City of Sarasota hoping for FEMA funds out of Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to assist with emergency project on South Lido Key Beach

Earlier FEMA grant — for Hurricane Hermine damage — is too little to cover renourishment costs

South Lido Key Beach erosion is evident in the wake of recent hurricanes. Photo from the Lido Key Residents Association November 2017 newsletter

Last week, when Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, it earmarked $23.5 billion to replenish the primary fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses for recovery and repair programs in the aftermath of natural disasters.

That gave City of Sarasota Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw hope that the city finally might be able to secure enough grant funds for an emergency beach renourishment project on Lido Key, she told The Sarasota News Leader this week.

Previously, she said in a Feb. 12 telephone interview, the city received notification of an award of $114,000 from FEMA to replenish sand lost as a result of Hurricane Hermine’s assault on the Lido shoreline in the late summer of 2016.

The city had applied for $4.4 million, she pointed out, but FEMA based its award on a formula that took into account accretion of sand on the northern part of the island.

City staff had documented a loss of 11,973 cubic yards of sand on South Lido, she said. However, the FEMA formula determined that the city was eligible for funds to replenish a loss of 4,000 cubic yards of sand, she added.

City Manager Tom Barwin reported to the Lido Key Residents Association in November 2017 that South Lido lost 37,000 cubic yards of sand to Irma.

The $114,000, DavisShaw pointed out, “wasn’t a lot [of money].”

Alex DavisShaw. File photo

The city’s application to FEMA to deal with erosion caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 seeks $2.2 million, she said. “We’re just waiting to see how things shake out with this one.”

If the city received a significant enough portion of its Irma grant request, she continued, it could combine those funds with the earlier $114,000 and pursue an emergency project on Lido.

In the meantime, city staff also is awaiting the outcome of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding, held in December 2017, regarding legal challenges to the proposed dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido. Based on the timeline Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter provided the parties at the end of that hearing, it will be at least two more months — at the earliest — before he rules on whether the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) can issue a permit to the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for that project.

The parties are awaiting the release of the certified transcript of the testimony. After that becomes available, the attorneys for all parties will have 30 days to provide written briefs to Canter with their recommendations for his order. Canter said he would take up to 45 days to make his decision after receiving those briefs.

The joint city/USACE renourishment project, if approved as proposed, is estimated to cost $21.5 million, according to documentation the city provided FDEP last summer.

In emails to city commissioners, Lido residents periodically express their vexation over the continuing delays. Most recently, the News Leader saw Vice Mayor Liz Alpert had responded on Feb. 4 to a resident of the Orchid Beach Club Residences on South Lido, who wrote the following on Feb. 3:

A radar image shows storm surge patterns created by Hurricane Hermine on Sept. 1 2016. Image from Weather Underground

“As a registered voter here, I would like to know what actions you have taken to date to alleviate our beach erosion conditions.”
Alpert replied, “Many people have been working a long time to take the steps necessary to combat beach erosion and to replace the sand that has been eroded.”

Referencing FDEP’s Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent to issue the permit for the city/USACE project, she continued, “A suit was filed by some residents of Siesta Key to stop the dredging because of the fear that this would cause erosion to Siesta Key beach. The case is still working its way through the courts.”

She also suggested that if the man wanted to do so, he could contribute to a fund assisting with the legal expenses of the Lido Key Residents Association in the DOAH case. Canter allowed that association to intervene in the DOAH proceeding as a representative of property and business owners on Lido. Alpert referred the writer to Carl Shoffstall, president of the association.