City Commission approves preliminary funding for emergency beach renourishment project on Lido Key

Boca Raton firm to handle design and construction engineering work, with sand to come from New Pass

A woman reads on South Lido Key Beach on March 21. Photo by Rob Wright via the City of Sarasota

It took about 13 minutes on April 2 for the Sarasota City Commission to approve spending $390,094.50 for a firm to handle design and construction work for an emergency renourishment project on South Lido Key Beach.

The money will come out of Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue set aside for the City of Sarasota to use in such initiatives, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw explained to the commissioners during their regular meeting this week.

City Manager Tom Barwin noted that the city has approximately $2.9 million in that TDT account.

If all goes as staff hopes, a city memo to the commissioners explained, the design should be completed this spring or summer, with construction to begin after turtle-nesting season ends this fall. Under state law, that season is considered over as of Oct. 31.

APTIM of Boca Raton, which handled earlier projects on South Lido, will undertake the latest work, DavisShaw noted on April 2. Because of its familiarity with the site, she said, “we can continue to move forward with the project as quickly as possible.”

Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), urged the board members to approve the expense. “It’s really getting desperate,” he added, referring to the erosion on the island. “This is an interim project,” Shoffstall pointed out.

Lido property owners and the city are awaiting a ruling from a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) judge regarding challenges to a more extensive project planned by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Estimated at $21.5-million, it calls for removal of about 1.7 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a stretch of about 1.6 miles on South Lido. The judge’s ruling is expected in May, based on a timeline he set at the conclusion of a proceeding held mostly in Sarasota in December 2017.

Siesta Key organizations and property owners have been fighting the prospect of dredging in Big Pass. (See the related story in this issue.)

The Gulf of Mexico laps at the South Lido shoreline on March 20. Photo by Rob Wright via the City of Sarasota

In a March 20 email to City Manager Tom Barwin, a Lido resident wrote, “The need is now extremely urgent. … Yesterday on a relatively nice day, for large portions of the [beach] there is only room … at low tide! Hotels have hastily constructed stairs to more safely accommodate guests who wish access to the beach. But even though we were lucky enough to miss the worst of today’s storm, and it is not over, these stairs will need to be rebuilt because we have lost two feet of beach in one day!”

During the April 2 discussion, Barwin told the commissioners, “Our infrastructure’s now vulnerable if a storm hits us in exactly the right way.”

Project comparisons

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie pointed out during the April 2 discussion that some people will be confused about how the emergency initiative compares to the larger one that has been proposed.

The location is the same for both, DavisShaw replied, but the sand for the emergency project would come from New Pass. The city and the Town of Longboat Key hold a joint permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that allows them to alternate removal of sand from that channel. Additionally, DavisShaw said of the proposal under discussion that day, “This is a much smaller project,” and it will not include groins, as planned for the USACE initiative.

City Engineer Alex DavisShaw addresses the City Commission on July 17, 2017. File photo

“This is an interim measure,” Barwin stressed. It would replenish the sand on the southern part of Lido Beach in a fashion similar to the emergency undertaking the city pursued in 2015, in the aftermath of erosion produced by Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012. After this project, Barwin noted, the beach probably would not be quite as wide as it was after the post-Debby undertaking.

Still, Barwin continued, “Hopefully, it’ll buy us two to three years, as we clear the remaining hurdles to the long-term restoration” envisioned in the USACE project.

In response to another question from Freeland Eddie, DavisShaw explained that staff was able to issue an earlier purchase order, under city procurement guidelines, to allow APTIM to proceed with a survey of the sand situation in New Pass. The expense of that work was $74,981.

The memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting noted that FDEP has to be able to verify “the channel has sand of sufficient quantity and quality available for dredging.”

The information produced by the survey will go to the state, DavisShaw added, along with a history of the use of sand from New Pass. Her hope, she continued, is that FDEP will issue a Notice to Proceed, allowing the city to dredge New Pass without having first to collect and analyze sediment from the channel. Being able to skip those steps would save the city $91,192.50 out of the $390,094.50, based on a chart provided to the commission that details the estimated expenses of various aspects of the contract with APTIM.

When Freeland Eddie asked whether the city’s beach renourishment account holding Tourist Development Tax revenue is encumbered in any way, Barwin reminded her that the commission earlier this year agreed to continue to keep $2.5 million set aside as an “insurance policy” in the event Siesta Key suffered any damage if the long-term USACE project were able to proceed.

After APTIM completes the work called for in the city contract, DavisShaw added, staff will have a better estimate of the expense of the short-term renourishment project; it will provide the board that information.

A chart shows the breakdown of estimated expenses in the APTIM project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A solitary opponent

The only other member of the public besides Carl Shoffstall to address the commission about the proposed emergency initiative was Brooke Welch. The teen explained that she has spent the past three years researching the aquatic life that lives off Lido Key.

After the 2015 post-Debby project, Brooke pointed out, the jetty that juts into the Gulf of Mexico at approximately the mid-point of the beach was damaged. More significantly, however, she noted, the company that handled the work left a considerable amount of litter in the form of plastic mesh and fencing. It was buried in the sand, Brooke added. “It could have been a threat to the sea turtle hatchlings. … We removed it, though.”

Brooke Welch addresses Siesta Key Association members in July 2017. Rachel Hackney photo

The new sand also “killed a lot of benthic organisms,” she explained, because the sand “fouled the water.” (“Benthic” refers to organisms at the bottom of a body of water.)

“I think that research needs to be done to fully understand the damage” to those creatures as well as to turtle hatchlings and the jetty, she told the commissioners.

Then Brooke used a number of underwater photos she had taken in the vicinity of the jetty to illustrate to the commission the variety of sea life, such as juvenile fish, crabs and the lesser devil ray. Little is known about the latter, she indicated; Mote Marine is conducting research on the species.

At high tide, much of the beach is underwater, she conceded. However, Brooke told the board, the condominium towers that are so close to the Gulf “shouldn’t have been built in the first place on these barrier islands.” The islands are nature’s way of protecting the mainland, she pointed out.

After listening to Brooke’s comments, DavisShaw said she would make sure the inspectors who would survey the area after the renourishment project was completed were aware of what happened in 2015.

The city holds back a certain portion of the payment to the contractor in such a project, DavisShaw explained, until staff is certain that all appropriate steps have been taken. “We do appreciate people letting us know,” she added, when they discover problems.

After the discussion, Commissioner Willie Shaw made the motion to approve the funds for APTIM, and Freeland Eddie seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.