDEP approved the Perico Preserve proposal, and the Manatee County Commission gave its consent to that plan.
Freeland Eddie again asked whether a requirement exists for the mitigation to take place closer to Big Pass.
“Not that I’m aware of,” DavisShaw told her.
“All these issues have been vetted,” City Manager Tom Barwin said. “We have committed time and time again to our neighbors to do no harm,” he added. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a project receive this much public scrutiny, this much public input … We have used the best computer modeling programs available.”
(Both the Siesta Key Association and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 presented expert testimony and evidence during the 2017 DOAH proceeding to show that the USACE used a two-dimensional modeling software system, instead of a more modern three-dimensional system, in studies for the long-term Lido project. Even a peer review the County Commission paid for about three years ago on the Lido project showed that the three-dimensional software — Delft3D — would be the preferred system.)
Barwin also told the city commissioners on Aug. 20, “We have been, I think, as ethical, honest and straightforward as any community could possibly be in approaching a project like this.”
When Freeland Eddie asked whether the USACE should have undertaken an EIS instead of an Environmental Assessment, DavisShaw told her, “The Army Corps has pretty strict guidelines as to when they will switch from one to the other.”
When Commissioner Hagen Brody asked DavisShaw about Cirillo’s comments regarding erosion at North Lido Shores as a consequence of the dredging of New Pass’ ebb shoal, she replied that erosion has been documented in that area for the past 20 years. Part of the reason for that, she explained, is that when the channel in New Pass fills up, it presses against the North Lido Shores seawall. Over the past six to seven years, she indicated, that navigation channel has been filling in more rapidly between dredging operations.
The Town of Longboat Key dredged the New Pass channel in 2016 for a beach renourishment project, she pointed out. Yet, the channel already has filled in, she said, with about 185,000 cubic yards of sand, “which is really surprising.”
The emergency project the city plans this fall, DavisShaw noted, would open up the channel again and reduce pressure on the North Lido Shores seawall.
As for Big Pass: DavisShaw told the commissioners that the USACE’s goal is not to create negative consequences for the navigation channel in that waterway or on the north Siesta shoreline. “The natural channel will not fill in” as a result of removal of sand from the borrow areas FDEP has approved, she added. “That was one of the concerns we heard from the boating public.”
After the discussion, Freeland Eddie made the motion to approve the agreement between the city and the USACE for the long-term Lido shoreline stabilization project. Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded it, and it passed 5-0.