City of Sarasota working with Governor’s Office in pursuit of short-term, emergency renourishment of Lido Beach

City Commission also agrees to advisory board request to make stabilization of Lido shoreline a top priority

Big Sarasota Pass separates Lido and Siesta keys. File photo

City of Sarasota staff is working with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s staff to determine whether the city can pursue an emergency renourishment of Lido Key’s critically eroded beach, City Manager Tom Barwin told the City Commission this week.

As the parties await the beginning of an administrative law hearing on challenges to the city’s proposed $21-million, long-term Lido Renourishment Project, Barwin voiced optimism that the governor’s staff would come to the rescue for a short-term solution.

In the November newsletter of the Lido Key Residents Association, Barwin wrote that Lido lost 37,000 cubic yards of sand as a result of Hurricane Irma’s passage through the state in early September.

Barwin’s announcement during the Nov. 6 regular City Commission meeting followed a report from Jerry Fogle, manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and Carl Shoffstall, chair of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection (PREP) board. Fogle told the commissioners that on Oct. 19, the PREP members voted unanimously to recommend that the commission push “the erosion crisis at Lido Beach to the forefront.”

The commissioners voted 4-0 to accept the PREP board report. (Commissioner Willie Shaw was absent because of a health problem, city staff said.)

Then Barwin noted that the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding regarding the renourishment project would be held Dec. 12-19 in Sarasota.

In January, the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and the Florida Wildlife Federation filed challenges to the Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) planned to issue a permit to the city for the project.

The undertaking has been designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which was a joint applicant with the city for the FDEP permit.

If the city can win approval for a short-term project on Lido, Barwin continued on Nov. 6, the preference would be to truck in sand. He added that staff had not heard from the Governor’s Office in the previous week.

The last time an emergency renourishment project was undertaken on Lido, Barwin continued, was in response to erosion produced by Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.

In August 2014, Laird Wreford, now the coastal initiatives manager for Sarasota County, explained to the County Commission that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had authorized the dredging of 120,000 cubic yards of sand from New Pass to help stabilize the post-Debby Lido shoreline. A study showed that an extra 44,000 cubic yards of sand could be added to that amount, Wreford said. The County Commission later agreed to pay the $1million expense for that additional sand.

The “Debby project” was completed in January 2015, but by April of that year, County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo has pointed out, most of the sand was gone.

As for the December administrative law hearing, Barwin said, “Hopefully, we will prevail …”

City Attorney Robert Fournier. News Leader photo

City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that no ruling is expected at the conclusion of the proceeding. “It’ll be months after [that]” before Judge Bram D.E. Canter issues his decision, Fournier added.

In response to a question from Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, Fournier said he did not know yet the location of the hearing, but it is scheduled to be held at the Judge Lynn Silvertooth Judicial Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. Freeland Eddie asked that city staff put out the word on social media and on the homepage of the city’s website as soon as staff learns the details, to encourage residents to attend.

Looking ahead

Unfortunately, Barwin told the commissioners, if Canter rules for the city and the USACE, the SKA, SOSS2 and the FWF probably will pursue other avenues to prevent the dredging of about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key.

Big Pass, which separates Lido and Siesta keys, never has been dredged, SOSS2 and SKA leaders have stressed. They fear that any removal of sand from the channel or its ebb shoal will lead to significant damage on Siesta Key. The SKA also has argued that destruction of seagrass as a result of the undertaking will lead to the deaths of numerous creatures that thrive in the coastal community.

As president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), city PREP board Chair Shoffstall has been equally adamant about the need for stabilizing Lido Key Beach, which has a major economic impact on the City of Sarasota. Residents of condominiums on the Lido shoreline who have watched storms send Gulf of Mexico surf flying against the wall of one complex fear devastating property losses, Shoffstall has said.

In the November LKRA newsletter, Barwin wrote, “Sarasota and Lido Key residents faced some major shoreline anxiety in 2017, which included losing another 8 to 10 feet of beach, thus far this year.

“Our 2017 shoreline odyssey began with some of our neighbors from Siesta Key launching a costly legal challenge [to the FDEP’s Notice of Intent],” Barwin continued.

Waves strike the wall of a condominium complex on Lido Key. Image courtesy Lido Key Residents Association

“With Lido Key as vulnerable to storm damage as at any time over the past 30 years,” he added, “several ominous Hurricanes also developed this year which threatened the Gulf’s coastal communities.”

One big lesson Hurricane Irma taught city leaders, he added, “is that the effort to strengthen the Lido shoreline must continue.” He wrote, “I hope the events of 2017 and the very real and serious threats that we face on Lido would create a sense of civic and neighborly responsibility for Siesta Key residents opposing the DEP permit, to revisit our standing invitation to work with us on short, mid and long-term solutions and

collaborations to address our mutual and ongoing needs to protect all the region’s shorelines in a healthy and sustainable manner without harm to any of them.

“If those opposing the Lido shoreline permit continue to fund expensive and time consuming legal challenges, the permitting process will likely take another 12 to 18 months under current rules,” he pointed out.

SKA update on the hearing

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner. Rachel Hackney photo

During the Nov. 2 SKA meeting, Vice President Catherine Luckner updated members on the plans for the administrative law hearing. Then she reminded the approximately 60 people present that the nonprofit filed a verified complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in January in another attempt to stop the dredging of Big Pass.

If Judge Canter rules for the city after the conclusion of the administrative law hearing in December, she said, the SKA will pursue the court case. The latter has been on hold, as Judge Lon Arend ruled in late April that he believed the administrative hearing should reach its conclusion before the court case proceeds, adding that Canter’s order could obviate the court challenge.

Some people, Luckner pointed out, have had the mistaken impression that the SKA had lost in 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

She also commented on an Oct. 25 order Canter issued. He wrote that the administrative law proceeding would follow rules of order that would put the burden on the SKA, SOSS2 and the FWF to prove that the USACE’s modeling for the Lido Renourishment Project was insufficient and flawed and, therefore, FDEP was wrong to plan to issue the permit.

In other words, Luckner explained, the judge essentially has said, “‘I am accepting what they have produced as good enough.’” The SKA, SOSS2 and the FWF have to prove that is not true, she added of the USACE project team members.

“We hope we have a fair shot,” Luckner said. “Our goal is for [the city and the USACE] to do a really good project [to help Lido Key]. It needs to be the best.”

The three nonprofits also have been concerned that because of the delay of the hearing from August to December — after the FDEP’s lead attorney suffered a major injury — the proceeding has been set for six days instead of nine, as originally scheduled. Yet, Luckner continued, after the parties in the hearing challenged the shorter timeline, Canter ruled that he believes six days is enough time for all the witnesses to be heard. “I’m already worried.”

Nonetheless, Luckner said, if the proceeding cannot be concluded on Dec. 19, the SKA’s attorney is prepared to ask for more time to continue it after the first of the year.