Big Pass wave action damage to Sandy Cove neighborhood on Siesta Key still unresolved
In late December 2016, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) announced its intent to issue the necessary permit to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the long planned Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.
The goal was to use sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish an approximately 1.6-mile stretch of Lido Beach, which had been severely eroded by numerous storms over the years.
As two nonprofit organizations on Siesta Key prepared to challenge the permit decision, then-Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin proposed that the city set aside $2.5 million for what he characterized as an insurance policy. If any areas of the pass or the Key suffered damage as a result of the dredging, Barwin pointed out, the money could be used to mitigate those adverse impacts.
The city commissioners agreed with Barwin and approved a resolution that captured his proposal. They adopted it on Feb. 21, 2017.
Only one of the commissioners serving at that time remains on the board: Liz Alpert.
Subsequently, as time passed, the City Commission conducted several debates about whether to keep those funds set aside. The majority did agree on Feb. 19, 2019 to release $2.1 million to help pay for a larger, emergency renourishment project on Lido. At the time, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw noted that more sand was available in New Pass than originally estimated for that undertaking, but the city would have to pay $500,000 for it. The source she identified for those funds was the “insurance policy money.”
Last week, with the USACE project on Lido having been completed, DavisShaw formally requested in a staff memo that the City Commission release the remaining $400,000, adding it to a Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue fund that the city could use for future renourishments that the USACE has planned on the barrier island.
The city used TDT money to match a state grant that helped pay for the USACE project. The federal government, through the Department of the Army, was expected to cover approximately 65% of the expense, DavisShaw pointed out in a March 19, 2020 memo to Barwin and other senior city staff members. The total estimate for the project, she added in that memo, was $19,577,231.
The FDEP permit, which was issued in June 2018, is good for 15 years. The Lido plans that the USACE unveiled in September 2013 called for more sand to be placed on the island about every five years. Two groins have been constructed on the southern end of Lido to try to hold the sand from Big Pass in place between those undertakings.
The June 7 request was included on the City Commission’s Consent Agenda No. 2 for the meeting that night. With no commissioner comments about any of the business matters on that agenda, Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo made the motion to approve the consent agenda, and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch seconded it.
The motion passed unanimously.
In early March, The Sarasota News Leader reported on significant erosion documented in one portion of the Sandy Cove area of north Siesta Key. Stephanie Jacobson, then president of the affected homeowners association, explained that a change in wave action since dredging began last summer in Big Pass had resulted in the water acting akin to a big scoop, pulling sand out from under the dune that has protected dwellings in the community for decades.
When the News Leader contacted Jacobson this week, she reported that she did call City Engineer DavisShaw months ago to discuss the situation. “She told me to contact a Sarasota County Board Member,” Jacobson wrote in a June 14 email, as Sandy Cove is within the county’s jurisdiction.
“I was not interested in going round and round,” Jacobson added, so she never contacted anyone with the county.
“Right now,” Jacobson continued, “the berm is the same as it was [in March].”
She no longer is on the board of the homeowners association, she noted, and she is unaware of any action that the new board members have taken to deal with the erosion.